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The old man and the tree


It was closing time when the phone rang. The voice on the other end sounded liked the oldest living human. His prize heifer was down in a difficult delivery. So I headed out on what turned out to be a harrowing, after-dark chase in a 1977 sky-blue pickup truck.

It was about closing time, and I was thinking how nice it would be to leave on time for a change when the phone rang.

The voice on the other end sounded like the oldest living human.

He was trying to explain how his prize heifer was down having a baby, but he could barely complete a sentence before starting a different subject.

It was apparent that there was no way he could bring the cow in because it couldn't stand up, so I packed all the stuff I thought might be needed and headed off with the worst set of directions imaginable.

By the time I arrived at the "ranch," it was pitch dark and colder than a frog.

I saw the old man standing over next to a sky-blue 1977 pickup truck with a scrap-iron headache rack on it and one of those old coiled CB antennas still attached to the rack. He didn't even move when we left our vehicle and walked over to him. He was leaning against the pickup, eyes closed. I stood right in front of him and finally came to the conclusion that he was asleep. That's right, he had dozed off while standing.

I spoke a few words at a moderate volume. Nothing. I raised my voice a bit, and this brought him back to the world.

"I am Dr. Brock, and I have come to deliver your calf," poured from my mouth with that 'I am talking to an old man' volume and tone.

This only made him bring a cupped hand to his ear and utter a hearty, "Huh?" I repeated myself at near-screaming level.

"Oh, it's not my heifer, it's Daddy's," he said.

Did I hear correctly? This guy still has a living father who owns cattle?

About that time, the passenger door of the pickup opened and "Daddy" slid out. He was bent into a permanent comma, with about 50 gray hairs growing from a spot in the middle of his head and no teeth. He was wearing overalls and no coat.

Then the driver's door opened, and the brother of Ol' Sleepy got out.

None of them could hear. They all talked at the same time. I gathered from the chatter that the cow was out in the pasture and that they wanted me to get my stuff and ride in the back of their truck. So I did.

My technician, Manda, came along. I asked her to follow us outside the fence and said I would call her on the cell phone if we needed anything.

We drove into the darkness for what seemed like an hour and finally found the heifer. She was on her side with just the head of the calf sticking out. I jumped out with a rope to tie her so we could pull the calf, but the second she saw me she jumped up and ran off.

Picture the situation:

I am in the middle of a 5-square-mile pasture with three guys who are clinically deaf — trying to catch a wild heifer and deliver a calf. Furthermore, it seems I am going to have to rope the critter from the back of a '77 sky-blue pickup with Daddy at the controls.

Off we went. The heifer was heading for a draw with a thick stand of salt cedars in it, so I really needed to get the rope on her fast. Daddy must have noticed this about the same time, because he gunned the truck and brought me in perfect position to toss my loop. Surprisingly, I caught her on the first throw.

Now what? There was nothing to attach the rope to except that wire-loop CB antenna. It looked like it was well-anchored to the headache rack, so much so that, when the cow hit the end of the rope, the antenna held firm. Unfortunately, the headache rack didn't. It flew out of the truck bed as the heifer kept running, dragging my rope, the CB antenna and the headache rack, with the old man hot on her trail.

As luck would have it, she got the entire contraption lodged in the first tree she passed. This stopped her and gave me time to jump out. I'm not sure what I thought I was going to do with a 1,000-pound cow on the end of a rope hung up in a 4-foot cedar sapling, but jumping out seemed like the thing to do.

When she saw me, she started running around the tree, and this caused Daddy, for some reason, to start chasing her around the tree in the truck.

"Stop chasing her," I yelled, waving my arms.

He heard nothing, and just kept driving around the sapling in smaller and smaller circles until he finally went right over the top of it. The front of the truck made it over the tree, but when the back end was directly on top of it, it lifted the rear of the truck right off the ground.

The fact that he'd stopped moving made the old man press harder on the gas pedal, spinning the tires a million miles an hour. The engine screamed like a jet, but he had no idea what was going on.

I was standing in front of the truck thinking that, if that little tree broke, I would surely die. I jumped out of the way just in time to hear it snap and see that sky-blue pickup take off like a jet from a carrier.

In less than a second the truck disappeared into the cedar thicket, but then the motor died and things got very quiet. I heard the doors open, and in a few minutes they all meandered out.

The cow was gone.

I called Manda to come and get us. We drove back to their house listening to them all talk at once about the adventure. I called them several times the next day but never got an answer.

As far as I know, that truck is still in the cedars, and my rope is still attached to the cow.

Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Brock, visit dvm360.com/brock

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