The thing about cow work is - it just goes on. Cattle eat every day. They know no holidays. The care they require does not take a day off.
One of my favorite cowboy sayings is: “We don’t get rained out, we get rained on.”
When cattle work has been set up, it goes on, regardless of weather. Trucks and dayworkers are hired, someone expects cattle on the other end of the transaction. Or in the case of last Friday, it’s a sale.
Salebarns are two worlds. Inside the ring, it’s air conditioned with padded theater seats. The auctioneer, clerks and pen caller are all in an air conditioned booth. To keep the buyers in their seats and interested, there must never be a lull. None of those people in the climate-controlled world have any idea what’s happening in the other world - the salebarn world outside.
The world outside keeps on rocking with no regard to temperature, precipitation, dust or injuries to people or animals. We cannot stop, no matter what happens, because the inside world keeps rocking. They do not have to be concerned with temperature, precipitation, dust, injuries - or storms.
“My daughter just called,” John Blount said. “She said we better get ready cause a big storm just went over the house. Rain, hail and 50-mile-an-hour winds. I guess it tore up some stuff.”
John lives about 50 miles from the salebarn at South Coffeyville. His daughter said the storm was moving fast; it was over in 20 minutes. We knew it would be there soon, so even though it was around 100 degrees, we gathered leggins and slickers.
Each rider takes one hour opening the gates to pen the cattle after they are sold. It was my brother Keith’s turn right about the time the storm hit.
The wind came roaring in straight lines carrying rain and hail so hard, it stung my face. I pulled my palm leaf hat as far down as my ears would allow and still I thought I might lose it, even though in the first couple of minutes it was soaked, heavy and the brim was drooping. I had managed to get all the snaps closed on my slicker with the collar Velcro making a tight seal around my neck. Most of my saddle was covered.
We could only hear the pens called when directly under the speakers. I couldn’t see Keith for the rain, but stationed on the gates, he was facing the storm. I was sure he’d turn Salty’s butt to us. The sale continued as if it was a bright spring day. Parts of the salebarn pens are covered by roof and all that metal was making a lot of noise - and threatening to come loose from the screws that hold it. All manner of trash was hitting my horse, from Styrofoam cups to feed sacks. It’s a testament to the good horses my riders have that we could keep doing the job in spite of the fact being a flight animal, the horses all would have chosen to run.
When I took cattle to the gates, Keith was soaked in spite of his oilskin duster. His black hat brim was drooping like Pluto’s ears in a Disney cartoon.
“You know what I like about cowboy work?” he yelled, reprising our friend Brian Peak. We yelled the answer at each other, “ever damn thing!”
John was right. About 20 minutes and it was gone. So was the electricity.
The salebarn of the present runs on computers and electricity. Even the scales are electronic and computerized. We can’t even weigh cattle without electricity. No one can do anything without the computers.
This makes me laugh. When I started riding at the salebarn, I doubt any of us had ever used a computer. The sale was run on paper tickets. Cattle came in and their data was written on a card. This card, or “mail” we called it, followed the cattle all over the salebarn, finally ending up at the ring. The scales used weights. There were wires with clothespins on them all around the yard, and the mail was clipped in a pin when cattle were moved, and given a shove to fly down the wire to the next person. Even though there are some of us left at the barn that know how to do this, most of the people clerking have never run a paper sale.
So there was nothing to do but wait for electricity. In a short time we heard one of the sorters, Jack Inman, had to go home because his roof had blown off. Turned out he had also lost his barn. We soon learned our friend Sam Mensch, from Nowata, had lost the house roof, two barns and his feed bins. By the next day, we would learn a couple and their infant grandchild had lost their lives.
We had continued to sell and pen cattle through the whole thing.
The electricity returned in about four hours, making our sale day last until midnight on a day that should have been short with less than 1,200 cattle to sell.
Saturday morning, I saw the hail damage on the bed of my truck. Oddly, it is contained to the right back fender. Like the damage to houses and barns, it was not complete, but spotty.
The crew I ride with at the salebarn are veterans. We have done a lot of cow work outside and spent a lot of time working sales. Everyone knows what to do and does their job. No one falls out when conditions get tough.
As always, we saw the humor in it and laughed a lot. It has to be fun because we aren’t making much money.
Cowboy work doesn’t make money.
It makes friends. It builds character. It gives us the satisfaction of a job well done.