In their barn, Ron and Linda Chalus stand behind the bar that once was part of the Lone Tree located just down the road from their farm. “My dad and grandmother built the Lone Tree in 1927, which was a gas station and they served food,” the farmer said. When Chalus learned that the bar was in a friend’s barn, he knew he had to save this piece of his family’s history.
In their barn, Ron and Linda Chalus stand behind the bar that once was part of the Lone Tree located just down the road from their farm. “My dad and grandmother built the Lone Tree in 1927, which was a gas station and they served food,” the farmer said. When Chalus learned that the bar was in a friend’s barn, he knew he had to save this piece of his family’s history.

UTICA, Ill. — The barn on the Ron and Linda Chalus farm has been used for a variety of activities since it was built in 1937.

“This was a dairy barn, and my dad milked cows here until the early 1950s,” said Ron Chalus, who farms near Utica. “I remodeled the barn, put in this metal ceiling, installed rows of farrowing crates and raised baby pigs in this barn until 2003.”

The farrow-to-finish swine operation produced from 400 to 500 pigs per year.

“Now we farm a little over 1,000 acres and we switched to all crops and we raise corn and soybeans,” Chalus said.

The barn mostly was empty for more than 10 years, which probably was a good thing when a tornado roared through the Utica area on April 20, 2004.

The farmers were away from the farm when the storm ripped through their farmstead.

“I was doing some fieldwork that day, and then I quit since it started to rain,” Linda Chalus said. “At that time, Ron was recovering from a seizure that he had about a month before.”

The couple decided to go to Ottawa, and while they were eating dinner, their daughter, who lives in Chicago, called because she heard a tornado had hit Utica.

“Ron walked out to the parking lot, and he didn’t see anything,” his wife recalled. “But then Ron’s sister called, and we decided we should check our farm.”

As the couple approached the farmstead, the damage from the tornado became apparent.

“The barn door was blown out, there was roof damage and eight buildings on our farm were damaged,” Ron Chalus said.

“It was unbelievable how many people came out to help clean up,” Linda Chalus said.

“There were 50 people here that night,” her husband added.

As they checked out the damage to the large barn, the couple saw quite a sight in the hay loft.

“All the boards from the door were scattered except those two pieces of wood that form a cross,” the farmer said. “The rope and chain on those boards are part of the hay track that has a trolley. A claw picked up eight bales, and you could drop the hay or straw anywhere up here. We haven’t touched those boards since the day of the tornado.”

Three days after the tornado power was restored to the Chalus farm.

“There was another sign that God was here that day,” Linda Chalus said.

“It was toward evening, and Ron asked our granddaughters if they wanted to see what the tornado left in the barn,” she said. “As they headed to the barn, they saw a ring of fire in the house. When the power was turned back on, the damaged electricity wires were rubbing against the wood frame of the house and started the fire. If they hadn’t seen it, our house would have been gone.”

After repairing the damage left by the tornado, the Chalus barn didn’t see much activity until about a year ago.

“We were talking to our good friends, Gary and Louise Harmon, and Gary mentioned that he had the bar from the Lone Tree in a barn,” Ron Chalus said. “He said he had to get the bar out because the farm was sold, and he asked me if I wanted it.”

The Lone Tree was located just down the road from the Chalus farm.

“My dad and grandmother built the Lone Tree in 1927, which was a gas station and they served food,” the farmer said. “I remember going there on Saturday nights when I was 10 years old for chicken and spaghetti, and then they showed outdoor movies.”

Chalus wasn’t looking for the bar. He actually had no clue what happened to the bar after it was removed by the current owner of the restaurant.

“I figured it was gone,” he said. “But when Gary said it was in a barn, I said don’t throw it away.”

“Ron brought the bar home on a flatbed trailer, and it was all in pieces,” his wife recalled. “I asked him if it was really a bar.”

“The bar was so dirty, so I cleaned it up and put on a couple coats of polyethylene,” Ron Chalus said.

“Our carpenter came and helped Ron put the bar together,” Linda Chalus said.

“I probably measured it 10 times to see if it would fit in the barn,” the farmer said. “But I didn’t have to cut it down. This is the exact size it was at the Lone Tree, just like it was made to be here.”

Once the bar was installed in the dairy barn, events began to snowball for the Lone Tree Barn.

“Our granddaughters painted the walls,” Ron Chalus said. “And the red boards over there came from the crib that was on my uncle’s farm down the road. I only cut the boards to size. They weren’t painted.”

June 1, 2013, marked the 50th wedding anniversary for Ron and Linda Chalus, who are the parents of three daughters, Robin, Debra and Melissa, and seven grandchildren.

“We were still in the fields in June, so our anniversary party was on Aug. 3,” Linda Chalus said. “It was going to be a party for family, people who were in our wedding and close neighbors, but from 75 to 80 people came.”

“We opened our barn with the party,” Ron Chalus said.

On Dec. 1, 2013, about 300 more people visited the “Christmas Under the Cross” barn during the Holiday House Walk that was held to support the Cops 4 Cancer program. In addition to the Chalus barn, this daylong event included five houses and a remodeled church in the LaSalle-Peru area all decorated for the holidays.

“That day went so well. The walk made over $7,000,” Linda Chalus said. “The money went to three local families that applied for help.”

“We’ve probably had another 125 people visit since then,” Ron Chalus said. “And we had three or four more people this week.”

With the help of many friends and family members, the main floor and the loft of the barn were decorated over about a three-week period.

“About two-thirds of the decorations downstairs belong to us,” Linda Chalus said.

“We decided to carry out the Cops 4 Cancer theme by decorating trees to depict different types of cancer,” she said.

“We have about 60 trees counting all sizes throughout the barn,” she noted.

Although all the Christmas decorations remain in the Chalus barn, some of these trees soon will be moving to a local banquet hall as part of the kickoff program for the Relay for Life.

“We have to take it down?” Ron Chalus asked with a chuckle.

Plans already are in progress for additional events at this historic barn.

“In September, we’re planning to host my 55th class reunion,” the Ottawa High School graduate said. “There will probably be from 40 to 50 people attending.”