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Irons in the fire: A wild night in Winnemucca

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 July 2019

The last of the evening light had long since disappeared on a moonless Nevada night when James finally pulled up to the Humboldt County fairgrounds. He’d been driving for what seemed like an hour past forever, and he felt like a well-used Oregon Trail ox when he finally reached Winnemucca, one of the crown jewel cities of Nevada’s Great Basin high-desert country.

As he backed the 33-foot fifth-wheel trailer into the RV parking spot and unhooked the sleek, black 3500 Ram pickup, he was grateful he could lay his head on the pillow in his traveling home away from home.

He’d had this job for a few years now. It wasn’t his dream job when he was a kid working cows on the family’s Arizona ranch, but at least it allowed him to remain immersed in the cowboy culture. He’d wanted to stay on the family ranch and live out his days there but, like a lot of family outfits, there just wasn’t enough land, cattle and money to trickle down to the third and fourth generations. He’d long since decided being a rep for a high-profile company that depended on cowboys and farm folk to remain relevant in the world wasn’t such a bad gig. He spent a lot of time on the road, away from home and his schoolteacher wife, but he was able to meet people and make lifelong friends he never would have known had he stayed on the home place his whole life.

He missed home, but at least he had Annie. She kept him grounded and was his little piece of home that was always by his side. Annie was a red heeler dog James had picked up on his travels, when she was a pup, from some good friends in Idaho. He’d never considered himself one of those crazy “pet people,” but James had what he considered a pretty special bond with the little red dog. She rarely left his side and was even allowed to sleep in the house on their all-too-infrequent visits at home. The missus was a little jealous, but she was pretty fond of the dog as well. If she had to share her husband, she’d much rather share with this little redhead than some of the other options he might meet out on the road. All in all, it was a pretty good arrangement for everyone involved.

Just as he was about to slide into blissful slumber that night, Annie started to whine at the door of the camper. James rolled out of bed and opened the door, figuring the dog needed to take care of her latrine business. He flopped back onto the bed and, in no time, slipped into a dreamless sleep. An hour later, his bladder reminded him of his age, and he staggered up for his own routine latrine business.

In his grogginess, he realized he hadn’t let the dog back in the camper. He opened the door and let a whistle rip through the cool desert air of the early fall night. It wasn’t like Annie to be gone for longer than a few minutes. He waited and listened. Nothing. He whistled again and hollered out for the dog. This time, he could hear his canine friend trotting toward the camper. She jumped up the steps and through the open door. As she entered, she dutifully laid something at her partner’s feet.

At this point, I should tell you that James, without his glasses, can’t read a stop sign 5 feet in front of him. When he rolled out of bed to call for the dog, he hadn’t bothered to find his glasses. He squinted at the floor in a vain attempt to identify the fuzzy form lying at his feet, at which time the fuzzy form sprang to life. It shot up onto the stove, across the couch and up into the overshot of the trailer, the red blur of a dog in hot pursuit.

The ensuing fracas was something straight out of the wildest Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote chase you could conjure up. Hair and dishes and bedding and paper flew around the suddenly smaller-than-usual camper as the little red dog chased the mystery critter every which way to Sunday, while James, though smack in the middle of the ruckus, was only a partial witness to the chaos. He could hear it and smell it and feel it but, without his glasses, he couldn’t see it. After an eternally long 30 or so seconds, James miraculously stumbled upon his glasses. He somehow smashed the glasses to his face and was able to make out the form of a cat, hissing and yowling at the delirious dog, atop his bed. In one quick, superhuman leap, James pounced on the bed and swept the frantic feral feline up in the bedding. He stepped out the door and, in one nearly graceful motion, unfurled the blankets and released the hapless flying cat into the night.

While we’ve already established that James is no lunatic cat lady, his road home now looked and smelled like the back room of a house from a “worst of” episode of Hoarders. The cat, in its life-and-death struggle with Annie, had done its own latrine business all over the bedding.

James didn’t bother to bring the blankets back into the camper. He marched straight to the dumpster and made a beeline to the Winnemucca Walmart, which thankfully sold sheets and pillows and stayed open 24 hours a day. There have been some wild times had in Winnemucca, perhaps none wilder than the two minutes in James’ temporary mobile cat house.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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