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If I were to mention one thing that distinguishes the old time ranchers, I would say their love of horses. My great Aunt Helen who took over the place in 1910 was widely known as the best horse woman in the area. During those days ladies often rode side-saddle, a style which required a different rig wherein the rider had both legs on the same side of the horse. The best American side-saddle ever made was made by Montgomery Wards and cost three dollars new.

Helen could also ride astride as men do. She went horseback practically all the time until the day she had her right hand ring-finger amputated around the year 1925. After that, she always drove a truck or a car. Despite her respect for riding on a horse she had the reputation of forbidding her calves from being roped. During brandings she insisted that the cowboys not rope the critters but rather grab them each by the hind leg and drag them to the wraslers who held them down while the hot irons burned the two-circle brand on their left flanks.

We used horses to put up the hay for ninety years on the ranch. In the beginning, of course, all the machines were driven by horses: the mowers, the rakes, the sweeps and the stacker. At the end, only the stacker was powered by horses. Today, we bale.

One summer day, after they had mowed down all the grass in the meadow south of the ranch house, one of the hands was driving four horses which pulled a rake to gather the hay into windrows near the ditch. The ground is particularly soft in this area because of the underground water; in some years you can bounce up and down on it like a trampoline. Sometimes a horse would put its hoof through the sod layer and bog down the whole team.

On this occasion, as the rake dragged across the ground, the curved teeth snagged in the wet sod. There were about a hundred of these teeth on an old horse-drawn rake: steel parenthesis whose tips scraped the earth and gathered a roll of cut fodder into the concave of their curve until the teamster pulled a lever and they swung up, dumping the column of hay into the straight windrow. But when these teeth snagged they stalled the horses who could not pull past the force of a hundred steel rods stuck into the ground. Once horses stall they begin to panic. They want to bolt off because they have the feeling that they are trapped, caught by a predator.

The procedure in such an emergency is for the driver to pull the pin connecting the harness to the rig and release the team. We had a good man on the rake and he did just that. The four horses took off northwards and raced towards the ranch house, their reins trailing behind them.

Helen was inside and heard all the ruckus. She came outside and saw the team running right at her heading directly for the barbed wire fence that marked out the ranch house yard. The whole team leaped the fence. Once they were in the yard, Helen raced behind them and grabbed the reins in her hands. With the skill of a natural horse handler she pulled the whole team into order and stopped their panic. By the time the driver had run up to the ranch house she had the team back in the meadow and tied to a post.

Then she headed back into the ranch house to make sure that dinner was ready on time. The hay crew never missed a meal.



Traveling To and Fro

A rancher who has a place north of us was seen landing his aircraft at the town airport Monday. Apparently he was "jetting" into town for his branding. Don't mean to brag but I am often seen "jeeping" into town for our brandings. Besides it's a dirty lie: his plane isn't a jet at all, but a twin engine, turboprop, Skyking that seats less than a dozen people! About as much as the Jeep holds! Talk about putting on airs. The town landing strip is only three thousand feet long and won't suit most jets.


Had the good news this summer of a bumper hay crop and a host of visitors all of whom seemed to love the place and were not prone to litigation. Besides the Cornhusker from New York, who is a lady who grew up in Omaha and moved to the East and who used to laugh at people from the outlying Nebraska counties for being so rustic, we have also had the Physician Haywadie and his wife, the New York University Administrator for Foreign Exchange Students. The Cornhusker New Yorker has proudly sent me a photograph of herself closing a barbed wire gate. I guess she thought that I1d be impressed at the sight of her standing next to the fence. Ah dudes!

The Physician Haywadie used to work out here during the summers of his teenage years. He remembered the old timers and his wife, who grew up in Denver, seemed to enjoy our fresh air and clear skies. They even made a point of going out to see where we were baling hay.

During his day we didn1t put the hay up in these big five foot high round bales. At that time we stacked it into haystacks that started out twelve feet tall, then settled down to eight to ten feet. We had a home built stacker which had a big cage to hold the hay and two tall rails where a loader, called the stack head, slid above the top of the pile and dumped each load of hay on the growing stack. Some guy had the itchy duty of jumping up and down on the hay wadding it down more compactly; thus the term 3haywadie2. Soon this term referred to any hand who hired on for hay work.

Our Physician Haywadie actually ran a straight rake--a thirty foot long attachment to a tractor that scraped up the dry mowed hay and dumped it into a column called a 3windrow2. This line of hay was then pushed into piles by tractors called the 3sweeps2 and next swept onto the head of the stacker. He tells the story of the day they had to move the stacker past the telephone lines. Since the stacker stood twenty five feet tall they had to detach the telephone lines from a couple of poles and lift them over the rails as they moved the stacker under them. Generally they left the wires unattached until the time when they needed to move the stacker back up the hill.

Well, our Physician Haywadie was doing the complicated maneuver of moving a thirty foot rake through a fifteen foot wide gate which required constantly looking behind him. So he didn1t notice these telephone wires drooping down over the top of his tractor. The muffler pipe caught the lines and stretched them like a bow string until they snapped back and caught him under the chin, nearly knocking him off his tractor. He carried the scar for the next several years.

Can only admire those tough old cow hands. Today the land line is underground. Not much romance in being struck down by a telephone line. I told him to tell people he got the wound from roping cattle. Not every honest injury is glorious. But how much damage can a cell phone cause? 080503


When the Court House Opened

Having got the television back up and running I have been able to catch up with current events. While everybody awaits the outcome of the recall election in California and as they dispute upon the attitudes of partisan politics, I am reminded of my great-grandfather who was elected a county commissioner by getting the nominations of both the Republican and Democratic committees. Those who had secured only the nomination of one party were handily defeated. It just shows you that with just a little more effort at getting endorsements you can achieve success where others have failed. If I get out to California I think I1ll vote for my great-grandfather for governor. Small minded critics might claim that he is a do nothing candidate having been dead for over a hundred years, yet I think that he is incapable of the kind of blunders that his more animate opponents have committed.

Back to the subject of improvements to the life style out here in the Sandhills. When the county opened up a new court house in 1957 they replaced the old building which had a single jail cell used typically to house cowboys who got carried away with their first drink of beer; some, it must be said, drank more than they voted. The new building now had four prison cells, each equipped with a toilet. In addition, the public were provided with a pair of restrooms, one for each gender.

When my great-aunt Helen heard about this huge number of bathrooms she thought that the county had wasted their money on an extravagant amount of indoor plumbing. Somebody asked her, 3What should we do to celebrate the opening of the new court house?2

She replied, 3Why don1t we give everybody a dose of salts?2

An odd kind of civic celebration to suggest, certainly, but one that seems surprisingly more appropriate as we consider the events of these agitated days.


Lightening Strike


After taking over the country of Iraq about the biggest thing that we have had to worry about lately has been the lightening strike that occurred a month or so ago. I talked to my cousin Tommy about it over at his cabin and he tells me that he was busy washing dishes--a likely story--approximately at 10:30 p.m. when POP! ZIP! the power went out and didn1t come back for eight hours. We think the bolt hit the power lines because some time later the power company came out and replaced the transformer on the pole near the old ranch house.

This burnt out the satellite box to the television, the fax machine and fried the circuits of the microwave oven. We had given this microwave oven to my Uncle Frank about ten years ago. Mom had to carry it on her lap during the plane trip which presented difficulties because it was big enough to hide a body inside, especially if you were prone to assassinating small people.

Managed to scavenge another microwave from elsewhere on the ranch, but getting the satellite television back up and running has turned into a nightmare. Mom and I have made about a half dozen calls to DirectTV and each time we have had to navigate through the voicemail menu until we got to a live person. Then we get a report that often is quite ridiculous like, for instance, they have ordered us a new remote control. Now, if this remote control has a strong enough range to reach back into Florida where DirectTV has its telephone set-up, and unless it has a button on it marked 3DETONATE2 I don1t think the device will have much use for us. To repeat simply the reason why: the satellite box has been burnt out by a lightening strike. You could bring that remote control wand right up to the infrared sensor on the satellite box till it almost touches the plastic face and it would still be a case of Pharaoh trying to raise the dead. But I will not emote on about the remote wand.

To tell the plain truth we ought to be grateful for all the progress that we have seen out here on the ranch, despite the odd inconveniences. For decades the only TV we had out here came from a feeble signal that we could just barely receive from a twenty foot antenna built on the north hill. That gave us one snowy channel broadcast by a station in North Platte. They showed an awful lot of episodes of Bonanza interspersed with some local programming that I thought terrifically entertaining. They had a deal for the nearby businesses to produce their own commercials and you could tune in to see some of the station models advertising the new fall fashions by shivering on the town street corners. I couldn1t get enough of that. If you knocked that antenna just a yea bit this way or that you would konk the picture out completely, which in a way made it more valuable.

Just want to mention the history of my great-aunt Helen and her first radio before I finish up with the story about Harvey and the beer keg. In 1932 Helen bought a radio and brought it out to the ranch where she had a large array of rechargeable batteries to power it. The batteries were charged by a wind turbine which she used until Roosevelt and the R.E.A. built electric lines to the rural areas. Helen wrote a letter about this radio saying that they had interference from the refrigerator motor until they found a method of grounding the set. Finally she was able to hear the 1932 Democratic National Convention out of Chicago and, in particular, a nominating speech by one Mr. Igoe who was a lawyer that went to Georgetown Law School with Helen1s brother, my grandfather, Thomas R. Lynch II. Roosevelt won and did right by Helen, although we still have a copy of her 1944 Income Tax Form which is a single legal-sized sheet, front and back.

Harvey Evans managed the ranch for about forty five years. He first came out here in 1925 during Prohibition. He used to tell me where all the bootleggers hid their stills in those days; one fellow secreted his underneath the floor of an old chicken coop. I think this one blew up and made for a very dry Fourth of July that year.

Having steeled himself to this kind of hooch, Harvey had few particular specifics about what he drank, just so long as he had something when the occasion demanded. In those days, before the state paved the highway, the cowboys had a hard time getting into town so you had to make sure that you had plenty of beer for them at the dinner you gave after they finished branding the spring calves. Now, I have recently heard from a merchant who had an interest in retailing intoxicating spirits to people regardless of creed, race or place of national origin, that one year Harvey came by to get a couple of cases of beer for the branding. The merchant told him it would be a better bargain to purchase a keg of beer and to rent a pump so the cowhands could take as much as they wanted without littering the place with empty beer cans.

No enemy of progress, Harvey went ahead and bought the beer keg. Well, of course, when they finished branding they couldn1t figure out how to tap the keg and put the pump in it. But a thin layer of metal wouldn1t keep those old-timers away from their beer. So they decided to solve the problem cowboy style. They went up to the shop and got the acetylene welder plus a sparker. Then they used a blow torch to cut off the top of the keg and ladled out the scorched beer using a paper cup. For some reason the merchant has remembered the story all these years. Perhaps he appreciates the lesson it provides in perseverance. Discerning reader, what have you learned?

Today it goes without saying that every college student knows how to tap a keg of beer. Few, alas, have acquired any useful skill in acetylene welding. Nothing may be gained without something being lost; but, my! how the improvements astonish us! In the present world we have electricity hooked into most of the buildings and a radio in each of the cars. And, lest we forget, by merely pressing a button on the remote control I can sit and watch the road into the ranch for hours at a stretch wondering when, if ever, the Federal Express guy will get here with the satellite TV box. Perhaps, after all, we should cherish some things from the old days.

But no one regrets the passing of the outhouse!




Aunt Helen and the Old Soddy


So, we're getting ready for the reunion which starts on Friday, June 22 at the ranch; the big day is Saturday, June 23, (the schedule is printed below in the Reunion section). Mother hired Deb the painter to paint the dining room and the bedroom of the ranch house. The rooms look so spruced up that we worry people wouldn't recognize the place and sort of be disappointed that things had changed so much. As a consolation we can take them up to the dump and let them look at the remains of the old bunk house.

All this led to a discussion of whether it has been fifty or a hundred years since these rooms had been painted. I came out against a hundred since the ranch house wasn't built until 1906, and at that time it was just the kitchen and the dining room. The bedrooms and the upstairs were added later.

The story goes that my great Aunt Helen was cooking breakfast one day in the second soddy when she looked up from her frying pan and saw a snake staring back at her from out of the wall. Helen didn't like snakes and decided then and there to built a frame house on the ranch so she wouldn't have unexpected ecology visiting her from inside the walls. Soddies, of course, were houses constructed from bricks of sod cut out from the unplowed prairie. If you covered them with about a half of a foot of plaster they were very cool and snake-free, but my family was not bred for extravagance so none of that expensive plaster shows up anywhere in the bloodline. The snakes got us the frame house, though.

No picture exists of the second soddy, which sat under the cottonwoods east of the current ranch house. We do have a picture of my grandfather Tom Lynch II, Helen's brother, on a horse next to the original soddy which was just east of the flow well on the south side of Home Valley. Here it is:

Probably not much extravagance in the horse's bloodline either, judging from the photo. Told the story of Helen and the snake to some friends in town, Thespis, a Lady from Lincoln, and a Lady from North of Town, and they launched into a tale of how they have been gathering snakes in May. Apparently even brick houses are subject to snakes too; there was an infestation of them so bad that Thespis and Lincoln Lady had to gather them up and collect them in a trash can. They caught about about a hundred of them which they delivered to a local entrepreneur who sells them to people in Denver where there is a shortage. The North Town Lady said that when the snakes swarmed on her driveway she drove over them with her pickup truck until they became docile and unsnakelike.

In the days before air conditioning people cooled off by driving with their windows open and scads of grasshoppers would fly into the car and collect on the dashboard. Aunt Helen used to grab them and flip their heads off with her thumb.

Today is great Grand Dad's 159th birthday. Jay Falotico, June 18.

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Black and white photo of Harvey et al and of the windmill courtesy of Mary Zagozda. Copyright, photos and text Lynch Circle Ranch, Ltd. Partnership, 2003.--080503