It's All Trew

Before Baling Wire and Duct Tape

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Binder twine endures as all-purpose farm and ranch problem-solver

Most old timers have forgotten a simple product used almost daily in the distant past. We called it "binder twine," as it was basically used in a McCormick-Deering broadcast binder to tie together bundles of feed stalks. It was cheap and durable and served in many ways.

There is no prettier sight in the fall than a field of shocked feed with its little "tepees" of feed bundles awaiting the long winter ahead. Those little twines holding the bundles together made handling stock feed a breeze with only a pitchfork in hand.

The Deering-Appleby twine binder, introduced in 1879, sold like wildfire and worked like a charm. As demand for binder twine increased, Deering spent thousands of dollars experimenting with different fibers to provide strength and quality of product at the most economical price.

The best twine product seemed to be a blend of sisal from Yucatan and manila from the Philippines. To meet the demand, Deering established three twine factories in the U.S., and more overseas, importing huge, 400-pound bales of both fibers.

Fibers were softened, blended, oiled and treated against insects. Huge breaking and combing machines straightened fiber for spinning into large, fluffy rope forms. Final spinning kept stretching and reducing the size before the fiber was wound on large bobbins. From there, the finished product was rewound into balls designed to fit twine holders on farm machinery.

From 1897 to 1937, when six brands were available, binder twine changed little. The original twine balls weighed about 8 pounds each, with approximately 75 strands of fiber twisted 14 times per lineal foot to achieve strength and uniform size. When the new power-driven hay balers arrived, binder twine changed a bit, evolving into "baler twine" with more strength and size.

Both binder and baler twine were shipped to dealers in heavy, oiled paper bags and tied with 14 feet of rope made from the same twine. Customers prized the waterproof paper and the free rope for around-the-farm and -ranch use. I guess you could say that binder twine was the forerunner to baling wire and duct tape. The Trew family used a lot of binder twine in the 1930s and 1940s.

Besides tying together bundles, binder twine was used to gather up gunny sacks into bundles for the sack man, sew sack tops, stretch between wooden stakes in the garden for beans and tomatoes to climb, and patch everything from pickup seats to screen doors. We also patched harness and tack, made twine halters and repaired toys with the ever-ready twine.

A neighbor owned a hand-cranked rope-making machine, so about once a year we borrowed his device and made all sizes and lengths of rope from our balls of twine. Binder twine is still available today, as my wife, Ruth, uses it to weave bottoms in several different designs for antique chairs. For basic value and utility, this simple product has truly passed the test of time.

- Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil's Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net