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Cobbled up gates and fences

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The older (and lazier) I get, the more creative I become at putting up temporary fencing that ends up being permanent. Not so long ago I plugged a gap in a deteriorating pasture fence with a section of ancient spike-toothed harrow. The harrow is so old I call it Adam. Heaven knows how many acres Adam had leveled after the plow before he was retired to our tree grove. He thought his useful days were over, I’m sure. But desperate for a way to fix the fence in a hurry, I spied the rusty old soul leaning disconsolately against a hickory tree and knew he was just what the situation required. Now Adam has a whole new second career ahead of him and looks quite jaunty in his new role. In fact so well does his left section hold off the sheep that now his right section has become a fixture in another hole in the fence. Some enterprising soul might want to give this idea serious thought. There must be thousands of Adams rusting away in farm machinery graveyards far and wide. Start marketing what could be called Forever Fence.

Over the years, I have used all sorts of things to plug holes in fences or to serve as gates to the entrances of fields or barn pens. Wooden shipping pallets make passable “temporary” fences and pens and if you know how to beg pathetically, you can often get pickup loads of them at factories. Out in the weather they last about five years which is forever enough for an old man. Four of them wired together in a square make very handy impromptu lambing pens. Three of them will do the same against a barn wall. If you have a lot of old baling wire (lengths of which I have also used to thread through rusted out sections of woven wire fence), you can wire a bunch of pallets to each other and set them up in a zigzag fashion to make a fence that doesn’t need posts.

In Wendell Berry’s latest lovely book, A Place In Time, he tells about his fictional character’s old cobbled up pasture fence, “the wire stapled to trees that had grown up in the line, spliced and respliced, weak spots here and there reinforced by cut thorn bushes and even an old set of bedsprings.” I feel certain that description is not fictional. Lillian Beckwith in her The Hills is Lonely (another book I love) describes crofts in Scotland where thrifty owners used bedsprings for gates in their stonewalled yards or “parks.”

My ugliest fence repair so far is a rolled up length of old woven wire fence about the size and shape of a 55 gallon barrel. I jammed it into a washout on a hillside under a wire fence that was sagging precariously between posts. Ugly yes, but it not only kept the sheep from squeezing under at that point, but anchored the fence and almost stopped the gully from getting any deeper. And that gives me another idea. I have several old leaky barrels that would work quite well plugging other developing holes in my fences. They would “last as long as they need to,” as we practitioners of the cobbling art like to say.

But I offer as the grand champion cobbled up fence of all time one that I saw along a backcountry road in the next county south of our place. I think I wrote about it before: a sort of feedlot arrangement surrounded almost entirely by junked school buses. The buses had hay in them and the cows could stick their heads through where the windows used to be and eat.

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