Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: If You Can Read This Sign, You Are Too Close
John Frei called. He had a young horse he wanted me to ride for the summer. I anxiously asked Dad if we had room to keep another horse for the summer and he said yes! The next question was, how are we going to get the young gelding home? We had a black 1951 International pickup with springs so soft you hardly felt the railroad tracks when you crossed them, and a stock rack Dad had ordered to fit the pickup, just for situations like this. The fact that we had never hauled a horse before in that light pickup didn’t bother us.
Saturday morning we headed for John’s place south of Blunt. John had come to South Dakota in the late 1940s, moving his ranching operation from Oklahoma to the prairies of Hughes County. He would come into Harrold to buy his vet supplies and stock up on half pints of Old Crow, which he hid in various locations around the place, thinking he was keeping a secret from his patient, all-knowing wife. I loved to go to John’s, doing day work and riding his good horses.
When we drove down the hill into John’s yard, we saw a two-year old palomino colt in the corral. I climbed over the fence, letting the colt smell my hand as I rubbed his back while Dad and John visited. I slipped the halter over his head and led him toward the slope we had backed the pickup against. The colt stepped into the sagging pickup bed without hesitation. So far so good. After getting John’s instructions on what he wanted me to do with the colt that summer, we started, slowly, for home. The first indication we may have a problem was making it back up the hill with a load on the old pickup. We finally made it to the top, and started for home, breathing easier after passing that first test. The pickup seemed to be handling the load pretty well, the horse was riding quietly. We relaxed until we came to a correction line somewhere south of Blunt when the pickup started to “wobble.” A front tire blew and Dad fought the hard pull to the right. It looked like we would stay on the road, but directly in our path was a county sign. Dad hopelessly stood on the brakes, and uttered something not fit to print just as the bumper hit the sign post, breaking it off at the point of impact and sending the sign up in the air and over the top of the pickup, right where the colt’s head was. We were relieved when the pickup stopped, still upright, then thought of the colt. Was he hurt? Was he even alive? We jumped out, expecting the worst, only to see the colt, looking calmly at us as if nothing had happened. He wasn’t even breathing hard. Climbing on the rack we discovered a big cut in the hardwood where the signpost had hit, almost in the middle of the front rack. We were so relieved the horse was unhurt, we didn’t mind too much the fact we had no spare or a jack with us. At least we weren’t completely afoot, we had a horse! Not sure if we would have a rodeo on top of our accident, I swung up on the colt and headed him across a hayfield, riding to the rescue, so to speak, to a farm in the distance. Hours later, when we had the tire replaced, the colt jumped into the pickup bed like it was its’ long lost home. Years later, I took some school kids to a high school rodeo in Highmore, and ran into Troy Brown, John’s grandson. He asked me if I recognized his horse. It was the colt. He had turned into a pretty fair roping horse. Sure was glad he had remembered to duck.