Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Friday, April 4, 2014

The Subtle Smell of Employment


Who would you hire?
To a cowboy looking for employment in the 50s, the Stringam spread proved enticing.
Many times, someone would ride in with everything he owned on his back and in his saddle bags.
Usually at mealtimes.
Invariably he would be invited to put up his horse and stay to eat.
The interview had begun.
During the meal, everyone seated around the table would ply the newcomer with questions:
Where are you from?
Where have you been?
Where are you going?
But the boss would be watching for answers to the unasked questions.
By the end of the meal, his decision would be made.
And the cowboy would be directed to the bunkhouse.
Or the highway.
We often wondered how Dad did it.
How could he tell what kind of a man/hand this stranger would be?
He finally let us in on his secret.
Or secrets.
By the way the man swung into the saddle and handled his horse, Dad could tell he'd had lots of experience.
The fact that he treated his horse with affection and respect told Dad he was trustworthy.
He carried very little tack, so Dad knew he wasn't a thief.
He'd worked at the Bar K/Night Ranch/Q Ranch for two years and Dad knew their standards and expectations, so the man had been well-trained.
And last, he wasn't flamboyant in his dress. No ten-gallon hat or silver, big-rowelled spurs. The man had his needs and wants under control.
He was hired.
My Dad was seldom wrong.
Although once, some . . . refining was needed.
Let me explain . . .
Luke rode into the ranch yard, looking for work.
He was invited to loosen his girthstrap and join the boys for dinner.
He complied.
Talk was general as the boys got to know him.
There seemed to be a broad consensus that Luke was okay.
Everyone looked at Dad.
Who nodded.
Luke was directed to the bunkhouse and given a bunk.
The door closed.
And that's when everyone got the first whiff of Luke's one . . . drawback.
Luke didn't like water.
More particularly, washing in it.
At first, the boys were subtle.
Opening the windows.
And then the doors.
Then they started making comments.
“Whew! It sure smells in here!”
“I think someone needs a bath!”
Which got more pointed.
“Yak! I'm choking to death!”
With looks directed at the offending party.
Luke remained stubbornly oblivious.
Finally, the rest of the boys grabbed their bedrolls and toted them to the big ranch house.
“Morning, Ma'am,” the first one said. “We're moving into your attic!”
“Yep. There's poison gas in the bunk house,” the second one said.
“We're choking to death!” said a third.
“Dying!”
And they did.
Move in, I mean. Not die.
Mom turned to Dad, eyebrows raised.
Dad shrugged his shoulders. “I'll talk to them,” he said.
He must have.
Because that evening, the boys moved back into their bunk house.
Then roped Luke, hauled him down to the river and scrubbed him down themselves.
All was quiet for a week.
Till glances and remarks indicated that the next 'bathing' was being contemplated.
This time, Luke hauled himself to the river and scrubbed off.
From then on, all one of the boys had to do was take down his rope.
And Luke would scurry for the shower.
Oh, he complained. “Too much water is bad for the health!”
His words, not mine.
But he did it.
And the sweet, clean air of the Alberta prairies once more wafted through the bunkhouse.
Hiring is a tricky business.
But with discernment, skill . . .
And soap . . .
It can be done.

22 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank so much, Karen! Thanks goodness the smell doesn't come through with the memory!

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  2. Pretty funny, good story. My dad, 70 years ago, worked for the USFS here in Montana. In fire season he'd send his assistant to Helena to hire firefighters with the following instructions: "Get 10 guys with hats, or 20 guys with caps."
    Enjoy your blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My Dad will definitely understand that one! :)

      Delete
  3. I can smell the rural life so effectively!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That smell certainly is effective! :)

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  4. What an interesting life you've had. And what is it with old timers and not bathing??? So funny Diane. Great read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, APH!! Yeah, getting them into the bath was often a real problem! Ugh!

      Delete
  5. Did he stay long or did he high tail it for a ranch not quite so 'soap obsessed' lol.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think he stuck it out for quite a while. Amazing what we can get used to . . .

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  6. What a great solution - peer pressure at the extreme! Your dad's a smart guy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah. Don't anger the guys in the cowboy hats and boots. They're creative!

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  7. This really made me laugh because it reminded me of volunteering in my kids' classrooms. In the beginning of the school year (which is August here) after those young kids would play hard at recess, I couldn't wait to get out of that classroom. Another great story, Diane.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ugh. Sort of like the boys' locker room? Which I . . . umm . . . never went inside . . .

      Delete
  8. In the army they give a guy with an aversion to personal hygiene a 'GI Shower.' With stiff bristled brushes, Scotchbrite pads, industrial soap and copious amounts of water got the offender clean enough for inspection. The offender never did it again but he had to give himself time for his lost flesh to grow back. That is now classified, 'CODE RED,' which means expressly forbidden. But according to those still involved in military life, it still goes on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yowch! It would only happen once to me!

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  9. These stories of yours make me smile, laugh, and appreciate your family even more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Susan! You make my day! :)

      Delete
  10. Roping and soaping! I love it!
    I wish we could have done that years ago to a fellow factory worker who had come from somewhere in Europe and had never heard of deodorant and didn't wash himself or his clothes and wore the same shirt to work for a month at a time.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I missed your stories while I was out of town! This is a great one.

    ReplyDelete

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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