Farmgirl Pickers

Keen interest in recycling and re-purposing is not new. Furthermore, human beings may well have gotten the idea from observing our many friends in the animal kingdom. Mother nature is masterful in reclaiming much of what mankind discards … from shipwrecks to hubcaps (see above photo). Giving vintage relics new life and a new job is an old practice, which brings me to this week’s theme: “Farmgirl “Pickers”. I borrowed the term that many have become newly familiar with because of the hugely popular TV show on the History channel … “Pickers”. So, get ready, put your gloves & boots on because you’re about to embark on a junkin’ safari.

I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that I often went with my Grandpa to the town dump to look for hidden treasure. The seeds for me becoming a modern-day “picker” were planted back when I was a wee lassie. My grandparent’s young adulthood occurred during WWI, the Great Depression and WWII. There was never a time in their working-age life that they didn’t struggle to scratch out a living. Sayings like, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure”, “waste not, want not”, and “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” are said to have been born in times like those. In his old age and long after the hard times had passed, my Grandpa assigned me to pound old, bent nails straight so that they could be saved in jars. The die had been cast, he knew no other way than to save any and everything that could be re-used or re-purposed. For my grandparents, the habit was born out of necessity. Today, there is a renaissance of the same concept, but with a different twist brought about by the realization that we must take a better care of our world. Creating less garbage and living clean & green is not only fashionable, it is a critically important mindset and long overdue.

Many of us farmgirls possess a lusty hunger for re-purposing cast-offs, both for indoor and outdoor use. If they are vintage … all the better! Sometimes, the re-purpose is utilitarian in nature, for example, recycling lumber and fencing materials for farmstead projects or using old windows for building cold frames or a fantabulous greenhouse.

Over the course of the last month, my farmgirl gal-pals and I went on several junk hunting trips for the said purpose of searching for lost treasure and we were not disappointed! We came home with our pickups loaded with a motley crew of ‘junktiques’. Ranching country is dotted with lots of abandoned homesteads well over a hundred years old. The houses, outbuildings and the old homestead ‘dump’ are prime hunting grounds. Below are photos of the results of our expedition.

An old dump-site on a western ranch is best described as a mangled heap of antique garbage. Usually, the items that are sound enough to re-purpose are old iron goodies because the dump was set on fire many times. I used our hydraulic bale feeder to lift the tangled mess so that we could extract hidden treasure. What a lot of work!! It is like trying to untangle iron spaghetti. But, we finally won the war and left with lots of goodies and some iron bed frames that will find new jobs as “flower beds” and as a trellis in the garden. I’ve found gobs of old jars in these dumps that I clean up and decorate with vintage looking water-slide decals. They’re great for storing lots of things.

Don’t be shy about asking a farmer or rancher about going junk hunting on their property. Offer to pay a fair price for your finds, don’t make more of a mess that what is already there and if you do get permission, take a thank-you gift back to the land owner. Homemade cookies or a pie are always welcome and and edible ‘thank you’ may win you a 2nd trip! Also, be sure to take a bucket of tools with you on your hunting trip. Like what? A ratchet or electric screwdriver, a hammer, a bolt cutter, wire snips, crow bar etc. You get the picture.

In collage form, here are some of the treasures we “liberated” and then re-purposed. I haven’t pieced together the old picket fence yet since I just brought it home the other day. We’re located on the windswept plains of northern Wyoming and if I don’t put up some kind of wind shelter around my garden, I might as well not have a garden. All that remained of the stock tank (see photo) was the rim. It made for a perfect raised bed garden. In it are beets, carrots, tomatoes, nasturtiams and marigolds. I also planted sweet peas by the foot-board and morning glories by the head-board in the hope that they’ll climb up and create a magical farmgirl look. Another smaller tank will host lettuce; the shallow, iron sheep-feeder will be home to cucumbers (reason being that the ground here doesn’t warm up enough to make good cukes and our growing season is short). The dirt? 100% organic and courtesy of our cattle and horses.

Imagine a mound of Moss Roses spilling over the edge of this old enamelware tub (above). The seat in the chair is missing and the tub’s bottom has several holes in it. I dug it out of the dirt at an old homestead site. Garbage? Heaven forbid!! We ‘re building an addition onto our house this summer. My vision includes an old-timey porch and I’ve got a bunch of old windows piled up for the mudroom, plus a lovely, old paned door and the above screen door that just needs a good cleaning and new coat of paint. “Chippy” painted wood works great for making the cutest birdhouses. Embellish the birdhouse with junky odds & ends … rusty hinges, old silverware, faucets, doorknobs etc. The recipe for whimsical farmhouse style is good junk + imagination + ‘elbow grease’ and a purpose for the end result. I love decorative things that aren’t deadbeats; I want them to have a real job. Ok, well, sometimes the job is just to please my eye.

Re-purposing things requires you to think outside the box and train your mind’s eye to look beyond what you see. Look at the possibilities rather than what an object is or what it once was. One of the things I brought home is a very old, cast-iron washing machine with a mint-green porcelain tub. WooHoooooo, it’ll be the perfect party tub on our porch! I’ll fill it with ice and poke a herd of bottled drinks down into the cubes. Reclaiming your inner child’s imagination and the practical goals of a barncat will serve you well in your re-purposing pursuits. You and I see a fencepost as only that, however, a barncat favors this post as a perfect observation tower while she surveys the barnyard for unsuspecting rodents. Its all a matter of how you look at things. Get it? A little elbow grease and some creative magic can turn “junktiques” into beauty with history and a conscience.

  1. Debbie says:

    Hi there Shery!
    This is a post after my own " creative recycling heart "!
    I’d say you’ve done yourself mighty proud with your finds and your born again creations! That section of Picket Fencing is calling out to me! Love your collage! Windows, doors, old iron and fencing OH MY! Just today, I was eyeing an old wire magazine rack. I think it would be charming filled with flowers tucked into my garden!
    I love the variety of things people can find depending on where you live. On the East Coast you can find some great picks in old Barns. These Yankees don’t throw anything away…EVER!!!

    Happy Junkin’

    One of my very favorite quotes of all time…

    " Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making
    something out of it after it is found. "
    ~ James Russell Lowell

  2. Love this post. My dad had a "junk" pile on the farm. He will see me coming out of the hollow and wonder what I have found to drag back now. I have actually just about cleaned up the junk pile. I also went to an auction one Saturday and when I came back, I went straight to the barn and started dragging out his old tools and horse tack to decorate the inside of my house with. I made a really cute planter from an old nail keg, cabinet from an old window, flower planter from a galvanized wash tub, and I  bought 4 sections of old picket fence for $5.00, cut them in half, put a hinge on them so they would stand as a back drop and sold them in my friends primitive shop for $26.00 a section. Of course I kept one for myself. You have some really cute ideas, love the pics.

  3. Heather Hansen says:

    I can remember my grandmother telling me stories about growing up during the Great Depression. Her family didn’t suffer as badly as others, because her dad was a teacher. However, they were always frugal. They always had money for the necessities like food, shelter and clothing…but for anything else, well, that was another matter entirely 🙂 🙂 Every purchase always well thought over.
    My grandmother taught me many lessons and one of them, from those early years, was to reuse everything I have. I love to reuse things and extend the shelf-life of things in my home. I couldn’t figure out where I got it from, because it’s certainly not something I learned from my parents. So it must have come from her.
    Now my love for vintage and antiques, that came from my mother 🙂 🙂 I really enjoyed seeing the photos and I felt like I was right there for the journey. It also makes me want to move out to the country really badly…but that’s in a good way 🙂 🙂 🙂
    I was really struck by the photo of the screen door on its side. I wondered about the people who would have walked through that door. What kind of stories would there be? I also liked the photo of the beautiful white jar with the red flowers on the front and on the lid? That must have been a special container for some lady a long time ago 🙂 :)..Well, the cat…I love cats…so that’s no contest 🙂 🙂
    Thanks for posting this. It gives me even more inspiration to find multiple uses for all the things in my home 🙂 🙂 🙂

  4. Grace~katmom says:

    Hey Shery,
    I soooo agree!
    In fact if you sneak over to my blog & take a peek…you will see what my hubby made for me, in fact , I now have 3 and he will make 3 more…using cast off tires, a coffee can, cutter & ‘brute strength’ he cut out a scallop edge, then flipped the tire inside out and now I have big pots, So now to paint them a fun bright color & put flower pots in them! Wahooo! luv re-purposing…

  5. meredith says:

    WOW! I just finished planting my new (old) garden. It is made of entirely recycled materials- the only new things in it are the plants. All my beds are raised- they are water tanks from different times on our farm, some concrete, some aluminum, some big and some small. The picket fence was stored in a machine shed of ours until I found it again, and the wrought iron gate came from my husbands’ grandmothers farm, I have been saving it for years waiting to have just the right spot for it. I am in love with my new (old ) garden- it cost me nothing but time and effort and brings me much happiness!

  6. KimberlyD says:

    I just love your "flower beds", I haven’t seen anyone do that in a long time, always liked the look. When I was a kid we lived in the country and they didn’t have garbage trucks pick up your garbage you took it to the "dump", which was just down the road that I lived on. Me and my 3 brothers use to love going down there and looking for "hidden treasure".

  7. Linda Tucker says:

    Here in Vermont we call it dump shopping. My father-in-law quite often came home from the dump with more than he took. Now we have an exchange area at the dump where people can leave things they think are still good and you can just go pick them up.

  8. Nan says:

    Good morning, I come from a long line of "pickers". My parents grew up during the depression and there was hardly anything that they couldn’t re-purpose. My mom was also an artist and had the ability see purpose where others saw junk. We lived in Oregon but lived for road trips, whether to the coast (driftwood, rocks, moss, leaves,and sticks as well as floatsum and jetsum washed ashore from fishing vessels), or to the Dakota’s where they were both raised. We stopped at every "junk" pile we found, often bringing home so many treasures that the suitcases would be piled in the back set. I am in Northern Colorado now and am finding one treasure at time as is my boyfriend. Amazing what you can find in a ditch or just on a old dirt road.

  9. Carol says:

    Wyoming girls must think the same.. I had a friend out to teach her how to shoot a rifle…along the way, she captured our old cast iron tub ( then enjoyed it! (

    Come on over and enjoy my Wyoming blog too…


  10. Brenda says:

    I love your garden recycling! I have been working on some of my own. I just finished a post where I show what I did with the tool tote that hubs won at an auction – it was full of clamps. He was really just wanting the clamps but I still had to do some mighty please, please, pleasing to get that tote for my project. As always love your post!

  11. You hit the nail on the head!!!!!! Beautiful!

  12. Donna says:

    I am in love. Your web-site is so beautiful and refreshing. Your ideas so outside the box, I am jealous. I have been to Wyoming many times and each time I return home I leave a little bit of me there.
    From New York

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