Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Turkey Talk?

OK….so I’m driving down the road and there are all these turkeys going somewhere.  

And then I see that it’s a gathering, a convocation... maybe a convention?  Could those guys on the fence be the candidates?  Could they be making a pitch to the ones milling around below?  No one seems to be paying any attention to the ones on the fence.  There’s probably a good reason why.  I’m just saying that’s what it looks like to me. Politics as usual.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Sheepishly Speaking

As soon as we got to downtown Buffalo, I knew I would like it here.  After all, how many towns have a shop with a border collie mural by the front door?

Or a life-size sculpture of a dog herding sheep in the downtown park?  We feel right at home.

And those aren’t the only dogs (or sheep) around here.  Rue and I have been refreshing our herding skills with Wendy Auzqui.  Wendy and her husband, John, run both sheep and cattle on their ranch northeast of Buffalo near Clearmont, Wyoming.  Rue's only experience with cattle so far is with our cows at the farm, so we're concentrating on sheep.  

At first, Rue was a little intimidated (sheepish?).  The sheep with the sweet, white faces are Columbia Sheep.  This breed is one of the first developed in the United States, and was bred especially for the western ranges of the country.  Originally developed by breeding Lincoln rams with Rambouillet ewes, these sheep can be big.  Adult rams weigh between 275 and 400 pounds, and ewes from 175 to 300 pounds.  These ewes are young, so they may be a bit smaller, but at first Rue thought they were enormous!  

She took a couple of deep breaths when she first met them, but soon realized they were just sheep and that she could manage them.

Quite a bit smaller, but intimidating in another way are Wendy’s Jacob Sheep.  They are the black and spotted ones, and one of them has quite a set of horns.  An Old World breed, Jacob Sheep are thought to have originated in Syria, and can have up to six horns.  This fellow has four, and he can shake them with authority.

Rue and I also worked with Wendy last year when we were in the area, and we have enjoyed all our sessions with her.  Wendy is an excellent teacher/coach.  She has several dogs of her own, and not only uses them on the ranch, but competes successfully in both cattle and sheep trials. She is good with a camera as well, and took the photos of Rue and me working sheep. 

Yesterday we first worked with sets of 5 or 6 sheep…

then with a flock of 25 or so.  

While Rue and I worked, two of Wendy's dogs, Frank and Tony, waited eagerly for their turns.

Then, while we took a break, Wendy helped her niece and nephew, JoJo and Jace, try their luck at riding sheep.  

The sheep were less than thrilled, but Wendy's Tony corralled them for easier access.

After several tries, Jace finally got aboard one of the Jacob Sheep and had a short ride around the pen.  

Even little brother, Kade, got a chance to ride, but he was less enthusiastic than the sheep.  

It was a great morning, and we look forward to the rest our our lessons. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

An Occidental Encounter

We made the short, uneventful, trip from Douglas to Buffalo, WY, on Monday, August 15.  Mid-afternoon found us comfortably settled in Deer Park RV Site No. 42.  This is a lovely family-owned park, and you can see from the pictures that our site has a large, grassy yard.  Behind us is a pasture with four horses, and there is a large dog-walk area and a half-mile walking trail through the woods.  It is ideal, and as a bonus there is an ice-cream social every night.

Nestled at the foot of the most rugged portion of the Bighorn Mountains, with a  current population of 4,638 and an elevation of 4,646 feet, Buffalo is the county seat of Johnson County.  The town sprang up in 1879 near Fort McKinney, which was established by the government to protect travelers along the nearby Bozeman Trail.  The crown jewel of downtown Buffalo is the historic Occidental Hotel and Saloon, which dates to the early 1800’s, and is one of only 129 hotels listed on the National Geographic Traveler Magazine “Stay List.” 

Hotel guests in the early days included “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Teddy Roosevelt, Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, Calamity Jane, and later Ernest Hemingway.  Their pictures and those of many other famous guests hang in the downstairs hallway.  

Another guest was Owen Wister, author of The Virginian, the most famous western novel ever written.  It was the first of many in that genre, and the first novel we read in my University of Texas Western Literature class.  According to local lore, Wister based some of the characters in his novel on cowboys and gunslingers who frequented the Occidental Saloon.  The gunfight made famous in the novel, the first “walk-down” in western literature, supposedly took place in front of the Occidental Hotel.

RVers are a sociable lot, and we make new friends almost everywhere we spend a few days.  Our stay in Buffalo was no exception.  When we parked the RV, in the site just across from ours we met Dick and Eileen Jordan from Tucson who are traveling the west in their Winnebago motor home.  The four of us had drinks in the Occidental Saloon.  If you look closely, you can still see holes in the ceiling from long-ago gunfights.

Drinks were followed by dinner at the hotel’s Virginian Restaurant.  The atmosphere was great, as was the food and the company was even better.  John ordered the elk tenderloin.  We all had bites, and it was exceptional. 

Buffalo has a number of other attractions.  One we found particularly interesting was the Mountain Meadow Wool Mill.  

The largest full service wool mill west of the Mississippi, it was the first mill in the U.S. to create a system to track the wool from the ranch where it was produced.  The operation includes storing the wool until it is needed, then washing, drying, spinning and dyeing yarn for companies across the country.  

The mill came into existence in 2007 because the owners wanted to use local wool to spin into yarn they could use to make crocheted animals.  From a modest beginning, the company has grown by roughly 30% each year, and is unique in the way it works with the wool producers.  When the sheep are sheared each year, the wool is packed into large bales like those seen here.  


Instead of paying the ranchers for the wool at that time, the bales are stored at Mountain Meadow until the wool is needed.  As the bales are used, the producers are paid a price some 40% above what they would have received at shearing time.  In this way, the ranchers receive a better price for their wool, and Mountain Meadow does not pay for it until it is used.

We toured the mill, and received an education in how wool is prepared, processed, spun into yarn and dyed into all the colors of the rainbow and then some.  

The yarn hanging below represent the different colors available.  Each batch of wool that is dyed must conform to the colors in the control group.

After being dyed, the yarn is twisted into skeins.  This task was once done by hand, then one of the employees of the mill repurposed the motor from an old ice cream freezer to do it mechanically. 

The entire process is fascinating, and I'm sorry the Texas climate requires clothing to keep me cool instead of warm!    If only my friend, Eugenia, had been with us.  I know she would have taken home a suitcase load of these lovely yarns for her knitting projects.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

Camp Douglas POW Museum

Douglas is an interesting small town.  While there, we saw one additional attraction that I would like to share. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is located in what was the former officer’s club, which I believe is the only camp building that still survives.    From 1943-1946, the camp, consisting of some 180 buildings set on over 350 acres, housed Italian, and later German prisoners of war.  The POWs and the 500+ military personnel associated with the camp were a boon to the area.  Not only did the community benefit from construction of the camp and from housing and feeding the prisoners, but residents were also encouraged to hire the POWs on a voluntary basis as laborers on their farms and ranches or in the timber industry for a daily wage of $4.  This was very important, as most of the men were away in the service. 

Apparently the prisoners were as happy to be in Douglas as the residents were to have them.  There were few attempted escapes, and some of the prisoners returned home with over $500 in savings from their work.  In spite of being on opposing sides in the war, friendships developed between members of the community and prisoners.  These continued long after the war ended, through correspondence and visits between residents and former prisoners.  Some former POWs later returned and settled in the area.  One Italian POW is quoted as saying, "I never felt like a free man until I was a prisoner in your country."

The prisoners gave back to the community in other ways, as well.  Of special significance are the murals on the interior walls of the former officers club which were painted by three Italian POWs.  These men are known only by their signatures on the murals, but V. Finotti, E. Tarquinio and F. DeRossi gave us scenes of lasting beauty and value.  Though these individuals had never seen the old west other than in books or movies, they recreated scenes from memory and from pictures in books and magazines, some of which are also on display with the murals. 

Over the years, the local I.O.O.F. lodge has maintained the building and these remarkable murals.  The dry Wyoming climate has helped to preserve the murals, and I hope you will some day have a chance to see them for yourselves.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Wyoming State Fair Cattle Dog Trials

When we visited Douglas last year, we arrived just in time to catch the end of the Wyoming State Fair.  This year, we were a few days too early and activities at the fairgrounds were just beginning.  We were fortunate, though, to arrive in time for the Wyoming State Fair Cattle Dog Trials.  John and I spent part of Friday watching the dogs and their handlers move sets of three angus heifers through a series of obstacles.  The principals are similar to those at sheep dog trials, but the cattle are a lot bigger and require dogs with a lot assertiveness.  

The goal is for the dog to move the stock through the obstacles in a calm, orderly manner as these dogs are doing.

The handler is part of the team, and helps to direct the stock.

But sometimes the cattle don’t cooperate, and then the dog has to insist they follow instructions.

It was a real treat to watch the teamwork between handlers and dogs, and to see these beautiful animals in action.