Friday, February 23, 2018

Grandma's Camp Trailer

It’s late February and we’re having the most bitterly cold morning we’ve had all winter.

We brought the two groups of cows closer to ranch headquarters for calving. So far the babies are tucked safely inside their mommas and we hope they stay that way until this cold snap passes.

I’m still on a ranch cleaning jag. Yesterday I emptied Grandma Bonnie’s camp trailer. Gary rescued a few keepsakes - the box of assorted card games, a cast iron griddle, and a warm sheepskin collared coat. The remaining supplies will find new homes via the local thrift store. Now we just need to pump up the tires that are melting into the sod and get it to the local solid waste facility.

Of all the old items we’ve sent down the road, this one is the most difficult. For all the memories . . . I almost said that will go with it, but they won’t of course. We have the memories tucked away in our heads and hearts.

The 45 mile trip “up the trail” to deliver cattle to our mountain range ground is an annual spring pilgrimage. Grandpa Eldro insisted on camping overnight with the herd and Bonnie, his most trusted helpmate, was the camp jack that made it happen. A circa 1972 Kit Companion trailer fit the bill. Bonnie shopped until she found a trailer with the perfect floor plan with lots of space to tend a big cowboy crew. She could set everyone down at mealtime and when evening came, the tables collapsed and the chair cushions doubled as mattresses so everyone had a place to sleep. There was even a fold-up top bunk for the kids.

Mark remembers Grandma firing up the propane range for early morning coffee. The fumes would travel across the ceiling to his bunkbed, and as his asthma symptoms kicked in he knew it was time to get up.   

Supplies for six days of meals meant a shopping spree that Mark got in on as a kid. The owners at Carl and Don's Market knew Bonnie by name. She stocked up on Shasta pop by the case, including Mark's favorite, cream soda. She baked pies, cookies and cakes and stuffed the trailer house full of staples. On top of feeding the cattle herding crew, she fed friends and neighbors who happened along tending their own cattle or taking a leisurely drive to the mountains. She served hearty “from scratch” meals on real plates with real silverware. 

She pulled the trailer with a 1975 Ford 1-ton with a stock rack holding extra water in an old pressure tank, bales of hay for the horses and additional camp supplies. She was a familiar sight on the road, shushing cattle with her dishtowel in tight spots, picking up trash and negotiating steep mountain grades with courage beyond her small stature.

I had just started dating Mark when I rode along for a day of herding cattle along Brush Creek. I hadn’t officially met the family when dinner time came around and I bashfully headed to the trailer to eat. I took off my chaps and washed my hands at a basin Bonnie had set up outdoors. We went inside for a delicious meal of roast beef with potatoes and gravy and green beans, with chocolate cake for dessert. What a welcome!

Things change of course and Anita and I do it differently. With the utmost admiration for Bonnie’s method, we prefer to pack a cold lunch, which when paired with a hot thermos of coffee and homemade cookies, feeds a cowboy crew just fine. No, it’s not the same as Bonnie did it, but it will do.

What really matters is a kid in the saddle on a gentle horse, well-fed cowboys and cowgirls looking out for each other, a smile and a wave to passing motorists, and cows with calves at their sides at the end of the day. And besides, if we were driving the truck and cooking who would work our dogs?

(at the very last minute Gary suggested posting the trailer on Craig's List free stuff. It was spoken for in less than 5 minutes of posting by a guy wanting storage space!)

Eldro, Bonnie and Mark

A familiar sight along the Trail  

Friday, February 9, 2018

Grandpa's Steel Pile

It’s been a mild winter. Before the calves start coming, we’re taking advantage of the lack of snow and ice by cleaning up around ranch headquarters. This land has been in Pratt hands since 1904. That’s a long time to accumulate stuff or what Gary would call “treasures.”

I agree with the treasure part. I’m as sentimental as anyone about past generations and the way things used to be done. I love running upon an old piece of farm equipment that was pulled by draft horses, parked once during a busy time, never meaning to be left out in the sagebrush, and now a gentle reminder of how grandpa did it. But time stands still for no one and the present and future trump the past every time. Mark said he could feel the yard “free up” as we cleaned.

There was a pile of steel odds and ends behind grandpa’s garage. Every farm needs one. It was slowly being buried by sand and leaves from the elms and box elders that line the yard. We sorted most of it to take to the scrap dealer, tossing the keepers another direction. Angle iron over six inches long, steel plate over a foot square, solid steel tubing, etc. will be stored in a central location for repairs or the odd job that needs a piece of scrap. The other goes to town.

Mark put the sides on our old 1977 Ford truck and took a couple of loads into the metal recyclers. He got a nice check and found out we’d need the money to pay the county to recycle our used tire collection!

We thought more than once as we worked about the burden of ownership when operating a farm that’s been around for a hundred years. If our place were ever sold, the old stuff would be pushed in a pile and hauled away or burned. For us, each item is handled and carefully considered. We don’t take this lightly.  

During an open winter like this one, Mark’s grandpa would have been scraping sand with a Ford 5000 tractor, enlarging the irrigable land between the sandhills for planting crops. The 5000 replaced the tiny 8N Ford which back then looked pretty big compared to a team of horses. Winter also meant Eldro and a younger Gary would be repairing farm equipment for summer-time work. They did what they had to. They made do. Repair, reuse, recycle wasn’t a catch phrase for them. It was life.

Things have changed. We don’t farm much anymore and we hire most of our large equipment work done by others. Farm machinery has gotten too big and expensive for a small operation to own anymore. The custom hire operators specialize, and when they arrive they make quick work of what grandpa would have taken a month to achieve.  

We may clean up behind them, but our forebears are not forgotten. We appreciate the same view of the mountains out the front door. We tend our livestock with the same careful eye. The winds that blew our sand in from the Snake River many eons ago still blow. They still rattle the house at night when sleep won’t come and thoughts of the future roll around in our heads.