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A Cow’s Tale Alyce Gorter

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here was no rack full of blue ribbons for her beauty, no silver cup to support any claim for record milk production and no “cow of the month� calendar shots portraying her docile personality. Perhaps her blind eye and the blackened quarter on her udder could account for the lack of the first two items but it was that menacing waggle of her three-foot spread of horns that would have dissuaded a judge from attempting to attach any colour of ribbon to a part of her anatomy — if anyone was foolish enough to try to get her into a show ring in the first place. Fortunately, I was not interested in her for any of these qualities. All I needed was for her to provide some nurturing motherly affection to her tiny newborn daughter. Unfortunately, this quality too was in short supply. She scooped up the helpless infant with her horns and tossed her through the air. But the big Scottish Highland cow was already on the trailer by the time this became obvious. It was too late to change my mind — whether either of us liked it, she was coming home with me. Rock ‘n’ Horse Ranch is well set up for horses. The fences (what there is of them), the stable, the barns, the round pen — have all been erected with calm, hornless, stay-in-their-pasture-and-eathay horses in mind. There is no provision for cattle. However, since it would only be for a few days until I could move her to the farm, I planned to leave her in the 20-foot stock trailer which would at least keep her secure while giving her a fair amount of room to move around. It would also give me time to figure out what to do with her next. Surely, I could beg or bully someone into distracting her while I cleaned out this temporary stall, topped up her hay supply or filled up her water bucket as needed. This arrangement gave us time to complete the fencing at Turning Point Farm where the newly purchased herd of Highlands would be residing. But here was the dilemma — I couldn’t pick up the rest of the herd with a cow already on the trailer and I couldn’t turn one lone cow loose at the farm while I went for the rest as she would definitely go for a walkabout before I could get back. There was one possibility — I had a paddock that was almost all solid oak boards. It seemed likely it could contain her for at least a few days until I could collect the others, trailer them to the farm, and then move her over to join them. She should only need to stay there for about three days at the most. There was no other obvious choice. She unloaded easily and seemed content just to have her feet on solid ground again. It was a pleasant, bucolic sight on Day One to look out the window and see her lying calmly on the green grass, contentedly chewing her cud. We weren’t terribly alarmed when on Day Two we noticed that she had somehow escaped the paddock and was now in the lower pasture. No worries though, as there was a three-strand electric fence around part of the field and a fairly deep pond bordered the rest. Besides, we would be soon moving her to the farm. It was on Day Three that she completely disappeared. There was no hole in the fence, no tracks or poop trail to show which way she might have travelled, no signs of a struggle to show where she might have fought for her life against some more vicious form of life than herself, and no burnt spots to indicate an alien

abduction. How could a half-ton cow miraculously dissolve into thin air? Over the next few weeks, friends came on four-wheelers, on horseback, and on foot, prepared for long treks to look for hide, hair, horn, or even hoof prints. Nothing. It helped though when longtime farming friends would listen to my tale, nod their heads in sympathy, and reassure me she would come back. Who better to know than they! Still, I worried about her welfare, her loneliness, her search for food or company in those endless forests and ponds, the probability of her getting lost, killed, or injured. Was my pitiful first attempt at farming just a sign of how truly incapable I was of accomplishing what I had set out to do? My friend Jess dropped by for a visit. “What colour was your cow?� she asked. That seemed like a bizarre question — as though she had found an assortment of lost cows and was trying to match them up to their proper owners. “Well,� she said when she saw me looking at her quizzically, “there’s a big red one standing down by the gate.� And so, there was! She was fat, healthy, and none the worse for her meanderings wherever they may have taken her. We took the rest of the day chasing her all over hell’s half acre before we finally had the bright idea of bringing out the grain bucket. She immediately identified it and meekly followed us into the pasture. We took only minutes to hook up the trailer and entice her aboard. Half an hour later she was unloaded at Turning Point Farm to join the rest of her now complete herd. Rambling Rose was finally home. That night I excitedly called my farming advisers. “You were right,� I said, “my cow came back. Twenty-three days later!� Their response was all the same — “You’re kidding! Never heard of such a thing. Certainly didn’t expect you would ever see her again.� “But,� I was shocked, “YOU told me she would come back!� “Sure,� each one said, “just didn’t want you feeling so bad.� Liars. Friends. Alyce would love to hear from SCOOP readers. Email her at alyce@gorter.ca.

Do You Remember: Train Cabooses? Glen R. Goodhand

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y wife and I have been living on Salmon River Road for four and a half years. Just across that waterway, a quarter of a mile (250 metres) away, is the main CPR Railroad line. A few weeks ago, for the first time, I had to stop at the Roblin crossing to allow a freight train to pass. Amazing, since I cross that line at least once a week. I guess because it was such a rare incident, and there seemed to be an endless number of cars passing by in front of me, I noticed that when it reached the end, there was no caboose. It was not the first time I had observed that fact. After all, the last caboose to follow its route across any part of Canada took place on November 14, 1989. But that day it seemed especially noticeable. Some suggest that the caboose represented the end of impatience, and of waiting for the train to finish crossing the travelled part of a road. Coincidentally, railroad companies kept the element of visibility in mind. They painted cabooses red so they could be readily seen, and for night transit, they installed safety “clearance� lights that were green at the front and red at the rear. The first version of this vehicle went into service about 1840. At first, the caboose was merely a small cabin erected on an ordinary flat car. It was simply to provide shelter for members of the train’s crew who would not normally be in the engine’s cab. It is uncertain when it was first called a “caboose,� but it is believed that the word was derived from the Dutch “kabius,� which means a little room or hut. The train conductor Nat Willis, of the Arkansas & Syracuse line, is credited with using this cabin as a “rolling office�. He sat on a box and used a barrel for a desk. The caboose was also convenient for storing flags, lanterns, chains, and assorted tools needed to maintain the cars and the tracks.

It was about 1863 that T.B. Watson, an employee of the Chicago and North Western line, hatched the idea for the cupola to be situated on top of a boxcar. To improve his overview of the line of cars, he used a box car which had a hole in the roof. He piled boxes on top of each other and sat with his head through that hole. He could fulfil his job of watching for “hot boxes� (overheated wheels), shifted loads, and other signs of malfunction. From that experiment came the factory construction of the familiar “crow’s nest,� which became standard on a caboose. There the conductor, flagman, and brakeman waited ready for duty. Eventually, bunks for sleeping, stoves for cooking and heat, and toilet facilities, became the order of the day for the structure’s interior. Until air brakes were added as standard equipment on trains, the head brakeman in the engine cab would begin his trek from the front of the train toward the back, while the other brakemen did the same from the back toward the front. The engineer blew the whistle to signal applying the brakes of individual cars. In this day of computers and technology, many of the duties of these workmen have been taken over by an “electronic hotbox� attached to the last car, which is used to monitor the various systems from front to back. When the caboose began to be phased out, there was a ground-swell of resistance by railroad enthusiasts. It was part of the folklore attached to this form of transportation. Kevin Keefe, editor of Trains Magazine reminisced that it was just one of the romantic elements of the railroad that disappeared, much like typewriters and vinyl records. Cabooses are now a thing of the past. But caboose euphemisms still have contemporary meanings. One of them is quite homey. I am the eldest of five children. When my youngest sister was born, someone asked what they were going to call her. My grandmother said: “I think it should be ‘Caboose.’�

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June / July 2019 • The SCOOP

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The SCOOP // June / July 2019  

The SCOOP is an independent community newsmagazine. Since 2005, we have been covering rural life in the Ontario area north of the 401 and so...

The SCOOP // June / July 2019  

The SCOOP is an independent community newsmagazine. Since 2005, we have been covering rural life in the Ontario area north of the 401 and so...

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