Bring on the muck!

Helen Row Toews

As soon as the weather gets warm and snow starts melting in the cow pen, I think of my old job driving a poop truck cleaning corrals. Yes it’s true, while the thoughts of others (normal folk) lean toward visions of green grass or the shimmer of fresh new poplar leaves, I think of cow muck arcing through the air from the whirling blades of a reeking truck. Nice hey?

It was usually April when I’d receive a call from Dave, my boss, saying it was dry enough to fire up engines and head out for another year of uncertain terrain and dodgy corrals. Another season of manure pelting down my shirt and raining across my upturned face. But I liked the job. After all, you haven’t really lived, as a woman, until you’ve experienced the thrill of wiping calcified cow crap from your lipstick or felt the exhilaration of a stiff breeze lifting your hair, thickened and heavy with dung, away from your head in a solid matt. Life was good. Even when I made stupid mistakes and incurred the wrath of my boss who occasionally leaned in the truck window to straighten me out.

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The very first day I worked there he’d warned me. “If you’re gonna stay,” he said, “you might get yelled at. I don’t mean it and you’ll have to let it roll off you. I just tell it like it is. OK?” he confirmed with a sideways glance.

“OK,” I agreed, wondering what was in store. There hadn’t been a lot of hollering in my previous job shuffling books in a library, or when I sold low-end women’s clothing at the mall, but I was in a man’s world now and knew things would be different.

The first time it happened we were working at the bottom of a steep hill. Dave was already there with several men, and radioed for me to proceed down the grade. I started off in a low gear, but still the truck gathered too much speed. He looked up sharply as I rumbled toward him, braking. Not a word was said in front of the men, or over the radio for all to hear and laugh, but he motioned me to stop. Bounding from his CAT he strode to the side of my truck and leapt onto the running boards. Tersely he explained I must use the lowest gear possible on a hill, and allow the truck’s own engine to keep the speed down, not the brakes.

The next time occurred when he arrived late to a farm. We’d unloaded the equipment and lined up in neat formation, waiting. Finally, I’d gotten out a book I always carried and read several pages before his face exploded into view at the truck window.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” he bawled through the glass, his eyes bulging in disbelief.

“Nothing,” I stammered, rearing back in surprise, but that was the whole problem. I soon learned to first busy myself with things that might need attention on the truck before I ever again did “nothing.”

While sometimes I received loud instruction, I appreciated being treated like one of the men and recall those lessons now with a smile. For the last few years of my employ I became a trusted member of his crew who passed along what I’d learned to others, and will always think fondly of my call to arms in spring. Bring on the muck.

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