Freelance writer gets his start in Horsefly

When I was a boy, I worked for four years on what is now the Walters Ranch in Horsefly.

When I was a boy, I worked for four years on what is now the Walters Ranch in Horsefly.

It was called The Calloway Ranch then, and was jointly owned by an American named Calloway and managed in partnership by Gordon Thomson.

Gordon was from the Black Diamond Country in Alberta, and was quite a legend in his own time.

A lightweight boxer of some renown as well as a cowboy, he had been Parade Marshall of the Calgary Stampede, and had many pictures which he showed me on occasion. The Thomson family is well documented in the Alberta Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Gordon was born Sept. 11, 1912.

He had his first boxing match where his name was on the card when he was 17, and fought a man twice his size and earned $5 for his efforts.

He continued to box when he could and in 1932 Gordon beat out all contenders in his weight class and qualified for the Olympic trials in Toronto.

He hitched a ride on a boxcar load of cattle going to the Queen city and his first night there he slept at the YMCA where his roommate stole all his money, so Gordon hadn’t eaten for two days when he fought his first match against the last Olympic champion from Montreal Harold Stuart.

He could hardly lift his arms in the last round and Harold opened up a deep cut on Gordon’s nose, so the fight was stopped and Harold was awarded the victory.

Gordon still had to get back to Calgary, which was a hair raising experience riding the freights.

This is the kind of person Gordon was. He didn’t know the meaning of back up. He only went forward. I grew to love him as a second father.

I started working on the ranch when I was 11 years (fall 1953), and left in 1957 when it changed ownership and I moved on to hay for Lou Hudgens on the Woodjam Ranch for the summer of 1958 until I left to join the army that September.

In 1953 I cleared willows from potential hay fields, picked rocks and sticks onto a stone boat (two logs with rough 2 x 12’s across about 12 feet long by 6 wide).  I got a job doing chores through the winter.

Gordon had married a younger lady named Mary, and they were starting a family.

My chores consisted of feeding the pigs, chickens, cattle, horses, and the worst job in the world, milking the cows, of which there were always at least two wild range cows which were kept producing milk after their calves were weaned.  I received 50 cents a day, which was a princely sum at the time.

In 1954, my first year haying, I was started at $3 a day, which was raised to $4 after a few days.

I was small, and although I built a couple of haystacks in a reasonable fashion, it wasn’t long before I found my true vocation, which was driving the rake with a team of horses.

I was so small, even when standing on a milking stool, I could barely manage to get the harnesses on the team, however, once I had mastered that, it became a regular chore for me as well.

We had two teams; a light team for the rake, and a much larger team of matched grey/white mares for the mower.

I truly loved working with horses, and imagined one day I would be a cowboy, the same as Mr. Thomson, and so many I saw in Horsefly and Williams Lake.