Miniature barn turns into big project for Warren builder

Eva and Greg Witkamp show off the barn Greg crafted in his rural Warren workshop as a surprise for a young family member.
Eva and Greg Witkamp show off the barn Greg crafted in his rural Warren workshop as a surprise for a young family member. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Oct. 26, 2017.

The big little barn has in excess of 900 miniature shingles, each lovingly cut by hand; more than 160 lilliputian boards making up the cladding.

It measures about 42 inches by 74 inches and stands some 43 inches high, big enough for builder Greg Witkamp’s wife, Eva Witkamp, to fit inside.

And it’s sure to light up the eyes of a certain 5-year-old boy living in Maryland.

“He has about 20 toy tractors, mostly John Deere,” Greg says. “He keeps telling his mom and dad he needs a barn to keep them in.”

Greg, who spent his career building people-sized houses, has spent the last three months crafting the miniature marvel in his home workshop just outside of Warren.

He and Eva plan to keep the barn a surprise until they deliver it to 5-year-old Wyatt Betz — a grandnephew who, in their hearts, they consider a grandson.

The child-sized barn is full of family significance. The Witkamps live in Eva’s childhood home, which they purchased in 2008 after Eva’s mother died.

Wyatt’s mom, Christine Witkamp Betz, is a granddaughter to Eva’s mom — and legally a niece to Greg and Eva, although the couple has embraced her as a daughter — visited the farm often as a child.

All of those shingles came from the former corn crib on the farm after the Witkamps expanded it to create a workshop for Greg.

The weathered, splintered wooden shingles, full of nail holes, were salvaged by Greg — after some had been used as kindling — and recrafted to smaller versions of the originals.

“There’s about four or five different cuts on them,” he says.

“My parents were very frugal,” Eva says. “They would love the thought that we are using part of that for him.”

“All the wood is from the farm as well,” Greg says.

Greg cut the siding and beams from trees growing on the farm, using sycamore, ash, oak and other varieties.

“The only thing he had to buy that we didn’t already have is the hinges and nails,” Eva says.

Inside the barn is a piece of Warren history, a piece of wood with the stamp of Cline Click Lumber, a long-time lumber yard in Warren; above one of the exterior doors is a small wooden  sign bearing the name of Greg’s construction company, G.D.W. Construction, and the year the barn was built, 2017.

“When you look at the inside, you see the rafters and the underside of the roof,” says Eva, who has crawled inside the structure for photos.

Multiple doors of varying sizes have handcrafted mechanisms to keep them closed, and they swing open to allow Wyatt’s tractors — or Wyatt himself — inside.

Eva contributed the sign on the front of the barn, proclaiming Wyatt’s name and date of birth in bright yellow letters on a green background — John Deere colors.

While Greg has had plenty of experience in building conventional-sized houses, building a miniature version was a new experience.

“It was a lot different for me because everything was so tiny,” he says. “To make every individual piece was so time consuming. If it didn’t work out, I scrapped it and tried something else.”

The barn was built on a one inch to one foot scale, meaning that if blown up to full size, it would be about 42 feet by 74 feet.

Greg had initially intended to help Wyatt build a barn out of old pallets when he and Eva visited Maryland after the birth of Wyatt’s little sister, Aubrey, in March, but that fell through.

Once he got home, he decided to carry through with the plan to build Wyatt a barn, planning the structure as he went.

“It was all from scratch,” he says. “No plan.”

Greg says the barn will fit in his truck, and he planned to have a buddy come over to help him slide it off the table where it was built and into the bed of the truck. He’s going to have the truck weighed before and after loading to find out exactly how much the barn weighs.

Once in Maryland, the barn will live in a gazebo in the Betz family’s back yard.

“It’s waterproof and will withstand anything Mother Nature can throw at it,” Greg says.

Wyatt is at home in the barns of his Maryland home, where his mom keeps multiple horses. Christine has been involved with horses all her life, Eva says, and now trains horses in the art of dressage and excels in dressage competitions.

Wyatt’s dad, Jeff Betz — who, like Christine, attended Southern Wells schools — transferred to Maryland in his job as a manager at Walgreens, and that gave Christine a chance to move up in the world of dressage — a program of precise movements executed by the horse and rider.

“If you’re going to do dressage, it’s not going to be in Indiana,” Eva says.

Wyatt is one of five grandkids for Greg and Eva, but the first to benefit from Greg’s woodworking skills on such a grand scale. Eva figures the girls would love dollhouses, but the other grandsons aren’t fans of farm life.

“It’s going to be hard to find out what to make for them,” she says. “They’re not into this kind of stuff at all.”