August 24, 2017

The Link with Chains

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

Chains.  Ever since I pulled my 1966 Land Rover out of a muck hole where no sane person would have been in the first place, I’ve had real affection for chains.  Today, all of our vehicles, including every one of my tractors, are equipped with chains.  The way I look at it, the chains aren’t hurting anything behind the seat and, when you need one, nothing else will do.

There isn’t a farmer who can be without one.  You never know when a chain will be useful.

My problem is that I don’t know when to stop.

I started collecting chains shortly after miring my Land Rover.  It’s surprising how people can treat something so useful in so cavalier a fashion.  I find chains everywhere, on the road, in the ditch and at the dump.  I even found one chain while snorkeling in Caucomgomoc Lake.  No, it wasn’t wrapped around a pair of old, rotted leather boots.  Rather, it’s a massive, logging boom chain, hand-hammered and beautifully made.  I kept it in bucket of used motor oil for at least a year after dragging it out of the lake.  Rust would have reduced it to nothing otherwise.  It’s hanging in our barn right now.  I’ve never used it but who knows?

Chains come in all varieties.  Of course there are size variations, not just of the links but of the metal stock used to make them.  There are twisted links, flat links, doubled links, welded links and nautical links.  There are drive chains, steering chains, tire chains, keeper chains and drag-your-truck-out-of-the-mud chains.  That’s not mentioning chain hoists, chain winches and chain tackle.

And that’s before you get to jewelry.

That’s all true but it’s not saying that I haven’t gone overboard.

I must own dozens of each example ― not including the fancy gold chains.  I leave that collection to my wife.

Slip hooks, grab hooks, swivel hooks, rings and shackles dangle from the walking beam in my garage.  Chain binders and chain turnbuckles fill my chain boxes and chain lockers.  Spare links, odd pieces and old wrought iron fittings weigh down wooden racks in the barn.

I’m especially a sucker for  handmade chain.  I stare at the labor poured into every single link and marvel.  Farmers needed chain so badly that they hand-hammered iron into steel before welding every link together the same way.  That was before they made the ends.  The hooks and eyes are marvels of ingenuity and hard work in and of themselves.

I try convincing myself that my collection is justified.  I do use chain.  Am I towing a trailer?  Chain that load down.  Removing an engine?  Chain it up.  Unsticking a vehicle?  Chain it out.  Pulling stumps?  Picking rocks (big ones)?  Twitching firewood?  Tethering stock?  Keeping cows in the pasture?  The uses are endless.  Still, I’m all but buried in chains today and undoubtedly will be buried with them when I go.

My wife will be delighted to get rid of them all.

Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time repairing chains, welding them where they’ve broken, cutting out rusted links, hammering repair links into place and so on.  It doesn’t make any sense to have a chain you can’t use, does it?  Of course it doesn’t make any sense to have more than you can use, either.  I try not thinking about that.  Sense and chain don’t go hand in hand.  Not with me.

Because chains can be dangerous, too.  My grandfather lost the ring finger of his left hand hooking a chain.  The oxen started forward at just the wrong time.  His chain, an amalgamation of old, hand-hammered, timeworn and mismatched links is the prize of my collection.  I no longer wear my wedding ring on a daily basis for the same reason.  It caught on a chain.  I don’t know how.  A jeweler repaired the ring.  Time mended my finger.  I was luckier than my grandfather ― at least in that respect.

In fact, no matter the potential dangers, I have to have chain.

I’ve given up trying to be rational about it.  That doesn’t work for me.  I see a chain beside the road, I automatically stop and pick it up.  A chain shows up at the transfer station?  I have to have it.  The rustier it is, the louder it calls.  I stare, my arms raise.  A zombie shuffles in its direction.

Yes, I must have a million links.

Still, you never know when a chain will be useful.