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Archive for October, 2013

Before the furlough and before the blizzard my sister, the girlfriends and I went on a grand adventure! We went to the Nebraska Junk Jaunt.

I first heard about the Junk Jaunt when I was camping with the Sisters on the Fly. According to them it was a ‘must see’. So the last weekend in September my sister hitched up her big camper, I hitched up little Rattlin’ Ruby and we loaded up 4 of our girlfriends and headed south.

Our first stop was to look at an old camper – I know, hard to believe but this time it wasn’t for me. It appears I have been a bad infulence on my nephew as he is now on the lookout for one of his very own. Unfourtunately, this was not the one. This camper was in really bad shape and the lady who owned it wanted a little to much for it. I’m sure he will find the perfect one soon but I remember how hard it is to be patient.

After our camper inspection we headed for Broken Bow, NE. My sister’s camper is huge compared to Ruby and I know I could have slept in her camper with the others but part of the reason for this trip was to see if Ruby could actually make it that far. And she preformed flawlessly! I really do love my little home on wheels. I have even added a few items to make my travels a little more comfortable.

Ruby is now equiped with a fireplace…

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OK – it’s electric and it only looks like a wood stove but it warms her up really quick and keeps me toasty warm all night. And besides that – she’s cute as a button and fits perfectly in our upstairs bathroom for the winter!

She also has laundry facilities…

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I also added a thick feather tick to her bed along with lots of nice blankets and I slept like a log. There’s nothing like being well rested to prepare for a day of Junking!

We drove down on Thursday. Parked in Wanda’s sisters yard and hit the ground running Friday morning – with all 6 of us girls in my pickup.

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Someone suggested I might need this book. I don’t know why?

Most of the sales open at 7:00 am and run all day till 7:00 pm.

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I don’t think the girlfriends really believed me when I told them it was 500 miles of rummage sales so it took a while to convince them. At the first stop my sister purchased a sofa with 2 matching chairs and a foot stool. They look like something right off an Austin Powers movie set – from the 60’s, harvest gold and avacodo green and in really good shape.

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I figured at this rate we were going to have to strap stuff on the top of Ruby just to get it all home but we left the furniture there to pick up later and headed out. The next stop was a huge metal shop crammed full of stuff. I bought 5 beautiful old window frames which will someday be refinished and sporting stained glass. I don’t know where I will use them but figuring that out is half the fun of junking.

After that we hit sale after sale and even though the girlfriends were a little shy about buying junk it didn’t stop me and my sister. By the end of the day we had pretty well loaded down the pickup and we still had to go back to the first stop the next morning and pick up Jenny’s sofa and chairs. We had lawn chairs for Wanda’s sister, a patio set for one of the girlfriends, a beautiful old chamber pot for Ruby, glasses, dishes, silk pj’s, new chaps (chinks) for me, a new bit for my horse and had pretty much crammed stuff into every cubby hole and storage spot inside my pickup. Everybody was holding stuff on their laps too.

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We finished shopping for the day at Burwell as it started to sprinkle. Thankfully, I had thrown in a tarp and straps which came in pretty handy.  We stopped at Wanda’s sisters friends house (well, that’s confusing) who had invited us for drinks. We never turn down drinks and in this case it ended up that they cooked us some of the best steaks we had ever eaten and a wonderful salad for supper. What nice people!!! By the time we were ready to head back to our campers it was 9:00, pitch black and raining really hard. We soon discovered that the Nebraska Sand Hill country is really made up of sand. The gravel (really it was sand) roads were pretty squishy and we had a couple wild moments just getting out of the driveway but once we got back on pavement we only had the lack of visability to worry about.

Talk about rain! It was impressive to say the least but we crept back to Broken Bow and made it back to a gas station before running the tank dry. Of course that meant that I was standing outside pumping gas in one of the worst driving rain I have ever seen. $60.00 later I was soaked to the skin and shaking so hard I could hardly shut the air conditioner off in the pickup.  One of the girlfriends was a little confunsed by the snowflake symbol on the dash. Oh my goodness – I haven’t laughed that hard in years! I was glad to get back to Ruby and her fireplace!!!

The rain stopped in the middle of the night but the dogs started barking shortly later. Wanda’s sister Sonja and her husband run cattle and also have some very nice horses which they train and also are also used for barrels, poles and such events at rodeos and horse shows by their daughter Jayde. As soon as you step into their house you can see how good these horses and riders are as the place is filled with trophy buckles. They had taken off for another horse show in Denver that morning and left us in charge. They are very trusting people.

So when the dogs started barking in the middle of the night I kept peeking out the window to see what they were barking at. At first I didn’t see a thing but then once the moon came out I looked out to see the outline of a horse in the barn. It turns out one of their horses – Max is quite an escape artist and is able to undo latched gates. I got up and threw on my jeans and boots but as soon as I opened Ruby’s door the horse took off. I cleaned up the spilled oats he was rummaging through and tried to coax him in by shaking the bucket of oats. This always works with our horses but Max is smarter than that and refused to be caught. Since I wasn’t too keen on stumbling around in the dark and it would be morning soon I finally locked the bucket of oats in the tack room and went back to bed after telling the dogs what good puppies they were and to keep an eye on things till morning.  It didn’t take long to straighten things out the next morning.

After a quick breakfast we were off to pick up my sister’s livingroom furniture then back to unload it in the barn and check on things before heading out for another load of treasures. Thankfully, the day had dawned with clear skies and was absolutely beautiful. We hit the fairgrounds in Broken Bow which was filled with lots of venders. We even ended up with several good purchases because of the rain the night before – one vender had 3 large flatbed trailers loaded with all manner of rain-soaked items that were only a quarter each! I just love those rock bottom prices. My best purchase of the day was a box of dishes – a complete 8 place setting of Shakespear Country dishes for $20.00. I had been picking up pieces of these dishes for the last year or so about fell over myself when I spotted a whole box of them so cheap!

We saw lots of unusual things like this chair.  We didn’t buy it but you got to admit it’s got style!

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Of course we came home with another full load and spent the evening sorting and packing away our treasures for the trip home. We also celebrated with a concoction that will forever more be known as ‘Junk Juice’ although I doubt if any of us can remember the recipe.

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Sunday morning found the horses out once again – freed by their ringleader Max but they were quickly gathered and order was restored before we headed down the road to a few more rummage sales and finally home – 1,131.4 miles later and Ruby pulled like a dream.

We saw a lot of beautiful country, met some wonderful people and got a whole bunch of stuff for very little money. I would highly recommend the Junk Jaunt – especailly for a girlfriend get-away but I have a few suggestions if you’re planning on attending the next one.

1. Order the Shoppers Guide from the website before you go. This is filled with maps and lots of information on the different sales and vendors. You can plan your trip and also see which of the sales have items you are interested in.

2. Go through the shoppers guide and mark the estate sales and first time rummage sales. These turned out to be the best spots we found.

3. Drive down on Wednesday and start shopping on Thursday. Not all the sales will be open yet but the shoppers guild will tell you which ones are.

4. Never acept a marked price as the final price. I am not good at dickering but there is definately some people who are. Learn from the masters and practise at home before going.

5. Take a bunch of friends with you as it is always more fun to shop with friends.

6. Take the time to stop and visit with the local people – Nebraska has some of the nicest people you will ever meet!

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7. If you drive past a rummage sale and everybody in the pickup sucks in their breath at the same time and goes “Ohhhhhhh!” in unison you better turn around and go back – that was one of the best stops we made.

We came home with Ruby loaded down and the back of my pickup completely full. My sister’s camper also had piles of stuff tucked into closets, cupboards and corners too. But best of all we collected some pretty great memories of the trip.

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There’s my little Ruby parked at Carhenge – the roadside attraction built by a Nebraska farmer just north of Alliance, Nebraska. There’s a photo for her scrapbook!

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Winter has started.  It’s scary but true.

I have started this article 3 times so far but have been unable to post it till now.  Speaking to so many people about the losses of this blizzard has been so overwhelming to me that I’m having trouble writting about it.  Even now, nearly 2 weeks after the storm the first question you ask when you meet someone on the street is “How did you come out on the blizzard.”

In the first week of October western South Dakota was struck by one of the worst blizzards in history.   One to two inches of rain fell before the temperatures dropped and the rain turned to slush then snow.  Winds gusted up to 60-70 mph as the snow stacked up.  Livestock drifted east – pushed by the wind until they couldn’t go any futher – sometimes piling up in the fence corners where they died.  The estimates have been stagering – between 60,000 to 100,000 head of cattle and horses perished and ranchers are still trying to gather what’s left of their herds. 

We were very lucky.  We got the rain and the wind but thankfully only a fraction of the snow others were reporting.  We had 2 foot tall drifts but most of the snow blew past us and the cattle at the ranch were still able to graze throughout the storm.  We also had the protection of Elk Mountain to help break the wind and our cattle were able to find cover in the draws and gullies. 

About half of our cow/calf pairs were still on the Forest Service permit where they had some shelter in the trees.  Most found their way down the mountain and were standing at the gate wanting in when Hubby went to look.  Others, including some of the neighbors cattle jumped fences or tore them down and we spent several days sorting and hauling cattle back to their owners who were glad to have them.  We may still be missing a couple of head from the FS permit but we won’t know for sure until we work cattle this Saturday.  We will be preg checking the cows this weekend and that will also give us a good idea if we have any other problems because of the storm.  Bad weather will sometimes push cows into the trees for shelter but this is not always a good thing.  Ingesting pine needles may cause them to abort their calves and this is not a surprise we want next spring.  But so far things look good.

Our yearlings faired well too.  They were in the summer pasture near Custer – where the snow really stacked up.  By the time we could make it in to check on them most of them were standing near the corral and Hubby was able to lead them in with a sack of cake and a bale of hay.   We were only missing two but we stopped at the neighbors who had already found one of them and was pretty sure the other was in another group of cattle further west.  Because of the snow and mud there was no way we could get a trailer up to the next place so we will have to go back once they can get in and make sure he’s actually there. 

These neighbors had quite a mess at their place.  Just west of their ranch is a lot of government land which is grazed all summer by cattle from several ranches.  With the wind coming out of the west most of those cattle drifted right down into their place where they spent days feeding and gathering other peoples cattle along with their own.  It was several days before the other owners could make it in with loads of hay and it will be longer yet before they can sort and know exactly how many cattle they have left.

So many others weren’t so lucky.  We’ve got friends who have lost better than half their herd and others who have lost almost all.  And that’s just the inital losses.  People are still losing cattle daily as the stress takes it’s toll.  Some of the stories and information coming out of the worst of it makes no sense at all and makes it even harder to understand.

From what I’ve read and heard it appears there were several curcumstances that added up to the horrific losses from this storm.  The first being that the blizzard hit so early in the season.  Most cattle were still in the summer pastures with little or no cover to block the wind.  A lot of these summer pastures are also Forest Service permits or BLM land where cattle from several ranches are run together in huge pastures that cover thousands of acres.  Ranchers check on their cattle all summer long but it’s not unusual to go 3 or 4 months without seeing all your cattle.  These pastures are nearly impossible to gather quickly from too.  Some ranchers will work for a week or better gathering their cattle in the fall.  And if the weather is nice most of the cattle are reluctant to come home until the temperatures cool down and they know winter is coming.

Another problem created by the early blizzard is that the cattle and horses hadn’t grown in their winter coats.  It has been such beautiful weather that nothing – not even our cats and dog were haired up enough to withstand the temperature drop.  Add to that several inches of rain and the wind for a deadly combination.

They are even blaming the green grass as a factor.  As this was such an unusual summer with lots of rain we still have lush green grass growing which never happens around here.  You wouldn’t think it to look at it but fast growing lush grass doesn’t have the nutrients of the dried, cured grasses we bale and feed in the winter.  Even if those cattle could have gotten under the snow and grazed non stop they would still not have been able to eat enough to keep themselves warm through the storm.  Unbelievable.

One of the most incredible facts to me is that they are finding out that all these animals drowned.  It doesn’t matter if they were down in a gully or on top of a hill they had breathed in so much moisture that their lungs were full of water.  I’m sure the wind added to that as well. 

They are also finding that most of the losses were cows – not calves.  One ranch I heard had lost over 200 head of cows but still had every one of the calves.  This is amazing – almost as amazing as the story of one rancher who calves in the fall.  He was right in the middle of calving when the storm hit and even without shelter every one of his calves survived it.  In a normal storm that would never have happened. 

There were also lots of horses lost – most in the 2-3 year old range.  I know people who have ranched their whole lives and have never lost a horse in a blizzard and yet one Bible camp lost nearly 100 head of horses to this blizzard alone. 

The government shut down had sent me home from work 2 days before the blizzard hit.  Even though I was thankful to be home during the worst of it there was very little we could do but watch as we went from warm sun filled days to rain and snow in a matter of hours.  Now that we’re back to work reports have started coming in from local ranchers who have lost a few.  Most of the big losses were north, east and south of us. 

Some of the livestock lost in this blizzard were not insured.  Even the ones that were insured were probably not coverd for loss due to blizzards – very few insurance companies cover this.  And even though they can prove that these cattle drowned the insurance companies are still denying these claims. 

And as for any government help…   The last Farm Bill expired in 2012 so there are no disaster programs in place that will help these ranchers.  Yet there is talk of disaster assistance in the works so we hope and pray that Congress will make this a priority and agree on a way to help. 

There have been so many heart-wrenching stories in the last few weeks.  Stories of cattle that died inside corrals and barns while others on the open prairie survived and newborn calves that survived when adult cows in the prime of their lives perished.  At one sale barn alone over 300 head of cattle died in the corrals while one rancher started with over 600 head of cattle and today has 1 left.  There are people who have lost everything and will probably not survive the economic losses but more importantly there are those who won’t have the heart to start over after seeing years of careful breeding and hard work wiped away in a couple of days.  These are the stories that break my heart.

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