Sunday, I was showing people the MCRR&HS layout at the Skunk Train Railroad Yard and one of the visitors was a cowboy (he looked pretty real to me, with a Stetson hat, cowboy boots, and a red “kerchief” around his neck. He was from Texas originally and had spent years in Rodeos riding bulls (in his earlier years), bareback and saddled horses. He said he never went to Montana because it was too cold. Anyway, I told him about growing up and working on my Grandfathers ranch outside of Billings. I mentioned stacking hay (way before there were baling machines) and threshing grain. There are some photos of these operations in the History section of the BC&W RR which I will repeat here.
Earl’s grandfather, Homer Davis, obtained land outside Billings, Montana in 1906 under the Homestead Act. The original 160 acres was increased to 5,000 by obtaining neighboring parcels from Homesteaders that gave up and returned East. Homer tamed the harsh Eastern Montana prairie and created a farm and cattle ranch. The cattle herd was fed through the rough winters with hay and grain grown on the original 160 acres. Homer created a series of ditches and reservoirs to collect the scant rain and irrigate the crops. Logs from the Bull Mountains, fifty miles away were hauled, Homer walked beside to encourage the horses. The logs are used to build the cabin, barns and fences.
While I was in High School, I spent the summers working for my Uncle on the Ranch (My grandfather had slowed down, so Ray was doing most of the work). I enjoyed being on the farm even though the day started at 5:00AM milking cows, breakfast at 7, then working the fields till the sun went down after 7:00PM. There were a couple more (good) meals in that time but we got in more than 8 hours. My uncle needed another driver, so he sent me out to a big hay field in a ’50 Chevy pickup to learn to drive (I was 14 then). I eventually was driving a big ton and a half Ford truck beside the corn silage maker, went to get old railroad ties (which we used to make corrals for the cattle roundups).
Twice a year, we would get on horses and go bring in the cattle which were scattered over 5,000 acres. We would brand the new calves and some of us younger ones would try to ride the bigger calves after they were branded. Some of my uncle’s friends, the Bialicks, that helped with the roundup saw this and decided to have some fun with me. My uncle was bringing a couple of new bulls to leave with the cows and they needed to also be branded. After we finished with the biggest, a black Angus, the Bialicks thought I ought to ride that bull. Well, I had seen a few bull rides in the local rodeos and wasn’t too sure I wanted to do that, but they insisted. So I got up on the bul, they tied a rope around him and I grabbed it, hanging on as much as I could. When they let the bull loose, he just stood there, tried to swat me off his back like I ws an annoying fly, then walked over to a cow and did what bulls are supposed to do. All the time I was sitting on his back, but he didn’t seem to care. Everyone was laughing and that was the end of my bull riding days.
I continued working summers through high school and planning to be a rancher. In my senior year, I looked into the cost of getting my own “ranch” and making a living at this wonderful life. But with the cost of tractors approaching $80,000, plus everything else that was need, I realized it would never happen. There are many farmers/ranchers in Montana that tried and failed to make a go of it. So, I finally began listening to my teachers in high school and decided to go to college (I guess I easily handled the math and science classes). The cowboy from Texas reminded me of my time on the ranch and how close I came to staying with that life style. I went to Carroll College and the next Blog post will give a story I wrote for a history class that captured my changing life goals.