Adventures of a boy working on a ranch in the 1950s

Tribune/Advisor contributor Bruce MacLeod reflects on his life as a young man working on a local ranch.

Setting: Calloway Ranch, Horsefly (today the Walter’s Ranch).

In 1955, my second year haying in Horsefly, with a raise to $6 per day, my boss Gordon Thompson went to Williams Lake on a Sunday looking for a couple of men to help with the haying.

Common practice then was to scour the jail for willing workers, and bail them out if they agreed to come and work for you, so Gordon came back to Horsefly with Ernie Sam and Clarence Bates.

Gosh these were nice people. Ernie was from Clinton, and Clarence was from the Bates family in Williams Lake.

Ernie was about 35 and Clarence about 21 or so.

Ernie was a typical cowboy, taciturn, weathered, and a great worker, while Clarence was much more outgoing, happy-go-lucky, and was a fine guitar player and singer.

Both were excellent workers.

I recall a time when Gordon went to town, leaving instructions with us as to what to do this day.

I was bunching windrows, and Ernie and Clarence were building cocks (miniature haystacks) of hay as fast as they were able.

The sky overhead was dark with an impending thunderstorm.

Suddenly, that which we feared happened.

The floodgates opened and a typical Cariboo torrential downpour occurred.

In seconds, I was drenched to the skin, and haying was over for the day.

I was about a mile or so from where Ernie and Clarence were working, so I trotted my team over in the general direction where I had seen them last.  At first I couldn’t figure out where they were.

There was no sign anyone was even around at all.

Finally I realized the wily natives had taken a full forkful of hay and inverted it, so standing upside down with the handle on the ground, the forkful of hay provided an umbrella under which crouched my stalwart friends Clarence and Ernie, dry as toast.

“We may as well go in for lunch now” I called out.  Both men stood up at the same time and said, “OK Bruce.”

What happened next was astonishing.

My team, Duke on the left and Breeze on the right, spooked when the haystacks stood up and began moving and talking.

Both horses snorted in fright. The hair stood up along their backs. They pulled a 180 degree turn and tore off with their tails in the air and manes flying and galloping faster than I had ever travelled before.

Talk about excitement!

They headed in the general direction of Williams Lake at a flat out gallop.

I had no idea what to do.

I stood up and pulled back with all my strength and yelled whoa!

We picked up a few miles per hour.

Now I had seen Tom Mix jump onto the backs of the team and pull them to a halt in the movies, and in the comics, cowboys were doing it as a matter of course, so my thought was I would be safest if I could get aboard either horse.

I didn’t see how I could possibly jump off the back of the rake over the tines and the seat.

It was all I could do to hang on as it was. The rake was alternating between bouncing three feet up on the left side to two feet on the other, and being completely airborne as we careened wildly across the field.

I tried to ignore the thundering hooves and my fear, and stepped gingerly onto the tongue between the doubletrees while hanging onto the seat with one hand, and holding the reins in the other as we bounced along at full speed across the field in a straight line towards nowhere.

I grabbed the harness on the inside of Duke first while stretching out from my feeble grip on the steel seat of the rake.  Next, I let go the seat and grabbed Breeze’s harness.  Now I was beyond the point of no return!

The sound of galloping hooves was deafening.

Suddenly the tongue cracked under my feet!  I almost lost my grip with my left hand.  I lost the reins.

I had to go further forward so I could climb aboard either horse. Now I was really scared!  Another crack! The tongue gave beneath my feet, and I lost my balance and fell between the horses.

I lost the grip on Duke’s harness with my left hand, and hung on to Breeze with my right hand for about a couple of leaps.

I was bouncing off the side of her leg.  I had to let go or I would have got stepped on, so I let go.

Instantly I was caught up in the rake.

I thought I was going to die, and was slightly embarrassed at the way it was happening. I could feel the tines in my back.  At least with our speed, I was basically airborne as opposed to rolling on the ground, which no doubt would have done more harm.  I was held against the tines by the acceleration of the horses.

All of a sudden, the rake straddled a small hollow, and bounced upward at the same time.

This was the final straw for the tongue and it snapped completely, at the same time I rolled free.

The broken tongue jammed into the ground, and the rake turned end over end at least three or four times going south toward Moffat Creek, while the team and tongue veered north at full speed.

I stood in silence watching my team, wondering when they would stop, where they would go, would they hurt themselves?

Clarence and Ernie came running up. They were killing themselves laughing. They stood with me and we watched my team, until finally at long last they wrapped themselves around a fence post a mile or so away.

All this action happened in a very short time. When the rake dropped me in the hollow, my momentum made it appear that I had rolled like a cat to my feet and was in complete control of my actions, however, nothing could have been further from the truth.

I did have small tine marks down my spine where the teeth dug in for years after. I don’t know about now.

I wandered over to the team and untangled them from the fence and the post, and rode home in the rain.

One thing I learned on a ranch and that was if you got bucked off, you got right back on.

Of course I was too young to ever fear old Duke or Breeze, and I realized it wasn’t their fault.

Since Gordon wasn’t home, and it was raining, I went fishing for the afternoon along the river in the field, and caught some nice trout for dinner.

My adventure didn’t seem to faze Gordon at all, and after reading other cowboy exploits, mine is only unusual because I was only 12.

I also learned how to build a new tongue for the rake the next day, and was back at work by 11 a.m.