Lee Pitts: The Devil’s Hat Band
As far as I am concerned, Joseph Glidden was the most miserable SOB that ever breathed a breath. I curse his memory every October 27th because that’s the day Joseph got the first ever patent for barbed wire.
Joseph Glidden is known as “The Father of Barb Wire” which to me is like being known as “The Father of Leukemia” or “The Father of Hitler.” It is simply something that I would not aspire to be. But Glidden was quite proud of it, so much so that he kept on “improving” his invention. He started out innocently enough with a wire he called “Glidden’s Barely Barbed” but he regressed quickly and towards the end of his miserable life he came up with “Glidden’s Hog Wire with Rusty Extra Long Barbs.”
The life of the common cowboy has been immortalized in song and the golden screen but the cowboy is always portrayed in a romantic light, breaking wild horses, turning a stampede, or serenading a herd going up the trail to Abilene. Hah! I am here to tell you that the average old cowboy living on Social Security in an old age home spent far more time stringing a piece of Devil’s Hat Band whose sole purpose was to inflict pain and ruin shirts than he ever did singing under the stars to a bunch of steers. And any cowboy worth his spurs has the scars to prove it. Look at any sun burnt, crippled up old cowboy and amidst the wrinkled skin, pitted like a cratered moon, you will see the scars. The old wire cuts are worn proudly like a badge of honor.
There are something like 1,400 kinds of barb wire and some brain dead people are actually collecting it, as if it was art or something. (I only have 200 pieces in my collection.) I wrote a story one time about a rancher near Henrietta, Texas, who has three rolls of “Brinkerhoff Twisted” sitting in his shop and the poor old coot thinks he’s wealthy. He’s leaving the rusty wire to his grandkids and it says so in his will!
It’s amazing to see some of the types of wire these demented inventors came up with. At a barb wire show I recently attended I saw one version that was nothing more than serrated steak knives welded together. The English on the other hand were much more humane, their version was simply smooth. Now it’s the Japanese who are on the cutting edge of barb wire technology and if you want to put a little spark in your otherwise dreary marriage try stretching a mile or two of the Japanese version with your spouse. You’ll be hauled into divorce court before you get a third wire stretched.
What my wife and I do is get a smooth digging bar and shove it through the middle of the roll. This allows us to unwind the roll of wire as we walk. The only problem is that my wife is afraid of having the roll of barbs slide too far to her side of the bar so she raises her end which of course means as the roll unwinds it takes the hide off my hand. And of course she is wearing the only decent pair of gloves.
When we approach the corner post to stretch the wire and tie it off my wife goes and hides in the pickup so she won’t get hit when the wire whiplashes. The next step is to actually stretch the wire with another invention of Joseph Glidden’s, the wire stretcher, which of course has not been improved upon since Glidden invented it over 100 years ago. When this doesn’t work, the stretcher is thrown aside and the wire is passed through the claw of the hammer. Using the hammer as a prybar and my knee as a third hand I am then able to secure the wire to the post with another terrible Japanese invention: the slippery shooting staple.
I’ve called barbed wire many things in my life but the collectors use nicer terms like L.P Judson’s Notched Ribbon, Window Wire, Corsicana Clip, and English Entanglement Wire. Normally I would find such names humorous except that at this very moment I am attempting to disengage my arm from a strand of the much dreaded Japanese Revenge.