Barker takes up school house living

3 1 Rays Lou Barker and Roy HaleyWilliam Paine/Patriot Publishing

Lou Barker and Roy Haley in front of Ray’s Schoolhouse: From left: Roy Haley and Lou Barker stand in front of the old schoolhouse on his property – Ray’s Schoolhouse. Barker renovated the interior of the building and has installed solar panels (as seen) to heat his water.



Patriot Publishing


How does a self-described “Yankee Rebel” find himself living in an abandoned schoolhouse in a bucolic section of Pulaski County?


“I’m from the other end of Appalachia … I was born in Providence, Rhode Island,” said Lou Barker, who bought 10 ½ acres of land along Brookmont Road in May of last year. “I’ve always wanted some land and maybe a little water and I had some money and was thinking about a possible investment.


Barker is a mechanical engineer by training. He sells Ranger Data Loggers, which are used to measure electrical power outputs, to make his living. Barker sells to a variety of clients that include big name companies like the Tennessee Valley Authority and Duke Energy.


3 1 Rays Hllside Tire Garden
These tires came with Lou Barker’s purchase on Brookmont Road. (William Paine/Patriot Publishing)

His business and his past membership in the U.S. Army have led Barker to live in many locales including Oklahoma, New York, Indiana and Washington State, but in recent years, Barker has lived with his wife in Grottos, Virginia, a small town near Waynesboro.


“I wanted some land and since most of my customers are in the south, I thought of Southwest Virginia,” Barker explained. “I’ve lived in Augusta County for the past twenty years and when I first bought, I was at the end of the cul de sac and had woods behind me, but that’s gone. They built it up and now I have no privacy.”


Barker bought three parcels on Brookmont Road, which included a trailer home, a shed and an old schoolhouse that he call’s Ray’s Schoolhouse, for $99,500 on May 15, 2023.


It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, starting with the day of his purchase.


“On closing day, I come down with a trailer with some belongings,” recounted Barker. “Officer Stone of the Pulaski police department decided the trailer that I just bought from Tractor Supply, needed some reflective tape. So, he wrote me up.”


“Then, an hour before closing, I start unloading the trailer and I slip and I broke my friggin’ wrist,” Barker continued. “But I’m like, ‘Screw it.’ We went to lunch and I did the closing and then I went to the hospital.”


The 10 ½ acre property lines the west side of the roadway and includes a sizable pond. Rumor has it there is a box car submerged deep within the pond, as Brookmont runs along the site of an old railroad track.


Barker’s property extends up an adjacent hillside and it is there that he discovered nearly 200 old tires strewn through the woods. Barker found that the EPA allows for 100 tires per parcel and since the tires are spread between two parcels, Barker is not in violation of the law. Even so, he plans to eventually remove all the tires from his property and has already begun the process, though he’ll have to bear all the cost himself.


Roy Haley, who lives on Robinson Tract Road, often comes to lend Lou a helping hand with his projects … or just hang out. Roy used to mow the lawn for Min Lee Klop, the former owner of the property. Soon after purchasing the place, Haley and his grandson, Eli brought over some fresh caught fish, as a housewarming gift. Since then, Roy has become a frequent visitor to Lou’s place.


Like Lou, Roy is a veteran of the U.S. Army and finds much common ground through this association.


“Roy and I kind of hit it off and kind of made a friendship,” said Barker.


3 1 Rays Boxcar Pond
Boxcar Pond: Rumor has it that there’s a boxcar submerged in this pond on Lou Barker’s property on Brookmont Road. (William Paine/Patriot Publishing)

Barker also found a renter for the trailer on the property, in the form of Travis Howard, who was living in a rental unit across the road. This was the residence of the previous owner and needed little repair to make ready for rental.


Ray’s Schoolhouse, on the other hand, needed much work to make it livable. Outside the historic schoolhouse, which he believes was built circa 1900, Barker installed an array of solar panels, which he uses to heat his water.


“These are 48-volt solar panels,” said Barker. “This is kind of a temporary set up. Nothing is ground mounted, which means I can move it where I want. I might put it on the roof.”

The interior of the schoolhouse is essentially comprised of one large high ceiling room, which adjoins a tiny kitchen toward the far end of the structure. There is also a small bathroom, complete with a door, tucked into the corner of the structure.


“The kitchen was there and so was the bathroom, but the toilet didn’t work,” said Barker. “We blew in insulation in the walls and we put reflective insulation up top and I’m going to put more on the bottom. We rebuilt the deck, but the foundation is solid and the frame is dynamite. The wood in this place would dull a Sawzall. The whole place is solid. I’m thinking about putting in a loft.”


A wood stove sits at the center of the interior of the schoolhouse and Barker has fashioned a bedroom enclosure from glass block and cloth hangings. A couple of old school desks are part of his interior motif, as well as a few plants, some floor tiles and an old-style American Flag.


“The last person who lived here was probably 20 years ago and it was a lady with a bunch of dogs,” said Roy Haley, who joined Barker in the schoolhouse.


“They had to pressure wash this place because of the stink,” said Barker, adding that a squatter had recently been growing marijuana out of soil bags that he’d dropped in the interior of the schoolhouse.


3 1 Rays Argo six wheel vehicle
Argo six wheel vehicle: This is how Lou Barker gets around his 10.5-acre property. (William Paine/Patriot Publishing)

“There were homeless people sleeping under the floor,” said Roy. “They would crawl under the deck and stay there, but I sealed that off.”


Then there’s the bees.


“There is a honeybee hive in the wall behind the refrigerator … They came with the house,” said Barker, who called Virginia Tech to find out what to do. “They’re still in there right now because the time to move them is evidently in the Spring. So, it’s too late to move them now.”


Apparently, the cool winter temperatures were keeping the bees docile for the moment, as none were seen that day.


Even in its primitive state, the interior of the old Ray’s School House is quite cozy.


Lou stays in the old schoolhouse periodically, but maintains a permanent residence in Augusta County with his wife and son Brad, who he put through Virginia Tech.


There’s no question that Lou Barker enjoys owning a property in beautiful Pulaski County, but why spend so much time and money rehabilitating and living in an abandoned schoolhouse?


“Well, right now my wife is dying,” Lou admitted. “She has terminal cancer. It was February the year before last when we found out and she’s running out of treatments now. This place is a distraction. My wife understood. She gave me the ok. So that that’s why I wanted the property. So, I could just kind of hang out and enjoy nature. Pulaski County, their slogan is play outdoors and this year, we’ve played outdoors, man!”


Barker is no stranger to health problems.


“I had a liver replacement in 2019,” Barker admitted. “I drank it away because of PTSD and from my depression. I hit rock bottom in November 2016 and I haven’t had a drop since Donald Trump was elected. When my liver gave out, I quit cold turkey.”


Maintaining the property and enjoying the great outdoors serves to keep Barker’s mind and body occupied.


“In between cutting firewood, trying to stay warm, making sure the guys in my rental are more comfortable than I am – because I’m not a slumlord – and getting rid of those tires, there’s lots to do,” said Barker.


“I’m almost on the edge of retirement, so now I’m going to do a little bit more of what I want,” Barker declared. “So, I’m gonna get into a little bit of farming … we’re thinking blueberries or cherries. I’ve got an Argo, that six-wheel amphibious vehicle over there. So, we can go wherever we want to go.”


Thinking about his new home away from home, Barker had this to say.


“Pulaski is close enough for convenience and I think the town has turned a corner now. There seems to be a lot going on.”