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For 20 years, H. Wayne Price has raced against time, weather and progress.

Price has crisscrossed Illinois in pursuit of his hobby: studying and photographing old barns before time and weather crumble them or farmers raze them to erect modern ones."The old barns can't pay their own way. (Farmers) can't justify the expense to keep them," Price said. "The old barns are going, and in another 50 years they'll be very rare items on the landscape."

Which is too bad, he says, because barns reveal a great deal about their builders and the time in which they were built.

Price can trace barns from the log structures used by the earliest French settlers to the round barns promoted by the University of Illinois at the turn of the century.

"The early barns reflect the ethnic backgrounds of the builders. In other words, you've got your folk culture," Price said. "Log architecture and the earlier barns represent the material culture that was handed down from father to son."

Price, 70, a retiree from a Springfield food-processing plant, estimates he has photographed 1,500 barns - and he doesn't plan to stop.

At first, he was reluctant to ask people for permission to study their barns.

"I felt if I went out and knocked on a door and said, `I want to take a picture of your barn,' they'd call the white-coats and have me locked up," Price said. "I found out people were delighted that you were interested in a barn. From then on, it was easy."

Keith Sculle, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency's education coordinator who occasionally accompanies Price, said Price was one of the first people to record, in words and pictures, the state's barns.

Price's work inspired others and helped get the state involved in recording barns and even preserving some, Sculle said.

"I think that Illinois barns, which are vanishing and vanishing quickly, are going to be understood because of farsighted work by Wayne," Sculle said.

Work by Sculle and Price was largely responsible for getting about 25 Illinois barns on the National Register of Historic Places, said Ann Swallow, coordinator of the register for the state Historic Preservation Agency.

Price grew up in a small town rather than on a farm, and he made his career at the food-processing plant, but his knowledge of barns isn't entirely theoretical.

"I come by this honestly," he said. "I have a barn I built with my own hands."