March snow storms are memorable. Just when you think spring is here, Mother Nature snaps you back to reality. Either that or it is just part of the state hockey tournament tradition. Watching the snow swirl around outside this morning reminds me of the March morning that tipped my world upside down and left me with egg on my face.
The story started the summer before and it involves horse trading. In an earlier blog, I related the story of Charlie Horse, and my crash course on what not to do when buying horses. Charlie and I parted company at about two in the morning at the Mora Sales Barn. On the long way home I had time to reflect on my next move. Ben, Charlie’s good team mate, would surely be lonely and Mrs Ed would be sympathetic to the need to find a new mate for him. It wasn’t a hard sell except that it came with one condition, that I enlist the advice of someone who knew what they were doing, before shelling out any more money for horses. Swallowing my pride, I agreed. It turned out to be pretty good advice.
I called my friend and harness maker. He knew of a 4 year old mare that was for sale from a reputable horseman. I contracted him, made a visit, actually drove the horse, had coffee and pie with him and bought the horse. I figured anyone you have coffee and pie with is trustworthy. You can’t be too careful. Besides I like pie.
Patsy was a Belgian mare, blondish mane and tail. She was about the same size as Ben. Ben was a liver colored Percheron type so I was able to tell them apart. I borrowed a small trailer to bring her home. In hindsight it was too small. Patsy was unaccustomed to being loaded in a trailer, especially one designed for a much smaller horse. After some pushing, pulling and gentle cajoling, we got her loaded.
It just so happened that my Dad and Uncle came up that day to visit. When we arrived at the farm they helped me hitch Ben and Patsy together for the first time. Another case where having experienced help paid off. The hitch went off without a hitch! I was on my way to farming with horses.
That summer I plowed, dished, cut hay, hauled manure and a whole bunch of other things. When winter came. I took the team in the woods to skid trees from a fence line logging project. I even built a new sled and made trails through the woods. I was having fun! Then came that fateful March day.
We had experienced a late February thaw, the kind that leaves barnyards muddy and messy. I did not yet have a large area fenced so the horses had muddied every available piece of high ground. It was Sunday. The sheep were lambing. A friend called and wanted to bring her children to see the animals. I harnessed the horses and took them for a wonderful sleigh ride. Except for the ominous dark clouds and an east wind, it was a perfect day.
That night, darkness came early. The weather forecasters were talking about freezing rain, sleet and snow. When I went out to do chores, little beads of ice stung my face. The horses were obviously restless, milling around the back door of the barn, whinnying to me when they saw me coming out of the sheep barn. By now the sleet had increased in intensity and the wind rattled a piece of loose tin somewhere on the barn roof.
Normally I do not put my horses inside the barn for a couple of reasons. I subscribe to the notion that horses are healthier out in the fresh air. Their winter coats keep them warn and they are free to move around in really cold weather for improved circulation. Also I don’t like to haul out piles of frozen horse manure. I have a lean-to that they can get out of the weather if they want.
Something was different about this night. Done with the sheep and chicken chores, I went to the horse barn. I could hear them outside, bumping the door with their noses. I scooped out a can of oats from the grain bin and put it in their feed box, I climbed up in the loft, groped around for some hay and straw bales. I dropped them down from the hay mow, to the floor below. As I descended the ladder, I could hear the wind howl. One of the horses rapped the door sharply with a hoof. “I’m coming”. I slid the door open. I jumped aside, as they rushed in and took their individual stalls. Bracing against the wind, I forced the door closed. The horses munched their grain as I slipped on their halters. I found a brush and cleaned the ice crystals off their backs. I filled the mangers with hay and spread straw in the alley way. By the time I left the barn, I could already feel it warming up. The smell of warm horses permeated the air. I flipped off the light switch and braced myself for an icy blast before I headed off to the house.
During lambing season, I usually make one or two barn checks during the night. I did the first one about midnight. All was quiet. On my return, I checked on the horses. Startled by the light, they shifted their feet when I came in. I put the hay that had fallen on the floor back into the manger. By now the storm had subsided and it was getting noticeably colder. It was Monday. Better get back to bed. Got to go to work in the morning.
By the time I headed out for morning chores, the sun was just peeking over the horizon. The sky was a brilliant blue. The fresh coating of snow glistened in the morning sun. Doing the Minnesota shuffle, I gingerly made my way down the ice coated path. Approaching the barn, I heard a commotion. A horse was whinnying and making nickering sounds. I picked up the pace, rushing to see what was wrong. Turning the latch and flipping on the light switch, I got the biggest surprise of my life. There in the middle of the aisle stood a wobbly legged foal! Patsy was tugging against her halter, trying to get free. I unsnapped her so she could join her baby.
By the time I got the other horses out of the barn and the sheep fed, I was seriously late for work. At that time I was driving a Chevy S 10 pickup. This is a rear wheel drive, mini pickup truck with poor traction even in the best of road conditions. Elated by the surprise, I rushed through the shower, got dressed and headed out the door, almost forgetting the five dozen eggs I was supposed to deliver that morning.
Briefcase full of papers in one hand, sack of eggs in the other, I jumped in the truck. After fastening my seat belt, I fired up the engine and sped down the driveway. Glancing at my watch, I knew I was already late for the egg delivery. My customer was a good friend but fussy about her eggs. Hitting the highway, I should have paid more attention to the fish tailing as I turned the corner. Thinking about the new baby, which the person I had bought Patsy from, didn’t warn me about, I didn’t take into account the icy road conditions. About five miles from home, the highway makes a slight curve. As I entered the curve, things got interesting real quick.
I remember the rear end swinging out. I compensated by turning the wheel. It swung the other way. I turned the wheel again. The snow bank suddenly loomed near the passenger door. From that moment, it felt like slow motion. The truck hit the bank, catching it just right for the momentum to begin the flip. Up, up and over. The next thing I knew I has hanging upside down suspended by the seatbelt, sliding down into the ditch. I remember stuff raining down around me, as the contents of my brief case emptied.
Fortunately there was someone behind me who witnessed the whole thing. I think she was more upset than I was when she came to my aid. Once it was determined I was alright, she offered me a ride to work. I’ll never forget, papers stuffed in my briefcase, going into the door at work. Waiting for me was my now irate egg customer. “Where are my eggs” she demanded!. Not knowing what else to do, I pointed to my hat, coat, pants and briefcase and said “I’m wearing them”. We laughed about that for many years.