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Irons in the fire: My messy life is good

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 February 2022

“My life is a mess,” I thought.

It wasn’t how I’d wanted to start the day, but here I was with a tractor stuck in 3 feet of snow in a swale at the bottom of the feed grounds.

For myriad reasons, not the least of which was the embarrassment of having to admit I never should have gotten myself in the predicament in the first place, I really didn’t want to call anyone to rescue me. But after some futile attempts to dislodge the tractor from its frozen, muddy trap with a shovel and some strategically placed rocks and logs, and before I broke the tractor’s hay forks trying to push out of the slog, I called Ryan, my neighbor, to see if he was anywhere in the vicinity with his big loader.

Lucky for me, he was just a mile-and-a-half down the road with his loader. He cheerfully came to my rescue, and within minutes I was on my way to the stackyard to grab a couple of bales to finish the morning feeding. Just as I was backing away from dropping my last bale, proud of myself for being well on my way to making up for the time lost from my early morning disaster, my bones were jarred to the marrow as the front end of the tractor suddenly dropped three feet as I backed right off of the front axle. As I peeked around the front of the tractor from my perch in the cab, I realized it was a screwup of such major proportions that not even the slightest hint of profanity escaped my lips. Not that cussing has ever really solved any of my problems, but the severity of this breakdown was of such magnitude I immediately skipped the first several steps of cowboy problem-solving (steps 1 through 9 usually require ample and creative cussing) and went straight to acceptance. And besides, it could have been a lot worse. At least it was the last bale.

I had to run a bunch of cows through the chute that day, so I called my farmer brother-in-law. He’s handy and innovative. More importantly, he’s familiar with my lack of those very traits, and he’s grown quite adept at bailing me out of my various, mostly self-inflicted predicaments. As I’d hoped, he had a tractor he’d let me use until I could get my own tractor problem solved. He said he’d load it up and bring it the 20 miles out to my place.

By this time, my day help (my sister and her daughters) had arrived to gather cows. They’d even caught and saddled my horse for me and were a bit surprised when I had no complaints about which saddle pads and bridle they’d equipped my pony with. (Despite my often-disheveled ways, I’m oddly particular about some things. Go figure.)

It was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures warm enough to thaw the corrals and pens just enough to create some slop to slog through as we worked cows through the chute. Yet, despite the mud and the occasional sorting snafu, we were finished a couple of hours before sundown. Just as we were finishing up, Bart, my ever-patient brother-in-law, pulled up in his hay hauler with my wounded tractor perched up on the trailer.

Though I hadn’t asked him, he’d figured out most of the puzzle and had spent most of the afternoon piecing the beast back together. He informed me he’d take my tractor back to his shop and fix it up right – and while he was at it, he’d service it as well. I can’t imagine why he’d think I hadn’t already taken care of that.

The next day, as I was loading up to feed in the morning, my heart dropped when I heard an unfamiliar crack as I set a bale down on the flatbed. To my great dismay, a piece of the loader mount on the forks – on my borrowed tractor, mind you – had snapped. I didn’t forgo the cussing this time. It’s bad enough to tear up your own equipment. It’s that much worse to do it to something you’ve borrowed. It wasn’t an unfixable disaster, but it wasn’t good.

Though I knew he’d calmly take it in stride, I really didn’t want to call Bart to tell him the news. Amid my panic-induced tirade, Grandpa’s clearer, time-aided wisdom prevailed, as my dad suggested I call Blake, my neighbor down the road. Blake’s a mechanical and engineering genius who’s constantly innovating and inventing ways to farm better. Plus, he has a nice big shop with guys who can weld circles around the average cowboy welder, all while they’re eating lunch.

I called Blake who, though he was in town, called his guys at the shop who, in turn, stopped their own work to come to my aid. Within an hour, they finished a repair job on my borrowed tractor that would’ve taken me a day-and-a-half and a bushel of grief to do on my own. And, of course, my good neighbor refused any sort of payment.

I’d just as soon not repeat the events of those couple of days on a regular basis, but I’ve no doubt that when my next catastrophe strikes, in whatever form it may come, I’m surrounded by good and selfless people who will rush to my rescue without a second thought. My life is good.   end mark

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter, or email Paul Marchant.

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