Electric Fence

The farm where I grew up near Winkler was often a place of mystery, but things I did not understand as a boy sometimes became my playthings.

Take, for example the arrival of electricity. It was after World War II when I was about 10 years old.

All the news was about electrification of rural Manitoba under Premier Douglas Campbell.

It came to our farm across a wire to our new hydro pole. It replaced the old 32-volt system with its fuel pump running constantly in the woodshed.

Hydro brought better light to the house, the barn and outbuildings.

It also brought entertainment.

That was the time Herman Wilms courted my sister Mary. Herman lived in Winnipeg 80 miles northeast and came to the farm Sunday afternoons to visit her, usually bringing along a carful of buddies.

My Dad had built electric fence around the farmyard and the pasture. It was regular barbed wire fastened to fenceposts with white insulators. If you touched the wire when the electricity was on you got a strong shock every few seconds.

Herman knew things you could do with electricity, so one Sunday afternoon he rounded up his buddies, told them to stand in a line and hold hands. Then he grabbed the wire. He and all the guys in line felt nothing, except for the last guy in line who became the ground and got a shock far stronger than if he had touched the wire directly. Their fun lasted the better part of an hour.

I knew where the power switch for the electric fence was located in the barn, and ran to turn it off.

Herman and his friends turned their interest to something else, but were still standing in a group.

“Watch this,” I yelled to Herman. I grabbed the wire and jerked my hand every few seconds to make it look like I was getting shocks.

The friends were impressed. They had felt the shocks and knew them to be powerful. How could a young kid like me endure them.

Then fast as I could, I ran to the barn and turned the electricity back on.

It took him a few minutes, but Herman was pretty smart and figured out what I had done. He never told the others, so I remained a hero.

Another Sunday afternoon Mary took Herman out to the pasture gate behind the barn, having turned the electricity off, and tied a few ears of corn to the electric fence. Then she turned it back on.

It was close to milking time amd the cows were already back at the gate. Seeing the ears of corn on the fence, one cow went to lick them. Each time there was a shock, the cow’s tail would fly straight up. Mary thought that was funny.

She did it again right after milking time one morning during the week, and Dad wondered why one cow didn’t give milk in the evening that day.

She never told him.

So the electric fence became my plaything until the novelty wore off.

I did not understand the mystery of electric light until science class in high school.

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