Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Friday, June 19, 2015

Enough Rope

Dumb and Dumber . . . and the riding pad (BP- Before Pee).
Not using a saddle really did pose certain challenges.
Being unable to use a rope being the most notable.
Unfortunately, I had to learn that particular fact by experience.
I had been Dad’s official herdsman for . . . about two weeks. A job that had hitherto been the responsibility of one or more hired men.
Our operation had shrunk in size until we no longer needed hired men. We kids could do most of the work. And did.
24 hours a day. Seven days a . . . but that is another story.
I was checking the herd for prospective, or recent, mothers.
My horse stumbled, literally, over a small, newborn calf lying in the tall grass.
Abandoned.
At that early point in my new career, I didn’t know that the calf certainly wasn’t in any danger. Mama was nearby.
All I could see was a small, defenceless little creature that needed my help.
I picked it up. And somehow got it across the riding pad on my horse. And then managed to get up behind it.
No mean feat for someone without stirrups.
Or a brain.
I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures of the cowboy bringing home the small, half-frozen calf. The tiny creature lying helplessly across his saddle.
I had always pictured myself doing just that. It seemed . . . romantic somehow.
And was.
Until the calf peed.
All down my new riding pad.
You never saw that in the pictures.
I managed to make it to the corrals in the corner of the pasture and set the little cretin down in a corner. The I went off in search of Mama.
There.
The cow running around and bawling.
Now all I had to do was reunite them.
Simple.
Not.
She didn’t want to vacate the area where she had last seen her baby. He must be here. If she ran back and forth a few thousand more times, she was sure to stumble over him.
I tried chasing her.
Heading her.
She kept doubling back.
Then I had a brilliant idea. I would rope her. She certainly wouldn’t be able to argue with that. Genius!
I rode back to the corral and returned with my Dad’s brand new lariat.
Did I mention brand new?
Getting the loop over the head of the frantic cow was easy. Then I would just . . . dally . . . I looked down in consternation at the place where the saddle horn should be.
Where it . . . wasn’t.
The rope slid through my hands, along with the cow.
I managed to reunite cow and calf.
Finally.
By bringing the calf and putting him back where I had found him originally.
The cow wore Dad’s expensive new lariat for several months. I called her ‘Ring Around the Collar’.
I thought it was funny.
Dad didn’t.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Put a Hat on it

This is a story from my dear cousin, Anne Tingle.
Sweet memories of my Dad and his curly red hair.
And of his dad . . .

Diane -
I knew enough when I was a little girl to find this story funny. I was a little scared of Grandpa - he was quite stern, but I knew that what Mark had done was hilarious to everyone, except probably Grandpa. Certainly Mark thought it was a huge kick.
I loved your Dad very much.
Anne 


I was a little girl living on the Milk River Ranch with my parents when my Uncle Mark was a cool cocky college student working on the ranch for the summer.
Grandpa and Grandma Stringam spent a lot of time at the ranch: Grandpa teaching my dad how to run a complex ranch operation and Grandma teaching my mum how to be a ranch wife and how to cook for hay and harvest crews as well as a bunkhouse full of hungry cowboys.
One lunch time, after Mark had been sent into town for some baler parts, he trooped into the kitchen with the other ranch hands. They all knew the routine - wash hands and hang up your hat on the hooks in the entrance.
Mark swept off his hat to reveal a sassy, fresh mohawk hair cut.
There was complete silence as Grandpa slowly surveyed the desecrated cranium. Finally he spoke: “The house rule and common courtesy requires that men remove their hats at the table. Mark, in your case, we will make an exception. Go get your hat.”
Later that summer, after the mohawk grew out, it wasn’t quite as sensational when Mark got a reverse mohawk (with the middle strip shaved and sides left long).
However, Grandpa reinstated the hat rule at the table - every man bare-headed, except Mark.
Daddy is the monkey on the right.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Getting Gassed

My Victim
I had my driver's license.
I was queen of the world!
I have to admit, here, that most ranch and farm kids are driving from the time that they can reach the gas pedal in the tractor.
But not officially. Not on an actual ... (Cue dramatic music: Dun! Dun! Duuuun!) ... public road!
I was quivering with excitement.
And to make things even better, I had officially become my parents' 'errand boy'.
Life couldn't possibly offer anything more.
Okay, so I then proceeded to back my father's car into the tractor. (Another story.)
And run it into the garage. (Another, another story.)
And into the ditch. (Another . . . oh, never mind.)
But I was still on top of the world.
With all of the driving I was doing, inevitably, I would run through the gas. (At $.29 per gallon, one had to be a bit judicious . . .)
And Dad had a gasoline rule. Whoever was driving when the gas gauge reached 1/4, was responsible for filling the tank.
I should point out here that, on the ranch, we had our own bank of gasoline tanks, carefully monitored and filled periodically. There was one tank containing purple gas (for farm vehicles only), one for diesel (tractors and equipment) and one for regular (mine). Two of them were side-by-side on the same framework. The other a bit apart on its own stand.
Dad showed me how to 'fill 'er up'. First, you unlock the nozzle. Then you twist the valve. Then you put the nozzle into the tank and pull up on the lever.
Simplicity in itself.
As long as Dad was standing there.
He took me through the steps several times until he was satisfied that I could do it on my own. Then he left me.
I finished filling and locked everything up again. I was, once more, the master of my universe.
For several months, I enjoyed my new found freedom. No longer was the 20 miles into town such an insurmountable barrier.
But, during those first months, I never again had occasion to fill the tank. Whenever I got into the car, it had already been filled by the previous driver.
What a blissful existence. Driving around in a car that never, ever ran low on gas.
The best of all worlds.
Then, Mom asked me to drive into the city to do an errand.
The city.
70 miles away.
I was ecstatic. I hopped into the car and headed out.
The trip was uneventful, if one ignored the fact that I was DRIVING TO THE CITY! ON MY OWN!
Okay. It was an event.
But when I returned home, I noticed that the gas gauge was just kissing the 1/4 full line.
Oh-oh. Time for a fill up.
I pulled into the tanks.
Then stared up at them.
Which one had Dad used?
I couldn't remember.
Okay, so I know a lot of things. I just can't remember what they are . . .
Finally, after much wrinkle-browed concentration, I chose one and proceeded to run through the procedures in my head. Unlock. Twist. Insert. Fill.
I had it.
I did it.
But a little voice in my head, the one that tried, vainly, to keep me from my many terrible fates, told me to stop at 1/2 full.
For perhaps the first, and only, time in my life, I listened.
I capped the gas tank and locked up the nozzle. Then drove triumphantly into the driveway.
Where the car stopped.
Dead.
What was wrong?
I tried to start it.
It made the appropriate noises. Coughed a couple of times.
And died.
Again.
“George!”
Have I mentioned that my next older brother is a whizz with engines and anything mechanical?
He came running.
“What’s the matter?”
“I dunno. It just . . . stopped.”
“Let me have a look.”
All was well. George would figure it out . . .
“Ummm . . . did you just put gas in?”
“Yeah. Why?”
“Ummm . . . I think you filled it with diesel.”
“Is that bad?”
He pulled his head out from under the hood and gave me . . . the look.
Now, anyone who has been to a mechanic and asked a stupid question knows exactly what I am talking about.
The sun went out of my day.
“What's the matter?” My voice had suddenly gotten very tiny.
He sighed patiently. “Diane, this car runs on regular gasoline.”
“And?”
“You put in diesel.”
“And that's bad?”
“You might as well have filled the tank with . . . oh, I don't know . . . mud? Pancake batter?”
“Oh.”
“I think you might have wrecked the engine.”
Big oh.
“Let's talk to Dad.”
How about . . . you talk to Dad. I'll just go and join the Foreign Legion.
“Come on.”
Sigh.
As it turned out, that nagging little voice of reason in my head had given me good advice when it told me to only fill the tank half full.
Dad simply had us push the car . . . did I use the word 'simply'? . . . and fill it the rest of the way with normal gas.
Oh, the car gas is in the tank off by itself! How did I miss that?
Then, he told us . . . and I'm quoting here . . . to “go and burn it off”.
What? Really?
Never, in the history of the world, had punishment so closely resembled reward.
Happily, my brother and I headed into town. Tooled main. Hit the mean streets of Warner. Back to Milk River. More cruising main. Off to Coutts.
It was a glorious night.
Okay, so we smelled a bit like a bus and the engine ran a little rough, but it was worth it.
Of course, afterwards, I had to pay the piper, in the form of car lessons.
To quote George, “No sister of mine is going to drive without knowing how everything works.”
And he did mean everything.
In subsequent years, because of him, I could change a tire or belt and perform everything from an oil change to a major tune-up. Or I could pull into a shop and tell the mechanic exactly what I needed or what I thought was wrong.
In their language.
And all because of a few misplaced litres of diesel.

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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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