February 2, 2011



I guess this could be called the “Winter of our Discontent.” Or, maybe that has already been used. But, man, the snow just keeps coming and coming and coming. Temps below zero, wind chill advisory, more snow… I wonder where all the white goes when the snow melts?
Last week, I was telling you about my failed attempts as a teamster. You haven’t heard them all yet. We had Prince W. He was a one-eyed bucking horse that drove pretty darn good. In fact, Dad hooked him up at the McKenzie County Fair and Rodeo with one of Toby’s pickup horses and won the draft horse-pulling contest. Three hours later, someone won the bronc riding on him.
And then there was Clyde. Clyde was a huge percheron-cross that Linseth owned. He was blacker than the inside of a cow and stood about seventeen hands tall. Maybe a little better. I couldn’t stand the sight of him just standing in the pen. I had to drive him. You know, like a painter who can’t stand looking at a blank canvas.
Trouble was, I knew very little about breaking a team. If you haven’t already figured that out. I had Lee, our neighbor, come down to help me. We called Lee for lots of help over the years. I had been driving Clyde and another pretty-much unbroken horse around the corral. Being the fixer-upper that I am, I had put a pole on an old wagon, and figured I had a pretty good outfit put together.
Lawrence was a construction worker that was staying at our place at the time. He was part of a road crew working in the area. And an old family friend. He had just come home from work and had cleaned up to head in to Joe’s Bar. Joe had a sign that advertised “Free Beer Tomorrow” hung behind the bar. Lawrence had seen the sign the day before, and didn’t realize that the same sign would be there that night.
Anyway, Lee helped me adjust the harness. Kelly mounted up on Zip and was going to snub the team up to prevent any runaway. Lawrence stood under the shade of a tree with a beer in his hand to watch this deal before he headed for town. Clyde, the percheron, was a little antsy. He was throwing his head and prancing around. The other horse didn’t seem to pay him much mind.
We got that team hooked up to the wagon, and I told Lee to jump on. Lee just looked at me and grunted. “I never trusted a prancer,” he said, as he declined the maiden voyage of my outfit.
The first few steps seemed to go all right. And then that wagon box started to rattle a little. Clyde started to throw a fit, and the wagon rattled a little more. The off horse got excited and started to lunge in the harness. Zip, our snubbing horse, blew up and started to buck with Kelly. Kelly pitched the rope in the air and had his hands full. Like usual, I was on my own.
Clyde and his partner ignored my screams and headed out of the yard. I was bounding around that wagon like a bb in a box and trying to pull on the lines. Things were happening pretty fast, and I was pulling on the right line with all my mite. We made a circle in front of the house, tore through the garden and scarred an oak tree with a tire swing on it.
By then, I had lost all control, and was pretty much just pulling for my own exercise. We ran by Lawrence and caused him to throw his beer in the air and run for the house.
The horses were in full stride when we struck the side of Lawrence’s pickup. And this one wasn’t a glancing blow. The pole struck the driver’s side door right in the center. I can now tell you from experience that when a team hits the side of a four-wheel-drive pickup, the team will stop.
Much like my mule-driving deal, I flew through the air and landed atop the team. My patched up harness was pretty much demolished. My wagon was wrecked. We had broken a wheel on the oak tree. Lawrence’s pickup had a couple thousand dollars damage. He had spilled his beer. Kelly had ridden Zip to a standstill.
I crawled off the top of the team and walked shakily over to Lee, who was still standing by the cake house steps. The whole deal had taken about ten seconds. Lee lit up a Pall Mall, shook his head, and said, “I never trusted a prancer.”
Me, neither.