The old split-rail fences, and a machine that can do them harm

split-rail fence damaged by bush-clearing machine

This is how the split-rail fence looked after the bush-mashing machine had passed through on Queensborough Road. I do not have a good feeling about this.

So there’s this machine that some rural-Ontario municipalities have started to use to clear brush along the roadsides. I don’t know what it’s called. Bushwhacker? Bush-hog? But here’s what I do know: it makes a mess of things.

I think I first heard about the destruction this machine causes to rural roadsides thanks to a letter to the editor of the Tweed News a few months ago. A local resident had been out walking, or maybe driving, along a pretty rural road, and was horrified to see the destruction to the trees – limbs ripped off, parts of trunks stripped away – caused by this brush-clearing machine. His letter was great, though (as often happens in small local newspapers) was, as I recall, followed up by a response from someone (a township worker? the mother of a township worker?) defending the practice. (The same thing happens when people write in complaining about how long it takes to get the power turned back on after a hydro outage. My gracious but the hydro workers – or maybe it’s their mums and/or dads – get riled up about that! It is rather entertaining to read. Though less so, I imagine, if you’ve suffered an extended power outage. Or are employed by Hydro One.)

Anyway, not long after we read that letter last spring Raymond and I were driving back to Montreal from the Manse in Queensborough and, along a very pretty stretch of township road between Perth and Brockville, saw evidence of the same kind of machine having been used. What a mess! Utter destruction on both sides of the road, and for what? This was not a narrow little road threatened by overgrowth; it is quite wide, and the brush would never have got in any driver’s way. Yikes!

Then we kind of forgot about it – until this past weekend. We were driving in to the Manse on Friday night via Madoc, and at one point along Queensborough Road between Hazzard’s Corners and Queensborough, Raymond pointed out that the grass had been cut along the sides of the road. I thought to myself, “Well, at least they didn’t use that godawful machine that makes a mess of the trees.” Ah, but it was dark, and I couldn’t see the trees. The next morning we drove in the opposite direction along that same stretch of road – again, a wide road that is in no way threatened by overgrowth from the sides – and I was taken aback to see the destruction.

split-rail fence along Queensborough Road, Hastings County

This photo that I took in spring 2012 shows the split-rail fences along Queensborough Road at their best. They are a lovely and historic part of the local landscape. And worth preserving!

Hey, I know that trees, and especially shrubs and bushes, are resilient, and will bounce back after having limbs ripped off and so on. What really worries me are the lovely old split-rail fences that line that road – as they have for probably a hundred and fifty years – and that, as far as I could see, did not escape unscathed from this bushwhacking machine. Those fences are an integral piece of the local landscape. They are part of our collective history. And they are beautiful.

So please, township officials and politicians, and the people who operate this machine: please, please, please be mindful of the old fences.

4 thoughts on “The old split-rail fences, and a machine that can do them harm

  1. I too hate those machines and the devastation they cause. How difficult would it be to hire people who want to work (for the cost of the machine), and have them do things the old way? So little respect for the land.

    • I could not agree more, Lindi – though I expect (much as I hate to say it) that the Infernal Machine costs less than human labour does or could. More is the pity, since human labourers would surely take pity on the old fences.

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