It’s All Trew

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Above: When fed through a device such as this Hawkeye Rope Machine, binder twine was fashioned into strong, inexpensive rope.
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Left: A spool of binder twine produced in Mexico, sitting atop a chair featuring a seat woven of binder twine.
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Above: A 1917 Deering grain binder like this one employed binder twine.
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Above: Binder twine was also made of American wiregrass of the West and Northwest. (Images reprinted from 150 Years of International Harvester with permission of the author, Charles H. Wendel.)

Binder twine endures as all-purpose farm and ranch

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:

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