I’ve been building and repairing barbed wire fences for as long as I can remember. Living on a ranch of any kind, especially here in the west, barbed wire fence construction is a way of life. After you have done enough of it you learn to take notice of well constructed, tightly stretched fencing. Whenever I’ve seen one I can’t help but appreciate them as if they were an art form. I’ve been known to stop my pickup along country roadsides simply to admire construction techniques I haven’t seen before.
Barbed wire has been one of the most common forms of ranch fencing for about 150 years. Before the first patents were recorded and mass production started in the 1860’s fences were mostly constructed out of rocks, wooden poles or rails, thorn bushes and other natural materials. In the vast expanses of the west these materials were not so readily available or suitable making the innovation of barbed wire a welcomed commodity. By the early 1900’s most of the west had become sectioned off with this new fencing product making for better neighbors while taming a land that had only years before been open and free. In some ways it robbed the west of its wild romance and ended the short era of the true American cowboy. It allowed for the compatibility of farmers, ranchers and homesteaders who were forced to share regions of land while at other times caused intense feuding.
One thing I discovered after moving onto the rangeland of southern Idaho was the use of a device that both latched and pulled tight a wire stretch gate. I’ve called it a “cheater-bar latch” and have now incorporated it into my arsenal of fence building skills. It is a simple device, but very effective and I think worthy of mention.
Those who appreciate tightly stretched wire fences and gates have undoubtedly struggled one time or another with the challenge of opening and closing a stretch gate that is too tightly stretched. I especially remember being a young boy having to get through a wire gate and using every bit of strength I had to slip the wire loop over the top of the gate pole. It always seemed to me that most barbed wire gates were too tight to open and close or too loose to be functional. The “cheater-bar latch” is the perfect simple solution.
I first discovered this simple device exploring the hill country around Timber Butte on horseback. Some of the latches I encountered were more sophisticated than others, but the principal was the same. If made out of wood or metal many gates had a lever hanging next to the wire loop latch. Some of these levers or “cheater-bars” also doubled as the latch itself. Seeing the value in this I went back to my shop and fabricated “cheater-bar latches” of my own which are slowly but surely replacing all the old wire loop latches on our place. The old wire gates are tighter making them safer for livestock and much easier to open.