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1608 PD: Can you see the end of your trail?

Brad Nelson Published on 06 November 2008

Many years ago while I was involved in the dairy business, a most interesting thing took place. Naturally it involved a bit of questionable judgment that compounded itself, and things got worse.

Occasionally a cow will take exception to being milked. Most cows, even first-calf heifers, with a bit of patience will learn quickly to come in the barn, be relieved of the pressure of a full udder and then leave. There are a number of reasons a cow may decide not to be milked. Among them are chapped teats, a mastitis-swollen udder, or the lack of patience by the milker.



There is, of course, the genuine “outlaw”, who will go out of her way every single milking to step on, kick, swat, or foul the milker. In common use at the time of this incident was a restraining device called a “can’t-kick” bar. It fit over the back of the cow, and was tightened to put a bit of pressure just forward of the flank, making it difficult for the normal bovine to raise her leg to kick the milker.

On this particular day, a young redheaded milker named David put the “can’t-kick” bar on a skittish young heifer, milked her and forgot to take the bar off before turning out that string of cows. This youngster “hopped” along out of the barn, as the rest of the string walked. David could have slipped ahead of the string and closed the gate at the end of the return alleyway. He then could have either removed the bar in the narrow alley, or have opened another gate, sending the hopping heifer back into the holding corral to come into the milking parlor a second time, there to have the bar removed. Instead, David stepped out and got my new lasso rope from my pick-up, and hid behind a shed back out in the pen the hopping heifer and the rest of the cows were returning to (by the way, we had about three days of straight rain, and the concrete pens and corrals were two to four inches deep in nice, brown “soup”.)

As the heifer in question hopped by, David dropped the loop of the lasso rope over the “can’t-kick” bar, dropped the coil in the “soup” and wrapped the end of it securely around his hands, then braced himself. Now when 1,200 pounds of hopping heifer, at about twenty miles an hour hit the end of the rope, David went airborne. He did a beautiful belly flop, and then “cow-skied” on his belly for a good 40 feet before he could get the rope unwrapped from his hands. His mother made him undress in the back yard before she let him in the house that night — this was after first claiming to not know who he was.

On one of my first trips to the Oregon coast with the hay truck, I found myself in the lane of traffic that left the freeway. I couldn’t do anything but leave the freeway. I was caught. Unfortunately, this was not an interchange where you come to the stop sign at the end of the off-ramp, and then just go forward, right back onto the freeway. I found myself and 75 feet of hay truck and trailer in the oldest section of residential Portland, and the road looked even narrower the farther I went. The first chance I got, I turned left, and then planned on making three right turns, and be headed back toward the freeway. The left and the first two right turns were okay. A little tight, but okay. The last right turn was not okay.

For some reason, the road had narrowed. In addition, I was beside an elementary school, with the kids out for recess. I asked brother Lyle to get out and stop traffic so I could take up all of the narrow lanes and get the turn made, before the kids at recess mobbed the truck. He asked how, and I responded that I didn’t care how, trip a Volkswagen or something! With that, I backed the truck and trailer up about twenty feet, then pulled forward into the left lane of the road I was trying to get off of.


I placed the left-side steering axle tire on the sidewalk in the far left side of the road, and as soon as traffic slowed down to see why Lyle was swinging his coat over his head, I laid on the air horn and drove across the narrow road I wanted to be back on, also running up on the sidewalk on the far side. As I continued making the turn, I saw the right side rear tires of the trailer on the sidewalk of the elementary school side of the intersection. I just missed taking out the stop sign. Amid the cursing of car drivers and the cheers of all the elementary school students in the world, we beat feet for the freeway. Lyle told me not to do that again.

I wrote an article on safety a couple of years back. One of the things I mentioned was that a man trying to clear a plugged hay chopper with a pitch fork will be pulled into the chopper, should it grab the fork. Why? Because the machine will pull faster than the man can let go. Human reflexes are not fast enough.

Years back, hauling into Rowland, Nevada, I had a lost driver hail me on the C.B. radio. We were on a steep downgrade in a narrow canyon that was just barely wide enough for my truck and trailer to make the turns. The lost driver had a 48-foot cattle trailer, and needed to turn around and get out of there. I first told him that the last time this had happened, they had to get a big helicopter to lift the long trailer, and turn it around. He asked if it was really that bad. I told him they shot the driver. It seems he had followed my dust at the top of the canyon, thinking he was following another cattle truck. He was in luck, because there was a cattle-loading chute just ahead of us that he could back into the area of, and turn around.

Whose dust are you following?

John Scherer, one of the best friends I’ve ever had, buried a son on the third of January, 2003. Karl had picked up and tied himself to a rope, which was anchored to drugs and to alcohol. He found himself forced off the freeway of life into a maze he couldn’t return from. When he tried to let go of the handle, he could not, and it destroyed first his health, and then his life.

When you pick up the end of a rope, know what’s on the other end. When you make a turn onto a trail, know where it goes. You may not be able to get off of a bad trail. And if there is no other reason to make certain whose dust you are following, consider this. If you find the end of the same trail, as did Karl Scherer, think of the poor soul who is going to have to find your Mom and Dad, and tell them. The drug culture is the scourge of this society, and at the end of this trail, they really do shoot the driver. PD