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Being Inducted into the Barbed Wire Hall of Fame

Think of an item, any item - from buttons, to bells, to beer bottles - and somewhere in the world you will find someone involved in collecting, or trying to collect, all of the multiple varieties of that item.

Case in point - VOA's George Dwyer recently visited the Midwestern U.S. state of Nebraska, where he met a collector with a passion for preserving strands of antique barbed wire. He's a man whose fanatical dedication recently earned him enshrinement in the Barbed Wire Hall of Fame.

John Stohlmann explains the make-up of barbed wire. He says, "Wires with combination barbs that's got 2 different types of barbs on it, we have 57 of those, but, uh, of these here, we have 1,300 and 18 different types of barbed wire right now."

John began collecting odd bits of barbed wire in 1955 after helping his uncle repair a strip of fence on their farm in rural Nebraska. He recalls, “Well, in the meantime I took some of this wire back and it looked interesting to me, so I got a little interested in collecting, to see how many different kinds of wire there was back then. And my uncle, he and I have always thought this would be a good hobby to get started, and maybe it wouldn't cost us too much. And who in the world would think of anybody collecting old junk wire."

In fact, the answer might surprise you.

Jim Goedert of Kearney, Nebraska is editor of "The Barbed Wire Collector," a magazine devoted to the 'fine points' of barbed wire. "People from all over the world actually collect barbed wire. Most of them are farmers or ranchers or have been farmers or ranchers in their lifetime and they've been associated directly with the wire and so therefore they still maintain an interest. However, we do have doctors and lawyers and these types of people that do collect wire, and for what reason they collect it I don't know. I suppose they enjoy the historical part of it," he said.

Barbed wire was first patented, and first mass produced, in the United States. Its use in large quantities began only about 150 years ago.

Jim provides more history, “Barbed wire was first erected not to keep the cattle in but to keep the cattle out. You know we had the cattle drives that started down in Texas and came up through here and the settlers were wanting to turn the grounds so they erected the barbed wire to keep the cattle out, off of their farm land."

Jim's is a retired schoolteacher who has made barbed wires his life's study. He tells us how to tell the age of a fence, "OK this particular wire defines the age of this fence - it was patented by a gentleman by the name of Sunderland in the late 1880's. This fence has been up since that particular time."

Not surprisingly, examples of century-old barbed wire on the open range are rare. But even more recent varieties are disappearing fast.

John says, "Wire usage is going because it seems like nobody is grazing cattle on the open plains no more. They're all putting the cattle in feedlots. So in the meantime, well, we just have a lot less fencing to put up and that means a lot less barbed wire, and the only wire they use now is pretty much electric fence wire. Actually barbed wire is going to be on the extinct side pretty soon."

Though it may be disappearing from use on the open range, barbed wire in all its varieties lives on in the collections of people like John, who was recently inducted into the Barbed Wire Hall of Fame as its 87th member.

John shows us the different type styles of barbed wire. "Here's a different style of hog wire. This one here had, this is the early day one, and this one had no barbs on it at all. This is, about 1860 --needlepoint wire that they used, that's solid barb. And they're not sharp at all."

“It's a fun hobby, it's not no money maker, it's just something that you want to do on the side to have a little fun, a little bit different, and we'd like to get more club members -- we do have members from Argentina, Canada, I think we have some from Sweden, France and also from England." John continued, "And we would like to get more people involved from different countries if they are interested. And maybe these people from different countries have some barbed wire that we don't have that are different."

"These here are all buckle splices. They all are the same but they are all put together differently."

All put together differently - something you might say about collectors as well.