Reflections from the River

What's bob wire? Hint: it's not a name!

August 22, 2022 Bill Enyart
Reflections from the River
What's bob wire? Hint: it's not a name!

The difference between bob wire and baling wire 

Growing up in Illinois farm country I learned a language that city-folk are mystified by. 

For example: “bob wire”. Bob wire is not a person. I was probably in high school before I learned that “bob wire” is spelled differently than it’s pronounced down on the farm. “Bob wire” is spelled b-a-r-b-e-d. And in places not dominated by soybeans and corn it’s pronounced barbed not bob.

Even today, decades after leaving the farm, it’s still “bob” wire to me, especially if I’m around kinfolk who call it bob wire. I reckon it’s one of those regionalisms that will never leave my vocabulary. Reckon that’s another one. How many people outside farm country use reckon for think or believe?

Now bob wire is not near as useful as balin’ wire. You never throw a good piece of baling wire away. You hang it in the barn or in the shed or throw it behind the seat in the pickup, cuz you never know when you’ll need a piece of balin’ wire. 

Balin’ wire is the wire that binds bales of hay together. Or it did back in the day when hay bales were rectangular bales stacked on a hay wagon and tossed in a hay mow. Hay mow being the loft of a barn from which one could drop bales of hay for the livestock.

You could use baling wire to fix most anything. You could use it to tie bob wire to a fence post. You could use it to keep a chicken coop door closed. It was pliable enough that you didn’t need pliers to bend it and far sturdier than baling twine. You could also break it where needed without wire cutters by repeatedly bending it back and forth.

Altogether a very useful item.

As for bob wire, not nearly as useful. Mostly it was just used to keep livestock in or out of something. In a pasture, out of a field, out of the garden patch. And bob wire you didn’t want to leave laying around. Sure, as you did, it’d get all rusty, then you’d step on it or somehow gash yourself through your chambray work shirt, yeah we really did wear chambray shirts to work in. I still wear one when I’m working in my suburban yard. 

Once you felt the sting of that barb and saw the bright red blood seeping through the well-worn fabric you knew it was time to show gramma, cuz you sure didn’t want to get lockjaw. Lockjaw being the familiar term for tetanus. 

Gramma worried a lot about things like tetanus. She was born in 1898, long before the tetanus vaccine was invented in 1924 and even longer before it became commonly given during World War II. There were other diseases she had to worry about that my brother and I never worried about. Smallpox and diphtheria and polio. 

I guess my parents worried about polio, as the polio vaccine didn’t come into widespread use until I was in first grade, but I was too young to worry about it. I do remember all of us first-graders lining up to take a sugar cube with the vaccine dripped on it. For the next several years after taking the vaccine the first question I’d be asked upon a doctor’s visit would be “Have you had the polio vaccine?” 

We don’t see photos of kids in iron lungs today, nor kids on crutches due to the wasting effect of the polio virus. Although I have a friend in her seventies with a withered leg due to post-polio syndrome.  

I started off talking about bob wire and its many uses and here I am on vaccines. Not sure how I got here from there, but I still keep several pieces of baling wire hanging in the garden shed and I’ve had all my Covid vaccines and boosters. Might be time to get a tetanus booster though. Gramma would worry about that.


© William L. Enyart

Reflections from the River


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