Friday, November 4, 2011

Suthun Man's Toolbox - Baling Wire

I know I've mentioned it before, but I grew up in Colorado.  We spent a lot of time in the summers on a ranch high up in the Rockies (while my mother traveled and probably took a lot of Valium - there were three of us boys, so it's only natural.)

One of the things that I remember from those years is that the owner of the ranch did a lot of repairs on the property.  I remember one summer helping him fix a hole in a barb wire fence and another time he fixed bunch of rotten wood on the front of the barn.  I'm pretty sure I did a lot of the work, too, but at  age 8...maybe not.  The other thing I remember about that place was that this was my first introduction to baling wire.  My brothers and I used to take pieces of this miracle product and use it to do everything from make metal toys to tie each other up (What, Bubba?  You don't remember wiring my hands together and running off cackling?)

Baling wire (aka Mechanic's wire* or soft wire) is a pliable yet sturdy wire (8-14 gauge average) first used in mechanical hay balers pulled behind a tractor. The Balers used a wire twister that first cut and then twisted the ends of the wire such that the bale kept its shape.  Baling wire was replaced by Baling TWINE in the 70's (probably by some tofu eating hippy) but you can still find Baling wire available on the market.   Once cut to feed the stock, the wire found immediate and myriad uses - and here in the South (you knew I was going there, didn't you?) the Suthun man keeps a bundle of baling wire in his tool chest along side his duck tape and cable ties. 

There was a time (cue flashback sequence)  when I was driving my '64 MGB  (yes, it was a beauty, in British Racing Green and I miss her terribly, but as usual, I digress...) and the gas pedal stopped working.  It was the middle of the night and I pulled to the side of the road  and popped the hood where I found the problem to be a broken cable.  The cable between the gas pedal and the carburetor had broken inside the cable sleeve. I was looking at a $250 tow job.   A passing city worker (bless his heart) on his way home asked if I needed to borrow any tools, and indicated that he had a truck full which I could borrow.  I told him jokingly "No, what I really need is a bit of baling wire."  You can imagine my expression when he said  he had some.

Like a true Suthun Shade Tree Mechanic, I cut off a piece of his 500' spool, (I am still wondering why a city worker in Denver Colorado carried around a 500 foot spool of baling wire and was out in the middle of the night) rethreaded the cable and was on the road again in a matter of minutes. That cable never did act up again, proof of the power of baling wire.  (And a big thank you to that city worker wherever he is!)

Now it would seem that I've taken yet another tangent, away from my life as a Suthunah, or rather my life trying to BE a Suthunah, but my history with baling wire is only the tip of the Suthun Iceberg.  Even as clever as I am with a bit of baling wire and a pair of pliers, the Suthunah takes this, as usual, to a whole new level.  Baling wire is more than a repair item.  It's art.  It's a way to pass the time.  It's a tool in and of itself.  Take a piece of baling wire and sharpen the end against a brick and you can create a mini-screwdriver.  Bent just right, it can hold a screw in place while you work with it, a nail while you hammer it or a widget while you glue it in place.  Baling wire is the cornerstone of the ingenuity of the Suthun Man - men the world over it would seem.


*It is also known as "haywire," from which the term "go haywire" arose, referring to crazy or mixed up from the wire's use to fix anything in an ad hoc manner.

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