Back at the end of May I got a brief email from a woman who wanted me to come and see her fence. Yes. Her fence.
“Would you be interested in a feel good story after this past year?” was the subject-line.
A feel good story about a fence? Hmm…. sure? But I couldn’t rearrange my schedule to make it happen right away, that much I knew.
I’m not going to lie, that email sat in my inbox for longer than it should have. I had written a few columns and I knew I had a bit of time before another column was due so I kind of sat on the idea until I received a reminder email from the same woman a couple of days into June.
It took me far too long, but last week I made it out to see this sweet, patient woman’s back fence and let me tell you, my only regret is not making time to see it sooner.
It. Is. Awesome.
This is the story of how CVRD Sahtlam-area residents Judy and Wayne Kozler turned their retirement time into a massive project — one Judy calls a labour of love.
The dynamic duo spent the entire summer of 2020 building a western town fence.
I will admit that when I first got the email saying the Kozlers had turned their back fence into a western town, I envisioned a standard flat panel fence about six to eight feet high, painted with a western theme.
“Everybody thinks that,” Judy said when I told her what I’d been picturing in my head.
I could not have been more wrong.
It was like a movie set.
“It’s 3D,” she said. “We had a fence of cedars and they were dying so we had to pull them out and we had to put another fence up.”
Inspiration came from photographs online of the type of painting I’d pictured in my head. It sparked her imagination and off she ran. But her idea was better than any painting.
She drew up plans and got to work.
“We got wood from the neighbourhood, had a mill come in and a friend milled it here on the property and we just started building,” Judy explained. “It took us all summer. We’re retired and have more time than money,” she added with a laugh.
When I first pulled up and saw a bit of the fence through the carport I could not believe my eyes.
“Welcome to the town of Riverbottom; Pop 8” read a carved wooden sign.
The town’s decor tells a bit of a story about its fictional occupants.
The first door front is that of the town doctor, Doc Sawbones, who, perhaps unfortunately for his patients, shares space with the town’s undertaker.
Beside the doctor’s office is the sheriff’s office, complete with a prisoner, who’s hand is sticking out of the barred door. Good thing the door is locked! Also handy are the photos of all the wanted suspects pinned to the wall just in case you need to know who to look out for.
Next to that is the mercantile, where as you’d expect, you could buy anything and everything you need, from tobacco and guns to chickens and sugar and more, according to the signs out front.
Then came the blacksmith’s shop. This one, too, comes with a story: at one time Judy wanted to make a metal horse.
“So, in the back of the car, every time we stopped at a junk shop, I picked up a bunch of metal and somehow it all ended up here on the walls,” she said.
In case you were wondering, the horse was never built but there’s plenty to see outside the blacksmith’s door!
Judy says her favourite part is the saloon, which sits in between the blacksmith and the bank. There’s a hitching post out front and it features proper saloon doors and an old stove.
“The old stove is kind of cool,” she said. “One of my neighbours was digging in her backyard and she found that old stove and so she brought it over and said ‘happy birthday!’”
Of course the stove needed rusty old pipes and lo and behold another neighbour had some of those, too.
The final facade after the bank is the Trail’s End Hotel, which offered food, drink, a hot bath and naturally “ladies of the night”.
Judy admits she’s still looking for a mannequin to complete that scene. If anyone’s got one kicking around they’d like to donate, send me a note.
Well, they say it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.
Judy and Wayne have sold their house and with it will go their beloved labour of love.
Fear not readers!
“We get to actually stay on the property,” Judy explained. The duo is just moving to another building on the property and, given the new owner helped to build the fence’s structure, “I’m pretty sure it’s not going anywhere,” she said.
So, let this be a lesson to you procrastinators out there. When somebody offers to share their joy with you don’t delay! What you think might be a flat panel fence might just end up being an entire western town that blows your mind.
Thank you so much for inviting me to see your fence, Judy!