The best way to get a rainstorm on a ranch is to mow hay. If you drive around rural Colorado, this is harvest time for hay meadows. I like to read a newspaper column in The Craig Press written by Diane Osborn Prather who lives on a ranch between Craig and Meeker in mountain country. She writes a weekly column entitled “Pipi’s Pasture.” I think the name was after one of her animals.
Her last column started this way…” These recent hot days have triggered childhood memories of the haying season on the ranch. The season got started around July 4, right after the cattle were turned out onto summer pasture.” She continues writing about the men needed for the summer haying operation. “It was mom’s job to feed the crew, and the noon meal was always substantial, no sandwiches and chips, we called the meal ‘dinner.’ She considered the meat as the most important dish on the menu, so she had to cook it in the oven, she started early.”
She remembers, “We girls kept busy running errands for Mom. We visited the chicken house for eggs that were needed or went up and down the stairs to the basement carrying potatoes and jars of vegetables, pickles and jellies. Sometimes we ran to the garden for an onion or lettuce, and we even shelled peas that were creamed for the meal. When it was nearly lunch time we set the table.”
And she relates the enjoyment of the hay crew having dinner. “Boy, did the men eat! After the meal the men went back to the hayfield and we girls helped clear the table and do all those dishes in the heat. Afterward, we escaped outdoors to cool off under the big old maple tree until time to find the milk cow.”
I relate warmly to her story because my mother, a career schoolteacher, was the hay crew cook. Shortly after I was married to the publisher of this newspaper we were home from the army, and she became the assistant hay crew cook. Something new to her as a small-town city girl who liked to eat salads and sandwiches.
I started working in the hay fields when I was seven or eight years old driving a stacker team horse. As the years rolled by I became the hay raker, then a hay mower and finally a hay stacker because it was hard to find anyone to do that physical job. I was young and able to handle the job with ease. My cousin Jason Sweeny came from his family ranch and became our hayraker. We both eventually graduated from CSU and we cherish those old ranch days.
We ate huge meals, always on time, breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch (or dinner) as Diane writes) and 6 p.m. coming in from the hay fields.
Very early in my life, prior to joining the hay crew, I would do the fetching for my mother. Running to our root cellar or garden for whatever my mother needed. We had a huge coal stove and one of my jobs was to keep the wood and coal boxes full.
I can remember that during World War l1 sugar was in very short supply, almost non-existent because of the war in the Pacific. My parents were able to buy a sack of sugar in Craig at a CO-OP store in a burlap gunny sack. The precious sugar was rationed out carefully in mason pint jars in front of every hay crew worker’s plate for around 12 hungry men and me. At the end of each week if there was sugar left my mother would bake pies and cakes for us.
My wife didn’t last long in the kitchen and those events inspired us to move forward in life and get started in the newspaper business. My haying career ended along with my ranch life experiences. My dad and mom eventually sold the ranch and moved to town. That’s what ranchers eventually do before they die.
My father was no exception as lung cancer claimed his life at age 75 after years of cold winter air, dust and dirt, and worst of all smoking about two packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes every day.
Diane Prather is still on her family ranch today doing daily chores and raising the beef that eventually ends up in our local grocery stores.