Monthly Archives: June 2015

And Then This Happened

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So you thought the last postabout the experience at Don & Patty Berry’s ranch was the end of a great adventure…well think again because then this happened.

A few days later I drove to Ft Collins, Colorado (about 1 hour away) to do a little exploring and shopping.

Ft Collins is a great town, home of Colorado State University, with a beautiful historic downtown full of great boutique stores.

I was roaming around in one store and two ladies were staring at me and one started pointing.  I looked at her, then looked behind me thinking she was pointing at someone else.  She started to get busier with that pointing finger and finally I heard her say “photographer”.  I’m thinking, who is this woman and how would anyone in Ft Collins CO know who I was?”  She said “You’re the photographer from the branding last week-end”. I started laughing and realized her face did look familiar but when I met her she had a cast on her hand so I was confused.  After we stood there talking for a minute, she said, “I’m Debie and this is my daughter Stacy. I was talkingto you about our branding this coming this week-end.”

Holy cow, are you kidding me?  What are the chances of this happening?  Here we are an hour away from Cheyenne in a tiny store and she recognizes me.  Don’t ever tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.  He continues to amaze me by putting me in places where I meet the most awesome people who I now consider friends.

She told me they were doing the branding on the week-end and I was welcome to come out and shoot.  Are you kidding me, yes I would.

Stacy Broda (Mark & Debbie Childs’ daughter) gave me her card so I could get directions and time.  I had mentioned that I love to shoot abandoned places and she offered to take me on a tour of their ranch that has some buildings from the homestead days.  Ok, now my excitement level is reaching the bursting point.  We made a date for Friday, the day before the branding.

Stacy has a degree in Agriculture and is the state advisor for the Wyoming FFA.  She is the 5th generation rancher on the Child Ranch and is very active in educating people like me about ranch life and the business end of ranching.  I had a lot to learn too.

I arrived at the ranch and we got into one of the farm trucks and off we went.  Stacy first showed me the one room school circa 1910 that was part of their ranch. They had recently put some red siding on the outside because it was deteriorating and they wanted to try to preserve it as best as they could.  However, the inside (photos below) was original and I loved it.  We then went to another homestead (photo of the house with the root cellar).  In this small, probably 12’ X 10’ room with a maybe 10 X 8 lean to addition, house lived a family of 6.  Hard to imagine that many people in a small space but that was life.  The last stop was the a homestead (photo of just an entry way to a root cellar) which is no longer there but it seems there is a backstory about moonshine being involved.  All of these homesteads were acquired over the years and became what is now the Child Ranch.

As we finished driving around the ranch, I had the pleasure of meeting Wayne Child, the father of Mark.  He was in his shop and as I walked through the door and was introduced to him, well I fell in love!  We chatted and I asked a few questions and then asked if I could take his photo.  No posing, just he and I talking and every once in a while I would take a photo.  I was looking into the eyes and face of history.  So much character, hard work, dedication and love was in that face that I was privileged to be sitting in front of.   Stacy and her granddad, two working ranchers 3rd and 5th generations still working together, it was heart warming to be sitting there with them.  Then in walks in the 4th generation, Mark, who was busy getting ready for the big branding the next day.  This would be the first time in that they were going to do this type of branding.

Saturday I was up early and out to the ranch. Many of the same cowboys were there from the previous weekend.  Most came over and spoke to me, recognizing me from the Berry Ranch.  I laughed and told them I was just like a bad penny, you never knew where I would show up.

The cowboys split up and some went to get the first group of cows and calves and the others went to get the second group ready.  I was better prepared this time with what to expect.  It’s quite a sight to see hundreds of cows with the cowboys coming over a hill headed right at you.

There was the same type of controlled chaos that entails the branding, inoculation and castrating that went on from my first experience at the Berry Ranch.  I don’t think I mentioned before but the women are in charge of inoculations.

So here I stand, a woman, 1600 miles from home basking in all that is pure Americana.  At one point I am in awe as I realize I am seeing the results of what families of those original homesteaders must have dreamed was possible.  These families have allowed me to be a part of the very fabric and history of the western way of life.  Stacy’s children will be the 6th generation of ranchers.  American Housing Survey tells us that most families only live in one place for 13 years.  Here is a family that is still living in the same place for over 100 years.  I was lucky enough to be with not one but two families that have been ranching for over 100 years.  Both farms have been written about in the “Wyoming Centennial Farm and Ranch” year book. If you are interested in reading about this farm, I will be happy to send you the information.

The day ended with a big dinner that Debie and Stacy prepared, beef brisket, salads, beans, and homemade bread, it was delicious.  I stayed this time because I regretted not staying at the Berry Ranch.  It was great watching them unwind and enjoy that meal together and discuss how the day went.  I talked to Mark a little about the day because their old way of branding (using a branding table) takes about 3 days and maybe 8 men.  This way (roping) took about 50 people and a day.  I think he was pleased and it looks like they may do it this way again next year.

I had an awesome day and when it was all over, they asked if I would take a few photos of the entire family together, except for the grandmother – she hates to have her photo taken, (which I totally understand).

As I drove off I thanked God for giving me these two week-ends of being with some amazing families.  I will never forget my time with the Child family, especially Wayne, who stole my heart.

I thank them for letting me be a part of their lives, if only for a couple of days, I will never forget their hospitality and our new friendship.

So as you’re out traveling about remember to always be open to those little moments, those unexpected moments when you feel that urge to speak to someone or ask them something about where you are, because you might be one sentence away from a the best adventure of your life.

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Sometimes it pays to eavesdrop

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Yes, there I was sitting across from four men dressed in cowboy attire in a local restaurant in Cheyenne, WY on my second day in town.  Anybody that knows me well will probably guess what happened next, however this story ended up with a life of its own.

So, of course I am curious as to whether they were ranchers or not, and I was trying really hard to eavesdrop on their conversation without much success.  One guy, I think, realized what I was doing so I was trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.  Finally a lady, that appeared to be the cook, came out and spoke to one of the guys and I heard the words “well we’re through calving” and it was all I needed to take the next step.

I waited until she left, found a business card, and stepped across the aisle and said “excuse me, are you guys ranchers?”.  Well they all started laughing and one guy said “no I’m a plumber”, to which I replied, “come on now don’t be messin’ with me” in my most southern drawl.  “I’m visiting here from North Carolina and I’m a photographer.  I would love the opportunity to come out and photograph the daily life of a rancher”.  Not wanting to put him on the spot, I handed him my business card and told him he didn’t have to let me know right away, but once he thought about it and could call me if he liked.  They were still joking around a bit and one of the fellows, Don Berry looked at me and said “What are you doing Saturday?”.  “Nothing,” I said, “absolutely nothing”.

“Well, have you ever been to a branding? We’re going to be branding calves and you’re welcome to come out and photograph that”.

My heart rate skyrocketed and I know the smile on my face looked like “The Joker”.  I asked for his phone number and he looked at me and said “I don’t have a phone, but you can call Huckleberry over there, he’s got one”.  ‘Huckleberry’ was the young man of the bunch and they all had a good laugh at his expense, Tom Wilson, (who had caught me eavesdropping), handed me his business card and told me I could call him.  Don proceeded to give me directions like I was from Cheyenne, but Tom, seeing my confusion, told me he would meet me on the Interstate and I could follow him to the ranch.

I could hardly wait to tell my husband, David,  and when I did, he looked at me and said “Well you’ve been here all of two days and you’ve already met four cowboys and you’re going off to a ranch with them to brand cows, yep that’s my wife”.

I met Tom on the interstate and off we went.  I was not prepared for the adventure I was about to become a part of.  After miles of fields and cows, we turned into the ranch and there were about 10 trucks with horse trailers.  As we parked I was thinking, “Who are all these people?”  I got out of my Jeep (oh so glad I have a Jeep) there were about 20 cowboys on horses getting ready.  There were a couple who really caught my eye as a photographer.  One in particular looked like he was straight out of a western movie and happened to be Tom’s brother Dan.  The other one had on some really interesting boots and a great handle bar mustache, Dave Troastale.

Tom started to explain what was going to happen and where I should be because they were going to drive the cows and calves from the pastures into a holding corral then separate the cows from the calves.

I was a little nervous and excited.  I called David right away and told him “I’m in the middle of about 20 cowboys” to which he replied “I know you are one happy girl”.

So all the cowboys are gathered together and Don is telling him where the cows are and how they are going to drive them in.  Soon I heard the cows bellowing and saw them come over a hill with all the guys surrounding them, bringing them in.  They were very efficient in getting them in the corral and separating the cows from the calves.  I felt like I was in the middle of some western movie.  There is no way I can adequately explain the sights, sounds, smells and action that was going on.  To say I was unprepared for all that happened next would be a gross understatement.

The calves were roped, branded, inoculated, and castrated, all in one swift operation.  I was a bit overwhelmed when it all started because there was so much going on.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have been around farm animals, raised a few pigs, rode horses, and churned butter, so I am not a novice to farm life.  However, this was very different.  I was amazed how all the other ranchers came together to help each other during the branding season.  All in all there were about 50 people who came together for this branding operation.

I wondered why branding was necessary in this day and time but found out that when there are several hundred thousand acres of land with several thousand cattle,  cattle theft  is still happening.  I was told that thieves will come in with tractor trailers and portable corrals and load up cattle and be gone.  Now that was a shocker. Brands are registered and well thought out as it is not uncommon for people who steal cattle to make slight changes to the brand so they can resell them.

This day was a photographer’s delight except that the sun was really bright, I knew I was going to get some harsh shadows but I was just excited to be there and be right in the middle of all that action.  Don Berry and Tom Wilson came over a couple of times and asked how I was doing and answered questions.  I might mention here that Tom (Black hat, buckskin horse in the photos) does not have a ranch of his own but helps with the branding of other ranchers’ herds. He told me he has helped with 25 brandings this season.  Can you imagine giving up 25 of your week-ends to help others?  What an awesome man.

There was a break in the action when all the women came with fresh baked goodies and drinks.  Don’s wife, Patty, came over and introduced herself to me and asked how I was doing, and if I needed anything.  The camaraderie among all these ranchers and their wives is something to behold.  I stood there thinking, this is the way life’s supposed to be…helping each other and genuine friendship.  I also realized that ranch life can’t be easy.  There are the winters where the cows and calves have to be looked after, moving them from winter to summer pastures by horses that can take days, calving season, mending fences, gathering hay and the list goes on.  These are large working ranches unlike anything back home in NC.  It’s really hard to wrap your head around the amount of land and vast spaces of these prairies.  What a huge responsibility to be a rancher and all that it entails.  This lifestyle probably doesn’t recognize week-ends and holidays like we are use to because they are responsible for thousands of cattle and hundreds of thousands of acres of land that must be tended daily.

They asked me to stay and join them for dinner but I didn’t want to impose on their hospitality too much so I declined.  They were roasting a pig for the first time.  I chucked to myself thinking, well that’s an every week-end occurrence at home, being from one of the most highly regarded BBQ states in the nation.  I regret not staying to be a part of those festivities.  Sometimes I just want to kick myself because I’m sure that I missed out on a lot more photos of these incredible people and the rancher way of life.

I want to thank Don & Patty Berry, Tom & Rhonda Wilson, and all those great cowboys and their wives for allowing me to be a part of one of the most special times of my life.  You guys are the best.  Can I come back next year???

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