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L Thomas 1983-84 First Winter in Wy

Page history last edited by Judi Myers 11 years, 6 months ago

First Winter on the Wyoming Ranch:1983-1984  A Letter to Friends by Lynn Thomas.

Joe & Lynn Thomas Ranch, 105 Richie Rd, Sublette County, Boulder Wy.

So, into the present.  I guess uppermost is the weather.  For a while it was downright nasty with a good foot of snow on the ground since October.  It has been consistently very cold.  However during January it has been sunny and pleasant despite the cold.  Most of the time it seldom gets to zero for a high.  We’ve had a lot of -20°, a good deal of -30° and a couple of days of -48°.  If we get 10° above we think it’s pretty warm and several days of 20° makes Joe remark that it’s getting downright warm out there.  We haven’t seen freezing for several months.  You know, I was concerned about our narrow back steps getting icy and me slipping off in my uncoordination.  Well, I would have to fall up to fall off the steps, because the snow is 3’ or more on that side of the house.  Also it has been too cold to melt to ice anywhere.  Maybe next spring the steps will get icy. 

It is very beautiful.  There are sun dogs, at least I think that’s what they are called.  Full or partial rainbow rings around the sun.  And I’ve seen a couple of “ice bows”, on foggy days frozen area opposite the sun which are white.  Sometimes on perfectly clear days the moisture will form ice crystals which fall through the air.  This and heavy frost makes you feel like you are in a fairyland.

The snow is so deep all but the tips of the sagebrush are covered.  The snow is starting to set up a little more now, but until now trying to walk through it on the level it was up to your knees, sometimes in drifts up to your hips and don’t know how deep below your feet.  I made the mistake of cutting across to the mailbox one day and wished I hadn’t.  If you think you can’t sweat at -20° think again.

 The horses are all covered with frost, with ice in their nostrils and eyelashes.  I don’t know how they don’t just freeze, but they almost seem to enjoy the cold and roll around in the snow.  They almost never shiver, but they don’t like the wind.  Fortunately we haven’t had much wind yet.  Just enough at first to pile up a bunch of drifts.  When the horses work on cold mornings great clouds of warm, horse-smelling steam comes off them, also from their breath.  I always think of the critic who said you couldn’t see the breath from two animals coming out at once (in a painting which showed that).  Well, I’m here to tell you, yes you can – and all the cows breath too.  Sometimes the animals will make their own little fog which hangs over them, or over the corrals and yard. 

My favorite beautiful days are the foggy ones, when the sun shines through the fog.  Sunsets turn the hills rose, orange or gold color, and moonlit nights, like we have now are more beautiful than anywhere I’ve been, especially if there is a haze.  The luminosity is beautiful beyond words and nearly as bright as day.  We can look up to the feedground almost anytime and see the elk.  We seem to always be about 20° colder than any place around here reporting the weather, even colder than Big Piney, Ice Box of the Nation.  The water pipes have frozen a couple of times but we think we have that figured out now.


Joe nearly fell into the hole the water tank is in and thought he broke his leg, but it’s just real sore now. 

Doing laundry is interesting.  I have an old Maytag wringer washer and no dryer.  Now I’m washing about every 3 weeks.  Hanging is the fun part – clothes freeze like pieces of cardboard immediately, sometimes even in the basket.  I leave them outside to freeze dry from 5 to 7 days and then bring them inside and drape them around on the furniture to dry.  Hanging the cardboard is done with wool gloves which soon are also frozen.  Think of me when you toss your next laundry in the dryer.  Be thankful you aren’t standing in a deep snowdrift with cardboard  clothes.

We had ordered a new wood stove for the living room to replace the coal “stoker”.  It had a delivery of 2 weeks.  Well, it didn’t come for 3 months, so Joe decided to leave the coal stove in til spring..  I’m not real fond of the coal stove because it is noisy and a little dirty.  It takes a notion to stop up and smoke every once in awhile which it did in the middle of the night last night – a little scary to wake up to.  Anyway, the wood stove will be nice and real pretty when we get it in.  We aren’t using much wood this way either.  We keep the wood range in the kitchen going all the time we’re awake and I do all my cooking and baking on it.  Most of the time things turn out real good, but every once in awhile the stove won’t get hot, or worse, takes off like crazy and burns up my delicacies.  That’s frustrating, especially when Joes doesn’t think it’s the stove. 


So we made a couple of trips to Rock Springs to get coal.  It’s interesting that when we get out on the highway, it’s clear and dry.  The closer we get to home, the snowier the roads are, until you get to our mailbox….where the road has been closed for two months.  Yes, I forgot to mention that.  We’re snowed in.  A few months ago, Joe bought a snowmobile and that is how we’re getting in and out.  Our truck is parked in LaRea’s garage, about 5 miles down the road.  We bought a freezer in December and got that in before the road closed.  We got the meat in January and made a trip in we shouldn’t have to get it in here after not having been on it for several weeks.


Joe got to the gate taking the truck back out and realized he’d forgotten the garage key and had to walk back.  Groceries are coming with the mail now from the Boulder Store.  I send a note one mail day and the groceries are brought the next.  We are still getting mail three times a week.  We have a pretty good snowmobile trail to the mailbox and road (which I should have stayed on when I cut across the field that time). 


Joe has been snowmobiling with friends several times now and enjoys that.  They went to Washakie Pass one time and the snowmobile tipped over on him – what fun.  It takes him several days to recuperate.   They’ve been to the Lodge and several times to Irish Canyon through Lameroux Meadow trying to make a trail through the canyon to have quicker access to the high country.  So far that’s been unsuccessful.  A trip planned to Silver Lake was called off because of the weather.  I rode it to the river one day, on the road.  Eh!!??  I’m not real wild about machines going fast.  Maybe a good trail through Yellowstone would be nice.


In mid-December while we could still drive the truck around, we went up to the feedground to see the elk.  It was an especially pretty day and the elk were magnificent – about 500 of them there now.  We climbed up the hillside and cut down our Christmas tree.  It was frozen brittle and by the time we’d drug it back to the truck, a good ¾ to a mile, we’d scoured the whole back off it.  But when we got it decorated and the lights on it, it was really pretty anyway.  So we had Christmas here by ourselves with our presents and turkey dinner and felt like kings (and queens).







Along about this time, Joe decided to break a team to the sled which he had built.  And a nice sled it is too.  So he got Sox and Sunshine in the corral with Nancy and Ace, the colts we’re keeping in and feeding, and started on the groundwork with them.  They were very good for him, Sox with a little training – mostly groundwork, and Sunshine about 8 or 9 now and had been packed for years and a little riding to her credit.  Well, Norm (Richie) came over and Joe asked him to go out on the sled the first time he hooked them up. 


Norm brought over Sam the next day.  Sam is wonderful.  He is a big bay Percheron, gently and well trained.  He would make two of any of our horses, I think.  His ears are so big, if you tried to make silk purses out of them they would be tote bags.  He is boss of the corral.  He has big soft brown eyes and great huge feet and legs.  He’s spirited and proud but so obedient – he just goes faster than we want sometimes.  Well, they hooked up a mare at a time with him and off they went – and that was the beginning. 


Every morning after breakfast Joe harnesses the three of them, and we go out twice with Sam teamed with each mare.  I’ve been around horsebreaking for quite some time now, but this is the first time I’ve been involved with breaking horses to pull.  It’s been interesting.  Joe drives and I have the mare by a long rope tied to the halter.  Her halter rope is also tied to Sam.  I am suppose to help control if they run away, or whip up a little when they buck or don’t pull.  Ha!!  I’m doing good to hold on.  Then we go to the haystack and I open the gates (at first before we packed it down this was one of those crotch deep drifts) and all the time Joe is saying ‘Hurry up” and I throw the hay on and then we go feed the horses.  This is usually about 6 bales in the field and 2 or 3 for the corral.  By the time I’ve done that I’ve had a pretty good work out going at top speed in the snow.   


Well, that’s how it was supposed to go anyway and also including opening up a water hole in the creek that freezes at least 4” of ice every night.  We start out by taking a turn around Norm’s big field where Joe built a hitch rack (after the ground was frozen to about 18”, of course).  Sometimes the horses would go off good, but usually not at first. 


One day we made it to Norm’s house, a mile I suppose, before I could even think about it.  The mares have been in every position in the harness imaginable including upside down with all four feet in the air, and everything on the harness has been broken or undone at least once, fortunately the most that’s gone wrong at one time has been three things.  Sometimes the lines come undone from the bits.  Sunshine’s trick was to sit on the tongue, and Sam would drag her and the sled around.  She broke the tongue the first day and Joe put angle iron on the next one – it’s still in one piece.  Well, they buck and kick and piss and shit all over everything and rear and do anything else they can think of.  It feels pretty safe to watch all this from a safe place instead of  being directly involved with the horse – until we have to get down to put it all back together. 

So that gives you an idea and through everything Sam has been like a rock.  Usually we’d only have one or less such wreck per day but today was another milestone.  I must note that Sox, after ending up upside down quite some time ago had been very well behaved.  We were so proud of her.  Well, she blew up today and ended up in Sam’s traces, straddle of the tongue and with the singletree between her back legs.  She was upside down again before she was through. 





We got all that put back together and finished feeding, then it’s Sunshine’s turn.  To note again, she’s been mad ever since we put her in the corral and has never really accepted being a work horse.  So nearly every day she does some mischief to a more or less degree.  Usually this still involves sitting on the tongue, kicking, bucking, and refusing to stand still when she’s suppose to whoa.  Well today she started in again and off they went and fell into a hole in the creek and broke the double tree.  This took some time to get all back together – she behaved after that.  Well, this is the way half our day goes every morning.  So far none of the horses or us have gotten hurt.  I should think they will be accepting their fate soon now.  Thank goodness for our hero, Sam.  If Joe had put the mares together from the first I’m sure I’d have another story to tell. 


At first I was so sore I could hardly move, but after 6 weeks I’m doing pretty well.  Of course, the horses are doing better all the time and the work isn’t so strenuous now.  I was a little out of sorts this afternoon after all that and thinking the house was burning down last night (coal stove) and not sleeping.  Oh, yes, the house water started to freeze.


The first time we went to town after Christmas we stopped at the gas station and they had two tiny cute little black puppies.  Of course, I wanted them both right away, but managed to get away with only one.  Joe said no.  Well, the cute, smart little puppy was sick all night and had to go to the vet the next morning for a week, nearly died from worms and intestinal virus, and my free puppy immediately cost me $60.  Well, we brought him home again after Suzie (Blaha)’s good care and do have a cute smart and BIG puppy.  I guess he’s a Scorpio, 2 or 3 months old now and a little taller than Skeezix.  He is pretty well housebroken except at night, can fetch instinctively (we think he’s most or all Lab), and certainly keeps everything and everyone livened up around here all the time.  He went through about six names and ended up being Clinker.  He’s black with 3 white paw tips, tail tip and a jag of lightning on his chest.  We’ve been looking for a puppy to come our way for several years now and none have.  Joe wanted another Border Collie since Chico is getting so old.  Well, Chico roars at him and is his pillow.  Skeezix hated him at first and kept looking at me very malevolently, but plays with him almost all day now. 


Clinker is constantly chewing on him anyway, I guess that’s playing.  Skeezix has taught him all his tricks like eating manure and all dead things.  The kitty demanded his respect immediately, but now likes for him to chase her.  They insist that all the rugs in the house be awry.  They only play that game as long as she wants to.  Then he has us throwing things for him to chase and doing lots of petting.  A checkup at the vet said Chico might go on another couple of years, although he can hardly get around and sleeps most of the time, he is healthy.  Deaf, blind, crippled and healthy.  Oh, the rest of the puppy story is that the one we didn’t take got run over.  Clinker went out on the sled with us yesterday (Sox was good).  With 6 of us in the house it isn’t too lonely.  It seems like we just feed and take care of animals most of the time.  There are 15 horses, 3 of the old lodge horses we are feeding, Sam and the rest ours.


The other day Joe rode out in the pasture on the snowmobile and even though he’s been doing this since he got it and even going out to feed them before we started using the sled, Sugar looked up at him and freaked out, ran through the fence, broke off a post and ran to the house while all the other horses just watched her.  She got a couple of scratches and wasn’t even sore.  I don’t know how they can do that and not get hurt.

For my bird watching friends my report is that I saw a snowy owl one day.  All the birds that are here won’t take long to report.  A few magpies and ravens and crows from time to time if they can find something to eat.  We had one red-shafted flicker.  I don’t know what it was eating.  We had one gray crowned rosy finch on the haystack for awhile, then three, then 100, then 200.  They flock right on time for the horse feeding landing on the hay and sometimes right on the sled.  They fly around the house and corrals and make things seem a little more alive.  That’s all.  We see eagles on the way to Rock Springs waiting for run-over rabbits.  We had quite a few jack rabbits in their white winter furs around the house, and they were very tame. 


Then one day a bobcat arrived and most of our rabbits are gone now.  I see one in the mornings sitting in the sun outside his woodpile house.  The bobcat was quite exciting to see.  I had been seeing tracks but in the deep snow didn’t know what had made them, then we saw a dead rabbit by our sled road and wondered what had done it.  The bobcat seems to be gone or at least we haven’t seen him lately.  I was worried about the pets getting eaten, especially the kitty.  She really is inside a lot of the time though.   She is a fair weather cat and has gone into hibernation, I think.


Our sled road bears mention.  The first one is like CW McCall’s Black Bear Road – a whole lot of z’s and w’s all strung out together.  Our second one is straighter.  Oh, there’s a few o’s now and then when Sunshine takes a notion to sit on the tongue.  We go around in circles til she quits.  It’s now the next day…Today Sunshine was perfect, Sox still kicking up her heels, but only one piece of broken harness.  When it’s cold in the morning, say -20° or -30°, I wear about six layers of clothes including hooded sweatshirt, down vest, down coat, 2 or 3 hats including a face mask, paca (boots) with felt liners and a couple pair of socks, long underwear of course.  I feel like those pictures of little kids going out with so many clothes and snowsuits that they can’t move.  Joe doesn’t wear so much, but I usually don’t get cold.  It’s a beautiful day but they say a big storm is coming.


You probably wonder how I can stand it without going shopping.  Well, I never cared for shopping anyway, but we have lots of catalogs and can order almost anything we want.  There’s such a shortage of good stores around anyway that we can almost do better by ordering by mail.  After I’ve decided what I want out of all the catalogs, change my mind several times, fill out the order and write the check, I’m just about as worn out as if I’d walked through all the big malls in Vegas.  Then in a little while packages come to the mailbox and it’s almost like opening presents to look inside and find out what you got.


With half the day helping Joe break horses, and most of the rest involved with “daily living”, cooking, washing dishes, housework and other mundane chores you can see how my time’s been going.  We don’t have any trouble keeping busy.  However, for those of you who know Joe and how he is always doing something, he is really “laid back” in his retirement.   All projects are on hold, and counting.  As for me, I got some nice warm material for a bathrobe when I was in Vegas.  It is cut out, but yet to be sewn together.  I won’t need it soon.  And all the things I have on the “list” aren’t getting done too fast either.  I have about six art shows planned to participate in so far.  (Had over a dozen last year, but I really don’t want to do that many anymore).




Everyone has their teams and sleds out now and they sure are a pretty sight.  There are 400 or so cows and calves right in back of the house they are feeding.  (Norm will be over here with his cows to feed at his place about March 1.  Then we will have one neighbor.  We might get our road plowed then.)  When the cows walk in a bunch through the snow it sounds like a river rushing over stones.  It is really usually fun to get on the sled in the mornings, especially if it is a fine winter day.  The runners squeak and squeal, the harness jingles, and the horses hooves scrunch in the snow.  It’s usually pretty cold, and the first thing you feel when you go out of the house is that a film of ice forms over your eyeballs.  Then the hairs in your nostrils freeze.  Depending on how cold it is and how long you’re out, combined with how much you’re wearing your body had hot and cold flashes.  This is not due to my age, but how much I’m struggling in the snow, or how hard the wind is blowing.  Your toes and fingers begin to sting and ache, legs which aren’t covered as much hurt and any bare skin goes numb.  Joe’s frozen the tip of his nose quite a few times. 


He puts the horses’ bits in water to coat them with a layer of ice before he puts them in the horses’ mouths.  Ice freezes about 4” thick in the creek (running water) overnight and we have to open it with a bar and shovel for the horses to drink.  The trough in the corral has to be opened and water pumped by hand several times a day.  It freezes solid.  There are mirages even more so than in the desert.  The far mountains (towards Big Piney)(Wyoming Range) aren’t visible from the house in summer, but now they stand up above the hills like towering peaks.  Any distant hill or mountain looks about twice as high and steep as it really is.  There are heat waves above the snow.  Although most times we can’t see the willows in the creek from the house, every once in awhile they stand up where we can.  It is startling to see things this way.  And you’ve heard of hopping down the bunny trail?  Well, the rabbit trails just go off across the country with no end.  If you can get one going your way, it will pretty well hold you up, although it is a little narrow for people.


Well, I’ve carried on long enough I suppose.  I really would love to get your letters.  It’s nice to get notes in the mail from people you care about and we don’t get too many visitors stopping by right now, like none, so would enjoy hearing from you.  And who knows, I might even send another form letter one of these days.  At least you’ll all hear more in depth than if I had to write so many times.  All my warm wishes to you for a wonderful spring.  Lynn

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