WAY OUT HERE - Here's to rusty nails and weathered wood

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An old rusty nail. Junk, right? Just an ugly old worthless piece of junk. Probably even a safety hazard. Once useful, but now it should probably just be thrown into the garbage.

Same with old lumber - good for firewood, but other than that it's just junk.

No way! Not way out here. Old, rusty nails and weathered old wood are valuable commodities at my place.

What? You don't see beauty and value in them?

OK. What I if told you those nails and that gray, weathered wood used to be part of the barn at my grandparents' farm? Or maybe an old cattle pen?

Or better yet, what if they were part of an old saloon?

If rusty nails and old boards could talk ... .

They remind me of summers spent at my grandparents' farm, old western towns and cowboys herding cattle.

When I was a kid, we would find old scrap wood and rusty nails sitting around and then use them to build bike jumps or forts (I guess we were recyclers before we even knew we were recycling). Those bike jumps and forts gave us hours, weeks, months, even years of entertainment. No Nintendo, iPods or cell phones; just some old scrap and our imaginations.

One of the best memories I have was when I was 4. My parents were putting an addition onto the house, so there were a lot boards and nails around.

I was playing outside during a typical Seattle rainy day, so I had my rubber boots on. I was just doinkin' around with no particular plan - until I saw a nail sticking up out of a piece of two-by-four. With those rubber boots on, I thought my feet were protected from anything. So I stepped onto that nail, intending to walk right over it. I stood on top of it for a split second before it went into the rubber sole, through my foot and out the top of my boot.

"DAD!" I yelled, until he came to the rescue and removed the board now attached to my foot.

Good times? Yep, really. The memory of my dad coming to the rescue and pulling that nail out of my foot is burned into my brain. After he bandaged up the wound and I calmed down, he asked, "What were you thinking?"

We laughed at the stupidity of walking over a nail that was sticking up out of a board. It really seemed like a good idea at the time, though. That night dad went to Burger King and brought home chicken sandwiches and fries - a real treat back then.

Then, when I was a little older, Uncle Ray Roger Jr. introduced my brother and me to model railroading, an antiquated hobby that most folks just don't have time for or any interest in anymore.

But back in the '70s we loved it. Not just for the trains, but also for the towns that we would build around the train tracks. We liked to build old western towns. Most of our buildings were of old weathered wood held together by rusty nails.

Of course, we painted the rusty nail heads onto the boards since these were miniature buildings, but we insisted that they had to be there.

So when I see old rusty nails and gray weathered wood, I see days gone by, when life moved at a slower pace and was somehow more engaging and meaningful. Cowboys rode the range, Grandma made her own bread, and steam engines roared down the tracks.

Of course, I have a romanticized vision of the old days, but still, they give me a peaceful, easy feeling - and there is a lot of truth to the tales of old.

So when it was time to add the trim onto the workshop I built here at Walkers Ranch, I used boards and rusty nails from a fence my dad and I had built together 25 years earlier. When the fence was taken down, I specified that I wanted not only the boards saved, but the rusty nails as well.

And yes, I hauled those boards and nails all the way from Seattle to Walkers Ranch here in Walla Walla County. But now I feel a certain something extra when I look at and work in my shop.

Then, when I built my "man cave" bar in the spare room of our house (OK, I admit I busted down a wall and used two rooms because my wife and … OK, I … wanted a bigger bar), I named it the "Rusty Nail Saloon." I even made a sign with the coolest looking weathered board and the rustiest nails from that old fence.

So now, even though my dad passed on long before we bought Walkers Ranch, there's a part of him here - part of his soul is in those boards and nails.

Man, what I would give to have a beer with my dad way out here at the Rusty Nail Saloon right now. Days gone by … .

Burbank-area writer Erik D. Walker, author of "In Pursuit of the Perfect Burger," can be reached at erikandtina@walkersranch.com.

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