Treated Fenceposts For Free

The story of an old time Texas homesteader who makes his own treated fence posts from cleared wood and used motor oil.

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    "Papa" John Bunyan Harrell holding two of his motor oil treated fence posts.
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    He also uses a flatheaded shovel for bark stripping. 
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    Papa John removes the bark from a likely pole.
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    Some of Papa John's fence posts have been in service for decades.

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John Bunyan Harrell never heard the word "ecology" until recently, but he doesn't like to see people waste trees when they're clearing land. "Papa John" has lived in the piney woods of east Texas all his life—through the days of ox driving and country sawmills, cotton raising and farming, into today's cattle ranching—and at 81, he still makes all his own fence posts just as folks did years ago. Matter of fact, some poles made and treated by John's recipe way back in 1928 are still doing duty as part of his milk cow pen.

There's no secret to making treated fence posts as John Bunyan does. It's not even hard to do. The method is one of those simple, close-to-nature tasks that most people have turned away from and forgotten about.

In a time when landowners generally bulldoze their property, burn the trees, and then buy fence posts, John still clears his land with a hand axe and carefully saves the long, straight pines for treatment. (Hardwoods don't have to be preserved and can be used for fencing in their natural state.) Later, when he wants to make poles, he picks out green pine logs of a good diameter for the use he has in mind: Regular posts are usually about three or four inches across, corner posts somewhat larger. The length depends on how tall the fence is supposed to be and how much of the upright has to go in the ground.

Next, Papa John prepares the trunks—and we were really amazed at how fast and easily the job went. Years of practice have perfected his technique, of course, but John says it's easy enough for anyone who really wants or needs to do it. He claims he can completely skin a pole in two minutes, and we don't think he took that long for most of the ones we watched him peel.

Standing astride the log, John uses a sharpened hoe to smooth off all the knots. Then he strips away the soft bark with a flatheaded shovel (the shavings make great kindling for the fireplace). The finished pole is stacked neatly on a pile, ready for treatment.

John Bunyan's preservative process requires nothing but a vat and several gallons of used motor oil, a good way for automobile owners to recycle that waste product rather than pay a garage to dump it into a river. The fortunate few who've learned that they don't really need wheels can still depend on the majority of this country's citizens who do have an automobile for a supply of pole-treating fluid. Just be neighborly and ask.



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