Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

The 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.
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.


  1. Too bad you didn't have Axe back then. When my boys went through their "spraying themselves with Axe phase, they could have been sprayed by a skunk and I wouldn't have known!

  2. I wonder whether he drank water...
    Some folk do think it is poison.

  3. Well-you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink but you can lead Luke to water and make him take a bath!

  4. The rest of the boys were quite restrained in their comments at first, weren't they? Kudos to them. It could have been much worse for Luke!

  5. If it were the army the boys could've given him a 'GI Shower.' Scrub brushes, steel wool, laundry detergent. It got the point across. It seems to me that Dad talked about that when he recalled his days in basic training...


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