A Benchtable

Although my last blog post indicated that this current post was to be on the topic of barbed wire, that will have to wait, as I would rather show you my new benchtable (rhymes with vegetable), the latest project to emerge from my shop.

A picnic spot near the catfish pond

There are many locations around the property where Retta and I like to picnic, such as the woods behind the catfish pond.  Because we use this area to picnic regularly, we have “furnished” it with a fire ring,  a rehabilitated glider, and a picnic table.

Full-sized picnic table

This is the heavy, full-sized (8′ long) picnic table that I built a few years ago (note to self – picnic table needs a new coat of stain).  It is a sturdy table, and works just fine for a picnic, but as you surely know, picnic tables are not comfortable for sitting any length of time.  Hence the steel glider, which provides comfy seating for extended periods of leisurely reflection and conversation.  As Pablo, at Roundrock would surely agree, nice, comfy seating is a necessity for peace-of-mind and happiness here in the Ozarks.

Now, there are many locations (perhaps 20 or so) around the property where Retta and I like to stop and rest while on a hike, to simply sit and watch the grass growing under our feet, or the birds flying overhead.  But where to sit?  One needs a comfy seat to sit in (unless one likes to sit in the sometimes damp, sometimes tick-laden grass).

New benchtable

To provide comfy-seating around the property, I found construction plans for a wooden bench in a home-project book, and after altering some dimensions and angles to suit my tastes, built a prototype, which is pictured above.

The bench is made from treated “2 by” lumber, is six feet long, and is heavy enough that it will “stay put” in the winds that sometimes scream down the hollers of the Ozarks.  Most important, the dimensions and angle of the bench combine to create a very comfortable seat.

Rear view of benchtable

In this rear-view of the bench, you can see the stout (and rather unorthodox) supporting structure that forms the back of the bench.  Besides adding heft to the bench, this assembly allows the back of the bench to swivel up and lock in a horizontal position, which converts the bench to a picnic table.  And that is the real beauty of this bench design.  It is a bench, but it is also a table.  And so, I call it a “benchtable”.

The benchtable locked into “table” position

This photograph shows one of the bench back/table top support brackets.  The back/top pivots on the lower, fixed hex-bolt.  The upper bolt (without a nut) locks the top into position.  To restore the picnic table to it’s bench form, simply pull out the upper bolt and lower the back/top assembly.

Benchtable in “picnic” mode

Even though this opens to only what amounts to a picnic “half-table”,  it is sturdy and still provides room for a portable BBQ and a couple of hungry picnickers.

Now that I have built one prototype, I have identified a few little details that I want to change, and I will then get to work producing templates, so that I can easily duplicate the parts.  My goal is to build enough benchtables to place at strategic spots on the property so that Retta and I will have no excuse not to sit back and watch the grass grow.

Benchtable in “loafing” mode

:) As I am doing here :)

Devil’s Rope

Devil’s rope – an ominous sounding moniker.  But anyone who has worked with barbed wire will tell you that it is an appropriate term for this most unforgiving ranch fixture.  Devil’s rope (AKA barbed wire) will lash out at you at the least provocation.  It will lacerate your skin just as efficiently as it rips your new blue jeans to shreds.  Want to know if someone really lives on a farm or ranch?  Just look at their hands and arms for the telltale scars that come from working with this fiendish fencing material.  No scars apparent?  Urban cowboy.  Period.

 Short section of barbed wire fence needing repair

So you can appreciate the slight groan that escaped my lips as Retta informed me that a small section of barbed wire fence (seen above) needed repair.  This was a task that couldn’t wait, however.   This section of fencing keeps our horses within their grazing pasture, and out of our pond and nearby hayfield.  At best, barbed wire fencing is a safety concern around horses, but sagging, loose barbed wire is a disaster waiting to happen.  So off to work I went.

A makeshift wire caddy

I gathered up my small collection of barbed wire fencing tools to accomplish this repair chore.   Spools of barbed wire are both heavy and unwieldy, so it is helpful to use some type of caddy to facilitate handling the spools.  Commercial caddys are available at farm & ranch stores, but since I had two solid-rubber, spoked, ball-bearing wheels laying around, I fashioned a makeshift caddy using the surplus wheels, along with some scrap lumber and a couple of pieces of threaded rod.

A few fencing tools

The basic tools I use are seen in this photograph.  A bolt cutter will cut through wire, nails and fencing staples easily, so it is handy to have one on hand for repair work.

The t-post driver is a heavy tool that is used to pound t-post into the ground (you can see a picture of one in action in this previous post).  I cannot tell you exactly how much mine weighs, but I can describe a magical property that all t-post drivers possess – with each successive t-post that you install, the driver gets heavier.  It will get heavier and heavier, until you can’t lift it anymore!

The yellowish device is a wire stretcher, which allows the barbed wire to be drawn up tight and firm.  The small red-handled tool is called a fencing pliers, and is very handy to have in your pocket as you make repairs.  A spool of smooth wire can be utilized in a variety of ways, as can a good assortment of fencing staples (for trees and wooden posts) and t-post clips.

Last, but certainly not least – don’t forget a stout pair of leather gloves to help protect your hands from the thousands of sharp, cunning barbs that await you on the malicious spool of wire you are about to work with.

T-post puller

If you are careful about positioning your t-posts correctly before pounding them into the ground, you may never need to use the t-post extractor pictured above, however,  if you are like me, it will soon become a well-worn tool in your arsenal of fencing supplies.  It is a simple device that grips the nubs projecting from the t-post, and through the use of a fulcrum base, exerts tremendous upward pressure onto the t-post, thereby extracting it from the ground.  Now, you can re-position it and pound it back into the ground, where you should have put it in the first place :)

The reason I have chosen to ramble on about devil’s rope will become apparent with my next post, so check back soon…

A Nice Way to Kill Some Time

Cliff House Inn and Restaurant

A few day ago Retta and I had to leave her vehicle at the local Ford dealer for some maintenance, which was going to take a few hours for the dealership to complete.  We decided to kill the time by sightseeing in our local area, which took us south along Arkansas Scenic Byway 7, which is always a lovely and picturesque drive.

Because we hadn’t eaten anything prior to leaving the house, we thought it would be a fine idea to partake of breakfast at the Cliff House Inn, a well-known (among locals) diner located in a spectacular location along the scenic route. 

Cozy balcony overlooking the canyon

Besides good food at a fair price, the main draw of the Cliff House Inn is the view that can be seen from the dining room and from the casual balcony, shown in the photograph above.

Why travel all the way to Arizona?

The Cliff House Inn overlooks a scenic canyon, which, according to the sign above, is the deepest canyon in the Ozarks.

Wonderful view from Cliff House Inn balcony

While this canyon certainly cannot compete with the Grand Canyon in scope and drama, it is still a beautiful and very delightful sight to view while savoring a meal at the Inn.  In the photograph above, you can see the view from the balcony on a day when a typical Ozarks fog bank filled the canyon.  By the time we had finished our breakfast, the fog had dissipated, offering a clear view of the surrounding hills and valleys (hollers, as they’re known around here).

Large geode for sale at Mystic Cavern gift shop

After breakfast at the Cliffhouse Inn we traveled back toward town.  Northern Arkansas is home to over 4700 identified caves, owing to the Swiss cheese-like geology of the schist formations that form the Ozarks.  Along the way we passed one of these caves, Mystic Cavern, which operates daily guided cave tours, and so we elected to kill some more time by taking a cavern tour.  As we waited for the guided tour to begin, we browsed the gift and rock shop on the premises, where we saw this amazingly large amethyst geode from Brazil (asking price – $2700).

Formations inside Mystic Cavern

Inside Mystic Cavern you can see all of the various types of cave formations you would expect to see in such an environment.  It was well worth the time and minor effort involved for us to see this cavern.

Between breakfast at the Cliff House Inn and a tour of Mystic Cavern, we thought it was time to start heading back to town, but not without one more quick stop along the way.

Stopover at Buffalo National Scenic River

We would be crossing a section of the Buffalo National River, a scenic waterway administered by the U.S. National Park Service as the first U.S. National River.  The Buffalo River is a superb and popular river for float trips.  Besides the solitude and seclusion the river offers, the main draw is the pristine beauty of the crystal clear water gently flowing along cliffs and rock embankments like the one shown in the photograph above.  When the water is calm, it is hard to tell where the water begins and the rock ends.  We wouldn’t think of driving by the Buffalo River without stopping to take a look, which is exactly what we did before returning to town to pick up Retta’s vehicle from the dealership.

It is a very nice feeling knowing that we can enjoy such a wonderful and scenic day by just driving around the very area we choose to make our home.