The coffee can blues | TSLN.com

The coffee can blues

Gary Heintz
Pierre, South Dakota

I always liked traveling with Tom. There was never a dull moment.

Tom raised and trained horses, trying to feed his family by doing what he loved best. It was a struggle. He had a chance to sell three head to a buyer from Denver if Tom would haul the horses to Ogallala, Nebraska. Tom asked me to ride along.

We left Tom’s late Saturday morning, planning on traveling into the night. We always enjoyed traveling together, telling stories and talking horses. The trip was non-eventful until we crossed the Nebraska state line, when the pickup developed a rattle and shimmy that grew louder by the minute. We pulled into Thedford, limped the pickup to the stockyard and unloaded the horses in an empty pen. North Platte was the closest place to repair the pickup, and that wouldn’t happen until Monday, so our long weekend in Thedford began.

The horse buyer agreed to come to Thedford on Sunday, which relieved much of Tom’s worries. He needed to sell those horses! We checked into the motel, had supper, then walked across the street to the local movie theatre. A James Garner racing movie was playing, not one of our favorite topics, but lacking anything else to do, we bought tickets. There was a stack of three – pound coffee cans behind the ticket counter. They looked odd, but we just bought our tickets and went into the theatre, where a boy was setting up rows of folding chairs. we found out that after the movie, the chairs were picked up and they would have a dance. We were the first to sit down, and as our eyes adjusted to the dim lights, we watched a young couple come in, dressed in boots, jeans and hats, and sit down towards the front of the theatre. they were followed by several more couples, all dressed in similar fashion. We joked about this was sure cowboy country. It wasn’t too long and we started hearing a metallic ‘plink, plink, plink’. It was the sound of chewing tobacco hitting the bottom of those three pound coffee cans that were handed out to the cowboys that chewed. The ladies had protested in the past, not wanting to dance on a floor covered with tobacco juice, thus the coffee cans was a practical solution. We heard the plinking through the whole movie. When it was over, the cowboys turned in their coffee cans at the teller’s window and put away the chairs. Never did know who washed the coffee cans.

The buyer hauled his horses to Denver Sunday and we limped Tom’s pickup to North Platte on Monday for repair. On the way back to Thedford, the pickup started to overheat. We discovered the housing on the thermostat was cracked, and the only gas station in Thedford didn’t have one. The only place in town that may have one was the salvage yard up the hill. A UPS truck was leaving the salvage yard as we trudged into the yard. As we walked in the office, the owner was opening the box just delivered. Tom described the theromostat housing, and the shop owner smiled as he reached into the just opened box and pulled out the housing we needed. He said he had recently sold the thermostat housing he had in stock and always tried to keep one on hand. Crisis averted.

We drove home, arriving in Tom’s yard late at night, tired but happy. Happy at least until his headlights hit my pickup, shining on a flat tire. Like I said, never a dull moment traveling with Tom.