My father suffered a severe spinal injury when I was only five years old. It would be almost three years before he would walk without the aid of special made shoes with big steel braces that came up to just below the knee and strapped to his leg. Even then, it wasn’t that he didn’t need them, he just refused to wear them any longer. He walked with a cane to steady himself and learned to get along very well. My father knew his limitations but never looked at himself as a cripple.
By the time I was 14 years old, I had learned to do a man’s day's work. With the shape dad was in, I was always eager to do more so he would not have to try. At age 14 I started doing construction work and the rest of the men on the crew thought I was 18. As I continued to grow in size and ability, my father began to do something that I suppose many fathers do. He was very wise and could do most anything, but no longer had the physical ability to do so. As a result, he taught me to do those things at an early age. Starting in my teens, dad would volunteer me to help wherever I might be needed. It didn’t seem to matter what the job was, with the knowledge and skills he had already taught me, he deemed me equipped for the job.
When I turned 18 and graduated from high school, I married my high school sweetheart and moved out on my own. Growing up we had a few head of stock on our little place. As much as we could handle for my dad’s condition and a growing boy. Now on my own and living on 50 acres of good ground, my dad got the idea to start hog farming. I agreed and we started our little operation. It was small at first but as anyone who has ever worked with hogs can attest, that can change rapidly. Within a year we were maintaining a herd of up to 350 head at a time.
Besides the hogs we also found some land to tend in an attempt to raise at least part of the feed for all the animals. This along with working a six day a week, 10 hours a day job certainly kept life from getting slow or boring. There were always three chores waiting before I could finish the one I was working on. One of those was being our own veterinarian. Since there wasn’t a vet around for many miles, I had to learn how and do the job myself. I got pretty good at it too. Good enough that I began to be called on by neighbors when they needed something. And if they didn’t call on me, as I stated, my dad would volunteer my services. On the rare occasion that I did have a day off from my regular job, dad usually either had something planned for me to do or had me loaned out to somebody.
With that many head of hogs to deal with there were frequent trips to the local sale barn where we would sell a load. My dad had a distant cousin that worked at the barn as one of the top men. I don’t know exactly what Jim’s job was, but I do know he was one of the bosses. We always spent time there visiting when we had animals to sell.
On this particular day, we arrived early with a pretty large load to sell. Jim told my dad that it might take a while because he had three men that didn’t show up that day and was very short handed. To make matters worse, there were two tractor trailer rigs setting on the lot to be loaded with cattle—one of them with a load of bulls. I have heard cattle described as a whole lot of trouble wrapped up in a big leather bag. A pretty good description. True to form, my dad told Jim that we were kind of caught up and that I would help him out. At least till he got the two trailers of cattle loaded. This conversation took place while I was already unloading and penning my own load of animals—a job that was usually done for you. When I finished, dad informed me of my new duties for the rest of the morning at least.
The first trailer was backed into place and we began to unpin and load the cattle in medium size groups. We were saving the bulls till last. We got the trailer loaded without incident and the second trailer was backed into place. We were now ready to start loading the bulls. While loading the cattle, just about everyone, including me, had a wooden stick about a half inch in diameter and three feet in length. If a cow started trying to turn on you or just stop, a gentle tap on the shoulder or rump was usually enough to cause her to go on with the others. Bulls are a different story altogether. If cattle are a lot of trouble wrapped up in a leather bag, then bulls are an extremely powerful, very temperamental, highly volatile, and potentially dangerous bunch of trouble wrapped in a leather bag. And if you throw in a nice set of horns, that mixture gets compounded.
Before we started bringing the bulls out of their pens, in much smaller groups, the small light weight sticks were put aside. In their place were pronged hot-sticks. For anyone might not be familiar with them, a hot-stick is usually a battery powered device. When you press the button on the handle with those prongs against a bull’s rump delivers a nice little shock—enough to get his attention but not nearly enough to hurt the animal. Jim also had a couple of hot-sticks that were wired into an electric fence box just in case a little extra jolt was needed. Still not enough to hurt, the animal but definitely enough to get his attention.
Anyone who had worked around cattle, any at all, knows that these devices are used as sparingly as possible, especially the ones wired into the box with the long cord. They also know that there are certain parts of the bull’s anatomy that you do not want to use that device on unless it is an absolute last resort. Even then, you do so at the risk of your own peril.
Jim had one new hand that seemed to delight in hitting those bulls with his hot-stick. And of course, he just had to be one of the men with the one that was wired in to the electric fence. As we loaded the first deck of the trailer, Jim repeatedly told him to stop using that stick on the bulls when it wasn’t necessary. He ignored the warnings. I remarked to Jim that it was only a matter of time until he hit the wrong one and we would all have our hands full then. We were down to the last two pens of bulls by this time. Had I any way of knowing just how prophetic my statement was going to be, I would have found some reason to excuse myself and gotten out of there at that moment.
Livestock sale barns are large structures, with the bulk of the area open air where the pens start. They are constructed of large posts of either wood or steel. I am sure most today are made of steel, but this was an old establishment. The main support posts were twelve-by-twelve timbers set in concrete. At the top there were large four-by-four braces on either side at about a 45 degree angle with large heavy lag bolts securing them in place. It made for a very strong, secure structure. There were two rows of these large posts in this one, running the length of the building, each sitting about 10 feet on either side of the center ridge of the roof. They created a nice wide corridor to move the stock through.
The next pen was opened and the bulls eased out into the corridor where we began to gently urge them on their way. Things were going very smoothly right up to the point where our resident ‘Dennis the Menace’ decided that the last bull needed to pick it up a bit. Without warning, he stuck that hot-stick to a particularly sensitive part of that bull’s anatomy. That’s right—he stuck that stick to the bull’s testicles and hit the button. That bull absolutely lost his mind. Not that I am blaming the bull, you understand. If someone were to do that to me, I would probably have much the same reaction as the bull had.
This particular bull weighed in somewhere in the 1,200 to 1,400 lb., range with a nice set of eight to 10 inch horns on him. Before we knew what was happening, that thing was after anything on two feet with blood in his eyes, determined that someone was going to pay dearly for that little sensation. The fight or flight instantly kicked in on me. Yeah, right! There was no fight to it. Any grand heroics attempted now could very likely become part of your epitaph. I can hear it now. The men standing around at the funeral home saying, “Man, he sure was brave to take on that bull like he did.”
Then another would add, “Yep, dumm’r n a box of rocks, but brave.” My parents did not raise such a foolish child. I went up one of those big timber posts like a squirrel goes up a tree, and did it wearing cowboy boots, all the way to the support pieces near the top. It was easier to hold on from there. As I looked around, I noticed that Jim was up the next post in a similar position. I then asked what may seem like a bit of a foolish question. I said, “Well, Jim, just what do you propose that we do now?”
Jim looked at me and replied, “You do what you want, but I am staying right here for now.”
The sound of the destruction going on below was enough to keep us both securely fixed to those support pieces. If that were not enough, a quick look down would be sufficient to keep you where you were for some time to come. That bull was tearing the place apart. Running his horns through the two-by-sixes that made up the holding pens, and ripping up through two and three of them at a time. When he came to the wooded gate, he went through it like a runaway locomotive. It was almost as if it didn’t exist in his mind at the moment. He had torn through just about everything when he got to the gate leading outside. This gate was made of heavy steel tubing for just such an occasion. He was bending it but could not get through.
As I surveyed the damage from my lofty perch, I heard Jim exclaim, “Oh Dear God, No!” I quickly turned and following the direction of his gaze, I saw what had him frightened. The bull had seemed to calm down slightly but not nearly enough to feel safe. Climbing over the fence right there beside that angry beast was the cutest little five year old, blond headed girl you have ever seen. Jim and I both began to yell for someone to get that child. It was too late. We watched in horror as this little blonde headed girl climbed down the inside of the fence right beside the bull. Although we could not hear what she was saying, it was clear that she was talking 90-to-nothing as she did. By the time that baby's foot hit the ground, that bull was standing there as calm as could be.
The horror on our faces turned to amazement as we watched this small child walk up to that bull. She reached out her hand and took hold of the large ring in his nose. Her entire hand fit in the ring. She turned and began to lead this huge animal like it was an obedient puppy. Talking to it the whole time. Shaming it for, in her words, “Scaring these nice men, you should be ashamed of yourself, just look at the mess you made here. Now you behave yourself and get on that trailer with your friends and don’t be a bad boy no more.” I saw a look of dumbfounded confusion and total amazement on Jim’s face and I'm sure mine looked much the same. She walked the bull to the back of the trailer. She then told it to bend down, which it did, and she gave it a kiss on the nose and said goodbye. At that point it obediently walked up the ramp and got on the trailer just like she told it to. We were so dumbfounded by what we had just witnessed that we were still setting up on our lofty perches. As she walked back by our perches, she paused and looking up at us said, “Misters, I am sorry BooBoo acted ugly and scared y'all like that. Something must have made him pretty mad. But he really is a good boy. Y'all can come down cause he won’t hurt you now.” With that, she turned and headed back toward the inside portion of the sale barn and the office where her grandfather and my dad were watching out the big window. My dad was laughing so hard he could hardly stand. We shimmied down the big posts. Once back on the ground, I looked at Jim and said, “I saw it, but I still am not sure I believe it.”
To which Jim replied, “If you tell the Lord this on judgement day, I will be compelled to swear you are lying.”
Jim and I walked back to the main office area where we would hear ‘The Rest of the Story’ as the great Paul Harvey used to say. This little girl was being cared for by her grandparents. Her parents had been killed by a drunk driver when she was only an infant. Out of each crop of calves born, she picked one bull calf that was hers. She bottle-fed it and cared for it herself. Her grandfather said that by the time they were a few months old, he didn’t think they even knew they were a bovine anymore. He said they would follow her around the yard. Over the coming years, she would become quite a sensation, as each year she would bring one of her bulls to sell. That money was being set aside for her college fund.
Jim retired, and dad and I got out of the business a couple of years later when I severely injured my back. I have often wondered how college went for her and what she majored in. Wonder if she became a vet?
And that is just the way it happened... give or take a lie or two.