Our ranch is not particularly big, but we have some 25 miles of fence to maintain, and some of it is a hundred years old.
Fixin’ fence is, of course, a regular job that knows no season. But fall is the time when we attack those stretches that need to be rebuilt completely – either because the wire is completely rotten, or the posts.
The most important component of any fence is the braces at each end that hold the wire stretched tight. Through a combination of physics, trigonometry, and experimentation we have developed a brace that far exceeds the strength of those commonly used in the West, but that is the subject of another essay.
There was a time when all the fence-posts were hand-set wood. Then came steel posts which could be driven by hand with a simple pipe pounder. By the late sixties, many fences were made of pointed wooden posts driven with a hydraulic tractor-mounted pounder. The only really change in the last 50 years is that there have been some real improvements in the pounders, and the posts are now pressure-treated for longer life.
Wooden line posts are generally 4 inches in diameter and 6½ feet long. Brace posts, however, are usually at least 6 inches in diameter and 8 feet long. Driving these larger posts can be a real challenge – especially in the West Boulder.
We do have a hydraulically driven auger mounted on the bucket of a loader tractor. In the right conditions it can be a real labor-saver. But if the rocks are any larger than your fist, you are back to a bar and a shovel.
Another problem that is common is dry soil. Our solution is - in the places where rocks don't preclude driving - to pound a steel post at the point we want a deep brace-post, and then set out a 5-gallon bucket of water to slowly drip down the hole created by the steel post. It usually takes 10 gallons of water and a couple of days to soak deep enough to drive a brace-post a full 3 feet.
Of course the water doesn’t guarantee that we won’t hit a rock – there are several posts in the pile whose tips have been mushroomed. And then it’s either move the hole or go back to the shovel and bar.
But in this age of mechanization it is the occasional hand-set post that helps maintain upper body strength and aerobic conditioning.