OLD TIMER’S BLOCK AND TACKLE
By Norris Chambers
A block is also a housing equipped with one or more pulleys. A tackle is a combination of ropes or other lines and originally referred to the rigging used on ships. A block and tackle is a combination of a block and some tackle.
The block and tackle arrangement doubled the pulling power with each pulley that was added to the blocks. Of course there was more line to pull, but that was easier than trying to lift something that was too heavy or something that was too hard to pull. A modern adaptation of the block and tackle is called a “come along” and it works well.
The block and tackle was well known by the old timers and was used on a regular basis.
A small block and tackle, using thin pliable cable or rope in combination with one or two small pulleys in housings, was used as a wire stretcher for fence building. Most commercial stretchers had a locking clamp for holding the wire and the other end was fastened to the corner post. All that was necessary to stretch a long wire was to pull on the tackle cable or rope and the wire would slowly tighten. We did not use a regular wire stretcher for tightening a fence wire. We just used a long stick, tied the wire about a foot from the end, then put the end against the post and pulled the stick back, using it as a fulcrum. This method worked very well on wires that were not too long. If the wire was too long for the method, we stretched it more often.
The block and tackle principle was used on the old oil rigs for pulling or setting heavy casing in the well. The old standard derricks had several large pulleys on the top of the rig and the block that was used to raise the pipe up or down had several. The number used depended on the size of the pipe being manipulated. A long length of cable had to be drawn to move the block up or down the required distance and this was accomplished by a power driven reel.
When hog butchering day arrived a single-tree was hooked to the hind legs of the hog and hung from a convenient tree or t-frame. The handy device readily raised the carcass up and down in the scalding barrel and after scraping kept it suspended for other butchering operations.
There were times when an old automobile, tractor, wagon or other heavy machine had to be lifted for undercarriage attention. For this purpose nothing could have been better than the block and tackle and a suitable tree with a protruding limb.
I suppose a stubborn donkey could have been moved forward with this handy device but we had other methods that worked well.
The tree trunk! On some of our longer, speedier lines we had a braking lever at the top of the tire. When we pulled down on the lever it pressed a wooden block against the cable and slowed the descent.Did we have fun with the trolley wires? I remember one very humorous episode. One of our school friends who was not familiar with the fun wires rode one of our long ones and extended his bare feet for braking, just as he had been told to do. This was appropriate action on his part, but unfortunately he began the process too soon and his long legs let his bare feet drag quickly through a clump of prickly pears. You can imagine what the thorns and stickers did to his bare feet! I would consider this a low grade of fun. But there is a little fun in everything!