Gate Swinging
copyright Sam Elmore


There's been a heap of discussion in my family over the years about toys, and what we played with when we were kids. Most of the 'toys' we had were home-made, usually whittled out by Papa with his Barlow, or hand-woven/sewed by Mama.

I have always contended that Barge and I had the very best 'toy' to play with that was ever invented…until Baucum got too big for us to throw around any way we wanted to. After that, we had to really scrounge around to come up with something to play with.

I recall the time (about '39, if mem'ry serves) Papa and the big brothers installed a gate across the lane leading to our house. I assume it had some utile purpose other than to look nice, although it did look real nice when they got through.

They began with post-hole diggers, and worked their way down through the yellow clay to the next layer, which was red clay. It was hot and muggy, and they were drenched with sweat in no time. They kept us three boys hustling, drawing up cool water from the well, and supplying them with drinking water.

They squared up the holes with a steel rod that was round on one end, and had a beveled blade on the other end, about six foot long overall. It was so heavy, us three boys could only drag it from one place to another. Once the holes were squared up to Papa's satisfaction, they heavy-handled railroad cross-ties upright into the square holes, which were about two feet deep.

They used a fishing sinker on a string to make sure the cross-ties were plumb, then carefully fed small portions of the removed dirt back into the edge of the holes. Then they tamped the fill-in dirt down real good with the end of a gooseneck hoe, and the round end of the steel rod.

As the clay dirt would get packed tight, Papa bade us boys pour a half-a-dipper of water into the holes. That was allowed to settle a bit while they rested, then the packing and tamping would start again. As the clay would get tightly impacted in the holes, that steel rod would really sing as it hit the hard bottom.

When the posts were set up good and tight, and none of the grown boys could move them even a hair by shoving as hard as they could from side to side, Papa deemed the posts satisfactory. They took a break for dinner, and a half-hour rest, then began to construct and hang the gate.

They used one-by-six inch seasoned and planed-smooth oak planks, cut to the exact length to fit the opening between the posts, giving allowance for the hinges and gate latch. The gate was rectangle in shape, and they formed the gate on the ground, measuring three times and cutting once, until the perimeter structure was acceptable to Papa. Then they cut and installed a diagonal board from corner to corner, one on one side, and one on the other.

Papa used two fourteen-inch steel hinges to hang the gate. The hinges were affixed to the cross-ties with two ten-penny nails in each hole, and hammered snugly tight. There was about three inches of hinge, with a hole in it, that stuck back behind the cross-ties. Papa said they didn't need to do anything else…it was plenty strong enough. So, they finished with the gate, and went on about their grown-up rat-killin'…(and that was the beginning of the 'test phase'.)

The next few days went by without incident, with the grown men off in the fields away from the house, plowing. However, that gate drew us three boys like a magnet. We couldn't seem to stay away from it, for some unknown reason. Then one day, big brother Barge seemed to discover the reason. If you flipped open the latch, the gate had a tendency to swing slowly open…all by its-own-self. After demonstrating that phenomena to Baucum and me a few times, Barge scratched his head and commenced to pondering.

Before long, Barge had stepped up onto the bottom plank of the gate, flipped the latch, and glided out through the eeefrium riding the gate... grinning like unto a possum. After that, it was "me! me!" time. After Barge and I had ridden it alone a few times, Baucum (who we considered too little to ride the gate) was raising so much fuss, he had us glancing over our shoulders at the house, wondering if Mama could hear him.

We knew if we put Baucum on the gate my his-own-self, and he got hurt in some way, we'd get killed. So, Barge stepped up on the gate, and hauled Baucum up to stand between his legs to ride. By that time, I had discovered that the gate had a LOT more speed in it if I gave it a running shove.

By the middle of the afternoon, one of us discovered that the far edge of the gate away from the hinges was making a trail in the dirt when it swung. We knew it hadn't been designed that way, because Papa had spent almost an hour making sure the pieces of wood he'd used to set the gate level were exactly right.

Barge checked the hinges…Merciful Georgia! Them ten-penny nails on the top hinge had been sprung loose and stretched by our combined weight on the gate, which was definitely sagging on the other end. Barge ran and got Papa's hammer and a couple of 20-penny spikes. He told me and Baucum how to use two of Mama's running bean stake poles to prise up the gate on the other end, and to hold it steady.

Barge took to beating mightily on that stuck-out end of the top hinge, until he it them bent back ninety degrees behind the cross-tie; then he drove that 20-penny spike into the cross-ties through the end hole of the hinge. When he was done, we eased off with the bean poles, and the gate hung perfectly aloft…with just one minor detail wrong.

We had prised a mite too hard with the bean poles, I reckon, because the gate was now hanging a good six inches higher on the off-end than it was when Papa hung the gate! But, it was permanently spiked, and nothing we could do about it. So, Barge said we might as well get in a few more swings on the gate before Papa got home from the fields and killed us.

I was on my third swing when I discovered that, if I turned a-loose of the gate as soon as it was parallel with the road, and if I pulled up my knees and balled up, I could roll a good ways down the side of the hill in the lush grass. Barge gave it a good shove, and as soon as the gate got to the right spot, I balled up, turnt a-loose, and d-o-w-n the hill I went! When I stopped, I was laying on my back, looking straight up at…

PAPA!

I about died!

He stood there a-straddle of my head, frowning straight down at me. Little white cotton-candy clouds up in the blue sky seemed to be moving right through his hair. With his fists on his hips, his shoulders spanned from one horizon to the other. All I could do was close my eyes and try to seep into the earth.

(That was the last gate I ever swung on.)