Wednesday, February 20, 2013

If a Tree Falls ... Make a Honey Crick Splice

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

That's the philosophical question that many with nothing better to do have long pondered. A more practical question is this: Did the tree fall on a fence? If you've got cattle running up against that fence, you're going to have to fix the fence, even if you weren't there to hear the tree fall.

I had that assignment when I has back at the family farm in Iowa this past December.

There's a steel post you can barely see sticking up through the middle of a fallen tree branch that is being held up by by the remaining barb wire after breaking the top two strands.

Here are my tools. A hammer, a green-handled pair of pinchers, a yellow handle for tightening fence cheaters, and some wire.

After I tossed the fallen tree limb off the wires, you can see there is not much fence left. Even a small calf could step over this fence. What the old-timers say you are supposed to do now is take all these wires loose from all the posts down the fence line to the next corner post, splice the barb wire once at the break, use the wire stretchers to pull each strand tight, and then restaple or reclip the barb wire to each post. That's a lot of work.

Here you can see a fence cheater in action. The official name is fence tightener, but my grandfather always called them cheaters. The company website says they came out in 1971, and he was using them by the middle of the decade. I used one on the bottom strand which had been loosened by the tree limb to tighten it back up, using the long yellow handle as leverage to ratchet from hook to hook. As I look at this picture, I see that the wire didn't pull lose properly from the last hook. It should be wrapping straight around the inner prongs. The backside of these prongs form a U over which you put the slot in the handle (see picture above), which is what gives you leverage.

Next we come to my grandfather's favorite cobble to fix broken barb wires, what he called the Honey Crick splice. Honey Creek is a stream that flowed through part of his farm, and the brush and trees got a little wild along the crick. All the farmers with land along it he called Honey Crickers. It was understood that you were allowed to do things down on Honey Crick as a matter of course that might not be strictly up to accepted practice near the farmhouse.

To start the Honey Crick splice, I used the pinchers to make a loop at each end of the broken wire. Pinchers come in pairs, like pliers, scissors, and pants. This idea of brightly colored handles is a great innovation. I spent my my teenage years hunting up all-metal pinchers in the tall grass at the end of each fence repair job.

Pinchers are officially called a fencing tool, and you should buy one if you've never had one, as it's a very versatile multi-function tool.

Once I put in the first loop, the too ends will no longer reach, so next I tie in my new wire. Here, I've got a heavy gauge galvanized wire. My grandfather liked to use a lighter gauge No. 16 wire and double it. He sometimes used barb wire, but that's trickier in the next steps.

Now I run the other end of the new wire through the other loop, over the side of the hammer head, pull it tight, and anchor it in the claw of the hammer.

Then I can just use the hammer as a winch, and turn the handle to pull the wire through the loop, wrapping it around the hammer head. If I were using barb wire for the gap, the barbs would catch as they are pulled through the loop, but you have my pinchers to deal with that.

Once I've pulled the wire tight, I bend the wire around the hammer head back, being careful not to lose the tightness, and unroll it. Then I can pull the hammer out, and wrap the end of the wire back around itself to finish the splice.

Here's the finished Honey Crick splice. It's not pretty, but I was close enough to Honey Crick, as my grandfather would say.

My second Honey Crick splice may not look not that pretty either. But for an old Honey Cricker, it's a thing of beauty. And, of course, if after a while it gets a little lose, we'll just put a cheater on it too.

The fence is fixed and ready to turn cattle.

While we're on the subject of fences and turning cattle, here's a testament to one that got away.


Anonymous said...

You are the only other person I have seen use a hammer that way my Dad used one that way and I learned from him.
Paul Ackley

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Your father Lou Ackley may have been the original Honey Crick splicer. He likely taught my grandfather, who taught me.

I remember once, down on the lower 80, my grandfather and I were fixing fence on the hillside and I stepped on a bumble bee nest.

The bumble bees swarmed out and I started running. Grandpa yelled, "Don't run it only makes them angrier!" And I got stung 3 times as if to prove that point. Later, he admitted he got stung 4 times.

He just had daub a little Honey Crick mud on the bee stings and we kept working.

buddeshepherd said...

I have spent many spring months building fence. As a kid it was the excuse to get out of the shop and go down to the river. No one else wanted to build fence so it was my job. I tended to stretch the job out as long as possible.
I have seen splices done with a hammer but have never understood how it was done.