My dad owned two farms on Fruit Ridge which by today’s standards were small farms but in the time he farmed it and then me it felt larger. Based on the size of acres a farmer could handle the farms were bigger. Now the farm house we lived in faced Fruit Ridge Road and was easily accessible. Our other farms farm house and buildings however were at the end of a gravel road almost three fourths of a mile off of Fruit Ridge. The difference between the two farms seemed as different as night and day.
It was a good farm that raised crops with very good yields but getting to them with equipment or pasturing cattle needed and had an added degree of difficulty to say the least. The driveway began by entering onto a steep incline and quickly rose to a flatter plane quickly. The lane as we called it leveled off and stayed that way briefly and then began to wind and go up and down small hills until the barnyard and other house were arrived at. I know that doesn’t sound too tricky of a road but at the top of the entry where it leveled off and just before entering the barnyard there were two items I seldom saw then or since around this part of the country. That is in each spot dad had built cattle crossings. This is a device designed so that cars, trucks, tractors, and equipment could cross over but cattle weren’t inclined to try crossing. For those who have never seen one I am guessing the question coming to your minds is how it works and why won’t a cow try to cross?
This is what I saw and how my dad explained it to me. First a pit is dug into the road. Eight foot across or as wide as a person wanted to dig I guess. But the pit had to be at least four feet deep. Concrete blocks were laid as a wall and a support on each side of the pit. Then a structure originally wooden 4’ x 4’ beams spaced a half foot apart until a spacey surface is formed over the pit. The beams secured in and each side of the pit fenced in and this device was complete. Cattle won’t try to cross it even though they could as the pit under the beams creates an illusion to a cow that it is too deep to cross. With the two cattle crossings entering and leaving with machinery was pretty smooth. When this was put into place I think my dad felt he had invented a major invention.
But as the time passes and so do the years the beams wore down to where heavy equipment would break them causing gaps and dangerous for crossing. As the years moved on my dad went to the one and only Gib Sipple to help solve our beam problem. He found four inch heavy duty metal pipes that he got in scrap somewhere and built a metal frame to hold the pipes in place and welded the cross pieces to the pipes. Once this was built at his shop in Point Isabel we had to get a tractor and boom to lift these crossings onto our truck. We moved them to their respective locations and a group of strong men and a couple of tractors with booms on them took them off the truck and positioned into where they were to go permanently. Dad also had them made to ten feet in length as time had mad equipment bigger.
The first couple of years the cattle crossings worked flawlessly. But as time moves on so does almost all things. First the earth and gravel had been slowly eroding into the pit causing the pit to become shallow slowly and therefore not very noticeably to the human eye. But I guess to the cow’s eye they noticed and all of a sudden our cows were walking over the cattle crossings. So Ben and I got the job of pulling out that heavy structure of pipes and dig out the pit. (Gravel and settled clay doesn’t shovel easily.) Now along with time as dragging out the pipes and returning them caused them to loosen and the pipes began to move. It would get to where there might be four pipes all together and then the big space where the pipes had been and causing a dangerous crossing for all. We finally got a man with a welder and he put welds on each end of each pipe.
This did help immensely but we had to accept that a cattle crossing was anything but maintenance free and I learned that a cow never stops looking for a way to exit.
As time passed I felt the crossings were a big pain in the rear. Our neighbors the Maus brothers had a pair of cattle crossings also. But from all I remember over all the years their crossings always looked brand new and I never heard Ed or Chris say a cow got out or a repair was needed. They were excellent at keeping their tools and equipment in perfect shape. Theirs always looked in neat condition where ours looked anything but as time passed. One thought I have had is that since we had to only use them when working on that farm and where we didn’t need them to enter where we lived did we didn’t pay as close of attention? Also as time passed by my dad turned the farm over to me. Could it be possible a young boy in charge might under estimate just how much care the cattle crossings really called for? The third thought is it both? I’m gonna say as heavy built as they were both issues allowed the beating they took to put them out of condition.
I do know that besides the details I always enjoyed crossing them. It was different in routine and when we had men helping us most had not seen a cattle crossing and the novelty really got their attention. I can’t say for sure if they are still around but guessing there is a few in existence. I looked on the computer to see if a picture would come up and several did. Almost everyone was out west in the area called the cattle country. Our drive back to the other farm was an obstacle course and I know my brother and I loved driving it like it was the Firestone test course. (Fast and ruff!) One thing I know for certain is the cattle crossings were heck on your wheel alignments!
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at email@example.com.