The Tower of Babble

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“I hear you talking” . . . .

A colorful chapter of ranch history resides in a 100 foot communications tower (give or take a few feet) with about a 20 foot antennae that stands on top of the hill overlooking headquarters on Dry Creek.  In the late 1950’s or early 1960’s Dad erected a tower right alongside the ranch house to support a two-way radio system.  Acquisition of a ranch 20 miles east made it necessary to communicate with hired hands and there was no telephone service.  Phones were installed in pickups with a base station in the ranch house.  The stub of the tower is still planted in the ground right outside a large living room window and is a humorous (to some family members) reminder of an unfortunate (or humorous) INCIDENT.

Brother James was home from college working on a dry farming project just west of the house and as he drove the tractor up the creek bottom, snagged a guy line that was a critical support of the tower.  At the time Dad was having an afternoon siesta on the sofa which sat indoors alongside the living room window.  The tower collapsed on the roof of the house right outside the window.  The scene that unfolded would have been something like this: Dad would leap into the air; dash outside to investigate; let loose with a stream of profanity that would turn the air blue; and discover a collapsed radio tower draped over the house and an unattended tractor sitting down in the creek bed.  The tractor driver (brother James) was long gone, knowing it was better to stay away for a few hours until Dad had worn himself out and cooled off.  Amazingly, damage to the roof of the house was not too serious!

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the INCIDENT . . . .

An insurance settlement and a summer pasture lease negotiated in the mid 1960’s would require yet another tower and radio system.  The new tower was erected, this time far enough away from the house that no one could possibly snag a guy wire.  If the new tower fell for any reason  (wind, lightning etc.), it was far enough from any of the ranch buildings that it could not do any damage.  Communications with the mountain camp 65 miles southwest in the Big Horns was successfully launched.

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Buddhist prayer flags . . . .

Brother James gathered up the salvage of the old tower and transacted a deal to trade the sections that were not bent to a local rancher for a mammoth antique cast iron stove which he installed in Dad’s new shop.  It’s big enough to power a steamship or locomotive when loaded with wood or coal and heats the whole place.  Dad was quite happy.  Eventually analog cell phones took the place of  radio technology and the tower has stood useless except to hang our prayer flags which indicate which direction and how hard the wind is blowing.

 

Muskrat Love

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“I hear you knocking but you can’t come in!” . . . .

By coincidence, I was in the basement reorganizing jars of last year’s canned goods to make room for the current crop when I heard a “scritch-scratch” noise coming from the window well.  It was very difficult to see what was making such a commotion through 100-year-old window panes so stained you cannot see through the glass.   I could observe movement and a shadow running back and forth, but could not see what creature might be in such a frenzy.

I assumed we might have an eager pack rat trying to dig his way into the basement. We have had these pesky visitors before.  They make a terrific mess and their downright thievery of a variety of small objects which they tuck into their nests is a nuisance.  Dad had a solution and would go for his pistol.  Sometimes it took several loud, booming shots before he would emerge victorious with a dead packrat.  There are still bullet holes in the basement walls.

I went outside to get a closer look and there was a fat, furry little brown creature with a long tail scuttling around frantically trying to climb out of the window well.  It was too big to be a packrat, and I didn’t want to deal with it.   I called for help.

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“Out of the frying pan, into the fire!” . . . .

Michael brought the live trap and after some maneuvering, was able to capture what was clearly a muskrat.  But muskrats are water creatures.  What was it doing so far from the pond, half a mile away?

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“There must be some mistake!” . . . .

There was only one solution.  Take it to the pond and hope that is where it lives.  If not, it will perhaps find a new home more appropriate than a concrete window well.

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“There is no place like home . . . there is no place like home!” . . . .

The muskrat took off down the bank of the pond as fast as its little feet would carry it.  It seemed pretty familiar with the terrain and didn’t hesitate to jump in the water.  It swam right to the den on the bank of the pond and disappeared from our view.

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A happy ending . . . .

Little Musky is home at last, and we hope he or she decides to stay put.  We can only wonder what led it to our window well.  Lover’s quarrel?  Doing lunch?  Checking out the real estate?  Only Musky knows.

 

 

 

Branding Time

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“Who said this was gonna be fun?” .

Springtime means branding time.  Wyoming cowboys and cowgirls gather and travel from ranch to ranch to help get a job done that takes lots of hands.  They can always count on a cold beer, a hot lunch and lots of hard work as hundreds of calves are branded, castrated, vaccinated, ear tagged and returned to their anxious mother cows for sympathy and a little something to eat.

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Gridlock in the barnyard . . . .

The day starts early with lots of riders to gather cattle from the range and herd them into corrals or holding pens.  Calves are separated into separate pens and the fun begins.

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Who’s going to be first? . . . .

The wranglers drop a loop and try to catch a heel, then drag the calves to the open arms of a vast array of helpers, each with a specific task.  The dust flies, the sun climbs in the sky, and the work goes on.

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Hold ’em . . . .

Calves are sometimes branded with different brands, reflecting ownership and tagged as to male and female.  In this instance, the guys get the bad breaks and are castrated to become steers to be fattened and sent to market to become burgers and steaks.

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These gals can handle the job . . . .

Ranching has no clearly defined roles.  Women build fence, ride horseback, gather cattle, brand calves, irrigate meadows, help with cutting and baling hay, run combines and tractors, tend baby calves and lambs in their laundry rooms to keep them alive in a blizzard, raise poultry, plant vegetable gardens, and at summer’s end, preserve fruit and vegetables for the winter.  That is in addition to running a household and being wife and mother.

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“Oh, no – my turn” . . . .

These black Angus calves are the lifeblood of a ranch.  Some of the females, or heifers, will be held back to add to the herd–and some are sold to other ranchers who are building their herds.   Without the revenue raised from these cattle, ranches would not exist.  Nobody gets rich, but the lucky ones who can maintain the lifestyle of ranching are rich indeed.  (Dad always said the best way for a rancher to get rich was to have an oil well or two!)

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Man and horse – partners . . . .

In spite of all the buggies on four wheels that seem to proliferate on every country road, nothing gets the job done like a horse.  I don’t think they will be replaced any time soon.

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Start ’em young! . . . .

Kids love branding time.  I can remember sneaking my first cold beer from a tub of ice in the back of a pickup and I couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9. All the adults were too busy to notice. Getting old enough to ride on the roundup, even though it meant getting up at 5:00 a.m. and shivering in the cool morning air on horseback, was a thrill and an honor.

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“Don’t let those calves go this way!” . . . .

As the calves are released from the trauma of the branding, they are diverted to another pen.  These young cowpokes make sure they don’t head off in the wrong direction.

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“I want my mama!” . . . .

Cannot help but love these babies.  Their antics as playful calves aren’t any different from puppies, kittens, foals or any other of God’s creatures.  I can remember loving my 4-H lambs so much we brought them home from the fair rather than sell them at the livestock auction.  Dad thought I might forget about them once they were turned out to pasture, but I still remember searching through the herd for their familiar faces.

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“Hey, that’s not my mom!” . . . .

A little chaos makes for a good day’s fun.  Hardest part of the day was grabbing all the action on a camera.  Maybe a videotape would have been easier??

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Ladies in waiting . . . .

Relative calm in this direction, as some of the calves have begun to find their mothers.

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Putting on the brand . . . .

Branding is not for the faint of heart.  The calf bellows and tries to escape and it takes several pairs of hands (and feet) to get the job done.  It is over in a matter of seconds and the brand mark will sting for awhile and heal like any wire cut or scratch from a tree limb.  But at the moment, it is hard not to feel sorry for the calves.

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Boots and red Barnum dirt . . . .

Some say the ranching way of life is threatened and going the way of small farmers. Certainly rising land costs, uncertain cattle markets, inheritance taxes, generational disputes and one-thousand other things can all add up to make things difficult.  But the ranching families with grit and determination will hold on.

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Hang in there, Ethan! . . . .

 

Maud’s First Birthday

 

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“Aren’t I adorable?” . . . .

Maud was born on Memorial Day, 2017.  We lost our dog Rosie to poison a couple months earlier in the year and felt the only way to fill the hole in our hearts was with a new puppy.  I read a notice in the Wyoming Livestock Roundup last July advertising “purebred Australian Shepherd pups” and could not put the idea out of mind.  We hemmed and hawed for a few days and decided we needed to see a photograph of the puppies before we could decide.  The breeder, a rancher in Columbus, Montana was most helpful and friendly, but decidedly not into email or texting.  Could we wait until his daughter could help him out?

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“Where’s my furbee?” . . . .

Finally, after what seemed like an interminably long period of time, I received a photograph of a wooly-looking puppy with a freckled face.  It was love at first sight.  We called the breeder and said we would take her and would send a deposit right away.  She had been spoken for previously but the potential buyer did not follow up with the deposit.  We were thrilled that she was available.

 

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“Oh this water feels good!” . . . .

We drove to Montana, a trip of 259 miles to Columbus, and another 20 miles out in the hills to the ranch where Maud was born.  There were still four pups left, including Maud but we definitely liked her color the best.  She was hiding under a dog house in the center of a large fenced kennel and had to be pried out so we could have a look at her.  I held her while we visited with the breeder, then put her in a crate in the back seat of our pickup.  It was a very long ride home, as she became car sick and was so dehydrated.  We stopped to buy a couple bath towels to wrap her in and I held her in my lap the rest of the way, which calmed her and she settled down.

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Oh puppyhood! . . . .

Maud became a good traveler and began accompanying us to our cabin in Colorado,  resulting in huge messes on a regular basis.  What are puppies for?  She could not resist a bowl of pine cones and anything else available that she could chew on, including her puppy pad.  Aussies are notorious for needing something to do at all times, and Maud is no exception.  I believe she can set the standard for busy.

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“What snow?” . . . .

Maud has earned several new nicknames for her mischievous behavior–“Maudzilla,” “Maud the Marauder,” “Maudly,” to name a few.  She loves to chase chickens, dig holes, maul the cats, growl at Feed Lot, and harass the herd of deer that lurk around outside the fence.  She has learned to behave a little better around Tilly the filly.  She has to be kept on leash when we leave the confines of the yard, for now.

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‘My furbee–don’t try it!” . . . .

Her friend Gus loves to play ball or run for the furbee.  He lives in the neighborhood and stops in to play and see if there are any treats.  He always seems to outsmart Maud and get there ahead of her for the furbee.   She hasn’t figured out how to outmaneuver him, even though she is bigger and equally as fast on her feet.   The look she gives him in this photo makes it clear the contest isn’t over.  Isn’t that just like a female?

 

 

Green Grow The Lilacs

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In remembrance . . . .

Memorial Day 2018 found us rich with blooms on the lilac trees that grow in several locations on our property.  We have not seen so many fragrant, beautiful blossoms in years–typically they get hit with frost and freezing weather at just the wrong time.  As I prepared flower boxes for the cemetery, I remembered a song Dad used to sing when I was a small child.  He had an old guitar and he would sit and pick out a tune on rare occasions.  I guess that is why the memory stuck with me.

One of his favorites was “Green Grow The Lilacs” which is a tune dating back to the Civil War, and possibly beyond.  The true origin of the song is a bit hazy.  The first stanza is as follows:

“I used to have a sweetheart but now I’ve got none, since she’s gone and left me I care not for one, since she’s gone and left me contented I’ll be, for she loves another one better than me.”

“Green grow the lilacs all sparkling with dew, I’m lonely my darling since parting with you, and by the next meeting I hope to prove true, and change the green lilacs to the red white and blue.”

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The bees are happy too. . . .

A few of the many trees that have blessed us with blooms on this Memorial Day.  I hope Dad and Mom enjoy them.

 

Cow Pasture Virtual Reality

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Good fences make good neighbors . . . .

A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal “Startups Give Livestock Fencing a Jolt – April 8, 2018″ seemed far-fetched, amusing and downright silly.  One of the latest technology start-ups is devoted to high-tech collars for cattle, sheep, goats and other livestock to round-up and relocate the animals using electric shocks and audio signals to direct movement.  The goal appears to be to eliminate fencing, which in the U.S. “cost $300 million last year,” and to give more control of pastures and animals.  Now what could be wrong with that?

Imagine–a virtual fence that the bossies won’t cross because they have been conditioned by electric signals not to.  Only critical requirements are a large supply of solar-powered collars (only $155 per collar for each cow, sheep, goat, or whatever,)  and an internet or mobile phone connection.  The companies producing the collars claim shifting a herd can be as easy as drawing a line on a smart phone app.  Really?  I can see the protests coming from People for the Ethical Treatment of animals or PETA (known in some parts as People Eating Tasty Animals!)

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Mama and baby boy . . . .

What is to happen to the cowboys and cowgirls, herders, dogs and even helicopters that are currently employed to gather herds of livestock for branding, pasture relocation and shipping in the fall?  I can see it now.  Mother cows standing in a virtual corral as their bawling, howling babies are thrown to the ground, vaccinated, castrated, branded and turned loose crying pitifully for their mamas.  Same scene come weaning time.  Anyone who has spent time with a mother cow separated from her baby will understand what I am getting at.  Virtual fencing around the bull pasture?  Are they kidding?

My technical know-how simply doesn’t stretch far enough to understand how the annual migration to the Big Horn Mountains will play out.  The stock trail is fenced with real barbed wire for a good reason.  I challenge some computer geek to keep everybody in line to prevent commingling with other herds long the route.  That should take some app!

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Don’t mess with me! . . . .

I am reminded of my dad’s colorful description of our cattle drive to summer pasture when a couple of guys on motorcycles chose an inopportune time to plow through our herd, scattering cows in ten directions.  The air turned blue with invective as the day was spent rounding up spooked cows.  I doubt very much if a smart phone app would have been much help.

Dad usually managed the drive each year with the help of a lead cow who was his prize assistant (the term “bell cow” must have come from this tradition) and the 60+mile journey up the mountain and back down usually came off without a hitch.  I think placing our faith in a smart old lead cow will have a better return than putting electric collars on everyone and expecting some farmer or rancher with five thumbs on each hand to sort it all out.

Home On The Range

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Homestead at Nine Mile – home in foreground was Ernest and Clara Ullery’s built in 1921

Samuel Ullery and his son Ernest filed on homesteads in an area known as Nine Mile in 1921, receiving patent and the seal of the General Land Office authorized by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924.  Samuel had “proved up” on 480 acres and Ernest on 320 acres.  The home pictured above was built from logs hauled from the Mayoworth sawmill.  It consisted of two large rooms with a full porch that extended the length of the house on the east. This photograph was taken of the west side.  Unusual in early-day construction in the area, the exterior of the logs were covered with cedar shingles on all sides.  The Ullery family compound included this house, as well as the home of Samuel and Clara, and later on, the home of newlyweds Jim and Nella Ullery.

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Bird hunting . . .

The group standing in front of the porch appear to be holding recently killed birds.  I don’t know who the members of this party are, or what kind of birds they are holding.  My grandmother raised a huge flock of chickens and turkeys, so perhaps this was a sale transaction with neighbors.  Note the cold frame resting against the foundation where she likely grew some lettuce or other vegetables during the colder months.

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Gone but not forgotten . . . .

Until recently, this is what remained of Ernie and Clara’s homestead house.  Ernie had it relocated from Nine Mile in the late 1950’s to ranch headquarters on Dry Creek.  And there it has been, still resting on temporary supports, all these years.  A microburst windstorm tore the roof off four years ago, which shot down any plans I might have had for restoration.  The porch had collapsed many years ago and hangs on the side of the house.  But still . . . .

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Planed logs nearing 100 years old . . . .

The chinking is falling out but the logs look like they could be reclaimed, if I could figure out how to dismantle them and reuse them.  The only ones with serious rot are along the top of the structure.  We decided to start cleaning up the site last month on a couple of nice days (rare in March).

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Peeling away the porch . . . .

The boards are tough and tenacious – we finally had to hook up a rope and pull the remaining porch structure down.  It didn’t help that a currant bush loaded with spiky thorns was standing in the way!

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Salvage pile . . . .

A pile of boards literally full of nails grows on the side.  I love old wood and will find some way to recycle most of it, similar to what we did with Granny’s old poultry shed.  Much of that salvage went on the old horse barn we restored last spring and appears to be holding up well.  The age, color and character blend well with the existing structure and the whole appears to have been standing forever, except for a few new boards that had to be added.

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This old house . . . .

What stories could be told of the lives herein from 1922 until about 1940 when the family relocated.  They could survive the depression in the thirties, but not the dry years that brought no rain.  When the reservoir that irrigated the garden and two wells that furnished a little domestic water dried up, it was time to move on.

What I have trouble understanding is why, after moving the sturdy log structure from Nine Mile, my grandparents didn’t restore and live in it when they retired, sold the Telephone Store in Kaycee, and moved to the ranch. They purchased a new mobile home, incurring far greater expense than it likely would have cost to restore the old cabin to its former glory.  When it was relocated in the late 1950’s, it was still in very good condition.  Oh well, it was an opportunity lost that makes me sad.  I must do something to save what I can of the remains.

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Sam Ullery’s homestead house . . . .

This little cottage was relocated at the same time as the log house.  We used it as a bunkhouse for a string of hired hands and then for storage.  Restoration is detailed in a previous blog post, and not a day goes by that I don’t look upon this little house and feel glad that I saved it.

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Clara, granddaughter Janet and Sam, circa 1922 . . . .

Little house on the prairie.