In February 1973, the days of hauling small bales on a wooden hayrack pulled by a team of heavy horses to feed the cows were almost past. However, Millarville, Alberta, rancher Winston Parker still adhered to the old tradition with help from my brother, Art. I jumped at the chance to tag along with them one Sunday morning.
I needed to shoot black-and-white pictures depicting a winter activity for my photography class at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary.
That Sunday morning dawned a milky winter day with little delineation between the horizon and the sky. Even the Rocky Mountains to the west were obscured and there was no sunshine in the forecast. However, it could have been worse because there wasn’t a blizzard driving white-out conditions.
Listen up, Elaine
Before we entered the barn, Winston got my undivided attention with two stern warnings. First, I wasn’t to get near his workhorses, Bobby and the Baron, especially the Baron. He tended to be a little skittish at the best of times. If I spooked the team, I might cause a runaway that could result in one of us getting hurt, the horses injured, the cattle scattered or the rack wrecked.
Second, I wasn’t to pet Smokey, the dog; he didn’t like strangers either.
To start the day, the team pulled the empty red rack to the stack where Winston and Art loaded 80 small square bales. Winston fed a total of 160 bales daily, which meant a trip back to a stack to manhandle some more feed. The 160-bale total of hay or green feed didn’t include the straw Winston put out to bed his cows.
Breakfast is served
Winston’s Hereford cows patiently waited for breakfast in two different pastures. Always keen on increasing efficiency, Winston engineered his own hatchet that he and Art used to cut the bale strings.
When the snow was deep, Winston traded his rubber-tired red rack for one with sleigh runners, also painted red. His heavy horse team didn’t flinch at the weight they pulled or the predictability of the daily morning routine.
Don’t forget the watering hole
Winston’s sidekick, Smokey, supervised the cattle feeding. He also jumped down off the rack to watch Winston cut holes in the ice on Sheep Creek where the cows could get water. Feeding the cows took the better part of each winter morning no matter what the weather.
Back at the barn
When feeding was done for another day, Winston put up his harness. Bobby and the Baron headed out of the barn. They had the rest of the day off.
When Winston and Art headed up to the house, Marj had a pot of steaming coffee and a stack of sandwiches waiting. Winston carried the bridles indoors. That ensured the bits wouldn’t be ice-cold the next morning when he went to harness Bobby and the Baron.
I had a great time that long ago morning. Although the horses, the dog and even the cows scrutinized me carefully, my presence didn’t create havoc. That was a relief.
That spring, when our class staged its photo exhibition, Winston, an enthusiastic amateur photographer himself, attended. He was pleased with the display of pictures I had taken during my Sunday ride-along. He was even more pleased when I sold the photos and a story to The Western Producer. It’s a farm newspaper headquartered in Saskatoon, Sask.
A few months later when the feature story was published, Winston’s friends and neighbors congratulated him. They were glad he had provided me with an opportunity to document a disappearing facet of farm life.
By then, massive tractors hauling huge bales of hay were used to feed the cows and still are. However, it still takes a dedicated cattleman to see it gets done.
A gentleman of the old school
Winston was such an extraordinary friend that I was honored to write “Saddles and Service: Winston Parker’s Story.”
In his book, Winston used several of my photographs. He also shared a selection of his own shots including a cow whose face was filled with porcupine quills. He explained, “I took great pride in my cattle and took good care of them. Perhaps that’s why I shot so many photos of them.”
I cherish the memory of tagging along with Winston and Art. Funny, though, it doesn’t seem like that Sunday field trip took place 50 years ago.
Know of anyone who enjoys reminiscing about rural life? If so, please share this post. It would please Winston immensely to be remembered and you’ll make my day, too.
To learn more about my friend, Winston Parker, click on these links to other posts about him.
- Every Day is Memorial Day for Wayne Givens - May 26, 2023
- A Woman Ahead of Her Time - May 5, 2023
- Spring in an Old Texas Cemetery - April 21, 2023
Those photography and journalism school assignments must have yielded some rich material right across the country. I’m so glad you saved these great photos and shared them here. Happy new year!
Thanks, Elinor. A plastic box containing many of my vintage black and white negatives took a hit a couple of years ago when my office flooded, but they survived. I’m not sure why I saved these images and hauled them with me over the years. I’m so happy to have the opportunity to share them.
Enjoyed reading about feeding cows in Canada. I relate to feeding cows as I feed two longhorns every day. My job is much easier as it evolves a bucket and a garbage can full of cubes.
I bet your two longhorns are big babies! I know you must enjoy their personalities, as well as their handsome beauty!
Dear, Dear Elaine. Thank you so much for more insight into my late cherished friend, Winston. I knew about this cerebrally of course but my relationship with him came too many years later to have witnessed and appreciated it in these wonderful surroundings I now call home. I had seen it in smaller “cameos” on farms in UK and watched Jenny’s 80+ year-old grandfather take on such tasks while refuting my 25 year-old ability to be able to help. I was not strong enough you see! Those characteristics so evident in Winston then were so very evident still up to his last days and we miss him enormously. Thank you again for reminding us of one of the best of those men and women of the “Greatest Generation.”
Malcolm, Winston promised my mother that he would help me with my ‘big’ photography assignments when I went to SAIT because he was so into photography and had quite a bit of influence on me. It won’t surprise you to learn that he was as good as his word. Whenever I needed a buddy to help me brainstorm and chase photos, there he was. We made lots of memories. It intrigued him that I went back to SAIT, developed and then printed the black and white film I shot. He always kept his fingers crossed that I didn’t ruin the raw film. Not every trip was a great success, but each one was a wonderful learning experience that I treasure.
I too have those small sets of B&W Negs that were so much a part of my time at College in the late ’50’s where I was able to use the College Dark Room to develop and print my pictures – mostly of College Sporting and Social Events such as the Spring Ball. Not nearly so challenging as your assignments and, I suspect, not nearly so generally or widely meaningful. Like you, I was always apprehensive when mixing the chemicals or timing the various stages and there are many brown stains on old photos which tell me I didn’t get it right. Fortunately for me, they did not have any bearing on my College grades but there are quite a few on the old College Webpage.
What wonderful reminisces, Malcolm. Thank you so much for sharing! I’m glad some of your photos have taken on a life of their own by leaving a record of you and your fellow students years ago. My best!
David and I both love reading your stories. It took us back a number of years when our daughter lived in Wyoming and left us to feed the cattle. Hard work, huge cattle, very cold, high snow drifts, etc. We learned cattlemen and women were a hearty stock. Thank you for sharing these wonderful stories with your readers.
So glad you enjoyed doing chores with Winston and Art. Yes, cattlemen are a hardy lot and always have been.
A wonderful story told with beautiful photos. Winston was a lovely man.
I love this! I may have to go back and read Winston’s book again!
Winston was a treasure, a man who definitely left his mark on the world – for the better.
Of course I have to love those beautiful Hereford cattle. What a lovely winter story of the great life of an early cattleman. As you say, it still takes a dedicated rancher even with modern aids. How great that you preserved this memory in words and photos!
Glad the sight of this fine Hereford herd from years ago resonated with you, Lemae. I was a very excited young photography student who didn’t want to cause any trouble. How to shoot the photos without getting in the way of the work was a good lesson in itself.
Another beautifully written memory accompanied by your unique photography Elaine. I keep learning more about my Uncle Win and so many others every time I read your literature as it paints such a moving and vivid storyline. So great your family and Uncle Win were blended as one in so many ways. Thank you for sharing. xo
Deb, I was so thrilled when your Uncle Win invited you to take his photo for the back cover of his book wearing an orange shirt. They are stunning photos. He was at ease with you and you were able to capture his energy and presence. Orange and olive green were his favorite colors. Happy memories!
Thanks for sharing. You are so fortunate to have such wonderful memories. The pictures are great.
Yet another talent of yours.
I’m glad you liked the pictures, Maureen. I recall that I got a passing grade on the assignment, but if there had been sunshine and pleasing shadows, the photos would have been better. I was just glad to capture the event!
As always, your talent shines!!
You are very kind. Thank you.
Re: Renate’s story. My father, Elvis Meiners, was a cousin of Harvey Meiners. My father had wanted to participate in the war effort but was rejected for poor vision. At that point, he was needed to maintain the vehicles of local citizens. I knew Harvey and Renate fairly well throughout my life. Renate was a true blessing to our family after she and Harvey married. Renate did a wonderful job of record-keeping for us. My daughter is now engaged in renovating one of the Meiners’ country homes. It will be wonderful to have many of the Meiners properties adjacent as they were many years ago.
Renate was an unforgettable woman – or should I also say force-for-good? My goodness, it seems as heartily as Harvey embraced her early life in Germany, Renate eagerly embraced his Texas roots, enhancing the family’s history through research and preservation. I loved her.
It seems that you got a good start on both your photography skills and writing skills. This story reminds me of summer days my brother and I would spend on my grandmother’s farm. Ah, such memories!
I’m glad these photos reminded you of pleasant memories. Your grandmother would be pleased!