I have been a fair hand with a horse since I was a small boy. Horses trust me, so everything with horses has been much easier for me, everything except driving.
A teamster deserves respect in my book, there is much more than a horse and rider to be aware of when you are driving a team. To begin, when the designation for horsepower was designated, I can guarantee you that man had never seen a 36 inch log forty feet long pulled through two feet of snow with one horse. The sense of pure power of one horse compared to a twenty horse lawn tractor or lawn tiller is laughable. In reality it would take a tractor with at least a hundred horse power just to pull it without stopping, yet one horse will lean into the traces and you better have the way ahead clear of snags because that log is coming out of the forest, if it hits a frozen root or stump, it will bounce in the air like it is made of rubber and destroys whatever it lands upon. The teamster never rides the log, he walks forward of the log and to the side to avoid that possibility. Logging has been considered one of the most dangerous professions and logging with horses is just a little more complicated.
I have only skidded a few logs in my life and I was nervous about making a mistake. My job was usually loading a few logs onto a bobsleigh and driving them to another deck or to the saw mill at home. A team would be used and you would drive on an ice road. It took a steady hand with excellent coordination to keep the load in the center of the road and out of the ditch.
I was lucky, I had the best team in the world to make up for my lack of confidence, Tom and Geraldine. They weighed over 1800 pounds each and knew the job much better than I did. They were gentle and loving with each other and with me. Their breeding was typical Peace River Breeding, you could see the Percheron and Clydesdale features, but the early pioneers bred for ability rather than special effects and we still followed the old-timers recipe for breeding a good horse: ‘breed a good one to a good one and hope for the best.’ They were old when I started driving them, but I felt proud to be pulling a bobsleigh or a wagon with them, they were willing to work hard and they were so smart; they often stopped if I misjudged a turn or wasn’t quite driving them through the center of a gate. They would stop rather than take out a fence post and I would ask them to back up, so as I could take another try: acting disgusted with me they would eventually back up until they could make the correction and then drive through, pretty well ignoring me for the rest of the day. If I’d have stuck with it, I’d be a pretty good teamster by now.
We had a wet fall with unseasonably warm temperatures during the early 60’s, and the roads were solid mud. There was no way the trucks could come in to haul our weaned calves and culled cows to town, so we were driving our cattle to the stockyards. I would be driving the chuck wagon and be the cook for the crew. There were six of us all together, including a couple of stock dogs. We would plan to make 15 to 20 miles a day, depending on the depth of the mud, so the trip would only be 3 or 4 days. I spent a lot of time in the saddle, so there was no problem with me taking the team. I tried to stay in front and scout the best areas to drive the cattle, walking through boggy mud and pulling their legs out of the sucking mud pulled weight off of them, so I was always looking for higher ground. Dallas my saddle horse was tied on to the back of the wagon in case I needed to tell my dad something important, other than that, I tried to stay at least a mile in front of the cattle. It was my job to make sure we had good feed and water that night, because if the cattle turned for home it would be a disaster.
Other than that, I watched the moose, elk, deer, and occasional bear; for me it was the trip of a lifetime, like stepping back into history. At night I would cook the best meal I could, the men were always hungry after twelve hours in the saddle. My dad always hired veterans if they wanted the work, they were often itinerant cowboys who drifted from job to job until they seemed to disappear. My favorite was Earl, he’d lost his right arm in World War II; but he could rope and ride better than any man North of the Peace. Jimmy, the man who petted coyotes, was with us on this trip. He was a World War I vet, he had graduated from some big University back East and his dad expected him to take over one of the biggest farm-ranches in the Peace river Country. Of course that was way before I was born. The war broke out right after his graduation and Jimmy was commissioned as a lieutenant in one of the Canadian Infantry Battalions. In Europe, he lost his platoon, he was the sole survivor: I don’t think he ever forgave himself.
He came back from the war and lost interest in his father’s ranch and just wandered from ranch to ranch. All things lost their value to Jimmy, he would wander off one day and leave his money on his bunk and just show up at another ranch. He never talked, his facial muscles had lost all their tone and just hung loose, his pale blue eyes stared at you with a complete blankness; but the animals loved him and he loved them. If a bull was thinking of charging me, I could walk behind Jimmy and I would be safe. Once, I was taking some baby teeth out of a draft horse colt and had Jimmy holding the colt because of his calming nature; I was talking away when a rivulet of blood ran down my forearm from an infected tooth I was cutting out, I was talking away like a teenager who has only a few friends in life, when I looked at Jimmy and he had big tears running down his face. I turned him around and led him into the tack room and told him to sit down, while I finished a messy, but necessary job.
Now as a rule, I wouldn’t refer to a hero by his first name; but Jimmy had to be told to eat, like a child. Oh, he could do cowboy work alright, easier than most, although, he wouldn’t be around for castrating or calving, Jimmy was strictly a pacifist type cowboy. I never asked him about the war, I never asked the vets about any of the three wars, I’d listen if they wanted to tell me something, and that was enough to last me a lifetime.
I knew Jimmy for years and never heard him utter a sound, he often stood out alone at sundown staring off into the trees, believe it or not, there were many times when a coyote would come up and sit next to him and stare in the same direction. Sometimes you could see Jimmy reach down and pet the coyote’s head.
In my way of thinking this is almost impossible and if I had not have seen it myself, I couldn‘t believe it. I have an almost uncanny way with the Northern Coyote, the natives would say that the coyote is my totem, and if they are right, I am in big trouble in the after life: because I took advantage of their fascination with me, and I snared hundreds, if not thousands of the buggers during my trapping days. Most trappers make all types of preparations to trap coyotes, I made none: I could spill oil and gas on my snares, I never hung my clothes outside, I never boiled my snare wires in special mixtures, I just went out there and caught as many coyotes in a night as most trappers caught in a year. Actually, I found tracks from coyotes that had been following me and getting caught within an hour of setting a snare. I still find it hard to believe that Jimmy would have coyotes sit next to him. But there are many strange tales in the land of 40 below.
Most people think that being a cook would be an easy job, but my crew needed good healthy grub. I had to get up at least two hours ahead of the men and at night I was still cleaning up while they were snoring. Many times a day, I would fall asleep behind Tom and Geraldine, they didn’t really need me, they could do the job of finding the driest ground better than me; but they couldn’t cook.
We made it to town after several days and my dad sent me to get supplies at the Farm & Ranch. I’d seen enough of this crop of calves since I helped pull some of them from the mother cows the last winter. After teaching range cows to be milk cows, range cows that had dealt with Grizzly, Mountain Lions, and wolves, the glamour of cows and calves had worn away, a long time ago.
On my way to the Farm & Ranch, I passed the upscale Motor Hotel and there was one of the most bizarre sights I had ever seen. It was a warm fall day and the sun was out, too cold to swim, but if you wanted a suntan, you could get one. There by the pool were 30 or 40 teenage girls in swimming suits getting a suntan. Sweet Jesus, I had never seen such a sight. They all came to the fence and started waving at me and screaming. I swear, I stood up and waved back like Ben Hur wearing a toga. Tom and Geraldine broke into a trot when I waved the buggy whip I had never used previously, the affect must have been overwhelming to the girls, because they screamed even louder. Now, I was driving through downtown traffic with a team that was a little scared of my antics. The cars and trucks were pulling over like I was the fire engine, so I decided to make another run by the Motor Hotel. We went around the block and I was ready to make another appearance. This time there were even more girls standing and waving at the fence; I was thinking this must be what heaven is like. I put the reins in my left hand and stood on the seat to look more like the famous cavalry Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest or Jeb Stuart, the girls were screaming and I failed to notice that Tom and Geraldine were drifting into the oncoming traffic, until I heard a screeching noise just as the rear hub of the wagon caught the rear fender of a ‘47 Studebaker Pickup. When the horses heard the terrible sound of steel being ripped apart they took off like race horses with the Studebaker along for the ride, traveling in reverse at thirty miles an hour, hooked to my rear hub and I couldn’t begin to slow down my team. Thankfully, people saw us coming and drove up unto sidewalks to avoid my runaways. I pulled into the Farm & Ranch parking lot and the Studebaker jumped three feet in the air when it hit the curb and finally let go of my wagon.
I ran back to see if the truck driver was okay, he had hit his head on the roof of the truck when he hit the curb, he was bleeding a bit, but he had a sense of humor. I asked him to drive us down to the stockyards to speak to my dad.
He told my dad the story and thank goodness left out the part about me standing up like Ben Hur at the Hippodrome and waving to the girls. Never the less, my dad was disgusted and I was humiliated. Arrangements were made and the truck driver winked at me as he walked away. I think that traffic incident made a good driver out of me, in over 50 years of driving, I’ve only had one fender bender.
Thankfully, I didn’t hurt the horses. In the Peace River Country, friendships are cherished; Tom and Geraldine were two of my dearest friends. Many a pleasant hour was spent driving Tom and Geraldine while my dog Tiger was sitting beside me on the wagon seat.
It’s the way of all flesh, a debt applied and yet to be paid upon birth; we all face death. One day Tom and Geraldine stopped under an old apple tree where they spent many days picking up the fallen apples after a windstorm. Geraldine took sick, they stood together while she wasted away. I brought the best feed and the cleanest water I could find, they would eat, but Geraldine lost weight by the hour. In a few days, she was nothing more than a rack of bones.
My dad told me it was time, he asked if I wanted him to do the deed: it is an unwritten code, in the Peace River Country, that a man should put his own animals down. I didn’t want to put Geraldine down, but a horse can suffer a long time before giving up the ghost. We as humans must face up to the fact that at a certain point it is hopeless and to expect more is a forlorn hope.
I took a quart of oats and my old 8 MM Mauser and walked down to the old faithful team under the apple tree. The walk ended way too soon, I put the oats on the ground and Geraldine bent down slowly to eat as if she knew what was next. I have killed many animals, this was the hardest. Geraldine quit eating when she felt the barrel touch at the base of her skull where it connects to the spinal cord. She rolled her big brown eyes up at me and I pulled the trigger. It was instantaneous, she fell like a tree and Tom looked at me like I was a monster. I tried to lead Tom back to the barn, but they had never been apart and he wasn’t leaving now. I walked to the equipment shed and started the back hoe, I dug a grave 12 foot deep, to discourage the lions and bears, while Tom watched. I thought burying Geraldine under the apple tree was nice since she and Tom had spent so many hours under the shade, eating apples.
After I put the tractor away, I tried once again to lead Tom away, but he wasn’t moving. I figured he was grieving and would eventually join the rest of the horses: Tom never ate nor drank again. Four days later, I put Tom down and buried him next to Geraldine.
For you non-horse types, Tom was a gelding: a castrated male horse, he and Geraldine were not a breeding pair, they were just a dedicated pair or team. The dedication they showed was a life lesson I carry with me to this day. Unfortunately, I have often fallen short of the dedication and or love of Tom and Geraldine, now after nearly 50 years, I realize how important dedication is; especially, the dedication to principles and to Freedom. It would have been so easy for Tom to walk away from the love of his life, just as it would be easy for us to walk away from the sacrifices of those who have gone before and let our country be consumed by Socialism with only a whimper of protest from us. The sweat, tears, and blood that have been sacrificed for us to be born into freedom is impossible to estimate; yet, some of us are now ready to toss it all aside to please the dubious dreams of a man who can’t or wont show us the records of his life, a man who was raised in a Godless cesspool of Marxist radicals, a man who shuns our allies while reaching out with the open hand of appeasement to our enemies, enemies who want nothing more than to kill us, a man who weakens America and compromises our economy with every policy.
The Freedoms that we walk away from now, may be impossible to win back and who knows where the road will lead, once we forsake those precious Freedoms that have been paid for in blood and tears by patriots in the past; Patriots with a dedication to an ideal, the ideal of Freedom and Liberty, those precious commodities that are so easily squandered, yet so hard to attain.