Sharing a reminiscence

I’m not sure what brought this memory to the surface but it bubbled up and demanded to be written down. And being a slave to my craft, I answered the call and wrote it down for all to read.

Lewiston, Idaho, my home town, lies at the edge of the Palouse and Camas Prairies, The rich wheat lands of Washington and Idaho. As a boy, growing up in the 1940’s and having an aunt and uncle who were wheat ranchers, I spent every harvest season or a great share of it on their ranch. Because it was customary at that time, all of the available family members showed up to work the harvest. Some of my fondest memories stem from those times when the family came together to bring in the wheat.

After the long work day, when the men came back from the fields and supper was over, everyone moved out on to the porch to enjoy the cool of the evening. This was the time I enjoyed the most. It was then that the stories were told of the events that happened that day and those that happened in the past, some told over so many times everyone knew them by heart, but enjoyed them still.

Everyone had their favorites; mine were the old stories, told by my grandfather of his time, when the old west still was alive and wild. Back when horsepower was really horse power and not just some unit measurement. It was this fascination with horses and horsemen, both riders and teamsters that caused me to ask my grandfather why Uncle George had such a huge barn and only one old riding horse? My grandfather laughed and told me, first of all, George had inherited that barn from his father, who had lots of horses and cows because in those days there weren’t any trucks or tractors to haul the wheat or pull the machinery, the mowers, the thrashers and plows. It was all done by horses, mules and oxen in those days. The country was rough and steep and the work hard and heavy and required a lot of animals pulling together and men who could drive them, to get the job done.

To prove his point he took me in to the house and got down an old family album with tin-type photos of long teams and their drivers harvesting the wheat and freighting goods up and down the breaks of the Snake River canyon, the deepest gorge in the whole of North America.

I was impressed then and find that now, over sixty-five years later, I’m still impressed by that time of animals and men coming together to do what must be done. A camaraderie that is impossible to attain with a machine made of metal and having no heart or soul. So impressed and fascinated I decided to write the following poem to pass on to my children and grandchildren that they may know of this little bit of history our family helped to make.

Remembering The Long Teams

He sat all alone in the corner
nursin’ a beer
Listenin’ to the young men
talk of thrashers and
bushels to the acre
Self-propelled combines
and air-conditioned

He was old…he was
wrinkled and brown
weathered and toughened
from years of workin’
the ground
and he laughed when
they asked
Could he remember when
the long teams
still could be found

Then he stood
ordered another beer
as the young men crowded
strainin’ t’hear
his soft words rumble out,
“For years and years
we farmed with steers
now a days
you farm with Cats
and John Deers”

“But I remember still
When mules and horses
and yokes of oxen
pulled the wagons
combines and plows
Yes Oxen! And
sometimes our dairy cows
when times were tough
A few Guernseys and
helped carry our load.”

“Do I remember the long teams?
Why, Hell yes!
Two and three
sometimes four abreast
stretched out s’far
had t’be a driver
front and back
just t’keep the whole
shootin’ match on track.
I was a backwheeler
in those days
spent my time
eatin’ the long team’s dust.”

“Why, I remember one team
I was drivin’
was so damned long
When the lead team dropped
over the hill
and out of sight
me and my backwheelers
never caught up
till supper that night!”

“Say boys,
It was the long teams
and folks like me
that broke this land
when it was nothin’ but
wild prairie
We planted it
to wheat and barley
sweet clover and oats
suffered with it
through hail storms
and droughts
Watered it with our
sweat and our tears
Nourished it with
our life’s blood
right up to the end
then they’ll put us
in the ground
so we can nourish her again.”

“You asked me if I can
Remember the long teams…”
the old man asked
as he lifted his beer
and emptied the glass.
“Why, hell yes!
How could a man
forget somethin’
as grand as that!”

Wally Lane

7 responses to “Sharing a reminiscence

  1. That’s great, Wally!


  2. How beautifully visual. Okay, Wally, you and me, some 12 year old scotch, and you recite that poem in person when we meet.


    • I will, actually have to read it. I can read a screenplay and tell you everything about it 3 months later, I forget peoples names from when i met them 5 minutes ago. but i can read it for you. Are you coming to the PNWA conference in Seattle? I want to talk to you about your internet presence and how you went about building it. What ever you’re doing, we (the “black ink white paper” folks) all should try to emulate. Your response to yesterdays post was amazing. I’ll bring Wino’s & Pigeons a short film of mine, when we drink scotch, it’s got some of my favorite poetry in it. Glad you liked the Long Teams.

      • Hi Wally, I won’t be coming – I’m actually on a train right now to Montreal for my book signing this Friday.

        Thanks for your compliment, and I don’t mind talking about internet presence in a blog or with your personally if you like. I’m hardly an expert, just connected to some.

        I’m one of those addictive personalities with a laptop attached to my hip – it’s not a big mystery really.

        Scotch would be great.


  3. Wally, I love these kind of story poems – that’s mostly what I write. I’ll bring you a copy of one of my very favorite poems by one of my very favorite writers – sadly she died very early – Bronwen Wallace. She’s amazing!


    • Hey, I’ve got a bottle of Bunnahabhain Islay Single malt 12 year old Scotch whisky for tomorrow night! i am also bringing along a dvd of Winos & Pigeons. Are you ready???!

      I’m glad you liked the poem.

      Who all’s coming to dinner? 🙂

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