Herald's Sky View: Historic Wagner Farm's red buildings stand out against snowy suburban landscape

  • Farm buildings painted in the traditional iron-oxide red color and the redbrick farm house stand out from the snow-covered fields at the Historic Wagner Farm in Glenview Tuesday.

      Farm buildings painted in the traditional iron-oxide red color and the redbrick farm house stand out from the snow-covered fields at the Historic Wagner Farm in Glenview Tuesday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/14/2021 3:11 AM

Farm buildings painted in the traditional iron-oxide red color stand out from the snow-covered landscape in an aerial photo taken at the Glenview Park District's Historic Wagner Farm Tuesday.

One thing that U.S. farms and railroads had in common through the late 20th Century was the color selection available for barns and boxcars. Most barns were painted oxide red, though some are white, and most of the 40-foot boxcars riding the rails during the steam era were painted in a variation of the same color.

 

During the 1960s, and certainly during the nation's bicentennial when many barns were painted red, white and blue, farmers started to get creative with their color choices.

Likewise, railroads began to paint boxcars in bright color schemes, including blue, yellow, green and orange.

I've seen a few explanations for the reason oxide red was used, but one that stands out is that the color was cheap and readily available. For similar reasons, early automobiles were generally black, as were steam locomotives.

Last summer, I produced a feature article on the Historic Wagner Farm when it was surrounded by green grasses and the crops started to emerge.

I returned this week to find a much different landscape, with the color of the red structures contrasting with the white snow.

Following my flight, I caught a glimpse of the cows and chickens, which are among the animals that reside at the farm year-round. As I departed, I realized that it's both a blessing and a miracle that the farm has survived in the otherwise suburban landscape.

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