My granddad staked my dad to a new D7 Caterpillar with a cable operated dozer in 1937. Under President Roosevelt’s program the Agricultural Adjustment Act the ranchers were were paid 15 cents a yard to build reservoirs on their property. My dad charged the rancher 12 cents a yard and the rancher got to keep the other three cents plus he got his property improved to boot. Dad could have asked the rancher for an assignment which meant that Dad had to sign the government check before it could be cashed. Dad built a lot of reservoirs and always got paid without an assignment. That would be a risky proposition today.
Business was so good that the D7 was busy 24 hours a day for a couple of summers. Dad ran the day shift. Paul Phillips and Albert Wolfe ran the other two shifts with lights.
We lived in sheep wagons and a small travel trailer. In his off hours, Dad replenished the fuel supplies and other necessities. We formed a caravan when moving from one ranch to another ranch. When we crossed U.S. Highway 16, old tires were put down to prevent damage to the highway by the caterpillar.
The fuel and grease wagon was a World War I Model T Ford truck chassis made into a trailer. Mom had a conventional wringer washing machine that had a gas engine for power on the fuel wagon. Some ranchers had windmills and some only had hand pumps to the water for washing. Some had water wells with a lot of iron in the water. Whenever she would wash in the water, everything came out with an orange colored cast. The clothes line was strung out between the fuel wagon, the sheep wagon and the pickup.
There was not room for all of us to sleep in the sheep wagon. My bed was inside the cab on the seat of the 1937 Chevy pickup. I slept there the two summers that we were following the D7 from one reservoir site to the next.
Of course we had no refrigeration, so we ate a lot of canned food. The ranchers were very generous and gave us a lot of garden products, fresh meat, eggs and milk. There were a lot of cottontail rabbits and we ate them. I thought that they were chicken because they were so good.
Obviously, we had no electricity, phone or television, but we thought we had everything we needed.
There were a lot of rattlesnakes at the reservoir sites and on the dirt roads.
Later when I was a teenager, I fished and hunted migratory birds at a lot of these reservoirs. The ranchers had stocked the reservoirs with fish. They always welcomed me because Dad had built their reservoirs. The county was sparsely populated and the hunting and fishing was good.
Dad was about as happy as he could be when operating the D7 Caterpillar. He liked to be in control of the huge powerful machine billowing black diesel smoke moving dirt. As a bonus he made a lot of lifelong friends building reservoirs for them. Granddad made a good investment!
Guest columnist Bob Huff grew up in Upton, Wyoming. He is a driver for the mini-bus managed by the Senior Center. Center Stage is written by friends of the Senior Center for the Sheridan Community. It is a collection of insights and stories related to living well at every age.