When I was 15 my father thought it would be a great idea if I worked on a cattle ranch hauling hay… to teach me the lesson of why I should go to college. Well, I did go to college but not because hauling hay was hard work. (which it was) So, in 1958 I spent 4 glorious weeks on a cattle ranch in Modoc County near the town of Adin. Our family spent a few weeks each summer at our friends ranch… and I got an extended stay. The rancher’s wife took me to town in Alturas, and I got fitted with boots, jeans and a cowboy hat! It was Farmer’s Boot Camp for sure… they treated me as an adult and expected me to work. I learned how to do, and did, everything re: haying. I straightened and raked furrows, repaired broken bales, moved bales into rows, rode on the baler and helped fix it (seemed to break down a lot to me), worked the loader, drove a tractor and ‘bucked bales’ to load the barn.
Well, the ‘city boy’ was pretty pathetic at ‘bucking bales’ because they are damn heavy! I was the source for much amusement for the crew that summer. But, they were good guys and helped me out. I could move 1 bale while they were moving 5. I also got to feed the chickens and the pigs. I thought it was great fun and they all loved getting out of the chores.
We started at 6 a.m. and had dinner (lunch to me) at noon for 1 hour. What really cracked me up was that the rancher and all the farm hands watched soap operas while we ate lunch. All these big tough guys watching ‘All My Children’ was pretty funny. Back to work till about 7 when we had supper. Everything you ever heard about farm meals is true… lots of good home cooking.
In addition to work, of course there was play. And like most 15 year olds I was pretty much of a goof-off when I could get away with it. The rancher had a 16-year-old son who was a pal and a wild one. We hunted rabbits at night sitting on the hood of a Mercury with shotguns going through the fields to catch them in the headlights. Chased girls with snakes… never could figure out how that would get you laid (as if I would have known what to do then anyway). Rode a horse driving cattle about 3 miles to a new field and got to help with branding calves… then tried to ride them. Got to milk cows too.
My lasting remembrance of that summer came when I chipped my front tooth on a beer bottle. Of course I said it was a Coke bottle to my folks. I had a patch on my tooth for 25 years before getting a new tooth. I think the thing about that summer that really made it special was that for the first time in my life I was on my own and for 1 month I was kind of an adult.