Lee Pitts: The Lock Mess Monster
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who prefer combination locks and those who like locks with keys. Combo people are generally early adopters of technology, good in math, boring, generous, precise people with good memories. While “keyed” people are more mechanical, cheap, poor in math skills but very creative. They also can’t remember what they had for lunch yesterday. I happen to be a key person.
Whether we are keyed up for combos is determined early in life. Both my wife and I are keyed the same and detest combination locks. To this day she remembers having nightmares of forgetting the combination to her high school locker. The first combination I remember forgetting was to the lock on my Schwinn® bicycle. I grew up in what you’d call a high crime area and if you didn’t have your bike chained down to something solid it would be gone in five minutes. And sometimes even if you had it chained to a heavy duty bike rack you might return after school to find the rack and all the bikes gone.
I carried a two foot length of heavy chain and a combo lock everywhere I rode my bike. The lock had a three digit combination and I’ve always had a terrible memory so I made the date of my birthday the combination to my bike lock. This was a common practice but it was a terrible idea because one time while I at my birthday party at the YMCA one of my “friends” was stealing my bike. Gee, I wonder how he knew the combination, could it be the date of my birthday he now knew? I heard he became a computer hacker later in life.
I had no trouble remembering the numbers to my combo locker in high school, I just couldn’t remember what order they went in. Let’s see, was it two turns to the left or one turn to the right? I got so desperate I wrote down the combination with a Sharpie on my locker door, which kind of defeated the whole purpose.
I gained lots of experience opening locks as a roustabout in the oilfields where you couldn’t go half as mile without having to open a gate. As a roustabout I rode shotgun on a A-frame truck with a mechanic boss and my main job was hopping out of the cab to unlock all the gates. It was great training to be a rancher later in life.
Since each gate had to be accessible to the oilfield workers, the owner of the land, the rancher who leased the place, hunters, etc., sometimes you’d have a chain locking the gate that consisted of chain links and 10 different locks. I remember one ingenious setup where there was a round rotating disk with holes in it that allowed for a different lock in each hole. By unlocking and removing one lock you could then push the bar locking the gate through the empty hole to open the gate.
When we started ranching we put a lock on every gate but quickly gave up on that practice because whenever offroaders, pot growers or hunters came upon a wire gate with a lock all they’d do is cut the barbed wire thus ruining a gate that took hours to make. I switched to metal gates but the trespassers just took them off the hinges.
To this day we have a drawer to a filing cabinet in our home that is filled with locks missing keys, and keys whose locks have gone AWOL. I suppose we could have the expensive brass locks re-keyed at the hardware store but we can’t find the key to the filing cabinet drawer! We also suspect that my personal set of lock picks dating back to my juvenile delinquent days is also locked up in that drawer.
I’m told by my appraiser friend Russell in South Dakota that ranch realtors in that state carry what they call an “open says-me” key. It’s a four foot long pair of bolt cutters. I think it’s a toss up on what would look more ridiculous on a horse, a pair of bolt cutters tied on behind, or a ring full of keys dangling from my belt that would make me look like a high school janitor.