It was December of 2005 and there we were back at Rex Glover’s place, the 5R Ranch.
Just as always, when I got down to the Summerfield camp, it was snowing and blowing. This was typical weather for a fall gathering at Rex’s. Bobby, Chris and I never could figure out why Rex called it the fall wagon when it always felt like winter! But Rex always reminded us winter doesn’t officially start until December 21, and we will be out of here by then…barring any bad weather. Oh, Chris would cuss a little and say, “Well there are two things we can count on out here during fall works it’s bad weather and good food!”
With the typical weather whipping and beating on the walls of my old fly, it felt like we were all home again. However, this time Rex went all out when he came in to camp hauling an old wore out recliner. “You know Rollins,” he said “this will make your days here at the wagon better!” So in the corner of the fly it went and I told Bobby and Chris I have seen a lot of things at a wagon, but never a recliner! Chris just jumped right in, kicked his feet up and waited for the satellite TV to arrive. Every time after that, it was a race in camp to see who got to the recliner first.
The days started off just like so many times before in the Palo Duro Canyon. Good days and windy days and long days and short nights. That alarm clock would go off at 3:45 every morning and it was time to stoke ol’ Bertha and commence to boiling coffee. It seems to me, that no matter how much wood I put in Bertha the night before, she always devoured it before it was time to get up. I told Chris, Bertha has an appetite for dry wood like a hippo in a mud hole!
The hands hurried over early that morning to the kitchen, not just for breakfast, but to huddle up for some Bertha love. Now, it’s a well known fact that the more people you can get into a space the more heat they generate. I thought we should invite more company over- about 200 would do! We could stack ’em in like cord wood and soon my little house would be above freezing.
After cooking some hog meat and bellies got full, them fellers made their way out in to the elements and I was glad to be staying behind with Bertha.
Later that day I caught the weather report on the radio: “Hold on boys and bring them chickens in the house it’s fixin’ to get cold and I mean colder than a well digger’s butt in a forty foot hole in Alaska.”
From that forecast, I thought I best get prepared and get things in order before the artic express comes through our little village. After breakfast, on a Monday morning, I commenced to filling every water can and barrel I had. Bobby, Mike and Karlin helped me that evening gather wood, and chop up some kindling.
That night I crawled into my bedroll with an extra tarp and it was 31 degrees- that was with all the walls of the fly up and Bertha cranking out all the BTU’s she could. The next morning, I crawled out of bed and outside to relieve mother nature’s call. I noticed the water barrel was frozen solid…not a good sign. I kept a thermometer on the barrel and I shouldn’t have stopped to check it because then I got really cold. Did I read that correctly… three degrees?!
I ran back inside and slipped them somewhat clean, cold jeans and shirt on and found a jacket and commenced to fire Bertha up. This was one of them times that I questioned my sanity, I bet it was warm at home in that nice soft bed with central heat, carpeted floors, a stand up shower and a sit down toilet.
According to our good friend the weather man, “It’s going to be a great day in the golden spread.” He’s also in the studio warm and safe. The forcast he was giving was plum scary- a balmy high of 12 degrees for Wednesday and a low of four degrees by Thursday morning, with wind chills of minus 25.
Comfort in those kind of conditions is just hoping your ears don’t fall off from the frost bite and that if they do, that the 50 mph winds don’t blow them far enough you can’t catch ’em. Right as the boys were bundling up to head out, Bobby told me he didn’t know who he loved more that morning- me or old Bertha. But I saw who he hugged up to first, and it wasn’t me.
You’re always at someone else’s mercy as a cowboy, if it’s not to the cattle, it’s to the weather. I would tell them fellars every morning before they rode out, “Be careful boys, my doctoring skills are a little rusty.”
That morning it did warm up slightly to 11 degrees and they were in for a short day. As they saddled up they said, “We’ll surley be back in time for lunch today Cookie no more 2 pm dinner for us!” Well sure enough they returned back to the comforts of old Bertha and the fly and reclining chair. But we were one short and it was ol’ Bobby. But Bobby has been known to prowl, but this time he was late – about two hours late. He valued my cooking, so we knew something must have happened.
A few of the fellers set out to look for him and about three miles from camp there came Bobby on the horizon, leading his mount and carrying a bum shoulder. That colt of his had stumbled and fell over on top of him and I could tell by the way he was cussing every one, that shoulder was either broke or bad dislocated. I made him a good sling out of my cleanest dirty dish towels and Chris being the in-camp pharmacist doped him up with hydrocodone (some extra he had from his 5th hip replacement) and a shot of whiskey.
In the recliner Bobby went. I threw an extra tarp on him and we didn’t hear a peep out of him until he woke up for supper that next evening. He spent the rest of the evening claiming he had only slept four hours and the pills didn’t do him any good! “Well at least you managed to log more hours in the recliner than you did horseback for the last two or three days,” Chris told him. “Man what a feller will do to stay in camp with Kent when it’s bad weather!”
I probably burned more wood in Bertha than she had ever consumed in her entire life. My gosh I love that ol’ girl, but don’t tell her -I’d hate for her to blush. It was just as cold as they predicted those four weeks and just as windy. But them boys ate as good as they would at home and I cooked everything I had in the grocery box. It takes a lot of thermal units to keep a cow camp running in this kind of weather!
It takes some doing to get by in conditions like that, but you can make it if you try. It’s all in what you’re used to having and what it takes to make you feel comfortable. The people, the setting and the satisfaction of knowing that takes a lot less to get by on than you think. Good company, lots of firewood and gallons of coffee and old wore out recliner will often make the undesirable seem tolerable and even a little… comfortable.
Oh yeah, I did sit in that recliner one day after I had washed the dinner dishes and stoked Bertha until she was blushing I propped my feet up and thought to myself, “I wonder what the poor folks are doing ’cause right now I’m in Hog Heaven.”