The worst wreck | TSLN.com

The worst wreck

Hank Vogeler

When I first moved to Nevada 30 years ago, I shoed horses in the headlights of my pickup, sheared sheep in weird poorly constructed places, welded lots of stuff, built houses, and day worked for anybody who would help me keep my belly button from banging into my backbone. My neighbor to the south purchased my day work long enough that he sort of put me on full time. His acid test was to put 10 horses in a corral and ask me to put iron on them.

About three in the afternoon I felt quite accomplished and headed for my pickup when a semi full of 50-pound pieces of range block drove into the yard. The only other person around was the old cook, Lester. Lester had emphysema, COPD, and a failing liver from years of irrigating it with anything that would give him a buzz. He did watch and was very complimentary after the blocks were all stacked inside of a shed. He went through tons of fruit but never served any of it to the crew. He made wine in an old douche bag in his bathroom and used the hose to fill his glass.

This may give you an idea of the makeup and quality of the crew as the neighbor paid them $300 a month plus board and room. If the sheriff drove by the house it took two or three days for the crew to come in out of the brush. Two members of the crew fancied themselves as forked-legged vaqueros. I guess it just depends on your definition of handy. Generally they didn't hit the ground over once or twice a day, so O.K., I won't criticize. Their names were Randy and Duane. I renamed them Bert and Ernie. For you "Sesame Street" fans, I apologize, they were not in the same book as the "Sesame Street" characters, let alone on the same page.

That fall the boss asked me to go to horse camp with Bert and Ernie and Paul, who was good help and dependable. We were to get the calves ready for shipping. The boss wanted us to pair up the calves and put the heifer pairs in one field and the steer pairs in the other. The reason was they would be weighed on the trucks and paid based on the value difference of heifers and steers.

The cows had been through this process before and we started off like gangbusters. I would point at Bert and he would ride out of his gate and in would trot steer pairs. The same signal was given to Ernie and the heifer pairs would trot off. As time wore on some of the cows just wanted gone and began pulling out with any calf that stood next to them and try and bully their way through the gate. Bert and Ernie would also zone out about every 30 seconds, no doubt from years of better living through chemistry.

So once in a while Paul and I would have to retrieve a pair that had gone the wrong way. Usually we could get it done with little hassle but as the day wore on we had to put a line on a couple of the cows to convince them of the correct gate to exit through. They were big old crossbred Simmental cows weighing in in their working clothes at about 1,500 pounds. Needless to say we wanted the fewest mistakes, as about five in the afternoon dragging that size of a cow gets old.

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It was getting toward the end of the day and the bunch of cows was getting agitated about the long hours in the corral. Ernie had zoned out bad. He should have been paying attention and after we brought a cow back, I had the purple slobbers and animal-activated Tourette syndrome. I spoke with emphasis to Ernie about removing his head from his rectal area so as to speed up the day. This didn't last very long and, zoom, another pair blazed off. The cow was waspy to begin with and Ernie apologized and shook down this 35-foot coil spring and charged after the cow. Before Paul or I could say don't do it he dropped a line on the cow as she had turned around with full intentions to freight train Ernie. The loop fit perfectly over Bossie's head and Bossie went right under Ernie's horse. Ernie's saddle had a horn like a trick rider's. It was about as big around as a cigar. Somehow Ernie dropped what coils he had left in his hand along with his bridle reins and his right arm onto the saddle horn. Everything came tight like an Arizona night latch. The horse has now broken in half. Ernie is in for the duration and the cow is doubling back for another shot at Ernie. Now the cow missed the horse but did trip it from behind and now Ernie, the cow and the horse are all down and Ernie is in the middle with the cow hooking him in the side of the head with her stub horn.

Paul and I went to the rescue. About the time that we got there everything had come loose. The horse ran to the corral and the cow is up, snowplowing Ernie out through the sagebrush. My horse pulled up alongside the cow, as her target was still Ernie. I managed to get the rope loose from around her neck and then she tried to sideswipe my horse but at least she forgot about Ernie. Ernie's bell had been properly rung.

There were lots of scratches and bruises, a bloody nose and swollen lip and more bleeding. It was not as bad as it looked though. Not wanting to see the boss get sued for Ernie's lack of due diligence, I jumped down and grabbed him and said, "Damn, Ernie, one more jump and you would've had that bronco stuck!"

Ernie was still pretty walleyed and glassy-eyed but this seemed to bring him around. In his mind he had just made the whistle at the National Finals Rodeo. Ernie told his version about 10 times over at the bar at Majors and had even picked up a little swagger as he retold the story. Go figure.

Hang and Rattle.

–Reprinted with permission from Range Magazine

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