Traveling US 287 through Texas day before yesterday was more a trip down memory lane than I had imagined.
In 1973 I travelled the US highways with my first husband, otherwise known as “my children’s father”. Cattle hauling was what he did.
Living in Amarillo, Texas at that time I was barely 19 years old and a skinny thing. I’d go along to the stockyards to watch the cattle auctions and listen as the trucking company boss talked to ranchers about shipping their cattle.
Chandler P. Rush was the name of Gene’s (my children’s father) boss. Mr. Rush was a very kind man that treated me like a daughter and I appreciated him for that.
Loading the cattle into the trailers was a noisy, dusty, dried cow poop swirling affair. Cowboys shrill whistles and barks of “Hey there” were immediately followed by pounding hoof beats of horses, bawling from cattle, a loud wooden thunk when hooves came in sharp contact with the wooden rail fences.
Dust and dried poop whirled and swirled in the air, getting sucked into throats and up noses with every inhale of a breath. Eyes would water from the particulates that flew leaving muddy tracks down my face and black dusty globs in the corners of my eyes. Blowing my nose to, literally, get all the crap out often made me squeamish at first. I did acquire the unladylike habit of hacking up phlegm speckled black with poop dust. However, I did draw the line at spitting on the ground. I always carried a wad of Kleenex to clear my throat and mouth.
The men loading the cattle in the trailers had electric prods. Long fiberglass sticks with two copper nubs on the business end of the stick. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I got in the way of a prod and been zapped on an arm or hand. Followed by a yelp from me and a very hurried “Sorry ma’am” from the person on the other end of the prod.
Counting cattle going through the chute into Gene’s trailer was my job. He would tell me how many would be going in from each cut the cowboys made and I had to double check the count as the cattle ran into each other, tried to jump over one in front, or find a way to turn around in the narrow chute to get the heck out of there. All the fleeing steer did was create a bottleneck and halt the progress.
All kinds of bawling, yelping, horse snorting, whistling, muttered curses, outright shouts of swear words, arms flailing, men jumping atop the fences to slap the head or rear of a steer and the forever chocking poop dust kicked about.
Inside the trailer were two men that kept count as well. They would shout out how many entered or to get out of the way as one steer turning to run back out the trailer door turned into three.
Cattle hooves stomping on the metal deck of the trailer as they were loaded added to the deafening noise. The trailer creaked and groaned as it rocked back and forth during loading lending another sound to the raucous air.
Crusted with dust all over my face, grit in my hair, dried poop down my blouse and settling into my bra, shoes filled with dirt and bunched up socks added to my discomfort.
Loading time was over and it was time to drive over the scale to get weighed. The truck drivers were paid by the mile and by the pound. The starting weight was stamped on a small ticket the driver kept in a shirt pocket.
Once weighing was done then it was time to get on the road to deliver the cattle as quickly as possible. Weight loss of the cattle begins with the first one to urinate then defficate.
In those days cattle were crammed into the trailers leaving little room for them to move around. The floors would get slippery with all the poop and pee and at least one steer would fall. When that happened it was not uncommon for the rest of the cattle to stumble and tramp over the fallen steer. Sometimes ending in death which resulted in a dock of several hundred dollars from the driver’s pay.
Guess who got to climb the outside of the trailer to peer through the holes at fuel stops to check on the cattle? You guessed right. Me. I have been pooped on, peed on, stepped on, and licked more times than I can count.
Back then showers for women in truck stops was unheard of. I got to bathe in the sinks of women’s bathrooms. Shaving my legs was a trial. Hoisting a foot up into a sink to get the job done then do a one footed dance on the wet slippery floor while hanging onto anything for balance was a trick. I pulled at least one sink free of the wall at one truck stop and feared retribution each time we had to go back to that truck stop.
Trying to keep clean was a major chore for me. Not to mention the stunned stares and glares I suffered as other female motorists came in to use the facilities and I stood at the sink all but naked.
I did this for almost two years and had enough of it.
Today there are showers for women that are private and well stocked. When Joe and I began driving we would request a couples shower which was larger and accommodated the two of us.
Fuel prices in the 1970’s was about $.38 a gallon. Today it is well over $3.00.
I still climb around on the equipment and get sweaty, dusty, and greasy. The luxury of a hotel room each night beats the heck out of the inconveniences of my past. Driving is no longer done until I drop from fatigue and I have my best friend with me.
Driving a truck is what I do for a living. Getting to see the sights of this great country is a bonus.
Whatever you do for a living, do it well and to the best of your ability. When you look back on where you have been you can be proud of who you are as a person.