Friday, September 2, 2011

Using What You Got

It seems to me that those who were born in the first years of the twentieth century were cut from different and much tougher cloth than those who came after. Most of them didn't have great gobs of formal education but they learned one lesson very well. They were experts in making using what they had.

I remember in particular a patch of fence on the back side of grandpa's farm....way off the road and in the woods where nobody could see it. Among the errant strands of wire stood the remains of a very old steel coil mattress, wired in place and doing it's last duty keeping our cows off our neighbours farm. It's been standing there since grandpa wired it into the fence in the early 1930's; before that it served a few seasons as his first horse drawn harrow....this after spending untold years before as his bed, and maybe it was somebody else's bed before it was his ! When I checked on my last trip home it was still there and still standing, solidly ready to perform it's duty, though there haven't been any cows on that farm for the past couple of years.

When I got up old enough to begin being a really useful helper, I acquired my first piece of farm equipment. It was a stone sled (known locally as a boat), made out of cedar poles and old planks. It was technology so old and so obsolete that almost nobody else I knew had one even back then. I moved so much stuff on it over the course of several years that I completely wore out the sliders. Wood, brush, wire, you name it. It was so useful and so easy to load that I'm actually thinking about building one to use behind our current tractor. I pulled it behind a tough old Case tractor that started when you cranked it at the front and you engaged the clutch by hand rather than by foot. The old tractor had all kinds of power but it was incredibly slow...high gear was about 4 mph and all the rest were in increments below that.

One of my great grandfathers was a blacksmith, and in addition to shoeing horses he made and sold a lot of useful tools and knives. One of his tools that graces my toolbox downstairs and that I still use regularly is a drawknife, fashioned (I think) from an old wagon (or possibly car) spring. They were originally made to shave shingles and shakes but they work a treat to shave lumber of any kind for nearly any purpose. The old drawknife also keeps a sharp edge for an incredibly long time.

I'm not very good at using what I have compared to the old timers, but the more I think about the stuff we used to use when I was a kid the more inspired I become as we work to outfit our new farm appropriately. While I don't forsee patching my fence with a set of hundred year old bed springs any time soon, I think I might start getting a bit more creative in other areas, so if you're ever walking in my woods, consider this fair warning.


SmartAlex said...

I used to drag our arena with an old box spring... nothing better!

My husband is the King of Recycle-Reuse-Renew. He is forever dragging home odd items. He asked me once if I minded, which I don't. He always stores it neatly and is always using or trading. Some stuff he brings home just in case of trade!

Some of my family, however, drags stuff home just to drag stuff home.

Jason said...


What's he got up there right now ?

Depending on Melissa's mood, I fall somewhere between group one and group two. :)

SmartAlex said...

He has a little of everything! Once he brought home "junk that can be seen from space". It was a 40' house "trailer" that had held a house being moved. It had two axles, and only one good tire, and he never even though about how he would get it into the driveway until he got there.

Being bright blue, it was clearly visible on Google Earth!

Kelly said...

Use it up,
Wear it out.
Make it do,
Or do without.

I learned that one from this Agrarian blogger:
I learned a lot from him on many topics, actually.

Laura said...

You are so right about the older generation. My grandfather had an interesting collection of "bits and pieces" of stuff. He had the small stuff sorted in old tobacco tins and the rest was stored in various sheds. At least he kept it fairly tidy. He even had an olllld Case tractor that had a crank start - I used to love going for a ride with him!

I used to spend hours rooting through his "stuff" to see what I could find. I would often take stuff and try to build a dog house or repair my bike with the parts.