Ganey Rill finds art in yesterday's castoffs
by Jeff Joiner
The tangle of
rusty metal at first looks worthless a pile of castoff tools, engine
and farm implement parts and unidentifiable pieces of iron and steel.
But for Ganey Rill the pile of scrap on his southwest Missouri farm is
a treasure-trove of possibilities.For
him the useless looking metal is the makings of his unique yard and garden
gates that he's made for decades.
"Here a check
wire from old corn planter. Here a plow point. Here tin snips," says Ganey
in his halting speech, the result of a brain aneurysm he suffered in 1962.
Despite his speech
difficulties, the 83 year old sports a sharp mind that retains the name
of nearly everyone he's ever met. And he can identify every obscure piece
of metal in the pile.
springs, engine valves, camshafts, hopelessly rusted Crescent wrenches,
parts of horse harnesses and wheels, lots of wheels.
just about anything metal that can be welded into his gates which always
feature a wheel in the center. Ganey has welded a hundred or more gates
and has given every one away, save for a couple on his own farm.
Dozens of farms
and homes around Lawrence County feature a Rill gate. Some are actually
used as an opening in a fence while others are mounted on sides of barns
or erected in flower beds. Some are left in their natural (read rusty)
state while others are brightly painted by their owners. Ganey leaves
that up to them.
metal gates is not just a hobby for Ganey. It's a way for him to continue
to use his professional skills and a way to overcome a disability.
Ganey and his
wife, Clara, were married in 1940. After the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor the next year, Ganey found he couldn't pass a military physical.
That was a sign of his developing health troubles.
There was plenty
of work to be had in the United States during World War II and Ganey and
Clara moved to southern California to work in defense plants. Ganey learned
to weld and was hired in a shipyard building Liberty ships, the cargo
ships built by the thousands to supply the war effort. Clara found work
at Douglas Aircraft making parts for bombers.
After the war
the couple came home to southwest Missouri but the opportunities in sunny
California were too hard to resist. They moved back in 1951.
to work as a welder in manufacturing plants. In the midst of the Cold
War in the 1950s both Clara and Ganey went to work for Lockheed Corporation
in their missile plant. But In 1962, at age 44, Ganey was struck down
by his most serious health threat, a brain aneurysm.
"The doctor told
me he had a place on an artery in his brain like a balloon on an inner
tube," says Clara. "He had surgery and the doctors clipped it off. But
he couldn't talk after his surgery," Clara says.
good memory," says Ganey recalling his recovery. "Seven weeks in hospital.
Read paper. Watch TV, but no go home."
A few weeks after
the aneurysm, as Ganey began to recover his speech, he suffered a stroke
and lost the ability to speak again. "Those were trying times," Clara
Ganey went through
two years of speech therapy and regained much of his ability to talk,
but it was apparent his health problems wouldn't allow him to return to
work. In 1964 the couple bought a farm near Halltown and moved back to
Missouri for good.
Clara went to
work in nearby Springfield while Ganey worked around the farm and kept
a small herd of cattle. But he really needed something else to do.
He started going
to auctions and buying old farm implements and tools and odds and ends.
At one sale he bought a load of pipe and hauled it to his father-in-law's
blacksmith shop in Republic where he welded together gates from the pipe.
Soon he decided
he could build smaller yard and garden gates and decorate them by welding
other parts to the pipe frames including entire wagon wheels. He gave
them away to relatives and friends and soon word spread. People started
coming by with pieces of metal, wagon wheels, old tools and whatever and
asking him to make gates. A
niece bought him a bucket full of rusty wrenches at a sale and he began
incorporating them into his gates.
"Here a Model
T jack handle and here a clutch from a Buick," he says pointing at photos
he's taken of his gates. He goes through a dozen photos naming the parts
he used and recalling who he gave the gate to and whether they mounted
it in a fence or in a flower garden.
parts are easy to identify like the many horseshoes Ganey uses. But often
he likes to stump visitors with what a piece is. "That one (from) an engine,
old truck," he says, pausing. "Oil pan."
For Ganey making
gates is a way to tinker in his shop and revisit earlier times through
old tractor parts and pieces from Model Ts. It's also a way to maintain
friendships and family ties.
He won't accept
payment for a gate and doesn't take orders, though if you bring him parts
he might use them to build you a gate.
Clara, who's 82,
has thought about moving into a town nearby as they grow older, but Ganey
doesn't want any part of that. He's settled in and wants to stay on the
farm where he can tinker and weld.
"No more moves,"