Pondering Paybacks

I made fun of my husband, Steve, when he stuck the skid steer in a snow bank last winter.

I should know better.

Not that Steve resented my teasing. He can take it as well as he gives it. Believe me, he loves to tease me so I’m glad he has enough ego to withstand a bit of torment from me.

I should know better because what goes around comes around.

As soon as I made fun of Steve’s mishaps, I started having them, too.

The current ranch truck is a 1997 Ford F250, dubbed “the black truck.”

This truck holds my fencing tools and carries hay to the corrals, but it will not stay put on a hillside or motor its way to town without overheating. The only parts that function well are the bell that notifies me when I leave the key in the ignition and the still-shiny-after-200,000 miles body.

A few weeks after I teased Steve about his ability to drive skid steers over cliffs and into snow banks, I took the truck to reinforce a fence around the caragana I planted last year. I realized it was time to pick up 10-year-old Abby from the bus. Usually my dog and I walk out to meet her, but I decided to drive out so I would not be late. 

As I cruised off the hill to the driveway, the black truck began to slide sideways.

I was not too worried because we were still making progress in the general direction of the bus, but my dog’s eyes grew wide as a corner post came to meet the truck’s rear passenger panel.

The post held its ground long enough to absorb most of the black truck’s momentum, but not all.

I jumped out to pull the mangled fence from under the truck; not even a scratch or dent marred the truck’s side.

A few days later a combination of warm temperatures, melting snow and lots of rain created a raging flood that washed out all fences that crossed the creeks and coulees.

I loaded my dog, along with some posts, wire and fencing pliers into the black truck and headed east.

We have two routes to go east. One climbs along the side of the same hill that I slid off and wiped out the corner post. The other narrow track creeps past a small water trough along the creek.

I’ll tear that hillside all to pieces if I try going that way, I thought to myself, shifting into four-wheel-drive and turning toward the creek.

Did I mention that the track is narrow?

In fact, it is too narrow to contain a 1997 Ford F250 when it is muddy.

The truck slid to a diagonal repose.

I braked.

It slid a little more, just to make a point I suppose.

My dog looked me in the eye, trusting me to get us horizontal again.

I slipped the truck into low range four-wheel-drive, then eased the gas.

The wheels caught, the truck moved forward and died.

The brakes held this time – probably because my foot was buried in the floorboard.

I looked behind us. I could see a couple of feet between the tailgate and the water trough. Maybe I could ease the truck backward, avoid the water trough and then swing around it fast before I dumped the truck over the four-foot creek bank -- the very same creek bank, about 100 feet from where Steve buried the skid steer last winter.

I cranked the wheel and let my foot off the brake.

The passenger side led the downward motion. The creek bank loomed large.

Brakes!

My dog looked through the passenger window to the bushes growing on the creek bank and then back at me.

I clutched the steering wheel to keep myself from sliding down on to him.

“If I can get this truck to stop sliding, we’re out of here,” I said to my dog in the most confident voice I could muster.

I was faking.

My dog wagged his tail, poised to jump at any second.

Fortunately, all that mud had created ruts in the narrow dirt track. As long as I left the wheels turned, the truck remained hanging off the edge of the road, but not yet in the creek.

My decision to abandon my fencing project came easy. My dog seconded my plan.

I ate crow that night while Steve laughed out loud at my attempts to justify a pickup hanging off the road by its front wheels.

As I chewed on that tough old bird, I made a mental note that paybacks are h-e-double-toothpicks.

Still, they are worth it.

 

Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise grass-fed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad. She has two children; Will, 19, and Abby, 10. Lisa can be reached at L.Schmidt@a-land-of-grass-ranch.com.

 

Lisa Schmidt