There was device on the farm that was as fearsome as the bucksaw that I told you about last time. It was known on the farm as, “The Man-Killer.”
It really was just a heavy, straight wrecking bar about five feet long that weighed about 20 pounds. It differed from “The Boy-Killer” only in that it was larger and heavier. If something needed to be torn apart, or if there was a hole that needed to be dug through sandstone, there was nothing like it to get the job done. But lifting it repeatedly … well, that’s how it got its name.
A wrecking bar is also commonly used as a lever over a fulcrum block. The principle of a fulcrum is fascinating. Someone once told me, “Give me a long enough bar and I can move the world.” Well, almost.
The fulcrum is one of the best friends of the farmer or construction worker if he understands it adequately. The use of a lever over a pivot block enables you to lift or move a mass proportional to the length of the lever and the position of the pivot. There are virtually no limits if the correct proportions are used.
A lever is not a tool of ignorance. As a matter of fact, I think “unskilled or “skilled” labor should be defined by the noodle applied, not by the task performed. By thinking out a move, many farmers and construction workers have lifted beams or stones of thousands of pounds into place without the aid of a helper other than a lever and a pivot block. There is also great satisfaction in overcoming the effects of gravity on mass by using your head.
One Pitman farm alumnus tells the story that several years after leaving the farm, when he was working on a construction site, the foreman came up to him one day and said, “I like to hire people like you—people too lazy to work hard. You have to make a living just like everybody else, but you’re too lazy to work like everybody else, so you’ll always come up with a faster, easier way to do things.” After he got over the shock of the foreman’s bluntness, he took it as a compliment. The ability to do that, he said, he owes to the old farmer. And to the Man-Killer.
This article was condensed from the new local history book, The Last of the Prune Pickers: A Pre-Silicon Valley Story, by Tim Stanley. It is available on line at www.2timothypublishing.com