Growing Up Montana Style-the Drive to the Miles City Ram Sale circa 1964, Part 2

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. And now the rest of the story.

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.”

Well, I was right. When I opened my eyes, we were at the bottom of the draw. But not on the road.

I was under the steering wheel on top of Robert. His face was covered in blood. The truck engine was still running. Robert looked at me with a frown on his face, and said, “Get off of me. You’re bleeding all over.” I had a bloody nose, and the blood on Robert was my own.

The next thing I knew, my dad was there, pulling me off, flipping the key so the engine shut off. The three of us did a quick check. Aside from a cut on Daddy’s arm, we were miraculously unscathed. I got bloody noses all the time as a kid, so we weren’t worried about that. We were at the bottom of the gully, and as we looked back up the road, we could see sheep and 2×12 boards strewn across the hillside—the bucks that were on the top deck had flown off first, and many of them died on impact. Some of the ewes that had been on the lower deck were running around the open ground—a few with broken legs, one with a broken jaw, but those running were relatively unharmed.

Robert had walked back, checking some of the sheep that were laying on the ground. By this time, cars were stopping. I stood on a rise with my dad, surveying the battlefield. I thought, “What am I supposed to do? Maybe cry?”

So I began to cry. And my dad looked at me and asked, “Are you hurt?”

I said, “No.”

And he said, “Then don’t cry. You have nothing to cry about.”

And so I stopped. And stood there, not even realizing at the time how lucky we had been.

The highway patrol came, and my dad said he had been driving. We rounded up the surviving sheep. Someone had a gun, and they shot a few that were too injured to save. One of the prize rams was dead, but out of about 60 head, there were still maybe 20 alive, huddling as sheep do.

Someone called a local farmer who came and loaded the living sheep on their truck and took them to Miles City. I don’t know who came and picked up the dead ones. Another Good Samaritan gave the three of us a ride to the Miles City Hospital, where they put a bandage on Daddy’s arm, and claimed Robert had a contusion—which I thought was life threatening, but turned out to be a bump on his head. I was unharmed.

Later, we found out that when Mom and the girls drove through Forsyth, they saw the truck that had been towed to the gas station. They immediately stopped, sure that we must have been hurt or killed. They found out we were all OK. They looked inside the cab and saw my candy on the floor. The center of the cab roof was peeled back where a guard rail post had come through, right about where my head would have been.

Turns out that while I had my eyes closed, pretending everything was going to be alright, Robert and Daddy were talking about what to do. Daddy said he was going to bail out. He told Robert to grab me and go under the steering wheel. They had only seconds to do this. We think the top heavy load began tipping the truck and then the hydraulic hoist gave out, so the bed had begun to lift, exacerbating the situation.  The truck rolled to the passenger side. Daddy was lucky not to have been crushed. And Robert, in spite of the teasing and torturing older brothers do to their little sisters, had grabbed me as planned and held me down.

This is what happened as I remember it. I never knew how many dollars were lost, never knew if my dad could collect insurance, never even wondered how this might have impacted family and the farm’s economic success. We talked a little bit about how lucky we had been that no one was badly hurt. There was never any blame on anyone for anything. I joked that I had lost all my candy. We all knew that was the least of our losses. But in truth we lost nothing, because the three of us walked away that fine autumn afternoon with barely a scratch on us.


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