One of the stops on the famous Route 66 is in McLean, Texas at the Devil’s Rope Museum. Advertised as a "Tribute to Barbed Wire", it showcases the history and lore of barbed wire. It is the largest collection of barbed wire and related artifacts in the world, and holds the largest and rarest collection of barbed wire fencing tools.
I have to admit that when I drove up to the museum and saw the word "tribute," I kind of laughed. Tribute? Barbed wire? I was beginning to think this was one of those kooky places found in the book Roadside America, like the largest ball of twine. But since first seeing barbed wire at the Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City, I had become very intrigued with it, so I had to see what this place was all about. I still can’t believe, however, that I’m so excited telling everyone about how cool barbed wire is!
I discovered that, yes, there was a lot of barbed wire, but there was so much more in this building. They had a nice overview on ranching in Texas, including a lit display showing the different ranches and respective owners in the area. Also in that history is a large display of branding irons from different ranches. Those were neat to look at and I wondered how people actually came up with the different symbols (which are the symbols of their ranch).
There is a large section on fences. You see a large assortment of fencing tools. You see 180 different post-hole digger models. They have an 1893 Rancher’s fence-repair wagon on display. There are numerous patented fence posts, lime stone rock posts, and quarry tools. They even have a case of salesman samples that were brought around on sales calls.
Now on to the good stuff. You see hundreds of different types of barbed wire here. I never knew there could be so many, but there are wire barbs, sheet metal barbs, ribbon wire, and more. Each has its own unique design.
Barbs are projecting points integrated on wire fencing. Usually you see a single strand of twisted wire with two points. Barbed wire was created to protect crops from wandering livestock and to mark off property boundaries. The first patent came in 1867, and since then there have been about 450 patents, although about 2,000 varieties have been found; many of these, called bootleg wires, had slight variations and were made in small blacksmith shops.
Just like the branding irons, it’s hard to imagine how people could come up with so many designs - many different twists, a number of points, and different shapes. I particularly like the stamped sheet metal wheel barbs. They look like a rotating blade on an electric saw and would spin if the cattle came across it.
If you have any interest in knowing more about the ranching business, or just want to see some different works of "art," I recommend a stop at the Devil’s Rope Museum.