Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Driving or Driven

Throughout my early years, I spent many, many hours herding cattle.
Driving them into corrals.
And loading them into big cattleliners for shipping.
It was long, hot, dusty, tiring work.
But at the end of the day, it was done.
Check written. Hands dusted.
Now, let me tell you my grandfather’s version of the same process, sixty years earlier . . .
The cattle, which had been wintering out in the desert, were gathered to the home place in Teasdale, Utah. From there, they were trekked by Grampa and his brother-in-law, Gus, to the nearest railroad hub, Green River—a distance of over 100 miles through mountains and desert that took the better part of a week to accomplish.
The trip was mostly uneventful, until the herd reached the Green River.
There, they found the Green River ferry ill-equipped to handle such a large number of cattle. Their only recourse was to convince the animals to swim across.
The cattle, natives of the mountains and desert of Utah, were unused to large bodies of water. Especially water that moved. They could not be convinced to cross.
For two hours, Grandpa and Gus tried.
Finally, feeling the two men’s discouragement, the boy who ran the ferry suggested that he bring his family’s cows to the opposite side of the river and see if that would encourage ‘cross-age’ (my word).
It worked! Either because the visiting cows wanted to make new friends, or because they were simply tired of the wretched cowboys whistling to them and chasing them about. Whichever.
They crossed.
Then the cattle were driven up the hill to the stockyards and loaded into train cars.
Now the actual trip could begin . . .
The rules of the day dictated that one man could accompany a certain number of train cars of cattle. Grampa’s herd had filled enough cars that two men could have accompanied them. Grampa was going along, but Gus was not, thus, when another man ran up just as the train was about to leave and asked if he could ride along, Grampa gave permission and installed him in Uncle Gus’ place.
The train started out—destination, Chicago.
When it made a routine stop a few hours later, Grampa saw an old friend he hadn’t seen in years and left the train to visit with the man.
Then got so busy talking that he didn’t notice when the train pulled out.
Without him.
In dismay, he stared after it.
There went his cattle. And, to make matters even worse, the papers that accompanied said cattle. Papers that allowed anyone with the animals to sell them.
Pocket the money.
And disappear.
Bearer bonds for livestock.
Grampa’s only hope of catching them was the next train. A passenger one.
That left in six hours.
After a nerve-wracking wait, he boarded the train and started out.
There are all kinds of people in the world.
And less-than-honest.
Fortunately, Grampa had chanced upon one of the former.
When he finally caught up to the livestock train, he discovered his cattle had been well-cared for by the stranger. Fed and watered.
And awaiting their true owner.
The trip to Chicago and sale of the herd was completed and Grampa was able to head home.
A little tired-er. A little richer. And a little wiser.
But what a trip!
Not sure, yet which I prefer.
His day.
Or mine.

From here. Teasdale, Utah.
Through here. Green River, Utah.
To here. Chicago, IL

The only picture I have of Grampa on a horse.
Taken shortly before his death in 1959.

Friday, January 15, 2016


Or something similar...
Teaching school has never been easy.
Even in the heavy-handed discipline days of 1903 . . .
Eighteen-year-old Sarah hadn’t really considered teaching.
When she was approached by a family, her response was: “Well, I really can’t teach. I’ve only passed the eighth grade. I couldn’t teach unless they gave me a permit.”
A week later, she was facing the fourteen students of Aldrich, Utah.
Some of whom were taller than she.
The woman with whom she boarded told Sarah that the children had run the last teacher out.
Somewhat alarmed, Sarah made some inquiries.
She discovered that the students had flipped rocks at the woman. Constantly. Nothing she could do seemed to help.
They had brazenly done the same to the Superintendent when he came to investigate.
It had finally gotten so bad the teacher quit.
Sarah quietly determined that wouldn’t happen to her.
She called the class to order and assigned seating. Then she told them to get on with their lessons while she put some work on the board.
When she turned her back, two rocks flipped.
She stopped and ordered all of the children up to the front, boys and girls, and made them turn their pockets inside out.
Most had said pockets filled with little stones.
Sarah confiscated all the rocks and had peace until recess.
After recess, she again lined everyone up and turned out their pockets. Again, many of them had been filled with little stones.
After lunch, she did the same.
And the afternoon recess.
This went on for several days.
Finally, the children tired of the exercise and she had no more trouble.
Sarah might have been tiny.
And only possessed a grade eight education.
But she had the right skill for the job.
Beats rocks every time.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nurse in Training

Sarah, my grandmother, on her wedding day 1905.
Life was just . . . different back then.
In rural Utah, one made do.
And soldiered through.
Later, perhaps, one learned the whole story . . .
Sixteen-year-old Sarah, fifth of eight children and oldest surviving girl still at home, was put in charge of her younger siblings while their mother went to the big city for several months of formal midwifery training.
It was a time of learning.
Hard work.
And learning.
Did I mention learning?
Things were going surprisingly well.
Then youngest sister, twelve-year-old May, developed a sore throat.
A bad sore throat. That shed white ‘pieces’.
Older sister, Sarah, thought she merely had a bad throat and nursed her as best she could.
Without any outside influences.
Like the local Health Officer.
She had her sister “gargle everything she could think of, but it was still very bad.”
At length, she sought the advice of her grandmother, who lived nearby, and who did what she could to help.
Finally, when May was nearly better, Sarah’s Grandmother called the Health Officer.
Who told Sarah she had just nursed her sister through Diphtheria.
Maybe sometimes we’re better off not knowing . . .

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Keeping Watch

Mark. In uniform.
1945. Mandatory military training in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia.
To the young man attending college in Guelph, Ontario, it was a two-week adventure . . .
Canada is a big country.
Mark had never been past Guelph, Ontario. Actually, before college, he had never been east of Alberta.
Like millions of other servicemen, the military life was his first glimpse of a wider world.
The highlight was a stint on the disabled destroyer, HMCS Saguenay, on permanent anchor in the harbour at Cornwallis.
While on the destroyer, one of the duties of the young would-be sailors was a turn on anchor watch.
A fairly mundane exercise.
All one had to do was ‘watch’.
You’d think it would be easy.
Two things you need to know:
1.  There was a strong wind blowing and
2.  Mark's friend, Bill, had very poor eyesight.
Back to my story . . .
It was 2 AM and Bill was just coming on watch.
As he stepped up onto the deck, he realized that there was quite a stiff breeze coming in off the water. Quickly, he grabbed the strap of his hat to pull it under his chin and behind his ears.
The wind was quicker.
It took his hat—and his glasses—out to sea.
As his watch was only two hours in length, he assumed he could get along without the extra paraphernalia and didn’t bother to report the problem.
He was wrong.
Remember what I said about Bill’s poor eyesight?
That comes into play here.
Being on anchor watch consisted of keeping track of certain lights on the shore.
If the lights were out of position, the boat was out of position.
Bill couldn’t see the lights.
And when the ship broke loose from its anchor (because of course that would happen now), Bill couldn’t tell.
Until the ship ran aground near the shore.
The men were jolted from their bunks and the call for ‘All Hands on Deck’ brought them topside.
The tide was high and the ship had to be refloated before it went out.
Fortunately, there was a tug nearby and the job was accomplished quickly and with little problem.
Still, to the land-bound sailors, it was an adventure.
And they learned something:
Turns out, if someone is on watch, they need to be able to 'watch'.
Sooo, if for some reason one can’t do a job, even for a short time, one can’t do a job.
Good advice.
Another picture of Mark. In uniform. Ahem.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sky Hooked

1940. Lethbridge Alberta. The Safeway meat department.
A whopping $.25 an hour.
A fifteen-year-old new employee had just gotten his first glimpse of Heaven . . .
Moving into the big city had been an adventure. For a boy used to chores and hard work, it was a reprieve. For someone accustomed to few people, it was an education.
For a lad whose only source of income to date had been an allowance, it was admittance into the world of high finance.
Mark loved working at the meat counter. He soon got through the basics of sorting, assisting and wrapping and was working on learning to cut—first with knives and then with the machines.
Nothing says ‘you’re a man’ quite like a job that involves things sharp and deadly.
And to add to the perks of the job, he got along well with his co-workers.
Life was perfect.
However, like most work places, there soon proved to be a joker in the midst.
Garth, one of the younger cutters, sent Mark on an errand.
Back to the storeroom for a ‘sky hook’.
Obediently, Mark disappeared.
For some time, he searched the orderly shelves and office, growing more and more alarmed when what he sought simply couldn’t be found.
Finally deciding he would have to return to Garth to report failure, he started for the door.
Another cutter was standing there. He asked Mark what he was searching for.
When the young man told him, the cutter smiled. “You’ve been duped, son,” he said.
Huh. Mark turned this over in his mind.
Remember, this is a boy from the ranch. One who had been the butt of pranks by professionals.
He smiled and hurried back to Garth. “We were out of those hooks,” Mark told him. “So I went next door to the hardware and ordered one.”
Then he went back to his duties, but kept an eye on the young cutter.
He didn’t have to wait long.
As soon as he turned away, Garth was out the door like a shot and headed to the hardware store.
Oddly enough, Mark never heard the term ‘sky hook’ used again.
There was a joker among the staff at the meat counter in the Lethbridge Safeway.
Just not the one everyone knew.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Bit Nippy Out There

Just add boy . . .
Kids raised on a ranch grow into their jobs.
Quite literally.
For example, first, their job is to feed the chickens and gather the eggs.
Then, when a little older, they start cleaning the coop.
At the great age of seven, when his next older brother Bryce moved up into the milk cowman job, Dad graduated from the first to the second.
A heavy job for a seven-year-old.
But it did have its perks.
Or maybe 'jerk's.
Let me tell you the story . . .
Dad was taking care of his new Saturday chore. Cleaning the coop.
He had finally finished hauling out the old and dirty straw.
And had moved on to bringing in the new, clean and sweet-smelling.
As he was raking it into the coop, a litter of young pigs discovered him.
And his bounty of new, clean and sweet-smelling (see above).
Ahhh! Perfect for a group of small, pink-hided brothers and sisters in search of someplace nap-worthy.
They snuggled down and were instantly asleep.
Dad stared down at them.
They looked so comfortable.
And he had been working so hard.
Happily, the small boy snuggled in with the small pigs.
When he turned, they turned.
And when they turned . . . you get the point.
All was well.
Then, the decisive move.
Either he turned out of turn, or they did.
One of them was out of sync.
Because the little piggy next to him—his new ‘brother-in-straw’—took offence and bit him.
On the ear.
With a gasp and a hand held to the offended member, Dad jumped up and glared at the offender.
Then rousted the whole crew out of his straw and finished his job.
I guess nothing says ‘get back to work’ quite like a sharp nip on the ear.
I’m going to remember that with my kids . . .

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Cost of Freedom

To the small boy from the ranching family, they were a sign of oppression.
And their absence?
Maybe I should explain . . .
During the 1930s, in Glenwood, Alberta, there were many families who did without.
Oh, they had food to eat and a roof over their heads, but there were things they simply did not have.
Things like shoes.
Their absence was a sure sign of the family’s poverty.
But to six-year old Mark (my Dad) those boys who got to come to school shoeless were free.
He dreamed of enjoying the same freedom.
Daily, he begged his mother to let him walk to school unhampered by his sturdy, leather shoes and hand-knitted socks.
And daily, she told him he would be wearing said shoes and socks.
And Moms always win.
One warm, spring day, he got a brilliant idea. He would circumvent his local law enforcement.
A block from home, he sat down and pulled off the hated footwear with accompanying woolen socks.
And left them in a heap beside a post.
While he was at it, he decided to lose the equally oppressive jacket and cap.
Hanging the latter on the same post.
Happily, he skipped off barefoot and unfettered to school.
Later, after a day spent luxuriating in his freedom, he returned to the post.
Only to find it bare and rather shoeless.
Frantic, he looked around.
Nary a jacket, cap, shoe or sock in sight.
In a panic, he ran home, creating scenarios in his head to explain their absence.
But when he stepped inside the front door he discovered, to his relief, that all of his accoutrements were there. Shoes and socks neatly sitting where they should be and jacket and cap on their hook by the door.
All had been returned earlier by a helpful neighbour who had seen and recognized.
Relieved, he turned.
To see his mother, arms folded, standing beside him.
Dad learned that freedom comes at a cost.
And that children simply don’t see things the way adults do.

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