Junk Pile


The classic sentimental stereotype of farm life includes white wooden fences, green pastures, neat garden rows and freshly painted buildings. While there are certainly many farms and ranches that display those characteristics, the one thing that never seems to be in the stereotypical picture is the junk pile. And yet every farm has one, or should. It is from the junk pile that one extracts a short length of timber which is just right to temporarily mend the hole in the corral fence. The roll of hog wire salvaged from an old fence you tore down can be combined with broken metal fence posts welded together to create stout, reusable trellises for the pole beans. Chunks of concrete can be turned into stepping stones or fill for potholes.

My readers will know of my fondness for coggling, a skill in which something is pressed into service to fix something else, or used for a purpose that was not considered in its original design. Coggling is nearly impossible without a functioning junk pile. I use the term “functioning” deliberately here.

A functioning junk pile is organized. Related items, such as the old tin ripped off the barn roof in a high wind or the useful fence posts pulled up during the last go-round of fence replacement, are stacked together. Whenever the junk pile owner goes past, she casts an eye over the largesse. This is partly to assure herself that nothing has disappeared, and partly to keep a running mental inventory, so when the sheep need a temporary shelter, she will remember the old chain link dog kennel reposing in the junk pile.

A functioning junk pile contains a wide variety of potentially useful items. In ours, for example, there are two hand-built gates with wood frames and chain link stapled to the frames. While the wood is probably not useful for more than kindling at this point, all those gates need is new wooden frames, as everything else in them can be recycled. It will be the third reincarnation for the chain link. It began life as a bull pen fence on the ranch where my husband worked, was torn out and given to us, then straightened painfully by hand to build these gates.

A functioning junk pile is used to accumulate materials for a specific project. In our junk pile, you will find barrels of many sizes, both plastic and metal. You will also find a pile of worn out grader blades. These are just the thing for building a pole barn—you sink a barrel into the dirt, set a grader blade in the middle, fill the barrel with concrete, and bolt your uprights to the grader blade after the concrete has set. There are pieces of rebar in various sizes, left over from our projects or scavenged from someone else. There are two airboats, complete with fans that could probably be coggled into a small windmill. There are short sections of hog panels, some a little bent.

A functioning junk pile is not necessarily all in one place. Some things need to be kept under shelter or away from chewing critters like mice and rats, such as the currently unused horse gear made of leather. Some things are small and should be kept in a box or drawer where they can be easily found. One of my personal junk pile components is glass jars in a wide variety of sizes, stacked outside but relatively near the kitchen where they are quickly retrieved for canning, herbal decoctions or seed storage. The little jelly jars that were made for the old-fashioned days of sealing with paraffin also make good drinking glasses.

I admit I was a late-comer to the joys of a junk pile. For many years my husband and I had a running dialogue about the stuff he kept dragging home. It was partly because his tendency was to build the junk pile where it could be seen from the kitchen and living room windows. Mostly it was because I had grown up in a family that had the wherewithal to just go buy things, while he grew up poor and had learned to make do. We had a system in which he dragged stuff home, I tolerated it for a while and then started to nag about it. Eventually I become more aware of the issues related to non-renewable resources and basic frugality, which effectively shut me up and made me just as inclined as he was to drag stuff home. But that’s another story…

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3 Responses to Junk Pile

  1. Bee says:

    Jan and Merm: so glad to know you enjoy the blog! I had no idea we were reaching as far as the Emerald Isle–guess I underestimated the power of electronic media. Merm, I love your response to the government folks, and shame on them that they would threaten to take away money because you are saving the earth’s resources!

  2. merm says:

    a junk pile is an essential on a farm but it never ceases to amaze me the piece i want to use has a bird nest or other natural wonder stuck to or tucked under it .
    here in Ireland department of agriculture inspectors visit farms to tell you to get rid of junk piles or face penalties on our farm subsidies!! I try to explain ‘previously utilised material resource store’ is just work in the early stages of product development,and that government policy is to reduce reuse and recycle.Trouble is by using junk I am not spending money in town the greatest sin of all.

    love your blogs had to laugh about the string there are balls of the stuff at my dads house from generations of sacks.having read gene logsdon , yourself and wendell berry consolidates my belief that rural folk are the same the world over and it is stuff like your string that holds us all together

  3. Jan Steinman
    Twitter: JanBytesmiths.com

    Yay for junk!

    We had some city-folk “partners” who didn’t like junk piles. One week while I was away, they moved all the “junk” into the pasture. The neighbour’s haybine ran over it while he was harvesting hay for us, and we ended up paying several hundred for repairs. We would have been better off buying the hay.

    The city-folk have since left. The junk piles are back. Last month, I raided them for all the materials needed to make a 6′ square screen box, so we can build soil. Final cost: nothing!

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