Cooking in the West
June 4, 2021
I receive many submissions from readers, and I love to share them. However, in my 26 years of writing this column, I believe this is the funniest piece any reader has ever sent me. Thanks, Tom Ogle of Paris, Illinois for making me laugh out loud recalling your fond adventures on a Montana ranch in this story entitled "Montana Flat Tires and Rattlesnakes."
On October 3, 2015 my dream of becoming "Tom Selleck in Montana" quickly became "Tom Ogle, just make it back to Paris, Illinois.” I had negotiated a stay at a real working ranch through a friend of a cousin of a friend. Shortly after leaving civilization (Chinook, MT), reality set in. I would be 35 miles from a hair stylist or a bottle of white Chablis. Right then the right rear tire went, "BOOM”, and I nearly wet myself. I almost fainted when I saw I had no cell service to call The Chicago Motor Club for roadside assistance. I was about to have a mental meltdown, when I saw a ball of dust heading my way. It seemed like an eternity before I could frantically flag down this pickup truck as it topped the hill, slid sideways, and flung almost everything off the flatbed toward me and my airport rental car I had strategically parked in the center of the road.
This fella, Dan, seemed puzzled by my long curly hair and bright orange tennis shoes. After I explained my dilemma, Dan used some kind of two way radio to call his wife and said, "Call Daryl and Bobbie's house. See if some Bruce Jenner wannabe is coming to work for them from Paris. If not, call the Blaine County Sheriff's Office and see if they've had any reports of a stolen baby poop yellow compact car driven by a walk away from a mental home". She radioed back and said; "Daryl's on his way". As I helped Dan put his fencing tools back on his truck he asked if I was some kind of moron. I corrected his punctuation and told him; "No, I'm Catholic". He jumped in his truck and sped away without so much as a goodbye.
When Daryl and his brother Dennis both showed up to rescue me, I really felt special. By their red faces and tears, they must have been worried sick about me. They were apparently relieved to see I was OK and began whispering about something funny. Those two didn't say much as they changed my tire, except Dennis did say, "I knew it had to be true. Ya' just can't make up something like this.”
I asked where the nearest service station was. They said about thirty miles behind me. Then Dennis said, "We can fix it. Just follow us to the shop, and feel free to toot your little horn if ya' fall back too far.” Did you know they have the same tire machine as Neal Tire Service has back in Illinois? They sure fix a lot of flats out there. They must make bad tires in Montana. They fixed the tire and had it back on faster than a politician voting himself another raise. I guess Dan told Teddy about me. Teddy told Doug. Doug told Joey and Tim and by the next day I was a household name in The Bears Paw Mountains. Everyone I met after that said they had heard of me. Apparently, a fine dressed intellectual in touch with his feminine side is a rare treat in cow country.
I quickly became a top hand, although I tried not to show up the locals. My new pards were eager for me to experience their way of life first hand. They always let me tie down the five foot tool box lid with a two foot black weather-cracked rubber bungee strap. Indeed, it became my job to see if the white wire in the electrical box was positive - positive or negative - negative. That is when I realized the boys lacked certain safety protocol, and that high strung stock dogs will bite high flying strangers who land on them. While still feeling fuzzy headed from a 120 volt out-of-body experience and sporting more dog bites than a mail carrier wearing Milk Bone flavored undies at a pit bull convention, I was told to fetch a couple more wooden posts from the post pile. Note To Self: On any given sunny 88 degree day in early October, rattlesnakes will let you know that they own the post pile. At my first glimpse of the "#*@!&+=%", my previous leap was bested by four feet. This was followed by a half twist and a Lucky Lindy cannon ball somersault and burnt rubber when my shoes finally hit the ground. My school girl scream made every animal stand and take notice in a five mile radius. Two days later I was still suffering from PTSS (post traumatic snake syndrome) when it was time to sort cows from calves and steers from heifers. Many neighbors always come to help on shipping day at the ranch. One neighbor I will never forget was Pat, a handsome, almost perfect specimen of a man with quick cat-like feet in the alleyway. I turned to Pat to be my mentor. I begged him to teach me the ways of cattle. Pat said; "It's simple Tom. They are the cows; you are the cowboy. You have to show them who's the boss. Don't show fear, don't back up, and stand your ground. Finally, I met a real cowboy. A man who knew cows. A man who even thought like a cow, A Cow Whisperer. All went well for me that morning. I had found my true calling in life. Of course, I couldn't hear anything but 1,100 head of bawling cattle. I could tell everyone was jealous of my quick learning curve. I was what you call a natural I suppose. The dust was too thick to read anyone’s lips so surely all those hand signals meant I was number one. I was too busy to see who was screwing up the sorting, but some nimrod was putting steers in my heifer pen.
I was finally sent a young girl to relieve me for a break. I had been so "In The Zone" that I had missed all of my 15 minute breaks that morning. I was beginning to think I wasn't even going to get my morning nap until Halle said her dad wanted to see me. Daryl told me, "Tom, take a break; we'll finish up here. We won't need you to help us load the calves onto the trucks. So have some coffee and a few doughnuts, rest. We'll eat lunch in about an hour. Then after lunch, I want you up at the chute where I can keep an eye on ya'." Those guys are always looking out for me!
We had a delicious light lunch. They all commented on how well I ate and that the fresh mountain air must be why I had three full plates. I was a tad bit off my feed at lunch because I had to sample a few of Doug's homemade peanut butter cookies I'd found earlier. It's too bad everybody couldn't get one. I did openly compliment the chef on how I almost ate the whole big box full all by myself. Now it was time to "preg check" the cows. My new BFF Pat showed me how to operate the syringe gun. Back in Illinois we have laws to keep anything shaped like a pistol out of the WRONG HANDS. Remember: Friends Don't Let Friends Use Vaccination Guns. On the third cow, Daryl got in my way and backed into my needle. Dr. Rodger, the veterinarian, apparently saw right away I needed more space and suggested my talents would best be utilized on the other side of the chute putting liquid wormer on the back of each pregnant cow. So after only three cows I got a job promotion.
Well since I'm from Illinois, where we do not discriminate, I made the executive decision to give even the open cows a dose of wormer. On the seventh cow I found out the liquid wormer will burn your eyes. She had a pretty blaze face, I lost my focus and shot it over her back. In the Navy, they call it a "bow shot". Most of it hit Doc in his left eye. I tried to laugh it off by saying; "Remember Doc, this is a team effort, and there's no "eye" in team." Doc gritted his teeth and said it was ok; he knew it was an accident. Now I know Doc has worked thousands of cows through the chute, has a great personality, and is the vet of choice at the ranch. Yet, that day I sensed something wasn't quite right. That's when Pat stepped in and said, "I think Tom is too short to get a good look at what he's doing.” I agreed it was impeding the quality of my work. Pat said; "Tom, let's open a couple of side bars on this chute so you can get a better angle. Now remember Tom, don't back up, be fearless, stand your ground; they can't get out that little hole."
As I was processing all of this I heard Pat yell to Jacie; "Hey Jacie, we need a good one". Jacie replied, "She will do.” The cow they now call "She Will Do" must have been sired by "Red Rock" and out of The Freddy Kruger Ranch cow "Miss Houdini". Obviously, Ole' She Will Do was not in her "happy place" eating lush green grass on the first of June, anticipating the bull of her dreams. No, she had been to this "Preg-Check-Party" for several years. Ole' She Will Do hit the chute like a rocket sled on rails, bounced back and made a NASCAR fast left turn toward the small opening where I stood. I vaguely remember she was a beautiful tall dark redhead used to having her way with all the cowboys. The last thing I heard was my former friend Pat yelling, "Hey Tom, don't back up; hold your ground". When I woke up with all my so-called buddies around me, flat on my back, with my shirt pocket full of cow snot, Ole' She Will Do was gone. She was bred, Dennis had punched another hole in her ear tag. They would get one or two more years out of her.
I'm now back in Illinois. I look back at all I did in only eight days. I displaced Garrison and Rylan from their bedrooms, drank up all the kids’ milk in record time, used up all the hot water with my somewhat longer than average showers, tore the hitch off the manure spreader, filled Bobbie's new gas pickup truck plumb full of diesel fuel (requiring a tow truck from the dealership).
In doing so I've learned what all politicians should learn. The best way to help the hard working ranchers of cow country: let them work and just stay the hell out of their way.
Perhaps Tom should have helped out in the kitchen when he was up there in the Bears Paw Mountains. Thanks for sending recipes with your story, Tom! I think I am sorry I didn't meet you when you were out here in Montana!
Tom's Sweet Tea:
2 regular tea bags
1/3 C. sugar
ice and water
Cut a small paper finger tab and staple from the end of the tea bag string. Leave the strings long and tie them with knots. Place in a plastic solo cup 3/4 full of water. Hang strings over the lip of the cup. Microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes. Pour 1/3 cup sugar in 1/2 gallon plastic tea pitcher. Take a hot solo cup out with a towel so you don't burn fingers. Remove tea bags from the solo cup over the pitcher. Pour hot tea on sugar. Return tea bags to a solo cup. Stir a little to dissolve sugar. Add about 20 ice cubes. Stir to cool the hot mixture. Fill the pitcher with water. Voila!!! Quick Brewed Sweet Iced Tea.
Tom's Chicken Poppers:
1 lb. bacon
1 package chicken breast or chicken tenderloins
2 T. powdered BBQ spice
1/2 C. brown sugar
Cut chicken lengthwise the size of a real manly man's thumb. Wrap each with a half slice of bacon. Poke a toothpick through that puppy. Line em' up like little soldiers on a cookie sheet with sides. Sprinkle lightly with a mixture of "Sugar and Spice" ( I prefer pork BBQ spice; it tickles my fancy.) Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until bacon is cooked. Poppers should now be done. Can keep warm in a crockpot.