Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bogged Down

How peaceful it all looks.
So deceptive . . .
The 'tree field' on the ranch was just that.
A field.
With trees.
Distinguished from all of the other fields by their lack of said trees.
Because it had trees, it also offered cover. An ideal place for spring calving.
I was Dad's herdsman. It was my duty to oversee the spring calving and make sure that all calves . . . and their mothers . . . survived.
Normally, things went well.
Occasionally, they did not.
But that is another story . . .
Usually, when I rode out to check the cows, I rode.
On a horse.
Usually one of a selection of brain-dead, bone-headed ex-racehorses, I will admit.
But on this day, I was in a hurry.
So I fired up Dad's one-ton truck - the one with the dual rear wheels - and headed out to the field.
I should explain, here, that the tree field had trees because it was situated next to an irrigation canal. A wide trench that meandered through the country side. In the spring, the gates are opened and water from the Old Man River diverted into the various canals for irrigating the dry land farms and ranches throughout Southern Alberta. An effective system.
But the canals were getting old.
And water seeped from them into the adjacent land.
Great if your land was close by and needed water.
Which the tree field was.
And did.
Thus – trees.
But the land could also become quite saturated.
And boggy.
Particularly in the clearing in the centre of the trees.
We thought it was very entertaining.
One could stomp on the seemingly dry ground and the land all around would quiver.
There was enough dry soil on top to hold up a cow.
Or my horses.
But remember, I was in the truck.
Considerably heavier than any horse or cow.
Back to my story . . .
I innocently drove out to check the herd.
The first pass, the one on the higher ground near the road, went well.
But there were no cows near the road, either.
I moved into the trees for a second pass.
Starting at the far east side of the field, I worked my way west.
Stopping now and then to walk into the trees to investigate a barely-seen patch of red hide.
I reached the far west side and started to turn.
It was then that I realized that I . . . and my truck . . . were sinking.
Here's something you don't see every day. A truck, sinking out of sight in the middle of a dry land ranch in Southern Alberta.
I had two options.
  1. Holler for one of my parents.
  2. Mat that gas pedal and pray.
My parents were my parents. They lived to get me out of scrapes.
But both of them were at the ranch a mile away to the West.
I was on my own.
I went with my second option.
Mud and water sprayed from those dual tires as the truck struggled for purchase.
For a few, heart-stopping moments, it looked as though the bog would win.
Then, slowly, the truck started to climb up out of the hole.
Finally, I was flying along atop the bog.
I kept the gas pedal to the floor until I was through the tree line and solidly back on dry ground.
Then I stopped the truck and simply breathed.
I left the truck and walked (I may be a slow learner, but I do learn.) back to inspect the ruts I had left.
They were three feet deep and rapidly filling with water.
My brother told me later that I was a heartbeat away from losing the truck entirely.
“And the only thing that would have salvaged the situation would have been to call in a cherry-picker.”
I don't have to tell you that the 'cherry-picker' he is talking about had nothing to do with picking cherries.
And everything to do with being expensive.
Thank goodness for gas pedals.
And prayer.
My steed.

Friday, June 27, 2014

June Funny Friday

June Funny Friday

Today’s post is June’s Funny Friday, a regular feature published on the last Friday of every month. Funny Friday is a collaborative project. Each month one of the participants submits a picture, then we all write 5 captions or thoughts inspired by that month’s picture. Links to the other bloggers’ posts are below, click on them and see what they’ve come up with. I hope we bring a smile to your face as you start your weekend.

Here’s today’s picture.
It’s the picture that inspired this whole project and was submitted by The Black Sheep Mom.

1. This is my number. CALL ME!
        Signed: Made For Each Other!
 2. Okay. This is New York. We’ll just blend in.
 3. Turn here to get to the boat. It’ll take you right out to your pedestal. Stay there!
 4. You know, I thought you’d be bigger…
Click on the links below and let some other bloggers make you smile:

The Cow Pony

Daddy at 6 on Peggy.
Another good cow pony.

A good cow pony is more than just transportation in the ranching world.

It is partner, confidante, shelter, and yes, even protector.
Dad's horse had been superbly trained.
By him.
Calving season is a rather exciting time of the year. For at least a couple of reasons.
Because new babies are appearing in the fields. And new baby calves are cute.
But also because you are getting up close and personal with warm, furry creatures who outweigh you by several hundreds of pounds.
See? Exciting. In an unpredictable/ohmygoodness sort of way.
Most cows on the Stringam ranch calved between January and March.
Without ceremony or fanfare.
In the field.
Calves were tagged and given their newborn shots within a few feet of where they were born.
I should mention here that Hereford cows are docile and easily managed.
Except when they have a newborn calf nearby.
You've heard the stories about getting between she-bears and their babies?
Well, Hereford cows would kill to have that reputation.
Hmm . . . Actually, they would have to kill to get that reputation.
Just thought I'd point that out.
Because it really has nothing to do with this story.
Moving on . . .
Hereford cows may not be the black-leather-clad, chain-toting members of the bovine family, but they can still be rather aggressive when their babies are in danger.
Or when they think their babies may be in danger.
As when people are around.
My Dad found this out the exciting way.
He had come across a newborn calf, lying 'hidden' in the tall grass.
Dismounting, he straddled the calf and prepared to vaccinate.
And that's when Mama noticed him.
Suddenly, a thousand pounds of red and white indignation were breathing down his neck.
And I do mean down his neck.
I know this will sound funny, but when a cow is threatening, the best place to be in the wide-open prairie is 'under' one's well-trained horse.
You crawl under your horse and no cow will come near.
Hastily, Dad pulled himself and his captive under his horse and continued with his work.
The cow snorted and fidgeted, circling around, trying to find the flaw in this scenario.
The horse kept one eye on her. All the while turning to keep his hind quarters directed towards the irate bundle of hair and aggression.
This worked for a few moments.
But finally, even the presence of a larger, stronger, and infinitely smarter creature didn't deter.
She charged.
Remember where I mentioned that the horse kept his hind quarters towards the cow?
That's because that is a horse's 'dangerous' end.
Always loaded.
And ready to fire.
He let fly.
With both barrels.
He caught the cow in the head.
In mid-charge.
Now a cow's head is composed mostly of bone.
They can be hurt.
But it takes a lot.
This kick merely stopped the cow for a moment.
She shook her head, confused.
Then looked around.
What had she been doing?
About that time, Dad finished with the calf and let it go.
It trotted over to its mother and the two of them hurried towards the nearest far-away place.
Dad stood up and gave his horse a pat.
“Good boy.”
Then mounted up and continued his ride.
Another rather mundane day in the life of a good cow-pony.
What would we do without them?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Babe (Enes) Ruth

Mom (third from the left). And five out of eight brothers.

Girls raised on a ranch, doing 'ranch stuff' alongside the men, are often mistaken for yet another of those men.

Until someone gets close enough to see that there are definite differences.
It's the original 'gender confusion'.
Now, on to my story . . .
Enes, my Mom, like her daughter after her, was raised on a ranch.
Surrounded by brothers.
I had three.
She had eight.
I had sisters.
She didn't.
She spent her days working alongside her brothers.
And playing sports.
I spent my days occasionally crossing paths with my brothers as they worked.
And playing make-believe.
No big surprise that, of the two of us, she was the one with the biggest muscles.
And the most athletic ability.
But like me, dressed in jeans and shirts, and with fair hair cropped short, she was often mistaken for yet another brother.
Shortly after she and my father were married, they were invited to join with the rest of their rural Milk River community in an afternoon pot luck and a game of baseball.
Mom excitedly prepared yummy eats. Sandwiches, salads and her special 'out of this world' pie. And grabbed her baseball glove.
The two of them spent a wonderful time, eating and visiting. Mom got to know many of her neighbours.
The nearest of which lived nine miles away.
Finally, the food was packed up and the game began.
Mom was picked early. She was obviously young and strong.
And there had to be an even number of guys and girls on each team.
Her 'captain' didn't realize that he'd just picked a ringer.
Mom walked up to the plate for her first turn at bat. The ball came towards her.
She swung.
Remember where I mentioned that she had played sports with her brothers?
She often beat them.
The bat connected with the ball with a healthy 'crack'.
And sent it out of the park.
So to speak.
The ball shot over the outfielder's heads.
They stared at it blankly for a moment.
Then started to run.
Her team was ecstatic.
One young team member crowed loudly, “Atta Boy! Enes, old girl!”
And the confusion continues . . .
I know, I know. Who'd of thought . . .

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Faulty Raisining

It only LOOKS delicious . . .
I love raisins.
Especially in trail mix.
Or coated in chocolate.
I should probably point out, here, that coating in chocolate is not really an accurate test of raisin love.
If you coated a hubcap in chocolate, I'd eat it.
Moving on . . .
I did not always love raisins. (Even now, I prefer my cinnamon buns and other baked treats to be raisin-less.)
It wasn't until after I was married that I learned to appreciate them.
There is a reason for that . . .
My brother, George, is two years older than I. Throughout our growing-up years, his prime responsibility was the teasing of his younger sister.
He practised his craft at every opportunity.
And became very good at it.
One day, our mom made cookies. Something she did a lot.
On this particular occasion, she had produced mounds of raisin cookies.
They were spread out temptingly across the table.
The aroma drew my brother and I from the depths of the house.
“Mmmm. Raisin cookies,” George said. He turned to me. “I knew that Mom was going to make raisin cookies today.”
“You did?” I asked innocently.
“Yep. I did,” he said.
“Did Mom tell you?”
“You can tell by the smell?”
“Partially. But that's not the real reason.”
“Well, I give up. How did you know?”
He leaned towards me, a big grin on his face. “I knew Mom was going to bake raisin cookies because I saw her picking the raisins off the fly-paper at the back door.”
And from that moment on, in fact for the next twenty years, George had all of the raisin goodies that emerged from Mom's kitchen to himself.
Smart cookie.

P.S. He also tried to convince me that my rice was moving.
But that is another story . . .
Me. And him. He only LOOKS cute . . .

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Not for the shy or faint of heart . . .
Recently, there had been a lot of press about women nursing their babies.
Usually because it has been carried to extreme lengths.
I nursed my babies.
And loved doing it.
But this isn't a commentary about that.
Though it is about 'extremes'.
Maybe I should explain . . .
A veterinarian friend of my father's had stopped in for a chat.
An immigrant from the UK, he was very fond of his tea.
My father offered him a cup.
Uncharacteristically, he declined. With a slight shudder.
Dad stared at his friend. What could possibly have put Dr. Ilovemytea off his favourite beverage?
The friend realized that he had aroused Dad's curiosity and an explanation was in order. He told Dad that he had just come from a vet call to a farm at the furthest border of his practice. 'Out in the sticks', you might say. His veterinarian business had been concluded.
And successful.
Hoping to prolong what was, to her, the highlight of a normally solitary day, the woman of the household had invited Dad's friend into her front room for a visit. She had recently given birth to a fine son and was anxious to share her story with someone.
All was well.
She and baby were thriving. Baby was nursing well and growing rapidly.
The woman offered the doctor a quick cup of tea before he began the long trek back to town.
Happily, he accepted.
The tea was brewed.
The woman brought it in and set it in front of her guest. “Would you like milk?” she asked.
Dad's friend said that, indeed, yes, he would love milk.
Whereupon (good word) the woman flipped out a breast and squirted some milk into the doctor's tea.
He blinked. Well . . . at least it was fresh.
As the story unfolded, Dad burst into laughter.
“So, did you drink it?” he asked his friend.
“Of course,” the doctor said.
“How was it?”
“Well, it tasted just fine,” he said. “Put me off a bit. But tasted fine.”
“Well,” Dad said, “You're braver than I am!”
Tea, anyone?

Monday, June 23, 2014


Ready to head to town!
The Stringam Ranch was twenty miles from the Town of Milk River.
For the first ten miles out of town, you were passing through other ranch properties.
So your chances of meeting another motorist were pretty good.
After that, there was just one destination.
The Stringam Ranch.
Any traffic that came out that far needed emergency veterinarian assistance.
Or knew the family. And the spread that appeared around mealtimes.
This is a long-winded way of telling you that, on any given trip into town, Dad knew every single driver that we passed.
A cloud of dust would appear on the horizon, growing larger. Finally a small dark spot could be detected, right at the base of said cloud.
The speck grew larger.
And larger.
Finally became recognizable as a vehicle.
Dad would slow down and pull over to the right side of the road.
Because lines hadn’t been introduced into our part of the country.
And who could paint a line on dirt anyway?
Moving on . . .
The other driver would also slow and pull to his right.
The two would give each other a friendly wave.
And continue on.
Whereupon (good word) I would bob up out of wherever.
“Dad! Who was that?”
“That was Mr. Angel.”
I would disappear again.
Another vehicle.
Another wave.
Me bobbing up.
“Dad! Who was that?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Lindeman.”
As we grew closer to town, the vehicles were more numerous.
“Dad! Who was that?”
“Mrs. Swanson.”
I should mention that there was one vehicle that recognized. Even as a four-year-old.
It was an old car, driven very, very slowly.
I don’t remember what year or model though my brother, George, will.
It was driven by a hat.
I am not kidding.
A hat.
A nice men’s hat.
I would stare in astonishment as this particular, peculiar vehicle drove past.
Just a hat.
It was the one time during our entire trip that I wouldn’t bother my dad.
Because I knew who that hat was.
It was Grampa Balog.
After it passed, I would slump down on the seat.
Why couldn’t have a hat for a Grampa?
A hat that could drive cars.
Some kids have all the luck.
Moving ahead many years . . .
Yesterday, I was driving with one of my grandkids.
One of the hundred-or-so cars that we passed was driven by someone I knew.
I waved.
“Gramma! Who was that?”
And I was instantly transported back fifty-plus years.
I was four years old again.
And my Dad knew everyone on the road.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Monster in the Hay Loft

Monster Hunter

A guest post by Baby Brother, Blair. Who's really not such a baby any more.

While growing up on the ranch, we had many daily chores. 
One of those chores involved getting up early in the morning, feeding the bulls and heifers.
And caring for the milk cow. 
We kept such a cow for nursing any orphan calves and for fresh milk. 
It just so happened that this particular spring we didn’t have any orphan calves so she had to be hand-milked.
The milking barn had about 4 stalls.  But thank goodness, only one cow. 
There was a gutter that ran down behind the stalls and was used for catching . . . cow-by-products. I learned one day that I should always keep the gutter clean because the cow and I had a disagreement which I lost. I ended up in said gutter and was . . . not happy. 
And every once in a while I would pawn the milking off on my older sister, but I found out that she could beat me up so milking the cow stayed my responsibility.
Back to my story . . .
One beautiful spring morning I got up earlier than normal and went out to do my chores.  I have no idea how I managed it. It was hard for me to get up in the mornings when I was a teenager. My body seemed to want to sleep for 20 hours a day.
However, this particular morning I got up and went out to milk the cow.
Mornings in the spring in Southern Alberta were usually cold, but the air was fresh and clear.
I chased the cow into the barn, locked her in the stall, set down the bucket, sat on the stool and proceeded to milk.
It was nice sitting close to the cow. She was warm and, like I said, it was a cold spring morning.
Our dog had followed the cow and I into the barn and was sniffing around the barn at things that dogs are interested in.
I hadn’t been milking long when I heard a faint moan. I stopped what I was doing and listened.
But I heard nothing more so I started milking again.
Then I heard a slightly louder moan. 
I stopped and listened.
I heard the moan again.
It was coming from the hay loft.
It kind of sounded like a cross between a moan and the sounds that the monsters make in the horror movies that I had seen.
I thought: Surely that can’t be a monster!  It is early in the morning and monsters only come out and chase poor defenseless people at night. And usually this chasing happens in a dark hallway or alley. I was in a barn. I couldn’t think of a single scary movie where monsters or bad guys hurt poor defenseless people in the early morning in the milking parlor in a barn.
I decided that the noise was just my imagination.
Or the wind.
Even though the wind wasn’t blowing.
I continued milking the cow. 
Suddenly, there was a loud moan that definitely came from the loft.
The dog seemed to notice.
I quit milking and watched the dog.
Then there was a chillingly loud moan. It sounded like someone was being tortured.
The dog paused and looked intensely in the direction of the loft. If the dog was hearing something then there must be a monster up there.
I leaped up and headed for the barn door before whatever it was could jump down from the loft and get me.
As I left the barn and headed for the corral gate, I realized I had just left the cow for the monster.  I thought, I’ll get reinforcements and come back to rescue the cow.
Now that I think about it, the cow seemed calm and not at all concerned about the noise.
I wasn’t calm.
I may have been whimpering or screaming.
Who can remember when you have a monster that is going to do bad things to your person?
I got my brother George and, armed with a pitch fork and a 2x4, we headed back to the barn to investigate. 
But when we got up into the loft there was nothing there. There was a place that looked like someone/monster had been sleeping. But there was no sign of anything else.
But just in case you think that I was imagining things, I have proof. The depression in the straw where the monster had been sleeping and the dog’s reaction to the noise.
That is my story and I’m sticking to it.

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