Fencing Flashbacks

The invention of electric fences causes one skeptical youngster to test its limits and become a convert.

  • fencing flashbacks
    Electric fence made it easier to keep cows (and carp) contained.
    Photo by Dennis Auth
  • fencing flashbacks
    Fixing fence was a family affair.
    Photo by Dennis Auth

  • fencing flashbacks
  • fencing flashbacks

The arrival of balmy weather causes our lawn to become as thick as the hair on a werewolf. My lawn mower spews out an emerald river of clippings, creating a grid of tiny windrows. As the mower chews through the grass, my mind wanders, and I wonder how many cows could have been fed with those clippings.

When I was a kid, warming weather meant that the fencing season was upon us at our dairy farm. And I don't mean the type of fencing that involves those skinny little swords. We're talking about real fencing, the kind that has highly tensioned with ever-menacing barbed wire; we're talking about digging holes for posts that were the size of giant sequoias.

Dad would "volunteer" his offspring for fencing duty as soon as he or she could hold a pair of pliers. Every spring, Dad would walk the fence that formed the perimeter of our cow pasture, looking for broken wires. A ragtag troupe of pint-sized fencing apprentices followed in his wake.

There were always broken barbed wires. This was because many of our fences must have been installed during the Jurassic Period. Dad taught us kids the art of splicing barbed wire that has become so brittle that attempting to bend it caused it to snap like a dried twig.

Normal barbed wire — barbed wire less than a century old — can be formed into a loop so that a new section can be looped in. Dad had a sixth sense knowing which barbed wire could be spliced in this manner and which needed to be handled as delicately as a freshly laid egg.

Whenever there was a break in an especially ancient section of fence, Dad would use our fence stretcher to gently re-tension the wire. When the broken ends were almost touching, he would wind smooth wire around and around the barbed wire. I don't know where he learned this mysterious trick, but it never failed.

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