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Harold Thompson

Page history last edited by Clint Gilchrist 8 years, 11 months ago

Harold Thompson

Published in Seeds Ke Dee Revisted
By Judi Myers

 

"I've run 'em all and they get even with ya sooner or later," Harold said as he looked over a retired hay baler. "They're the greatest invention to try human patience." But that was years ago. Now Harold's biggest challenge in the hay fields was opening the barb wire gates. This native Wyoming oldtimer had just turned 75 and from experience he remembered to bring a nylon rope to add strength to the fence fas­tener that his shoulder and arms were no longer used to.

 

On our frequent treks around the county, Harold brought Fig Newtons to share, his frozen Water jug, his binoculars and camera. He stored his gate-opener rope in my Jeep. We'd traveled 2-track dirt roads from Dell Creek up in the Basin to Sweetwater Ranger Station down beyond Big Sandy River. We'd found ancient medicine wheels, Oregon Trail ruts, forgotten graves and historic ranches with worn-out sagebrush grubbers.

 

Like most oldtime ranchers, Harold grew up in an era of one-room schools when an eighth-grade education was sufficient. He was a rancher's son and running cattle along Horse Creek near Merna, Wyoming, was his livelihood. During the hard times, drought and depression, he hacked railroad ties for the Standard Timber Company west of his home ranch and went to the Saturday night dances where moonshine was hidden behind the sagebrush. "In every bottle of whiskey"' he said, "there was either boxing gloves or a song. Dances were never dull."

 

Early one Sunday morning, I called Harold to go on a trek. I apologized for the earliness of the call but he said, "Oh, I get up early on Sundays, so I can have a full day of rest." That day, we drove out Horse Creek Road. When we passed the corner fence of an old homestead, it reminded Harold of a sign that was put up during the owner's drinking days: "Don't shoot. Johnny's already half shot."

 

From Johnny's fence, we cut across the field and through the dry irrigation ditches. "You'd better take that ditch antigodlin," he warned, "You'll get hung up if you hit it straight."

 

As we approached a pesky wire gate, Harold remembered a letter he'd received. He said, "It was from the University at Laramie addressed to old-timers asking how many people I knew who were killed by wolves. The only wolves I knew were the ones at the door!"

 

We drove through the fence and partway up one hill. It was time to get out and walk. On top of the first rise, we could not find any evidence of the graves we sought, so we walked down a saddle and up another knoll. As we hiked, he said, "These hills look awfully small until ya start up 'em." I agreed and sug­gested that some oldtimers just couldn't walk as far as they used to. He answered, "Oh, I can. . . it just takes me a loooooooong time. I'm just as agile as a bird—the one they call a cow."

 

On top of the barren butte, we found some fence posts and boards, the last sign of twin babies that died in 1905. The wind was cold and Harold remarked, "The sun's up there but for all the good it's doing, it might as well be a yellow dog."

 

"What was the snow like when you were a kid?" I asked.

 

"I have to get the cobwebs out. Let me think. Well, I guess I don't know. Wyoming snow don’t stand still long enough to measure."

 

On the way down the hill and back to the Jeep, we talked about being out in the sage-scented air and how unimportant money can be. He agreed, "I can't take it with me, and I don't believe I'll be able to come back for it."

 

When we finally returned to the car and opened the gate with his rope, I broached what I thought might be a delicate subject by saying, "I've noticed that most of you oldtimers prefer suspenders to belts. Why is that?"

 

"Well," he said, "Have you ever tried to keep it rubber band around the bottom half of a balloon?"

 

I knew Harold one year before he died in the spring of 1988. The oldtimer treks are quieter now without his wit and good humor. He left his gate opening rope in my Jeep, and I still use it. Harold won't need it for opening the pearly gates.

 

Late 1980s

 

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