Columns: Trail breaking in the winter time, before and now

My thoughts went back in time as I was reflecting on a topic for this week.

My thoughts went back in time as I was reflecting on a topic for this week.

Some stories about how things used to be in wintertime and how it is today came to mind.

Now we know that the cattle industry has become very productive in the amount of beef grown on most ranches. However, some say we have become less and less profitable.

So, why is that? I won’t give a complete list of present day costs which we didn’t have 50 years ago, but insurance is one thing and another is snow ploughing.

There is no bad luck in getting ready for winter and I hope for an open fall, but this is the time when we have to look around and see those things lying around that we don’t want to lose under the snow.

Is our snow plough (or plows) ready for a premature dump and have we done those things we can’t do once winter bears down on us?

Our place has a couple of dozers, a tractor plow for the 4×4 tractor and a truck plough. And if the snow gets really deep and the dozer isn’t fast enough, we might use the log loader with a bucket.

Somewhere there is a wooden 16-foot-wide “V” plough that we would put four or five horses on, but it hasn’t been used for decades.

Now, we need the convenience of getting out daily, perhaps to the school bus or perhaps to get to the off farm job, an medical emergency, or social life. Many of us catch cabin fever easily!

No hunkering down and waiting for spring .

I remember an annual bulldozer rescue when the snow got too deep for packing and driving, as we didn’t have a machine. We hired a neighbour to do that.

We also remember taking a small car out to the public (maintained) road on the back of a horse drawn hay sled because my wife had to get to her part time teaching job. It took two days to get the VW Rabbit the seven miles.

Because we can keep our driveways cleared we do, but it is at a cost of equipment and time.

Recently, our aunt Ida (Patenaude/Zirnhelt) died. She was over 100. My cousin was reminiscing about how life used to be. This is one of her stories.

On one occasion a typical heavy snow pack impeded a neighbour getting out to give birth.  The 10 miles or so breaking trail with the horse-drawn sleigh was proving difficult for the horses.

The team or teams would have been in good shape because they would feed cattle daily. But this trip was out of the ordinary. An ambulance would be waiting at the maintained public road.

With the team tiring, the neighbours phoned ahead to my aunt and uncle’s place and asked if their team could come to take over pulling the sleigh with the expectant mother on board.

As the story goes, the snow was so deep that my aunt and my cousin were to break trail with their saddle horses riding a sleigh track width apart ahead of my uncle’s team.

They didn’t want to tire the fresh horses before they got to the flagging team.

This story ended happily, even though the labour was not over once the trail was broken.

Those same neighbours once had to put a “six up” or three teams hitched one after the other to get the children out to where they were boarding for school.

No helicopter parenting back then. We have it easy today. We live on the backs of our forefathers and mothers who broke trail for us.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.

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