April 21st, 2024

Some lessons on the job are learned painfully

By Lethbridge Herald on June 4, 2022.

Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald

It’s a worn-out saying but it is indeed a small world. I learned that covering the last city council meeting when I was approached by mayor Blaine Hyggen during a break to fix the live stream of the meeting.

While I was sitting at the media desk, the mayor told me my name came up on the Victoria Day weekend. It turns out his father-in-law is Bob Baker who along with one of his brothers and dad Brian, used to run cattle at Highway (52) Feeders east of Raymond when I was a kid in the 1970s. Bob’s sister Maud and I attended school together until she headed south to get her education in Utah, presumably safe from all the Raymond rowdies, not that I know any.

I started working at the feedlot in Grade 11 when my late friend and neighbour Doug Bassett landed me a job after I drove him and future wife Annie Kanyo to see the Bee Gees and Heart at what is now the ENMAX Centre. 

I had a driver’s license but Doug didn’t yet. And in return for a job and free concert ticket, I drove the two in my parents’ 1963 Pontiac Laurentian to the city.

That Laurentian soon became mine because the folks weren’t fond of the smell of cow manure that permeated it every time I borrowed it for work.

At the feedlot, I got to know the Baker clan well. I was always assigned to sort cattle with them whenever they stopped by on a weekend to get a load ready for market. My job was to run the back  gate of pens as the Bakers determined which cattle were fat enough to be sold and which needed more time at the feed trough. With whip in hand, I had to be quick on my feet as cattle owners would quickly determine which were ready. Sometimes that meant doing some pretty nifty moves with one hand on the gate and another on the whip to make sure cattle went the right direction.  The gate person had to have co-ordination and timing  – which still surprises me that I actually did, to be honest.

Whenever they dropped by, cattle boss Dooley Robinson would have me work with them and I always enjoyed it. The Bakers were friendly and easy to work with. They were extremely meticulous when it came to choosing animals to go to the packing plant which could make the cattle antsy and that made my job at times pretty demanding because I sometimes had to herd cattle back with quick flicks of the whip and the occasional body block when they’d burst past the three.

On one occasion after they’d been doing multiple pens on a frigid winter day, Dooley stopped by to check their progress and for some reason told me to touch my nose. I had no idea why until I realized I couldn’t feel it – the thing was frozen. So off to the office I went to thaw and he finished the pen.

So when the mayor mentioned Bob, it brought back a lot of memories from times gone by when life was simpler.

The feedlot gave us all of a kids who had jobs there a good work ethic. That I and feedlot owner Ross Nilsson’s son Bruce learned well one day. 

We were stacking straw bales onto a flatbed trailer to lay down in some of the pens along Alley 1 which was across the canal that traversed the property. And being kids, we wanted to get the job done so we could get home and go cruising with our pals or whatever we had planned.

We hastily packed the trailer as high as we dared. I clambered atop it and Bruce got behind the wheel of the tractor. 

As soon we drove across the bridge over the canal, Bruce made a sharp left turn, hit a bump and all hell broke loose. I flew over the front of the trailer, somehow missing both the hitch and the rear wheels of the tractor and got run over. And a bunch of the bales went flying, too. 

Bruce thought he’d killed me but his dad was ready to do us both in. Between the bales and the tractor, we were blocking a lane used by feed trucks and other vehicles and of course, the straw wasn’t getting laid down. And he rightfully blamed us both.

So we had to redo the stacking job – more carefully of course – and finish what would have been done a lot quicker if we hadn’t played around on the job.

Lesson learned and never forgotten – do the job right the first time. Decades later, Bruce and I are still friends. And we will always have that memory – painful in my case – to laugh about.

Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter.

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