Hard Working Neighbors
- January 25, 2024
- Jan Swan Wood
Years ago, we had some neighbors that were hard working people that struggled daily to get ahead. Their four kids were working from the time they were walking well. The kids were all in grade school with the oldest maybe in the 5th grade. The county road we took to town went by their place, so it was easy to see some of what went on and everyone was always busy. They raised milk pen calves, bum lambs, and had a handful of mares and raised some colts, rode them and sold them. The parents both worked various jobs off the place too.
The irrigation district had put miles of canals underground in pipe, and when the trenches were dug, the giant old cottonwoods were cut down and hauled away and piled. One of those huge piles was unloaded on our neighbor’s place, right down along the road. It must have been 100 feet long and 20 feet high. We knew they burned wood to heat their house and figured they had 10 years of firewood piled there.
Sure enough, they cut the smaller branches into firewood over the next year or so. Finally, all that was left were those massive main trunks of the trees. Most were over 30 feet long and up to three feet thick at the base! Obviously, these were going to take some serious work to render them into firewood.
One day I spotted a big buzz saw rig near this pile of logs. It was an oldie, with the big, gnarly, rusted circular blade. It needed some work, apparently, because Jack and his wife and kids took it apart and cleaned it up, finally reassembling it. They got the engine running and rebuilt the framework and everything, making it usable again.
Finally, going by one day, I saw that they were cutting those logs up. They had a chainsaw with a long bar and were cutting the logs into lengths that they could handle with their old tractor and lots of sweat and labor. Soon, they had the sawmill running and were sawing those logs into rough, thick planks. The outside slabs were laid to the side in a stack, later used as windbreak boards.
A few days later, I saw that they were taking those huge planks up to the top of the hill near their corrals. It was probably 250 yards from the saw. How they were doing it impressed me.
Their stud, a dun horse called Buck, was saddled with nothing on his head. A stout rope was looped on the saddle horn, and on the other end was a chunk of chain with a hook. Jack and his boys would put the chain around a neatly stacked group of the planks, then speak to Buck and Buck would lean into the breast collar and drag the planks up the hill where the little girl and the smallest brother were waiting with a bucket of oats. When he dragged the bundle to them, they’d back him up a step, then let him eat oats while they unhooked the chain. He’d pull the chain free, then they’d turn Buck back toward the sawmill and he’d trot back to Jack. They repeated this for days, until every one of those huge trees was reduced to planks which were all on top of the hill.
I’d stopped to chat with Jack and watch his crew and he told me that the little girl had ridden Buck the first few times dragging the logs up and then back to the saw mill, but Buck got the job figured out and was left to do it so she could help unhook the chain. Jack didn’t think this was too impressive, but I sure did.
That winter, Jack and his wife, plus the kids when they got out of school, built a big pole frame shed on the hill. It was framed up straight, with really stout lumber throughout. The posts were the butts of REA poles that they’d salvaged. As they could afford it they covered it with steel, first the roof, then the walls. It took awhile but they got it done.
I kept thinking of the part that stud had played in that project. It wasn’t the first time I’d been impressed by him though. Prior to the shed building project, I’d looked out in time to see those little kids driving a bunch of their bigger milk pen calves down the county road past my house. Of course, the calves drove terribly, turning back and pushing along like so many boulders. The four kids were on three horses. The stud, Buck, had the two littlest on him, while the other two brothers were on ponies. One of those ponies was a Shetland size mare who was absolutely in dead standing heat. She’d cold jaw with her boy and nearly crawl under that stud, over and over. But, Buck wouldn’t pay any attention to her, he just kept doing his job, which was keeping those calves moving. He gave no indication that she was horsing or that he was a stud. He wasn’t an old horse either, probably six or seven years old, if that. Dead honest though.
That family and Buck sure worked hard and never expected a handout. With sweat and ingenuity, they did what others only talked about. Incidentally, Jack couldn’t read or write, but he could cipher numbers in his head like a calculator. Amazing couple and family. They were sure fine neighbors too.
About Jan Swan Wood
Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....