Wednesday, November 28, 2007

First Day

We pulled in to the long and narrow dirt parking lot of the Riverside Rancheros club and then we began the drill of setting up a camp for the first time. My fellow wranglers were already complaining about the location for the setup; being new, I didn’t have much to say. I would learn.

Setting up required that we first unroll the heavy bundles of canvas and steel cable that made up the mangers. Hay, from the hay truck was dropped as directed and then the truck was parked. The ‘bed’ truck (where we would live and sleep) was placed in position as the center anchor for the mangers. Cables and chains would secure the end of the mangers to the frame of the truck. The hay truck would serve as the anchor for the other end of one manger and a buried ‘deadman’ or a convenient tree would be the anchor for the end of the other manger. Since this was the first night, some horses wouldn’t show until morning and so we didn’t need to set up the ‘little manger’, a separate unit that required its own anchors.

Here’s the picture; from right to left, the hay truck followed by a length of manger that could accommodate about 60 horses. That manger was then attached to the right side of the bed truck. On the left side, another long manger was attached and that ended with an attachment to a large eucalyptus tree. Heavy chains and cable ‘come-alongs’ made the final attachment at the bed truck. These would be tightened, which would lift the manger off of the ground. And to complete the lifting, drive poles were hammered into the ground at 3’ intervals and the manger lifted onto the hooks on the poles. These drive poles were made of heavy 2” pipe with a sharpened point to penetrate the soil. And the only way to install them was to use a sledge hammer. One man would hold the pole and the other would swing. Once it had been well started, we would alternate the swings. (We used to joke that we were well qualified to work in the circus) The goal was to drive the pole till the hook reached the level of our belt buckle. And I quickly learned to rise up on my toes to make this critical measurement! And I also learned why the others had complained about this location; it was a parking lot and the many vehicles had compacted the soil. I soon became an expert on soil types.

After the manger was in place and lifted onto the poles, we opened the bales and put a flake of hay into each numbered spot on the manger. Then it was time to get out the large water tubs and the smaller grain tubs. Hoses were linked and we soon had all 6 tubs filled with water. Our bed truck was our next chore and so we arranged the bags of grain at the far end and then set up our sleeping spaces; a foam bed roll, a pillow and a sleeping bag. We placed our other gear wherever we could find space. Since the bed truck didn’t really carry anything important, like hay… it became the truck that anyone could throw whatever they wanted, into. The riders would use it to carry their bedrolls and extra gear. It was the baggage cart, despite the fact that it was also our home for the next 7 days. We would have to rearrange this mess every night after making camp.

That first night came quickly and we soon had about 80 or 90 horses tied to the manger. Unhappy horses. They had spent the winter in tall grass and roaming free at their owners’ ranch. Most didn’t like the neighbor they had been tied next to and so we had to put up kick poles between them. Dave, one of the wranglers and our farrier, would gather up a supply of small rocks and whenever a horse would start kicking at its neighbor, he would nail it with a well placed rock to its rear. I liked that!

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