Another Steve Riddle Story , this one about Sheep Farming, is Hilarious, Calamitous, Outrageous, True and masterfully told – everything we’ve come to expect. If you’ve read Steve’s Goat Story and/or his Chicken Story in the past weeks you know why he is my favorite beginning farmer storyteller, and you’ve almost certainly laughed aloud with him. Well I promise you his sheep farming story will not disappoint. Unafraid to admit his foibles and allowing us to ride along with him as he shares his hilarious tales of misadventure and the often challenging process of learning to become a farmer, Steve Riddle is a true original.
The Misadventures of 8-Ball Wentz & the Soggy Bottom Boy – By Steve Riddle
This last trip included a promise to a night out on the town, as I was away from home, and his wife was off at a trial. John promised me that if I’d stick around until after he got off work, he’d take me to one of those gentlemen’s clubs with hot topless dancers and cold, cold beer. I thought what the heck and decided to stick around as I had taken off work for the week.
As soon as John got home he said we had a few errands to run before we hit the bars. We hopped into the clown car. (A car justifiably named so, because of its extremely small size, and comparable amount of stuff John puts in there. He’s had sheep, dogs, kids (-the human kind), calves, beer, livestock feed, (by the pallet load) fencing supplies, lumber, you name it! That Chevy truck commercial, “…there’s nothing as tuff as a Chevy truck” has nothing on what all you can do with a little Ford Fiesta.
So anyway, we hop into his clown car, and head out to his neighbor’s where we leave the car and steal a great big, 1-ton dodge dually and a gooseneck trailer. I do get to see a part of this guy’s place, where they milk out by hand, sixty-five head of dairy goats. At first I thought that was a lot of work. But then I realized while one of his kids was showing me around the place that it provides a wonderful bonding experience for the whole family as they all help in the milking.
Now we’re in the truck heading for his Mother-in-laws farm, where she also dairies goats, but uses machines all through the winter, to milk something like two hundred and something head. While there, we load six cheviot lambs to take to the auction sale about an hour’s drive from Portage. After we load her sheep, we head back to Johns to load a bunch of his sheep to take up to the sale as well. Since it was dark and raining out, he decided to take all of that lot and sort out the ones he didn’t want to sell yet back into the trailer while we had the light of the sale barn to sort by. Even at that, it took damn near an hour just to load those mangy, stinking beasts into the back of the trailer.
By this time, it’s getting late, like about eight-thirty or so, and I’ve been thinking about food for the past hour. Oh hell, whom am I trying to kid, I’m always thinking about food. But now I really mean it. About this time John asks if I’ve ever eaten at a Culver’s restaurant, saying how good their hamburgers are and that they started right around in that part of the state many years ago. So now I’m thinking, good he’s hungry too and we’ll stop and get something to eat before we go out drinking and womanizing all night.
But first, we had to unload those sheep up at the sale barn, and then, (You mean there’s more? How much more do we have to do before we can eat and then go drinking?) Then, after we unload the sale sheep and reload the ones not going for sale, then we have to drive over to Jean Bass’ place and steal several head of sheep from her, while she and her husband are off at the same set of trials John’s wife is at.
So now, I’m hungry, wet, tired, cold, lost, and thirsty for alcohol, did I mention hungry? Sheep stinky, sore, and I haven’t mentioned it yet, but the elastic in my underwear gave out awhile back, and now it’s riding down below my thighs and the inside of the inseam of my bib overalls, which by the way is soaked and muddy from all the rain I’ve been standing in trying to load all these dirty stinking sheep all night.
And now, when we almost get there, I find out that John really doesn’t know exactly where the turn off is in Madison to get to Jean’s place, so he has to call and get directions after making a wrong turn. Now we make it into her driveway, and it’s still raining like Bengals and Borders. He tells me to go open the cattle panel in the fence so we can drive out into the pasture and use the livestock handling equipment to help load the sheep in a hurry, because it’s getting late, still raining, and did I mention I was hungry? And couldn’t see a thing in the dark, and the rain.
I mention to him, and I quote, “Do you think we’ll get stuck if we drive out into the pasture with it raining like this?” to which he responds, and I again quote, “No, this is a four wheel drive, 1-ton diesel, we can’t get stuck in this thing.” (Now that statement is quoted and on record as being his words, exactly as phrased. I want to make sure that is clear!)
So I get out and figure out as fast as I can how to open this strange gate, while it’s pouring down, and I’m standing there cold, wet-assed, and my underwear is sagging and soggy at this point. I’m shivering, but I can’t tell if it’s from the cold or lack of food. Did I mention I was really getting hungry? John drives the rig right on in, and we head out to the handling equipment. Once at that end of the pasture, we have all sorts of trouble backing up to line up with the chute, because it’s raining so hard and he can’t hear over the sound of the diesel and I can’t hear over the pounding rain. Finally we get the thing lined up, and he sends his dog to go look for sheep. About another half-hour later, he walks back down the hill with the sheep and dog in hot pursuit.
It takes over an hour and a half to load the crazy things, they just didn’t want to load up into the trailer for some stupid reason, maybe because it was raining, who knows what a sheep thinks. I just know they wouldn’t move for love or money without a lot of poking and pushing, cussing and yelling. That’s one thing I’ve really gotten good at, is cussing sheep. I think it is a prerequisite for sheep herding.
So after like an eternity getting these beggars loaded, we start to drive off, but I can’t remember if I left the gate open or not, so I have to run out in the rain and check. Then stand clear as John said he would be coming fast. I couldn’t even make it over to the fence without stopping and pulling up my underwear. I finally figured out if the elastic gave out, there was only one other way those underwear were going to stay put, so I gave myself an ice cold and wet wedgie right up the crack of my ass. Then I stood way off to the side but as John made his approach, he started to slow down for some reason about a hundred and ten feet from their hard road. (The ten feet, of the hundred and ten feet, is about to become a very important number in this story) As he slowed down I thought about the scenes from the road runner cartoon when they played it in slow motion when the coyote chased him right off the cliff, and the road runner kept going and the coyote just hovered there before falling down below. That’s what John looked like in that truck, just hovering there, not going anywhere.
John got out and I really thought about yelling out over the sound of the diesel, “I told you so” but thought maybe the timing was just a little off. John opened up the gate of the trailer and let all of the sheep out we just spent over an hour trying to get in there. He then got back in and tried to go, but no chance of that happening. So he got out again and tried to unhook the trailer so we could at least drive out and escape the muddy mess, (…and maybe go get something to eat?) But, the jack sank right into the ground every time he cranked it lower.
Well that did it, now we were going to have to call a tow truck out, and by this time it was nearing 11:00 pm. He has wrecker service on his cell phone so he made the call, but for some reason it took the lady, like, forever to deal with him. After being put on hold several times, she tried to get the address where we were at, but all John knew was we were by a dog park. The lady started to give John grief and he told her just to get the Tow Company on the line and they were local and should know where we are.
After twenty three minutes on the phone the lady comes back with asking what type of vehicle we were stuck in and when he tells her it’s a 1-ton dually, the lady says that the service is only good for four wheeled passenger vehicles. Now he’s going to be out a hundred bucks to pay for the tow, and take off working the next day just to fix the whole mess, and pick up the sheep that we were wrestling that night in the rain. Which was the third day of rain for Madison and any human being would know not to drive out into a field without getting stuck.
He calls information and gets connected with a guy who wants a credit card number before he drives out, even if John wants to pay cash for the tow. Well if you know John, you know he hates credit cards and doesn’t have any, so he yells at the guy that he has pockets full of cash, and the guy hangs up on him. (Back at square one again) He calls the operator again and asks for more towing companies, she must have offered the one he just yelled at, because he said, “No not that one, give me another one.” We finally get a guy and tell him of our problem and he asks how far off the road we are and John tells him, “…about a hundred foot” bring a chain.
At this point he’s upset that he let the sheep out of the trailer and now he’s going to have to take the day off work and make four trips to Madison to get all the sheep because his truck had a bad head on the engine and he can’t tow a bumper pull trailer with it, without overheating. I told him we could use my truck if he could find a trailer to hi-jack the next day. Right then about six sheep try to make a dash past the open gate and John sends his dog to cover them and actually gets them loaded into the back of the trailer. After an hour or more waiting the tow truck shows up and the guy gets out and shakes his head, (like he should care, he’s making money off the deal!)
He pulls the cable all the way out, grabs the chain too, still not long enough, grabs another chain and still not long enough but getting closer. He goes back one more time and brings a short something with a couple rings attached to a very short strap, which barely makes it, but we are connected, all the way from the diesel to the tow truck. At this point I can envision the chain snapping and flying up into the windshield of that 2003 Dodge! So I stand very far off and re-wedge-ify myself.
We finally get out and John hands the guy a hundred bucks and it’s about 1:00 am but we’re on the road for home. Cold, hungry, tired, sore, thirsty, wet, and pissed off, we roll into a gas station. After promises of butter burgers, booze, and babes, I get a large hot coffee and a muffin. Hell, I can’t even buy any liquor at the gas station because they stop selling liquor at 9:00 pm. (Damn, at 9:00 pm we were unloading sheep at the sale barn just down the road from a Culver’s!) I’m just thrilled with the coffee and muffin, because up in Wisconsin they have real cream for your coffee at all the truck stops and gas stations. We get home at about 2:30 am, crawl into bed and call it a night.
But the story doesn’t end there as one might have hoped pages ago. We get up early and go steal yet another small, twelve foot trailer to hook up to my truck and John drives his truck with me following him all the way back to Madison. This time we go to the top of Jean Bass’ property where we first have to pen the sheep that she plans on keeping. Then John wanders off over the hill with his dogs and comes back about fifteen minutes later with the sheep Jean wanted to get rid of as well as the rest of his sheep left there from last night.
We situate his truck so that we can load as many smaller sheep as possible into the bed. My job was to open and close the back window while John picked up and threw in the sheep. They were crammed in as tight as we could pack them before we switched out and backed in my truck with that borrowed trailer.
The horned Scottish blackface sheep were always being difficult and putting their heads down and ramming his leg. He proclaimed quite a few cuss words and generally bad mouthed the sheep, but somehow I don’t think he hurt their feelings. We loaded as many as we could into the trailer but still we had about three left. So, we backed in his truck again and kept shoving them in until it seemed the sides of his aluminum shell were bowing and flexing.
At that point John mentioned something about it was quite an experience and glad that it was over. I reminded him that we should not close the book just yet, as we did not have them back at his place. As we were driving along I-90, I followed John as his truck looked pretty overloaded and with a cracked head would more than likely overheat. I glanced out my drivers side window and a guy in a little sports car was motioning me with his hand I had a problem “back there.” I called John back and told him we had to pull over right away. If you can believe this, there was no place to pull off the shoulder; it was too narrow so we had to drive to the next exit. At that point there was no place to pull over either, so we drove until we turned off that road and into a Honda car dealership.
The problem was the sliding part of the back door of the trailer opened a bit and two sheep feet and legs were sticking out. It was not a big opening, not likely the whole sheep would fall out, but if her legs were rubbed raw from the road, the ewe would have to be destroyed. I can’t believe what John did next. He opened the big door by the hinge and as expected, all the sheep were ready to blow out of there. Lots of pushing and shoving followed and more than once it looked as if the sheep were going to win, but somehow between the two of us we pushed them back in, picked up the ewe that was laying down, and tucked back in the legs.
John looked at me and said let’s get out of here before I over heat and run out of gas. At that point he ran up to his truck loaded his dogs and made a couple of sharp turns around the isles of new cars at the dealership. At the last turn he made, a sharp right, a sheep fell out from the side of his truck. It must have fallen out of his side window as he drove off. I slammed my truck back into park and it made an awful grinding sound as I jumped out and tried to round up the sheep.
Several minutes had passed, but for some reason it seemed like hours while I maneuvered around trying to contain the sheep, hoping John would notice I was not following him and return looking for me. Several salesmen came out and started walking around looking. I told them the sheep liked the looks of the new Honda Element, but that its credit was no good. Only one guy caught it and started laughing.
Then John showed up and got the dogs out and he had to send them around a couple times before the sheep wound up looking face on at a big plate glass window into the showroom. The sheep headed right into it, but it did not break. The sheep looked a little puzzled, then smelled it and dashed off to the left right into John’s hands. He picked it up, headed to the truck and then tucked it in and drove away. I told him, all I was trying to do was get the ear tag off so the government couldn’t come after him, and I was going to leave that damn ewe there.
We made it the rest of the way back to his place without any other complications, and I’m glad of that. Running late for work, John emptied the back of his truck and helped me unload the trailer before telling me to just drop it up in his drive amongst the rest of borrowed trailers, equipment and menagerie in his driveway. I took a shower and then headed for home.
Somehow, the six-hour drive seemed uneventful and I was glad of that.