One time, when the jokes were particularly bad, Dad decided to get back at one of pranksters. This rancher had a phone and was known for his calls late at night. Anyway, Dad and Arnold MacKeg were coming back to town late one night after a football game and decided to get him back. They rolled off the highway and into his yard. They swung their car lights from the barn and onto a corral full of cattle. They left the lights there. It wasn’t long until the owner/rancher burst from his home totting a gun in one hand and fingering the buttons on his shirt with his other hand. He yelled “What are you guys up to?” They said something about counting his cows. (Which is not allowed since it is the same thing as asking him how much he was worth.) But this night they all got a good laugh out of it and the pranks gradually wound down. Why they laughed is lost on me now but laugh they did.
My dad and several of his ranch friends went to Ogallala for a meeting of the Masons. It was at that time that he and his friends were asked to join. Several of them were already Masons. Its fair to ask how he had so many friends already. Well he played ball with many of them during his high school days, and even went to school with several more at a tech related high school in South West Nebraska. It was during this trip to Ogallala that they elected officers. One of them, who would become a prominent rancher in the area, was elected Master of Arms. His job was to take his sword and stand by the door, to guard it and basically miss the meeting. They told him if someone came late, to listen to the password and let him in. Perhaps they for got to tell him about the password, or perhaps a late comer forgot the password, or perhaps the new master at arms just got bored, but he knocked on the door. When they answered the knock, he said such and such had come to the meeting. He asked if he should let him in or just run him through. I’m assuming there was no blood shed that night, but they all got a laugh out of it. The secrecy laws of the Masons are well known, but this story was too good to be kept from us, so it became a story that was trotted out from time to time with the family and we laughed uproariously at the punch line.
When we first moved to Arthur the main power plant was a generator. Everyone was hooked up to it. Whether you were inside a house or out, Mom told me, you heard the whump, whump, whump of the generator. If your lights were on, they went from bright to dim in perfect time to the whump, whump, whump. Mom told me it was exciting to see power poles march over the sand hills to the little town. When the REA finished, all the residents were hooked up to power and the lights didn’t dim any more. The whump, whump, whump of the generator stopped and nobody missed it although it is still talked about with nostalgia.
I got my first horse in Arthur. My Grand Dad had a ranch north of us about 100 miles. He was continuing to make the conversion from horses to tractors at the time and didn’t need as many. It was a young Indian pony, a black and white pinto, who someone (probably my Grand Dad) named Jocko. My sister got her first horse also though I don’t remember its name because we were about 4 and 7 at the time. Dad brought a cow pony he used from the ranch and completed the set with horse for my Mom. The idea was that the four of us would ride out into the sand hills every night which I don’t remember doing. We probably did ride our horses a few times, but Docpop (a name I called my Grand Dad) eventually took them back to the ranch. When ever we went to the ranch, I always rode Jocko. I remember when I was nine or ten, I rode Jocko with my sister on her horse, my cousin Devin on Red, and probably my cousin Linda on Princess. We rode them at a walk from the barn over a bridge on the wounded knee creek (which Ken, a man who worked for my Docpop, later that summer or perhaps the next one, fell into the creek on a self-propelled combine,) up a sandy hill (which was impossible to get up with a car unless you got up to speed early and bounced all the way up) and onto the high plains to the end of the ranch. I was afraid to go much faster then a walk with any horse. Occasionally I would trot and bounce all over the place. I was nearly thrown off several times, so I could only imagine what would happen if I went faster then a trot.
You’ve heard of the old saying that you should not run a horse back to the barn? The reason was that horses, if you ran them to the barn, would always run to the barn, whither you wanted them to or not. Anyway, we ran them back. First Devin opened-up on red, then it was Linda’s turn and finally my sister Julie blew by me. I don’t know if I was more afraid of being thrown off or being left behind but the decision was made for me as Jocko knew that he didn’t want to be left. We jumped from a walk to a cantor completely by-passing the trot. I held on with both hands to the saddle horn. But much to my surprise Jocko had a very smooth cantor. His gallop was even smoother. When we finally caught up to Devin, Jocko was going full out. It was thrilling. Docpop told me that Jocko was mine until he sold him. Or maybe Mom sold him to buy a piano. I don’t remember. But after I galloped on him, I never knew what a thrill was.
I didn’t learn about short coupled horses until later, that is, a horse that isn’t so smooth when it runs. I leaned all about it on another pinto; a brown and white pinto pony named Dixie. She was much smaller then Jocko, in fact she was the mother of a half Shetland and full-size horse or maybe it was Penney that was the mother (I really don’t remember.) Penny was a female horse Docpop had bought in Mankato. Anyway, the foal was as mean as a snake and almost as big. His father was a Shetland stud and was part of Docpop’s plan to make all his horses smaller for the grand kids. It wasn’t until Docpop bought Topper, a Shetland gelding, that he saw the error in his thinking. Topper was a stubborn, well, really-stubborn horse and Docpop found out that most Shetlands were the same way. But that was after his ity bity stud sired several colts and then ran into a barbed wire fence. There were no tears shed at the loss of that stallion. To make matters worse (or better,) the two colts grew up to be almost as big as their mothers. So that experiment ended, but I did find how short coupled Dixie was and I forever rode her at a walk. Penny, on the other hand, I never rode at all, but she is a topic all by herself and will be dealt with at another time.
Long after we had moved from Arthur, to Lincoln, to Mankato, and to Cedar Falls, Doc (by then I called my Docpop that) still had an old wooden phone in the ranch house. That is a wooden phone hooked up to a party line. (You try calling your girl friend on a party line.) Ken Childs, who owned the ranch over the hills from Doc, had a part time job taking care of the phones. I understand when the phones were first put in, they used barbed wire tacked to the top of a fence line for the lines to each ranch house. They were always breaking down when a length of fence was compromised by a horse or cow, a flood, or a bird. When the line was put up on telephone poles the number of times that a line went dead was vastly reduced. It was after that that Ken stopped working for the phone company. However, it was on one such trip to our ranch house for the phone company that Ken Childs invited us to a pot luck at their home. It was to be a gathering for the Four H kids, or something like that. We were invited guests, and all that we were told bring was a table setting for us all, but Mom wasn’t sure of the protocol and brought something to eat. To be fair, it was a tough decision by Mom because we hadn’t been paid yet, there was nothing in the house, and we were invited kind of late. So, we brought buttered bread. Image how the buttered bread looked amongst all the good food at the well-attended event and you can begin to understand how mortified my Mom was. I asked my Mom, as only a dutiful 11 or 12-year-old son would ask, how the buttered bread was going over, or where was the buttered bread and was promptly shushed into submission.
As I said, we had a wooden phone party line when a pal and I spent a summer before our senior year in high school working on the ranch. We had a special ring, maybe a long and three shorts. That long and three shorts rang in all the houses on our party line, as did all the special rings set up for the other party lines members. We never answered the phone because a long and three shorts never rang at our house until it did one night. I mentioned that we were on a party line and in our cabin and every other ranch on the party line heard the long and three shorts ring. One of us picked up the phone and as it turns out it was for me. My girlfriend called me, and we must have talked for a long time and said some intimate things. After we hung up, the long and three shorts ring rang again. I thought it must be our lucky night as I answered it. On the other end of the line was a falsetto saying how much she but probably he loved me, made kissing sounds and the phone went dead. It was then I realized that I had been pranked by Bob, a boy at the main ranch house, and I swore never to use that blankety blank telephone again.