My Last Day (Based on a true story)
1977. For a second time the high plains of southwestern Wyoming experienced an economic boom. When I told a family friend that I was getting a hair cut for job interviews she called her husband—owner of an oil field construction company. I started “tomorrow 7:00 AM sharp. Six days per week.” I found employment within four hours after arriving from college.
The oil field construction business must have been good. A new red twenty-disc plow, new green thirty-disc crop seeder, and a slightly used gooseneck flat bed trailer were waiting to be assembled behind a one-ton winch truck.
While the son and his friend loaded and tied down the farm implements I received the second surprise — we picked up thirty bags of prairie seeds and a card with the blending recipe.
Okay, I give up. My father had been in the oil business for twenty plus years. I wondered what all this farm equipment and seeds had to do with oil. I spent the summer seeding non-producing oil drilling locations — dry holes.
The rest of the day was a tour of the first six holes across a strip of land five miles wide by eighty miles long.
Summer in Wyoming was a good deal — clear sunrises, 72o , and wildlife. The job was simple: Every Monday we deposited the equipment at the first dry hole then the owner drove by the six to ten locations on the week’s schedule. Tuesday through Saturday, I traveled around in circles until every square inch of bare soil at the dry-hole contained the prescribed combination of seeds.
Marriage was a couple months away when I decided to skip the fall quarter. Work, work, work. There was plenty of overtime pay, which kept me in gas and wax for my new pickup.
The days between Labor Day and November eighteenth were a blur. But, on 11-19-77 a miniature version of the hundred-year snowstorm; and, the last day of work for the son, his friend, and me combined for a most memorable day. The clear sky meant a cold day lie ahead, and fresh snow drifts.
We left Rock Springs at 7:30 AM dreading the work in that wind. Twenty-five miles east we encountered a slight flurry and a decreasing wind. At forty miles we exited I-80 onto Patrick Draw Road and drove north for fifteen miles, away from pavement. The snow continued to fall, but the wind had stopped.
Loading the plow and seeder without the winch truck turned into a major project. But we were three smart college-educated men with levers. Not! The snowfall restricted sight to half a mile, and the wind returned.
We ate lunch. The storm report from KVRS was simple; large fast moving storm and the disk jockey could not see across the road. Our sight line reduced to one-quarter mile and the snow fell almost horizontal.
A mile from the location we got stuck cutting a corner avoiding a drift. We found a fifty-five gallon drum top, a camp shovel, a pair of orange rubber gloves, a spool of pink warning ribbon, and a forty-foot rope. Snow filled the tracks nearly as fast as we shoveled. Sight was limited to ten feet in front of the truck.
“We need guidance,” the son said. “Since you are familiar with this road, walk the road and we will follow. Here, wear these gloves.”
“I could die if we lost sight of each other, or you ran over me if I fell.” My heart pounded, as I feared for my life.
The friend chimed in — for the first time since they loaded the new farm equipment in June. “How about we tie the rope to the bumper and you? We can place some warning ribbon on the rope so we know where to follow. Besides you are the smallest one here.” Said as a joke, but the message was very clear.
Fifteen minutes later the rope had ten strips of pink ribbon, and I had orange gloves.
Cold that froze my hands. Biting wind that pelted my face. Growing knee-deep drifts that froze my pant legs. And an anger that fueled my willpower to survive. I am happy angels were also working overtime in mysterious ways.
The truck dutifully followed as I dredged through the shifting snow wandering from side to side for forty minutes. After that I warmed in the truck for ten minutes. The windows fogged while the orange gloves covered the defroster vent.
Fifteen minutes later, the sight line extended to a quarter mile. For a slow three miles, still tied to the bumper, I rode in the cab alternating hands between the defroster and the frozen rope, which I kept taut from the tires. Suddenly, the son stopped, jumped out of the truck, and removed the rope. “That is enough of that.”
Upon arriving at the Patrick Draw on-ramp the storm was again only flurries. Not a word spoken to the barn.
The following Saturday I married. Stepping outside for a moment, on my parent’s car two orange gloves and a card held together with pink warning ribbon. Peeling back the ribbon I found a picturesque snow scene on the front flap and inside two fifty-dollar bills and the hand written message:
You might have saved our lives. Thank you.
Hope you have a happy life together.
P.S. Buy a decent pair of gloves.
As a young boy at family gatherings, I recall listening to the men after a meal. The opinions around the subjects of politics, car brands, hippies, and rock n roll filled the room with energy like aromatic smoke from a pipe. But, when the story telling began everyone found a seat or patch of floor. We sat for hours absorbing the stories, fact or fiction, that shaped who we became and it strengthened our imaginations. Fifty years later I know that a world without imagination would be pretty boring.
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