Galloping horses and stray bullets

Last column, I wrote about the dangers prairie kids faced get­ting to school in midwinter 60 or 70 years ago. If you thought that was scary, read on about our summers.

When the snow disappeared, the school-van drivers mounted the old wooden vans on running gears made from retired Fords. Pulled by a team of spirited horses, a van had a top speed equal to the Model T that had supplied the rubber-tired chassis. If a runaway occurred as the van started downhill, it could reach more than 30 miles per hour.

That happened with me on board a day or two before school ended one spring in the mid 1940s.

The driver allowed a teenage boy to take the reins. He carelessly let them slip from his grasp so they slid through the slot in the front door that opened over the wagon tongue.

The horses took off at full gallop with the reins dragging on the ground between them. Why do horses always want to show the world how fast they can go? As the van rocked on its chassis, the kids on board leaped backward from the rear door, hitting the road running.

As we watched the van thundering downhill, we could not see the driver who performed like the cowboy he pretended to be. He opened the door at the front of the van, walked the wagon tongue between the galloping horses, leaped on the back of one, scooped up the reins, and stopped them. We all ran down the hill, retrieving the driver’s Stetson on the way, and climbed on board to continue the drive home. None of us received injuries worse than a scrape or a bruise, but we could have died.   

The same coyotes who stalked us on dark winter mornings hung around all summer, but now we turned the tables on them. Discarding fence posts as weapons we armed ourselves with 22 calibre rifles and stalked them. I personally never got one, but I did serious damage to gophers and crows.

One day, frustrated by my lack of hunting prowess, I took aim at a sparrow inside our driving shed. Before I could fire, it fled. I dropped the rifle down with such force it discharged. I had been standing on a discarded board, making it easy to see where the bullet had entered a fraction of an inch from my little toe. 

I often hunted with a friend, Verne. Picture two armed teenage boys prowling the countryside. For a reason that not even a teenager could understand, I decided to carry my rifle behind my back with both arms hooked over it at the elbows. We walked side by side with Verne opposite the business end of the gun. I thought nothing of it until I returned it to a more appropriate position and discovered I had left it cocked all the time.

I grew up in summers equally as dangerous as winters. I don’t have space to tell of the near hits with farm tractors and machinery.

My friend Verne died about 60 years after that hunting misadventure. When I think back, it amazes me that either of us lived beyond our teens. Don’t belittle young people today. Those I know have more safety sense than we did.    


Ray Wiseman