Friday, October 21, 2011

About Fencing

Not the action kind that involves swords and sabers and Zorro,(though the old electric fences could certainly give that effect, and I can verify that personally) but the kind that kept the cows corralled. Most fences around the farm yard were made out of wood rather than the fancy pipe ones they make now, which improvement I applaud. The wood fences had to be painted over and over and over. Though it seemed we painted them all every year, Dad told me once that he bought a 5-gallon bucket each spring and painted til it was gone. Sometimes it was red paint, and sometimes it was white. Somewhere I have a picture of my two oldest boys "helping" Grandpa paint. Apparently not all five gallons went on the actual fences, and my suspicion is that the painting did at least as much to keep us occupied and out of trouble as it did to improve the looks of the wood.

Well do I remember Dad's diligent upkeep of those funky cedar fence posts. They were famous for tipping one way or the other, causing the wire staples to work loose. He kept a tin can with fence-mending material and a hammer on hand on an every-day basis. There were also some wire-stretchers for more major repair. Somewhere along the line, he developed a real interest in collecting old barbed wire, probably because it was a visual symbol of hard work, with some creative ingenuity thrown in.

He had some of his own wire, people learned of his interest and gave him some they came across, and he would take his metal detector on rides to old places to search for stuff like that. It was one of his few hobbies, that and reading.

He mounted them on a shed wall, then later on something more mobile. One time he was asked to show them at a library or school in the Logan area and give a small presentation to some kids. I remember that day; he dressed up in a long-sleeved shirt, shined boots, bolo tie, and ever-present hat. It pleased him that someone would care about what he had done. It was always his pleasure to learn and teach others about historical and conservative things.

After my dad passed away, a caring craftsman built several professional wood-framed panels, all labeled and covered with glass, to display Dad's barbed wire collection. That would have pleased my dad, and did me as well. I agree that these should stay in Clifton, but I don't think they should become part of anybody's private collection. They should be displayed openly so they can retain their purpose of educating and bringing joy to many people.

When I was at Papa Jay's in Clifton recently, eating lunch, I noticed some walls there that could be a decent place to display Dad's collection. Another possible alternative might be at the Moyle Center. I think that would just add to the town's ambiance, and many more people could enjoy and learn. Like fine paintings and other art, such a tribute lifts the observer and thus, should be open to all.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Today marks seventy years since my mother and dad got married, her first anniversary without him. I imagine today was one of the longest days of her life. Love you, Mom!!!

In honor of their farming years, here is a bit of trivia to store in your brain:

Barns are red because the original "paint" farmers had was a mixture of things lying around...milk, oil, and rust. That's what it says. It makes sense. I don't know why the milk or rust, but the oil was probably to protect the wood from the elements. Perhaps the rust just gave it color, or maybe it gave some boost for lasting, or even might have been a bug inhibitor. Maybe the milk was a catalyst of some kind. Maybe it was to make the cows feel at home. Maybe....

Who knows? I'm sure they had their reasons and, frankly, I can't imagine a barn any other color and am not going to start second-guessing any farmer...or farmer's wife, either.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Harvest Home

During the Top Shot show last night (and what a great episode), there was a trailer for a new tv series called "Harvest", which begins tomorrow. It caught my attention, not because I intend to watch it, but because it was a catalyst to an old memory. Recalling the event causes me mixed emotions, and here's why:

Farming is serious business, life-blood stuff. If a farmer's grain crop happened to survive summer hail and wind storms...and insect or rodent infestation...and mold issues...and if the weeds didn't take over, or any other myriad problems occurred, it would be ready to harvest in late fall. It wasn't like alfalfa which was harvested 3-4 times a year. This was a one-shot crop. The farmer had to watch it like a hawk and call in the combines the very moment the grains were ready, so as to prevent them from drying out and falling to the ground, an impossible harvest.

I remember one summer when the combine man (we usually had Quint Crockett do it, but you took anyone who could get there fast enough) had arrived and was hard at work. The big red combine was munching up swaths of wheat, somehow separating the heads from the stalks, storing the grain and disgorging the stalks, transforming them into straw. The straw was used for bedding warmth for the animals in winter. A beautiful day can turn into a nightmare in less than one minute flat, and that's what happened on this day.

All of a sudden, a spark from the combine lit a fire in the field across from the house. The effect was a lot like a forest fire in dry bark chippings. It goes wild in an instant. I was probably about 8 years old or so and had no clue what to do...but Dad flipped into firefighter mode instantly. I remember Mother yelling to get all the quilts and gunny sacks and soak them in water. Dad had a little pump in a nearby field, but nothing that comes close to fire-fighting capacities. We were running around like mice, and I had an awful feeling of catastrophe, but did just as I was told.

The combine man, who was no doubt experiencing his own kind of horror, was driving his machine around like a drunk driver. He was trying to harvest all he could before the fire devoured everything in sight, including himself. Keep in mind, the nearest fire department was 12 miles away, and all would have been lost before they even arrived in Clifton.

What happened next is the miraculous part. In probably less than five minutes, people arrived in cars and trucks, with loads of wet blankets, water containers, shovels, anything they could find to fight the fire. To my recollection, there were at least two other men with combines who left their own fields to come to the rescue. Even as a child, I knew this was not an ordinary happening, combines running at full speed in random directions while trying to avoid each other and the flames that were spreading in diverse directions. Men, women and children were beating the ground with blankets and gunny sacks and shovels. Some were digging up dirt and throwing it onto the flames. Some were stomping on small sections of flames with their boots. Nobody was wildly giving orders. Nobody was screaming or swearing at anybody. Nobody was just standing around. It reminded me of what it must have been like when the pioneers were besieged with the crickets and saved by the seagulls. This day all Cliftonites were seagulls.

It was the ultimate Neighborhood Watch. We had not placed one phone call. There was simply spontaneous love and caring...and preparation...and work. Set aside the fact that Dad and Mother and our group would have done exactly the same thing for others at the same speed as everyone in town did that day for us; to me this was, and remains, an experience more remarkable than all of the 7 Wonders of the World combined.

Just another day in Clifton, Idaho, home of the "Seagulls".