Sunday, October 28, 2007

They Don't Make 'Em (Us) Like They Used To

Friday October 26 2007


That refers to the hard-working ranchhands and farmers and miners of the old days.

Carol and I had a barbed-wire fence to fix - it had been cut last year and allowed easier and safer access for our horses onto the rangelands (and to avoid nearby property where we weren't wanted anymore). It was time to fix the fence and put in a proper gate, because the cows will soon be turned out on that piece of BLM land to graze for the winter. (And to stand on the roads - if you drive this way, watch out for dark cows standing on the highway in the middle of the darkest nights.)

We had to bring a 12' stretch of fence back over the wash and reattach it, and further down sink 2 fence posts for a gate, connect the barbed wire from the other side, and stretch and tighten all 4 strands of wire.

Rick brought the backhoe, so we didn't even have to break our backs digging 3-4 feet down in the rocky soil. As we watched the backhoe sometimes struggling to get through the rocks, we studied the rest of the fence that went out of the draw in both directions, up the hills - original fence posts from probably at least the early 1900's, all in a perfectly straight line, and most all standing straight up, not a wayward angle to a one of them... and we thought of the rest of the fence over the hills - all of the fences - that we couldn't see. Hundreds, and thousands, of hand-dug fence posts holes; hundreds, and thousands of fence posts cut and hauled there, eyeballed straight and planted in the holes; hundreds, and thousands of strings of barbed wire strung and tightened. (Have you ever picked up a coil of barbed wire? Amazing how heavy it is). All that man-power, shovels and muscles, no back-hoes to help.

And while out riding later Carol took us over the remains of an old canal, many miles long - also from at least the early 1900's. It started at the headwaters of Bates Creek in the mountains, carried water down to Bates Creek Canyon and below, to irrigate fields for food to supply the mining cities. All dug by hand and mules with plows, and following the slight downslope of the land just right to keep up a slow but steady flow of water. Of course, there was much more water back then and the canal has long since dried up, as have the creeks that used to flow heavily.

Today we've got machines to do just about all the heavy work we want to avoid - machines that replaced a lot of human workers and subjugated the lands. I guess it's called progress, but we've also lost a lot of human manpower and womanpower skills along the way.

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