THE GREAT ESCAPE
(A fictional tale about Shane - a friend of mine who probably can't read, so I use his name freely.)
"Damn its dusty," I remarked as our truck picked up the dirt on Country Road #3 and turned it into clouds that billowed around each side, enveloping the stock trailer we were pulling.
"Yep," Shane answered. "Them steers is gonna look like real dirt balls by the time we getm to the ranch."
Shane and I had driven down to Denver to pick up four young steers the ranch was leasing for the summer, planning to use them for roping practice and give demonstrations to the guests each week. River Fork Guest Ranch, is located in Northwestern Colorado, so the drive to Denver and back is about five hours. The last twenty miles are gravel and, thanks to a very dry spring, the dust problem was prematurely bad. The county was already spraying water on the roads to keep the dust down, and it was only mid June.
Shane and I work at River Fork as wranglers during the summer dude ranch season, which begins in late May and ends in late September. After the dude ranch season Shane works as a ranch hand at the Thompson ranch, which winters about 250 head of cows. I like to say that I am retired and just work in the summers for fun. Actually it is fun, but I need the money. One hundred and fifty dollars a week doesnt go far, but it does supplement my Social Security.
I was raised in the valley north of the ranch, but Shane, a high school dropout, had come out from Michigan four years ago when he was eighteen. At twenty-two he had learned a lot about being a cowboy and a wrangler. At 6-2" and 235 lbs. he'd gone from being a blonde, skinny kid who didnt know anything about ranching to a strong, weathered, ranch-hand who looked 35 but acted his age. Since I am a few inches shorter and 40 years his senior, I was unwilling to let him know he is any good. I liked to tell him that I have underwear oldern him. I do have a pair of boots older than him, and I always let him know it when I wore them.
"Look out!" I hollered as we hit a pothole in the road, but it was too late. Shanes spit cup flew off the dashboard and deposited its contents on his leg and on the floor of the truck. "You keep usin that Copenhagen and one day your teeth ll be flyin out like that," I told him.
"Youre just jealous cause you dont have any teeth." Shane countered. Actually, I still have quite a few of my own teeth, but I didnt make an issue of it. When it comes to age games, he holds most of the aces.
We arrived at the ranch and backed the trailer up to the corral gate to unload the steers. Glad to get off the trailer they went quickly through the chute. Thinking that they were escaping they started running toward the far end of the corral, but didnt slow down when they reached it. Being young, they weighed only about 150 pounds, but when all four of them hit the end of the corral at full speed, the fence gave way like it was made for chickens. Shane and I ran for the truck as the steers headed back down County Road #3.
"If we dont catch em, its gonna cost us at least two weeks pay," I told Shane as we gained on the steers. With fence on both sides of the road there wasnt a lot of scattering they could do. Shane grabbed a rope from behind the seat and tried roping one of the steers from the truck window. His loop actually caught the last steer, but only momentarily. I dont know what hed done if his loop had held. Either the rope would have jerked Shane clear out the window, or he would have gotten a bad rope burn. It did spook the steer into jumping over the fence, and we watched it run into the woods. The other three took a right turn into the driveway at Pickerings ranch and ran toward the house. I knew we had them trapped, because there wasnt another way out.
I blocked the driveway with the truck and trailer while Shane ran to the house to get Pickering, who was eating dinner. The three of us began chasing the steers around the yard attempting to herd them into Pickerings corral. Shane grabbed one steer and was dragged around the yard like a sack of potatoes. Pick and I started laughing so hard we couldn't do anything. "More brawn than brains," Pick said, wiping his eyes.
"Yep, just like we use to be," I replied.
We finally got the three steers into the corral, and I asked Pick if he would keep them until we fixed our fence. He agreed, and Shane and I drove back to River Forks, discussing how we were going to get that fourth steer. "Well, three outa four aint bad," Shane said.
"Good," I replied. "Then you wont mind gettin three out of four weeks pay this month." That put a different perspective on the matter, and when we got back, Shane saddled his horse and headed out to find the steer. We didnt see him again until well after sunset when he returned empty handed.
Lots of folks looked for that steer in the weeks that followed - myself included - but Shane did most of the looking. Fear of losing his pay was a great motivator, and I felt a little guilty for making up that story, but I love playing jokes on him. I suppose that steer had the last laugh pulling a fast one like he did on an old cowboy and a young ranch hand. But like most youngens, he wont be laughin when winter comes.