Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapter 2

            Life on the ranch consisted of a never-ending chain of raising hay and grain all summer only to feed it out to the stock in the winter. But since the family was basically ranchers, this was the only way of life. Hard work and no rest. What little pleasure was derived came from within the family or the pride in ownership in the stock—mostly their horses.

            In this environment came the first memories of my lifetime. I, the young Vern, was at first too small to accomplish anything useful, but that is only a short span in my memory. My world at my first memory was restricted to the vicinity of the house and the are bounded on the east and west by two irrigation ditches, sometime dry, but sometimes brimming with water and on the south by the barn. [I was not usually allowed] in the barn or corral because they were generally filled with very rank, half-broken horses, many of them real outlaws. Those horses provided my delight and my dreams. When the horses were being worked or trained, I was always as close as I was allowed, and when the men were away working elsewhere, I had my own string of stick horses stabled against the yard fence. I had teams of toy horses to match each of my brothers’ teams and saddle horses galore, all cut from the willows along the irrigation ditches with Mother’s butcher knife. All my dreams were focused to the day when I could go with my brothers to work the horses. Very soon I was permitted to ride on a wagon load of hay or wagon being driven about the ranch for any purpose. One time I remember following my brother on a sleigh full of hay and in being returned to the house with a good spanking from Mother. Of course, it was only 30 degrees below zero and there was snow up to the hay rack bed [probably 4-5 feet]. Winters were bad. Locked up in house is no place for a budding cowboy. But summers were filled with all kinds of exciting things to see and do.

Vern about 1923
David, Lorell, Merlon, Vern, and Dick Bryson in 1923
Dick and Vern sitting on the porch, 1923
            In the early spring the snow would lay deep in the meadows but a strong east wind would begin to blow which would begin to melting the snow. If the wind were too strong, then the snow would melt too fast, creating a threat to the roads and ditches and even to the stock if they were on low ground. The snow would soon disappear from the fields but then the stock would have to be moved to the surrounding foothills from the hay fields before the field was pocked with cattle tracks. After the water from the snow subsided, the fields must be prepared and the grain planted. The field first had to be plowed and the plows were two-bottom, three-wheeled machines pulled by five horses. The plowers would start at the outside of a field and plow around and around toward the center. Most of the horses had not been used all winter and were both soft and mean. Since the operation was new and depended upon the big ranch for horses, there was a continual trading and influx of new horses. Since Papa Dave was known to be one of the best horseman around, many times all the bad, mean, baulky horses were sent to him. So, the side show of the ranch life was a continual fight between men and horses. Sometimes a horse would baulk and all manner of persuasion would not make him move. Each driver had his own way of handling the nasty ones. Dick could cut a button hole right through a horse’s hide with a hot line (the end of the lines). Merl had been known to use a chain, but whatever, I never knew a horse to come on the ranch that didn’t eventually work. Sometimes they would stop the work for half a day, but in the end, the horse gave up and decided to work. It just went against the teamsters’ pride to have a horse he couldn’t work.

The top horse on the ranch was Old Coley, a tall, leggy, black that was extremely fast and one of a multitude Dad had bought as an outlaw that someone else couldn’t work. He was strong, willing, and just would not quit. But never did Dad find a suitable mate to work with him. One of the horses that was traded for was a big, gray horse named Abe. For a few days in early spring before the serious work began, he looked to be excellent for the sought after mate. And they became the lead horses on a plow team with three other horses behind. All went well for a couple of hours until one of the stops to rest and Old Abe wouldn’t start. Wouldn’t tighten a tug, in the vernacular of the day. After some amount of whipping which considerably excited Old Coley, Abe still wouldn’t move. So finally, they unhitched the horse, put one chain around his neck, unharnessed him and lead him off the field to a nearby cottonwood tree and securely tied him. The horse undoubtedly thinking he had won again. But not so. With another chain, they went to work on him. When one brother got tired, another took over. When the horse quit fighting and just gave up, they took him back to the plow, hitched up, and he went. This process had to be repeated regularly all summer until he was traded off the next year.

Dick, Vern, Abe, & Coley, 1923
After plowing, the discing, leveling, harrowing, and planting were less demanding on horses, but time consuming.

            While one crew was planting, another crew was repairing or building new irrigation ditches. The work would start with cleaning each farm ditch using again the ever-faithful horse power. This time, three horses hitched to a ditcher, which was wedge-shaped affair that scraped one bank at a time. With the longer leg of the wedge running in the bottom of the ditch. So, up and down every ditch on the farm, sometimes several times to get the required volume.

            After the small ditches were completed, Dad would take the eight best horses on the big ranch, generally led by Old Coley, and, using a road grader, would clean the main canals to clear the reservoirs. The reservoir and water system, including the water shed, was owned by the Deseret Livestock and provided water for nineteen sections of irrigated land owned by the company.

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