Cattle Catcher

“Your want me to run to the store for you?” I asked Mom as I grabbed my truck keys.

Mom looked at me, “Sure, if you don’t mind.”

Looking out the door, I saw cousin Danny’s little ranch car was parked in the way. They called it the little ranch car because it rarely ever left the ranch.

It could usually be found over loaded with bales of hay and oats circling around the feeder lots. But every once in a while Danny would take it out on the road if it was convenient.

“Hey, Danny, your car’s in the way,” I shouted.

He stepped around the corner from the front room and tossed me the keys, “Take her instead,” Danny said.

Danny disappeared back towards the front room. I hung my keys back up and stepped out onto the porch.

It had been raining all day and the wet weather had just begun to let up. By this time though it was past sunset and would rapidly be dark before I got back from the market.

The market was only ten minutes away.  And all I needed to get was some milk and an extra dozen eggs for breakfast the next day. I hopped in Danny’s ranch wagon, adjusted the seat, turned on the ignition, fastened the seat belt, and away I went.

It was less than half a mile to Rohnerville Road from Mom’s home. I had traveled the dirt by-way several hundred times in the many years she had lived there.

Danny had been listening a sports-station. I looked down at the radio and reached for the tuning knob at the same time as my rear-view mirror reflected the lack of light as the day faded away.

Then I looked up.

In front of me was a large brown and white dappled object. I struck it almost as soon as my headlights shined on it and just a fraction of a second faster than I could process what the object was.

Thump! Smash!

The object came crashing through the windshield after the car’s front-end hit it. Then everything grew black.

My years of professional driving came back to me as if by instinct. I stepped solidly on the brake pedal, feeling the rear end swing wide to the right and then to the left, forcing the vehicle to a stop.

I could hardly breathe as the car’s seat was laid back and this object had poured itself into the cab of the car and was resting on top of him.

It was a cow!

My body felt wet and warm. It was blood.

I was bleeding, my hands were trapped and I started to panic, when I suddenly heard a voice say, “Good God, he’s still alive.”

“Hey, help me, get me out,” I tried to yell, but the cow’s weight was slowly crushing me and getting enough air to speak was a labor.

“Help’s on its way, cowboy,” I heard a female voice say.

At the same time I could feel somebody tugging at the lifeless and limp mass of animal flesh resting on my upper body.

After a few more pulls they gave up and someone said, “It no use, the damned things stuck and it’s stuck but good.”

I concentrated on trying to breathe as deeply as I could.

In the distance I heard the fire department siren sound. I knew that fire-rescue would be there within minutes.

I continued to concentrate on my deep breathing.

Anticipation made the minutes go by like hours. Finally the first fire truck pulled up and for the first time since I had hit the cow I could see fractures of light, which came from the headlights of a fire rig.

My head was pinned against the broken car seat. The cows’ backbone was holding it down and to the right.

The cows’ rear end was resting against the passenger seat. I could tell it was the rear end because I could see the tail and smell the fresh manure.

“Gees, this guys full of blood,” I heard a voice say, “But he’s got a pulse.”

Suddenly, I was aware at that moment that a hand had been touching my neck, checking for a heartbeat. And just as suddenly I became aware that I could not feel the rest of my body.

“Can you hear me?” the voice shouted.

“Yeah,” I managed to wheeze.

“We’re going to get you out just as soon as we figure out how to get the cow out of there,” he said, adding, “Okay?”

Again I wheezed out, “Yeah.”

Meanwhile another voice was trying to get information from me, asking  “What’s your name?”

I responded with more wheezing.

Within minutes they had a plan. First they would wrap a couple of chains around the dead carcass and attach it to an auto wrecker that had arrived at the scene.

Next their plan called for the wrecker to pull the animal up. Meanwhile the fire department would take the hydraulic extraction system, called the Jaws of Life, and cut away the posts and roll the roof back as if it were a convertible.

The chains rattled and clanked against the car as they were passed through the area that had been the windshield and were tightly secured around the body of the cow. I could hear the sound of the winch as the slack in the chain was taken up and within seconds the cow’s weight was off of me and I could breath freely again.

That’s when the hydraulic scissors kicked in. In one clean bite the first post above my head was cut away. The second post on the other side popped in two as the Jaws of Life made short work of it.

Then the cow rolled away and could be heard dropping to the earth with a dull thud.

Instantly my body started tingling. It was coming back to life and proving it with the sharp stabbing pain normally inflicted by resting on one’s knees or elbow for too long.

As my body came back to life, the fire fighters quickly strapped a neck brace on me and secured my blood soaked body to a long board. I was gently shoved into a running ambulance and rushed to the waiting emergency room.

For two hours, two nurses and a doctor went over me. I was covered in blood but did not have a scratch, walking out of the hospital with only a sore back.

Later it was discovered that the cow’s juggler vein had been cut upon impact with the ranch car. It bled all over me since he was lying right under the head.

That is probably what saved my life as it stopped the mortally wounded animal from thrashing around. The horns had only been a few inches from my neck and chest.

The other thing that saved my life that evening was the seat. It broke upon impact.

The doctor said if it had not, I would have been crushed to death by the eleven hundred pounds of bovine flesh, as it smashed through the window.

As it turned out, the cow belonged to Danny. Much of his property runs parallel to the road.

How she got out  of the pasture was never discovered.

And as for the little ranch car, it can still be seen toting an over loaded trunk of hay and oats out to the feeder lots. It has also been used three or four times to pull at a birthing calf.

Danny hosed out the interior to get rid of the dried blood, then he set himself to working the roof down and into place. It took nearly an entire Saturday afternoon but he finally managed to weld the posts back into place.

To this day I’m constantly the source of family fun. Someone inevitably says something like, “Don’t send him to the store, he can’t tell the difference between a gallon of milk and a side of beef.”

From there, the laughing gets a little too loud for me.

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