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.
Another Story About "Arthur Sayler"
Treasured by his community as a good friend and a jolly, walking historic archive, Arthur Sayler will be missed by everyone that ever meet him.
Sayler, has spent his life farming in Pawnee County, but he is perhaps best known for his skills in quarrying and cutting limestone fence posts.
In the past two decades, Sayler has been featured at fold-art festivals across Kansas, at a 10 day exhibition in 1993 at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C., and on a "Portrait of America" TV documentary that is still being shown occasionally on the Discovery Channel.
Although not one to brag, Sayler admits that he enjoys showing people the ways of working with the post-rock limestone. He is touched by letters of thanks he's received form Kansas organizations and one from Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, who saw his Smithsonian show.
"It makes a fella feel good, an old farmer, you know," he said.
On Wednesday, Sayler was puttering in his shop on his farm, arranging his stone-splitting tools, small hunks of limestone and other artifacts on a card table to show his visitor.
The interview had been arranged in the morning, because Sayler was going to be planting wheat that afternoon with his son, Arthur Sayler III, who lives just across the road. A much needed half-inch of rain had temporarily delayed their planting efforts.
Oh, this rain, you know, it's just wonderful, "Sayler said, as he took his visitor on a quick tour through his backyard to see his limestone block milk house.
The old house, shining golden and bronze in the morning sun, was about 100 years old. It was built by homesteaders who first owned the farm. Sayler's father bought the farm in 1929. By 1942, the building was in need of an overhaul.
Sayler said he decided to tear it down and rebuild it.
The structure's age was shown by the size of its blocks, he said.
Early setters to central and north-central Kansas discovered they could quarry limestone from certain hillsides there. It was a marvelous building material that lay in a single, nearly uniform layer, about 8 inches thick. But they didn't know how to quarry it properly; instead they used picks, sledgehammers and levers to bust the rock loose in chunks, a process known as "bruising" the rock out, he said.
As a result, they tended to make blocks twice or more as big as they needed to be, he said.
"In 1865, blacksmiths came in from the East and they knew how to make feathers and wedges, and bits to drill the rock," he said.
A "feather," in quarry terminology, is one of two steel sleeves that are slipped into a hole drilled in the rock; a steel wedge then is inserted. When a row of holes is drilled and the sleeves and wedges are carefully tapped in, in sequence, a long, narrow section of rock can be popped loose. It was common to cut an 18 foot section, then cut it to make three 6 foot fence posts, he said.
Each post weighed about 300 pounds. Some were hauled in wagon beds, then farmers got smart and begin driving their wagons over the heavy posts, jacking the stone slabs up and chaining them to the axles and running gear of the wagon. It sure beat lifting them, Sayler said.
He marvels at the miracle of the post rock deposits, which are the results of sediment from a prehistoric, inland ocean.
"Isn't it the funniest thing, that rock would all be the same thickness?" He said. "It's 4 million years old. Isn't that something? That's beyond a person's thinkin'."
His father, he said, looked all over his land for post rock limestone and dug out several hilltops in the 1940's but found only flint and other rocks. So when he needed limestone posts to use as corner posts or for braces, he bought them form men who lived about eight miles or more to the northwest.
"In them days, things was really cheap," he said. "Lands a livin', in the 1940's you could pay someone $35 to split enough limestone to build a garage.
"And fence posts they would get down to 3 cents a post, deliver 'em and put it in the hole, if you had it dug. In the wintertime, things get cheap. The going rate in the summer was 10 cents."
Sayler learned to cut the limestone from local farmers who had quarries and found that it wasn't difficult, if you used the right techniques and tools.
So when Sayler decided to rebuild his milkhouse in 1942, he was ready. He took the building's roof off, then the blocks, one at a time. Many of them were so large he was able to cut two out of each one. When he rebuilt the 12 X 14 foot building, he had so many more blocks, he increased its size to 12 X 20.
For years, it was used as the milk house. That was where he separated the cream from the milk from their eight Jersey cows, and it was where they poured milk into gallon jars, which they sold in the community for 40 cents a gallon.
In later years, it became the wash house, where his wife reared two daughters and a son on their farm. Their whole family traveled to Washington when Sayler had his Smithsonian showing.
In that exhibition, the Smithsonian paid a moving company to transport Sayler's tools and six big limestone posts to the East Coast; in Washington, Sayler carefully hand drilled and split the posts, as visitors watched in fascination. He used the sliced posts to construct a small stone fence in the exhibit.
The Smithsonian showing also had craftsmen and folk art and musicians from around the world. It was all right, he said, but some of the exhibits were a bit odd.
"One bunch sat around making this 'bong, bong' noise and it was supposed to be music. It looked like they were beating on old nail kegs. And there was rug makin' and guys a whittlin' out bowls. We've got a to better carvers in Kansas."
He would have given anything to have brought the Kansas Historical Society's annual Folk Art Festival to Washington, he said. We have a lot better show at Topeka."
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
"E-Mail & Home Page"
Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.