Labor Day was instituted to honor the American Labor movement. Oregon was the first state to officially observe it in 1887 and by 1894, when it became a national holiday, thirty other states had adopted it. Not sure what comes to mind for you when Labor Day rolls around but for me it reminds me of how we observed it on the ranch almost every year without fail.
Most people, if not nearly all, get Labor day off….but not us! Nope, we did “labor” on Labor Day! Cliff Taylor, my Dad, loooooved workin’! And he loved it, even more, when everyone else was working too! A lifelong rancher and cattleman, Dad, made sure that we had something significant (at least from his perspective!) to do on Labor Day. We’ve been gone from the ranch since ’88 but I’m pretty sure we got up earlier and worked harder,…and longer on Labor Day than most every other day! It’s how he celebrated it, if you know what I mean!
It seemed that he’d save one of those jobs that you really just ‘didn’t want to do’ for that particular Monday every year. One such example would be when we cleaned out the scales that were used for weighing cattle. The scales were an extremely important fixture on the ranch, in that we sold thousands of head of cattle every year and just about every one of those cattle had to be weighed, coming in….and going out.
For starters, the floor of the scales was lined with bridge timbers; boards about 4 inches thick, a foot and a half wide and about 14 feet long and weighing a couple hundred pounds. We’d remove a couple of them just so we could squeeze down underneath the floor and clean out the ‘knives’ of the scales (a part of the scales that were in each of the four corners, which when they were caked up with dirt and manure didn’t work like they were supposed to and would cause an inerrant weight on the cattle). Keep in mind that Labor Day being the first Monday in September…the weather in the Texas Panhandle can still be scorching hot. Pretend just for a minute that you’re the one doing this. It’s probably about 120 degrees underneath those scales, not one single breath of air to be had. You squeeze down underneath the floor of the scales and head toward one of the four corners with your wire brush to start your work. You’re crawling through thick spider webs….with spiders attached…..some of which I seriously doubt their species has even been discovered yet….and all poisonous, you’re thinkin’! Oh, and did I say you’re using a flashlight to see because it’s pitch black under there?! It’s not a rare thing to encounter centipedes, a pack-rat or two and even though I never ran headlong into a snake….you just know in the back of your mind, they’re there!
It’s not a quick job by any means, it takes the better part of a half-hour to get the job knocked out, all the while in an uncomfortable position crawling on your belly in powdery dust and dried cow manure. Now, Dad, never bein’ one to half-ass do a job, would coach me from the upside. “Where you goin’?” “I’m going to the other side.” “You ain’t been there long enough ….brush ’em some more.” Finally, when you come up out of there you’re mad, soakin’ wet, covered in dust, dry manure, and cobwebs and coughing like you have TB! You immediately do a thorough check for spiders that might have ‘hitched’ a ride on you from down under. The last thing to do is to put the boards back on the floor of the scales and they’re good to go for another few years.
That’s just one little example of how we ‘celebrated’ Labor Day out on the ‘ol Lazy J….but, hey, the day’s still young. There’s bound to be some hay to haul, a windmill or some fence that needs fixin’! Happy Labor Day to ‘ya!
PS – As unpleasant as that job was…I’d give anything if I could get back under there one more time just to hear him coach me from the topside!