Memories of Ronald Snyder, by Steve Moreland – December 1, 2016
Ronald Snyder has been an interesting character and fun person to have known through the years. I can’t remember ever not knowing him. He was our nearest neighbor living three miles to the east of our ranch, and he was always a close friend of my dad, Bob Moreland.
Ronald Snyder was always a bit on the wild side. Everything he did was at high speed. He was never a drinking man, but he did go through a lot of Pepsi-Cola. Possibly all that extra caffeine kept him highly energized. Ronald bought Pepsi-Cola in large quantities of many cases at a time. There were 24 twelve-ounce glass bottles per wooden case, and down in the basement of his house were cases of Pepsi stacked clear to the ceiling. Hydrox cookies were also a main staple of food at the Snyder Ranch. Hydrox chocolate cream-filled cookies were an earlier version of Oreos.
Snyd would wear the most beat-up cowboy straw hats imaginable. They usually came almost to a point in the front, which was his handhold when putting it on or off. Wires would be protruding from the edges, but that was the way he liked it. Once I recall him getting a new straw hat, and the first time it was on his head it looked just as bad as his old hat had looked. This was surprising, so I asked, “What happened?” He explained that every time he acquired a new hat, he would first run over it with his caterpillar tractor to make it feel comfortable. When Ronald would be in dress-up mode, he never wore any form of headgear.
Ronald combed his hair straight back, and it gave him a certain charming charisma. When my sisters were small, they would sit up on the back of our couch and play beautician by combing Dad’s hair. They would dip their combs in water, and comb his hair straight back. When they finished, they would call the final effect a “Snyd” hair-do. Dad would look into a mirror and beam with pride. Ronald eventually went to a straight crew-cut hair style, but somehow it just wasn’t the same.
Ronald Snyder was married to Mary Linenbrink, a neighboring ranch girl. They had five children, Terry, Nancy, Timmy, Helen, and Larry. Their middle child Timmy was my age, and we started Kindergarten together in the fall of 1957. One morning Dad needed to go to the Snyder Ranch for some reason, so I rode with him. I then caught a ride to Merriman, as Mary drove their own kids into town. I’m thinking that Dad bringing me made Mary late with her school kid commute, and she had to drive pretty fast to get us kids to school on time. I recall going down the hill by Jay Cole’s ranch, and the speedometer read 90 miles per hour. That was the fastest I had ever ridden in a car but the Snyder kids seemed to think it was the norm.
One time Ronald and Mary invited our family to have supper with them. Their house was the original ranch house, and Ronald’s parents, Charles and Alice were living in a newer house a hundred yards to the east. Timmy and Terry had all kinds of trucks and tractors for toys, and it was a new experience for me to have access to such interesting gadgets. Even though I was having fun with all the Tonka toys, Tim was looking for other adventures. Soon we were playing in the chicken house, which was full of lively little yellow chicks. We had fun catching them, but could only hold a couple in each hand. Inspiration came upon us, and we took down a five-gallon tin bucket that was hanging from a nail. We caught the little chicks and dumped them into the pail. Soon that bucketful was acting quite tame, so we turned it upside down, with the plan to dump out those tame chicks and catch some more active ones. When we lifted off the bucket, we discovered a firm haystack composed entirely of very dead smothered yellow chicks. All of a sudden the fun went out of our evening. Very much chagrined, we ambled slowly back to the house where our parents were visiting. Dad told the story from there. In his words: “Steve sidled up to me and said in a quavery voice, “Dad, it was Timmy’s idea, but we caught some baby chicks, put them in a bucket, and now they are all dead.” ”
Dad, Ronald, Timmy, and I all adjourned to the chicken house to assess the damage. It wasn’t all poultry in motion, as there were quite a number of dead chicks. Snyd took it well, and wasn’t too hard on poor Timmy and me. He thought we looked remorseful enough without any further punishment. It was a lesson well learned, and I have tried my best to have very little to do with chickens ever since.
Ronald Snyder had one of the first semi-trucks in this part of the country. Trucks of any kind were a rarity, as most goods were still shipped on the trains. Roads were not conducive to truck travel, as many of the major roads were still gravel. Even before Snyd had his first semi, he had a straight truck. He and Bill Gaskins went somewhere to get a load of fence posts. The truck didn’t have a dump box, but these guys thought out their plan ahead of time. Posts didn’t come in bundles in those days, but were all handled one at a time by hand. They laid down chains before loading the posts sideways in the truck. When they arrived back at the ranch, they picked up Terry and Timmy to go along to where they unloaded the posts. Snyd used his crawler tractor to tie onto the ends of the chains, and his plan was to drag the posts out of the truck. Bill was on the ground watching and directing. The crawler hit the chain fairly hard, and the posts quickly vacated the truck box. As they did, the truck reared up in the air like the Lone Ranger’s horse Silver. Mary, who was watching from the kitchen window, was not impressed. Terry and Timmy thought it was fun, and their reaction was, “Do it again, Dad.”
After Terry was old enough to drive, Ronald and Mary and their five kids decided to have a family vacation to the West Coast. They took two cars. It was a fast trip—two days out, dip their toes into the Pacific Ocean, and two days back. A couple days after they were already back at the ranch, I got a post card that Tim had sent me from somewhere out west. It simply said, “Hi Steve, Bye Steve.”
Ronald and Mary were both fine people, but marital problems led to them splitting up and eventually getting a divorce. I remember when Dad first heard of their troubles and told Mom, my sisters, and me. I was at the impressionable age of nine or ten, and it was devastating news to all of us, as they were all good friends. For many nights in my bedtime prayers, I asked God to “help get Ronald and Mary back together.” Mary and the kids moved into Merriman for a while, and then on to Alliance. Ronald and Mary tried for some time to reconcile, but it didn’t happen. Snyd was a single man for the rest of his life, even though there were several girl-friends through the years.
Ronald’s dad Charlie died sometime in the late 1950’s. Ronald’s mother, Alice, moved to Valentine. Ronald lived alone and did the cooking for himself, and usually one or two hired hands who resided in the bunkhouse. Alice often came back in the summer time to cook, when more hired hands were needed for the job of putting up hay. Alice was a wonderful hard-working fun-loving lady. She always had a grin on her face, and her eyes sparkled with mischief. Ronald’s oldest son, Terry, moved back to the ranch after graduating from high school in Curtis, Nebraska. Curtis had a boarding school where lots of ranch kids attended in those days, due to their living in isolated areas of Sandhills ranch country.
I was a six-grader in the fall of 1963. On Friday November 22nd of that year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. This event had a great impact on the whole world, and schools across the land didn’t convene the following Monday so everyone could watch the funeral on television. Our TV had “gone on the blink,” which meant that it no longer worked. Snyd invited our family over to his bachelor pad to watch the Kennedy funeral. It was a momentous occasion, seeing the horse-drawn caisson as it carried Kennedy’s coffin. The whole funeral was quite impressive, and I remember the priests consumed a lot of wine as they officiated. Snyd brought out bottles of Pepsi, and a package of Hydrox cookies, so while the priests imbibed, so did we.
Snyd always walked fast, drove a vehicle fast, and rode a horse fast. When cattle were worked on the Snyder Ranch, cow-whispering techniques were not in force. There were always plenty of old style steel hot-shots on hand, filled with fresh batteries, and they were expected to be used to expedite working cattle through the chute. My dad always said that Ronald was worth any other two men when running an iron at a branding, because he walked so fast and got so much done.
Ronald was a perfectionist when it came to fencing and building windbreaks. He didn’t have any three wire fences. His fences all had at least four wires, and many were of five and six wires. His posts averaged about four steps apart. Any windbreaks installed were straight and level. During a bad blizzard on April 30th, 1967, my dad had a herd of about 300 cow/calf pairs that were on the west side of Goose Lake. The wind and driving snow that day was mostly out of the straight west, and these cattle all drifted right next to the lake. By the time we got out to check on them, we found the cattle dummied up next to the fence. The snow was packed so only one wire was visible above the snow. Only one cow had gotten across the wire, and we soon had the cattle driven away to where they were on safe ground. Dad gave Snyd’s wonderful fence credit for probably keeping all those cattle from drifting into Goose Lake and perishing.
Snyd was generous and always willing to lend a helping hand or equipment to those who needed it. During the month of March in 1975, a bad blizzard occurred between Palm Sunday and Easter. Our two-wheel drive tractor was unable to go through all the snow, and we were having trouble getting hay to our cattle. Ronald offered the use of his big D7 Caterpillar. I rode a horse through a lot of deep snow to get to the Snyder Ranch, where I left my horse in their corral and drove the Caterpillar home. It was invaluable in getting around, pulling a haysled so we could pitch off hay to our cattle. We used it hard that afternoon, and again the next morning, and then I returned it to Snyders and once again rode my horse the three miles back to Dad’s place.
Ronald was a trusting person, and usually gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. One time he was maybe too trusting. During the winter of 1971-1972, he had put out 489 cows with a farmer/feeder from Ithaca, Nebraska. Ronald had checked on the cattle in January, and all was well. When he went back in April to see them again, he could find no sign of the cattle or the man who was supposed to be taking care of them. Further inquiry and investigation revealed that the man had sold the cattle, pocketed the money, and skipped the country. The cattle had all been properly brand inspected to go to Ithaca, but that was out of the brand area. This gave the man opportunity to sell the cattle because he didn’t need to brand inspect them. Ronald still legally owned the cattle, as his paper work was in order. Brand inspectors, stock detectives, and lawyers went to work. The cattle were mostly all located, and Ronald was able to eventually get most of them back. It was very expensive for him, with lots of trucking and legal fees, but the ones who were really the losers were those who had purchased the cattle from the crooked farmer. They were out all of their investment, which had been made in good faith. The whole deal was a sad situation caused by the greed of a thief.
Snyd was a fun-loving guy. He enjoyed pulling off a little harmless mischief. One time the bank in Merriman had been robbed. A couple days had gone by, but people in town were still just a little jittery over the deal, and hadn’t fully let down their guard. Ronald Snyder and my dad had gone to Martin for a meeting at the Masonic Lodge. Snyd was driving his car, and on the way back through Merriman at midnight, he remembered that he had a hundred-pack of Black Cat firecrackers. Right as they pulled up to the stop sign from the north, and just before they turned east on Highway 20, Snyd lit the firecrackers. All one hundred of them went off eventually, and there were probably a few anxious moments for townspeople startled out of their slumber. By then the perpetrators were long gone speeding east.
On another occasion in 1962 when I was in fourth grade, our country school put on a Christmas program. It was held in the living room of my parents’ house, as it was bigger than the little trailer house where school was held. Ronald and his hired hand, Charlie Mashino, came for the festivities. Charlie was tall and slender, but he had been commandeered to be Santa Claus for the night. He had a regulation red cap and white bearded mask, but from his neck down he was more of a tall slim cowboy Santa Claus. He wore a green winter parka, batwing leather chaps, and cowboy boots with spurs. He carried over his shoulder a burlap bag that had originally held a hundred pounds of cow cake. On this night it contained many paper sacks filled with candy for the kids. Santa rang the doorbell and as he entered the house, he rang a jingle bell and shouted, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!” The candy was given out, and he made his grand exit, once again shouting, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!” Snyd followed Santa out the door. As Santa continued ringing his bell, we could all imagine he was again in his sleigh flying off to the next house. Meanwhile, Snyd had picked up his 30-30, which had been stashed on the porch. He shot a couple times into the air, and came back in the house grinning, “I got him!” Some of these things a person would hardly dare do in these modern politically correct times.
Another politically incorrect, but rather funny incident happened out at the Truck Stop Café on the west side of Gordon. Ronald Snyder was on a men’s bowling league, and he and the other guys had gone out to eat after bowling. There was kind of a cute flirty waitress there, and Harvey Thayer goosed her a little bit from his side of the table. She turned around to look, and Harvey pointed to a completely innocent member of the team. She came back later, and came to the other side of the table. Ronald knew what was happening, so he slyly goosed her from his side of the table, again pointing at the completely innocent gentleman. This time the waitress didn’t take things so lightly, and she hauled off and slapped the poor guy who had not done a thing. He was completely perplexed as to what that was all about, as the others had a good laugh.
Snyd loved to have a good time. He kept things stirred up, and there was never a dull moment when he was around. Ronald Snyder was a great guy. Rest in peace, my friend.