Saturday, 29 August 2015


My grandfather was an avid rancher. He may have dabbled in politics, serving on the State Legislature and then for ten years, after he moved to Canada, as MLA for Alberta, but his passion was cattle and horses, and he was very successful. He began down in Southeastern Utah, in the somewhat green valleys of Teasdale. For years his herd would graze the lush meadows then in the fall, Grandpa would drive the herd over the southern mountains to the desert where they spent the winter. With the coming of spring, Grandpa would drive them back to Teasdale and the cycle would start all over again. That is until the spring of 1910 when Grandpa heard of wonderful ranching opportunities to be had north of the International Boundary into Canada.

Grandpa loaded up Grandma, two kids and one baby and headed north to the promised land. Well, sort of promised land. When Grandpa checked things out a couple of years before, a Chinook had blown into the region and it was warmer in southern Alberta than it was in Salt Lake when he boarded the train.

Ranching turned out to be somewhat different than it was in the Four Corners region. Rain could fall all year long and so could the snow, even in July. One could see an eighty degree temperature change in just one day; it could be thirty below in the morning and a Chinook could blow in raising the temperature to fifty above in a very short time. Of course the opposite could also happen too. But one of the most significant changes in ranching between southern Utah and southern Alberta was the need to put up feed for the winter months.

Back in the states, Grandpa had plenty of grass for the cattle during the spring and summer months. The desert actually offered some good forage for the winter but I have to admit that I'm at somewhat of a loss as to where it actually was. Hay production went on but not at the level that Grandpa was soon to find out. Simply put, in Alberta, one could count on spending the summers mowing, raking and stacking hay for the winter. It just went with the territory.

Grandpa was a progressive rancher too. He could see the importance of plowing up the native prairie grass and seeding it to tame grass which yielded a lot more for summer grazing and hay production. Trouble was, there was still some medicinal value to native prairie grass so making hay out of that was important as well.

Now Grandpa found a lot of meadows that yielded some good grass and he (and the older boys) spent a lot of time gathering in the crops but things simply got too busy. The alternative was to possibly buy some native hay from the locals which would benefit everyone.

Grandpa's first operation bordered the Indian Reservation to the east. He actually rented land from the Reserve and used it for feed crops and pasture. But, as mentioned before, the time factor, which turned out not to be that big of a problem after all.

There was a lot of native prairie grass on the reservation and some of the Indians were willing to put it up to sell off to the local ranchers. Grandpa, always eager to get along with them, was willing to do business.

It would start when a couple of guys would ride up to the ranch to tell Grandpa that they were putting up hay and they would deliver it for so much per ton. That was fine with Grandpa. The boys would head back and the next day, they returned with a wagon heaped with 'prairie wool.' They'd pull up on the scale, get weighed, then head over to the stack yard and, using large pitchforks, would unload it in fairly good time.

Grandpa would watch them from time to time. One day he was sure he counted only two of them driving the load but then noticed three of them stacking the hay. Then another day there were four busy pitching off the load. Then, not surprisingly, there were five.

Well, you've got to hand it to the Indians, they knew how to add extra weight to the load without having to actually sell it.

Finally Grandpa got wise. They would pull the wagon onto the scale then Grandpa would grab a pitchfork and start probing the load, not shoving the fork in too far because he wasn't actually trying to stab anyone. 'Who's in there?' he'd demand, and almost always two or more of them would come crawling out of the load.

But it didn't take long before the vendors got a little wiser. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that there is always a way around an obstacle. The two men pulled the wagon onto the scale and Grandpa probed the load with the fork handle. He got no response so finally concluded that there weren't any stowaways. The two men unloaded the wagon then brought it around to weigh empty to figure out the tare. Grandpa paid for the load and everyone parted company, satisfied.

For a spell.

Grandpa would send the boys to load up some hay and take it to the barn. When the task was done, one of them would inevitably ask about that huge rock that was next to the haystack.

Grandpa was always good natured about the whole episode. He simply joked that he bought a lot of
Indians... and maybe a few rocks...

Monday, 3 August 2015



I've been truly blessed with good friends. A great many of them have been close buddies and confidants for my entire life while some have only been in my life for a short time. Nonetheless, my friends have been precious and it's always a personal struggle when the time comes to say good-bye to even just one. 

While I have known Ron all my life, we never got well acquainted until the seventies, while he was a customer at my place of employment. He was overhauling the engine in his small John Deere tractor and stopped at the shop to drop off the cylinder head for some machine work. He asked a couple of questions which sparked a conversation that practically never ended until his recent passing.

It turned out that he was every bit as passionate about old cars, trucks, tractors, airplanes, trains and ships as I was. He knew the histories of most of the vehicles around the Milk River area, going back to the mid-thirties.  I remember one time when the topic of discussion was 1942 Ford trucks. He told me who in the neighborhood managed to snag a new ’42 model before the war years curtailed civilian production.

‘My dad, and Ralph Beard, each got a Half-Ton, but there were three One-Tonners,’ Ron recalled, ‘GL Stringam, Art Loft, and—I think—John Reese, had those. Walter Ford bought a new Three-Ton—‘ Ron paused for a moment, ‘—I seem to remember that he had to get a permit to buy that truck because it was after the end of February.’

The conversation lasted longer than it should have, bearing in mind that I was still at work and should've been working, but I always made room for conversation with customers, and while it might have affected my personal bottom line come month end, I never regretted it.

Saturday evening, following that initial meeting I decided to deliver the finished cylinder head right to the farm. Now I’d just finished socializing with a bunch of friends and acquaintances in the Warner bar before I headed out but I wasn’t too worried because I thought that we’d just have a little conversation out in the shop and that would be it. I found the shop mostly dark so I just left the head on the bench and made my way over to the house, just to let Ron know that I’d dropped the head off and would be on my way. I was invited right into the house despite some protests from me claiming that I’d spent too many hours in the saloon and wasn’t in any shape for conversation in the house with family around. Ron wouldn’t take no for an answer and I was ushered into the house where we talked until quite late that night.

He talked about Ol’Smokey, a ’35 Ford pickup that his dad had for running around the farm, from wartime to the early fifties. It got its name because, quite naturally, it burned oil like it was going out of style. Ron sort of claimed that truck for his own and entertained plans to fix it right up and drive it. However, while he was on a job operating a bulldozer out east of town, his dad and brother took out the torch and cut the old pickup in two, making a trailer out of the bed and rear axle.

Ron was devastated. I don’t think he ever quite forgave his dad for doing that dastardly deed.

Ron always had an affinity for Cadillacs. His dad bought a ’58 model which is still in the family today. Ron bought a Cadillac for the family car back in 1975, and that’s still in the family as well. Sometime between the late seventies and early eighties Ron happened upon a ’41 Cadillac Model 75 limo down in the Midwest. He brought it home and immediately began a lengthy restoration on it.

I was called in to help out from time to time. Of course things like fixing the brakes and suspension often got interrupted by many stories and numerous pauses for refreshments. It seems to me that there was even a trip (unrelated to the project) to a farm auction in there some place.

His collection of cars (and trucks, and eventually a Rolls Royce) grew and grew until he started to run out of space to put them all. That forced the decision to build an addition onto the east side of the shop and later, to build a separate building. In no time at all those too, were filled.

Ron and Mary always enjoyed company. They must have because it seemed that someone was always out there visiting. Of course I kept up my appearances, which often happened around suppertime.

I recently heard a story about Mary having the kids setting the table for Thanksgiving dinner. Somehow, they ended up with an extra place. ‘Just leave it,’ Mary said, ‘It’s been a while since George stopped in; he just might stop in tonight.’

And George stopped in…

Sometimes I would be at home, watching TV or doing something mundane when I'd get the urge to drive out to the farm and see what Ron was up to. So many times, I'd get as far as the shop and see that the lights were on, which meant that Ron was working on some project. I'd simply stop there and in no time at all, would be involved in whatever the project was. Of course we'd share lots of stories. And that would carry on into the house. 

Ron enjoyed touring with our car club. He participated in the International Antique Auto Meets and local tours, especially the Little International where he would invite anyone within earshot out to his place afterwards for some more visiting and maybe a beverage or two on their way home.

And many of us went, and had a good time.

One of his favorite tours was the John Erickson Whiskey Gap Tour, held around the end of September each year. We’d meet for coffee in Milk River then proceed westward down Highway 501, through Del Bonita and just a few miles west to Whiskey Gap where we’d all stop and have a toast, a visit, then maybe one more (smaller?) toast before continuing on toward Cardston. That tour took place on sunshiny days and even when the weather closed in and dropped some snow on us. That's Ron, on the left, allowing Vic to measure the mix.

Seven years ago Ron lost his beloved Mary to a massive stroke. Even though she left a tremendous void in his life, he was determined to get out of the house and keep up appearances. He remained active and carried on; even restoring the very truck he learned to drive in some seventy years ago.  

Two years ago Ron fell victim to an inoperable brain tumor, which slowly drug him down until he finally lost the battle and left the bounds of this life to join Mary, and the others who had gone before. Even though he tried to beat the odds, he accepted the fact that his tenure on earth was coming to a close and even said so when he confided that he was ready to go home.

Despite the void he left behind, he still passed the torch to a wonderful and deserving family: kids who have established themselves and progressed with families and new adventures of their own. Ron’s life wasn’t wasted; he left a legacy of strong family values and good work ethics, as well as the ability to take time out for friends.

So, as I reflect on days gone by, I’d like to include a personal word of thanks, from one friend who was never forgotten, even during a time when my life got rather turbulent and visits were all but curtailed. True friendship carries on, despite all odds. True friends don’t have to keep in constant touch. Even after a lengthy absence, getting together is simply carrying on and continuing the conversation and good times as if there never was a gap.

I sometimes think I'm driving out east of town. Dusk has fallen as the sun settles to the western horizon. I turn north, up over the hill, and head for that farmstead with its massive shelter belt of evergreens. I turn in and drive up toward the shop, see that the lights are on and know that there is another car, or truck, or tractor that needs some tender love and care. I park my truck and head for that familiar weathered door. I open it knowing that beyond it the conversation will continue as before, when we talk about cars, trucks, families, friends and everything else that has given us so much joy.

Thank you, Ron, for welcoming me into your home; for allowing me to meet your family; for being a true friend. It's been a pleasure. May God bless.

Until we meet again…