Down the Line


Marlboro hanging from his weathered lips and Wranglers dangling from his narrow hips, the old-timer casually approached the bleeting animal. Petting it gently atop its head, he whispered something kind into the goat’s ear, undid the makeshift leash of orange twine and started to lead the brown and white spotted animal toward the back of the building. Not more than a couple years old, that mammal seemed more like a faithful dog than anything, a spring in its step and loving obedience in its eye as it followed that weathered cowpoke. The illusion ended quickly.

“Oh no,” a woman cried out. “Someone has got to stop him and quick.”

Ignoring the pleas, the old-timer gave the goat another couple of strokes, muttered “Sorry about this Billy” and then reached around to the large sheath on the back of his belt. The knife’s blade gleamed in the sunlight, as man and beast vanished behind the building.

“I knew the goat would come to no good,” the woman preached to everyone in earshot. “And to think, he used to bottle-feed the animal. I tell you what! What a disgrace.”

Later that afternoon, the woman’s pleas were long gone during a cook-out in little Billy’s honor. Mouthfuls of the main course swimming in a stomach full of Coors, her tune had changed. “Goat’s not half bad if you keep it from eating garbage,” she declared to anyone who’d listen. “Raise it on grass and treat it like one of the family, that’s what I say. If the goat gets a sour attitude, it can taint the meat. And then there’s the matter of a proper kill … .”

Meanwhile, I grudgingly ate a small piece of Billy, taking the mouthful down like a horse pill riding on a large swallow of keg beer. Knowing that branding season and the last cook-out were far off made the bites go easier. Back then, pieces of manhood – “the finest chunk of meat on the cow,” as the ranch’s owner regularly professed – would be sizzling on the grill.

Almost in response to the thought, the ranch owner approached me. He muttered something about missing the spring cook-out, looked at his goat and potatoes with a disappointed eye and then got serious. “It’s only for a couple weeks, but someone’s coming to help you on that old fenceline,” he said. “That fence is a hundred years old; it’s in pieces; and most important, our friend’s a little down on his luck.”

The next morning, the haze of cheap beer and weird meat were still hanging with me. The sun was just rising over the western edge of the San Juan Mountains, and a classic 1975 powder blue Ford pickup pulled into the driveway. Behind the wheel was none other than the former goat owner.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” he smiled through stained teeth, big blade still hanging in the sheath on his belt. “Name’s William Timothy, but you better call me W.T.”

Both the man and the truck were already American relics. But that Ford rarely rattled, thanks to hundreds of pieces of well-placed wire. I should know. I spent the better part of two years riding shotgun (so much for a few weeks, huh?). “Three parts baling wire. One part Red, White & Blue,” W.T. would chuckle, slapping the dashboard to prove his point.

A monument to wire, the truck’s bed contained a knot of barbed wire, fuel for the constant patching of fences. Empty jars of pipe dope, a handful of snuff cans, empty cigarette packs (W.T. was a master of both ends of the tobacco game) along with several blown-out, right-handed gloves littered the floor.

When it was running, W.T. wore that truck like an old shirt, comfortable at the wheel and driving with pride. Plus, he handled that car like a delicate lady, never too hard on the gas, quick on the clutch and opting for lower gears over brakes.

Of all the dated powder blue pickups in rural San Miguel County, W.T.’s was easiest to spot. The gun rack was always empty, the lazy speedometer needle always hung just below 40 mph, and Patsy Cline was usually warbling at low volume through its tired speakers.

The man handled his ranching in a similar manner – never working too quickly, always polishing the job to perfection and setting fence that would last and withstand the undoing of dozens of years.

Here I sit nearly two decades later, and I know that fenceline is still tight as piano string, stubbornly withstanding the steady tick of time. And somehow I know that same old Ford and that same old driver are also keeping on, still bumping down a dusty road, “Sweet Dreams” sounding through the speakers, empty tins of Copenhagen keeping time in my old seat. I reckon I can even hear old W.T. say, “I reckon ... .”

Yep, somehow they’ve managed to dodge the pavement and been missed by the subdivisions. Hopefully they’re playing smart and hiding out, training that empty gun rack on the Hummers, the private jets and high-end housing and keeping a little of the old time feeling alive. Someone’s got to do it, for all of us. And if poor little Billy needs to be taken out to lunch to make it all happen, so be it. Hell, I even hope the grill’s still sizzling during branding season.

– Will Sands

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows