Animal Stories

Tanks

My dad would not kill anything. He did not hunt and would have nothing to do with hunting. The only exception was that I did see him kill a rattlesnake when the rattlesnake was right in our work area. I saw him do that a time or two. I killed one myself one time with my shooter. I always carried a shooter made of a fork from a mesquite tree and two strips of rubber cut from an inner tube. As we pulled up to a windmill, there was a big rattler right next to where we were going to stop the truck. With dad's permission, I got up on the back of the truck with my shooter loaded with a rock. I had a shot almost straight down on him. I hit him on the back of the head and he did not move. He was dead and dad was really impressed that I disposed of him with one shot. I like snakes and I am not proud of killing that one but the event stands out as one of the rare occasions when we resorted to killing an animal.

Storage tanks hold the water that the windmill brings from beneath the surface. If the mill supplies water for a house, the tank, made of wood or metal is held twenty feet or so off of the ground by a tower so that the house gets a supply sent by gravity into the pipes. If the windmill is supplying water for livestock, as most do, the tank might be made of concrete or rock, stands about six feet deep and makes for a wonderful swimming pool. This type of tank will then have pipes leading to one or more watering troughs where the level in the trough is controlled by a float valve. But then there are also lots of "dirt tanks". The pipe from the windmill dumps the water into an area which has been scraped out by a dozer. Or sometimes there is a gully which has been dammed up. The cattle would simply walk out into the water to drink. Occasionally, a cow would get stuck in the mud and sheep were particularly bad about getting stuck. We would sometimes have to tell the rancher the bad news and I remember watching the cowboys pulling animals out of the dirt tank with horses.

dirt tank

I did not like having to get into those dirt tanks if we had to replace a pipe or something. On the other hand, the dirt tank is a wonderful place for the wildlife - a real oasis. The edge of the tank is usually grown up with tall grass, small trees, usually mesquite but sometimes willows. They all had frogs, bugs, and the larger ones would have fish and other aquatic life. This, of course, brings in snakes, raccoons, birds and all sorts of animals to fill out a balanced mini-ecosystem. Roy Bedichek in his classic book, "Adventures with a Texas Naturalist", describes in chapter 3 the environment of the West Texas dirt tank:

He begins with a description of how the environment was changed by the proliferation of dirt tanks across the Edwards Plateau. He stalks the vermillion flycatcher there which is attracted to the semiarid terrain contiguous to still water. Bedichek observes the creation of one of these environments as the dirt tank is slowly filled with water from the windmill: Minnows show up, some how, water moccasins, dragon flies and smaller insects; and then the frogs. The frog is at the center of the food chain and is eaten by snakes and raccoons. Bats and martins come to eat the insects. Even an American egret showed up.

I remember the killdeers with their shrill cry, roadrunners that always came to check us out and the mourning doves who would sing me to sleep at sundown. When I was very young, I was the victim of the killdeer fake broken wing trick. She dragged that wing and looked so pitiful as I followed along thinking that I was going to pick her up. When I was far enough away from her nest she flew back over my head, back to the tank. Dad watched all that and got a good laugh out of it.

The Bull

Dad got into the business of installing cattle scales. These are the platform scales that you drive a truck onto. I remember working on one of these installations at a cotton gin near San Angelo. We had dug out the basement cavity, all with hand tools, and set the forms for the concrete to be delivered the next day. But overnight there was a big rain and the hole was completely flooded. We had to pump the water out and start all over. He had several of these cattle scale jobs around San Angelo and once, he went to Eastern New Mexico to do an installation. This is where he had a serious encounter with a mean bull. He came home from that job with horrible bruises all over his body and a story about what happened:

Moving back and forth from the truck to the work site, he had to pass through a pen which had a big bull in it. He should have been more wary of the bull but after trespassing on the bull's pen for at least a day, he began to pay less attention to him. But on one trip through the pen, the bull caught him blindside. The bull knocked him down and began stomping on him. Some men came to his aid and he managed to scramble away from the animal before he could kill him. There were no broken bones but the big blue spots on his body were not pretty to look at. He finished the job, of course, and never went to a doctor as far as I know.

The Ranch Dogs

We were heading for a job on a ranch knowing that the gate was locked to the pasture that we had to get into. The rancher had told dad that he would not be home but he would leave the key just inside the front door of the ranch house. We drove up to the house and saw that the front door was open. But the front yard was surrounded by a fence and inside the fence were three big vicious snarling dogs. I was thinking that it was obvious that we would have to wait there until the rancher got home. I was not even going to get out of the truck, afraid that the fence would not contain these animals showing their teeth to the brazen invaders of their territory.

My dad got out of the truck and said something like "watch this". I was horrified as I watched him go to the gate, open it and step inside with the dogs. Then he did something that I had never seen before and not since. He dropped down on all fours, made a threatening noise and moved toward them facing them off. Instead of ripping him to shreds, the dogs retreated and their bark was saying "What the Hell is this?" instead of "I will rip you apart!"

It was the most amazing bluff, or was it a supreme knowledge of dog psychology? I am a learner and I have since tried the bluff tactic myself on a much less threatening dog a time or two. It worked all right but I will never try it with three big ones at a time like he did that day. He got the key and we went on to the job.

The water dog

Another tale that dad liked to tell was about a water dog. Unlikely as it may seem, there is a large salamander indigenous to the dry climate of West Texas. It can be as much as 8 inches long, a nasty looking thing with the common name of water dog. Dad said that he was digging an anchor hole once when the ranch owner was standing near by and giving him a hard time. Some of that good old boy humor was going on, no doubt. He found a water dog in the hole and reached down and grabbed it and tossed it over by the feet of the rancher to test his reaction. To the great delight of my dad, the waterdog scurried right up the inside of the pants leg of the rancher. Dad would laugh uncontrollably as he demonstrated the antics and gyrations of the guy trying to get the waterdog out of his pants.

The frog at Findlaters

Peck Young loved a good story, especially animal stories. I fondly remember a night at that little filling station/liquor store that was the Big Lake headquarters of the windmill business. A group of men including Peck were sitting around swapping stories about embarrassing things that had happened involving animals. These would have been memories of the middle to advanced aged gentlemen and were being told in the early fifties. Therefore, one can speculate about the actual time of the events described. I still remember some of the hilarious tales that were swapped that night. Story telling was more of an art in those days and I was intrigued by the entire show, more than by any modern entertainment medium since witnessed.

a closeup of Peck Young

One tale was about the circus. When the circus came to town, the townsfolk including many children would go to the place where the elephants were unloaded from the train and the elephant handlers would put on a little free show for the potential circus customers. The elephants were supposed to do a few of their tricks for the small crowd gathered at the unloading point. But one of the elephants urinated all over the stage area and all the other elephants slipped in the resulting mud and the entire mini-show had to be cancelled, much to the distress of the children and parents gathered around.

Another tale was about a horse at a tent revival. A preacher was preaching to a congregation under a tent out in the country and some people had come to the event in buggies drawn by horses. The horses were tied up nearby and during the sermon one of them was struck by an intestinal disorder. Above the words of the preacher could be heard the occasional flatulence of the poor troubled animal. The distraction finally reached the point that some unlucky fellow had to get up out of the audience, go and get his horse and lead it away into the woods out of sound range. The story was, of course, accompanied by the appropriate sound effects provided by the story teller.

I will try to tell this story in my father's own words. It was his favorite and I heard him tell it many times. When he told the story he would laugh uncontrollably. He had that wheezing type of laugh and when you laughed along with him, it encouraged him to the point that he seemed to be gasping for his breath.

Findlater Hardware was a local hardware store in San Angelo. Dad did a lot of business with them and he knew everyone who worked there. There was a lot of serious kidding that went on and general tomfoolery between the employees and customers. I will make up names for two characters: Charley, the guy all Findlater customers know as the guy who works at the cash register, and Mrs. Gotrocks, whom everyone in town knows as the matriarch of a wealthy and influential family in town.

Dad's words as best I can reproduce: I was in Findlater's one time when they were still in the old building, you know, down in the basement. I was getting some pipe fittings from way in the back corner and it was dark and damp back in there. Well, I spotted this frog back there and I got an idea, (laughing) so I caught him and slipped him into my pocket. Now you all know old Charley. He was always horsing around and giving me a hard time. He was working the cash register. Well, I waited until he was away from the register and then I snuck over and pressed the button and opened the cash drawer and I stuck that frog in one of the dollar bill slots and closed the drawer. (laughing harder)

Now I hung around to see him ring up his next sale and watch what he was going to do when that frog came out of there. Well, in to the store came old Mrs. Gotrocks. (and harder) You all know her. She picked up something and went to the register to pay. Charley hits the register, the drawer flies open, and that frog went up in the air and right down the front of her dress. (uncontrollable laughter) She screamed and commenced to trying to get that frog out of there. Charley could only watch her reaching around in her dress and screaming and nobody else in the place knew what the heck the commotion was all about.

 
 
Sleeping in the snow - In another story, dad told me that he was sleeping on the ground when a snow storm came during the night. He said that he never knew about it until he woke up in the morning to find that he was buried under four inches of snow. Peck Young was a man who slept on the ground and took whatever came.