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Rock stars

It’s the Pitts
Lee Pitts
Los Osos, Calif.

We live in a galaxy of superstars. Change your sex, write a tell-all-book, be 16 years old and lecture old fogies about how the world will end in 12 years because of farting cows, or “go viral” with your dog playing boogie woogie on the piano and you’ll gain instant worldwide recognition.

Every industry has its own rock stars, people who are universally admired and worshipped either for their accomplishments, or who are simply famous because they are famous. Colin Kaepernick made $20 million and a name for himself simply by taking a knee.

We are no different. If you go to a cattlemen’s convention you can tell who the rock stars are by how long their name tag is. It seems every group is using these 3-inch by 5-inch colorful cards that are strung together indicating all the achievements of the person dragging around the plastic biography. A card is added for every committee the person is on, every office they’ve ever held, the awards they’ve been given and the speeches they’ll deliver. You know you are really in the presence of a rock star if they kick the bottom of their name tag when they walk.

University professors, breed association officials, purebred breeders, veterinarians who work for huge drug companies, champion auctioneers, economists, farm advisers and sustainability salesmen are all examples of rock stars in our business. Cowboy poets like Baxter and Waddie are idolized while many other ranchers think Allan Savory is a messiah or celestial being.

The rock stars in my universe are a little less famous. Take the man who hauled my cattle for 20 years. Ed wore a small oval name tag like a janitor or a mechanic who worked for the Ford dealership might wear. He spent much of his adulthood driving a cattle truck to all the local dairies that used to dominate the landscape in my neighborhood. When the dairies all disappeared Ed made the transition to hauling beef cattle. It was an easy switch because Ed was the only driver who could get his truck and trailer even remotely close to the loading chutes that were made to load out bobtail trucks. As the son of a trucker and heavy equipment operator I marveled at the tricks Ed used to get close to 100-year-old loading chutes that would turn to dust if you hit them very hard. Like the time he drove over a round, 4-inch thick wooden fence post in line with his trailer’s wheels so the trailer sort of fell off the post 4 inches closer to the loading chute.

Another guy who wore a simple name tag on his shirt was Buzzard Bill the tallow man. Of course, his name tag didn’t say all that. It just said, “Bill” right over his great big heart. Buzzard Bill really didn’t need any form of identification because you could smell him coming a mile away, even if his truck was empty. His wife rode with him most of the time and around noon they’d open up a lunch bucket and share a sandwich and some chips in the cab of the smelly tallow truck.

I admired Buzzard Bill not only for his ability to withstand the grossness of his occupation but also because of his compassion. Once when a pack of town dogs attacked our flock of sheep, killing five and wounding 10 others, Buzzard Bill was gentle with the carcasses as he winched them into the back of his truck. I was busy shearing around the bite marks and applying KRS to the bites where the dogs had ripped the flesh of the ewes that survived, some just barely. When Buzzard Bill finished loading he approached and I asked, “How much do I owe you?” (I knew that the tallow company now charged for their services whereas 20 years ago it was free.) I had a vague idea that cow carcasses were now $100 and sheep were $25.)

Buzzard Bill put his arm on my shoulder, looked into my misty eyes and said, “I think you’ve taken a big enough loss for one day. There will be no charge. I’ll explain it to my boss and if he objects I’ll just pay the bill myself.”

From that moment on Buzzard Bill was a rock star in my world. ❖


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