Sunday 31 August 2014

A Case or Two of Beer.

I went over to give a hand to my son-in-law Chris yesterday with his fence. It is/was pretty much complete except for some trim work. He could have done it himself, but it is easier to have another set of hands to hold the other end and put in the odd screw. By the time we were finished, it looked great and should be able to keep animals and kids contained for many years to come.

A fence is basically wood posts sunk into the ground, some more wood stretched between the posts and somehow attached. I love split rail fences that were all over farm country when I was growing up in Ontario. They consisted of two post sunk into the ground with a six to eight inch gap between them. Horizontal “split” rails would then be stacked in the gap, alternating sections of the fence. I imagine the work involved splitting the logs would be pretty impressive. These fences would snake their way around the fields. I suspect the logs came from clearing the land in the first place.
Another type of fence I used to see all of the time was made of stone. The stones picked from the field would be placed around and over the years would become a pretty impressive edifice. These stones would range from as large as a small car to the size of a small child’s fist. Children were the ones that had to pick the rocks every spring once the soil had been turned over.
The beauty about these fences is that other than the labour involved in construction, they were free. Money was spent on farm equipment and seed, not fences. They kept the animals in or out, but the kids could go anywhere they wanted.

Today, a fence costs a small fortune in lumber and fasteners. If you are hiring someone to do the work, you can double or triple the cost. Most new home owners don’t have the skills or tools to build a fence, but it is a simple enough project. There is generally a friend that has built a fence before, and a group of friends that want to learn how to do it at your expense. Towards the end of the job, all of your friends have lost interest and you would have as well, except that you need the fence to keep the kids corralled. That’s why I was there yesterday.
When my dad was building fences, he and the neighbours drove small metal posts into the ground at regular intervals and stretched four foot chain link fencing along the length. It was good for what was needed back then, keeping us kids from wandering into trouble. When I was building fences, we sunk four by four posts in the ground in tamped down gravel, joined them top and bottom with two by fours and nailed the boards alternating one board on either side. It was called a “good neighbour” fence. Hopefully, your good neighbour would pay half.

The fences now are built to last. They use four by six posts that are cemented three or four feet into the ground. The boards are sandwiched between a two by four and a one by four at the top and bottom. This creates a private area which is good looking on both sides and is almost impossible to look through. It keeps the kids inside very nicely. The wood is all pressure treated, so hopefully it will last longer than the person that built it.
While I was taking a break from working, I was wondering why fences had gotten to be so much more impressive over the years. Why didn’t my dad build a great big fence? I guess cost was a factor, but everyone built the same way back then. I think that part of the reason is that home owners have better tools and fasteners now than they had back in the day. I can remember the shitty tools that dad had. I imagine that the circular saw was a godsend over using a hand saw. All that dad needed for his fence was a neighbour who had a sledge hammer and a pair of pliers. Oh, and a case or two of beer.

When Chris built his fence, he had a guy come in with a power auger for the post holes. Bags of ready mix cement for the holes. There was a sliding, compound mitre saw, circular saw, jig saw, a reciprocating saw, hammers of course, chalk lines, cordless drills, screw bits, various sizes of screws and friends with fence building knowledge. Oh, and a case or two of beer.

The fences get better, but the people remain the same.

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