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.