I just returned from a cross-country road trip — visited family on the East Coast then drove back home to Phoenix, which recently became my home. Along the way I stopped at the "Devil's Rope and Route 66 Museum" in McLean, Texas, located on the I-40 east of Amarillo. 'Devil's Rope' is a term for barbed wire.
I hadn't expected the barbed wire section of the museum to be very interesting. I stopped to see the Route 66 memorabilia. But the barbed wire display turned out to be the better part of the museum. Definitely worth checking out if you're ever in the area.
As one might expect, the museum had a lot of info about the use of barbed wire in cattle farming. But it also included a large section about military uses of barbed wire.
Barbed Wire Cutter during World War I
How to build a 'Knife Rest' - War Department, Jan 1944
There were also random oddities, such as a barbed wire hat and boot.
"Hat made by Kevin Compton in 1985. Made from Burnell Four Point Barbed Wire found on the west side of the Rio Grande River near Dixon, New Mexico."
And in the entrance to the museum, one could view samples of dirt collected from every county in Texas.
Controversial experiments in which British government scientists subjected newborn lambs to prolonged periods in a wind tunnel and baths of cold water to test their weather resistance have been stopped by the Agricultural Research Council.
After spending more than $40,000 on the experiments the scientists concluded that lambs with short wool got cold faster than lambs with long wool.
Two "Chicken of Tomorrow" contests were held. The first in 1948, and the second in 1951. Their purpose was to encourage farmers to breed meatier chickens. And they apparently succeeded. Modern Farmer magazine reports that, "Some of the champions of these competitions became the major genetics suppliers of today's poultry."
Of course, at the time one couldn't hold such a major competition without simultaneously holding a beauty contest to find a young woman to be its queen. So, Nancy Magee became the first "Chicken of Tomorrow Queen" and Joan Walters was the second. Joan got quite a bit more publicity. She was paraded around the country as "Miss Chicken of Tomorrow."
"Miss Joan Walters of Rogers, Ark., 18-year-old brunette beauty, was crowned Chicken-of-Tomorrow Queen here last Friday night in a ceremony at the University of Arkansas field house."--The Madison County Record - Apr 12, 1951
Jens 'Art' Morrison, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was a practitioner of 'farm art'. Or, as he put it, he was a 'farmicist'. He mostly worked in ceramics and was most active during the 1970s and '80s.
By 'farm art' he meant that a) farm animals were a recurring theme throughout his work, and b) there was a heavy emphasis on quirky, folk humor in his work, as well as A LOT of bad puns (see 'farmicist'). So, 'farm art' was deliberately distinct from 'serious art'.
One of his creations was 'Juxtapachickens.' This was a series of fourteen-inch ceramic chickens. (The url juxtapachicken.com leads to a site that consists solely of a picture of two skinned chickens in a pot. I have no idea if this was somehow inspired by or related to Morrison's work. I'm guessing not.)
Far more elaborate was his "artillogical" discovery of the "Farmounians," who he claimed were the ancient, original settlers of Iowa. As he put it:
About 450 B.C. (before ceramics), the Farmounians crossed the Boaring Straits, sailed down the River Swine, and settled in the eastern basins of Iowania, to farm the fertile fields and rolling hills. The ancient glyphs and corntainers are imporktant because they depigt the lifestyles and legends of the Farmounians: the mysteries of the Corn Cult, the age of Barcornius, and the winter dwelling or Pigloo. These frelics of the daily rituals, banal activities, and peculiar characteristics make Farmounian art unique in the western world.
He created (or 'discovered') numerous artifacts of these Farmounians, such as 'corntainers' that displayed ancient-looking ceramic reliefs he called 'Pigtaglyphs'. He said he was just providing 'infarmation' about this ancient culture.
June 1992: Dick W. Pirkey Jr., a teacher at Harmony High School in Texas, was fired from his job after a student in his animal husbandry class castrated a pig with his mouth. Pirkey acknowledged that he had described such a procedure to his students, but insisted that the 17-year-old had performed the procedure without his permission and before he could stop it.
Seven months elapsed between the incident and Pirkey's termination. Explaining the delay, the School Superintendent admitted that when the board had first heard about the in-class oral castration they had thought it was a joke and that someone was trying to play a trick on them.
Pirkey appealed his termination, noting that oral castration was described in a state-approved textbook, and that it was also "routinely practiced throughout the state, but not in our locale, and is normally performed on sheep."
However, his firing was ultimately upheld by the State Commissioner of Education who pointed out that instead of stepping in to stop the student from performing the procedure, Pirkey had actually taken pictures of him as he did it. In fact, Pirkey even took a picture of the student "holding the testicle overhead in a victory stance."
"Some board games turn up the tension so high you practically sweat through your clothes. Squatter, an Australian import which brings home the high-stakes world of sheep-herding, is probably not one of them."
Feb. 18 is Elm Farm Ollie Day, commemorating the first flight in a plane by a cow. An article posted over at rootsweb.ancestry.com tells us that Elm Farm Ollie (aka Sunnymede Ollie, Nellie Jay, or Sky Queen) is remembered each year at the dairy festival in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin:
Celebrated as a pasteurized legend of the pasture, Ollie has for 60 years remained the star attraction at the Feb. 18 dairy festival held each year at Mount Horeb, Wisc. In addition to having her praises sung in such works as "The Bovine Cantata in B-Flat Major" (from Madame Butterfat) and the stirring "Owed to Ollie," she has been the subject of stories, cartoons and poems. E. D. Thalinger even painted her portrait for posterity.
A 1930 news-wire story provided details about the historic flight:
Will Milk Cow in Air
Claude M. Sterling, of Parks Air college, will pilot Sunnymede Ollie, Guernsey from Bismarck, Missouri, over the city in a tri-motored Ford.
The cow will be fed and milked and the milk parachuted down in paper containers. A quart of milk will be presented to Colonel Lindbergh when he arrives.
Weighing more than 1000 pounds, the cow will be flown to demonstrate the ability of aircraft. Scientific data will be collected on her behavior.
-The Evening Tribune (Albert Lea, Minn.) - Feb. 18, 1930.
Weirdo was a giant among chickens. He weighed a colossal twenty-three pounds — about four times the size of an average rooster. Throughout much of the 1970s and 80s, he was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the heaviest chicken in the world. He was said to have the strength and stamina of an ostrich.
"Grant Sullens holds his prize 23-lb. White Sully rooster. Note the gloves he is wearing for protection. Note also that the photographer stayed on the safe side of the fence." Source: Farm Journal - Nov 1971.
However, Weirdo had a temper and ferocity that matched his size. His violent exploits were legendary. He killed two cats and pecked out the eye of a dog. He routinely tore bits of metal off his feed bucket, demolishing feeders at a rate of one per month. When an ungloved visitor made the mistake of trying to touch him, he removed their fingertip. He shattered the lens of a camera. And, in his crowning achievement, he managed to rip through a wire fence and attacked and killed one of his own sons, an eighteen-pound rooster.
Just as unusual as Weirdo himself was the story of how he came to exist. He was the result of a seven-year chicken-breeding program conducted by a teenage boy, Grant Sullens, of West Point, California. Sullens had decided that he wanted to create a breed of "superchickens," and he actually achieved his goal, succeeding where highly paid poultry researchers had failed.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.