White Christmas

Monday, December 19, 2011 | By John

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Back in the 1970s, I had a cowboy friend who worked for an outfit that ran a thousand head of steers on wheat pasture on the flats around Perryton.  He was a nice feller, mild mannered and easy going, but there was one sure way of bringing fire to his eyes and causing him to bellow and snort.

     All I had to do was start singing “I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas.”  He hated that song. To him, it meant a thousand cold, hungry animals plodding down muddy cow paths, bawling for feed on snow-covered wheat fields.

     It meant hauling water and chopping ice, hauling load after pickup load of hay, fighting muddy roads and snowdrifts.  It meant wet boots and gloves, frozen ears and toes, and falling into bed, exhausted, at eight o’clock every night.

     Yes, he hated that song, and the whole idea of snow at Christmas time.  I thought of him on Christmas Eve 1997.  We had gotten ten or twelve inches of wet snow.  My son Mark and I had spent all day fighting muddy roads and snowdrifts, trying to get hay to the cows on the ranch. 

     All our roads were awful, and we had guests coming for Christmas: our son Scot and his wife Tiffany and our yearling grandson, Todd Kale.  They would drive down from Kansas in their car, then switch over to a Jeep Cherokee we had left in town for them. 

     They would need four-wheel drive to make it to our place.  In fact, they might need more than that.  When Mark and I checked out the county road coming into the ranch, we found it drifted over with deep snow . . . We would have to break the drifts with our dozer.  Otherwise, our holiday guests would spend Christmas Eve stranded in the Jeep. 

     So, we cranked up the Case 450 dozer.  This wasn’t so easy, as diesel engines have no love for cold weather, and this one was particularly stubborn about starting.  But ether and a battery charger did the job, and off we went, roading the dozer three miles to the section of the county road that had the deepest drifts.

     I drove the dozer and Mark followed in the pickup.  The dozer had no cab, so the air conditioner was working fine.  I had dressed in warm clothes, but it was cold on that dozer. 

     A mile and a half down the road, I began to notice a sweet smell in the air, and steam was coming out of the motor.  The sweet smell was antifreeze.  We had a leak in the radiator.

     This was so annoying, I could hardly stand it.  Here we had eleven thousand pounds of motorized steel, our ace-in-the-hole, our winter vehicle of last resort—and it had a stupid pin-hole in the radiator!  And the afternoon sun was sinking in the West.  Scot and Tiff were on their way.

     I got into the pickup with Mark.  We drove two miles back to the barn and rummaged through tools and junk until we found what we needed: a five-ounce bottle of Bars Leaks.  We poured it into the radiator, fired up the motor, and held our breath. 

     The hissing stopped.  Five ounces of brown gunk had just rescued eleven thousand pounds of motorized steel. 

     I climbed back on the dozer and went clanking down the road to do battle with the snowdrifts.  By the time I had plowed the road going east, I was half-frozen and turned it over to Mark.  He plowed the road again, going west.  Since he’d done such a fine job, I let him pilot the dozer three miles back to the barn, against the north wind.

     We made it back into the house at sundown. Scot and Tiff arrived a few minutes behind us.  We had a merry Christmas, but I agree with my cowboy pal.  Let the rest of the world dream of a White Christmas.  Out here in Roberts County, we’ll take our Christmases brown.

Tags: Winter, Christmas, Weather, Ranching, Panhandle, Perryton
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