I lost a mentor and a dear friend this past week. I took a minute to write a few memories of just a few of the great things he did for me and I thought I might share them with my good friends here.
How do you put into words, all that this fine man means to me? How do you write about his wisdom, his humor, his work ethic and do justice to the life he lived? I guess maybe you share a few stories and let the whole world get a small glimpse of a man who lived and ranched on the edge of the Great Basin Desert for 91 years and hope they catch just a sliver of how much his life effected my own.
I started working for Cal in 1980 on his ranch. I moved sprinkler pipe, with water from the new reservoir, built for our valley in 1977, that Calvin was instrumental in getting it built. He would stand and smile as he watched the rain birds bring treasured water to his hay fields. I realize now, it was the pride he took in getting a huge job accomplished. And knowing Cal, I bet his smile was as much for the other folks in our valley, who’s hay was watered better, as much as it was for his own fields. He always was thinking about how he could help a neighbor out or lend a hand somewhere. His life was the definition of the old Golden Rule; You treat others the way you would like to be treated. He taught me that a line of sprinkler pipe ought to be straight as an arrow when you moved them to the next set. Oh sure, it kept the water more uniform on the field and the crop grew better. But more importantly was the lesson that if its worth doing, its worth doing right. I humbly believe that you could use my sprinkler pipe lines as a survey marker and I sure took pride in seeing how straight they were.
We worked hard, but we always had fun too. After the big floods of 1984, one of Cal’s hay fields was under water for a few months and somehow fox tail invaded and set up shop. He cut it and baled it and planned to spray and plow the field after we got the baled fox tail moved. Those 1800 bales were the worst bales I have ever hauled. We wore overalls with every button done up tight but those “Tails” still would find ways to make you itch. We waited til a full moon and then hauled hay all night long, 2 guys throwing bales up and 2 guys stacking on the wagon with Cal driving the tractor. His jokes and teasing kept us all entertained and we almost forgot how much we hated foxtail bales. When they were all stacked in a patch of ground we had for the stack, we sure had fun burning it down. We had a lot of fun with fire on Cal’s ranch. We’d burn willows, ditch banks, Brush patches, cedar thickets and slash piles from cutting cedar posts. Once we had a little willow patch get away from us and we spent 2 days cleaning up hot spots and 2 weeks putting fence back. He just chalked it up to stuff happens. My eyebrows grew back, so no lasting harm.
Cal was always even tempered and usually in a fine mood. He could always see the bright side of things even when they were sure dim to the rest of us. In 1977 we had been in a drought for about a decade. Cal was serving as our local Mormon Church Ward Bishop, which is a non-paying, high stress position. He decided that our whole congregation needed to have a special fast for rain. So we did. Everyone fasted for the entire day on a Sunday. The following Friday afternoon the men in our valley went up spring canyon on a “Fathers and Sons Outing”, which is just a yearly camp trip we take together. That Saturday morning we awoke to dark black storm clouds as far as the eye could see. They opened up right after breakfast and the rain fell in buckets. We couldn’t of been any wetter if we would of camped in a lake! 20 or 25 pickup trucks loaded with dads and boys and muddy camp gear started down off the mountain. Everybody got stuck at least once and we looked like a mudslide had hit us. But what I remember was the pure joy at seeing the rain pour down! We laughed as we hooked chains to stuck trucks and all pushed to get them going again. The fast had brought the rain and we all were happily thankful to god for the blessing. We had listened to Cal and things had worked out. That was a pattern that continued for the rest of his life. When I needed advice or just wanted to run an idea past him, his answers were always sound and full of wisdom. I only saw him lose his even temper once, and it wasn’t at me surprisingly! We had an old rip of a cow in a shed working with a calf that we had pulled, to get it to suck. About the 3rd time that ol cow kicked that calf, my deeply religious, kind, loving bishop hit her with a piece of a railroad tie and called her a few “un-Sunday kinda words”. My mouth fell open and I thought she was history. But she just stood there glassy eyed with her legs doing their best to keep her from tipping over. The calf got a full belly and that ol cow didn’t even hardly breathe til we were finished. Cal apologized to me for his anger with the cow and his choice of words. He even told the cow he was sorry. I always appreciated how even keeled he was when working with stock. He was a master stockman and working cattle with him was a thing of beauty. Except maybe that one time.
We dug many a post hole and set many a good cedar post in it together. We built miles of fence, sets of working corrals and even a new pole fence around his yard. He always had a nice garden and one of the best parts of working for Cal was his wife Ruth’s cooking! Pancakes, eggs, potatoes, fruit and toast for breakfast. Roast beef sandwiches piled with fixings and a bottle of peaches for lunch. And supper!!! Oh those Ruth Olson Suppers! Mash spuds and gravy, lots of meats and vegetables, salads galore and maybe a dish of ice cream of slice of cake for dessert! Nobody ever went hungry on their place! One of my fondest memories was how he and Ruth and the kids and us hired guys would kneel around the table at every meal and offer a prayer of thanks for the great meal we were fixin to eat. He wasn’t the preachy type, but ya always knew that Cal valued his relationship with God. He wore it like he wore a good pair of boots. And it fit him. He was comfortable with God and I’d imagine God felt the same way about Cal.
One day he had me bring out my swimming trunks and get in his pond up at his upper place. The intake pipe to his pump had a screen over it and moss had plugged it up. Then while I was cleaning off the screen he decided that if he drilled a bunch of holes in a piece of sewer pipe and I fitted it over the end of the pump intake, that would work better than the old screen. So we rigged up this contraption and I did some more diving til it was attached to the pump pipe. It worked like a charm. We were congratulating ourselves when Cal noticed that I was covered in leeches! Ruth chewed us both out, but mostly Cal, for me being a buffet for those leeches. We got them all off and I didn’t die so I guess no harm done. That pump intake worked for years. Just another of Cal’s good ideas that he had.
I was about 17 and we were gathering cattle off of the mountain one fall. Cal ran his cows in an association with 4 other ranches whose permits were together. Cal unloaded my horse and I rode up the mountain with 3 or 4 other men who had cows on the allotment too. I remember how upset it made me to hear them say derogatory things about Cal and how he didn’t have a horse. After about 5 minutes of the badmouthing, I stopped my horse and told them all off pretty good. I said something like I ride for Cal and if you wouldn’t say it in front of him, you sure as hell better not say it in front of me! And if you wanna get off your horses and settle it, lets go! And then I rode off alone. I remember being a little spooked as they were all grown men and I was just a skinny kid. But later that day, each of those men apologized to me for their behavior. And they were sincere. Just like Cal, I had done the right thing, regardless of its popularity with others. I have never been afraid since to speak up if someone needed a butt chewing. A guy can do it kindly and fairly, but being silent is the same as going along with the behavior you despise.
Cal had heart problems from 1984 til last week. He had several bypass surgeries and pace makers. He was a tall, fit rancher but his genetics made his heart and arteries have many issues. I calved all his cows out one winter he spent in the hospital in 85. His grandsons would all take turns helping me and his son John feed cattle and calve the herd. We would play cards half the night waiting on a calvy heifer. We are lifelong friends because of those long nights from years ago. I took Angie and the kids into Salt Lake 2 weeks ago to visit Cal in a care center where he was doing therapy trying to get his strength back after another heart episode. He just glowed as the kids showed him pictures in their 4H record books of their projects. He gave them both big hugs when we left and then, right before he kissed Angie on the cheek he winked at me and said, “Now don’t get jealous”! After a few days in town, he and his family made the decision to come home. He wanted to be home on his ranch when the Good Lord called him home. And he was. He lived a long and fruitful life and he touched countless people in this valley with his wit and wisdom. The base of my cowherd comes from Olson stock. His cattle fit our environment perfectly and Cal’s calves always average higher weaning weights than anyone elses in this area. But more than having his cattle influence my herd, His life has influenced mine. He taught me more things than I can write. He was a perfect example of how a man ought’a live his life. If anyone thinks that one man can’t make a difference in the lives of other, then you never met Calvin Olson. He saw you for what ya could be and didn’t judge you for what you were. We will bury him tomorrow. I will miss him, but what joy I have from the lessons he taught me, spoken and unspoken. Folks, please don’t take for granted the good people in your life. Take time to visit and listen and love. And do your best to make a positive difference to the people you come in contact with. Happy Trails my fine friend! I know the Lord has marked his tally book and your brand is found on the positive side of his ledger. Many Thanks for a life well lived!
A poor ride beats a great walk any day!