Stretching wire

The uncle, Wes Strange

I learned to stretch wire from my “second father,” my Uncle Wes, who taught me a lot about tools and land. Wes was a 30-year-career Army Chief Warrant Officer. When he retired in 1965, he began building a new house in front of the old one in which he was born in 1919. At 11 years old, I was the second carpenter, electrician, and plumber on the project. That was the start of working together, something we did for almost 15 years when I needed extra money, or he needed a young back to dig post holes by hand. One time we stretched a full 330-foot roll of field fence in one pull using his International Scout for traction. That’s a lot of hand-dug post holes. Stretching wire is the reward you get after digging all those holes.

 With the world spinning in its new orbit, I built a new garden for more space to grow food. More space means more deer fencing. The new fence is almost 8 feet tall. It has stout braced posts in concrete and two wraps of field fencing. The first wrap was easy using the tractor as an anchor point. The second wrap was a bit more challenging as it was up in the air, but I had to stretch a wound-up spool of hand killing wire into a taut curtain or risk the ghost of Wesley Strange mocking me from the heavens. 

The wire stretcher 

Here is a photo of the wire stretcher that inspired this piece. I opened and closed the stretcher repeatedly and enjoyed looking at the true dimension 2×4’s, old lumber, dimensioned the way it was before the bean counters waved their greedy wand and resized a “2×4” into 1 5/8 x 3 5/8. Look at the wood, the grain, the layers, the rings, and the agedness of it. It may be old, but it works well.

The virus shutdown has given us extra time to ponder, an opportunity to listen, to observe, and listen to subtle things.

The wingnut 

I have a fondness for old things, people, customs, and ways of thinking. I cherish wooden barns, bridges, and the rusting carcasses you see scattered around in fields. I enjoy using hand tools and building things “the old way.” I like iron more than plastic, and I have tools from two grandfathers whom I never met; one was a printer, and the other a wallpaper hanger. I know them through their brushes and pliers. I like watches that tick because they have an elegant set of gears that replicate the movement of the Earth around the Sun. 

 I also appreciate new things and new ways, but I understand the beauty of simple things and eternal wisdom more. Turning 65 in June, in some small measure, qualifies me as old. One virtue of aging is developing perspective. Thirty-five years ago, I wrote a poem titled, Embrace the Grasping Thumb, about the onslaught of technology. The point of the poem was that innovation and invention are human tools of evolutionary advancement, and that change is inevitable. Perspective: Some change is helpful; some change is frivolous, but humans have been solving the same problems for a long time, and some of the old things get the job done just fine.

 Change happens rapidly, and generation to generation, there are things we have to explain to young people. Last week I found my father’s old slide rule.

A slide rule was the computer of its time, a handheld mechanical calculator that placed mathematics at your fingertips. I showed it to two young friends, one an engineer, the other a talented mechanic, and they both asked what it was.

The slide rule

When I started college, calculators were the latest rage, but professors would not let us use them on tests; they thought it was cheating to have a computer think for you. They allowed the use of slide rules. That prohibition didn’t last long, and today I’m not sure most students can do multiplication in their heads. Maybe my teachers were right because now the computers do all the thinking for us while we stand with our jaws agape barely able to comprehend what goes on “behind the curtain” of technology.

It’s hard to tell whether we are human or just a part of the machine. No matter, the garden is ready for planting, and soon there will be deer standing outside looking in wishing the fence sagged. When they do, I’ll contemplate the merits of the old vs. the new ways while I pick the peas.

The gate



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