Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

My Short Ranching Career. Part One

A guest post by Little Brother, Blair!

Blair. And bull.
When I was 12, my activities consisted of going to school and working on the ranch.
I tried to find ways to avoid the later, but dad was very good at making sure that I . . . didn’t.
At the time, I didn’t appreciate dad for this.
This changed . . .
One day dad and I went to the barn to check on a yearling heifer that had been very sick.
I don’t remember what disease that she had, but I do remember that she was so ill that all she could do is lie on her side and breath unevenly. Staring and unresponsive.
As I observed her symptoms, I concluded that it was very unlikely that she was going to survive.
I helped my dad give her a gruel that consisted of oatmeal and liquids. We had to slide a hose into her mouth and down into her stomach. Then we poured the gruel into a funnel at the other end of the tube.
As dad looked at the heifer, I’m sure he determined that there was not much hope for her.
Dad had to make a trip out of town for a few days so he charged me with the responsibility of caring for our invalid.
As he gave me the instructions on how to care for her, he concluded by saying “if you can save her, you can have her”.
Suddenly my perspective changed. All my efforts from that moment were devoted to trying to help the heifer recover.
I made sure she had fresh straw for bedding.
I made sure that she was fed her gruel.
I know I said a few prayers.
Mother was very helpful to me. She helped make the gruel and give it to the heifer.
A few evenings later, after mother and I gave the heifer her dose, she seemed to be trying to roll from her side onto her stomach. We helped her and the heifer held up her head.
Mom said that we should try to get her to stand.
This was a difficult task considering that the she weighed about 600 pounds.
We both pushed and lifted and the heifer slowly rose. She staggered a little then stood solidly on her feet.
Mom and I both cheered.
From this point ‘my’ heifer made a swift recovery. She grew up to become one of the young cows in dad’s herd.
She always had a white patch of hair on her side because she had been on her side for so long.
A cow version of bed sores.
A couple of years later she had her first calf. A growthy (Okay, that might not be a word but it is descriptive.) healthy bull calf.
That bull calf grew up.
And one day a cattle rancher visiting dad’s place looking for a bull spotted mine and he and dad agreed on a price.
Nursing that heifer. Feeding her. Caring for her.
Spending time with her.
Loving her.
Totally worth it.
In more ways than one!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Two Less Gophers

He only looks cute.
See that hole? Not good.
Warning: Many, many gophers were mortally wounded seriously harmed  in the telling of this story.

I want to preface this story with the fact that gophers, on a ranch, are bad news. They dig holes that unsuspecting horses and livestock stumble into, breaking legs and other appendages. They eat bushels of valuable grain. And they make dozens more little gophers. Who grow up to cause even more trouble. Thus costing ranchers hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. Gophers may look cute, with their little dark eyes. Their fur and their ‘chirp’. And their I.Q. which, if it went up a point or two, would reach the level of ‘imbecile’. But they are very bad news. Think of them as the little rats of the ranching world.
On to my story . . .
On a ranch, the use of firearms is a necessary skill. Coyotes, wolves, cougars and other predators can, and do, threaten the herd.
Marksmanship is also a necessity. If you’re going to use a gun, better hit only what you are aiming at. There can be no crazed waving of a gun. No popping off shots indiscriminately.
Let’s put it this way. ‘Bullets leave an indelible mark.’
So we kids on the ranch were taught the proper use of guns. And, during the summer, had daily target practice.
Our targets? The thousands of gophers that infested the prairie hills. We were actually performing two feats in one. Perfecting our aim and ridding the ranch of its number one pests.
It was my turn to be trained in the all-important use of the ‘22’.
Husby loaded me and my trusty little gun into the cab of the pickup and headed out to the nearest pasture. A piece of land heavily pock-marked with the mounds dug by our little, furry vermin. For several minutes, things went well. Gophers would pop out of their burrows. I would aim and fire.
My record, though not stellar, was approaching good.
He moved the truck slowly across the uneven ground. A gopher popped up. And another directly behind it.
I aimed carefully and squeezed the trigger.
Both went down.
I blinked. Two?
We drove closer and I got out. Yep. Two. The second had been blindsided because of the first. As a rancher’s daughter, it was one of my finest moments.
Okay. It doesn’t match the contributions made, daily, by the people fighting disease in every corner of the globe. Or those who constantly put their lives on the line in our defense.
Still, it’s a record that hasn’t been topped by anyone from our ranch.
For a country girl, a real contribution.

Every Wednesday, Delores of Under the Porch Light issues a six-word challenge.
This week's words?
marksmanstellar, blindsidedindeliblecrazed and imbecile.
I'm sure she didn't foresee my using them to describe one of the less-desirable facts of life on a ranch.
Sorry, Delores! :)
Hurry over and see what her other followers have created!

Funny Friday

July (sort of) Friday Funny

Today’s post is July’s Funny Friday, a regular feature published on the last Friday of every month. Yes, we know it’s August but July ran out of Fridays. Totally not our fault.

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 was submitted by 

 1. They’ll never get through our starting line.
 2. He only looks tall.
 3. Don’t worry, big guy. We’re here to protect you . . .
 4. Maybe if they gave each of us a ball . . .
 5. You go. We’ll follow. Maybe.

Click on the links below and let some other bloggers make you smile:




Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Harvest of Memories

Mom always maintained a large garden.
Hmmm . . . let me reword.
Mom always maintained a humongous, gargantuan, colossal, huge, enormous, vast, giant, mammoth (that's all the big words I can think of right now) garden.
Better.
Okay, well, that's how it appeared to us kids.
I will admit, here, that my help during the weeding and hoeing was minimal.
Mostly my nimble fingers came into play during the shelling and snapping.
And the rest of me got very involved with the eating.
Ahem . . .
Mom and the older kids would come in from the garden with bushel baskets of freshly-picked peas and/or beans.
Us kids would find comfortable spots on the lawn in the shade of the huge pines. Each would have a bowl which we would replenish now and again from the central stock. Chris would turn on her radio.
And we would shell/snap. And talk.
Sometimes the talk would get quite serious. For example, it was while my older sister and I were shelling peas that she explained the facts of life to me.
True story.
At other times, we would get very animated and silly, quoting heavily from Mad Magazine or one of our favourite movies.
The hot sun.
The cool shade.
The soft grass.
The top 40 on the radio.
The smell of pine and sage and green, growing things.
Occasional snitches of deliciousness from my bowl.
My brothers and sisters around me.
It is one of my most treasured memories . . .
Today is the first harvest from this year's garden.
We picked peas, beans, beets and rhubarb.
And the next generation got involved in the processing.
Here's to many more years of gardening.
And a whole new passel of memories.
Snapping.
Shelling.
Heaven.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Passing the Torch

Foreground: Ranch.
Background: Machinery Hill
On the Stringam Ranch, there was a hill.
A large hill.
It had old machinery parked on top.
We called it the 'Old Machinery Hill'.
Okay, so creative, we weren't.
There, could be found the outdated, outmoded and discarded mechanical devices of ranch life.
Mowers, haybines, cultivators, tractors, cars and trucks.
All past their 'best-before' date.
All neatly parked in rows.
My brothers spent many blissful hours on that hill, deconstructing the various machines (and machine engines) to be found.
Excitedly, they would point out to me the valves and sprockets pulled from this amazing machine and 'Wow! Aren't they fantastic?!' Then proceed to explain just how these intricate little marvels fit into the whole 'making-this-machine-bale-hay' scenario.
To which I would nod and smile. Then run off to see what the horses were doing.
But that was just the beginning of my brothers' mechanical adventures.
Throughout their lives, I can picture them with various machine parts spread out neatly as they re-constructed and fine-tuned.
Something that still goes on today.
I should probably mention that the 'mechanical bug' hit me as well.
Later.
I took apart, fixed and re-assembled in my world, too.
Mom's piano-organ. Her toaster. Iron.
The only thing that defeated me were the clippers.
Oh, and the washing machine and I have a history, too.
But we won't mention those.
Please, let us not mention those.
Moving ahead . . .
Our four-year-old grandson was playing quietly in their basement.
A little too quietly.
Usually this heralded trouble.
His mother went to check.
She found him with one of his sister's musical toys disassembled in front of him.
Part of it had stopped working.
The need for new batteries had been ruled out because the other parts were still working.
He had rummaged through his father's tools and found the screwdriver he needed.
Then proceeded to take the toy apart.
This was when his mother came in.
He looked up at her.
“It wasn't working,” he said calmly. “So I'm fixing it.”
Now remember, this boy had just turned four in April.
The two of them saw that a wire had become disconnected.
They reconnected.
No response.
“It has a micro-chip,” he said suddenly, pointing. “See? It's fit in right there. Maybe it just needs a new micro-chip.”
His mother stared at him. “You're probably right,” she said, finally.
When she told us the story, I was reminded suddenly of my brothers.
With their tools.
And their sprockets and wheels.
The torch is truly passed.
The newest generation . . .
Photo Credit

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When You've Got it...

I seem to have a way with turkeys.
If you missed yesterday’s post, see it here.
Go ahead. We’ll wait.
You're back? Read on . . .

He was handsome.
He was fit.
He was attractive.
He had the moves.
And he had eyes only for me.
Oh, and he was covered in feathers.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In the town of Coaldale, Alberta is the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre. A centre dedicated to the rehabilitation of injured raptors. The stories of the hundreds of birds already helped back to the wild is inspiring. Visiting the place is an experience.
There are demonstrations and education stations throughout the site. Majestic birds with various injuries are glimpsed during their rehabilitation exercises. One, a golden eagle named Spirit, blinded by a shot from a careless hunter, is particularly exciting.
Especially up close.
Visitors can walk along the pathways and watch the antics of owls, hawks and eagles.
And one Turkey Vulture.
Snoopy.
Snoopy, unable to fly or survive in the wild due to various injuries, has been a happy attraction of the centre for several years.
When my family arrived, he was contentedly staked out with a long tether, enjoying the sun.
As I approached, he fanned out his tail, ruffled his feathers, clicked his beak and spread his not-unimpressive wings. Then he hopped toward me and . . . strutted. Hey, hey, hey lady! Like what you see? Huh? Do you? Huh?
Reaching the end of his tether, he continued to swivel back and forth, allowing every feather its opportunity to (quite literally) shine.
I called Husby over. “Look at this guy!”
Husby moved closer.
And that’s when the show ended. Every feather was slicked flat. Wings folded and tail snapped shut.
Snoopy just sat there. The very picture of indignant male. Oh, I see! You’ve already made your choice. Well, sucks to be you, lady!
Husby smiled and moved on.
“No!” I said. “He was different! He was all . . . ruffled!”
But Husby had already moved ahead to one of the hawk exhibits.
I looked back at Snoopy.
And received a shock.
Once more, his feathers stood on end. His wings and tail were spread. He was again looking at me. He shook his wings invitingly. How about now, lady? That guy is gone. All of this could be yours! Last chance . . .
One of the attendants moved past. “Oh, I see you’ve discovered Snoopy,” she said. “He likes the ladies!”
Snoopy the lady killer.
An appropriate title for a bird from a raptor centre.
With a totally different meaning . . .

P.S. My big question is: How could he tell?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Talk Turkey

I am bilingual.

Oh, not in the way you imagine.
My second language really isn't that practical.
Truth be told, I don't even know what I'm saying.
But the fact remains that I can speak another language.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My kids and I loved spending time at Fort Edmonton Park.
It's a stroll through Edmonton's history.
There's a bona fide re-creation of an 1846 fort.
And a small town.
Comprised of 'dated' streets.
1885 Street, devoted to life in Edmonton when dust and mud were king and electricity was something only Jules Verne imagined.
1905 Street, when modern dreams were beginning.
And 1920 Street, where modern conveniences and votes for women have become reality.
There are shops and residences with actors portraying very real Edmontonians of the past.
It was (and is) fun.
And we loved it.
We spent nearly every Thursday there throughout the summer.
Walking on stilts.
Playing games.
Eating baking fresh from the ovens.
Visiting the shops.
Inter'acting' with the actors.
It was a great way to spend a day.
Then we found the flock of turkeys behind one of the residences.
And that's when I discovered that I could speak a second language.
Turkeys make a distinct 'mmmmbladladladladladladladladl' sound.
And I could mimic it.
Really.
You want to talk talent?
We stood at the side of their large pen and I 'talked' to them.
The male got quite animated.
He ruffled his feathers and puffed up his facial dangly bits and marched around importantly.
It was very entertaining.
The kids would urge me on. “Come on Mom! Say something else!”
And I'd do my mmmmbladladladladladladladladl.
And the turkey would get apoplectic.
We even drew a crowd.
“Look! That woman can talk to the turkeys.”
Okay. Sometimes, you have to look for your entertainment.
And you have to admit that not everyone can talk turkey.
P.S. Guinea Pigs and I also have a history.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bull Stones

I have spent the past week with my Dad.
At 89 years of age, this former rancher and veterinarian has decided to move to the nearby Senior’s Lodge.
He and I and his good friend, Shirley, have spent the time packing.
Boxing away the memories of a lifetime.
The bronze horse that was a gift from his wife on their wedding day. The painting purchased for that same wife a few years later.
Instruments of torture Veterinarian tools and equipment. His leather surgical kit. A box of assorted needles from the days before disposable syringes. His ‘vet’ bag.
Games and dishes and jewelry and bedding and pots and pans and knick-knacks and pictures and clothing and coins and stamps and furniture.
A lifetime.
Some of them were of interest only to Dad . . . 
Shirley and I were collecting the assorted treasures off the top of Dad’s dresser.
There was a valet tray with an assortment of cuff links, tie clasps, buttons and Hereford-themed pins.
Grooming supplies.
And a tiny container, glass-topped, full of little . . . beads.
Shirley shook it. “What is this?”
She handed it to me. I peered at it closely. Multi-coloured little rocks. “Looks like little bits of gravel. From a holiday somewhere?” I handed it to Dad.
He looked at it and smiled. “Oh. These are stones I removed from bulls’ penises during surgery.”
“Oh.” Shirley and I said together.
I’m quite sure my expression mirrored her own.
How do you say ‘ewwww’?
Oh, right. EWWWWWW!
Dad sat back, looking at the little container, still with that smile. Obviously remembering, fondly, his days as a veterinarian.
Yeah. Some memories are a little too . . . memorable . . . for the rest of us.
Care to go through some boxes with me?
Some of the numerous awards his cattle have won over the years.

The keyboard that figured so prominently a day or two ago . . .

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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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