Sand has built up around the wheels and discs on the old Allis-Chalmer seed drill, anchoring it to the landscape along Wolf Creek near Lipscomb, Texas. Cattle looking for a good scratching spot have polished the grainbox corners and snapped off one of the depth-setting levers. The release handle from the lever now serves as the door handle on the Wolf Creek Hall Table. The toothed, depth gauges now band the tabletop ends riveted to the ebonized oak frame.
Panels set in the door and top frames are curly-heart longleaf pine boards that once worked as skip sheeting on the roof of Grandpa Bucher’s barn, located on the southern ridge of the Wolf Creek watershed. The view out the north loft door, right under the nail-studded skip sheeting, took in a wide sweep of the Wolf Creek Valley.
Once stretching all across the South, the longleaf pine forests were logged out by the 1930s, so the beauty of old growth heart pine can only be seen now in the rare salvaged board.
Side panels on the Wolf Creek Hall Table were recently salvaged from the walls of an open-sided cattle shed on the old Prairie View School site. In their original incarnation, the panels were part of a Ward’s 1500-bushel granary.
Its working days had ended about two generations back. Since then, the old freight wagon undercarriage had gradually settled into the dirt along Palo Duro Creek in the northern Texas Panhandle. Unbolted from the powdery oak remains of the back axle, the forged strap-brace dictated the shape of the Running Gear Sentinel and is now riveted to the door frame. A tie rod bushing from the wagon’s front axle has become the door pull. Steel straps on the cherry door panel were once part of the grain sieve section on a J.I. Case threshing machine.
Sheet metal cladding the Sentinel sides has been cut from the tail panels off of two shelled-out John Deere combines.
The pile of castoff machinery presented such a daunting tangle that the tail end of an old combine appeared to be the only salvageable piece of equipment. Punched tin from the straw walker on the combine gets a second chance on the Straw Walker cabinet as door panels, backed up with John Deere green. John Deere turnbuckles are now door pulls and an access panel from a John Deere tractor has become the support-leg panel on the cabinet.
Ebonized gumwood frames side panels made from reclaimed lap siding that once clad the front porch on a long-abandoned ranch house.
Out on the plains, certain cold, clear mornings produce a special mirage where objects miles away appear many times taller than normal. The bottoms of draws in the mirage suddenly take on the look of deep canyons.
The north loft door on Grandpa Bucher’s old barn, with its view across the Wolf Creek valley and on to No Man’s Land, provided the best spot for observing the rare mirages. Roof tin salvaged from above the loft now combines with ebonized cherry for the Winter Mirage Reliquary Table. Two bales worth of baling wire bind the table base.
Sheet metal cut from a tail panel off of a shelled-out John Deere combine now clads the case sides on the Tall Grass Guardian. Sickle-bar teeth that once scythed through wheat and milo on our old John Deere 45 combine are now riveted to the door panel. Steel plow straps buckle down each end of the cherry tabletop.
Virga, the heartbreak rain; rain that never reaches the ground. Those windblown curtains of moisture so full of promise, but they have no relief for dry ground. The door brace on the Virga Wishbone once served as the main brace-strap on the wishbone section of an old freight wagon undercarriage. Sheet metal cladding the cabinet sides has been cut from the back panel of a shelled-out John Deere combine.
Maybe the John Deere 630 three-row lister plow got parked for the last time in the late 1930s. After the Dust Bowl years, different plows and new ways of farming were making an appearance. Lister plows had been part of the problem. Whole fields would blow out just as deeply as the listers turned the topsoil. But the old 630 sits with a stoic grace, its iron wheels buried in sand, and sagebrush growing up through the frame. Two of the listers’ depth-setting jacks now brace either end of the Winds of Change table. Sections of sheet metal flooring from a Ward’s 1500-bushel grain bin now wrap the cabinet sides. Ebonized oak frames surround panels of curly longleaf pine, salvaged from barn roof sheeting. The great longleaf pine forests of the South were logged out by the ‘30s, so this amazing wood can only be seen in a rare salvaged board.
The probable victim of a wheat field fire, the combine shell had little of the original green paint remaining. But besides removing paint and melting rubber and plastic, the fire had not been hot enough to distort the metal. Removed from the combine’s straw walker, the sieve bottom has become the door panels for the Straw Walker Wine Cabinet. A “kick-out” rod from a horse drawn sulky rake has been chopped and reworked to make the door pulls. Salvaged lap siding clads the cabinet sides. Recycled twice over, sheet metal panels in the serving top—in their first incarnation—were tar tins; then they were flattened out and used as porch flashing.
A patchwork of various sheet metal sections and tin scraps covered the north side of the old bull shed. For years while checking the windmill or feeding cattle, I had admired the rust patinas with their bull hide rubbed polish. So, with improved drainage as an excuse, off came the pieced metal quilt. The heavy corrugated sections were found to have originally been numbered sections for a Montgomery Ward’s 1500-bushel grain bin. Some of the sheet metal has been recycled to clad the sides and doors of the Ward’s Sentinel. Door pulls are reclaimed from an International Harvester feed mill. I still need to get tin back on the north wall of the bull shed. Just allowing for better summer ventilation.
On a sunny day with a cold norther ripping through, I look far west to the ridge running up through the Tubb Ranch. Heat waves pushed and torn by the wind make the horizon appear to gallop and roll to the south like an endless ghost herd of buffalo.
Light rain changed to sleet and finally snow as the last of the nails holding the sheet of flashing finally were pried up. Covering the floor of a second floor dormer porch on an old ranch house, the flashing had been painstakingly fashioned from flattened tar tins that were then soldered together. Not much to look at with its paint-splattered, rusty surface and patterns of wear, the flapping sheet took the shortest route down. Sailing over the first floor porch and landing upside down on the ground, it seemed to open up a sky hole because the underside shone as silver as the day they nailed it to the floor. Showing slight imprints of the flooring boards, small sections of the flashing have been reclaimed as center panels for the Winter Sky End Tables.
Some years the June winds can blow across the plains for what seems like days on end. Hazy white heat and ripening wheat fields become one withering, wind-blown mirage.
All sorts of contrary machinery gained the go-devil moniker. Usually the so-named implement utilized some sort of pointed tines and gave the operator all sorts of grief. On the southern plains, the old horse drawn, or more properly, pushed sweep rake was the supreme Go-Devil. With its long pointed tines, the contraption could send man and beast flying if nosed into a hidden ditch.
Renowned for his great physical strength and good nature, early day Lipscomb, Texas blacksmith, Uncle Dick Hurlhey, loved to go to the moving picture show. Usually Uncle Dick would be the only adult in attendance, so he dutifully read the subtitles for the throng of youngsters who made up the rest of the audience. If Uncle Dick ever came to a word he didn’t know, he said, “and international,” then continued reading.
During the late summer days of white heat and endless mirage, a simple far-off cloud shadow can transform the bleached-out shell of an old elevator into a cool purple obelisk. Door panels for the TALL CHEST were once part of the hopper on a Baldwin-Gleaner combine. Door pulls are combine sickle-bar keepers.
When good neighbor Marie turned eighty, she won an arm wrestling match against a woman thirty years her junior. The challenge to arm wrestle had been issued after Marie was observed pounding the tar out of a chain link with a three-pound sledge. These days, forced to slow down some, she allows as how she’s getting too stiff for arm wrestling. And she doesn’t ride in the tractor bucket when feeding cattle in the winter. Other than that, she still lives alone and takes care of herself, and woe to the rattlesnake that should venture inside the yard fence.
All sound and fury, the storm clouds of late summer trail only the promise of rain; wisps of virga evaporate before reaching the ground.
This piece was made for the Western Design Conference, September 2004