How many cows does Father's Day cost?

Ranchers are frugal. Look to their antique collection of just-in-case machinery spare parts of metal and wood scraps as proof. They would never throw away a perfectly good 1928 thrasher. Could use the pulleys in it in the old '46 scrapper stored up in the sagebrush that the '68 tractor could pull as long as it's still running. And it will run as soon as the battery charges, the plugs get cleaned, and better check the filters too.

Frugal ranchers are very difficult to get gifts for Father's Day. They have every piece of rusted equipment ever manufactured and all the necessary accessories conceivably adapted from other pieces of salvaged scrap lovingly stored, in the open, either next to their shop, or in the sagebrush not to far from the shop yard.

Father ranchers value a good deal. They will drive 50 to 100 miles towing an 18-foot trailer with homemade improvements welded on. The improvements allow the trailer to haul more of those metal bits of engine and machine, fence posts, assorted wire, industrial pumps and miles of irrigation pipe, hoses and fittings offered for sale along roadsides or auctions.

Place of purchase has no prestige for a rancher. Unlike the "He went to Jared's" holiday commercials, ranchers will go anywhere and hold in high regard any place where inexpensive stuff is being sold or given away. These are usually auctions. Military auctions seem the most popular. The military is always selling extremely interesting and essential materials that could be put to good use if one is creative enough with a welder, a plasma cutter or a torch.

There are wonderful treasures at family farm auctions too if you don't focus on the fact the sale is because another family is leaving the agriculture business. These fellow farmer and ranchers bid against you at local auctions. Sometimes paying the extra dollar or two for that thing with the flange and the filter trap you were looking at that would work on the pump system you've been designing in your head, with some modifications, of course. Maybe today you will be the winning bidder.

It is always hard to buy something for a rancher that he doesn't already have in bits and pieces laying around his place. And it is impossible to purchase anything without the rancher comparing how many cows it takes to buy the item being considered.

A dump truck was sold, I was informed, to buy the diamond engagement ring I wear. Some fine heifers could have been purchased for the selling price of that dump truck. It ran, had a few miles on it, but the tires were still good. Pure romance wells up inside remembering that bit of information.

When repeatedly told a new pickup use to cost the same as a cow in the good old days, it is difficult to know which gift to encourage the children to buy for their very practical rancher father. A good used backhoe takes about 30 to 40 cows, a plasma cutter 10 or 11. A necktie?

Whatever we decide we better go count how many cows we have in the field first to make sure we can afford it. And I'll keep in mind how many fine heifers could be purchased if I find something romantic, but still with good tires on it.

-- Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher. Her column appears monthly in The Record-Courier.


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