Sometimes, cowboys don’t smile back

One fall my husband decided to buy extra alfalfa, the idea being we could sell it during the winter and make some extra money. He stacked it behind the house so it would be easy to back trailers down the lane when people bought only a few bales.

It worked. By January, people passing by would see the nice big haystack and stop in for a few bales for their horses or show lambs. I’d open the gates for them, and while they were loading up I’d burn the trash and tend to other chores outside.

Our irrigation well had to be primed, so I’d carry a bucket of water from in the house, pour it in the big hose, then flip the switch. While I had it going I’d fill the drinking tubs and water everything that looked dry. It was a dry winter, and the famous New Mexico winds began in early February.

You’re ahead of me, aren’t you? Yep, sometimes I think I have scrambled eggs for brains. It was a clear, sunny, still February day and nobody was around when I decided to go ahead and burn the trash. I don’t know where that big wind came from, but it lifted some sparks out of the barrel and dropped them precisely on — the haystack.

It took maybe 10 seconds for the wind to turn those sparks to flames.

No problem, I thought. I’ll use the irrigation well to put it out. Only for some reason my legs didn’t work right. I tried to run and fell down. I gathered myself up, and couldn’t find my water bucket. I heard crackling noises and smelled smoke. My eyes wouldn’t focus. Where was the bucket? Finally, I got a pitcher from the house, but my hands shook so much half the priming water didn’t make it into the hose. I had to refill the pitcher.

Finally, I got the pump primed and water gushed out. By then, that hay was burning fine. The horse trailer parked beside the stack was smoking, too.

After what seemed like at least an hour, I managed to get the hoses strung together and water going in the right places. Only about a third of the hay was lost when I got the fire put out. Hay smolders, though, so I stayed there, water still running, practicing various explanations, until my husband came to the house.

It’s difficult to explain stupidity, though, so I resorted to my best smile (not realizing my face was grimy and my clothes were muddy and black) and said, “It caught fire, but I got it put out.”

Just then the floor fell out of his horse trailer. He did not smile back.

I learned something important that day. A cowboy will forgive you for ruining his hay, but you’d better not mess up his horse trailer.

Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her: