Fence work turns into fishing trip

Glenda Pirce

The bossman bid on a fence building job along the right-of-way of a newly paved road in the northern New Mexico mountains. He didn’t tell the ranch hands about it until he actually got the contract in hand.

All chores having to do with fencing — building, repairing, riding in search of problems — are WAY far down the list of jobs cowboys like, even below corral cleaning.

Fences on most ranches are made of four-strands of barbed wire strung on cedar posts. This highway job, though, was different. They needed steel posts. Supposedly, that was better (read easier) because rather than digging post holes, then tamping the dirt down tight after the posts were set, the steel posts could be driven into the dirt with some special equipment.

It was summertime, cool in the mountains, the cowboys needed their jobs, the bossman offered a bonus if they finished on time. They all packed up their bedrolls, gloves, assorted other personal equipment and headed for the mountains.

The boss’s wife was drafted as camp cook, which was not good, but when a crew like this has worked really hard all day any old food will do as long as there’s plenty of it, and she got that part right.

Two cabins were rented. They had running water, but no bath facilities. A lady down the road, though, offered her bathtub, water, soap, etc., for a small fee. At least they could clean up.

Everything went great the first few days. Then came the problem. The boss had not realized much of the fence line was through solid rock. Many spots required blasting to loosen things up so the posts could be driven.

The cost went up, of course, the profit went down, the bossman’s ulcers acted up. This was not a happy camp. Until…

One afternoon they quit a little early and one of the hands happened to have a little red (of all colors) dry fly. He rigged up a line and pole with that red fly — and caught a mess of trout.

You’d have thought he’d struck gold from the celebration. The boss’s wife did know how to cook trout, and they had a feast that night for supper. From then on everybody trooped down to that pond every chance they got, some other flies proved successful as well, and supper turned out to be a fun time. They even got out a set of dominoes and played “Shoot the Moon” — for money, of course.

They learned first-hand the truth of Henry David Thoreau’s observation, “That man is the richest whose treasures are the cheapest.”

At last the fence topped the rocky hill, and they could drive the posts into genuine dirt for a change. They finished the job on time, and the cowboys all got their bonuses.

Barbed wire, Joseph Glidden’s great invention, was never viewed the same by that crew after this adventure. Still, word got around, and for years afterward when cowboys came to the ranch looking for work they asked, “Are you building fence?”