[page 97]·CHAPTER (Tape) VI.2
The town we went to in Minnesota on the west line right close to where North Dakota and south Dakota come together and butt into Minnesota. The town was Breckenridge. Here again, we got there a little too early for the harvest so we just took off to the lake country Northeast of Breckenridge, and when we got into the timber country where there were lakes, every crossroad we’d come too, we’d take the dimmest trail. We did that a few times and wound up a long, long lane where there was a beautiful little lake. There were a bunch of beautiful teenage girls there. Those girls ran a dairy. They had a kind of a knotheaded brother about our age. He was determined to be a big “he-man” and those sisters had quite a time with him. He drank beer and got sick. They had to wash his clothes, and they weren’t too happy about that.
These people were scandinavians lovely people. The girls would go out to get the cows and put them in to milk them. They did all the chores. They didn’t have a father there so I asked them where their father was. They told me he ran a repair shop at Pelican Lake, a shoe cobbler’s shop. Then their mother arrived on the scene and I never got such a shock in my life. She looked like she was ninety years old. Her hair was snow white and her face was as wrinkled as you couldn’t believe — the mother of those lovely girls! When the weekend came, here came papa, dressed in an immaculate blue serge suit, white shirt and tie.
We camped on this beautiful lake. It had loons. They make the most hideous noise at night that you ever heard! You would swear there were a bunch of women out there getting their throats cut. Those birds would cavort and skim over the top of the water. They dived and played. I tried for years to imitate the sound of a loon: I can’t do it, but I do know where the expression, “Crazy as a loon” comes from! They really are — plumb crazy. In the middle of the night they’d be out there flapping the water and making these unearthly sounds.
Before I forget, I had a horse killed out from under me up there. This boss, the big old guy, C.D. Imman who ran this big old truck, had 80,000 pounds of barley on it. I was driving a team that belonged to a man by the name of Fisher. He told me I could use his old mare and ride her, you don’t have to walk in, or lead her, so I did. I climbed up on the old mare with her harness on. The other horse was to her right. I came out of the field and started down the road. [page 98] well, here came the boss with that big wheat truck. It didn’t have a muffler and had a terribly loud exhaust. Wouldn’t you know, just as he got ready to pass, this cockeyed old mare began to throw her head up and down. I tried everything I knew about hazing horses around — kicked her in the ribs, slapped her on the side, and tried to get her out of the road. She just shook her head up and down and backed right into that truck with the 80,000 pound load of grain. The corner of the box of the truck ran into her left hip and made a hole about 12″ across, throwing her and me completely across the borrow pit, through a barbed wire fence and out into the field! I wasn’t hurt except that my leg was between her body and the door. That leg really got squeezed. It turned black. I guess somebody had his hand on my shoulder because the truck had picked up that mare and thrown her, and I wasn’t seriously hurt!
The sad thing was that she didn’t die. The boss had to go get a shotgun to kill her. Wouldn’t you know, I didn’t get quite close enough and I missed her brain, or something, and somebody had to go back and tell the boss that the horse wasn’t “quite dead”, so it had to be done over. Gee Whizzl I really felt cheap!
Another great experience was the gambling. We slept in a huge barn. There was no hay in the middle of the barn and most of the guys just put their bedrolls out in the expanse where the hay would ordinarily be. Up on the sides, over the horses and cattle, there was a good smooth floor. That’s where I slept all summer. Lanterns hung in the barn in the evenings, and I could hang my head over and look down below. The threshing crew would play poker until 1:00 or 2:00 o’clock in the morning, every night.
There were four brothers there from Devil’s Lake, up in the northern part of Minnesota where it often dips to the lowest temperature in the nation. These brothers were really ugly. They would quarrel and fight all the time. I never did understand how brothers could do that. This big, dumb, farm kid, watching that game every night, thought he might be able to beat the game. So! I went down and played poker. I could bluff, and they couldn’t tell when I was bluffing. Good gamblers, you know, don’t have to cheat to win, but they do have to be sharp and smart. They know the game so well that the last thing they have to think about is the rules. They spend all their time watching their opponents and every person has some quirk or some nervous little thing, especially when he’s bluffing, and he’ll do it every time. He’ll flick his ear, or pick his nose, or scratch a place on his body, or something, every time he bluffs. A good gambler observes these things, lets the game go on smoothly and figures out all the things his opponents do. Then, he lowers the boom!
Thev couldn’t tell when I was bluffing though, and I [page 99] played poker with those guys who had played allover the country and I held up my end. I had a nice little stakel I had watched the game for weeks, I thought I had seen every play possible, I thought I knew every rule of the game, and I was playing against the mechanic. He’d played poker in World War I in Europe and all over the country. There was just the two of us, and he said, “Wendell, you can’t win. There’s no way you can beat my hand.”
Well, I thought I knew the game and I put all my money on the table. He told me I was crazy: a fool, but I thought I had something that would take what he had, so I laid ’em out there. Well, I had never seen that play come up. I was wrong and I lost all my moneyl This was pretty close to the end of the season, and I was sick to, think I had worked all summer and then dumped all that money on one fluke!
So, I really got tough. Do you know, before that thing shut down, I won back all my money, and I haven’t touched a card since. For some strange reason, besides “Thou shalt not gamble with thy property”, I have had no desire to gamble. I went to Reno with the boys several times, but the last thing on earth that I wanted to do, was to gamble in those casinos.
I sent my money home when the season was over and we rode the freight trains back home. There was a man and his wife there from Missouri, who worked there all summer. A nice couple — we thought. When they started home — they had a dog wagon without much in the back and my friend from Des Moines rode in the back of the pickup. We got to Sioux City in the northwest corner of Iowa and I gave him money, an address, and tags on my bedding (a good, new blanket roll) and a roll of clothing. He was to stop and mail this home and I would ride the freight with my pal. O.K. they’re really nice people, and I wrote out the address and everything so there was no chance of mistake. You know, that was the last I ever saw of my bedroll or my clothes. I wonder to this day, how these things can be.
So, we came into the big railroad yards at Sioux City, and here was a freight being made ready to go south. I wanted to go south, so when she whistled out, we grabbed the freight. Quite a ways out, pitch dark, middle of the night, the train turned west, crossed the Missouri River and headed out across country. I wondered what on earth was going on. This wasn’t the way to get to Omaha. Just a little way out in the country, was a steep grade to pull. They had to cut the train in two, and take half at a time. When they left the first half, we crawled out, down over the bank, and found a farmyard with two or three vehicles in the yard. Everyone of them had a Nebraska license. We’d been looking for Iowa licenses, so I don’t remember how we got back, but we knew we were wrong. The next freight we caught, we made sure it turned downriver [page 100] toward Omaha and council Bluffs.
In those days you could ask directions of a conducter or a brakeman and 99% of the time they would cooperate. So, we came into Omaha from the West, and I was down in a gondola, leaning up against the front of it with our backs to the traffic. We passed a standing engine, one of those big, old, steam giants, and the engineer saw us in there. He came to attention right quick and made the cutthroat sign and then pointed ahead. That meant, “You guys are going to get your throats cut if go on ahead.”
We jumped over the rail and we hadn’t walked two blocks when here was a six and-a-half-foot railroad policeman. (They wore long, blue coats.) There had been trouble about things being stolen, of course, and they didn’t want anyone fiddling around their railroad yards, and they made it pretty tough. So we had to walk from omaha, west of the Missouri, clear through that town, away out from across the bridge, and into council Bluffs to catch another train. I can remember being tired, hungry, and thirsty. It seemed like one of the longest walks of my life.
We finally caught a freight that went on into Des Moines. This boy was from Des Moines, a real nice kid who had worked up there all summer. He was a devout Catholic so he fit in well with the people we worked for. The boss’s wife, a lovely woman, made sure he went to church with her every Sunday.
Then there was Joe, the alcoholic. I mean he was a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool alcoholic. Every Saturday night he’d get so drunk he couldn’t hit the ground with his hat, but every sunday morning at daylight, the boss’S wife would come out there and call him out of bed to go to Mass. I could never figure out how a gambling alcoholic fool could never miss Mass.
The boy I was with insisted I go home with him. He told me there was no use to go beating my way across the country. He said, “come on down to my place. Maybe we can find a ride for you.” So, I went. The boy introduced me to his mother, and that woman looked like she was 110 years old. I didn’t get what I thought was a very warm welcome, either. Anyway, I stayed and had a good meal, for a change. I don’t remember how I got home from there, but I did get home. I suppose that was the fall of 1927.
I hadn’t been home but a very short time when the neighbor boy told me I should meet his cousin who was in Des Moines.
He said, “You’ll like her. She’s a splendid person.”
I had to go to their place and this girl was visiting there. I had to go on an errand over to this girl’s married brother’s place so the girl got in the car and rode over with me. I forget what the errand was, but she and I were alone in the car. and we started visiting. I don’t remember what the [page 101] conversation was, but I said something, and she turned around and looked at me and threw her arms around me — nearly squeezed me to death! I was shocked. I wondered what on earth was going on! As time went by, I discovered that during her high school years, she had had one sweetheart. I don’t know what their relationship was, but I do know what our relationship was, and it was splendid. She was a splendid person. We went together for about a year. Then I discovered that this one-time sweetheart of hers went to the Navy and became an all-American football player and dropped this poor girl like a hot potato. It broke her heart. So, all this time she had been lonely, until she met me. They were first cousins.
We left Des Moines in a blinding snowstorm — great, wet flakes that blew through the radiator and shorted out the wiring and the distributors on half the cars on the road. There was four to six inches of snow, and those wet flakes shorted out our car. I got out and wiped off that distributor and we went on. We came to a tiny service station. I stopped and asked if he had any old inner tubes. He found one for me, and I made a bonnet to completely cover that distributor and the wiring. I tied it on so the snow couldn’t plaster the wiring and we came on down the road, past the cars stalled along the road. I really couldn’t help them; there were so many. They just had to sit there until the storm was over and dried out the wiring.
I remember her looking up at me and saying, “Wendell, is there anything on this earth that you can’t do?” I thought that was quite a compliment. I was just doing what I had to do.
I went with this girl all winter. She worked in the bank in Des Moines and she visited her aunt there several times. Of course, I had the privilege of visiting with her and she was a splendid person. I loved her very much.
The next year I spent in South Dakota. I made one trip into Des Moines and stayed at her place, on the daveno in the front room, overnight. Her father was dead but he had been a .railroader on the Rock Island Railroad. This girl’s mother always told her I was a bum, that I would never be worth anything, and I couldn’t understand that. How could she do that to me without any reason? No, we didn’t talk about marriage. YOu don’t, when you don’t have a penny. You just do the best you can and hope for the best.
So, I finished the season in North Dakota, came back that fall, stopped in Des Moines to visit her.
Our neighbor was a stockman and had a huge spread — 200 head of hogs, more than 200 head of cattle, a band of sheep that were lambing in January. It was down to 40 below zero, and those ewes were lambing. I was working with a slight-built man, a good scandinavian man, but he had Diabetes. He’d shoot insulin into himself three or four times [page 102] a day to try to control it. I was fighting for enough sleep to keep going, and my girl, of course, was living in Des Moines. During this horrible time of my life, I didn’t write her for two weeks. Anyway, I helped this good widow woman get all this stock ready for the sale and I bought the family car, went to Des Moines to see my sweetheart, my love, and there she was, in bed, with her face to the wall. She wouldn’t turn over, and she wouldn’t talk to me. She said, “I supposed naturally that you had found someone else.”
I didn’t know anyone could do that. I couldn’t talk her out of it. I tried everything. Oh, I didn’t grab her or break her ribs, but maybe I should have — I don’t know.
When I went to the logging camp, I loved that girl with all my being and I wrote to her over and over again. I don’t know that I ever got an answer. I’m not sure, but I did know that her mother would open our letters. Here I was, out in a logging camp, two or three years later, on the east side of old crater Mountain, the last camp there — Camp 10 — I saw an old tramp coming down the track with a pack on his back. As far as I could see, every movement indicated an alcoholic. I sat there and he came up and asked if there was any chance of getting a job, and I assured him there wasn’t as we had steady men who had been there for many months.
We had talked about one minute. I had asked him where he was from and he said he was from the Rock Island, a big division yard out of Des Moines. This girl’s name was Schranz. I said, “Did you happen to know a hog guy by the name of Pete Schranz?”
He swore and said, “Pete Schranz! I fired for him for twenty-six years!” And then he added, “Oh my gosh! That guy was a rounder. Do you know that he had a woman in every stop on that railroad.”
This was my sweetheart’s father. He died with syphilis of the brain until that moment, I had no idea how or why this girl could do what she did, and I’ve never had a chance to talk to her since. Only then, at that moment, was I able to understand why … and why that good mother of hers didn’t “feel she could trust me. She knew I loved trains and I wanted to be a railroader. So, I had my answer and how sad it was, but I was thankful and grateful to finally learn the truth.
Just a short while back, I found out where she went. She married a man who was a drugstore magnate, and I don’t think they stayed together. She had always told me she would never be able to have a family, but she did have two or three children. I think the first man mistreated her and she married the second time. I finally got ahold of her down at Lake Tahoe, and talked with her. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was for what I had discovered. She wouldn’t accept any of it. I told her I could never understand why her mother did what she did, and the girl said, “Why, my mother would [page 103] never do that!”
So, that was the last conversation we had. Isn’t it something that when you know really good people, and you keep your relationship with those people as our Father in heaven would have you to keep it, what a great thrill it is to see them many years later, and you can go up and throw your arms around them with real love and respect?
I have never ceased to be astounded at how small this world is. I don’t know if I have told this before in my football pages, but in this man’s place — who I worked for — this C.D. Imman out of Breckenridge, Minnesota, gave me $28.00 extra for doing the chores at night, when I stayed up there and plowed until it froze up. This big engineer, whose name was Radge carpenter: I was sitting there in the light of the barn, milking a cow, one night, and I had heard he had a brother there who ran a caterpillar for the county. I thought, “Oh, my goodness “To run a caterpillar!” That was the height of a boy’s ambition.
So, one night this brother came over and sat on the sill in the light of the lantern while I was milking, and I kept looking and looking at him. I swore I knew him but I couldn’t be sure. I questioned and questioned everywhere around northern Minnesota, and learned that he had been raised at Orient, seven miles south us. I played right end and he played tackle on the opposing team. I had looked into that great big face of his many, many times when he’d clobbered me. I said, “Well, I’ll be darned!” and reached over to shake hands with him. He didn’t have a thumb or first finger on that hand, the one he grabbed all those passes with. He had lost those fingers in a machine when he was a little kid! I had never noticed that. And he was Radge Carpenter’s brotherl So it is. All my life, things like this have happened.
Just this week, I called down to southern California, along the coast, to get some business information. I couldn’t hear the girl who answered the phone and asked if she could possibly put another girl on the phone. This lovely voice came on, I got my information, and she says, “Did you say you are from Sunnyside, Washington?”
“I had a brother up there a couple of years ago.”
I blurted out, “What was he doing up here?”
“He was on a Lamanite mission up there.”
I told her she was talking to an eighty-year old mule skinner railroader who was a convert from just over the line in Missouri. She got a laugh out of that. I got her name because with this company I was calling, I can understand every syllable she says.
1928, South Dakota: I worked for my uncle. We were up there and had heard of a wonderful orchard forty or fifty [page 104] miles north, so, one sunday, uncle Frank took my cousin, Max Johnson, who worked with me, and went up to see that beautiful orchard. It was one of the few in that part of the country. We were stopped out in the middle of this big orchard, looking through the trees. You know, you can see a long ways in an orchard if you get the angle just right. The hired man walked up to the car and was standing there with his elbows on the car window next to me. He could look across, through the car, and down the lines of trees. While we were standing there, he said, “The baby’s in the well!” and whirled around and ran towards the house.
We wondered what in the Sam Hill was going on. We were totally in the dark. So we roared down to the end of the orchard where we could get out, and went over to the house. There was a cistern just off the back door, made of wood, and round like a wheel. When we got there, the hired man was down in the well, had slid down the pump pipe and had the baby in his arms and was trying to get the water out of him!
We pulled them out. The baby, Uncle Frank’s little boy, was about three years old at that time. His mother was inside the house, he [had] walked out the back door, saw the wheel, picked up the cover to the cistern, got in the hole, dropped into the cistern, and the lid came back over the hole! If that man hadn’t been looking across country and seen that happen, they would have lost their little boy. I’ve thought of this at least ten thousand times. How the Lord looks after people, unbeknown to us.
General Motors! That thing would leave you high and dry at any time. Heat, cold, ice, snow, mud — we had it all over, but the finest mechanics of that day never found the boo-boo in the Saxon. Stanley was married at that time and I am sure we were looking around in hope of finding a cattle spread somewhere in the Northwest, Montana, Idaho, or the Dakotas. Anyway, Stanley was with me, and I have a picture of the day we left. Two of my tomcats are standing on the steps, up on their hind legs, because I was teasing them or something. I have on a white suit, and I think my mother is in the picture.
We took off for South Dakota. You know, in the good old days, tires weren’t like they are nowadays. We got along pretty good, I don’t believe the Saxon cut out on us but I had quite an experience. We were nearly to our destination when we began to have flat tires. We patched tires all day long on that last day, and we finally went into Ipswich, I believe it was in the night, on the rim. Just before this happened (we didn’t know our directions) we saw a light in a farmhouse quite close to the road. It had a glass door, and we could see people inside. So, we pulled in, and I started for the door at the back porch. I heard a big dog leave the barn, quite a ways away, and he really meant blood. So, I hurried. [page 105] When I got up on the porch, he dove under the porch. I knocked on the door, and asked directions. Then I asked the man if the dog would grab me when I stepped off the porch, and he totally ignored me. He turned to wife, and closed the door.
I stepped off the porch, and that dog hit the calf of my leg like a ton of bricks. Of course, I yelled and bellowed and whirled around. That man never opened the door! I backed away to the car, jumped in the car, went down the road a few miles, and felt something sloppy in my boot. I had a boot full of blood! He had ripped those fangs down across the calf of my leg and tore out chunks the size of an eraser on a lead pencil. It has hurt me to this day that I didn’t go back and take care of that dog, but I’might have gotten in bigger trouble.
South Dakota. I had an uncle, Frank Pemberton, there. He was my father’s youngest brother. He was the thoroughbred stockman of all times. He had registered short-horned cattle on this ranch. I don’t remember the acreage, but it was large. It was northeast of Ipswich, S.D., southwest of Aberdeen, probably forty or fifty miles. It was the old Fesenden ranch. That ranch had the biggest grainery I ever saw. There was room for four trucks, side by side, in the center entryway, and huge grain bins clear down both sides of that thing. Tins were full, all the machinery was taken out, and old Mr. Fesenden had filled this gigantic to the center, with wheat. He was going to hold it until the price went up, and become a millionaire. Wouldn’t you know, the Armistice was signed, and he lost his ranch! Another lesson.
This was quite a year for me. So many new experiences, and so much to learn. When I drove the car for the Grand Dragon for the state of Iowa, coming home from Des Moines one night, I dropped over a hill in a savage downpour, and they had graded in soft dirt before the rain. There were chunks of sod and everything in there. I dropped over this hill, hit that spongy dirt and ruts. I lost control of that big car. My boss and his wife were asleep in the back when it went out of control, and it threw big chunks of mud. It didn’t turn over; I stayed in the road, but he was yelling, “You’re turning it too far! You’re turning it too far!”
That is what most young people and inexperienced drivers do. They don’t have the know-how to freeze that wheel.
I was going down the east side of Des Moines once, on a great, wide pavement, with very few cars on the road. A great, big, old black limousine was ahead of me. The same thing happened. It went out of control on dry pavement, and went from broadside to broadside. It took in the whole road from telephone pole to telephone pole, but didn’t turn over, and it didn’t hit anything. It stopped dead-center, crosswise [page 106] of the road! The guy then went on down the road.
Anyway, this bothered me so much that when I was in South Dakota, and I went over a mile to get the mail each day, and I drove my uncle’s Buick, I was determined to test that car to try to find out what caused me to lose control. It was a really flat road, graded and planed, real fine silty sand and hardpack. When it rained, I would test that car, making it swing around, until I finally realized what I had done and how I could avoid it. That sort of thing didn’t happen again for many, many years, until I came out to Washington.
Twice since that, in my life, once in the mountains on a steep mountain road, and another time when we were just going to church on a perfectly level, paved road. There had been a heavy, wet snow, and at a certain speed, the car would plane. It would climb up on top of that snow and then you had no control of the wheels whatsoever. It didn’t matter if you were straight ahead or crosswise. That car changed ends twice, right down the road broadside, swung around and went down the road the other way, broadside. That was one of my most embarrassing moments.
Once when I was going to the mountains to look at a bulldozer at Sunshine Mine toward Mt. Rainier, I had picked up a mechanic at the big Caterpillar company in Yakima. The road was hard-packed, wet snow. I had a ’50 Ford six, a real good car. That car did exactly the same thing, and for a few seconds, I was totally out of control. We eased around broadside one way and then to the other side. We were in a kind of a curve that was banked a little. There was a horrible drop on the left sidel The car slowed down and stopped right in the middle of the road, even headed in the right direction. I was embarrassed again. The mechanic told me that was one time I did everything exactly right. We finished the trip without slipping again.
Anyway, this 1928 year of experience. My cousin, Max Johnson, that’s father’s little sister, Winema [Pemberton], who married Jervas Johnson, and his second boy, Max [Henry Maxwell Jphnson], was a real good kid. After I got up there with Stanley, we looked around at ranches. At that time I could name the county seats in the total southeastern third of South Dakota. Now I can’t remember half of them.
Max came out and he and I worked all summer for Uncle Frank [Francis T Pemberton]. We plowed and took care of the corn, the grain and the threshing — the whole ball of wax. Another boy who worked for Uncle Frank was Ted Stevens. [Frank’s wife was Gertrude Margaret Stevens, so this is probably her brother?] There were six brothers whose life’s work, for years, had been rounding up and breaking, and shipping trailoads of broncos off the range — wild horses.They had a lovely little sister, a beautiful girl. Ted was always talking about his sister, but there was another tragedy. Some farmhand had come up from Iowa, worked that summer, and got this girl in trouble and then left. That just [page 107] ruined everything. I never forgot the tragedy of that.
I’ll talk about the trip out to central South Dakota roundup, later. Ted, Max, and I went out to the central South Dakota roundup. Thank goodness, I have a lot of pictures of that roundup. It was a real experience. Ted’s sister went out with us, and we rode back in the back seat — a long, hard trip to Prairie, close to the Missouri River. As we crossed the new bridge, someone told us about a carload of kids that had gone into that river, and those young kids pulled all the girls out of that car, I don’t think anyone drowned. There was a borrow-pit on the right side, as smooth as pavement, for a quarter of a mile before it hit the river. How the kids got over into that borrow-pit, instead of being on the road, I have no idea. They ran down this straight, level, borrow-pit, which looked like a highway, and dropped over a 14′ bank, upside down, into the Missouri River.
This Ted had bought one of South Dakota’S worst bucking horses, ever. It wasn’t a beautiful horse; in fact, he was kind of ugly. He had a short-coupled back (which is supposed to make a good rider) but he had legs so long he looked like a prehistoric monster. And he was tough! I don’t know that he was ever ridden. I don’t remember his name or the year he was in the bucking string, but I do know he threw practically every man who tried to get on him. Because he was so tough, my friend, Ted Stevens, bought him and broke him to ride. He was the finest cutting horse that ever stepped on the range! The fact that he was raised in that country, with those badger holes, he never stepped in a badger hole or tripped. Not once. The badger holes were horrendous! About six to eight inches in diameter and, in some place, they go straight down. A standard horse running across that prairie wouldn’t last five minutes. He’d step into a hole and break his leg. He’d fall and throw you and roll on you!
So, one of the first times I rode him by myself, I went quite a ways out, and cut out two white-faced heifers. They had been on the range all their lives and they were wild! I was bringing them up along a drift fence, and the further we got away from the herd, the more determined they were to go back. Do you know, all I had to do was to hang on and try to stick in that saddle. You couldn’t force that horse up to those cattle. He’d stay back just so far, and if they made just one step, he’d be one step ahead of them. We brought those cattle up alongside that drift fence, I suppose, about two or three miles, and there was no way those cattle could outsmart him, even when they jumped in opposite directions. I have seen or dreamed it was possible for any horse to be that well-trained.
When you went out across the prairie on him, all you had to do was to hang on. My shirttail would be out in the first quarter of a mile; he was such a rough rider, but you could [page 108] ride him forty miles and turn him out on the grass at night, and get him up the next day and ride him another forty miles. It didn’t faze him: he was that tough!
Here again, a tragedy. I didn’t have cowboy boots: I had never seen cowboy boots. I didn’t know what a saddle looked like. Those old flat-bottomed scows that we had in Iowa, that sloped up to the horn from every angle were perfect slippery slides to slide you out over the horn. In south Dakota they had bronc saddles, roping saddles, with two humps on each side of the horn, and that was like sitting in a rocking chair! You could grip that horse with your chaps and those bulges would hold you in and keep you from going forward. I couldn’t believe the satisfaction of using those saddles compared to what I had seen in Iowa all my growing-up years.
I had on a pair of old flat-bottomed shoes, and the stirrups didn’t have the guard like some of them so your foot can’t go through. When you would dismount from this guy (he was skittish) and when you stepped off, he’d step away from you, quite quickly. He’d let you on pretty good, but dismounting was a little tricky. Wouldn’t you know, I came in off the range, dismounted, let go of the saddle horn, my foot turned over and slipped through the stirrup, in a split second. He stepped away, and I made a violent lunge and caught the horn by the first joint, two fingers, and was lucky enough to get back up! That horse would have dragged me to death in two minutes, just as sure as I sit here.
I got off him and sat down against the side of the barn, shaking for an hour. I realized how close I had come. Things like this have happened to me all my life. I know, absolutely, that for some purpose, somebody has had their hand on my shoulder.
Another thing that was amazing to me, was the little, old two-cylinder, John Deere tractor, that ran that threshing separator all summer. It was so small it looked like a toy alongside of that threshing machine. They went to pull that in to the neighbor’s place, and he blew sky-high. He swore, you are not bringing that thing on my place. “No way am I going to be broke down on account of that toy.”
The tiny little thing ran that separator all summer long. They had four or five 5-gallon cans of water. I don’t know if it had a radiator or a cast-iron reservoir, but they’d have to pour water through it every so often. It ran all summer and we were never once hung up with it.
The barn on this Fesenden ranch was so big it was a full 50 feet to the bottom of the haymow door. I have a photo of me standing in that door, fifty feet above the ground.
Another thrill was that I had a 25.20 lever action Winchester rifle that I had had for years. It was an excellent shooter. In South Dakota that summer we had pheasant all the time. I could shoot the heads off pheasants [page 109] time and time again with that rifle. One day when I was with the boss in the Buick, kids in the back, we saw some pheasants out there. A big rooster landed, so I told him to pull off the road close to where we saw the pheasant go down. They are such artists at hiding and camouflaging — I walked out there: no pheasant. Just disappeared into short stubble! I kept going, and pretty soon, up he flew. I raised the rifle, and the instant he leveled out at the top of his spiral, I pulled the trigger. Down came Mr. Pheasant, end over end. I still remember the expression on my uncle’s face. His mouth dropped open, he looked at that, and shook his head in total disbelief.
I had that rifle for many years. Don’t remember what happened to it. It was a little small for deer hunting. I may have traded it for the 25.35, a high-speed bullet, a bottle-neck bullet, and I used it. I shot the hearts out of seven bucks, straight, when I came west.
Another thing which was a great lesson. My Uncle Frank had the feed to feed out all the calves he raised. They were big, well-muscled, well-shaped calves, and cattle were a tremendous price. I pleaded with him to castrate those calves and feed them out. I told him there was no way to beat it: that you can have all the thoroughbred sales in the world, but you’ll not beat the income from feeding out these beautiful calves.
Of course that was the wrong thing to say! Man, did he resent that! He wanted to raise them as bulls and ship them all over the country. Wouldn’t you know, I came home, he had his sale late in the year on one of the worst markets ever! [page 110]