Soapweed's Ranch Ramblings
The writings of a Nebraska Sandhills cattle rancher!

Ode to the Night Calver
April 3, 2005

The evening of March 31st was the last shift for our night calver, Kenneth. He has been steady every night since February 21st, from dusk to dawn. On only one occasion during this six week period did he leave the ranch, and that was for just a few hours when he went to town to buy groceries and to do his laundry. He was totally dedicated, and I think there were very few calves born during the nights that he didn't watch as they came into the world. There was not one dead calf that came while he was on duty. He turned 60 years old sometime in March.

Kenneth has always been a loner. He worked for us full time from the spring of 1988 until late summer of 1992. When he signed on with this outfit, he leveled with me and said that his track record was not too good and that he was making no guarantees of how long he would be here. He said right up front that he had a bad temper, and would probably not give any notice when he quit. I had met him at spring brandings in years past, and knew him to be a good hand. I told him that would be okay, and that every day he worked here we would have that much more work done than we had the day before. He ended up staying four years and three months, and he gave me two weeks notice before he left. I was proud at the time, because that was the longest he ever worked for any one ranch, and I was the only one he ever gave any notice to when he quit. One time, on another ranch, he got a feed tractor and stack mover big time stuck out on a soft hay meadow. He solved the problem by walking back to the bunkhouse, packing his suitcase, and driving off down the road. His boss at the time owed him for two weeks of pay and had to send the check to Kenneth's mother.

When Kenneth came to work for me in '88, he was recently divorced and was paying child support on four kids. He was a hard worker, and the best fencer I've ever had the privilege of being around. He had his own fencing tools, and they were well taken care of. His most prized possession was a hand-made brass tamping stick, with proper spacing measurements for 3, 4, 5, and 6 wire fences. I issued him his own ranch pickup for fencing, but every night he would clean out the pickup and unload his personal fencing tools. Guess he figured there was always an off chance that I would abscond with his pickup, and he didn't want the fencing tools to get away from him.

In his spare time, I had Kenneth tackle our somewhat messy shop. He diligently cleaned it corner by corner. He built shelves and steel racks, and spiffied up the place until it shined. Each tool had a special home, and he guarded the whole deal like a mother hen would her chicks. Even though I still liked to think of myself as “the boss” and “head honcho” of “my ranch”, it was with fear and trepidation that I entered the shop. It was almost like Kenneth was a librarian, and any books (tools) that I wanted to use, would have to be checked out and returned in a timely fashion or penalties would be due. I complied to the best of my ability, because it was nice to have someone around who cared so much.

Kenneth worked hard, but when he went to town he also drank hard. One day when he worked here the first time, he needed to go to town. His birthday was in March, and he needed to renew his driver's license and pay the taxes and licensing fees on his car. He fed early that day, and went to town before dinner. He was back home by five o'clock and I could see him unloading groceries at his house where he batched and did his own cooking. We were getting a big run of calves that day. Our kids were little, so Mrs. Soapweed was not able to help much outside. Kenneth was the only hired hand I had at the time, and I was feeling pretty swamped and under-the-gun with work that afternoon. I was happy to see Kenneth drive in the yard earlier than expected, so I slipped into the house and called over to his house on the telephone. When he answered, I asked if there was any chance he could get in the heavies before dark, as I had many other chores yet to do. He refused. Needless to say, I got instantly mad but fortunately held my tongue. After I hung up the phone, I was stomping around the kitchen, grousing about poor help. Then it occurred to me, “I'll bet he's drunk.” I went on about the business of ranching, and got in way after dark. Several night checks also had to be made, and sleep was a rare and highly-prized commodity.

The next day, ranching carried on as usual, and I said nothing to Kenneth about my disappointment in his actions. Later in the day, we happened to be riding together in a pickup. He said, “You know, I'm sorry about not helping you last evening. I was so drunk, I couldn't even have saddled my own horse.”

I said, “I suspected that you were, and that is why you were let off the hook. If I had thought you were sober when you turned down my request, you'd have probably been fired.” He said, “I know.” To use Spike Van Cleve's words, we decided to “let sleeping, by God, dogs lie.”

It was shortly after that incident that Kenneth quit drinking, cold turkey. As far as I know, he hasn't had a drink since.

A year ago, in early February, Kenneth called me out of the blue and wondered if I could use any calving help. When I asked if he would consider doing the night calving, he jumped at the opportunity. It worked good last year, and it worked equally as well this year. He left with a pretty protruding pocketful of pay, as I compensated him well and he sure didn't spend much while he was here. Just hope he wants to come back again next year, as he is top of the line.






Copyright © 2005 Steve Moreland
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