Tony Vagneur: Relatives, ranching and rain
As I moved my truck and trailer off to the side of the road, I saw her coming, backing a 30-foot horse trailer down the lane toward the cattle corrals. Her target was about 50 yards away, and if you’ve ever backed any trailer up, you know how tricky that can be, but a 30-footer? And she wasn’t going slow.
In one smooth motion, she backed right up to the gate within a 2- or 3-inch tolerance. No stopping or repositioning for her. Impressed, I was. When my turn came to load up, she was directing me back to the gate and had to tell me to stop and move it over a couple of inches. That’s life in the father/daughter world of cattle ranching.
My daughter, Lauren, is a helluva driver, partly because I started her when she was five. The rest is just talent. She’d steer while I was in the back of the pickup, feeding the horses. She’d stand up on the seat while I pointed left or right and would either watch me out of the back window or through the driver’s mirror. How many people do you know that can effectively use their side mirrors, let alone a five-year-old?
Pulling my own 30-footer through incessant, all-day rain, I followed her to our destination, a deserted area on the side of the mountain, where we let the cows out. It was about a 21/2 hour round-trip. My faith in her as the leader was complete. Her husband Ty and I would come along later on horseback and push them farther up the mountain, about 3 or 4 miles, to the beginning of their summer pasture.
It always brings back memories of hauling cattle years ago, driving those old gas-burner rigs with sparse interiors and standard transmissions that always whined and rattled. They always smelled of stale Bull Durham or Prince Albert roll-your-own tobacco, or there were indelible signs of those who chewed rather than smoked. Our grandfathers usually were the owners and hated to see anyone else drive them.
Today’s pickup trucks run on diesel fuel, have beaucoup horse-power, air-conditioning, leather seats, satellite radio and can pull a loaded 30-foot trailer up the steepest roads we have around here. I’d give a lot to still have one of those stunk-up whiners around the ranch, just to drive to the Woody Creek Tavern for lunch.
As all of this happened just this past week, you know that it rained almost every day, the worst of it coming on the day in question. Ty and Lauren hauled the last of the cattle up to the mountain while I got our horses in and saddled and out of the rain. I hooked Ty’s truck up to his trailer so we could haul a couple more bulls up to the cows.
Lauren picked her kids up from school while Ty and I headed back up the mountain to move the cows farther up on horseback. We were joined by Ty’s dad, Jeff; retired cop and unfailing cow puncher Fred, and Snowmass ski patroller and horseshoer, Jeremy. Rain clouds and thunder gathered around us as we headed the cattle up the trail.
The downpour didn’t start until we’d reached our destination and then the raincoats came out in a hurry. You’ve seen those westerns where all the cowboys are wearing yellow slickers — we weren’t being filmed, we were living it.
It didn’t take long for the dogs to look ragged around the edges and the horses got a little feisty in a hurry to get the hell out of there. The rest of us knew better than to bad-mouth some good, wet rain after last year’s drought, and let it splash where it might.
At last, we were loaded up, ready to leave and as I went around the trailer to put my horse’s bridle in the tack room, the flat rear tire on my pickup truck hit me full on. There we were in 3 or 4 inches of greasy mud, hooked to a horse trailer, with a friggin’ flat staring me in the face.
Working together, we all pitched in to help me get my truck back on the road, each of us doing something to aid in the process. Hats off to Ty for doing most of the dirty work in the mud, but thanks to everyone! Got home about 8:30 that night.
I’m telling you this story for if you think being a cowboy is all glory and riding horses and never having to do “other” work, well then, think on. In the meantime, we don’t get to sit around cow camp all day sipping coffee when the weather is nasty. It was just another day. We wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.