IT’S HARD TO BE A HERO By Steve Moreland, October 10, 2019

Things that come up in the daily operation of a ranch.
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IT’S HARD TO BE A HERO By Steve Moreland, October 10, 2019

Post by Soapweed » Thu Oct 10, 2019 9:25 pm

IT’S HARD TO BE A HERO
By Steve Moreland, October 10, 2019

Back in 1988, calving time was sneaking up rapidly. Carol and I had two small children, Will (five years old) and Tiffany (not quite two), and we had only lived on our “new” ranch for less than two years. Looking back through our old calving books, it looks like 487 cows were on hand to calve that year. We were young and energetic, worked hard, and had been getting by with hiring only occasional extra “day help” that fall and early winter. Hay was in 4-ton loose stacks, which were cabled onto a 12’ x 18’ feed “sled” (even though it had four rubber truck tires) with an International 706 open topped tractor. The hay was fed by putting the tractor into its lowest gear, securing the steering wheel, and turning it loose. Then by walking alongside the moving sled, the hay was pulled off by hand with a drag fork (pitchfork with purposely bent tines). The system worked well, but quite a bit of physical labor was involved. Knowing of the extra work being part of the upcoming calving season, it seemed like hiring a full-time extra person would make our lives easier.

I placed a “ranch help wanted” ad in a couple local livestock publications, and it wasn’t long before the phone was ringing with calls from potential applicants. A main obstacle was in the “housing available” on the ranch. Located several miles from civilization, it would be necessary for whoever took the job to live in a quite ramshackle old house on the premises. Many potentially good hands shied away after learning this fact.

Early one Sunday morning, the phone rang. A man from Rapid City and his girl-friend were interested, and we made arrangements for them to come early that same afternoon to look the deal over. As Carol and I and our kids drove into town to attend church that morning, we saw an old car with South Dakota license plates pull into town. We surmised that was the job applicants, and a couple hours later this proved to be true.

Neither the man nor his girlfriend struck us as being quite what we were looking for. His mother had also come along for the ride, and they followed us to our ranch. As we showed them the house, I pointed out every deficiency that came to mind of the job requirements, trying in every way possible to talk them out of even wanting to take the job. I pointed out places where you could see daylight through the walls, and proclaimed, “You really don’t want to live in this.” He said, “This isn’t bad at all. In the past, I’ve scrounged through garbage cans looking for something to eat.” As the man and his girlfriend checked out other rooms in the drafty old house, his mother spoke quietly to me. She said, “I know my son doesn’t look like much, but he is a good worker. If you hire him, he will do you a good job.” Mainly because of her reassuring words and recommendation, I was convinced to give him a chance.

He was hired, and he did prove to be a hard worker. He was a Viet Nam vet, and had at one time been quite addicted to heroin. At times, he would have flashbacks. He was agreeable and worked hard, but after a couple weeks he started coming up with excuses why he really didn’t think he was cut out to work on a ranch. By then, he was kind of “broke in” and was feeding a lot of hay, which is what I really needed him to do. I gave him a significant raise, thinking it would be good if he could at least help through calving. That seemed to pacify him for another couple weeks. One day, he took off on the morning feed rounds. He took his girl-friend along to drive while he pitched. The weather was fairly decent that morning, but he got into a stack of sweet clover, and the pitching was tough. When he had completed his feeding and came in at noon, he was very much out of sorts, which is putting it mildly. He was mad at the world, and told me in no uncertain terms that he was quitting.

This didn’t come as any big surprise, but I did something then and there that I shouldn’t have done at the time, and intend to never do again. For some really dumb reason, all of a sudden I burst forth loudly singing the song made famous by Skeeter Davis: “Got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now…..” Not the right thing to do. It must have been the Devil that made me do it, or an extremely careless Guardian Angel. It was not nice of me then, and I am completely ashamed now. My little five year old son Will watched the whole episode. He was armed with a plastic survival knife, complete with compass, and he had my back.

As you can imagine, the already ticked-off ex hired hand was not delighted with my reaction to his quitting. He had bought a 1980 half ton Ford pickup from me, and was making payments out of each paycheck. I told him early on that I’d give him the title when the final payment was made. He also had an old van. He and his lady friend packed some of their belongings and headed out that afternoon in their van.

The next day, I was feeding hay south of the house. They drove by me as they came to get the remainder of their stuff, hopefully bringing the rest of the money to pay off the pickup. Being of a friendly nature, and hoping he had cooled off as much as I had, I waved as they drove by. He waved back, but there weren’t quite enough fingers showing in his gesture.

Knowing he must still be mad, I continued pitching hay. Eventually I had to drive the feed tractor back though the buildings, to get to the cattle further north. I knew he had a gun, because I’d given him some .22 shells to eradicate skunks. As I drove the cab-less tractor back by the old house, I could just imagine what a bullet would feel like as it went between my shoulder blades. Nothing happened. That was good. By the time I had finished my hay feeding, they had departed. They did give Carol enough money to pay off the pickup, and drove it away as well as their van. I had already signed the title, and Carol signed her part of it when they paid the rest of the money, borrowed from his mother.

Fast forward a few years. There have been 36 annual Willow Tree Festivals in Gordon, Nebraska. It is always a good time, with fine musicians and entertainers galore. One year back in the mid 1990’s there was also a mountain man encampment. Son Will was 11 or 12 years old, and his friend Shawn Robinson had spent the night at our place so the two boys could attend the Willow Tree together.

Will and Shawn were going through the mountain man encampment, and had stopped at a trader’s booth to look at knives and tomahawks. I was meandering around enjoying the day, but was not traveling with the boys. When they were under the canvas fly of the trader’s booth, I happened to be walking by. I spotted a friend Charlie Riley, who was an auctioneer from Valentine. I hollered from a little ways off, “Hi, Charlie,” and walked in his direction. Not paying proper attention, I tripped on one of the ropes holding the canvas fly above the trading trinkets. With my stumbling over the tent stake and rope, the rope came untied and the shade fell in on everyone who was underneath. My first words were, “Whoops! Looks like I really made a boo-boo.” The tarp fell completely on top of the trader in charge, and his concerned wife immediately exclaimed, “Honey! Are you hurt?” He wasn’t, and no one else was either. I felt very badly for knocking down the display, and did my best to help in setting everything back up. Will and Shawn scurried out from under the awning, and took off, not wanting anyone to think they were in any way associated with me. Come to think of it, I never saw Charlie Riley again either.

All these years later, Will confesses that it wasn’t the fact that I knocked down the tent awning that embarrassed him, but because with such a momentous event all I could say was, “Whoops! Looks like I really made a boo-boo.” He didn’t think it sounded very macho. He says that my singing to the hired hand that was quitting more than makes up for it though, and I still have a little bit of hero status in his eyes.



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Re: IT’S HARD TO BE A HERO By Steve Moreland, October 10, 2019

Post by Big Muddy rancher » Fri Oct 11, 2019 8:08 am

I would like to think all Dads have a bit of hero status in their sons eyes.
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Re: IT’S HARD TO BE A HERO By Steve Moreland, October 10, 2019

Post by Faster horses » Fri Oct 11, 2019 1:40 pm

Glad to know you are still a hero. We need more of them. :D
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