“God gave Montana to the Wind” Photo by Mike Murchison
Picture a snow covered windswept, barren, open land in what could pass for the “middle of Godknowswhere.”
It’s out there somewhere near the Continental Divide where the rivers change direction and the flat grasslands below; “Out West” as it’s often called.
It’s a place where the wind spends a lot of its time blowing the clouds around and for a good three months of the year the thermometer doesn’t make much of an effort to climb to a tolerable level.
It’s out here that Cowboys did and still do make a go of it. Moving the stock from one grazing pasture to another. Punching holes in the watering hole so cattle can access the water. Spreading hay bales across a white landscape to feed the herd.
It still goes on, and I see it all the time. Day and night. The art and business of cowboyography is alive and well. You just need to know where to look.
Trucking is similar in many ways. You’re out there. Cutting through those windswept acres in the dead of winter on a concrete trail.
Your horse is a little bigger, faster but you’re saddled up doing the job. Loading and unloading cattle, grain, hay, and fertilizer out there in that frozen world. A thermos of coffee close by. The big leather boots, Wranglers, and a hat. Maybe not a wide brimmed Stetson. but a hat none the less; that says who you are and what you do. Carhart, Case, John Deere, Peterbilt or Kenworth. Back in the day the brand was worn on the saddle, maybe on the wagon, but it was worn.
Ranches closed down, amalgamated, were bought up and corporations took over many of them. Some hung on. Some are still hanging on; family ranches dug in tooth and nail to preserve the way of life and living.
Not much different for the modern version of the Cowboy. Although the horse he rides is a lot different than the ones they road years ago, he’s riding it none the less.
Hours in the saddle. Riding the white line that is today’s version of the fence line. Out there in the places where a lot of folks never go.
The back roads, grid roads, county roads that have remained dirt or have only know a blanket of gravel and most likely will never feel the footsteps of a paving crew.
Cattle, hay, fertilizer, grains. He hauls it. No big box store warehouses for this cowboy. He shudders at the thought of those concrete monoliths.
And like the Cowboy of yesterday, there is something else that thismodern-day cowboy embraces: values, work ethic and camaraderie.
From the boots to the hat to those long hours out there somewhere in that windswept middle of God knows where, he keeps trying. Digging in, hanging on.
The business of trucking is and has been changing. The efforts to go autonomous, more streamlined, more profitable and more hi-tech does not appeal to those diehard Cowboys of the White line.
Hauling cattle to market on rail didn’t appeal to many ranchers way back when. Many hung on for the trail drive and the hard work.
I don’t think there is a truck driver out there who, at one time or another, hadn’t compared himself to that of a Cowboy.
It’s a cliche. I know. But there are those out there behind the wheel who embrace the way of life, fight for it tooth and nail. And they are willing to spend their long days and nights out there.
They treat and care for their ride like it was a living breathing thing. Like a good cutting horse, they talk to their truck, feed it well, treat it like a best friend. Afterall, out here that’s exactly what that ride is: a best friend that just might keep you alive.
Some turned tail and ran. Not interested. Too hard a job. They opted for the warmth of home most nights. Some saw it as a job until something better came along.
In many cases, like the rancher or farmer, it ain’t about money. That’s just part of it. But it’s more about a lifestyle. Hard work out in the elements and a belief that there isn’t a shortcut or a quick fix to anything.
It’s time in the saddle, getting worn and weathered. The calluses, the disappointments and the small victories that lend way to another day to do it again.
The lines between reliable stability and short cut-convenience seem blurry at times, sometimes tempting to cross. We all have our price, as they say. And who wouldn’t want to be in a warm place on a cold winter night?
There are those who see a job that needs doing and they saddle up and do it. No questions asked. They just do it. For that breed of Cowboy out there saddled up behind the wheel of a big horse, we owe them. We owe them on a cold winter night a warm thought and a tip of the hat.
Bob Seger said it best when he wrote a song years ago
“Against the wind
Running against the wind
I’m older now but I’m still running against the wind…”
Never met a Cowboy or Trucker who didn’t.