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Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: College Funding, 1965

Summertime as a teenager always meant opportunities to make some money hauling hay. Big round bales were part of the future, and hayfields would be dotted with small square or round hay bales, all weighing around 50 pounds. It looked like money laying there to a teenager getting ready to enter college.

The first job I had hauling hay was one my dad lined up for him and me to do. It was a rough initiation, to say the least. The 70 pound alfalfa bales were not only heavy, but they tore up your arms, shirts and jeans in short order. The best thing about them was they stacked well, being tied tight with wire.

My friend Keith and I took on several hay hauling jobs the summer before my sophomore year in college. We had a diesel tractor and a big hay rack for the first job, and it wasn’t long before we had a routine of taking turns driving the tractor while the other one walked alongside the rack and threw bales onto the trailer. When there was a pile of bales on the rack, we stopped and stacked them. This routine let us haul about 500 bales a day.

The second job was done with a new Chevy half ton pickup. The routine was about the same, one of us driving while the other loaded. There was a lot more stops to stack with the pickup, and the pickup groaned as we stacked bales as high as we could throw them. Still, by the end of the day, we easily hauled in 400 bales in that pickup. We had a great boss. He let us take that new pickup to Pierre on Wednesday and Saturday nights to see our girlfriends. Kind of a fringe benefit.

The toughest job we had was hauling 100 pound alfalfa bales in and putting them in the hay loft of a huge barn. We had a couple of planks we slid the bales on up into the loft, then slid them across the floor to the back of the barn where the two of us lifted each bale onto the stack. We put 300 bales into the loft, all the while wondering if the feed was “hot”, and if the barn would burn down because of it.

The process of hauling bales is one you never forget. You soon learn how to use your legs to boost the bales, how to heft them up on your forearms before shoving them high onto the stack. It became a process you didn’t think about.

The most fun hauling hay was with my uncle’s team of Clydesdales. He hayed the right-of-way west of town, and he would gather his boys and me to walk alongside the hayrack and load bales while he drove his team. The speed was perfect, the work went along quietly, and the boy on the rack was never rushed stacking the round bales. It was a fun time.

We always put-up hay off our pasture, making the hauling a family affair including Dad, me, my son-in-law, and brother-in-law. Dad would do the stacking on the pickup; someone would drive and the rest of us loaded. One time when the load was getting quite high and Dad was sitting on the back corner of the load, my son-in-law, who happened to be driving, hit a hole with the rear wheel, tipping the load and Dad off the back corner. Dad was cussing all the way to the ground. The son-in-law was pretty quiet for the rest of the day, while the rest of us tried hard to control our laughing.

We usually kept a water jug alongside the haystack and would take a drink between loads. I don’t remember having a jug on the rack while we were hauling. We sure didn’t keep hydrated like we do these days. Never worried about it, never suffered from heat exhaustion. We were tough, I guess. Or foolish.

 

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: TVs in my Life

The first tv I remember watching sat on the kitchen counter of a 20 foot camping trailer in Green Cove Springs, Florida. It was globe-shaped and all I remember watching was a snowy baseball game. The tv was the center of attention in the small camper my uncle, aunt, and two cousins lived in. You sat on the end of the beds to watch, and there was no talking allowed as the snowy figures moved around the screen. Florida had one of the strongest networks in the country at the time, which wasn’t saying much.

The second tv I watched sat on a shelf above the front door of Bohnings grocery store in Harrold. We kids would hurry down to the store after school, buy a bottle of pop or a candy bar, then sit on the bottom shelf in the clothing aisle so we could watch Captain 11, the Lone Ranger and Sky King on the black and white set high above the door. Saturday nights were always busy, with people shopping and watching Gunsmoke and the Honeymooners between purchases.

After supper, on weeknights, when the grocery store was closed, people would go to the drugstore across the street to watch another black and white tv on another shelf at the back of the store. Friday nights always generated a crowd. It was fight night, and dads and sons would gather to watch the fights as they faded in and out on the snowy, black and white screen. Quality of picture wasn’t ever good, but we always had a good time.

The first set we had in our home was a black and white (color tv was still in the future) Motorola, with a 19 inch screen in a blond cabinet. I spent a fair amount of time on the roof adjusting the antenna , trying to clear up the picture before Lawrence Welk came on. My biggest thrill was staying up Friday nights to watch the old black and white suspense movies, many made in England, so there was fog as well as occasional snow on the screen. I also remember seeing such great westerns as High Noon and My Darling Clementine on some of those Friday nights.

Our neighbor was the first one to have a color tv, well before most of the shows were in color. It took awhile before there was a reason to have color tv.

November 22, 1963, was a terrible day. Everyone was glued to their tvs, watching the nightmare unfold surrounding the assignation of President Kennedy. It was impossible to believe such a horrific tragedy could happen, and to be able to follow the events on tv made the death of our president so real to all of us.

When KELO tv in Sioux Falls finally started broadcasting in color, the rush was on for color sets. Although the colors were never “real” at first, it was a welcome change from good ole black and white, we thought.

The news about Watergate and Viet Nam was now coming to us in vivid color, and if tv ever played an important role in society, it was during the 1970s. We learned to depend on Walter Cronkite to tell us what was happening in the not-so-perfect world we learned about on those first colored sets.

My family has been no different when it comes to tv watching. We bought a colored tv in the 1970s, and upgraded in size and quality as the years have gone by. We now have a 55” smart tv that I know how to turn on and change channels on, and I smile when I regularly turn to TCM, and watch some of the old black and white, foggy movies I first watched when I was a kid, sprawled in front of our old black and white set on Friday nights.

 

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Plains Folk

About fourteen years ago I had a problem with my Santa Cruz guitar. It had a buzz on one string I couldn’t get rid of. I took it to a friend who was more experienced than I in solving string problems, and during the conversation about the guitar, I made a comment about wishing there was a group of musicians that would like to play old gospel and folk music. The gem of an idea took hold and within a few weeks we were putting a group of acoustic musicians together to sing and play gospel, folk, bluegrass and later, cowboy music.

After a couple of years of hitting and missing with the mixture in the group, we came together with voices that fit and gave us a special sound, one that fit the music and was unique enough to create a following locally.

Twelve plus years together as a band is unusual, and we members realize and appreciate the fact that we have in many ways become a family. Our backgrounds in music and life are all different, and we wonder if that difference isn’t a glue that holds us together. We have a retired insurance salesman, (me), an auto mechanic (Gene Lumby), a chiropractor (Merlin Bennet), a civil engineer (Steve Van Mullem), an assistant to the attorney general (Jamie Reed), and a commercial quilter/instructor (Patti Heintz). Each of us brings a varied musical background to the group, folk, country/western, bluegrass, hard rock, and old and new gospel. Our musical sets are always varied, and we are never able to identify the group by any one style. Harmony is the key to our songs and that is what we enjoy creating.

We have played music all over the state, including jaunts into North Dakota and several appearances at Old West Days in Valentine, Nebraska, once as their main entertainment. Regular performances in Sioux Falls at the Old County Courthouse, several freedom stage gigs at the Corn Palace, shows with Sherwin Linton, gigs at the State Fair, shows in the Black Hills, county fairs, church Christmas parties, and many summer community events have filled our calendars for many years, and have only been interrupted by personal crisis, illness and covid. My cancer halted our Christmas season a few years back, then Gene had rotator cuff surgery, followed with Merlin having the same surgery six months later. Covid dried up many gigs we would normally play throughout the year. We didn’t have practice because of covid. Plains Folk had come to a standstill. It wasn’t until late this spring that we finally got together and started working on music again.

My family had a reunion a few weeks ago, and Plains Folk decided to have a practice at my home so the family could hear and see the band. We hadn’t had but a few practices prior to that night, but it all was coming back quickly, the rhythm, the playing, the harmony. Getting back to playing was good medicine. We went through our current set of music with hardly a misstep, and felt good performing again, even if for a “crowd” of fifteen people. I found out later the crowd was affected by some of the songs that seemed to have personal meaning or import to them. That made me feel good, too.

Plains Folk is my second family. We look out for each other, try to make each other better musicians, share in each other’s joy and sorrows. Everyone has a special friend or group of friends in their lives. I am blessed to say I have two families in mine, and one of those causes me to be happy by lifting me up with music and song. Thanks, Plains Folk.

 

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: It was About Time

The pictures had been stored in the plastic tub for almost twenty years, they needed to be sorted out. This was going to be a good time to do just that. My kids and their families were coming back to Pierre for a reunion, the first one we’ve had as a family in ten years. Part of the reason they were here was because our original location in Kansas didn’t work out, so we put everyone up in motels in Pierre. Another part of the reason for meeting here was because I am starting chemotherapy for the cancer that has returned, and my endurance was questionable for travel, and it was just time. We needed to be together.

Coming back to Pierre meant several things for my kids. First, to show their families where they grew up and went to school, and then to revisit Zesto, the Doughnut Shop, and the Pizza Ranch. It also meant uncovering old memories of their youth, people and places, events that became parts of their lives.

The tub of photos was opened late one morning, and as we gathered around the table, my daughter Jackie started taking out pictures one by one. Many of the photos on top were of me as a toddler, a teenager, and lots of pictures of me horseback. I narrated the history behind each photo as well as I could, not sure the kids were going to be interested in ancient pictures of people and places they did not know except from listening to me tell stories over the years of growing up in South Dakota. To my surprise, they recognized the pictures because they remembered many of the old stories. Pretty soon we were allocating the photos to one kid or another, each finding something about the images that they identified with because of stories or experiences. They wanted to be sure and show the photos to their kids and grand kids, and tell the stories as best they could remember them. Photos kept coming out of that plastic tub, and kept firing up interest in the stories behind them.

Pictures of my parents, aunts and uncles were carefully noted on the back, who was in the picture and how they were related. More stories followed. I got misty-eyed several times recalling moments from my past that I relived looking at the old photos. Names of people came back to my memory, and with a sense of urgency, we wrote those names on backs of photos so they would be remembered. The rest of the morning slipped away, we all took breaks to grab a sandwich and then return to the photos accumulating in stacks, one for each kid, around the table.

Photos of my dad in his navy uniform, of his ship and shipmates were of interest, a connection to a man they all remembered for his big hands and sense of humor. Photos of me with childhood friends and my first dogs elicited funny, sad stories about adventures and losses. Shots of me and my black pony Dynamite, the summer he was my transportation around town, giving rides and racing bikes. Photos of me and my 1967 gold Mustang, going off to college. The kids gathered the pictures like you gather memories, storing them for future use when telling their kids and grandkids who these people in the old black and white photos are and why they should be of interest and importance to them many years into the future.

The family reunion was a great success. We filled four days with visits to relatives, conversation, sightseeing, and sharing our lives and stories. We accomplished something important, important to me and even more so to my kids, in disseminating the family photos, reviving family lore, preserving it for grandkids and great-grand kids. The old photos are in good hands, the right hands to be of value for our family. It’s about time, in so many ways.

 

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: 4th of July in Harrold

Most of the businessmen in Harrold had been in WWII, and had come home to the small town to restart their lives. Having always been a close group while growing up, their lives revolved around the community. 1959 was the year the businessmen, the grocer, barber, bar owner, drugstore owner, the lumberyard manager, and the gas station owners all gathered to organize a 4th of July celebration. Everyone had a role in pulling this off, from organizing the parade, street games, baseball game, horse races and playday, a talent contest and finally the fireworks.

The day was hot and sunny, the streets were wet from the downpour the night before. People were coming to town pulling floats, driving antique cars and tractors, and hauling horses in stock trucks and pickups. The high school band was gathering north of the railroad tracks, tuning up while spooking many of the horses. They were to follow the color guard, four riders carrying flags, two on horses that had never been off the ranch let alone in front of a brass band in a parade. The parade formed and stretched past the elevator and down a side street and out to the highway. There were many entrees from nearby towns and the streets were lined with people from as far away as Huron. I’m sure the planners hadn’t envisioned such a turnout.

Harrold’s main street is only two blocks long, so the parade turned left at the end of those two blocks and ran three blocks to the edge of town, turned back and went past the school, then back to the main street, having made an eight block loop around town. The whole route was filled with kids and adults, waving and cheering. The parade was a success. Only one person got bucked off a spooked horse.

People scattered throughout the town to watch kids bike races, a baseball game, Harrold’s version of a playday with barrel racing, pole bending and stake races. Food vendors were selling hot dogs and cotton candy, and of course fireworks. It sounded like a small war all day long. Things quieted down late in the afternoon. Everyone was getting ready for the night’s activities, a talent show at the school, fireworks out behind the school, then to top off the day, a street dance on main street. It was a perfect day, the beginning of a tradition that continued for many years, drawing people from all over the state, and becoming the time for family and class reunions.

People still talk about the Harrold 4th of July celebrations and how much fun they were. They planned their 4th around a trip to Harrold for the parade, games and street dance. I don’t think any of the original planners are still around, in fact I recognize fewer and fewer names of inhabitants in what is left of Harrold, but the memory of the celebrations is still there, remembered by those adults who were little kids standing along the parade route, hoping to catch candy thrown from horse drawn wagons as they paraded past.

 

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Shave and a haircut, 4 bits

Dad learned to shave and cut hair his last years in the Navy. He was good at it and enjoyed it. His new bride made him promise they would live their lives in Florida. That promise was only good for about a year and Dad was itching to be back in Harrold, with family and friends that had also returned from the war. He set up a small shop in a rickety old wooden building that promptly burned down. The tools were saved but the chair was burned up. This happened when Dad was deciding to go to college at Colorado A&M. He had been out of school for eight years and struggled through the math and science classes he was thrown into. He struggled through two years of trying to be a forest ranger, working his way by barbering in Estes Park in the summers. He finally threw in the towel and got a job on the Evans Ranch across the valley from Mt. Evans. It was what he loved, working with horses and hunting, guiding tenderfeet from the East who came at the invitation of the Evans family. This was our life until I was old enough to go to school, and we were far from any school and the folks didn’t want to board a 5 year out for a school year. They were looking to go back to Harrold and barber if it was possible. It was.

The town doctor bought the deserted bank building in the middle of the east block of main street Harrold, contacting Dad about barbering in a new shop. Doc Martin would set the shop up just as Dad wanted it. Dad jumped at the chance. Mom and I traveled to Florida by train, visiting family while Dad moved to Harrold and supervised the shop setup. It was the perfect size and the back of the building made into a large apartment. Dad came and got us, excited to show us our new home.

Back in the fifties, barbershops were still the congregating place for men to gather and once in awhile get their haircut or a shave. Days were fairly slow, and the men would sit out on the concrete bench in front of the shop to talk or would come into the shop and sit in folding chairs along the wall with Charlie Russell prints framed and hung about eight feet high.

Shaves were still common in shops and Dad kept several razors exceptionally sharp. The steel would ring as it cut the whiskers of a three-day growth on a farmer’s face. One day a teenager was waiting for a haircut and was wandering around the shop, looking at Dad’s clippers and tools. Dad wasn’t paying much attention to him until he heard him say “wow this if really sharp”! Dad turned around to see the boy trimming his fingernails with one of the straight edge razors he worked so hard to keep in perfect shape. I don’t think the boy got his haircut that day.

Another shave turned out quite differently. Boots Gregg was in the chair and Dad had just started to shave him when the city fire whistle blew. Dad was captain on the fire crew, so he had to leave Boots partially shaved while he went to the fire call. Boots said “don’t worry, I’ll finish it up.” When Dad got back to the shop, Boots had left 50 cents on the counter.

Dad’s biggest haircuts were little kids. They were squirmy, whinny and always ducking. It didn’t help when the mother stood next to the chair and tried to tell him how to cut little Jimmy’s hair. After about fifteen minutes of this foolishness, Dad would clamp his 14 sized ring fingers on the tot’s head like a vice and finish up the haircut, neat and even, not always to the mother’s satisfaction. Dad didn’t like Elvis Presly and long sideburns, especially on a kid. He always said he should have charged double for kids’ haircuts.

There was a family of six boys and their dad brought them in every two weeks for haircuts. When the youngest one got into the chair, the dad would buy a pint of peppermint schnapps off the liquor counter, take a drink and put the bottle in the freezer in the back room. He took another swig with each kids’ haircut until it was his turn. The remains of the schnapps was getting syrupy and he cradled it in his hands while Dad cut his hair, finishing it off just as the haircut was done.

Summer Saturday nights were hard on Dad. The shop got extremely hot with him working under the lights. The customers sat outside, waiting their turn. Dad kept wiping sweat from his arms, hands and face, trying to keep a firm grip on the clippers. This went on usually until after midnight.

Basketball season usually started with a buzz cut for all the players except me. He wouldn’t do that for me, so my hair was short but parted. Got a lot of flak about that each year,

One night when the players were sitting in the windowsill of the bar where dad had set up a chair, he was shaving Darrell Lehrkamp’s neck with that straight razor in his right hand. A cowboy who had been drinking all day was giving Dad a rough time. He finally staggered over to Dad, bumping the hand holding the razor over Darrell’s ear, and said something to Dad. Dad hit him on the jaw with his left fist, his right never letting go of the razor. The cowboy slid across the floor, coming to rest with his head on the foot rail. Dad grabbed his collar, still holding the razor and drug him out the front door, leaving him on the sidewalk. He told the remaining cowboys to get him home. We ball players were quiet the rest of the night, listening to that blade slide down our necks as he cleaned us up.

Dad sold insurance and barbered one day a week in Blunt and later in Highmore. I can honestly say I never paid for a haircut until I moved to Pierre, and then only because Dad had suffered a major heart attack. I still have his tools stored in the wooden box he carried them in.

 

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Mom’s Florida Hom

I spent many hours growing up listening to my dad talk about his experiences and adventures on the prairie and his years in the navy, but heard hardly a peep from my mom about her memories of being a kid in Florida. It wasn’t until she was in the nursing home, after Dad had passed, that she volunteered stories of her family.

Her parents had high hopes and prospects when they married. Those prospects had pretty much disappeared by the time Mom was born. Her dad was an itinerate Baptist minister, serving congregations when and where he was needed. Farming and working for the railroad had not been to his liking, so he chose the ministry and relegated his family to living on the bottom rung of the social-economic ladder in Florida.

Mom’s first memories centered around life’s basics; food, clothing and a place to live. Besides what they grew in their garden, they depended on the generosity of the church parishioners to provide them with beef, chicken and pork. There were times when a sack of corn or potatoes was what they had to prepare for Sunday dinner.

She laughed as she told of the trip to Jacksonville with her dad to buy her first new pair of shoes, a treat signifying she was entering high school. As they traveled the back roads north, they came upon a bull servicing a cow in the middle of the road. Since the road was blocked while this was going on, Mom and her dad sat in the car. Silent. When the coupling was over and the critters wandered off, grandpa started up the car and drove on, never saying a word. Mom, of course knew about the birds and the bees from listening to her older siblings and kids at school, but always chuckled at her dad’s missed opportunity to have that “talk” with her in the middle of the road.

Summers meant working in the garden, tending to a small flock of chickens, doing housework for well-to-do neighbors, and swimming. I should say, wading, because Mom never learned how to swim. The siblings would go back into the woods to a pond nestled among the pines, and one of the boys would throw a rock or a tree limb into the water, to stir up any snakes or gators that might be lurking. Once the all clear was given, the tire swing was untied from the stake and they would take turns swinging over the pond and dropping into the dark water. Whenever they would scare of a gator, they shied away from the pond for several days, always testing the water with a rock or limb, but not having the courage to jump in right away.

The war stopped Mom’s education. She didn’t finish high school until we kids were grown up and she was working as a secretary at the school. She and her sister moved to Jacksonville and went to work in a glove factory. Young and pretty, they met a lot of sailors on Saturday nights, two of them becoming their husbands. Dad was into his second hitch during the war, and promised Mom he would stay in Florida close to her family after he got out of the navy. Wrong. The prairies of South Dakota had too much of a hold on him, and they moved back to Harrold, Dad’s hometown. Mom had never seen a treeless prairie or snow before, so was more than a little intimidated by South Dakota. Her new family of brothers and sisters-ln-laws took her in and eased some of the homesickness she was struggling with. She never got over that homesickness, vowing many times over the years she would go back to Florida after we kids were grown and out of the house, but that never happened either. I asked her not long before she passed why she hadn’t gone back to Florida to live. Her answer was she wanted to be close to her kids and grandkids, she had no family left in Florida so “What the Hell, I guess South Dakota is home. The only thing I don’t like about it is the thought of being buried here. My feet get so cold!”

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Family Trouble

Uncle Willmer had a team of Clydesdales that was his pride and joy. He worked his little farm with them whenever he could, plowing, mowing, picking corn, hauling hay and any other chore he could do with them. The mare had a colt the fall of 1968, and Willmer doted over the youngster. That fall, he pastured them during the day across the county road east of his place, leading the team over in the morning and back in the evening, with the colt following along. One evening while leading the team to the pasture gate, the colt was cavorting around, running back and forth behind and in front of Willmer and the team. One time, as he was passing in front, he kicked, and hit Willmer in the stomach, knocking him to the ground. He had a hard time breathing, and it was impossible for him to stand up. He ended up crawling up the long, long, driveway to the house before he collapsed in pain. Aunt Ella called for an ambulance and finally got him to the hospital.

He was in constant pain. X-rays showed the colt’s kick had collapsed a portion of his intestine causing a blockage. That was the bad news. The doctor said that if Willmer hadn’t been so physically strong, the kick would have probably killed him. That was the good news. He struggled with tubes down his nose for several weeks, trying to clear the blockage before it finally opened up. He was lucky to be alive.

The same day that Willmer was kicked, my dad was riding his buckskin south of town in the big pasture along the creek that runs from the Ree Hills to the Missouri. We would ride there quite often, hills, draws, and stock dams dotting the acres of pasture. Dad was on his way back towards town, enjoying the easy lope of the gelding when suddenly the horse hit a hole, went down end over end, throwing Dad over his head and landing him on the rocky prairie. Dad remembered the saddle horn sliding by his head as the horse slid to a stop. The horse struggled to his feet and tried to run but stumbled and fell again. His front leg was broken. Dad grabbed the reins and quieted the scared animal down and led him hopping and limping to the gate post leading to the road back to town. Dad then walked back to town, called me and we hitched the trailer up and went to pick up the injured horse. We got him back to town and had the vet from Highmore look at him. The small bones that sit between the two leg bones were all scattered and out of place. We had to go to the vet in Huron Monday to see if anything could be done. Meanwhile, Dad went bowling that night.

The next morning, he woke up with a blazing headache. Mom took him to the doctor who said he had a severe concussion and needed to be hospitalized for a few days for observation. They put him in a room with a curtain separating the two occupants, and it wasn’t until later in the day Dad realized he was in the room with Willmer.

Dad went home in a day, Willmer was in the hospital for almost a month. The story of the two brothers injured in horse accidents made it into the Huron paper that week. Willmer healed up, but sadly we had to put the horse down, the damage was too much to be repaired to the point he could ever put weight on it. The pasture was still our favorite place to ride and was the first place we would head to in the spring. The photo of Dad on that buckskin horse hung in his office for years after that, always a reminder of one of his favorite horses.

 

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: First Jobs

Dad used to tell of his first job when they moved from Marion to Harrold in 1928. He was ten years old, big for his age, and needed to help the family earn some money. A rancher had a herd of sheep he summer pastured in the “Pocket”, the big bend in the river straight south of Harrold about twenty miles. He needed someone to tend the sheep during the day and pen them at night, then stay close by in a sheep wagon for the night. Grandpa Heintz got that job for my dad. It went alright for a few days while he learned the routine, tending rather than herding most or the time, then penning the sheep at night. It wasn’t long and he was homesick, and one morning after turning the sheep out, he pointed his horse toward Harrold and home, traveling at a high trot most of the way. He pulled his lathered horse up In front of the butcher shop where Grandpa Heintz worked, fully expecting him to feel sorry for him and let his stay home. Instead, Grandpa jerked off his belt and gave Dad a hard strapping and put him back on the tired horse, sending him back down to the Pocket and the sheep. My dad spent the summer with the sheep, earning a respectable wage, and learning the fact that he was expected to do a man’s work as soon as he was big enough, and he wasn’t going to be looked at as a man until he proved he could work. It was a good, hard lesson he never forgot.

Dad wasn’t quite so hard on me with my first job. He bought a portable shoeshine stand shortly after setting up his barbershop in Harrold. It was on wheels and could be moved outside on the sidewalk on nice days. He spent a day showing me how to polish and shine shoes, emptying the shoes out of our closets for me to learn and practice on. The stand was a novelty, especially when it was parked on the sidewalk. People walking to the grocery store, the drugstore or the post office would stop and talk with me and once in awhile I shined a pair of shoes, being careful to not get polish on the wearer’s socks.

Most of the business took place in the barbershop, with customers in the barber chair getting a haircut. It worked well, and Dad could keep an eye on my work while cutting hair. I had to move around as the chair was rotated, usually to the amusement of the customer and Dad. I don’t remember how much I usually got paid, whatever the customer wanted to tip me. I put my earnings in a jar, saving up for my first bike.

My second job was also in the barber shop. Dad did leatherwork, belts, billfolds, purses and holsters, and Christmas time was always a busy time, trying to fill orders before Christmas eve. He would do the carving, cement the linings in, punch the holes for the lacing, then while he cut hair he sat me on a stool beside the barber chair and taught me how to lace. He watched as I pulled the lacing through, making sure it was flat and tight, stopping to splice in a fresh strand of lacing, or helping me lace around the corners on a billfold or purse. He made sure I made every stitch even and smooth.

Both of those jobs were learning experiences, and I don’t remember ever getting tired while doing them. I do remember being proud of doing something my Dad taught me to do. That feeling of accomplishment has stayed with me all my life, and I thank Dad for instilling it in me. When I was growing up, boys felt that doing a man’s job was a sign of maturity. Work was a badge of honor, and we boys wore it proudly, bragging about helping brand, mow, haul hay, drive the tractor or run the combine. We seemed to be in a hurry to grow up. That was a testament of the need for family members to contribute at times, and the example of parents, especially our dads, and the men of our community gave to us. It was a time when learning and being able to work took the place of play, and we young boys relished in being looked at as young men, doing work of value and being counted on to do our share. That mindset seems to be disappearing in our nation, but thank goodness not in western rural areas where being able to do work is a badge of honor our young people still wear with pride.

 

Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Cattle Drive 1959

It was a long time til sunrise when Dad called up the stairs. Time to go. I hadn’t slept much that night anyway, anticipating the next day. After a hurried breakfast of cereal, I pulled on my boots, put on my jacket and hat, and waited impatiently for Dad to head to the car.

We were going to pick up my cousin Dave along with his saddle and tac and head south to John’s ranch. He was moving his 1,000 head herd to summer pasture and had asked if we wanted to help. Dad couldn’t go, but we teenagers jumped at the chance. The drive in the dark to John’s was quiet and full of anticipation.

Pulling into the yard, we saw a corral full of horses, and a tall, rawboned man in his 70s pitching hay over the fence. John was my hero, the prime example of what a real old-time cowboy looked like. We had gotten to know him when he came to the store for vaccine and vet supplies. We spent many Sundays visiting, riding and talking about horses at his place, nestled in the river breaks.

The first thing John did was invite us into the house for breakfast, insisting we needed to fill up for the long day ahead. We sat down to a breakfast of eggs, bacon, pancakes, potatoes and big glasses of milk and juice. John watched with amusement as we hurriedly ate. He knew we were excited about the coming day.

We walked to the barn where John had horses stalled, and he assigned us our horse for the morning. Mine was a young stud that was as curious about me as I was him. I threw my J.C. Penny saddle that I had borrowed from my uncle up on the colt’s back, cinched it up, wondering how he would react. He wasn’t paying any attention to it, so I started to breathe easier.

As we mounted up, John led the way up the hill to the big pasture, then sent us in different directions to gather the herd and start pushing them down the road towards summer pasture along the Missouri. Things went well, Dave and I gathered in the strays and started feeling comfortable in our jobs. We came to a bridge and were pushing cattle across when a cow bolted up the bank and scrambled over the top. It was a high bank, and Dave and I looked at each other, neither of us wanting to climb that bank. About that time, cussing and hollering, John charged by us, whipping his horse up and over the bank. A short time later the cow came scrambling down the bank, John right behind it, still cussing and hollering. He gave us a blistering lecture about falling down on the job, then resumed pushing cows across the bridge.

The rest of the morning went smoothly, trailing the fresh herd down a county road before turning south across open country towards the river. As we got to the highway, it took some pushing and hollering to get the herd started across the backtop. In the middle of it all, a semi came to the herd and started pushing through the stream of cattle. John rode up next to the cab of the semi, swung out of the saddle and standing on the running board cussed that driver up one side and down the other, until the guy stopped moving and sat while we had crossed the highway. John could get mad , but he usually was having a laugh at somebody’s expense at the same time, which happened to be the semi driver at that moment.

We stopped for lunch after crossing the highway, eating a big meal off the tailgate of a pickup. The cattle were content to graze and rest for a while. About that time a stock truck showed up, driven by one of John’s daughters. Fresh horses were unloaded and tired horses were loaded back on. John took an amused interest in my cheap saddle, teasing me about what was going to happen if I had to rope a cow or bull or even a calf off of the canvas-covered tree that the saddle was built on. I could imagine it coming apart as I was sitting on it, the cow running off with a few pieces still attached to the tree. John told stories of wrecks he had experienced while tied onto a bull or cow. Dallying wasn’t part of his makeup, so tying on hard and fast was the only way. I marveled at this 70 year old man who was still more cowboy than anyone I knew.

We started moving the cattle again, having to push them now, leaving bulls worn out from the trek to be picked up in a trailer. Our fresh horses were getting tired already, and before long we were so thirsty ourselves we couldn’t spit. Suddenly the cattle started moving, not south towards the river, but west. No amount of riding or pushing could turn them. They had smelled water. When we realized that we let them go to the stream meandering through the grassland. Cows and horses drank, and we rode back to the truck to get a drink of water. It was a long, hot afternoon. From then on, keeping the horses moving became as much of a chore as moving cattle. Late in the afternoon, a fresh load of horses showed up and we switched mounts again.

The crew ended up being three teenage boys, including Dave and me, twin girls eleven years old, John, his son and his wife. The girls joined us after school was out and were good hands, knowing what to do and when to do it. They rode identical grey ponies, were dressed identical from hat to boots, and hardly said a word the whole afternoon.

We had pushed most of the cattle into the huge pasture along the river before dark, slowly unsaddled our horses, and climbed into the back of a pickup for the ride in the dark back to John’s ranch. We instantly fell asleep, not noticing the rough roads we were traveling on.

John’s wife woke us up, told us to washup and come to supper. We struggled to the table which was loaded with steaks and potatoes, corn, beans, homemade bread, gravy, and on the kitchen counter, cherry and apple pies. We started in eating, famished from the big day we had just had. John ate and watched with amusement as we devoured all the food in front of us. We fought back sleep as we had second helpings of pie, just as Dad drove into the yard to pick us up. We thanked John for the exciting, wonderful day he had given us, a taste of what a cattle drive was like, and what it meant to do the work of a cowboy. We sept all the way home, dreamless and tired but so happy at living such a day as John had given us.