cattle wagons-a seperate way of life

cattle wagon

Originally uploaded by jayfherron.

There are truckers that are seperated from the others because of the specialized field they are in. For example-timber! I hauled logs from the pulp woods of Florida. Bagged lunches and a huge thermous full of ice tea and a trek into the woods in a semi truck going places only Jeeps and dirt bikes might have been able to pass through-more less drag a big truck through the woods. Another dangerous job done with out regard to the fact guys are killed all the time in the pulp woods by a flying jag of tree trunk flung by the huge machine-a ‘buncher’-that grabs the base of the tree and lobs it like a blade of grass,a little sliver about eight inches in diameter and about an inch think gets slung into the distance un-aimed and out of control going about a hundred miles an hour.
Theres no truck stops for the pulp wood trucks-only a fuel island somewhere to keep the truck tanks flowing with diesel and maybe a cold drink machine near by. Trucking anyway-its just a different kind of job then which takes no less skill than the other trucks do…and even takes more than many realize,it is not for every driver-that I know.
Cattle hauling is also a different breed of driver-it takes skill to drive a load of cattle…skill and patience and wide open eyes. Even the trucks are different-most road trucks handle the highway with a ten speed or maybe a thirteen speed tractor transmission…where as the ‘big trucks’ as drivers call them,are set up with a set of ‘boxes’-or a twin stick transmission that offers up to twenty four gears…and that tied in with the right rear end ration and the right motor will give you a truck capable of speeds high into the 100’s plus. Most guys that drive these trucks find themselves at home more than they are on the road…the speed will cost you a job quickly,two tickets and you are gone for six months.
Hauling cows is dangerous. Frieght haulers beware-most guys who drive cattle wagons have worked around cows all thier lives and the danger is still there but the knowledge from years of experience twart alot of what hazards are there-but then again,turn your eyes the wrong way and that could be the last look you see.
Theres two levels to the cattle wagon-the top level is the more complicated to load. It is divided into four sections-the nose,which holds about ten large hefers or a bull,or a handful of steers-not more than ten. Then the middle section is divided by a cut gate,and at the very tail end is a small area called the ‘jail’ which is for calves-and only a few of them. Sometimes we’ve put a horse in there-sperating it from the cattle-or a nursing hefer…it was always different.
You load the top level first-that involves looking the herd they huddled into the corral that leads to the chute and dividing them into catagories which means you have to personally seperate each one to be sure steers go with steers and hefers with hefers and bigger with bigger and smaller with smaller. Theres a code letter for doing that…I can’t remember them exactly-but it was kind of like this…X’s were steeers and then another letter fit for size and weight so you would be calling out “X’s with 8’s…for the size and order. I never really knew if I was getting it right anyway but it all came out okay in the end and no one said anything if I was wrong.
The buggers do not want to go into that trailer.
The first ten that go into the nose are the worse. You have to get a leader to get the others to follow-once one goes the others decide it might be best to go with it. But you get into a very simular situation as a rodeo clown does-because you are the last being going up that chute and into the trailer with those first ten…and the other groups afterward,ALL THE WHILE SCREAMING AND WHOOPING and making as much noise as you can to intimidate these thousand pound critters to want to go into the narrow chute and up the ramp into the top deck of the trailer.
This is another world. You are there in a narrow room that has only one exit-and it is behind you,and now the cows are not into the idea of going any further and have decided to turn around and leave…there is where the whoops and hollers are not as effective so the challenge has to begin as you are still running up the chute behind them where your mind decides to over rule thiers and you need to push them to the front of the trailer -pulling the cut cate closed behind you and then herding these ten into the small passage into the nose.
It is not safe,and is very dangerous-especially if the cattle are open range cattle and have literally seen nothing but grass and other cows all thier lives when all of a sudden a group of horses with men and trucks show up…and those men want you to go into that truck?
When you haul the things across country-like I did from Florida to California….its a mad dash of skill and planning to try to keep the truck in the darkness as much as possable to keep the cattle cool. You have to stop about every hundred miles and climb alll over the trailer pocket holes and ensure none of the cows have laid down-they all have to stay standing during the entire time they are in the ttrailer-otherwise they tromp each other to death.
The primary goal is to reach Deming New Mexico as fast as possable-where there the load is emptied into huge feed lots acres and acres of feed lots-and the cattle are fed and water and rested and all of you wait until the afternoon comes-near sunset…to reload and hurry across the desert at night to keep the cattle from collapsing in the heat…needing to get into the state of California before daylight comes.
There always was this thrill with it-but the danger was always present and it does’nt matter if you can make a big truck roll and get it down the highway…any one can do that. To get one of the powerful machines used to haul cattle rolling is very close to the least of it. Keeping the trailer and tractor on its rubber and not on its side takes skill. To know what a curve will do to the cows above on the second level-takes skill.A curve will cause all the group to lean into the curve to assume balance-and as the curve straightens out the group adjusts to that-they are always moving and the motion is also effecting the way the truck handles-so it is’nt just any driver that can get behind the wheel….cattle wagons can seperate men easily.

Its a very facinating way of life-trucking is. They all look the same to families driving about oon a AAA tour of the mountains and byways…but it is all a diffent way of life. Household movers live and drive a different kind of trucking just like the guys hauling cars…or tankers,or flat beds. Its all the same kind of industry but it all is seperated too.

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