Fire Truck Fiasco
By Steve Moreland, May 28, 2018
My wife Carol and I and our three-year-old son Will moved to our “new ranch” ten miles northeast of Merriman, Nebraska in the spring of 1986. We trailed 300 cow/calf pairs from our old ranch, which was 20 miles south of Merriman, and arrived on the newly acquired Ronald Snyder ranch the night of April 30th. We took official possession on May 1, 1986 so the timing was perfect. Daughter Tiffany was born on June 10th of that year; consequently life was quite hectic for a few months. Youngest son Brock came along in February of 1989, which completed our roster of immediate offspring.
Even though we owed lots of money on the land trade, we became the proud owners of what could be considered a nice “balanced ranch.” It had about the right amount of hay ground to go with the pasture land. Fences had been well-maintained, and windmills were adequate. Several nice cedar tree shelter belts were part of the acquisition, along with modest but livable buildings. Three large lakes were on the ranch, as well as numerous ponds in nearly every pasture. A large tree-lot full of old cars, pickups, tractors, and other abandoned vehicles was also part of what could now be considered “ours.” A friend John Hanson from Kaycee, Wyoming was kind of a “junque connoisseur,” and he appraised this tree-lot full of rusty resources as a “hundred-thousand-dollar junk pile.” I wasn’t quite as impressed with all this mostly unusable stuff, and gave a lot of it away.
One item that really appealed to John Hanson was an old “deuce-and-a-half” M35 series 2 ½ ton 6x6 cargo truck, originally used by the United States Army. Way back in the summer of 1969, several ranchers in the Merriman Fire District had traveled together to Fort Carson, Colorado. Seven old outdated and antiquated military trucks were issued to them, and these were driven back to Cherry County in convoy fashion, to be modified and outfitted with fire-fighting sprayers. This truck on our ranch had long ago outlived its usefulness. It was parked out in the tall grass with trees growing up through it, and dirt from gopher mounds covered much of the frame. Some of the tires were missing, and there was no longer a cargo box on the truck. John already owned several old army vehicles, but he was always on the look-out to add to his collection. He practically lusted for an opportunity to own this one, too.
John Hanson had a little competition on this old truck with a couple other interested parties. My dad’s cousin, Joe Kent, lived in Boulder, Colorado. His occupation was owning and renting out semi-trailers and cargo containers, to be used for storage at construction sites. Joe thought this old army truck could be beneficial to his business, and had several times asked me to price it to him.
Mick Downing ranched south of Merriman. He owned a big dragline excavator, and had a sideline business cleaning out drainage ditches in area meadows. He also really wanted to buy this old army truck, as he knew he could find use for it. I held off the would-be buyers for several years, as it was somewhat dubious as to who was the actual owner of the abandoned army truck.
Many years went by, and the old truck seemed to burrow deeper into the sand. After seven years had passed, I considered that to be the statute of limitations, and felt that it was long enough that I should be able to sell the truck as my own. I also figured that if anyone complained, I could charge enough “storage fee” to equal the value of the old military vehicle.
The best course of action seemed to be to notify all three potential buyers and give them opportunity to send in secret sealed bids. The highest bid would be honored with ownership of the truck. Making phone calls to these gentlemen, I gave them a due date a couple weeks down the road. At this time they all asked if I could give them a legal title, and I said I had no way of coming up with one. My advice was to bid whatever they thought it was worth, and take a chance on the title. This they did, and in due time the three bids were received. When the envelopes were opened, the low bids were $285 and $345, and I called John Hanson to inform him he was the winner with his $380 bid.
On the evening of May 7th, 1993 John Hanson arrived from Kaycee, Wyoming driving his old Army truck wrecker. He spent the night with my cousin, Ken Moreland, his wife Sharon, and their two boys Ian and Grant. The next day, May 8th was the annual spring branding for Ken and his parents Stan and Joy Lue Moreland. Reed and Patty Clark, from Star Valley in Wyoming, were also visitors for this branding. John Hanson spent that night at our Spearhead Ranch, and early the next morning I helped him put tires on the army truck I had sold him, so that he could tow it back to Kaycee, and he was soon on the road. Later that day, I took Reed and Patty Clark to the ranch of Dale and Viola Coleman, who lived north of Kilgore, NE. That ranch was for sale at the time, and Reed and Patty were looking for a place to buy. We toured the ranch, and Clarks were very interested. Somehow, Colemans decided not to sell just yet, so the trip was in vain. However it was a fun outing, and I very much enjoyed the adventure with Reed and Patty.
Five more years went by. My cousin John Fairhead was the secretary for our local fire district. One evening in March of 1998, he called to inform me that the district had received word that all of the old army trucks that had been issued to area ranchers needed to be turned in. I said, “I can’t. The truck is no longer on our ranch.” He sympathized, but that was about all he could do. Tim McGinley, president of the district, called to tell me the same thing. Since these military trucks were issued by the United States Forest Service, Tim advised me to call them to tell of my dilemma.
I called the Forest Service office in Lincoln, which was the location where the trucks were to be turned in. I explained that the truck was no longer on our ranch, and that it had looked to be just abandoned unsightly junk when we had purchased the ranch twelve years previous. Then I asked what would be done with these old trucks after they were turned in. The man stated that the vehicle identification numbers would have to be verified and declassified, and then they would probably be sold at a surplus auction held in Lincoln. I asked approximately what this old truck and others like it would bring. The man gave his educated opinion that it would bring between $300 and $800, depending on its condition. I said, “How about I write you a check for $1000, and we call the deal square?” Being the bureaucrat that he was, this would in no way be acceptable. He was quite adamant that I retrieve the truck, so that the forest service could once again have it in their possession.
As you can guess, I was slightly bent out of shape, but decided to try to play by the rules. My next obligation was to try to retrieve the truck. In all humbleness, I made a phone call to John Hanson at Kaycee, Wyoming. I asked him, “What have you done to that old truck? Did you fix it up, and do you use it to haul feed?” John confessed that he had pulled it in to his own “resource pile,” and it had sat there since he got it to Wyoming. I asked, “Is there any chance I can buy it back, and give you a profit?” After hearing my tale of woe, John said all I’d have to do is give him his original investment price back. John is a fine friend, and I very much appreciated his understanding.
Both John Fairhead and I were winding down on our calving, and thought we could spare a little time to go to Wyoming. I had a fairly new 1997 Ford F350 4x4 power stroke diesel with turbo, and John owned a nice 30’ flatbed gooseneck trailer with two sets of duals. We decided to hook the two together, and both journey the 340 miles to Kaycee to retrieve the truck. We left Merriman at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7th, 1998 and arrived in Kaycee a little after 9 p.m. that night.
We got a motel room, had a late supper, and made arrangements to meet up with John Hanson at his ranch west of Kaycee the next morning. This we did after breakfast, and it didn’t take too long to get the truck loaded.
John Hanson and his sisters and nephews were just getting a good start on their calving. John is a pilot, so he flies over the calving cows while two or three horseback riders are also out checking. If John spots trouble from the air, he drops a note to the riders. John Hanson invited John Fairhead and me to accompany him on his rounds, but there was only room for us to go one-at-a-time. John Fairhead went first. The trusty pilot was doing a lot of fancy maneuvering to check cows, and pretty soon the plane made a beeline for the hanger, by which I was standing. There was not much wind, but when the plane landed with the wind instead of against it, I figured there must be some kind of emergency. Sure enough, my cousin John was looking a bit green around the gills. Way back in our childhood growing up years together, car sickness had been a bit of an issue with him, so it stood to reason that the wild airplane flying could cause the same effect. He stepped out of the plane, got a breath or two of fresh air, and was soon as good as new.
It was my turn to fly in the back seat of John Hanson’s Super Cub. The cows had already been checked, so he flew me pretty straight and level. It was a wonderful tour of that area, and I was duly impressed by the various kinds of terrain that can be found in a relatively short span of miles. We flew over the red wall and saw the “hole-in-the-wall” and the outlaw cave. We looked down on foothills and the Big Horns, and got to see a lot of marvelous ranching country. I greatly enjoyed our 45-minute flight. By the time we landed, John Fairhead was once again perfectly healthy. He and I got into my Ford pickup and headed back for Nebraska. John Hanson followed us to Kaycee, where we had dinner together before parting ways.
John Fairhead and I had a relatively uneventful trip back to the Sandhills. We didn’t have a roadmap with us, and our only bobble was when we missed getting on Highway 20 at Orin Junction. We got Glenrock and Glendo mixed up. Missing the sign that said we’d gone by Glenrock, we knew we had to go by Glen-something-or-other. Seeing the sign to Glendo, we kept on trucking. We soon realized our mistake but since there was no place to turn our pickup and big flatbed hauling the army truck around on the interstate, we ended up going clear to Glendo. We did use that opportunity to fuel up, then went back to Orin Junction and headed east. We had left Kaycee at 1:30 p.m. and arrived back in Merriman by 9:30 p.m. We unloaded the army truck at John’s ranch, which was closer to an improved road than where I live.
All was well, and the truck was eventually turned over to the bureaucrats with the Forest Service. The little mini-vacation from our own calving obligations gave John Fairhead and me a nice spring break, and sight-seeing from John Hanson’s airplane was added frosting on the cake. The fire truck fiasco didn’t turn out so bad after all, but there probably is a moral to the story. A person should never sell anything unless it belongs to said person in the first place, with a clear and unencumbered title. Lesson learned.