Arthur Sayler
"The Stone Post Craftsman"

"In Memory of a Member"
    Arthur M. Sayler 90, died December 23, 1997, in rural Great Bend, Kansas. He was born October 20, 1907, in rural Albert, Kansas, the son of Arthur M. and Mary Patterson Sayler. A lifetime Albert-area resident, he was a farmer. He belonged to Albert United Methodist Church, was treasurer of the church's Sunday school for 70 years, was a church lay leader, was a member of the Pawnee Rock Lions Club and the Mayflower Society, was a 4-H woodworking leader was on the Clarence Township Board and was a former District No. 44 School Board member. On August 28, 1932, he married Beatrice Bell Davies at McGregor, Iowa. She survives. Arthur was also a member of the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail.

"The Life of a Craftsman"
    An array of tools lay about. A few holes had been drilled into the limestone ledge of an old quarry and the white-haired man quickly worked, expertly placing the "feathers and wedges" into the holes. He began tapping gently with determined blows on the wedges that outlined the rectangle.

     Suddenly the rock split away from the ledge and the hammering stopped. Another limestone rock post was born of the "post rock" ledge that is just under the topsoil in the north/south corridor of central Kansas covering much of the counties of Republic, Jewell, Osborne, Mitchell, Cloud, Ottawa, Lincoln, Ellis, Russell, Ness, Rush, Barton, Ellsworth, Hodgeman and Pawnee.

     For the labor of making one of these limestone posts, a man in the 1880's, might earn three cents per post and could section out about twenty in a sixteen hour day. Delivered and installed at the fence site, the price could go as high as .25 cents each.

     But the price is not what spurs our twentieth century craftsman to demonstrate how these unique posts were made. Arthur Sayler began learning his craft in 1928, at the age of twenty-one. By the time he began, the quarry near Olmitz had been long established, making Sayler a relative late-comer to the trade.

     In the years following, Sayler has built granaries, water tanks, root cellars, a small cottage and used the stone in many creative ways.

     Today the stone is the basis for countless demonstrations around the state. When it's not planting time, or harvest, Arthur and Bea Sayler pack up the car and travel the state giving demonstrations "wherever there's an interest." His audiences of history buffs range from grade schoolers to senior citizens and his skills are in great demand.

     Among the many items he packs around, there is of course the full sized post rock, tipping the scale at close to 200-300 pounds. On a smaller scale are book ends resembling stone corner posts, etchings, some small sculptures and a replica of an 1878 homesteaders cabin.

     The original cabin was a 12 foot by 20 foot structure built in Hodgeman, County, to prove up on a timber claim. The replica is 12 inches by 20 inches and was built by Arthur in his spare time.

     Earliest records show that the limestone fence posts were first used in the 1870's, but is was the introduction of the economically priced barbed wire that sparked their widespread use. Today they serve as reminders of a time when trees were a scarce commodity and most building products were priced out of reach for most. Many of the posts remain in their original locations and serve their original purpose.

     Still in use today are many houses, buildings, bridges and churches make of the post rock. Some were crudely built without taking the time to face the stone or to give it any sort of texture. The stones were often used just as they were made in the quarry, with the drill holes still showing.

     Other buildings, such as the St. Fidelis Church in Victoria, Kansas, built between 1908 and 1911; St. Joseph's Church in Leibenthal, built in 1920; and St. Antonius Kirche at Schoenchen are examples of limestone craftsmanship at its finest. Each stone was squared and faced and then selected for color and uniformity that would enhance the architecture of the buildings.

     As a building material, the stone has fallen into disfavor, mostly because of the tremendous amount of labor required in both the quarrying and the construction, and its lack of uniformity in size and color. Another problem is that the two or three feet of topsoil covering the post rock ledge is much more valuable as farmland.

     In most cases the ledge varies from a quarter of an inch thick to 24 inches, with the ideal being from eight to twelve inches. To quarry the stone, holes are drilled about nine inches apart around the desired shape of the post. Into the holes are placed a pair of thin strips of metal called "feathers." These are then separated by a wedge. When tapped, the wedge tightens against the feathers and forces the rock to break along the other holes which also have the feathers and wedges. Each wedge must be tapped in succession to provide a uniform break.

     In time the rock becomes harder after being removed from the its natural resting place. Thus the practice of facing the stone as soon as it was removed from the ground. Stone cutters used a special set of hammers and chisels, much like those used in sculpting. Designs were limited only by the skill and imagination of the stone cutter, and the post rock was easy to work with. Many craftsman today soak the stone in water for a day or so. To bring back the softness, before attempting to work with it.

     During the days of the W.P.A. in the late 30's and early 40's the post rock had a renewed life. Many bridges and public buildings were built of the post rock. It met all the requirements of the W.P.A. It was cheap, required huge amounts of labor, and machines were not needed.

     Recently there has been a push to keep this unique part of Western Kansas history alive, and bit by bit some of the post rock fences are being replaced by farmers. Also the post rock is literally "going to town." Many of them grace the yards of homeowners in towns across the state. It is a nice way to let everyone know who lives there.

     Arthur has never taken a post to a demonstration but what someone wants to buy it. One lady was determined to drive home (200 miles) and return with a pickup so she could have two or three for her yard.

     Thus the limestone post is assured a good long future, serving both the practical and aesthetic needs of the state, particularly with people such as Arthur Sayler promoting his craft and passing it on to his son Arthur III
     From the Tiller & Toiler
     Larned, Kansas
     July 25, 1989
     by Carl Immenschuh

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