COLD WEATHER COMPLICATIONS
By Steve Moreland, January 2, 2018
For the past several years we have done all of our hay feeding using pickups with Hydra-Bed bale handlers. A caker is mounted on the front of the Hydra-Bed, allowing protein cubes (cake) to be hauled and fed with the same vehicle. This seems to be satisfactorily efficient, because one person driving one vehicle can make one pass through a bunch of cattle and deliver both cake and hay.
Several years ago I had bought hay from the Quible Ranch, and was feeding our cows on Quibles’ meadow. On a blustery cold windy day with snow accumulating rapidly, I had finished feeding one group of cows and had thrown open a gate while driving the pickup into a hay yard to get two more bales loaded. All went well, and I stepped out of the pickup to close the bale yard gate. In doing so, I slipped on a frozen cow chip while shutting the door of the pickup. After closing the gate, I went to open the pickup door to continue on my way. Imagine my chagrin to realize I had inadvertently locked myself out of the pickup. The automatic lock that I had accidentally bumped took care of both doors, and both doors were locked.
Fortunately a few things were in my favor. I was dressed warm, and was wearing heavy gloves. The highway was less than a quarter mile away. My cell phone was in my shirt pocket, and my son answered my call of distress on the first ring. I called my oldest son, Will Moreland, who has a welding shop in Merriman. He is usually quite ingenious and I had faith he could figure out a way to unlock the door. He was also located only six miles from where I was standing out in the frosty air.
While waiting to be rescued, I walked to a windbreak near the highway seeking shelter from the cold and blowing snow. By the time Will and a friend Wade Burress arrived, I was getting quite chilled. An area the size of a kitchen table was tromped down in the snow, from dancing around to keep my feet warm. I clambered into Will’s pickup, and we drove to mine. Will had a straightened out coat hanger along, and he got into that pickup just as quickly as if we’d had a spare key. Speaking of spare keys, I tied one onto the outside of the pickup at the earliest possible opportunity.
The northern Nebraska Sandhills experienced quite a week of snowstorms and blizzards in late March of 1975. I was helping my dad on his ranch in those days, and we were inundated with the hard work of calving, besides the additional problems caused by the weather. Palm Sunday was March 23rd of that year, and a snowstorm prevented us from getting to the Methodist Church in Merriman. Actually church was called off that day. My sister Sandra was attending Chadron State College, as was her friend Rhonda Radcliff. The two girls came to the ranch on the following Tuesday night, with plans to both go on to Valentine the next day to spend time with their friend Myki Beel during Easter vacation. These plans changed when a raging blizzard was in full progress the next morning. They decided to hunker down and stay put in the cozy comfort of our house, and spend their time visiting with our mother and my younger sisters, Sybil and Nancy.
Dad and I were calving, and were keeping quite busy feeding hay and taking care of the cattle. The storm hadn’t let up by the middle of the afternoon, so we decided we needed to check on a bunch of yearlings that were a mile north of the buildings. Dad and I saddled our horses, and he was riding his big paint J.R. It was whiteout conditions as we rode north over the hills, and we had a hard time navigating our route. There was no fence to follow, so we tried to keep the road in sight. Finally we arrived at the windmill, and Dad jumped off his horse to open the barbed wired gate into the meadow. The wind was howling and snow was blowing as he hurriedly led his horse by the H-brace fence corner. Alas, the gate lever had settled in just the right position to catch the stirrup of Dad’s saddle as J.R. went by. J.R. didn’t take kindly to being pulled to a stop on his right side, and the wreck was on! The horse pulled and the corner post held tight. The stirrup leather was the weakest link, and it popped as it broke.
We were in kind of a mess. I got out my fence pliers and cut off some of the top wire of the fence. The two strands were parted, so that the smooth strand was available to make the fix. Within a few minutes of jerry-rigging, the saddle was once again rideable. We rode east to a grove of trees where we thought the cattle would be bunched up. They were not there. We continued riding east to the fence corner, but had no luck in finding the yearlings. We then went north and west and south, making a full circumference of the meadow. No cattle. We rode east again being more observant, and discovered where the cattle had gone through a fence near the tree grove. We then tracked them to where they were all crammed together in an unprotected fence corner. By this time the white-out was turning into a black-out because darkness was setting in. We cut the fence and persuaded the yearlings to go through. They were drifting into the hills and we left them to be on their own, knowing we would be doing good just to try to find our own way home. This was becoming increasingly difficult because visibility was next to nil. Dad was in the lead. His paint horse fell over the edge into a gully that was filled with drifted snow as high as his saddle-horn. Dad floundered around and got back to the top. He walked along the edge with his feet higher than the head of the horse he was leading. He had to lead J.R. for about a hundred feet before the horse was once again able to scramble out of the gully. We rode carefully but steadily as we kept the wind to our backs. Eventually we got down off of the high hills and saw the phone line, which was above the meadow fence. We followed the fence on home, and were quite delighted to see the dusk-to-dawn light above the barn.
Dad started doing our evening chores. Knowing that Mom and the girls would be worried sick about us, I rode up to the house to report to Mom that we were back. She said, “Oh, where have you been?” She thought we’d just been around the barn and corrals since we had left the house a couple hours earlier. Oh well, it’s hard to be a hero.
The storm lasted for a couple more days. Church was called off again on Easter Sunday. Finally on Monday Dad and the girls were able to get a four-wheel-drive pickup through the drifts into town. His main mission on that trip was to get a barrel full of diesel for our feed tractor. Since the highways were still not cleared off, the girls came back home, and Dad had to get them to town again the next day.
We are thankful in these modern times that preliminary weather reports give more accurate warnings of impending bad weather. With earlier notification, better preparedness can be planned. Cold weather can sure cause complications.