The occupations of farmer and rancher have merited mention on every top ten list of the most dangerous jobs I’ve ever seen. Usually loggers, miners, firemen and fishermen top these lists with ag workers not far behind. Recently I saw a most-dangerous list that unbelievably said the job of pizza delivery man is more dangerous than a rodeo bull fighter. This leads me to question the procedures used to develop these lists.
In my long working life I have actually had two jobs that invariably end up on the lists of the most dangerous occupations. To put myself through college I worked several summers in the oil fields as a roustabout where I encountered dangers on a daily basis. These risks included eating two-week old potato salad that I found in my lunch pail, dodging heavy metal objects that fell from the sky, evading rattlesnakes and drinking e coli coladas at the monthly safety meetings. By far, the most danger I was ever in while working in the oil fields were the card games I engaged in with the seasoned oil patch veterans who showed no remorse in winning part of my paycheck as we hid out of radio range from the big boss man.
The other dangerous job I held briefly was that of a cowboy, which can be more dangerous than a state legislature in session. I say I was a cowboy “briefly” because it didn’t take me long to discover that surrounding oneself with waspy colts, busted cinches and red hot branding irons for six hundred dollars a month would more likely land me in the hospital and the poor house, not the Forbes 400.
As a writer, the most danger I’m in these days is from a paper cut. I feel guilty for leading such a soft life when I consider that my forefathers placed themselves in danger on a daily basis. You see, both my great grandfather and my father-figure grandfather were volunteer firemen with more than 60 years of service between them. Firemen are ALWAYS listed on the most dangerous jobs lists, and rightly so. I have the utmost respect for them.
My great-grandfather was Chief of the force for 16 years and my grandfather was Chief for 12, so my grandmother was quite used to being awakened in the middle of the night by the siren and radio that wailed when they were called out. She experienced this both as a child and as a wife. She always seemed so calm about my firefighting grandfather and didn’t seem to worry when he was called to a fire. My grandma explained her cavalier attitude to me once and I think it applies to any spouse who is married to someone with a dangerous job. (And don’t forget, with women policemen, firefighters, highway patrolman and female soldiers, it’s not always the husband who has the dangerous job in the family.)
My grandma explained the conditioning process of a fire wife like this: when the sire goes off in the middle of the night a rookie fire wife has to be peeled from the ceiling she’s so afraid for her husband’s safety. She gets out of bed, helps her husband get into his boots (which usually stand by the bed), and as he rushes out the door she implores her darling to call the minute the fire is out. She watches her hero drive away in the dark and prays the entire time he’s gone until he comes back home all in one piece.
After her husband has been on the force a few years when the siren goes off the fire wife doesn’t even bother to get all the way out of bed and her parting words are, “Please be careful. Don’t get hurt because we have a mortgage to pay.”
When the radio blares in the home of a seasoned fire wife, like my grandma, she opens one eye, asks her husband to bring back a quart of milk for breakfast, rolls over and is back to sleep before he’s out the door.
I think it’s exactly the same way with ranch wives.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News