I love this picture of Jessi and I holding the bags of nails we pulled from the boards of the house we deconstructed here. I always hated pulling nails. It was the bane of my young existence growing up on the farm. Our dad was the king of pullers, a hard enough act to follow, but he also presided over the Union of Nail Straighteners. When I was young and could scarcely pound a new nail without bending it over 4 times, Father could pull a mutilated 16 penny from old wood, straighten it with his hammer atop the fence rail and renail it with 3 strokes. Unbelievable. This was my tedious apprenticeship into a culture of making the best use of what we’re given.
I’m not saying I wasn’t good at nail abstraction. I had to get good, and fast, because the aforementioned parent was not a patient mentor. Thankfully, it didn’t require the sacrifice of too many wooden hammer handles to learn how a block placed under the hammer head could easily leverage a stingy nail with the hammer claws while avoiding the breakage and my Father’s wrath. I quickly learned the genius of the crow bar.
Then came the Columbus Day Storm of ’62. To be clear: pulling nails does save one the awful pain of stepping on them later, where you left them protruding from your board, as the nail pierces your foot through the rubber sole of your barn boot, which is a Murphy’s Law kind of thing. The point, of course, of pulling nails, is saving wood for future purposing. The storm inaugurated my lifetime membership in the International Society of Woodsavers.
The Big Blow October 12, 1962 is one of those events whose memory causes Oregonians to remember where they were. I was in class at Junction City Jr. High. The bus took us home early that day, making u-turns where fallen trees already blocked the roads. The hurricane winds would become legend. With the power out, we had to milk 80 cows for a couple days, running the milkers off the vacuum system of the old Dodge. Our two old wooden-stave silos blew over. We were going to take them down anyway, so none of this was too big a deal. Trouble was, the silos fell to block the only path between where the cows slept and where we milked them and this, my friends, was the game changer.
You see, it would take the whole next day to move them out of the way and the next day was the first day of PHEASANT HUNTING SEASON! Some of you will understand the impact of such an apocalypse in the life of a 13-year-old farm kid. For those of you who don’t get it, this was one day of the year when we could enjoy the smells of fall and the crisp autumn air in our faces. It was a day when Dad could almost be a fun guy! While we were pulling nails, the shotguns would be popping all around us while other hunters got all the birds! This was just rude!
Truth to tell, I don’t remember much of that day of deconstruction. But I do remember the boards we saved. Before we were done, I was sick to death of used boards. And some of them are still around on the farm today. They were immense old growth fir tongue and groove 2X6s. 35 feet long, they were shaped just enough convex to form the rounded walls, when stood on end with iron hoops holding them. They held silage from pasture in Spring and Summer, corn from the field in Winter and Fall. When the Storm so sorely decommissioned them, they became everything else: calf pens, fences, skids for the loading chute; wagon beds and sideboards for the pick-up. They were long enough to reach across the old barn to keep the sides from spreading; strong enough to hold a row of grandchildren perched on the repurposed stave fence to see Grandpa deliver a newborn.
Like it or not, I was well apprenticed in keeping stuff around. If we are going to repurpose our society from one of disposability and planned obsolescence into a culture of permanence, we gotta save some things. And invest in that saving. So, of course, when be started tearing apart the house that once stood where we now live, we had no idea what we would find. We saved as much of the wood as we could. Those nails Jessi and I are holding prove the vocation of nail pullers. And I celebrate them. Without them there would be nothing rescued and nothing imagined.
Since that fateful Columbus Day, I still get a rude gnawing sensation in my gut every time I see a pile of scrap lumber and hear wing beats of the pheasant rooster that got away. One thing has changed for me though. Today when I see a scrap pile, I begin to imagine what it might come to be. At the end of our day of deconstruction I walked away from our pile of lumber, now clean of nails, plotting, scheming and dreaming. In my next blog we’ll see what those old purlins, rafters and floor joists have become.