Grandpa’s strategy for hiring men
As far back as I can remember, I was always fascinated with my granddad’s pocket knife. Grandpa Hopkins had a red-handled knife that he always carried. Granddad Cross had a yellow handled knife, and it was always with him. What I remember most, I wasn’t allowed to touch these knives. Why? Either knife was just like a razor. Both men hated a dull knife, and if you couldn’t shave with it, it was dull.
Grandpa Hopkins chewed plug tobacco. He had always had false teeth, so he cut off his chew with his pocket knife. Never a real big chew, but he usually had one. And you never saw him spit until he was ready to spit out the whole chew.
I spent a lot of time with Grandpa Hopkins, as they lived just a couple miles from us, and we were there about every day, as that is where the farming was.
Now along about then, the early ’40s, there wasn’t much mechanization, and most farm work required a strong back, and the more strong backs you had, the faster the job got done. There were quite a few men that worked for my dad and Grandpa, and they came every year at the appropriate season. But there was always a few coming around looking for work that were unknown.
Grandpa Hopkins had a big collie dog, “Boy,” and Boy would be your first test. If Boy didn’t like you, it was best if you just went on down the road. “A dog knows a lot more about a man than people do,” was a phrase I heard Grandpa Hopkins say many times. But if you did pass the Boy-test, before Grandpa would hire you, he would get around to borrowing your pocket knife for something or another, even though his was in his pocket. If the knife wasn’t sharp, best just leave. “Anyone that can’t keep his knife sharp likely wouldn’t be that good a help.”
Grandpa Hopkins moved off the farm about the time I started school, and he was a rural mail carrier for more than 20 years. But his knife was still sharp, and his plug of tobacco was in the glove box of the car. Boy only lived a few years after they moved to La Grange, Wyo.
Granddad Cross moved to Gering, Neb., in about ’46 or so, when my grandmother’s health had greatly failed. He still drove to the farm when he could, and his knife was still sharp.
My father-in-law was part of a large Wyoming ranch family, and they had a lot of hired men at various times of the year. And here again, many of the same men returned year after year at the appropriate time of the year. But he always said he’d never hire a man with a pair of gloves in his hip pocket. “They’re either taking them off or putting them on just about the time there’s work to be done.”
A well-known Wyoming cattle buyer worked for my father-in-law while he was in High School and college. Bob relates they didn’t have many days off, “unless there was a ropin’ Joe wanted to go to.” Most of the summer was before sunup to after sundown seven days a week. But after about a month of this a hair cut was needed, or a pair of Levis or gloves, or you just needed to go to town!
They would take off Saturday afternoon, and when they were ready to leave and of course, get paid, the hand’s would head to the cook house. Joe would have their wages figured and have enough cash on hand to pay them. But before they could leave, “Just as well play a few hands of cards before you take off, and every time we’d fall for it.” The poker game was on! It didn’t take long before Joe had all of them cleaned out, and then he’d advance them enough to get a haircut or whatever they needed.
Come fall, and time to head back to school, they’d get settled up. “We all left with a full summer pay check, and the advances weren’t mentioned.”
It is interesting to recall what we remember from growing up. I hate a dull knife with a passion. I had about worn out a softer metal knife by keeping it sharp, so the kids gave me a gift card for my birthday, and I bought a new knife. Cut myself about the first week I had it! It’s usually a dull knife that cuts you.
I still pay a lot of attention to dogs. We had a dog, “Lefty” and Lefty was a very good judge of people. If Lefty didn’t like someone, don’t deal with them. Lefty liked most people.
And, I don’t recall who said this first, “How a man treats his hired men says more about him than anything else.” Now there’s a mouthful!