Disston D-8 Handsaw

Posted: October 10, 2011 at 3:48 am | by wdelliott  
Filed under: Uncategorized

Luck was with me yesterday at the Bonham, Texas trade day when I purchased a hand saw for $10. Carol and I were making our walk down the final aisle while heading to the car and I stopped by an old man’s table and saw a couple of hand saws. Upon closer inspection, I could see that one saw was inferior, but the other one had the unmistakeable mark of a Henry Disston saw. As I inspected the saw handle, I could tell throught the grime that the medallions holding the handle to the saw blade, the saw nuts, gave the manufacture away. The five medallions were Disston. The Bonham flea market is not normally a location where one sees quality hand tools. The area is now and always has been a low-income area, populated by farmers, with not a lot of money to spend on tools. The vendors at the market come from all over, but usually offer medium grade tools for sale. The available tools for salw are almost always in poor condition, with rust all over the tool. I suppose I have examined scores of handtools at the Bonham trade days over the years and only occasionally would I find a high-quality tool, even if in rough condition. This saw was different. It was a Disston handsaw, but even Disston made and sold average quality saws. If offerred a range of saws in price ranges affordable to a range of customers. While I knew this was a Disston saw, I did not know the model, its quality or exact condition. That information would await my restoration.

The saw’s length appeared longer than most, but I did not have my tape measure with me. One should always go to flea markets with a tape measure. Most handsaws are around 26 inches long.

The saw’s condition was rusty and rough, but not horrible. The saw obviously had been left in the rain. Most vendors of tools at the Bonham trade days do not appear to store their inventory inside. Rusty tools is the common denominator. On this saw, the saw plate was all rust to be sure, though not deep nor flaking. The metal was not pocked and the blade was straight. The cutting teeth appeared original, even somewhat sharp. As I ran my thumb over the points, they caught my skin suggesting a sharpness. The handle had dried out from being left outside. The handle’s shape was different from my other saws. I thought the saw worth purchasing, which I was able to do for $10. The man selling it said, “It was made in the USA.” He did not know what he was selling.

Upon arrival home, I immediately started to restore the saw. The saw medallions (saw nuts) were easily removed, thankfully. Many saws found in flea markets have frozen nuts. The handle was removed from the blade, and the blade measured; it was 28 inches long. Using mineral spirits and a razor blade, I scraped the top layer of rust from the blade. I then scrubbed the blade with a textured scrubbing pad and more mineral spirits. As the grime was fading away, and my polishing continued, I saw the ummistakeable signs of the Disston etching on the blade. There was the Disston logo, Henry Disston’s signature, and there, the mark, “Disston D-8.” I had purchased a 28 inch Disston D-8 rip saw.

*Note: I have taken the liberty of borrowing photos from the Disston Institute website (http://www.disstonianinstitute.com/d8page.html). The.saw shown is identical to my D-8 saw and superior photos to ones that I can take.

Later research would reveal that the 28 inch Disston D-8 rip saw was made from 1880 to 1940 by the Henry Disston saw company of Philadelphia. The handle was made from apple wood, and contained an interesting design, a thumbhole, which I learned was to permit two-handed use of the saw. As you sawed, your right hand would hold the handle, while your left hand sat on top of the saw with your left thumb in the thumbhold.

This was unusual to me. I measured the points (saw teeth) and concluded it was a 5 1/2 points to the inch. Then my count was confirmed when the number 5 1/2 appeared on the lower part of the saw blade benealth the handle. Disston marked the blade with the measure of the points per inch. Nice touch.

The handle was the next object of my restoration. I stripped and sanded off the finish. Yes, the handle was made from apple wood. The wood suggested 1920s era since the dression of the 1930s reduced the quantity and quality of raw materials. Modern manufacturing does not approach this degree of craftmanship. I applied a stain to the wood, followed by several coats of Tung oil and wax and the handle was back to original condition. The medallions polished out to a high sheen.

After a couple of hours, I stood back and looked at my Disston D-8 rip saw.

What a fine tool. Today, you cannot purchase a top-quality Western hand saw today without spending $150, but even then, the polish in the blade is subpar and the handle is a medium grade wood. Few saws today have handle design aimed at a carpenter who holds the saw in his hands for most of the day. Try sawing the full length of a 10 foot, 2 inch thick oak board. At the end of that effort, you will appreciate a comfortable handle and a sharp blade. Imagine then cutting and sawing everyday. When your hand reached for your saw, you would know whether the saw was built with you, the professional craftsman, in mind.

Among those who think about these subjects, you will find agreement that the best quality western saws were ones made in the US, prior to 1928, when manufactures knew how to polish. The golden era for US handtools and sawmakers was from 1860 to 1940. The major saw manufactureres were Disston, Atkins, Simonds, Bishop, Spear and Jackson. These companies were in intense competition to make the type and style of saws that were demanded by the professional tradesmen who bought them. The customers determined the quality of tool, not the manufacturer. This era was when some of the finest craftsmanship in furniture, homes and yachts our country (and England) have ever seen were flourishing.  The saw makers competed with each other to meet the demand, not determine it. The factors determining the quality of the saw were the quality of the steel, the thickness of the blade, the tensioning in the saw blade, and the design and construction of the handle. The better saws of the era used rosewood or apple wood.

Another important factor was present during this golden age of furniture making and building – the absence of power tools. These craftsmen made things by hand, not with electrons. If you would like a vision of this handtool era, visit Colonial Williamsburg, where the workers construct fine things, such as furniture, cabinets, wagons, wheels, buildings, using the same methods of workmen of old. Everything is done with hand tools. When a handsaw was manufactured, therefore, it was done with the customer in mind. The customer would use his hands. The customer would saw boards with this Disston D-8 in his hands. The handle and saw blade had to be excellent.

The mature carpenter of another time used his handsaws every working day. His handsaw was one of his essential tools. He purchased the best possible tool that he could afford. A Disston handsaw was among the best. The carpenter took advantage of gravity and the saw’s teeth. He allowed the saw to do the work, not his shoulder and arms. He gripped the saw handle lightly, not in a death grip. His index finger aided in alignment of the saw and hence the cut. The heel of the carpenter’s hand aided in alignment. His sawing arm moved in a single arc, directly in line with the cut. He cut in a straight line without any wobble to the saw, either vertically or horizontally. Most carpenters started their training learning to saw correctly. They were assigned the thick saws and thicker boards. Not until years of apprenticeship elapsed, were the carpenters given more difficult cuts with more fragile saws.

My D-8 Disston is a rip saw. It is designed to cut the long board into two, vertically. You cut a 10 inch wide board into two-5 inch wide boards, for example. A cross-cut means cutting across the board. When you cross-cut, you cut a 6 foot, 10 inch wide board into two 3 foot lengths, but still 10 inches wide. With cross-cutting, you are cutting across the grain. A rip saw cuts with the length of the board, cutting with the grain of the wood. The 5 1/2 mark means that there are 5 1/2 cutting teeth per inch. The fewer the cutting teeth per inch, then the more aggressive the cut. If the saw had 8 points per inch, then the cut would be smoother, but take longer. The D-8 is also heavier than many saws, for gravity. It is a heavy saw.

For $10 and a couple of hours of work, I now have a first class western handsaw, a Disston D-8 rip saw, with 5 1/2 ppi (points per inch), with an apple handle. Just fabulous. As I place my new saw on my saw till, I have a smile on my face.

The etching on my Disston D-8 says, “For Finish, Beauty and Utility, this Saw Cannot be Excelled. Henry Disston.” Amen.



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That’s My Boy

Posted: February 14, 2010 at 9:01 am | by wdelliott  
Filed under: Uncategorized

That’s My Boy – Part 1
My father had a great line used with effect on me when I failed to use common sense or my behavior was off the mark. In those instances, Dad would look over at me and say, “That’s my boy.” The tone was not angry, not explicit disappointment, and was said in a matter of fact tone. The message conveyed, though, was clear in my head  – I was an idiot. I was doing something or failing to act or think in a way that led Dad to wonder if I had a brain. I had failed to live up to the standard expected of me by him. I remember his use of that line quite often – even yesterday.

My first memory of hearing Dad’s expression was January 1964. I had not been driving for very long, having first obtained my driver’s license a few months previous. On New Years Eve, my friend Larry Crews and I were driving around Sherman, Texas, our home town, throwing firecrackers out the window of my 1954 Ford, laughing all the time. We were brilliant and funny in our minds. We just assumed everyone was a humored as we were after their sleep was disturbed by our firecrackers. “Oh, those boys, setting off strings of firecrackers in front of our house, while were asleep on New Year’s Eve. Aren’t they cute.” Placing the fire crackers in a mail box before setting them off was an especially brillant move. Today, I wonder about how many U.S. statutes we violated by damaging U.S. mailboxes.

Anyway, my 1954 Ford stalled in an outlying area of Sherman where the streets did not have curbs, but gentle ditches. I needed to back-up and get my car out of the street and so I had my driver’s side door open looking backward. I heard a horrible sound and then my entire driver’s side door came off! It fell into the ditch. Larry and I just stood there in the cold looking at my car door lying on the ground. Apparently, the door caught on the opposing side of the ditch, as I was backing up, with the door open, and the torque just tore the door off the hinges. We called it a night and I drove Larry home and then headed home, in the cold, with the car door in the back seat. The main living area of our house looked out onto the driveway. I knew that everyone would see the missing door while having breakfast on New Year’s Day, so I backed my car into the driveway, with the driver’s side away from the glass doors. I was confident that my stealth was foolproof. I then went to bed, at about 1:30 am. I awoke hearing activity in the house, so I jumped up and ran into the den-kitchen area. Dad and Mother were having coffee at the kitchen table. My secret was safe. They asked generally about my New Year Eve activity. “Oh, Larry and I just drove around.”

After breakfast, I raced off into my room and looked up the phone number of my Dad’s favorite car mechanic, Mr. Barrington, and I called him. After I explained what happened, and after he stopped laughing, Mr. Barrington agreed to meet me at his garage in East Sherman on New Year’s Day afternoon. Somehow I kept my missing car door from being discovered until time to go see Mr. Barrington. After a good part of the afternoon, Mr. Barrington successfully re-installed my door. At the time, I did not appreciate taking a man away from his family on New Year’s Day to re-attach a teenager’s car door. Because the door hinges were bent, Mr. Barrington had to re-weld new the hinges back together with the result that the driver’s side door never again closed correctly. I kept fooling around adjusting that door for another three years. Anyway, long about 4:00 pm, New Year’s Day, Mr. Barrington finished installing my door. I only had $15.00 on me, being my accumulated profits from my paper route. I paid Mr. Barrington and went on my way. I was so stupid, I did not even think whether Mr. Barrington would keep the incident confidential. Further, Dad and Barrington were quite close friends. Did I really think this would be kept secret?

A few days later, Dad got in my car to move it so that he could get his truck out of the garage. By this point, my driver’s door did not close at all. Since New Years Day, I had been trying to adjust the door hinges myself. The more I tried to adjust the hinges, the more out of alignment that door became At this point, I could not even close the door. I saw Dad trying to close the door, and I went over and explained that I had been attempting to adjust the door hinges, but kept making matters worse, so that now, I could not even close the door securely. Dad said, “That’s my boy.” Then, after a pause, he suggested, “Why don’t you take it over the Barrington’s garage and let him take a look at it.”

“Good idea,” I replied. Later that day, I stopped by Barrington’s garage and he and another man adjusted my door so that at least it would shut.

I did not reflect on this incident until years later when the thought came to me that he knew everything that had happened. Of course, Mr. Barrington told him. Dad’s indirection was purposeful and knowing. He never said a word about my stupidity on New Year’s Eve, but he gently conveyed his thoughts on the matter. Dad was amazing.

The mission yesterday was repair a few items on my 1976 CJ-5 jeep at my ranch. The day started off with my wanting to refuel the jeep. The fuel tanks are adjacent to my barn where the jeep is parked. As I was pulling the jeep out of the barn, I looked for the location of the fuel cap and seeing it was at the rear of the jeep, the brillant thought came to me to back the jeep up to the fuel tanks. After all, the fuel filler cap was at the rear of the jeep, so why not back the jeep up to the tanks? As I approached the tanks, going backwards, I heard the sound of ripping cloth and I realized, after a moment, that I had backed the jeep underneath the tin roof placed over the fuel tanks and the sharp corner of the tin cut the canvas top of the jeep. I have failed to learn a common lesson experienced repeatedly over the years, mistakes happen when backing up (see above story). As I was pulling the torn top away from the fuel tank roof, seeing daylight through the canvas, I could hear Dad say, “That’s my boy.”

A little later, I was preparing to install a $1.99 plastic cover over the dashboard space for a radio. The jeep does not have a radio, and I had purchased this cover to the hole in the dashboard. It was a simple plastic rectangle, costing a mere $1.99. It had two plastic stems to fit into the holes where radio knobs would normally go. The stems were slightly off center and after one of them broke off while I was trying to fit it into the dashboard holes, I removed the remaining one with a small saw. I then sanded down the stubs of the broken-off stem. The next task was to drill holes in the plastic plate. I attempting to start the drill bit by punching a dimple. I thought about using the drill press, which I could have done fairly easily, without the need for a punch, but the hand-drill was right there. All I needed was a small indention to start the drill bit. The minute I tapped the hammer and the punch, the plastic split in two, as easy as butter. Why was I using a punch on plastic? It was then that I heard the phrase, “That my boy.”

I re-glued the $1.99 plastic cover back together, clamped the two pieces so that the fit would be tight and the glue would hold, and cut out a piece of wood to serve as a backer board. I trimmed the wood to bit nicely, slimmed down the corners of the wood with a small plane and chisel. I drilled the holes, and finally finished installing it on the dash. Of course, the split in the plastic was evident, but I think I’ll keep it there as a reminder of my experience. Total elapsed time: 3.0 hours. I wondered if I could have removed the dash board, unhooked all of the instruments, in less time and effort to refabricate this small $1.99 piece of plastic. As I reflected on my experience, I heard the phrase again, “That’s my boy.”



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My Mother – Priceless

Posted: October 31, 2009 at 7:53 am | by wdelliott  
Filed under: Memories

As I age, I reflect on my parents with increasing frequency and find myself thinking of Mother and Dad with gratitude and awe. I was blessed with wonderful parents. In fact, I cannot think of an improvement I would offer them, were they standing before me. My daughter, Joanna, will have to offer her evaluation of me as her father, but my Mother and Father were excellent providers and role models. My Father is dominant in my memories, but my Mother is the focus of this writing. She was the traditional baby boomer generation mother, being the homemaker and not working outside of the home. She cooked three meals a day. Dad came home for lunch, as did I quite often in school. She cared for me, my sister and Dad.

First and foremost, Mother and Dad loved each other deeply. Their relationship was extraordinary. While growing up, as I think back, I can see the strength of their life together. Our home life was relaxed, intellectually lively, and fun. I have a robust sense of humor, which I believe came from both Mother and Dad. We laughed a great deal in our house. Dad would tell a story and Mother would lead us in laughing.  We laughed as a family until tears ran down our cheeks.  What a gift.

Mother and Dad allowed each other to live their lives. Mother was a bridge player. Dad liked to go drive to his farm on the weekends. From what I can recall, they generously let each other pursue their interests.  Mother enjoyed a wide array of friends and her social times with her friends was a large part of her life. Virtually every afternoon, at about 5:00 pm, Mother would be at someone’s house, or her friends were stopping by our house for social time, with beer the common beverage. Mother liked cheap beer. Her favorite was in a can with only the word, “Beer” on the can. Our hometown was dry, but liquor and beer could be purchased in Denison, 10 miles away. When I was in high school, below drinking age,  I would attempt to purchase beer in Denison, Texas.  The problem was that Mother knew several of the liquor store owners.  One in particularly, Mr. Driggs, would see me come into his store on Friday or Saturday night purchasing a Coors or some other leading brand, and would ask me, “Is this for your Mother?  When did she start drinking Coors?”  I would offer some lame excuse, and thought I was getting away with something, but Mr. Driggs knew the truth. No doubt, Mother knew what I was doing. She never said a word.

She was social chairman in our house. Mother and Dad led an active social life. Mother had a large number of friends and Mother and Dad’s social network was exceedingly active. Also, Dad led a public life, having held elective office for many years. Mother and Dad both enjoyed political activities, at least until 1968, when politics became less enjoyable and more mean spirited.

Dad’s public life was shared with Mother, who was a precinct chair and presided over the precinct balloting for years and years. In 1968, the political atmosphere changed and the Democratic primary in Texas, in the run-up to the Chicago convention, was unpleasant for her.  She stopped presiding over our precinct elections in 1968.

Bridge was her primary avocation. One of my jobs was washing and dusting her playing cards. Being an ardent bridge player, she owned a dozen sets of cards.  My job entailed washing the cards, individually, and setting them on the kitchen counter while I dried them, and dusted them with talcum powder.  I might as well have been working for Edward G. Robinson in The Cincinnati Kid.  I did not think of this as out of the ordinary. Not until college did I realize that not everyone came from a household where playing cards were washed and powdered.

Music, like laughter, was a common guest in our home. Mother played the piano and did so often. I am an active musican and have been throughout my life, and I assume this interest derived from Mother and her musical interest. My daughter is a professional musician. Again, this musical interest and talent was almost certainly DNA derived from Mother.

In our driveway, Dad had constructed a basketball goal over the garage. I would shoot baskets after school and while waiting on dinner and on weekends. One evening, Mother came outside to join me, while wearing her apron. She stood there watching me shoot the ball into the net and after a moment asked for the ball. “Let me have the ball” she said.  I was surprised. “Why do you want the ball?” She replied, “I want to see if I can put the ball in the net.” Well, I could not imagine. The thought of Mother playing basketball had escaped me. I pitched her the ball and she walked out to the end of the driveway and challenged me to stop her from shooting. “See if you can guard me.” I started laughing. My Mother wanted me to guard against her shooting baskets? Really? I lined up, facing her, readying myself to indulge her sports fantasy. She took her position, dribbled a couple of times, faked her head to the left and them ran by me on the right, dribbling with her right hand, and then laid up the ball, into the net! She then laughed. I was standing there wondering what just happened. Was I going to admit to my friends that my Mother beat me at basketball one-on-one? This was not some isolated moment for she proceeded to do it again and again. Who would believe Mother could play basketball? I learned that she played basketball in high school in Bailey, Texas.

At about age 15, I discovered rock n’ roll.  I had been playing the drums since an early age, but some of my friends formed a combo, called The Coachmen.  Through my high school years, The Coachmen were quite active, playing most weekend nights.  Mother and Dad never said a word of complaint about my nocturnal life, even when I would arrive home in the late hours.  Their trust in me was, in hindsight, a tremendous gift.

I stayed with Mother during her last night on this earth, while she was hospital-bound fighting with the cancer that finally claimed her the following day.  I spelled Dad from that duty so that he could go home to rest.  That last night with her in her hospital room was painful for her, to be sure, but I would not trade anything for the opportunity to be close to her.  I sat with her through out the night, talking when she was able to listen, washing her face to comfort her, giving her water when she was thirsty, holding her hand almost constantly.  I would recall and tell a humorous incident when I was a child, and she would lay there with closed eyes, faintly smiling as I remembered an earlier time.   I would ask, “Mother, do you remember ….”  She would nod her head.  My stories just poured out of me. I hope and believe that I brought her comfort during her last night.  Just as we are ministered to as children, when we cannot take care of ourselves, the circle turns fully when we, as adults, minister to our parents.

There are so many memories of Mother, almost all favorable and joyous.  I am blessed to have Celia Jo Elliott as my mother. She was priceless.



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Organic, Natural and Sustainable Categories

Posted: October 4, 2009 at 8:05 am | by wdelliott  
Filed under: Uncategorized

The food categories “organic” “natural” and “sustainable” are confusing. The labels are important because consumers want to know what they are purchasing, and are willing to pay higher prices for organic food. We have obtained organic certification for livestock and pecans. Nevertheless, we find the subject confusing.

Organic
The “organic” label is tightly regulated. Federal law requires that any food labeled “organic” meet U.S. standards, set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The National Organic Program sets natioanl marketing standards. To prohibit a non-agricultural substance (or synthetic substance) from being used in a food product labeled as “organic”, the USDA prescribes a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.

Also, the National Organic Program prohibits certain practices, and requires other practices. Genetic engineering is prohibited. Management of land on which food products grow, practices for land fertility, and livestock conditions are regulated. For example, cows in the last period before birth of a calf cannot be treated with many medicines.

Organic labeling is permitting for 100% or less than 100% organic food.
* “100% organic” means a product comprised of 100% organic ingredients
* “organic” means a a product comprised of 95-100% organic ingredients
* “made with organic X, Y and Z” a product comprised of more than 70% organic ingredients

Our Ranch, Journeys End Ranch, successfully obtained organic certification for livestock and pecans. The process to obtain this certification was lengthy and elaborate. After studying the USDA regulations, we conformed our ranch practices to our understanding of organic practices, long before we applied for our certification. We were concerned with various issues and practices:

1. Our neighbor uses or used chemicals in his farming. We wanted to minimize any migration of water from his land to ours. Water from his land would be tainted with his chemicals and would therefore tainted our land. Natural land buffers existed between our properties on account of long-standing fences that experience land build-up on the fenceline. We examined the buffer to assure ourselves that no water would migrate.
2. Fuel tanks needed to be placed away from water. If the tanks leaked, then we needed to be able to capture the spilt fuel. We constructed concrete barriers to hold our fuel tanks. If there is a spill, then the fuel will be contained in the concrete enclosure, not on the ground.
3. Our record keeping was enhanced to enable us to know and prove, if necessary, every medical treatment of every cow, the name of the medicine, the lot and serial number of the medicine, expiration date, and quantity of medicine applied. Complete record keeping was compiled on every animal, with full descriptions of ancestry and progeny of each animal.
4. A elaborate clean-up was undertaken for the entire Ranch. All junk was moved off the property, or dismantled and re-used. Used oil and lubricants were removed. Cross-ties treated with chemicals were removed also, in favor of natural reistant lumber, such as cedar.
5. Natural water filtration for ground water was introduced. We considered all water sources to every ground water storage tank or pond. Silt fences were installed, along with creation of natural grass drain fields to enable nature to filter naturally.

By the time the organic inspector arrived, our system was working well and we passed inspection easily.

Natural
The word “natural” when applied to food is unregulated and ambiguous. Further, conflict exists over use of the word. The FDA and USDA have different policies over use of the word “natural.” To the FDA, focuses on the nature of the substance in the food, and on consumer expectations. The FDA permits the word “natural” if the food does not contain any added color, synthetic substances or flavor, or anything not normally expected in food. The FDA does not have authority over labeling, but could order an offending food item removed from the market. Powerful industry segments are and have attempted to persuade the FDA to become more active in regulation of “natural.” High fructose corn syrup has been the subject of conflict.

To the USDA, especially USDA regulated products, such as meat, poultry, egg products, the use of the word “natural” means the absence of artifical flavoring, synthetic ingredients or chemical preservatives. The USDA focus is on processing of the food products and not consumer expectations. The USDA does have authority over labeling.

As with the FDA, industry influence over the USDA is apparent. For example, after lobbying, the USDA permitted use of “sodium lactate” in “natural” products.

A variation on use of the word “natural” arises in industry segments. For example, “natural grazing” or “grass fed” beef suggest an absence of chemicals, but the concepts are only present in some voluntary organizational efforts.

Sustainable
The word “sustainable” has not received U.S. regulatory interpretation for food marketing. Some groups are or have attempted to voluntarily define the word, but with limited success.

The source of legal material in this article is “Seeing Red over ‘Green”: The Fight Over “Organic,” “Natural,” and “Sustainable”, by Richardo Carvajal & Riette van Laack, Business Law Today, vol. 18, no. 5, p. 33-36 (ABA May/June 2008)



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The Swallows Have Gone

Posted: August 19, 2009 at 6:28 am | by wdelliott  
Filed under: Nature

The swallows have departed. On Saturday afternoon just past, August 15, I walked out on the back porch to fire up the grill for evening dinner when I noticed something was different. As I stood there for a moment, I took in the scene trying to grasp the different feeling and then I noticed – the birds had gone.

Wikipedia reports that the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) is the most widespread species of swallow in the world. The report further states that the Barn Swallow is a bird of open country which normally uses man-made structures to breed and consequently has spread with human expansion. It builds a cup nest from mud pellets in barns or similar structures and feeds on insects caught in flight. I’ll say.

Our experience is that the barn swallows are messy, chirping, busy and bothersome birds, but they keep the porch clear of insects. On balance, we like having them around our house. We tolerate them.

The swallows do not have a choice in the matter, but I would like to think that they tolerate us. When first confronting us, say when we first walk out onto the porch, the swallows fly excitedly, darting in and out, swooping quite close to our heads, threatening us, trying to scare us away. I have learned that the males are the protectors and the aggressors. After a brief time, seeing that we are only want to sit peacefully on the back porch and enjoy nature and the sunset, then the swallows calm down and we all co-exist.

Interestingly, they build their nests in the same locations, year in and year out, in and around our house. Life expectancy is said to be around four years. Do the same birds return to the same location every year? Are the nests taken up by off-spring? I do not know.

The swallow departs in mid-August to migrate to South America or Panama. They are described as early migrators. I have a difficult time grasping how this little bird can fly to South America. The thought of myself flying to South America gives me pause. The morning of their departure, there seemed to be a higher level of noise and activity. Perhaps they were packing and preparing for flight.

The presence of birds at the ranch is so common that it is easy to take the birds for granted. On this mid-August day every year, when I realize that the swallows have left for the winter, I am drawn up short. Last Saturday, as I stood there on the porch soaking in the absence of the chirping, active, swallows, I was in awe of the natural world. All over North America, and the northern hemisphere, these little birds have taken off, flying south, coordinated as if they have an internal clock telling them when to depart. And some believe that there is no God.

A friend asks me if I tire of living in the country. “Don’t you get bored going to your ranch every weekend?”

There is nothing boring about experiencing the arrival of spring, witnessing sunrises and sunsets with my love, Carol, holding her hand and staring in wonder at the miracle of nature, or walking down the lane with Carol contemplating the annual ritual of the swallows suddenly departing for their multi-thousand mile flight. No, I do not get bored living in the country. Living close with nature is one of the glorious aspects of my and Carol’s life.



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Living Scrapbook

Posted: May 22, 2009 at 6:30 am | by wdelliott  
Filed under: Memories

The poet W.S. Merwin, writes poetically, about memories, saying that the present is made up of the past.   The past, in turn, is a moment 3 minutes ago, or 30 years ago.  These diverse moments flow into each other.  So it is with my memories of my father and this ranch.

My father left me a physical scrapbook and it is Journeys End Ranch.  A traditional scrapbook is a tangible, oversized, book allowing for the posting of clippings and photographs. You sit in the evenings and slowly turn the pages remembering loved ones and friends. You recall favorite trips. These scrapbooks are wonderful in feeling, rich in memory.

The physical scrapbook that he left me actuates memories of my time I spent with him.  I cannot imagine anything more wonderful than a young boy spending time, lots of time, with his father.  My father made time for me.  He shared with me.  He loved me.  What a gift it is.

Dad started this ranch in 1952. He acquired 40 acres on the Red River in the northwest corner of Fannin County, Texas.  For the next 46 years, until 1998 when he died, Dad continually worked to build this ranch.

We lived in Sherman, Texas where he practiced law until the early 1970s when he became a district judge. He retired in the 1980s. During that entire time, he was a weekend farmer/rancher. I shared many of those weekends with him here at this ranch.

His weekends at the ranch were storied in the community.  He worked and worked hard.   The arduous physical labor was a counterpoint to his legal work.  When returned from a workday at the ranch, he was covered with paint, sweat, blood, and dirt, lots of dirt. Fathers of friends of mine played golf, fished, and so on. My father work at a ranch and got dirty.

I now own the ranch with my wife, Carol. We enjoy this glorious life.

An important subject to me is the living scrapbook. I will write about this subject in future submissions, but I wanted to introduce the subject now. Everyday, I benefit from the memories that I have been given from my father of our time together, represented by this place. As I walk around here, I see a memory of an experience.  The notion that I’m exploring in this and future writings is that the heritage that parents leave children should include a memories of time together. The richness of memories from a traditional scrapbook is great, to be sure, but I enjoy so much the physical scrapbook that Dad left me, which allow me to remember the times I spent with him.

Recently, we removed an old fence row on the main road into the Ranch and replaced it with an modern, up to date, fence, strong enough to contain cows. I remember one hot summer in the early 1960s when I helped Dad build that original fence line. My clear memory takes me back to that summer when I helped him build that fence.  The fence was roughly 3/4ths of a mile long. Dad had an old Ford 8N tractor, with a small blade to prepare and smooth the ground. I learned how to drive on that Ford 8N.  The front bumper on that tractor was dented significantly, mostly on account of my having collided with trees, fence posts and other objects.  Ever time I see a photo of a Ford 8N, my memory retreats to that earlier time, of me driving that tractor around the place.

Dad owned an antique survey’s transit, which he used to set the line for the fence posts.  My job would be to walk down the line and move the string to the left or the right, as instructed. Dad would be peering through the transit, waving his arms directing me. The string would be the guide for drilling the fence post holes.

The Ford tractor had an augur attachment to drill the holes.  As the augur drilled into that hot Texas sandy loam soil, it would remove different color soils as it drilled down ever deeper. I remember my surprise at the array of soil colors.

The fence posts were accumulated on the bed of his pickup truck.  As he drove the pickup down the newly prepared fence row, I would walk along behind the truck and remove a post and place it into each freshly dug hole.  Then, he and I walked the fence line packing the dirt tight to secure the posts.

I remember the laying of the barbed wire and affixing the wire to the posts with a hammer and fence nails. I still have a scar on my side where I became tangled up with a spool of barbed wire and the wire cut off my shirt and cut me.  When my Dad looked over at saw me laying on the ground, entangled in wire, he said, “Get up, we’ve got to finish this fence today.”

The building of this fence took several weekends, extending perhaps over a month. At the end, I can recall standing there with Dad and looking at the finished project. As he stood there that day, sweating, dirty, at the end of the day, as the sun was setting, he and I sat there on the tailgate of the truck admiring our work. I can remember driving into town that evening, with the evening wind and country smells coming to me, proud to have worked with Dad.

As we removed this fence line, now some 40+ years later, I think back to those earlier days. I can stand at the head of the new fence line and believe Dad and I are standing there, at the end of a long, hot, dirty day, staring at our work, proud as can be of a young boy helping his father.

The joy is not the fence, but the time together.



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Serenity, Peace and Harmony

Posted: January 1, 2009 at 8:35 am | by wdelliott  
Filed under: General

At the start of another year, I am more mindful than ever of serenity, peace and harmony.   What more significant New Year’s End resolution could one hope for than serenity, peace and harmony?

My Christmas-New Year holiday period, in recent years, has been spent at my ranch, Journey’s End Ranch, for the full two-week period. This prolonged stay provides a period of extended quiet. After a good number of days, it is this quiet that creeps into your soul.

I was listening yesterday, New Years Eve day, to some neighbors firing guns, presumably in a celebratory mood. These neighbors are new to the area and I have not met them yet. They appear to use their property for their occasional weekend out of the city, which in this case is Dallas. While I do not know them, I suspect they view their rural property as a place to recreate, and make noise, which in this is case is firing guns, something usually frowned upon in the city. Perhaps they are hunting, but more likely, judging from the sounds of their firings, is that they were target practicing, having fun, whatever.

Their gun firing bothered me and violated my peace and quiet. The gun sounds were not harsh, not especially loud, since they were at least a half a mile away, but the sound bothered me nevertheless. I recall reading the phrase “noise pollution.” That phrase is accurate here. My neighbor’s guns, firing in fun, perhaps with fathers and sons sharing a common weekend activity, polluted my space.

What if the pollution had been of another type? What if they polluted by passing foul air on my land or dumped chemical products into my pastures? No doubt, I would have grounds, probably legal grounds, to complain. Perhaps some liability would exist. Perhaps a government, the EPA perhaps, could intervene. Probably, consequences would follow from physical pollution.

But noise pollution is nothing as serious, in the eyes of the law, or government. Noise pollution, at least in the country, is not normally thought of as offensive. Isn’t the country the place where you are supposed to fire guns?

In the city, there is a point when loud noises will produce complaints. If you hired the Rolling Stones to play a concert in your backyard, with full amplification, then the police would most certainly arrive at your house with orders to cease and desist. Yet, lawn cleaning crews operate those leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and assorted other equipment at offensive sound levels without legal complaints being filed. Have you ever try to nap in the middle of the day when lawns are being maintained? Do people focus on the noise levels of restaurants? If an accepted noise limit for one’s health is 85 decibels, then how often are our ears in danger during the weekday in the city.

The irony of my neighbor’s guns going off yesterday is that the slight noise of those guns was as offensive to me, here in the quiet solitude of rural life, as very loud noises in the city. The city enjoys, so to speak, a higher general noise level. There are sounds all around, much of it generated by traffic. For a city sound to offend, the noise must be particularly loud. In the country, for a sound to offend, it need only be an unnatural sound.

Sounds or noises that are natural to the country life are expected, even welcome. To the careful ear, attuned to the quiet of nature, one hears a cacophony of sounds. By living in the country for two weeks, your ears re-calibrate to nature. Nocturnal animal activity is an orchestra of sounds. When I have an occasion to stand on the back porch in the middle of the night, an interesting experience I must say, the variety of sounds is remarkable.

The mooing of the cattle in the east pasture is common sound at night. Their sound is low, constant, and regular, like breathing. Birds are usually quiet at night, but owls are not. A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a couple of owls talk to each other. They were apparently some distance away from each other, but talking nevertheless. One would hoot, and then other would respond, and back and forth, continuously. Because I live on the Red River, river life provides a varied array of sounds. Coyotes provide the most jarring night sounds. The yelping of the pack distinguishes the babies from the older ones. I sometimes wonder if I am living in a Jack London novel. Do you remember the scene of the man at the campfire seeing wolves at the perimeter staring at him, waiting for the fire to extinguish, so that they could eat him, with the man struggling to remain awake to keep the fire going, until dawn?

When the coyotes begin to wail, my dogs unfailingly stop and stare off in the direction of the baying. I wonder whether the dogs are responding to a deep-seated, instinctive, herd emotion. Are they saying, “I wish I was with them?”

The more I listen to nature’s sounds, the more I hear. It’s sort of like staring at the sky at night. After about 30 minutes, your eyes pick up more and more stars. After a time, I hear so many nature sounds, that the complexity of the array becomes quite great, truly a cacophony.  At one of these moments, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t the humans who are the intruders to this space, that is, nature’s space.

All of this comment goes to the point that there is noise pollution. Whether it is talking in the movie theatre, carrying on a conversation into a cell phone at a restaurant, or even firing a gun on a weekend of family fun out in the middle of nowhere, noise pollutes. The noise pollutes nature’s quiet, the serenity, peace and harmony.



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