Fences and Gates

Perry Piper remembers the fences and gates from Muddy Creek

Remembering gates

Remembering gates

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Gates have been around for quite a spell, they have. Preacher Stubblefield used to tell us at Union Chapel about the Pearly Gates, and how old Samson used his God-given strength to push down the gate post in the temple and destroy a heap of non-believers, and I well remember a rip-roaring, fire-spitting evangelist that set up a tent at the Sumner Park and preached Hell Fire and Brimstone with accent on the Gates of Hell. Liked to have scared the daylights outta some of the listeners, too, he did. 

Course the gates that I had personal attachment to were those on the farm that Dad hung from good, sturdy hedge posts on iron hinges that he fashioned from an old narrow wagon wheel rim. Why, the gate he made to the old red barn swung on it, and not a smidgen of give was ever seen. Dad took great pride in his gates. He used to say that a sure gauge of a fanner was in the way he kept up his fences, and how he hung his gates.

In today's society, with all the accent on getting every acre either in cash crops or under some government program, fence rows with their hideaways for prairie chickens and bluebirds have become an endangered species. When you don't have fences, you sure don't need gates.

Then, too, those livestock raisers who are still battling the ecologists and fighting off the animal activists have pretty well gone to closed confinement, so the need for fences and gates has greatly diminished.

Now in the days of my growing up on Muddy Creek, the gate was a real part of our lives. The garden gate was praised in song and verse, and the lane with its gate closure was an intricate part of rural living.

The garden gate that I best recall was a unique one that Dad put together from the slats from the buckboard when it was retired in favor of the Model T pickup. It was a beautiful piece of workmanship. Those five-foot-long, inch-square hickory slats with a ski-like curve on one end were set on end with the curve uppermost. They were spaced three inches apart, and bolted to a scrap iron frame that was hung from hinges.

How well I remember the day Dad bent that length of two-inch gas pipe, a discard from the oil field, into a curve for use as the gate posts. He and Uncle Walter wedged that pipe in a fork of the early June apple tree, and then Old Doll, with me aboard, was hitched to one end and I was told to stop her dead when the pipe was bent at the proper angle. That first curve was perfect. The nice rounded bend was a joy to behold. But now the trick was to get that second curve at just the right spot to match the first so that the gate would hang square and be of the proper size. Well, if you have ever tried bending pipe, you know that sometimes it has a mind of its own, and instead of that near perfect, even sensual, curve that came out in the first bend, the second one was more like an obtuse angle, for I couldn't get Old Doll to start with a steady pull, and instead, she lunged ahead to give that pipe gate frame a distinctive crimp that still stands, its feet locked in four feet of concrete, some three-quarters of a century later. The recycled buckboard gate, with its riveted hinges, still swings square and true although the fence is long gone.

During the Depression years, Dad augmented the farm's meager cash income by building wooden gates from native lumber cut nearby. The lumber was sawed into four-inch slats by the big sawmill he had traded a span of mules for. It was powered by a 20-horse Advance-Rumely steam engine that he had dickered for, too.

Some of the logs were floated down the creek and pulled out at the mill site. The green lumber was stacked up to cure over the summer, and when the next fall came, Dad and Uncle Walter could bolt together a dozen or more 12-foot gates. Every one of those holes was "bored" with a brace and bit by hand, and if you think semi-green native timber is easy to saw and drill, you have another think acomin'.

About once a week they would hitch up the hayrack and load on as many of the gates as they could, and head over toward Millerville or Applegate or Kings to "peddle" the gates for $5 each to the oil lease pumpers who needed a gate for the fenced-in family cow.

Another pair of gates I well remember was those that closed in the platform scale on which Dad weighed the hogs, bulls, and occasional barren cow before selling them to "Yenk" Skaggs. Yenk was a shrewd livestock buyer for Bill Brian and could "guess" surprisingly close to the weight of an animal, but Dad always wanted to have a bit of "insurance" when he called him out.

One time Dad had traded for a big old Berkshire sow that had the longest legs and vilest disposition that one could imagine. She seemed to have an affinity for the Vanatta place, and would jump over the supposedly "hog proof" wire fence to go a-visiting, and I would have to go down and, with Old Bowser, try to corral the old gal and head her home. This went on for half a dozen times. Since she didn't seem to have any interest in being a mother, and (though she ate like a hog) she ran off all the fat she was supposed to put on, Dad decided to sell her to Yenk.

When Yenk came out in his Model T with the hog crate on the back, he backed it up by the chute at the scale and they rounded up the old sow and finally, after a half a dozen attempts, got her coaxed onto the scale by throwing ears of corn to her. She didn't like it much, but her gluttonous appetite prevailed and Dad got her weighed in. Yenk promptly deducted 20 pounds for the corn she had just wolfed down and carefully counted the greenbacks which Dad just as promptly stowed away, and then the fun began.

With her belly full, that old girl decided that she wasn't about to climb the stairs into Yenk's truck, no sirreebob! She refused to go up that chute. It was quite a sight: Yenk, with his cane and pig board trying to shush her toward the chute, and her so full the extra corn didn't appeal to her. She ran around in a circle, and just as it looked like maybe she was going to head up the chute, she wheeled, and with those long legs a flyin', she leaped into the air and came smack down on the corner of the scale gates, smashing not one but both of them into splinters, and took off for the Vanatta woods. The last time we seen her, she was still heading north with old Yenk cussin' and a pantin' as he chased after her.

I don't know if he ever caught up with that old sow, but I do know that it cost Dad a heap more in time and money to repair the damage she did to those scale gates than he got from Yenk.

If you ever doubt that a Berkshire sow can't high jump, well, I can tell you right now that you have another think acoming' – yes sirreebob! FC 

The late Perry Piper was a columnist for newspapers in Indiana and Illinois for more than 12 years. His columns, reprinted here from his personal memoirs, appear in Farm Collector with the permission of his family.