Oct 142009
 
Prairie Rattlesnake
Prairie Rattlesnake

Those of you that have read my telling of the history of “The Copperhead And The Kaiser Blade” know that I was merely an interested observer of an heroic fight for survival between an angry copperhead and a fellow surveying crew member I worked with during the summer of 1966. Moving forward from that time, the ever changing circumstances of life found me on the receiving end of the wrath of one of North America’s several sub species of pit vipers – the Prairie Rattlesnake. I will tell you the story by beginning this way:

Following the route of the Union Pacific Railroad across the Great Plains of Nebraska and far westward into Wyoming, one will find that many of the towns along the way are situated one hundred miles apart – give or take a few miles. The reason for this is that at the time the great cross country railroad was built, one hundred miles was considered to be a more or less standard daily “run” for a train crew. During construction of the railroad, depots, switching yards, and maintenance facilities were built at these one hundred mile intervals. As a natural consequence, train crew families, maintenance workers, storekeepers, and other citizens from all walks of life established towns around these railroad centers. One such place is the town of Rawlins Wyoming, lying in the southern part of the state right along the Union Pacific Railroad about half way between Laramie and Rock Springs.

During the mid to late seventies, an energy boom was in full swing in this country and Rawlins was close to the heart of where all the action was. It was to this town that my gunner, one Ignacio Antonio Romo and I were sent in the summer of 1977 to carry out a variety of design and control surveys in support of the rehabilitation and expansion of the town’s utility infrastructure in order to accommodate the town’s rapidly growing population.

The sign shown in the picture proclaims this place was home for a time to three members of Butch Cassidy's "Wild Bunch." It also announces that it housed William Carlisle, who is best known as the last of the "great train robbers" of the wild west.

The sign shown in the picture proclaims this place was home for a time to three members of Butch Cassidy's "Wild Bunch." It also announces that it housed William Carlisle, who is best known as the last of the "great train robbers" of the wild west.

One such design survey called for locating the physical features and ground elevations along the route of a proposed water line that happened to run close alongside the east wall of the “yard” of the prison shown in the picture to the right. Though we did not have to survey inside the actual prison walls we did have to carry out some of our work inside the surrounding chain link and razor wire fence while in the company of an armed guard. He was watchful and protective of us as we carried the design survey on through the grounds, eventually tying it into a large survey control network of monuments we had established that surrounded the entire town.

Whether what I am about to relate to you happened on the same day that we surveyed through the prison grounds or on a different day is beyond my memory, but it happened that we had to carry out some survey measurements by occupying one of the survey control monuments earlier described. The monument was located on the top of a small rock strewn knob that we were able to drive up onto, and it was there that I experienced my closest call up until that time with a poisonous snake.

My memory of the event is that “Tony” had driven us to the top of the knob by the use of a trail that ran across a saddle between a small mesa and the knob; the knob itself being almost completely surrounded by very steep terrain, with the exception of the approach road from the saddle. As Tony drove onto the top of the knob he circled a bit, possibly dislodging a stone under which a rattler may have been lying in refuge from the mid-day sun. This maneuver, if it did happen this way, must have put the snake into a state of confusion about which way to go in an effort to escape.

When Tony came to a stop I exited the vehicle and had only taken a step or two when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye that caused me to instantly spring sideways. Now I don’t usually go around jumping practically out of my skin at every little movement but this case was different. We were well aware that we were in snake country. We had been warned by local citizens about the danger of snakes in the outlying areas of town and had been talking about all of those things so I was wary and on edge as I stepped away from the truck. I suppose it was just my misfortune to step close to an already angry prairie rattler about twelve or sixteen inches long.

The time was right in the middle of August – the so called “dog days” of summer. Rattlers are ill tempered characters even on a pleasant spring morning but when you run across one of those things on a one hundred degree August day at high noon – and then go out of your way to try to make it mad by driving a truck practically on top of it you’ve got a whole new invention on your hands.

Rattlesnakes don’t have to coil all the way up to strike, they can sort of draw up a little and thrust forward to their target quite effectively. I suppose the movement I first saw was its drawback to strike rather than its forward thrust – whatever the case, the snake was way too late. By the time it had reached the limit of its striking range I was already a good fifteen feet sideways and about the same amount downhill. If there is a world record for leaping sideways I must be the holder of it.

I suppose I was lucky on two counts. If the snake had hit me I would have been a little worse for wear but would probably have survived, but if the case had been that Tony had positioned the truck such that my movement would have put me over the steepest side of the knob instead of onto the downslope of the approach road, my record setting side leaping manuever could have resulted in an incurable condition. The knob didn’t have vertical cliffs such as a “butte” usually has but the terrain was steep enough that I wouldn’t have stopped tumbling in any amount of time less than about five minutes. It wasn’t exactly like I took time to take the lay of the land before leaping.

So it was, with me possessing a feeling of invincibility and secure in the knowledge that I was faster than a rattlesnake, that a year or so later I engaged in a face to face, eyeball to eyeball showdown with Mr. Rattler – which I will tell you all about when I return here to publish an installment titled “A Sonoran Desert Surprise.

Field notes of the running out of 640 acre sections of land near Rawlins Wyoming in 1872.

Field notes of the running out of 640 acre sections of land near Rawlins Wyoming in 1872.

View of the North Platte River looking southwest from the eastbound lane of I-80.

View of the North Platte River looking southwest from the eastbound lane of I-80.

The field notes shown to the left explain how two surveyors were far less fortunate than me while carrying out their duties in the vicinity of Rawlins Wyoming over one hundred years prior to my small misadventure.

I have on many occasions used old notes like the ones shown to locate and use stone markers exactly like the ones referred to in these notes. In fact, I have used stones all around Rawlins that this crew could very well have set.

As best I can make out from the scant description in the notes, the tragedy referred to occurred about fifteen miles east of Rawlins, about where modern day I-80 crosses the North Platte River. The field notes refer to the last corner set being five miles or so west of this location. There is some possibility the river shifted course over the last one hundred years or it may have been that the men were returning along previously surveyed lines to a campsite on the eastern shore of the river.

WW II

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 Posted by at 4:53 PM
Oct 132009
 

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Sammy Robertson astride "Binki" the Shetland Pony. Younger Brother Ronnie is alongside. Siloam Baptist Church and the Pam Am Station is in the background. You can see the Pan Am sign just to the left of Binki's head.

Sammy Robertson astride “Binki” the Shetland Pony. Younger Brother Ronnie is alongside. Siloam Baptist Church and the Pam Am Station are shown in the background. You can see the Pan Am sign just to the left of Binki’s head.

 

The Twins, a pony, a dog, and a birthday party to remember.

The very first people that I remember socializing with outside of my family is a set of twins who, at the time lived just up the street from me a little closer to the center of the small town of Marion Alabama. Their names are Jimmy and Sammy Robertson, though nowadays they go by Jim and Sam. For some reason I can’t get used to that though. They will always be Jimmy and Sammy to me, and I suppose I will always be “Wesley” to them instead of “Wes” as I am now known to most other people that know me outside of Marion.

My first remembrance of playing together is one of riding tricycles in the side-yard of my house on Centerville Street. My Daddy had built us a new driveway by filling in a steep area on the side of the house with *bricks and rubble, then smoothing it out and packing it down pretty good. It provided us with a good ramp to roll down all the way to the backyard. I later learned to ride a bike on that very same driveway. My sister Ginny was kind enough to talk me into sitting astride her bicycle so she could give it a good hard shove – never mind that my feet didn’t touch the ground.

Time went along, seasons came and went, tricycles and hide-and-go-seek evolved into bicycles, baseball, dodge ball, and all the other games children play. Then, suddenly, the twins were gone! They had moved a long way off – clear across town – something like a mile away! All was not lost however, Jimmy and Sammy’s parents were good civic minded people so it wasn’t long before their Mother, Mrs. Dorothy Robertson, became one of the Den Mothers for Cub Scout Pack 122 and helped put it into full swing. Somewhere along the way I joined up. By my doing that I remained in contact with “The Twins” as they were always called – Marion being too small a town to claim more than one set, at least as far as I knew at the time.

Being a member of Den 122, and also a former close neighbor I suppose led to my being included in birthday party invitations. A particularly memorable party was The Twins tenth birthday. One of the presents they received was every little boys dream – a pony – yep, that’s right, a real living, breathing pony. “Binki” was the pony’s name. He was a Shetland breed, brown and white, with a long beautiful mane, and was equipped with a real genuine western style saddle – covered stirrups and all. There is little doubt that The Twins were the envy of every boy in and around Marion – certainly to all of the party attendees.

As the party went along rides were allowed to the kids. I don’t remember where in the rotation I came up but given what I am about to relate to you there is a good chance I was the last one – at least for that day. This was because of another party attendee that got a little too involved in the festivities. I had just climbed aboard Binki, and was about to be led around the yard by one of the adults I suppose. The reason I suppose this is because the reins were hanging down in front of Binki – as in – not in my possession. Not that that would have mattered, I wouldn’t have known what to do with them if I had had them anyway. I had never even sat upon a horse – much less ridden one.

Enter the already alluded to but not yet introduced “other attendee” – The Twins dog “Man.” Man was a playful, rambunctious collie mix. I don’t think Man cared too much for his new member of the family – and I will here report that it may have been that Man didn’t care too much for me either. There’s a pretty good chance that’s me on the ground beneath Man in the picture below.

Just as I settled into the saddle and inserted my feet into the stirrups Man decided that then would be a good time to express his displeasure to the newest member of the Robertson family, and possibly to me too, by setting up a barking fit that would do justice to a city dog pound at feeding time.

"Man" the collie dog is trouncing on someone, and there's a real good chance it's me. The Barker House is in the background.

“Man” the collie dog is trouncing on someone, and there’s a real good chance it’s me. The Barker House is in the background.

That did it. Binki was spooked. Spooked bad. Off we went – the pony, me, and the dog. The thing tore out across a good part of Marion with me aboard. Across streets, sidewalks, and other hard surfaces we flew. Man was doing a good job of keeping up the pace by continuing to bark while staying in close, hot pursuit. I was holding on to the saddle horn for dear life. I’m sure anyone observing from the rear would have thought I looked like **Johnny Mack Brown on his best day; to someone with a frontal view I probably would have looked just exactly like what I was – a nine year old boy that was scared half to death. I suppose I was hoping the thing would run out of gas or at least trip over the reins, or maybe I just wasn’t thinking at all. My options weren’t looking too good.

Finally the soft green campus of Marion’s own Judson College hove into view. The pony was still at a dead run though. I instantly formed a plan. Once we had covered a couple of hundred feet of the campus – and I didn’t see any concrete within reasonable striking distance – I bailed off! As I recall, I rolled and bounced somewhere between two and two-hundred feet, came to a stop and quickly sprang up in time to catch a final glimpse of both of the pony’s rear feet kicked up in the air, wildly flapping tail, and the rest of his rear quarters disappearing from view as it continued at a full gallop into the interior of Judson’s campus.

It was probably only a matter of a minute or two before I was retrieved by a posse of nine and ten year old children led by Mother Robertson. Aside from my feelings I was unhurt. I haven’t seen the pony since. I’m sure I saw the dog after that. I never blamed the dog. And I still like DOGS.

WW II

*The bricks and rubble I refer to were from the remains of Judson College’s Jewett Hall that, in 1947, was completely destroyed by fire caused by a lightning strike. I was four years old at the time and can still remember standing on my front porch about one mile from the scene watching the glow from the fire in the night air.

A fund raiser was held to rebuild the structure. Governor “Big Jim Folsom” is reported to have paid $25 for the first brick sold. I am sure Daddy paid a little something for the two or three dump truck loads of brick and other rubble he built the driveway with but I’m certain he didn’t pay $25 per brick! The 1947 fire was actually the second burning of the building. It had been destroyed by fire once before in 1888.

**Johnny Mack Brown was a silver screen cowboy star of that era. He was a native of Dothan Alabama and had been a star player on the University of Alabama football team that won the 1926 Rose Bowl.

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 Posted by at 7:08 PM
Oct 132009
 
Eastern Copperhead Snake

Eastern Copperhead Snake

In the first of these few short essays about snakes I told you about a somewhat humorous engagement I had with a common coachwhip when I was a small child. My next encounter with a snake was one that, at least to me, was not at all humorous and in fact had a degree of danger attending it. I will tell you about it by beginning this way:

The surveying of property occasionally requires the “running out” of boundary lines that define a parcel of land. This is done by measuring directly along the lines from one property marker to another. These lines are often difficult to measure along because of dense underbrush and trees obstructing the course. This kind of situation requires the use of hand tools such as bush hooks, machetes, and ditch bank blades.

A ditch bank blade is sometimes called a * “kaiser blade” or “bush axe”. “Back in the day” so to speak, a crew of four men, with only two men cutting, were expected to cut out and accurately measure at least one mile of line per day regardless of how dense the undergrowth, or how big or how many trees there might be. On occasion the need would arise to leave off the cutting out of a line near the end of a work day and resume work on it again the following morning, or whenever the next work day happened to be.

This being the case surveyors have always counseled one another to be watchful for snakes, and to make plenty of noise when going back onto a cut line after having worked along it on a previous day. The idea being that snakes will lie along the line to bask in the warm morning sun, and that whatever snakes might be in a state of trespass upon the line at that time will sense your arrival by whatever mechanism they are equipped with to do such a thing and will slither away. Snakes, I am told are not much for socializing.

Whether snakes in fact enjoy taking the morning sun is true or not is something I don’t know but that is what the counsel has always been among surveyors, at least ever since I have been one. Now so far all of that sounds like pretty good advice except for one small detail; it’s that slither away part. It doesn’t work for copperheads. They can’t – at least not right away. Nature did not equip them to do such a thing as their first line of defense.

Nature it seems never took into account that a party of ordinarily sane surveyors would from time to time go stumbling about in the wilderness swinging sharp tools, knocking down trees, bushes, briars, kudzu, or anything else that might obstruct their line of sight along a boundary line they intend to measure. This lack of accounting has left the copperhead with a characteristic that does not very well accommodate the habits of either modern man or the copperhead.

Look Close! Copperhead camouflaged in dead leaves

Look Close! Copperhead camouflaged in dead leaves

Copperheads, unlike other snakes, don’t always run from danger. They rely upon the camouflage appearance of their skin, and instead of running away as most any other self respecting snake is likely to do, they – freeze. They generally freeze until they are quite literally stepped on or are stepped so close to that, in their opinion, they must strike out in self defense.

This contrary behavior sets up a most disagreeable circumstance for a land surveyor – copperheads don’t buzz like a rattlesnake, they don’t run like a moccasin, and you can’t see them because of their camouflage. Though their bite is rarely fatal, if it does bite, it can be very serious business. It’s as simple as this: If they happen to be where you are going you could very easily get into trouble.

Sometime during the summer of 1966, I was afforded the opportunity of learning all about this behavior through first hand observation while clearing a line through dense undergrowth in a forest of mixed deciduous and evergreen trees in the vicinity of Demopolis Alabama.

It happened that we had left off the clearing of a line from the previous day and had returned to the job site the next morning to resume our business. As I recall, our entire Survey Crew consisting of Party Chief, Tom McCray; Instrumentman, Skip Gentle; Rodmen, Jim Brazier, Mark Gilliland, and me were all walking in single file one behind the other returning to the end point of the line we had left off clearing the previous day.

Though I do not positively remember the exact order, It is likely that Tom McCray would have been leading the way, perhaps with a machete in hand to cut small brush out of the way that had bent over onto the line because of being weighted down by the morning dew. Skip would probably have been right behind him carrying the surveying instrument on his shoulder. Mark was definitely behind Skip and I know I was I was directly behind Mark. Jim, who always seemed to carry the stake bag, sledge hammer, and range pole, would most likely have been bringing up the rear – joking and being his always pleasant and jovial self all the way along.

It is most likely that I would have been carrying a bush hook as that has always been my favorite cutting tool. Mark was carrying what we then called a “bush axe” though some old timers referred to that type of tool as a kaiser blade. Mark was undoubtedly knocking hanging brush out of the way that Tom had left behind, thus cleaning up the line a little more so Skip would have a clear view back along the line after he set his instrument up.

As we walked along the line, either Skip stepped on or too close to a frozen copperhead that lay alongside our path, or it might have been that Mark’s kaiser blade landed near it as he cut through a bush. Whatever the case was, a very large copperhead resorted to its next line of defense by lunging out crossways between Skip and Mark, either with the intent of striking one or the other of them or to simply run away in the most convenient direction.

If it did have the intent of biting one of them it missed, and if it only intended to escape, it didn’t get very far. I am very sure the thought of: “the snake is running – leave it alone – you are safe” never once went through Mark Gilliland’s mind. I think he thought: “there is a snake and it needs killing in the worst kind of way.” Quick as a wink he set about the business of doing so by striking downward with his bush axe while reaching way out to his left.

The snake had already made some good ground in an effort to escape but not far enough to avoid being struck by Mark’s downstroke. Unfortunately for Mark the stroke only cut the snake longways about the middle of it’s fat body. Even though Mark struck at the snake at a very severe angle the thing would have probably been cut in half and at least rendered nearly immobile had it not been for the fact that he struck with the hook side of the bush axe pointed down.

That was not a good thing; the ground stopped the downward movement of the implement before it could cut all the way through the body of the snake. The end result of that little activity was that Mark then had a very angry copperhead to deal with. The thing instantly turned and charged Mark.

Oh hell.

I’ll have to say the creature put up a valiant fight but it really didn’t stand a chance, especially after having already been severely injured. It got in close enough to raise up a couple of times and make a few head bobs in an effort to strike, but Mark was now the one in full survival mode. In about half a second he had that kaiser blade going so fast it looked like a circular saw and just about before you could bat your eyes a couple of times he had the thing cut into about a thousand pieces.

Snake parts were hanging off of bushes and laying all over the place. It was a gruesome sight. The thing looked more like it had been blown up from the inside by a hand grenade rather than being cut up.

As for me, I stood stock still and watched. For all I knew there could be yet another copperhead close by so I wasn’t going to make a move at the risk of adding another party to the fight, and I for sure wasn’t going to step up and help Mark. I guess I figured that I stood about an equal chance of being bitten by the snake or decapitated by the kaiser blade so the best thing to do was to do nothing.

With that I conclude my story about a somewhat frightening experience with a copperhead, and invite you to continue your education of the history of my experiences with snakes when it is convenient for you to do so, by turning your attention to the posting titled “A Prairie Rattler And A New World Record.” There I will tell you all about my first personal meeting with Mr. Rattler.

WW II

Actor Billy Bob Thornton as he portrayed the character Karl Childers in the 1996 movie "Sling Blade."

Actor Billy Bob Thornton as he portrayed the character Karl Childers in the 1996 movie "Sling Blade."

*Billy Bob Thornton later made the term “kaiser blade” popular in the movie “Sling Blade.” The line in the movie went like this:


“I picked up a kaiser blade that was a layin’ there by the screen door, some folks calls it a sling blade, I call it a kaiser blade. . . .”

Interestingly, prior to my watching the movie only a few years ago I don’t remember ever hearing it being referred to as a “sling blade” – or for that matter, by its manufacturers official name; “ditch bank blade.” I believe I have always heard it referred to as a bush axe or a kaiser blade – nothing else. Billy Bob Thornton is nearly as old as I am and has as much rural background as I do, so if he says that it was alternately called a “sling blade” I’m fine with that too.

WW II

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 Posted by at 8:42 AM
Oct 112009
 

Aside from being struck at and nearly bitten on the leg by a snake on one occasion, and on another occasion, being positioned quite literally face-to-face, and within easy striking distance of a coiled up buzzing rattlesnake, I have never really had much trouble with snakes.

So it is with that brief preamble, intended to ease you into understanding in advance that you will not be subjected to reading about wild and horrific tales, that I invite you to continue reading this first of a few short essays that chronicle some of my experiences with snakes.

The first disagreeable business I ever had with a snake was one of attending a graveside funeral service when I was about four years old. Though it is a dim memory to me, I can recall enough of the event to piece it together with accounts later told to me by family members so that all of the following is a truthful report about the ocassion. The story begins thus:

It happened that my family and I were leaving the service spoken about in the previous paragraph with me leading the way, when a so called “coachwhip” snake that was lying or traveling alongside the same footpath I was walking upon decided to challenge me to a foot race. Not that the contest was any kind of prearranged event mind you; the probability is that I came upon the snake from behind and we startled each other into breaking into a dead run, each of us trying to escape the company of the other while being disadvantaged by going the same direction at the same time.

It was later reported to me that the snake and I stayed in convoy for a considerable amount of time – it, I am told, whipping in and out from between my legs as we ran along. I have been told that there was no clear winner to the contest for we both disappeared from sight of all the witnesses as we passed a church something less than a mile downhill from the graveyard. The last vision anyone had of the snake and me together was one of me in mid stride, at an altitude of a little less than three feet above the ground, and still accelerating – not quite up to forty miles an hour, but gaining on it all the time.

Though there may not have been a clear winner to the race, I can assure you that if points for trampling had been included in the contest rules the snake would have lost by a wide margin. Between the time we set off, to the time we bade each other farewell I don’t believe either of my feet landed once without the snake being between some part of my shoe leather and the ground.

When all was said and done I’m sure the snake was as exhausted by the exercise as I probably was but I’ll lay pretty good odds it was feeling a whole lot more beat up than me. Throughout the duration of the derby one of my feet had to have hit the ground something under every twenty feet or so, and every time it did the snake had the misfortune of having some part of its body in the way – everywhere I went it was sure to go, and everywhere the snake tried to go I arrived an instant later – right on top of it. We just couldn’t get away from each other. I’m quite sure the snake was unhappy with the outcome, for even a four year old carries enough weight to pummel and bruise up a small skinny snake pretty good.

Since it is not my nature to trump up and embellish a story in an effort to round it off and put an ending to it that I have no remembrance or knowledge of, I will leave off the business of the coachwhip by saying that the snake and I must simply have reached an armistice. One that remains unsettled to this very day.

With that I conclude my report to you concerning the coachwhip and the funeral incident, and now go on to inform you that in the installment titled “The Copperhead And The Kaiser Blade Incident” you can learn about about a less humorous, and in fact somewhat dangerous meeting I witnessed when I was next in close company with the creature that Genesis reports God cursed above all cattle and above every beast of the field.

WW II

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 Posted by at 7:41 PM
Oct 112009
 
Border Collie
 
You think dogs will not be in Heaven?
I tell you, they will be there long before any of us. . . .
Robert Louis Stevenson

Those of you who have read my “Bert and the Cowboys” story can probably appreciate that I had begun to operate with a whole new frame of mind when it came to flying over or landing upon properties that belonged to ranchers on the western slope of Colorado.

After my pilot Bert had nearly started up a real old time wild west shooting war, I pretty quickly figured out that a little less risky way of operating was needed for us to be able to continue carrying out our work of flying over, landing upon, setting targets on, and measuring all around many of the ranchers properties. In short, I needed to make sure we had permission to go upon certain properties.

It is true, as I reported in Bert and the Cowboys, that in many cases we did not need any permission in the first place, at least as far as grazing land lease holders should have been concerned, and as far as permission to enter onto private property was concerned, I had been told by my supervisor that a company employed “land man” was going out in advance of our traverse securing permission for us in those cases where we truly did need it.

Bert’s activities with the cowboys had driven home one principle most people have heard about but not everyone practices; that is, if you want anything done right you will probably be better off if you do it yourself.

Since I had not seen the land man even once up until that time, and did not know for a fact such a person even existed, I resolved to take on the task of securing permission to go upon certain properties by asking the owners or lease holders for it myself if I thought it an appropriate thing to do.

Soon after I decided to take on that responsibility, I had occasion to visit a sheep ranch located south and west of the community of Tabernash Colorado. In this case the ranch owner happened to be a woman who reminded me of the legendary actress Barbara Stanwyck, cast as Victoria Barkley, the matriarch of a fictional 1870’s California ranching family depicted in the 1965 television series “Big Valley.”

My *Gunner, Ignacio Antonio Romo, and I met with her at a gate at the end of a long dirt lane that was bordered on each side by fences and trees. How she came to meet us at that place is lost in my memory. I only know I did not go to her house and knock upon a door, she was standing at the gate waiting for us as I eased my pickup truck to a stop, crowding over to the right side of the lane and only a foot or two short of the gate. She was accompanied by a young black and white Border Collie that appeared to me to be between one and two years old – still a puppy really. Tony and I got out to meet her. We gathered near the front left fender of the truck, exchanged introductions, and began a discussion of the business we were there to speak with her about.

As we talked together the dog stayed close to the ranch owner and seemed to me to be sort of vying for her attention by looking up at her in an inquiring kind of way, probably hoping to receive an approving verbal acknowledgment or a pat on the head. This went on for only a few minutes while we continued our conversation, then the dog slipped away without any of us noticing. It was only short time after our arrival that something caused us to turn our attention up the lane to behold a flock of sheep headed our way at a pretty good trot. Every once in awhile the dog would appear out one side or the other from behind the flock, obviously herding them along.

Border Collie HerdingI suppose the dog wanted attention and had decided it was going to get it one way or another. It may have been that the way the truck was parked far over on the right hand side of the road, with the front of it up close against the gate, leaving a space open to the fence that bounded the lane on the extreme left side, put in the mind of the dog that here was a pen that needed filling up – never mind that we were standing in it.

And fill it up he did! Before I could figure out what was going on, all three of us, the rancher lady, Tony, and me, were more than knee deep in sheep while the little dog was busy packing them into the space tighter and tighter all the time.

We all got a pretty good chuckle out of what was going on before madam rancher decided the pup had had enough fun and it was time to put a stop to it. I do not remember seeing any kind of hand signal at all, and I know there was no sort of whistle sounded; the lady simply raised her voice just a little and commanded:

Sam! You go put those sheep back!

Sam quickly obeyed by working his way around to where we were standing, turned them, and set about the work of hustling them right back up the lane from whence they had come. I do not know what pasture he ultimately herded them into, for the lane was a long one, and our conversation continued for a long while after all of the sheep and the dog had disappeared from view. Perhaps there was an opening in the fence somewhere up the way where he got them to start with. I just don’t know.

I occasionally think of the rancher lady issuing that simple command, just as if she were speaking to an errant child, and how Tony and I were left peering in wonder through a light cloud of dust at Sam as he worked the flock up the lane with the ones in the back sort of tumbling over the ones in front of them. It is a nostalgic memory I will never forget.

WW II

*To the uninitiated the word “gunner” is used at different places throughout the country to refer to one who operates the surveying instrument, which is sometimes called a “gun.” He “runs the gun” so to speak – as a consequence, in some locales he is often called a “gunner.” Other terms one will sometimes hear are “instrumentman” or “i-man” – a shortening of instrumentman.

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 Posted by at 11:42 AM