Whatchamacallits become art - Empty Nest by Curt Swarm


I have a number of these whatchamacallits.  I make sculptures out of them.  I weld the “jaws” open, attach the whatchamacallits to some other metal objects, and they look like angry-dog heads or some type of prehistoric monster.  I find these whatchamacallits at flea markets and swap meets.  Nobody ever knows what they are for sure, although they act like they do.  I've asked many times.  The answers I get fall into three categories: (A.) Log Carrier (B.) Rail Carrier or (C.) Fence Stretcher.  Since I first ran across the whatchamacallits at a yard sale for a former sawmill operator, I assumed they were log carriers.  I could visualize lumber jacks using them to roll or carry logs, since there is a cone or holder for an oak or hickory handle.  (I never have found one with the wooden handle still in it.)

What I did not believe was “fence stretcher.”  I built enough farm fence as a kid working for farmers, and never, ever used or saw one of these.  We stretched fence using a little Ford Tractor, the same tractor we drilled the post holes with.  I even worked for a construction company for a short time after graduating from high school, building fence on what would be the Red Rock Dam.  I never saw one of these gadgets. 

            So what are they?  I put the question out on social media, specifically Facebook--”I Grew Up In Iowa”—along with a picture.  The answers I got were surprising and of course, humorous, as well as sarcastic. 

            I bet it's that fence stretcher doodad, however I'm going to opt for thingamajig, because that's my go to when I can't remember or don't know....You use it to pull 5-gallon buckets apart....Ebay is full of pictures of this and call it a railroad-tie puller....We called it a “come along” on the farm.  Used it for many things that had to be stretched tight but mostly for fencing....Channel locks....Tooth extractor....In today's lingo it's called a “conversation piece”....It's called a chain-climbing fence stretcher.  I have one that belonged to my dad and used it many times building fence....It's a fence stretcher.  It “Walks Along” a chain, link-by-link.  The correct chain would make it operate uniformly.  It is not a spike puller, people!...It's a fence stretcher!  The claws fit over a heavy chain.  A long wooden bar was used in the cone to work it back and forth one link at a time....I  looked up the tool on a railroad site and it identified the tool as a rail lifter....It's not a rail lifter.  It's not big enough and doesn't have two handles....I worked  on the railroad laying rail and never used anything like this....Vintage antique railroad tie spike puller, mover, steam punk....Antique Railroad Track Spike Lifter Train Track Tool....Battery terminal puller....Ice carrier....stump puller....Chain binder....used to pick up blocks of ice in a meat freezer.

            There you have it.  No one seems to know for sure what these whatchamacallits are.  However, I'm going to stand corrected.  More people seem to think it's a fence stretcher.  Just because I never used one doesn't mean it didn't come before my time.  Since occasionally I find these whatchamacallits with the heavy log chain still through the loop on it's “head”--the chain that the stretcher “walks” along, one link-at-time, I'm going to go with fence stretcher.

            However, as with other tools that start out being designed for one job, because of their versatility, they get used for other things.  A simple example of this is the butter knife, that gets used as a screwdriver, putty knife, paint scraper, gum remover, what-have-you. 

            All I know is this “fence stretcher” is a pretty cool looking thingamajig, and I'm going to keep on welding it's “jaws” open and making more and better looking “sculptures.”  You never know, the thingamajig might wind up someday in an artifact museum. 

Have a good story?  Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com.

Column, Curt Swarm, editorial, Empty Nest, Mt. Pleasant, opinion, Pen City Current


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