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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

Scrap Piles and Bone Piles

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Scrap Piles, Bone Piles,

Local ranches once offered a visual lesson in Valley history. Today, it might be called junk, and some would set about to “clean it up.” I suppose that a little clean-up can be a good thing.

However on many of the valley ranches, scrap piles were necessary. Pieces of scrap iron were stored where they could be dug out of weeds and dirt when the need arose. Old drags, wheels, sickle bars, and dump rakes, were deposited near barns. When these were no longer used and spare parts were no longer needed, you could always re-design a part into something you did need.

Worn out equipment and old vehicles were sometimes put in gullies to stop erosion. And the history of ranching in the Valley could be read in the piles of rolled barbed wire, silently waiting to be re-used.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. You will be thankful that I chose pictures for this post rather than sixteen thousand words.

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After John and Walt Comstock passed away, in 1990, we lived on the Kennicut / Comstock ranch for eight years. John and Walt threw nothing away.

In the log house where they lived their entire lives, hanging on a nail in the wall, there were about 20 or 30 years of calendars stacked one on top of the other. Many of Walt’s daily activities were recorded there: such as, Sprayed thistle on the upper ranch.

Old horse collars and harness, showing many years of use, still hung in the barn. Walt’s pickup truck, with his traps still in the bed, was parked in the barn. The license plate read 1975.

I remember seeing an old iron wheeled manure spreader with pieces of a old rubber tire attached to the rims. The bolts which held it in place had been recessed. I’m not sure, but I always wondered if this was so that it could be moved more easily after some of the roads were paved.

In the blacksmith shop there was a new scythe handle that had never been used. The tag from Beamon Hardware was still attached. I think that Beamon’s was located in the old Feed Store just off Main behind the Jones Theatre. This Beamon receipt pad is from the 1940’s.

Even Folgers coffee-can lids were sometimes stacked in bundles and held together with baling wire to be saved. You never knew when you might have to patch a hole in a shed wall or a barn roof.

When we lived on the ranch, Gertrude (“Gussie”—John and Walt’s cousin) and her husband Elmer (“Skinny”) Schooley came to the ranch often from their home in Roswell, N.M. Both were well respected artists. Gussie showed me picture albums with old photos of the ranch, and let me copy a few of them. She had Walt’s old trapping journal from the 1930’s, where he kept records of what he caught.

I enjoyed hearing stories of former days on the ranch. Once I was sitting at the kitchen table, listening to Gussie tell a story. Skinny walked in, listened for a minute, took his hearing aids out, and said, “I’ve heard this one.”

In the picture on the left, John is mowing hay with a team of horses and a sickle bar. Although you can’t see a horse in this picture (right), I think that the old arm hay stacker, was also horse powered.



















Scrap piles behind barns, or sheds, in gullies, or even in backyards were very personal. At times, when I was looking for a random piece of something to use for some project, Otto Elze could walk behind his main street home and find in seconds, what it would have taken me hours (or days) to find.

Jerome DeGree’s shop had a narrow path through it. Tools, old tractor parts, antlers, burlap bags, and various other items, were stacked

randomly (or so it seemed) on either side.

Jerome’s shop


To an outsider it would appear that a tornado had blown through a garage sale. But whenever he needed something, he knew exactly where it was, and he could walk, or climb, right to it.

Jerome has been gone for five years, and Carolyn for seven. The other day, middle daughter, Jeri Lynn (DeGree) Thornton reminded me that this picture of the shop was taken after two years of clean-up.

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Today we live in a throw-away society, where the current credit card debt stands at more than one trillion dollars. We are no longer even known as citizens, but are now called “consumers." In an economy driven by excess, waste, and planned obsolescence we are encouraged to buy new, buy often, and buy more.


When I was growing up I had never seen, or even heard of a storage unit. Today storage unit space in America occupies over 2.3 billion sq. ft. This would cover an area greater than 50,000 acres. And landfills continue to swell with the discarded and the obsolete.

Many of the old ranchers of the Valley would be seen as a contradiction to this bloated economy. They repaired, reused, and recycled long before it was fashionable to do so.







The pictures above are from Geroux’s, Kettles, DeGree’s and Coleman’s.

As I rambled through these scrap piles, I could imagine Jack, Ben, Jerome, and Miles (Happy) doing the same. However, their “rambling” would have been much more focused and practical than mine.

Not long ago, I was looking for another “random piece of something” to finish some project. I ended up going to the hardware store. Where was Otto Elze when I needed him?

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In the 1930’s, the Geroux ranch on Verdemont Road, was a fox farm operated by Art Cress and his father. The barrel, pictured below was one of the improvised fox dens. The grinder right, still sitting in a Geroux shed, was used almost 90 years ago to grind meat for the foxes. Below, center, Is the Tumbler they used to clean the firs with sawdust.




About thirty five years ago, Darell Geroux and I decided to tan some skins. We had intentions of setting up the old tumbler to re-enact the Art Cress method of cleaning the furs. I bought the Tumbler from Jack and I had to cut the shed wall In order to get it out. But, with a couple of boards from the wood in the scrap pile, it was an easy fix.

The tanning venture never happened, and the tumbler still sits at Darell’s place, where it has for over three decades….But, you never know!

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Almost every ranch used to have a bone pile where dead cows, calves or scraps from butchering were thrown. Coyotes, crows, vultures, eagles, and other scavengers insured that the pile did not last long, and that the cycle of nature was honored.

I once saw a bald eagle, two coyotes, and a dozen or so crows all “arguing over eating rights on a bone pile. Eventually, by force of numbers, the crows won. While some of them ate, the rest kept the other critters at bay. The crows would then trade places. This continued until the Eagle and the coyotes went looking for “greener pastures.”

I never knew if it was true or not, but someone told me about one of Elton Camper’s coyote hunting techniques. The coyotes were coming to the bone pile in the dark and leaving before daylight. So, Elton stuck his rifle out of the window, aimed it at the bone pile, and secured it in place. In the morning, before it got light, he would just pull the trigger. Sometimes, he was successful, and sometimes he was not.


Elton’s Place

Hunting coyotes in the valley, to keep the population in check, was once a para-vocation of many. Today, however, with so many houses dotting the valley floor, it has become too dangerous. And I’m pretty sure that Elton’s method would not be appreciated at all.

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1 Comment


gillum.peggy
Sep 02, 2023

This is so interesting. When living at the ranch, our Great Pyrenees would roam across the road to Harvey Geroux’s bone pit and return with tasty bones to chew.

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