Chapter Six:

Sideboards, The Trailer& Tires

 

The old Chevy was equipped with a set of sideboards specifically designed for this purpose. These were panels made of lumber planks bolted together. The four panels fit onto the truckís bed and formed an open-topped pen on wheels. The sideboards worked fine for relatively small, mild-mannered animals.

The calves we hauled were usually docile. They seldom jumped around or raised much of a ruckus. For the most part they simply stood beside each other and enjoyed their ride. About the worst trouble we had was when one would decide to lay down en route. When that happened we would pull over and poke the lazy animal with a walking cane until he got back to his feet. Otherwise, he would surely be injured by his companions as they shifted their weight from one foot to the other compensating for the movement of the vehicle.

There wasnít much room inside the bed of the truck and the sideboards really werenít strong enough to hold full-sized animals who didnít want to be held. This fact was vividly confirmed early one afternoon when we attempted to load a young bull.

He was a good-looking animal. Dad had hoped he would be a suitable replacement for one of our aging bulls who had lost interest in his breeding duties. It was not to be. Although perfect in every physical aspect, the youngster apparently suffered from some sort of strange bovine psychosis. In other words, he was crazy.

His peculiar mental condition was not evident as long as he was kept in the close quarters of a pen, accompanied by other animals. But, as soon as he was allowed to go free into a spacious pasture, he suddenly became a 900-pound maniac. Without provocation he would begin bellowing and slobbering and running full tilt for the nearest fence - which he would smash into and summarily flatten.

Once inside the neighborís pasture, he would run around in circles a couple of times, take aim at the other side of the same fence and run through it again. Nowadays such an animal would probably be sent to a cow psychiatrist for counseling. But, in the primitive era of my childhood such behavior inevitably led to one outcome - 900 pounds of Vienna sausage, beef bologna and jumbo franks.

With much effort, Johnny and I managed to get the afflicted beast back into the holding pen where we doctored his barbed-wire wounds and nursed him back to health. Soon thereafter Dad decided we would haul him to market - apparently reasoning that since the bull preferred close quarters, he would remain calm once he was nestled between the wooden panels of the sideboards. This was a miscalculation.

The animal went willingly up the loading chute which emptied into the open truck bed. The problem was he didnít stop. At the very end of the chute he paused for an instant, as though he were an Olympic diver on a high board, then leaped - turning sideways as he went.

It was one of those moments which burns itself into a personís memory. Mere words are not sufficient to describe what happens when an airborne bull impacts a í48 Chevy truck with sideboards.

Dad had been standing on one of the fenders. He was thrown out onto the caliche roadbed and landed on his back with a resounding thump. A three-foot shard of splintered running board landed atop him.

Johnnyís saddlehorse had been sleepily standing near the front of the vehicle. Hearing the bull coming up the chute, he lethargically cracked one eyelid, saw what was happening and bolted. I was sure he would trample my father. Fortunately, Dad had gotten to his feet just as the frightened horse reached him. Instinctively realizing the steed was about to run him down, Dad swung the board like a baseball bat.

It was a homer! You could hear the crack for half a mile.

Within the space of a split second a simple husbandry chore had erupted into a chain reaction of chaotic violence. The bull was in the ditch, struggling to regain the air which had been knocked out of his lungs and trying desperately to stand up. The stunned pony was staggering sideways down the lane like a punch-drunk prize fighter. The old truck was hopping up and down on its shock absorbers - the chassis bobbing like a big green cork on the end of fishing line.

Johnny and I stared at the spectacle in slack-jawed bewilderment.

Evidently something about all this reminded Dad of my first driving lesson because he started yelling about the son of a bitch again. He was screaming something about killing it and was swinging that broken piece of sideboard around in the air as he chased the bull down the road.

I never saw that crazy animal again.

Shortly after this incident we got ourselves a stock trailer.

It was home-made. Dad had taken the axle off an old wrecked truck and cobbled up a heap of scrap metal. He started welding things together and, within a few weeks, we had a two-wheeled wonder. Johnny and I painted it the same color as the Chevy.

Word got around fast.

Within a week every small-time rancher in the area came by to gander at this marvelous new piece of equipment. It was indeed impressive. The sidewalls were of heavy plate tank steel reinforced with pipe and angle iron. The upper parts were made of sucker rods and pipe.

It was big enough to handle a couple of full-sized cows or several small calves. The tailgate was hung on rollers from above so manure wouldnít keep it from sliding open and shut. All the latches and handles were heavy and easy to use.

Uncertain which type of suspension might work best, Dad had incorporated everything he found into the design. It had heavy coil springs, shock absorbers, leaf springs and anti-sway bars. Two spare tires were bolted to specially-made racks mounted one on each side. There were safety chains at the hitch, directional signals, brake lights, taillights and reflectors at each corner. All the bases were covered.

"It may not be pretty as a store-bought trailer, but I bet it will hold whatever we put in it," Dad said, admiring his own handiwork.

Johnny was so proud of the new trailer he loaded his saddlehorse, Outlaw, in it and pulled it around behind him for several days, just so folks would notice.

It worked.

On his third trip to town, Johnny parked directly in front of and very near the only entrance to the Post Office. Since it was a little early for the mail carrier, he exited the vehicle and went across the street to the Texaco station for a soft drink. While Johnny was away old Outlaw raised his tail and relieved himself.

Evidence of the event contrasted sharply with the stark white soil of the parking lot.

It was difficult to ignore.

A small but spirited crowd had gathered by the time Johnny finished his drink and started back across the street. It was a handful of town ladies who undoubtedly had come to see if the latest copy of Baptist Standard had arrived. Their ingress was rudely impeded by a half-bushel of freshly delivered horseapples.

When Johnny saw the women from a distance he assumed they were admiring the new trailer.

Little did he know.

When he got within earshot he learned different. Some of the words the ladies used to express themselves can not be found in the Psalms, I assure you.

Although this sobering episode brought a close to the traveling exhibition, interest in the trailer remained keen among our neighbors. Many of them didnít have stock trailers of their own. Consequently, it wasnít long until they started asking if they could borrow it.

Dad firmly believed in the law of reciprocity - that whatever good deed one does for another will be rewarded many times over. Thus, he couldnít find it in himself to refuse a neighborly request. This eventually led to trouble.

An old family friend asked for the trailer on one Friday afternoon, promising to return it no later than sundown Saturday. Dad agreed.

We didnít see it again until Monday morning. It had been secretly parked in front of the house sometime late the night before. It was coated in dried manure and mud. The fenders were scratched and dented and the tailgate was bent.

We cleaned it and made repairs.

Dad didnít have much to say about it around the house, but evidently word of the incident must have gotten around. I donít recall anyone asking to borrow the trailer again.

The old Chevy truck and the trailer were a dandy combination. Johnny used them often to transfer livestock from one pasture to another. Before we had the trailer we had to use the horses to drive the cattle down the side of the road and through numerous gates and wire gaps.

This was slow, tedious going and it could be dangerous at times. You never knew when a passing vehicle might spook the cattle and cause them to scatter. Or, your horse might step on a rattlesnake and go crazy. Providing you only needed to move one or two head at a time, the truck and trailer rig was a big improvement.

The truck was geared for power. It simply wasnít possible to put more weight than the truck could pull in that small trailer. The only real drawback to Dadís overdone suspension system was that it didnít matter how many cows or calves you managed to stuff into the trailer, it still pulled like it was empty.

This was proven beyond doubt one day when Johnny and I decided to do my Dad a big favor and haul an old mama cow and a pair of calves to the livestock auction. As usual, the old Chevy roared right along at its cruising speed of 45 miles per hour, the trailer obediently following.

Every minute or two I would glance in the rearview mirror and see the old cow squinting her eyes against the wind. The calves stood wobbly-legged beside her, complacently watching the passing scenery. Johnny was singing along with Hank Williams on the radio.

We had just started down a small hill when I glanced at the engine temperature indicator and oil gauge. Everything looked normal. As my eyes were returning to the road ahead, my peripheral vision caught just a glimpse of a vehicle coming around us. As it came up even with the driverís window I instinctively looked over to see if I might recognize the other driver.

I did.

To my complete disbelief and utter horror, what I saw was our trailer passing us.

The old cow looked over at me and let out a bellow as she went by.

Needless to say, someone had forgotten to hook up the safety chains. The resultant wreck wasnít nearly as bad as it might have been.

The cattle were a little bunged up and bruised, but they still fetched a good price once we finally got them to the sale.

Fortunately, Dad never found out about the incident. Johnny and I were pretty good at covering our tracks by that time. If he had known about it, we were pretty sure his words would not have been those of the psalmist either. Johnny and I agreed that voluntary confessions might be good for the soul but hard on the hide.

Dad was unpredictable. Sometimes his fuse was short. Sometimes it was fairly long. But one thing was for sure, there was a full charge of powder waiting to be ignited. Neither of us wanted to make a spark that might touch him off.

In retrospect, he probably was more tolerant than we thought. Otherwise, neither of us would have survived to be adults. Had he been as volatile as we made him out, then the proprietor of the local hardware store would surely have met an early end.

He and Dad got crossways over a set of tires for Johnnyís old Chevy.

The store had just begun promoting their tires with a "road hazard" warranty. Dad heard about it and liked the idea of tires guaranteed against almost anything.

He was a busy man who didnít have patience for time-consuming nuisances such as flats and blowouts. He was one of the stores first customers.

I remember him telling my brother he was sure those tires were plenty tough since the dealer was willing to replace them if they developed holes or leaks.

Thus equipped, Johnny and his truck sallied forth into the pastures and riverbottoms and across the fields with a new confidence - perhaps just a tad too much, in fact.

Stumps were no longer avoided. Fallen limbs were summarily rolled over despite their size. Johnny swerved to hit broken glass in the road and spun the wheels on jagged rocks. Whether intentional or subconsciously, he seemed determined to learn exactly how much these wonderful new tires would actually take.

It wasnít long until he found out.

When Dad saw the first flat he was mystified.

"How in the world did you manage to get a hole that big this quick?" he asked, shoving one of his fingers completely through the puncture.

"I think I hit a pipe that was buried in the ground," Johnny said, failing to mention the tire blew on the third try.

Secure in the knowledge that he was protected by the warranty, Dad tossed the ruined tire into the bed of his company truck and proceeded straight-away to the store from whence it had come. I rode along.

The storekeeper was a gruff old gentleman with a reputation for displaying his temper if he thought someone was trying to pull a fast one. It was rumored that more than one local scalawag had been tossed out of his establishment as the result of disagreements.

My father was widely known as honest and peaceful, but someone whom you didnít want to provoke.

When Dad showed the man the tire, instead of simply taking a new one off his rack to replace it, he grumbled.

This was a mistake.

Dad became sullen.

"Just leave it here and Iíll patch it," the dealer said, "That little olí hole ainít big enough to justify replacing the tire."

I started looking for something to crawl under. My vivid recollection was calling up images of that sorrel gelding Dad had flattened with his fist.

To my immediate surprise, however, Dad said nothing. He simply turned around and carried the tire out the back door of the store to where his truck was parked. He tossed it into the bed and climbed in with it. Then he picked up the double-bitted ax he always carried there and began to chop.

I watched from a safe distance as hunks of rubber flew this way and that. Passersby stared curiously. Dad was oblivious to their gawking and continued swinging with a vengeance. I wondered whether I was witnessing a fit of anger or the prelude to a bloody murder. Given the situation and the mood of the moment, either seemed possible.

After what seemed an eternity he quit chopping and jumped out of the truck, ax in one hand, tire in the other. Striding into the store, he made his way over to the owner who at that moment had his back turned and was talking with a customer.

Dad politely waited.

When the man finished and turned around Dad held up the tire and thrust it toward him.

Looking at him through the ragged, gaping opening he had created, Dad asked: "Is that hole big enough now?"

A range of emotions registered on the store ownerís face. His eyes widened. Blood drained from his skin momentarily and then returned in a glow as he glanced from ax to tire to my perspiring father.

After what seemed a long and pregnant moment, he replied: "Yessir, I believe that is sufficient. Let me get you a new one, sir."

Dad smiled and said, "I need a new ax handle, too. This oneís busted."

The man wouldnít let Dad pay for the new handle. He said it was a token of appreciation for his patronage.

As it turned out, that set of tires gave good service and the warranty was excellent.

 

 

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