We fixed it with baling wire

Published 4:15 pm Monday, December 24, 2018

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I’ve always adhered to the Baling Wire Principle. If it can be fixed, fix it, but do it as cheaply and easily as possible.

If it hadn’t been for baling wire, some farmers half century ago probably couldn’t have farmed. “Held together with baling wire” was a universally-understood phrase.

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The stuff could be found everywhere. It held gates closed and feed hoppers open. It, along with a peanut pole, could patch a hole in a fence, repair the broken end of a spring on a piece of equipment, serve as a throttle linkage for an engine. A couple strands of baling wire stretched between roof joists in a shed made a handy place to store bamboo fishing poles and other lightweight gear. I’ve even seen baling wire wrapped tightly around cracked tool handles to form a splint.

Now, the logical extension of the Baling Wire Principle is that, once a thing has been patched, it’s rarely repaired further unless it breaks again. That’s why the broken spring was never replaced once it was patched with baling wire. And why buy a new throttle linkage when all you had to do was wrap the baling wire around something to keep the engine accelerating every time you used it.

And folks who grew up under the Baling Wire Principle rarely get over it. Just ask my wife. There are “temporary” repairs at our home that I made decades ago, fully intending to go back and “do it right” when I had the time. So far, I just haven’t had the time. But after all, once a thing has been patched, it falls way down the priority list.

And I’m not alone in employing the Bailing Wire Principle. An unrestored Model T that belonged to Anne’s grandfather Reynolds Parker, sported a piece of baling wire he used a linkage to the choke for close to a half century. Some years ago, I got smart and ordered a new choke wire and tossed the baling wire. The new wire lasted just a few cranks and then broke. By then, I’d lost the trusty piece of baling wire. Just goes to show you …

I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but the Baling Wire Principle is generally a man’s thing. Women often are more inclined than men to want things to “look good” as well as perform well. Now there are exceptions. A man will look after his shotguns, rods and reels, golf clubs and pickup truck, but many of us are perfectly satisfied if the lawn mower just runs. And duct tape around a broken drill housing? It just looks well-used.

Duct tape. Ah, now there’s a product that’s carried the Baling Wire Principle to greater heights! I don’t exaggerate when I say that duct tape is one of the 20th century’s greatest inventions. It’s uses — old timers, forgive me for saying this — are far more numerous than even baling wire.

And besides, baling wire’s hard to find today. But give me a roll of store-bought wire, some sturdy twine, duct tape and a tube of good, two-part epoxy glue and I can make as sturdy — and ugly — a patch as you’d ever want to see.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this column was published in January 2002.