The author remembers being part of a move as a nine-year-old in the spring of 1972 that almost ended in disaster
It was like any other gorgeous spring day for a nine-year-old boy living on a farm in west-central Saskatchewan. But little did I know that the memories from this day, May 27, 1972, would stay with me for a long time.
It was cattle moving day, which involved a trek of nearly 10 kilometres on foot from our farm to what we referred to as Reg’s pasture.
Excited anticipation and nervous energy ran through the minds of us five boys, who were responsible for this job. Lester was 15 and the boss of our crew, I was nine and the youngest.
I was also thinking about what we’d do after the chore was over, anticipating the traditional stop at the store in Scott for a pop and chips or chocolate bar. I was motivated by thoughts of a thirst-quenching Orange Fanta and a Cuban Lunch chocolate bar.
Usually we would have a group of about 40 cows, 40 calves and one bull. Our entire herd did not go to Reg’s pasture, so before we left home we would have to separate the animals that we were moving.
This usually involved seeing our Dad’s temper erupt and at least one of us nearly getting run over by a cow or calf.
Once our group was organized, we opened the gate and set off down the road. Thank goodness we had the veteran cows to lead the way. They knew the route, the best pace and where to turn. It wasn’t their first rodeo.
Speck Nellie, White Twin, Blotch, Star, Red Twin and Spider were some of the leaders that I remember.
We had our instructions from Dad: “Don’t let the group spread out too much.”
Easier said than done because the bull and youngest calves were tuckered out after the few kilometres. There was always a cow or two that couldn’t resist the fresh green grass in the ditch and wanted to pause for a mouthful every 50 steps or so.
Another directive we had was to prevent any cattle from running into the community of Scott because our route went right past there. That proved not too difficult; a couple of us would slide up along the left side to guide any of the animals that wanted to wander.
Oh, and we had to watch for trains too because we crossed the Canadian National Railway main line at Scott. If there happened to be trains nearby when we approached the crossing, Lester would decide whether we would pick up the pace and beat the train or slow down the herd and let the train pass.
Crossing the tracks presented the biggest challenge because the odd time, one cow (always the same cow) would get spooked, and come hell or high water, would refuse to step over the crossing.
Eventually, it would relent and jump across to catch up with the rest of the herd.
Normally, once we crossed the tracks, the pressure was off and the job was a leisurely afternoon walk in the glorious sunshine.
We had to keep the animals from turning into the Scott experimental farm and Scott cemetery, but with the experience of our crew, this was a piece of cake. I personally dreaded the idea of chasing a calf off of some poor soul’s grave.
On this day, the trek was going smoothly. With Star leading the herd, we got past Scott with ease, crossed the tracks uneventfully, and got by the experimental farm and cemetery like pros.
Seven km down, three km to go. We were in the home stretch, down one side and up the other of the coulee and one more left turn and the pasture was nearly in sight.
I liked going through the coulee because the ditches were so steep that the cows stayed on the gravel road and did not need any correcting. The road was straight, about 200 metres on the downslope to get to the bottom and another 200 metres back up to get to the other side.
The clatter of the cattle’s hoofs on the gravel, a soaring eagle above and the idle chatter between brothers had a storybook feel to it.
As we got to the base of the coulee with the cattle, our idyllic world was suddenly interrupted. Approaching, from the other direction at the top of the hill was a semi-truck loaded with grain. The driver did not see the large group of livestock until he was heading down the hill.
Our cattle were spread out across the entire road and the ditch was way too steep for him to take evasive action. His only option was to try to brake and get his truck stopped before colliding with the lead animals.
It was impossible for us boys to get to the front animals and move them, so we did the next best thing. We took cover in the grass at the edge of the ditch and hoped for the best. My brother Jamie and I trembled and braced ourselves for flying cows. I imagined getting crushed by Blotch, one of my favorites.
The quiet afternoon was now filled with flying dust and gravel and the desperate blast of the semi horn. The cows were totally oblivious to the racket. Onward they marched, minding their own business.
Miraculously, the truck driver kept his unit on the road and equally miraculous, he came to a dust-filled screeching halt, about three metres from the lead cow.
We let out a huge sigh of relief, disaster was averted, but we were visibly shaken.
The cows, on the other hand, didn’t miss a beat, weaving their way past the truck, anxious to get to the new pasture, their Garden of Eden.
The trucker, and in hindsight I don’t blame him, was angry at us. “Why don’t you little **** find another place to chase your cows?” he yelled, or something to that effect.
Lester, our leader, with the most manly voice he could muster, without hesitation replied, “why don’t you find another place to drive your semi?”
And that was it, the trucker climbed back in his truck and drove away.
We carried on up the coulee, no harm, no foul. Within a half hour, the herd was safely in the pasture, gate closed and one of our older brothers showed up with the half-ton to take us back home, mission accomplished.
I don’t remember if we shared the details of the day’s adventure with Mom and Dad.
One thing that I do remember is that Orange Fanta and Cuban Lunch never tasted better than they did that day, a day of near disaster back in 1972.