Rural Missouri Magazine

Ganey's Gates
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.

There's wagon springs, engine valves, camshafts, hopelessly rusted Crescent wrenches, parts of horse harnesses and wheels, lots of wheels.

Ganey incorporates 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.

Making folksy 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.

Ganey continuing 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, 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 says.

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.

Sometimes the 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," he says.

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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