Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

'PG' Playgrounds

The small, green roof?
Blacksmith Shop aka Playground
To one side of the barnyard, squatting amid neatly-stacked barrels and other ranch paraphernalia, stood our blacksmith shop.
Constructed of timbers and rough-sawn boards, it consisted of one large room with small windows on two sides and large double doors on the third.
Benches lined the walls, littered with the tools and detritus of thousands of past projects.
In one corner, silently dominating the scene, stood the solid stone forge. I had no idea what it was for. I had never seen it in action, though the mounds of ashes and the soot of countless fires which still marked it, and the old horseshoes and other iron hung about the rafters surrounding it, should have borne mute testimony to its purpose.
I was four.
No explanation needed . . . or understood.
The rest of the room was dotted with more modern behemoth machines. Machines with incomprehensible names like: drill press, belt-sander, and air compressor, and which stood about, mutely awaiting the command to perform.
The blacksmith shop was an icon representing bygone days. A testament to the permanence of man's creativity and ingenuity.
And a great place to play though it was, we were informed, dangerous, and not to be entered unless accompanied by Dad or some other adult..
Case in point - my little brother, Blair, then two, was with my dad, who was using the air compressor. Blair was watching the wheel of the compressor go around. He tried to touch it and nipped the very end off his tiny finger. It healed. The lesson remained.
But I digress . . .
One could crawl around the dirt floor beneath the drill press and find the little curlicues that had been shaved off some piece of metal and use them like little springs.
But carefully. They're sharp.
Or, if one were truly adventurous, one could actually turn on the huge drill, put a plate of metal under the bit, turn the gear, forcing the bit down through the plate . . .
And, voila! Create your own little curlicues!
But a bit of a warning - if Dad turned around while you were thus engaged, heaven help you.
There were also the little bits and shavings of wood strewn about. Those were especially fun for building little corrals - with equally tiny stick horses inside. Quite often, though, that particular brand of play would induce one to head out to the 'actual' corral, to play with the 'actual' horses . . .
Against he fourth side of the shop was a lean-to, or small, doorless shed. It was full of barrels of grease and oil, so necessary to the proper function of the various ranch vehicles and machines.
It also held smaller containers of the same, which were vastly easier to work with, or in my case, to play with.
Little side note here - those small squirt-cans of oil could shoot an amazing distance. Something I especially noticed when my brother, George was there with me. Our accuracy left much to be desired, however, which was probably a good thing.
You should know that oil can play was inevitably brought to a halt when Dad would holler, "You kids stop wasting the oil!"
Sigh.
The larger barrels of grease were every bit as entertaining. One could push down on the handle and a long, skinny 'worm' of grease would be pressed out.
Which one could then play with. Rolling it in the dirt. Squishing it with your fingers . . .
"You kids stop wasting the grease!"
Geeze. That man was everywhere!
Around the back of the shop was another little shed. This one with it's own door. It smelled quite different. More like salt.
And it contained - guess what! - salt. Large blocks of the stuff in blues, reds and whites.
Cattle grazing in the arid pastures of Southern Alberta need salt, and quite a few extra nutrients for continued good health. Thus, in addition to their prime ingredient, the blue salt blocks also contain cobalt. The reds - minerals.
The white blocks are just salt. Boring.
It was great fun to chip a small piece off one of the large blocks and suck on it for a while.
And Dad never got after us for getting into the salt.
I know. Weird.
The blacksmith shop was one of our favorite playgrounds. It was old - one of the oldest buildings on the ranch. Originally built by Colonel A.T. Mackie sometime before 1900, it had survived through countless decades and several owners.
It burned to the ground some years after our family sold the ranch.
Its loss must surely be felt by the kids who live there now.

10 comments:

  1. Another wonderful romp down memory lane. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would love to have a long family history like that as you know mine didn't do very well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are totally welcome to mine, Rena! Sharezies!

      Delete
  3. The amount of history in your memories is amazing. I can barely remember some of the houses I've lived in. It never occurred to me to envy those people who grew up in one house their entire lives, but I do now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was such a fun way to grow up, River. I thought everyone had the same memories of their childhood when I started keeping this blog. I'm finding out that such is not the case. But I'm so happy to share. And so grateful that you come along with me!

      Delete
  4. My father ran a small garage for a few years and I am well acquainted with "parental guidance recommended" machines and substances ... my favourite was the grommet squisher (not the real name of it, I'm pretty sure, but close enough). You could set an unsquished grommet in the magic spot, pull down hard on a handle, and a device would descend and squish that sucker flat. I don't actually remember Dad saying "you kids stop wasting those grommets" but he probably did :) I tended to stay away from the compressors, air hoses, machine that took the tires off the rims, and grinder because I didn't like loud noises. Probably saved my fingers and/or eyes more than once!

    I agree with River - you have an enormous amount of history in your head!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fascinating place, a real, working garage! I would love to play with your grommet squisher. Trade you for one curlicue maker . . .
      Unfortunately, I have so much history in my head that there's not room for the present day. Sigh.

      Delete
  5. You had such a wonderful childhood. Can you imagine kids playing like this in today's world? LOL!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yikes! I imagine my grandkids wandering through an active, working blacksmith shop. I'd have a heart attack! :)

      Delete

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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