by Newt Harlan
Miss Edie and I went out to Eastgate for lunch over the weekend and had the good fortune to run into my old cowboy friend, Homer Hoffer. Usually when I come across Homer and the boys around lunchtime, I spring for the lunch just for the privilege of listening to the tales they have to tell about their adventures as working cowboys. Well, this time ol' Homer turned the tables on me and invited Miss Edie and me to join him and the boys, and it was his treat since he was spending his "railroad money."
I could smell a story coming up right off because I knew that Homer, like his daddy before him, had never done anything in his life but fool around with working cows and the various other jobs that go with the cow business such as raising hay, building fences and doctoring livestock. I knew for a fact he damn sure didn’t now (and had never) worked on the railroad.
We sat down and, risking a kick in the shin under the table from Miss Edie for being rude and meddling in somebody's business, I excused myself and asked Homer to tell me about the "railroad money" that was buying our lunch.
Of course, Homer and I have been friends long enough that he'd have told me without my asking and, in fact, this was one reason he had invited me to sit in the first place, but protocol dictated that I apologize and ask him about the money so he'd have an excuse to tell the story.
He began, "Newt, remember that little blue bremmer yearlin' bull that I bought from them Seagraves over in Dayton here about three-four years ago and named Blue?" I reckoned that I did, and he continued. "Well, that rascal turned out to be one helluva good herd bull. He kept every heifer in the herd either knocked-up or with a calf sucking, just like a good bull ought to, and every one of them calves he marked, hell, they was ready for market damn near two months before they would be out of any other bull, and every one brought top dollar. Yes sir, he turned out to be a fine animal, just like I knew he would."
Homer realized suddenly that Miss Edie was at the table with us and was as embarrassed as a preacher with a broken zipper on his fly, and started apologizing. Miss Edie assured Homer she knew all about bulls and heifers and having babies and stuff, so she wasn't bothered by cow talk. Homer did one last "scuse me, ma'am" and returned to his story.
"Well, here about two months ago ol' Blue turned up missin'. We was a runnin' him with that little herd we keep down in the bottoms by Victor Switch, and we gathered 'em up for doctorin' and cullin' and we couldn't find ol' Blue. We looked everywhere, even got Ben Radcliff to bring his dogs out to sniff out them yaupon-palmetto thickets, but no luck. We looked for the better part of two days 'til we finally give up."
"Late that afternoon, me and the boys was ridin' along the railroad tracks there at Victor Switch, takin' a little short-cut back to the catch pens where we'd left our trucks, when James Hobbs noticed the buzzards aworkin' somethin' up ahead. We rode on up and looked and, sure as hell, there was something that had been hit by a train laying there by the tracks. Now, I couldn't say it was and I couldn't say it wasn't Blue, 'cause what the train hadn't chewed up, the buzzards had, but it had been some kind of cow."
"Anyway, Jimmy Ray listened to my story and told me that if he was me, that he'd sue the damn railroad for $5000 for killin' my bull. I figgered I didn't have a chance since I'd only paid $500 for the ol' bull and he probably shouldn't have been on the tracks, but Jimmy said it didn't matter because the bull was just small potatoes to a big company like the railroad and that they'd settle just for public relations. The more beer I drank and the more I thought, the better I liked the idea, and by going home time, me and the railroad were well on our way to going to court."
"In my papers I was asking for $5,000 for the bull, and his clients were only prepared to offer about $2,500, saying that although they had it on good authority that bull was indeed a good herd bull, that he wasn’t purebred and they thought $2,500 was a fair price. I did me a little quick arithmetic on the deal: $500 to buy the bull, few or no expenses since then, so that made me a neat $2,000. I'd heard somewhere that I should get something for pain and suffering, so I told him I'd settle for $3,000 and knowing that a lawyer could find a loophole in the Ten Commandments, that I wanted cash in hand before I settled anything. Newt, let me tell you, that sonuvabitch had his billfold out and counted out thirty $100 bills before I could blink twice and put them in my hand. I recounted them and put them in my pocket. He handed me two or three release forms to sign, which I did, we shook hands and that was that . . . well almost."
Newt tells us about himself:
I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of a few brief sojourns and the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've spent the more than 65 years of my life within spittin’ distance of the place where I grew up. I managed to cram a four-year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that remarkable feat, I am a former student of six different schools, which sure helps the odds of rooting for a winner in sporting events. The academic standards committee had a moment of weakness and I was the fortunate recipient of a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
I've been married for 30-some odd years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. I'm now retired after having spent the better part of the past 37 years traveling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama, trying to sell steel products. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories.
Want to read more of Newt’s stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
Belly Waddin' Lunch
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