Cadillac Cowboy

It was actually an Oldsmobile, but what rhymes with that? The Olds was about on its last legs and so was our pickup. Finances had been tight on the ranch as usual, but we had mustered enough cash to buy another car for my wife Terri, leaving the decrepit, blue, behemoth Oldsmobile to melt into the environment. 

The blue Olds had no value for trade-in, so I decided to give it a try as backup for cruising the fields that spring during calving. That would reduce the hours put on the pickup, conserve some gas, and maybe get me through spring without replacing the pickup just yet.

On one particular morning, I was making a tour of the calves and checking for any health problems. The feeding had already been accomplished but I needed to finish this quickly and still get to town for some supplies. The blue beast was perfect for the task. The fields were relatively dry and the front wheel drive offered decent traction. Diligence was critical to avoid rocks and ditches that would normally be cleared with the truck.

During the past couple of weeks, the back seat had been filled with the tools of my trade: a lariat, and a metal box filled with draconian tools for castrating, tagging, injecting, and giving pills. Also, there was a new instrument that I recently added for catching calves called a calf hook. It is about four feet long, but quickly telescopes to eight feet. The hook on one end is just the right size to nab a calf’s leg. Since my ability with a rope is less than legendary, the hook had become essential. It is also allows for more stealth when making a catch; no twirly rope that is signaling danger to the calf.

The ‘breaks’, as we call it, is a small pasture just above our home. As the name implies, it is steep and rugged with gullies and sharp ridges. It is very sandy, which allowed much of it to shift and slide many years ago when the land above was being flood irrigated. The advent of sprinkler irrigation stopped the problem, but the terrain remains uneven.

This is the last pasture to check and it is getting late so ‘hurry!’ is bouncing around in my brain. I zip through the group and all seems well except for the calf I treated yesterday. He still seems a bit lethargic and is lying quietly on some hay with a couple other calves nearby. A follow up dose would be perfect and sure give the little guy a better chance at recovery.

Before I make a move, I load my pockets with two different injectables and a couple new syringes with the needles mounted in plastic covers. Then I lengthen the hook to the max, and angle it out the back window. Returning to the driver’s seat, I ease the car slowly towards the calf. I hope my cowboy neighbors don’t see this! I might never hear the end of this farmer style assault while my saddle horse munches hay back at the corral.

I analyze everything: the direction the calf and his friends are laying, his likely flight path, and when I open the door, the scant seconds I need to make the catch. At the last possible moment I slap the gear shift into park, open the door, and pull the hook out. I take six quick steps and the instant the calf stands … whack! He lets out a startled beller which sends concerned mothers our direction, but no matter. I hand over hand the aluminum shaft, free the hook with one hand, and hang on to the jerking leg with the other. Now I have a hand on the flank, and the baby is lying on his side in the hay with me over him.

I smile to myself; only someone with years of experience could have done this so quickly and efficiently. “Pretty darned good,” I praise myself. At that moment, I hear something and whirl around to see my low-rider leaving me! Apparently I didn’t have the gear shift quite into park, and the car is rolling towards a very steep hill. There is no way I can catch it and so why let the calf go? But heaven sakes, if it makes the second rise, it could go all the way to the highway! I hold my breath and hold my patient firmly as I watch the Olds careen down the slope. The driver’s door I’d left open is flapping wildly.

There are about 10 inches of murky water in the swale at the bottom of the hill. When the Olds hits water, cow manure and swamp grass cascade about 20 feet in the air. The beast seems alive, and I’m pleading, “Stop! Stop! Stop! “Thankfully, it doesn’t quite make the top of the far side of the water and stops, door still open, motor running. Whew!

I turn my attention to the calf, give it two shots, then release it to join his mother who is hovering nearby. As I walk down to the car with the hook in hand, I am no longer feeling so smart. I walk to the car and swipe out the front seat with a glove and then head home. When I get there, I walk around the front. No wonder people seemed to be staring as I drove up the highway! The front of the car is dangled with dripping clumps of swamp grass, giving it the look of a smiling, drooling, prehistoric monster. After that, I always double check the gear lever when I get out—and even close the door once in a while. 

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