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Stock Fences

October 22, 2021

I learned a lot about stock fences when I was a young child. They were usually barbed wire fences and gates that kept cattle in one pasture or another. They dotted the landscape of every place that we seemed to fish in California, Montana and Wyoming.

Early in my youth, I became acquainted with barbed wire fences and how to cross them safely. In the early 1950’s we fished on the Upper Owens River in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Any given day required my father and me to cross 4 to 6 fences. The first thing I learned was to respect the property owner’s fence and not to damage it. Most ranchers will allow passage through their fences but obviously they don’t want their fences damaged. The common practice was to gently step down on the lowest string of barbed wire and pull up on the next highest string to allow the body to pass through. This almost always worked. However, occasionally a barb would catch your clothing and stop you in the midst of this maneuver. I became very expert at this kind of fence crossing and had very few torn shirts to prove otherwise.

The other fence we regularly encountered was the stock fence gate. These gates were put across dirt roads but were movable to allow passage. The photo above illustrates one such gate found in Wyoming in the 1960’s. There was usually a wire loop that fitted over the end post of the barbed wire gate. A little effort released the loop. The car was then driven ahead and the fence gate was put back the way it was found. The latter was almost always my job when I was fishing with my father..

I learned all the techniques when I was a young child. Later in life I applied them regularly with my new family. My wife learned the routine well as did my dog. The only difficulty was swinging a 9 foot fly rod through the fence on your way through. The road gates were easy but required me to stop, undo the fence, drive through, stop again and re-loop the fence post as I was the only one with that golden experience..

As an aside, in the early 1970’s I visited my old haunts on the Owens River. The previous winter had been long with heavy snow. When I arrived at the Long Ears Ranch, my car immediately became bogged down in the wet pasture. I tried digging the rear wheels out to no avail. I decided that I needed to put wood under the wheels. After trying sage brush, I was convinced that I needed solid pieces of wood. There was none to be found.

Finally I spied a nearby fence. I disassembled one post and used it under the drive wheel to get my car unstuck. But remember what I said about respect for the property owner’s fence? Yep, you guessed it. I spent another hour and a half replacing the post that I had borrowed and making the needed barbed wire connections.

Years later, I was fishing on Oregon’s McKenzie River near the town of Eugene. It was a damp rainy day. I came upon a stock fence and followed the steps I had learned many decades ago. However when I put my left hand on that second string of wire after stepping on the bottom string, I noticed that my hand was jumping up and down. I paused and looked at it closely. It looked like all the muscles in the hand were jerking up and down like mini convulsions. Finally it dawned on me that the fence was electrified. Duh!

Fences: They’re there and you can usually cross them if you have permission but be careful. A hand on barbed wire or an electrical fence can be an eye opener.

Photo: My father Gene Rizzi opening a stock fence gate in Wyoming circa 1960.

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6 Comments
  1. I spent my youth crawling through fences held by older male cousins or my Dad, just on our own place. JUST until, I was tall enough to carefully hold the top wire while stepping over it – less risk and fear for me, than those of male friends, really – I had less fear over the process, overall – another lesson learned on the vulnerable portions of male anatomy, which I remembered decades later when I went through female self defense courses…(basically? eyes and crotch area are what you want to injure when fighting for your life or virtue….). And I remember the day I proudly NOT only opened the barbed wire gate with the old wooden fence post with the bottom loop and top loop – BUT also closed it all by myself, by leveraging the bottom loop, standing with one leg behind the other to anchor myself and put my full body strength through to my shoulder, in order to properly latch the top loop of wire over the top of the post – – in later years? I learned the mechanics of the body through martial arts, Pilates, etc., I learned about engineering, fulcrum points, pulleys and various tensile strengths of alloys, and braided, twisted, strung things, etc., – but I first learned all those things in pride at closing the gate in a properly strung wire gate, and what barbed wire, under tension, both gave and could take, when not properly respected by the ignorant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like you’ve been there and done that – Good to know someone else has.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Many someones have and continue to do – just seems somedays? One or another of ‘those of us who have been there, done that’ forget and feel as if we walk the road alone – you do not and during your journey on the Cancer path? Remember always, you walk not alone AND sometimes? often? That journey looks like a barb-wire fence that is a blessing and curse, all at the same time – Many prayers and well wishes for your journey on the C roadway –

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I remember a cousin and me touching an electric fence, just to see how big a jolt we would get. Still here. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I know those fences and gates quite well from all my field work, especially in New Mexico. Oh how I hate closing those gates!

    I’m doing some research, for an upcoming blog post, about the Owens Valley. A family member lived in Bishop and owned the Rock Creek Lake Store for many years. He was an avid fly fisherman and conservationist. I don’t know that I’ve ever been in that part of the state, though I have been to Death Valley.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Owens River was my training ground. I have spent years in and around that area fishing an studying Piute culture and petroglyphs. It is a fascinating area.

      Liked by 2 people

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