RANCH TRAVEL DURING THE 1960’s
By Steve Moreland, June 11, 2017
My parents owned and operated a modest-sized ranch northeast of Merriman, Nebraska during my younger years. I was born in November of 1951, so kind of “grew up” during the 1950’s and 1960’s. In those days, Dad’s ranch consisted of about 4000 acres of a “balanced” Sandhills ranch with good hay meadows and adequate pasture ground. He ran all Hereford cattle, and calved out about 230 cows each spring. Each year he saved back some of the best male calves to keep and market as breeding bulls. The bigger end of the steer calves were sold at weaning time as feeders, and the smaller ones were kept over to make grass yearlings the next summer. The biggest and best heifer calves were kept as replacements, and the rest were marketed as feeder calves.
Despite the ranch not running a lot of cattle, times seemed to be good enough that Dad usually had a full-time hired hand. The single man would live in the bunkhouse, and my mother would cook and provide meals for whoever was working there at the time.
In those days, we had one car and one two-wheel-drive pickup. Dad was kind of hard on vehicles. Our car was usually the cheapest Chevrolet available, which was a Biscayne model. Dad traded each year at Shoenthaler Chevrolet in Rushville. These cars were quite basic, although they would have a heater and radio. Air conditioning was starting to become available, but was pricey enough that our cars never came with that option. I remember our family going on annual Hereford tours throughout the state of Nebraska. There would be lots of cars on those gravel roads, and conditions were hot and dusty. Windows needed to be down to let in cooler air, but needed to be up to keep out the dust. It was always a dilemma to decide which was worse, the heat or the dust. Our neighbor’s wife, Genevra Cobb, laughed about her husband’s antics. When they would drive through town, he wanted the windows up so people would think they had air-conditioning in their car.
The reason Dad wore out cars so fast was that they got around through the hills better than a two-wheel-drive pickup. Dad even caked his cows each day by putting three 100 pound burlap sacks of cottonseed cake in the trunk of the car, and going out into the cattle to feed them. He would open one end of the sack just a tiny bit, and drag the full sack on the ground slowly depositing the cake. If there was snow on the ground, the dragging sack actually plowed a trail through the snow as the cake was fed. On one occasion, the cows were crowding around him and the cake sack, and a cow stepped on his big toe. It turned purple as it was probably broken, but he figured there was not much than could be done about it so didn’t seek medical treatment.
The pickup was used to haul bigger loads. A stock rack would be bolted into place if livestock needed to be hauled. One time Dad was hauling a flighty bull to the Gordon Sale Barn. The bull was trying desperately to jump out, so Dad stopped and cut off quite a bit of the top wire of the fence along the barrow pit. He wove the wire back and forth across the top of the stock-rack as a barrier for the jumping bull. After safely getting the bull to the sale, he bought a new spool of barbed wire and replaced the borrowed wire on his way home.
We had a couple of International brand pickups at different times during the 1950’s. These were purchased from the local Merriman dealer, Bob Ireland. He had a shop north of the railroad tracks, which Galloways now own. Bob sold International pickups and International tractors, and he specialized in “reversing” a lot of Super C and H tractors to be used as hay sweeps. These would essentially be driven backwards, with a sweep head in front of the big tires, and the smaller turning wheels were then at the rear. A lot of tractors were rigged up like this in those days.
Dad continued to drive Chevolet Biscaynes until he traded for a nice brand new 1964 luxury Pontiac Bonneville. This was quite a step up for our family, as the car even came equipped with air-conditioning. It also had an automatic transmission, which was the first car we ever had that wasn’t a “three-on-the-tree” simple three speed shifting lever on the steering column. By then, we had two pickups on the ranch, so this car lasted for three years. Dad liked it so well, that he special ordered another Pontiac. He thought a three-speed stick shift was a better ranch car, so he ordered the new car to have that feature, and it was a 1967 Pontiac Catalina, a less-fancy version. Dad did order the new car to be the same Navy Blue with a white top as the other car, hoping maybe his mother Grace wouldn’t notice and consider him “frivolous” for getting another new car.
The second International pickup that Dad used wasn’t as good of an outfit as the first one. It was always “cold-blooded” and hard to start. Dad traded it for a new 1959 Ford half-ton pickup, and we had this one for several years. It had a wide box, with no running boards, so two horses wearing saddles could be hauled in it. This pickup was dark green, with a nice red Obeco-brand wooden stock rack. It was our only pickup until the fall of 1961, when Dad purchased a used 1959 four-wheel-drive half-ton Chevrolet pickup. With all four wheels turning, this outfit could get around much better than any of our previous pickups, but it was terribly rough-riding. Ranching became easier, with two pickups and one car. Life was good.
In 1961, Dad bought 2140 acres of new pastureland from Fred Fuchser, which was about thirty miles southwest of the ranch where we lived. There was a sign at the south side of Merriman in those days which read: “Ten miles marked and maintained, 65 miles unmarked Sandhills trail to Hyannis.” Even though this new land was mostly south of Merriman, the best road to get there was to go fifteen miles west of Merriman, then south across the Lions Bridge, past the Pioneer School another several miles to the end of the oil strip, then beyond the ranch where Frank and Margaret Bornemann lived, and about five more miles of trail road to our pasture. From a kid’s perspective, it seemed like these hills were a part of the wild-west and in the last frontier. Many horseback miles were necessary, and mostly enjoyed, in getting cattle back and forth between the two ranches for the next many years.
Dad eventually traded his 1959 Ford ½ ton two-wheel-drive pickup for a new 1963 ¾ ton Ford four-wheel-drive pickup. This pickup was cream-colored, and had a narrow box with running boards. Skeeter Johnston from Montana was working for my dad, and he was a great welder. He built a nice pipe stock-rack for the pickup, and he designed and made a two-horse tandem-axle trailer with steel and plywood. The stock-rack and an army tool box on a running board were painted green, and so was the steel frame of the trailer. With the pickup and the rest of the trailer being cream-colored, the complete outfit did look rather sharp.
The pickup just had a single cab, as crew cabs were really not very available for another ten or twelve years. With the pickup and trailer both being narrow-boxed, two horses could be loaded on each as long as the horses weren’t wearing saddles. The saddles would be cinched onto the stock-rack. We traveled lots of miles with Dad driving, Mom and my two sisters (Nancy had not yet been born), and cooking and camping gear in the single cab, two horses on the pickup, two horses on the trailer, several saddles strapped to the stock-rack, and a hired man and three young boys each riding on a running board hanging on for dear life. On at least one occasion, we traveled all the way from Merriman to our summer pasture in such fashion. When Dad turned south at the Irwin turnoff, Ken Moreland lost his hat. We had a hard time getting Dad’s attention to stop the pickup so Ken could retrieve his hat.
On many of these trips, there was more people than there was available riding space. On another occasion, John Fairhead, Davy Jones, and I sat on top of the cab of the pickup riding with our feet dangling over the windshield. We did have the pipe stock-rack behind us to use to hang on. A cop would have had a hey-day if they had stopped dear old Dad, but this practice was probably not necessarily “illegal” in those days.
In the spring of 1963, Dad hired three young men to help with both fencing and haying. Some new cross fence was being constructed on our summer range, so Dad and I and the three young men would spend each day down south fencing and come back home at night. One hot evening we were headed down the road just north of the Pioneer School. Dad and the three hard workers were riding in the front, and I was in the back of the pickup. They were passing the burlap-wrapped Chlorox glass gallon jar of water between them, and Dad reached around the driver’s side window to hand me the jug. He momentarily lost control of the pickup and it went into the ditch. He quickly gained control of the steering wheel, but I dropped the jug. A lot of dust was in the air, but we backed up so I could jump out to retrieve the bit jar. Fortunately it landed in soft sand and didn’t break.
One summer Sunday afternoon, we pre-arranged a picnic. After church, Dad’s brother Stan, his wife Joy Lu, and their three kids joined with us, and also the Bruce Weber family came along for the ride. Extra cars were left at the church, and all of us loaded up into Dad’s 1963 Ford pickup. This was in 1966 or 1967. Dad, Mom, Joy Lu Moreland, Bonnie Weber, and my little baby sister Nancy Jean were all in the cab. Uncle Stan, Bruce Weber, and the nine older kids were situated in the box of the pickup. By this time the highway south of Merriman went for about twenty miles. We drove down the highway to the turn-off across from the Minor Camp, and then went on a trail road west for seven or eight miles. Our destination was the “shack” in Uncle Stan’s summer pasture, which was also part of the Fred Fuchser place, and it joined Dad’s pasture to the south. We had a picnic at the shack, and checked a few windmills on the way back home. The whole afternoon was spent, and the moon was coming up as we started the drive home. I remember going down a long straight-away, a coyote was running down the road. Bruce Weber hollered, “Get ‘em, Bob!” and the race was on. Dad was driving pretty fast trying to run over the coyote, and Bruce and us kids were cheering him on. Mom and Bonnie were hollering equally as loud to “Slow Down!” I think the coyote eventually dodged off the road and escaped, but it was exciting for a little while.
Sometimes looking back, it’s almost a wonder we have lived long enough to reach adulthood. However, a miss is as good as a mile, and memories were made.