Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Roping Practice

Their first combine was a 1965 Massey Ferguson. The boy on left is son Jason, boy on right is son Troy. Photo taken in 1980.

People could see me coming from three blocks away. I was the eight year old boy who always wore a cowboy hat and was swinging a rope, looking for something or someone to rope. Dogs hid, parked bikes and trikes were easy targets, even little kids were not safe. Mom and Dad lectured me about roping people, but I didn’t learn my lesson until that summer day in 1954.

We still lived in the apartment behind Dad’s barbershop and I roamed the main street roping benches, water fountains, car bumpers, anything that looked like a target. I had just stepped out of the barbershop when I spied Don, an older boy, riding toward me on his bike. I quickly stepped around the corner of the barbershop, built a loop, and waited. When Don coasted by, I swung my loop and let it fly. It was beautiful, the way it sailed out. The first indication that something was wrong was when I realized that the rope had reached it’s entire length just as it settled over Don’s head, closing around his jaw. I was so surprised, I forgot to let go of the end of the spot-cord rope. He came to a sudden halt, toppling off his bike. I was relieved to see he wasn’t seriously hurt. That was obvious when he jumped to his feet and came after me, murder in his eyes. I took off down the street, away from the barbershop and the safety of my dad, running as fast as my tennis shoes would carry me. Visions of being pounded and pummeled, then hung with my own rope raced through my mind. I had to get back to Dad and safety. I slid to a stop, made a sharp turn and headed back to the barbershop. Don tried to stop and turn too, but his cowboy boots slid on the gravel, and he went down. I didn’t look back until I was near the shop. Dad had been standing on the step watching the chase. I hid behind him as Don caught up with me. Dad demanded to know what was going on and Don told him of the wonderful loop that I had thrown. After finding out Don was not hurt, just mad, Dad turned to me, grabbed my arm, hauling me into the barbershop. He sat in the barber chair, threw me across his lap and used the razor strap on my butt. After six or seven wallops, and a steady flow of tears, he lectured me in a calm voice, reminding me of the warnings he and Mom had given me about roping people. I lost my “roping privileges” for a good part of the summer.

Years later, I had a few goats that I would practice roping. They were good, cheap practice for my horse, teaching him to rate a calf or steer. After a few runs, the goats knew enough to stop when they felt the rope, and would stand quietly until you took the rope off them. One year the goat herd included a billy goat. The first few times I roped him, he strained at the end of the rope, somewhat like a calf. After that, roping him just made him mad, and when I stepped off my horse and started towards him, he would lower his head and charge me. I would grab him by the horns and we had a pushing match until I got the rope off his neck. I didn’t rope him very much that summer. He would see me enter the pen and would come after me. I don’t think he liked being roped any more than Don did those many years before.