Growing Up Montana Style-the Drive to the Miles City Ram Sale circa 1964

In addition to the Prompt Me! posts, I have begun writing more about growing up in Montana. This two part story is one episode of that adventure. Robert Koyama, this one’s for you.

 

In the 1960s, my family was one of the larger sheep breeding operations in Montana. We raised registered Suffolk sheep (the ones with the black face and black legs) and a few Columbias (all white).

Every fall we would clean up the uncut males and some of the ewes and prep them for the annual ram sales held throughout the area. We went to the Montana Ram Sale, the Casper and Buffalo Wyoming sales, and a few times we went to the Newell, South Dakota Show and Sale. These sales were where folks could buy breeding stock and our award winning herd was a key staple for these sales.

One fall when my brother, Robert was about 13 and I would have been 10, the two of us and our dad were heading to the Montana Ram Sale in Miles City. We had a stock rack on our single axel turquoise Ford truck. It was a newer truck for us, maybe ten years old with a standard four on the floor transmission and a truck bed hoist that would allow the bed to raise for dumping a load off the back. Our family did a lot of do-it-yourself projects, as all farmers do—and in this case we had built a second level deck on the truck bed so we could haul twice as many sheep on a load. The stock rack, built for cattle and horses, was the perfect height for a double decker sheep truck.

The three of us were heading out with the load of sheep first, and my mom and two sisters were going to follow in the car. The Montana Ram Sale was where we brought our best livestock, as our reputation was built in our home state. We loaded championship ewes and rams onto the truck. We put the ewes on the bottom deck, the rams on the top.

It was a party atmosphere, one of the biggest revenue generating events for the farm. The sale was also a big social event for the men and their wives, with dinners and speakers before the sale. We would always go to the 600 Cafe, and the adults would end up at the Montana Bar a few doors down on Main Street.

So we headed out with a truckload of sheep—Robert driving, me in the middle straddling the gear shift, and Daddy on my right. Back in those days, there was no Interstate 94, it was all two lane winding roads through the coulees and bench land following the Yellowstone River.

Yes, and Robert was driving. He was maybe two, three years away from getting a driver’s license, but it was normal protocol in our family for us to drive early. It was normal for any farm family. And he had a lot of experience driving already. The trip was uneventful. We stopped in Forsyth for gas where I bought red licorice, some chocolates and gum and then continued, climbing out of the river valley and driving on top of the bench for 15-20 miles. The coulees that drained the semi-arid land cut rough valleys along the way. The road would wind down into the draws, and then wend its way back out. We were lulled by the hum of the truck tires on the blacktop, the low roar of the engine.

We were entering another one of those draws, the road descending, curving to the left. It was a beautiful fall day, the leaves turning, the sage pale blue-green and grasses yellow-gold. I could feel the centrifugal force pulling on the truck, my body beginning to lean into my dad’s side. Robert and Daddy began talking to each other over my head about the pull on the truck, what to do. It felt like being on a merry-go-round, going fast, but feeling sickeningly slow.

I looked down at the candy in my lap, the red licorice open, the candy bars intact as was the Spearmint gum. I closed my eyes, and told myself, “When I open my eyes, we’ll be on the road at the bottom of the draw.”

TO BE CONTINUED JULY 3…

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