Romancing The Rust

Her husband looked at her like she had three heads and he asked, “What are you going to do with all that junk??”

Then, he remembered his own ‘collection’ of treasures … behind the barn, in the barn, beside the barn, in the barn loft … and, lest we forget, the mother lode impressively displayed at the top of the hill for all travelers to see as they drive by. After receiving a look from his wife (a look he knew well) he realized that his question needed to be retrieved. He wished he could unsay it. It wasn’t really a question. His comment was a disapproving remark, suggesting that her treasures are less valuable than his. Realizing his error, he smiled and went on his merry way. She smiled too and remembered that men are from Mars and sometimes they just don’t ‘get it’.

For as long as I can recall, I have loved old things. Old things, really old things (including people) have more character. They have stories. They have history. They have experience. The best old things bear the marks of a life well lived. Sometimes, a busy life wore them plum out. Although their best years are behind them, that doesn’t mean a little rust has rendered them useless!

When you get older, you learn to accept doing things a little differently. I speak from a fresh pulpit. But, ya know, we actually do that all of our lives. We reinvent ourselves many times over, we “re-purpose” parts of our lives and recycle a myriad of personal things that I’ll leave nameless because they’re just too numerous! So, this habit we practice everyday (or should) slips seamlessly into our creative life. We shouldn’t waste ourselves, nor anything else. Our lives will have purpose for as long as we seek a purpose. The same is true for ‘things’…inanimate objects that really seem to enjoy being useful again.

Giving junk new jobs is an adventure! Whenever I come up with an idea for an old ‘whatever’, I feel like I WIN!!! Okay, so maybe I’m too easy to entertain. “Simple things for simple minds.” Whatever it is, I am hopelessly addicted and I don’t want the cure. I was overjoyed when I found this old washing machine in a ranch dump. I had not a clue what I was going to do with it…but it was gonna be good!! That very night, it hit me…a party tub!! Oh yea, picture it on the porch…filled with ice and with bottled drinks poking out of it. I’m so looking forward to showing off my goodies to my farmgirl pals when we get together again.

And then, there was the pile of old iron stove parts. Hmmmmm, what to do? I’ve learned to listen when junk whispers. Junk will tell you what kind of life it wants if you look not at what it once was, but what it could be. The world is full of possibilities. In this case, a plain old pot turned into a posh planter. I don’t know what the beautifully embossed door wants to be yet. She’s still thinkin’ about it.

While riding at the ranch, I find all kinds of discarded golden oldies. My pockets runneth over! My horses become accustomed to having to carry enamelware tea kettles and various other found treasure tied to my saddle strings. Old pop bottles, pottery shards, jars…and ancient license plates. This one was half hidden in a tangle of sagebrush. It is almost rusted into. I think an angel with a sense of humor whispered this idea to me. I giggled when I heard her. The old 1954 license plate now hangs above my kitchen window. When it was new, I was too. If you wish to run with the idea and gussy up one of your own, I used acrylic paints and sprayed it with a semi-gloss sealant. You can easily find old plates like this at antique shops and flea markets.

At the same ranch dump I found the old washer in, this old head board lay buried in a mess of old wire and metal siding. It was a little bent, but nuthin’ a good running over didn’t fix. The finial in the middle is brass, but the other two were missing. My husband took a grinder to the threaded ends so that a pair of white porcelain doorknobs could be used for replacement finials. But, the headboard still looked like a neglected orphan. I thought it needed a little sprucing up, so I brushed some white acrylic paint onto the flowers. Then, I added a little mustard colored paint on the middle of the flower and followed up with a good smudging of dark brown paint to make it look old. I then sprayed the whole thing with a matte finish sealant. And what does this beautiful bed do now? Why, she will be a trellis for a climbing rose I just planted.

A garden is an excellent playground for a devoted junker. There is just no end to what you can do with old goodies! I picked up several spans of old picket fence destined for the dump – for free. The panels now serve valiantly as a wind break fortress, an absolute necessity on the High Plains. In my garden, other old ranch junk goodies have new jobs … old water tanks and an old sheep feeder are ‘raised beds’, old headboards found work as a trellis, old rusted out enamelware pots house flowers … etc etc.

There is an abundance of old tin and metal siding in ranch/farm dumps. I made this little ‘welcome’ sign out of a piece of rusty corrugated tin. Baling wire serves as the hanger. Again, I used acrylic paint and a spray sealant.

If you have any questions about the ‘How To’ details of any of the projects I’ve mentioned…please feel free to shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you.

Here is a helpful hint from a devoted junk diver…never overlook the dollar boxes at farm/ranch auctions. There are some real treasures in them. And, well, whatever is left over, you can dispose of with a clear conscience. You’ve made an effort to do something few actually do…to really live the ‘waste not’ lifestyle. There is great joy in being frugal and creative. There is humor too. Junk can make you giggle to yourself when you think of some supremely clever plan for an item. I’ll share another show & tell soon. I’m percolating on making old-timey signs for my new ‘shabby farmgirl’ chicken coop. Oh, she’s a darlin’ too.

I like to do a little research when I’m writing a piece. I’m also a lover of wise sayings (also funnies like the one above). I had no idea that there are so many ‘proverbs’ that refer to rust…using the word in a way that really drives home the point. Here is a good one, “Work your way up or rust your way out.” And, my favorite, “Sunday clears away the rust of the whole week” – Joseph Addison. Yep, that is just how I feel after church … rested, unrusted, all shined up and ready to go again.

  1. I love your rust, especially the license plates and the white paint on the headboard! I hope my garden can look as beautiful someday 🙂

  2. Debbie says:

    You are the Rust Queen if ever I knew one! This post brought back many memories of all the well worn and rusty things we used to find out in the hills of Northern Nevada … old bottles, wagon wheels, license plates, pieces of old wood stoves, bricks, horseshoes a plenty, old tin cans, cooking supplies, tea pots, (carried one all the way from Nevada for my garden in New England ) and the occasional abandoned water trough for roaming cows and horses out on the range.

    I’m with ya on the lust for all things old … I feel like I WIN too whenever I’m able to fashion a born again creation out of something old I have found (or has found me) and I LOVE the sayings you used to go along with yours!

    As always, your words go right to this farmgirl’s heart!

    A Creative Life is well done!

    Happy rusty lug nuts to you Shery!


  3. Brenda says:

    I am always in awe of people that can bring it all together. I keep trying to put things in places I think they work and only manage one out ten times to get it right. I love all your junk/treasures. I cannot wait to see the hen house!

  4. Tammie says:

    Too cute. Love it!

  5. Janice K. says:

    This entry had me giggling (I was born in ’54 too, wasn’t it a ‘very good year’?)and OOOOOOHing and AWWWWing. My father had fashioned a trellis out of pipe and cedar slats for a struggling clematis. I used barbwire to attach old elk antlers at the top and I use the rest to hang my TREASURES, consisting of pots and hardware and anything else that I find attractive. One of my favorite things is a collection of shoe making stuff, shaped like feet. I think that they call them shoe ‘lasts’ or something like that. They are a reminder of where to go in my life! I also hang old windows about and when folks ask my how I got that idea, I just say ‘Everyone needs a window of opportunity’. Yes, they look at me like I grew three heads, too!!! Now I am working on a new patio area next to my tool shed in order to let the creative juices flow.

  6. Nancy says:


    You are Sister-in-Rust!!

    I had just come in the cabin for a cool drink after piling up a stash of well-rusted treasures gleaned from the back roads in my rural town.

    I deeply appreciate the fresh inspiration you’ve shared with your lovely photos and stories!! Now I am re-charged to go out and find places to arrange them in my various garden beds!

    I always keep several small half-used cans of sampler paints on hand to perk up certain pieces with a welcome, plant name or special saying too!

    For the cost of a little elbow grease, it is so worth rescuing rust to give it new life! Thanks for blogging this topic Farmgirl style!!


  7. Jody L. says:

    I have been a rust collector for years. Lots of people look at it and say ‘what in the world’. I look at it and say ‘how beautiful’. I put old rusty tools in old wooden tool boxes. I play with them all the time. Changing positions and the way they are piled. I have piles all over my yard and rusty wagons, bikes,and wheel barrows used as planters. My motto is ‘in rust we trust’. Thank you for sharing. I love your pictures and can’t wait to see the coop. I live in the city and am planning to build a coop just to hold my rust. Since I can’t have real chickens, I collect all others. They will get to decorate the coop too.

  8. Grace~katmom says:

    na’r were truer words spoken’
    sister hugz
    oh & yes, ’54 was a good year! giggle giggle!

  9. Heidi says:

    Finally, a girl after my own heart! The rustier the better. I sent your blog to my friends, my husband, my kids …  you explained "me" perfectly. THANK YOU, I don’t feel so lonely when people look at me like I am crazy!! Love your ideas, you are gifted in many ways.

    When I garden with my old tools I feel like I am connected to all of the people who loved gardening before me and all is good with the world and my heart is happy, I know that sounds funny to some but I know you understand.

    I would send you some photos (how?)of the old wheel barrel I saved from the "garbage pickup", the neighbors that discarded this wonderful treasure bring their friends over to look at it and I just smile because they aren’t getting it back.

  10. Reba says:

    Recently I came across the plains returning to Georgia from Montana. I often saw old tractors, etc out for travelers to see. (Once I saw an old cook stove with the oven door hanging off of it and a saying, "open range" – it made me chuckle as I traveled.) I wondered at times where the Ranch Farmgirl lived or if I was close by your way as I traveled on I-90. I too love to collect old stuff and reuse or re-purpose. You have some neat ideas!! And as always, I enjoy the comments. Thanks for another great blog!

  11. Rebecca says:

    Loved this article. A dear friend of mine took a rusty grama-phone horn, up-side-down hung with three chains and rusty copper plate and made a bird feeder from it. The gals around here beg him for one and he takes pride in his creation. I’m still searching for just the right horn to make my own. Oh the things one can do with the "love of rust". :o)

  12. julie says:

    You have to just love Wyoming!! I do, I live in Northern Wyoming too, with clay soil and hot summers. My sister, Mom, and myself are also "junkers" and have permission to dig through some great junk piles near by, The rattlers are out in full force right now, so I think we may wait until fall to find some treasure we can work on over the long winter months. I love your "welcome" sign. That gives me inspiration. I love your blog too. Have a peaceful 4th.


  13. Debbie in Texas says:

    So inspiring, Shery! Thanks for sharing your colorful, creative ways!

  14. Raynita says:

    Wow! What a kindred spirit I feel right now with you. I just today posted on my Facebook a picture of my "Rust" and commented, "I admit it, I LOVE RUST!!! It is low maintenance and I love low maintenance." Now, a little while later I open your blog and absorb your pics and words.

    Thanks from a Rusty Kindred Spirit 🙂 Now, let’s save some more rust…lol


  15. Nella says:

    I love your blog and especially your photos. I’ve inherited 10 acres in Wisconsin but live in Chicago – so there’s quite a contrast. I feel at home in the country and am always recycling something to give it a new life–there’s so much more room to make arrangements with all the "stuff". You’re an inspiration with your wisdom and creativity!

  16. Betsy Cline says:

    Amen to everything you said. I love the pictures and realize I am not the only who likes ‘the older the better’. Think of the "lives" these items have seen and lived and now those of us who love and appreciate them can help them on with another chapter in their lives. We only hope as we get older people will appreciate us and keep having us around for what we can contribute. God bless you.

  17. carolj says:

    Say, "Yes," to reusing. So often we emphasize recycling and skip reduce and reuse. Thanks for showing so many clever and beautiful creations. And for the subtle reminder that I really need to get myself back to church.

  18. Julie W says:

    Shery—FABULOUS lessons for life and junk. The applications roll on and on. Thank you for sharing your rust and inspirations!

  19. wendy says:

    Fun to read your blog. I found you through the magazine MaryJanesFarm…which was introduced to me by someone else. Funny how these things…connections….happen.
    I have been recently transplanted from Salt Lake City to a quarter section ranch with new hubby in alberta, canada.
    I am trying to learn to become a country girl, so I find myself very interested in reading about other country girls.

  20. Nancy B says:

    Love your rust. Brought back many wonderful memories – My mother was an artist. She and my dad we into "Junk Art" long before it was in fashion. We all became "dumpster divers", Town Dump rats" and farm junkies. There wasn’t a dump, garbage site or farm dump that was safe from our browsing. My aunt had a large ranch in Washington so that was a prim place to "pick" as were the farms around her. Everyone in the area knew us and would often call if they ran across something interesting that mom would like. We never came back from a vacation without the trunk over flowing with "finds". I remember many times siting in the back set on the suitcases etc because there was no room in the truck for them. We always asked permission before we foraged. We had some interesting adventures. Once we were chased out of field by bull that we disturbed. I don’t think I have run so fast again.

  21. Teresa Davidson says:

    Hallelujiah!!! Someone like me…I’m not crazy, course my husband thinks otherwise!! I drive long distance for a company, so I hit all small towns with loads of great treasures which my husband calls junk. However, he has never complained how I decorate our yard. Recently, I fell upon some very old tung n groove wooden windows. The glass panes were pretty much gone, so I got smart and took them apart and I made American flags out of them!! Cool, Huh!! It’s so good to see someone else’s ideas, and know that I am not nutty with all these great possibilities!! Thank you for your outstanding pictures!!

  22. Your pictures are pieces of treasure for me. I LOVE all things old and worn. Nice to know there are others out there as well!

    happy day!

  23. Badger40 says:

    And I thought I was the only ranch woman who got razzed by her hubby for collecting ‘junk’.
    I love to roam all over where we live here in SW ND looking into abandoned houses for ‘junk’.
    My husband does think I’m crazy.
    Glad to know I’m not the only crazy woman out there!

  24. Jan says:

    I can only say what good taste you have and that your choices you have in "rust" are great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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