Fence-Making Machines

Missouri collector focuses on fence-making machines.


| August 2005



Front side detail of the Kitselman woven wire machine

Front side detail of the Kitselman woven wire machine. The device is pulled down the smooth longitudinal wires (toward the right) as the crank is turned. A gear under the small box-shaped cover (lower right hand corner) regulates how many times the stay wires are twisted around the longitudinal wires before the device moves and bobbins switch to wrap on the alternating longitudinal wire.

Did you ever look at a piece of woven hog fencing and wonder how it was made? How about wire-bound, wood-slat snow fence or wire-bound picket fence? Did you ever consider how the barbs get installed and twisted into barbed wire? Harold Eddy and son Alan, both of Slater, Mo., discovered answers to those questions when they found an odd-looking chain-driven device nearly a dozen years ago.

'We found our first fence-making machine in Mt. Pleasant (Iowa) at the swap meet,' Harold says with a smile. 'It was in fair condition, but complete enough that I could recognize it for what it was.' Harold had seen a drawing of a similar device while doing patent research on one of his hundreds of other primitive farm tools.

'From my research, I knew that they were rare,' Harold says while turning the device's crank and neatly twisting a wooden picket between three pairs of wires. 'You can use this tool to make barbed wire or smooth, twisted wire fencing, too.' As it turns out, that first fence-making machine needed very little work to get it operating. According to Alan, the most difficult part of the process was finding the correct chain, which is poured from molten material, not stamped.

Today, most fencing materials are purchased by the roll at the local farm supply store, but that was not the case in the late 1800s, when steel wire first became an attractive alternative to wood fence. According to Harold, fence-making machines were sold for only a brief period before demand for wire fencing became great enough that manufacturers took note. 'The portable fence-making machines were used on the farm during the last 25 years or so of the 1800s,' Harold says. 'When the stuff could be bought readymade, the machines were abandoned.' For Harold, it is exactly that quirky rarity that makes fence-making machines an attractive collectible.

It takes diligence and a great deal of patience to collect something so unusual, though, and it helps to have a keen eye. 'Right away I wanted to find other fence machines, but I didn't really know where to look,' Harold explains with a chuckle. 'So I just dug through every pile of junk I found at auctions, swap meets and flea markets, and eventually got lucky.' Harold's luck, and desire to share his knowledge, ensures that these wire-weaving mechanical wonders will not be forgotten.

Fencing fabric

By the time Harold found his second and third fence-making machines, he had made the conscious decision to build a diverse fence tool collection, including wire stretchers, post-hole diggers, fencing pliers and related devices. 'I thought it would be fun to collect the range of early fencing tools,' Harold says, admitting he also thought such a collection would make an interesting and informative display at shows. 'I like to exhibit something unusual so we can all learn something.'

When Harold learned of a five-day auction liquidating a private museum near Rocheport, Mo., he had no idea he would come home with a pair of fence-making machines. At the very least, he figured he would find a few interesting fence-stretching tools, and that's what happened. Then he saw a rusty heap of metal. 'There was this pile of junk that was first offered for choice,' Harold explains. 'I saw what I thought was the remains of a woven-wire machine in the pile, and I wanted it.' After Harold won the fence machine's remains, the auctioneer put the rest of the pile on the block as a unit. On a hunch, Harold bought the pile and discovered another wire-twisting machine buried within.