Editor’s Note: This is another in a continuing series of stories authored by Robert Kroeger, who has painted 23 barns in Highland County, most of them framed with wood from the actual barn. Kroeger called this painting “Noah’s Ark of Highland County.”
I wrote about Will Bohrer in the essay on the painting titled “The Three Little Pigs.” If you’re not familiar with Bohrer, reading that essay would make this one more enjoyable.
When Hillsboro area residents Sandy and Tim Shoemaker, my two faithful barn scouts, and I drove past this little barn, sitting on a hillside along U.S. Route 50, I remarked that it looked interesting. Sandy screeched to a stop, allowing me to take photos. She said Bohrer owned it and kept a stable-full of animals on the farm. I did see a white llama in the background behind the barn. Sandy said that he also had some “zedonks,” a term to describe a cross between a zebra and a donkey. I thought she was kidding. But she wasn’t.
She also told me that the owners who sold to Bohrer were a fascinating mix. According to Sandy, Mrs. Laverne Hamm and her husband bought this farm because she wanted to prove that a woman could run a farm. Sandy described her as “a character.” Hamm’s husband, apparently a patient soul, worked in Dayton and commuted daily so that she could run a farm. When they rode together in a car and approached the farm, Laverne was known to say, “James Willis, open the gate!” Unfortunately, I’ll never meet her. She passed away years ago.
I’m not sure how long they owned the farm, but I would guess that Laverne proved her point: a woman can own and operate a farm business. They sold it to Bohrer in 1996, which is when he started his zoo.
The barn probably dates to the late 1800s, though only its old stone foundation hints at this time of construction; its interior timbers are sawcut – not hand-hewn – and are apparently replacements. Why? That’s a good question since hand-hewn timbers usually stand the test of time.
When I finally met Bohrer in June of 2016, I told him I’d paint this barn and asked him about the animals he kept on the farm. He was more than happy to tell me that he has, or had at one time, the following creatures: buffalo (he purchased from the Amish), alpacas, llamas, emu, a pot belly pig, cattle, donkeys, zebras, and yes, zedonks. It was a veritable Noah’s ark.
The most interesting animal in this menagerie is, of course, the zedonk. I still had my doubts about this until Sandy sent me a photo of one. Later, one day while driving by, I saw it. He – assuming he’s a male – is a cute fellow – with zebra-striped legs, a brownish-gray donkey mid-section, and a handsome face with zebra lines. I discovered that the technical term is zebroid, an offspring from the crossing of a zebra with any equine animal – horse, donkey, mule, and even Shetland ponies. For this to work, the sire must be the zebra, though there are exceptions. The chance of zedonks reproducing is small since the females are infertile – due to chromosomal differences. Also, as I found, they’ve been around since the 1800s. In fact, Charles Darwin mentioned several zebroids in his writings.
As an aside, Bohrer reminded me that he didn’t go to casinos; he invested in farm land. He told me that instead of spending his time gambling, he raises dogs – dalmatians, beagles, and Australian shepherds. He also has a modest collection of white convertibles, ranging from a 1949 Crosley to a Porsche. Two or three dozen of them. Now, that could be fodder for another story. But, for now, Noah’s Ark of Highland County is enough.
Robert Kroeger is a former Cincinnati area dentist who has since ran in and organized marathons, took up the painting skills he first picked up from his commercial artist father, become a published author, and is a certified personal trainer that started the LifeNuts vitality program. Visit his website at http://barnart.weebly.com/paintings.html.