Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



Saturday, January 21, 2012

True Art

Art isn't always found on display.
And real artists don't necessarily work in a studio.

A true work of art . . .
On a ranch, fences are rather important.
They mean the difference between control and chaos. 
With a good fence, one can dictate which animals live where.
And which of the bulls certain cows are exposed to.
It probably isn't obvious, but with purebred animals, control means the difference between a progressive herd.
And one that is headed only for the meat market.
It is an exacting science of reading pedigrees and understanding genetics.
I rode the horses and put cows where Dad told me.
You can see where I was on the 'ranching is science' scale.
So back to the control thing . . .
A good fence means that things are ordered.
Predictable.
Profitable.
Poor fences spell trouble.
And diminishing returns.
Thus, the most important task on the Stringam Ranch outside of actually . . . associating with the cattle, was building fences.
Something Dad did rather well.
Let me tell you about it.
Building a four-wire barbed wire fence takes many stages.
First, the building of the corners, a sturdy framework of posts and neatly twisted wire, capable of sustaining enormous pull.
Then stringing the wire between the corners.
This is a tricky part. As my brother, George can attest.
Then, planting posts in a straight line along the wires.
Note: Hold post from the side 
Accomplished with a 'post pounder' mounted on a tractor.
A useful, but potentially dangerous gizmo.
Then tacking said wires to said posts.
This was my job.
All it took was a steady hand.
Or if you lacked that, stamina.
Which was what I had.
If the first whack or two didn't get the staple into the post, the next 14 whacks would.
Moving on.
And it was at that point most of the fence-builders would pack up their tools and call the job finished.
Or where the true artists shone.
Remember, we were talking about my Dad.
Once the fence was actually assembled, Dad would stand back and look at it.
I should point out here that the fields in Southern Alberta are seldom flat. They may not change much, but they do change.
And a fence has to run smoothly along them.
I emphasize the word 'smoothly'.
If a fence goes down into a dip, then up again, the tightly stretched wires can actually, over time, pull the lower posts up out of the ground.
True story.
And that is where Dad came in.
He would walk along the fence, find the places where the line would dip, and weight it.
Really.
He would find a large rock (not uncommon on the prairies), tote it over to the dip, fasten a wire around it firmly, then attach the rock to the fence, pulling the wires down so they followed the ground perfectly.
I had watched him do this so often that, to me, that's just how it was done.
I was wrong.
Once, an elderly rancher from west of us came looking for the county veterinarian.
Who happened to be out building fence.
The man drove up in his rusted old pick-up and stopped near where my Dad and brothers were working.
Climbing out of his truck, he greeted everyone, then stood and watched their activities.
Finally, Dad finished with his current wire and rock creation, and turned to speak to the old man.
Only to find him in tears.
Thinking the man had a real emergency, Dad quickly walked over.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Oh nothing," the old man said, blowing his nose. "It's just that I haven't seen that kind of fence-building in fifty years!"
True artists appreciate true art.

3 comments:

  1. There's an art to everything if we only knew it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love this testament to good old fashioned hard work and pride in your work. Too often people just go through the motions these days, instead of really owning and taking pride in all that they do. Thank you for sharing at NOBH!

    ReplyDelete

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