This tale starts in the winter of 1946 and 1947.
It is straight out of a horror story.
It snowed and snowed and then snowed again. We didn’t think it would ever quit. Our home was a large cattle ranch in northern Washington state, right up next to the Canadian line. Remember I told you how we went west? Well, we landed on this cattle ranch.
In the middle of this unimaginable winter, my cousin and I had been logging with a large bobsled and horses. My father owned 600 acres of timber overlooking a lake. He let me log it to make some extra money.
To load the timber, we built a loading ramp. With the horses, we would drag the logs up onto the ramp, then roll them on to the sled. The winter was so bad we had to slow down and only work when the weather permitted.
The snow became so deep the cows could not move to the hay. It was very cold, and since they could not move, they were freezing. My dad requested help, and we sure needed help. The government brought in C119 airplanes, called flying box cars, to drop hay to the cattle.
One major problem: the cows could not walk to the hay, so the airplanes almost had to hit them with the hay to do any good.
We tried to haul the hay to the cows on the big bobsled. The horses couldn’t get through the snow, too deep. My brothers and I tried to take saddle horses and cut a path to the cattle. The snow was just too deep.
We lost two-thirds of our herd that horrible winter. To make things worse, the winter drove the wolves down from Canada. In the spring, the wolves ate all the dead cows. The cows would just be standing frozen and dead. The wolves really helped clean up.
Then came a big problem. When the wolves ran out of dead cows to eat, they started eating the live ones.
My dad hired wolfers. They were experts in killing wolves. They brought the cattle into large herds, then set up barrels with rifles welted inside. This whole contraption was hooked to a timer. Setting the timers in the right sequence resulted in the rifles firing every few minutes all the way around the herd.
Being a growing boy, I had to be out there in the wolfers camp. As the dark settled, you could see the wolves start into the herd, a gun would go off, they would run back. This lasted through the night. Great fun for a boy, but very hard on my dad’s pocketbook.
A storyteller, John Zentz, 87, will share a blend of fact and fiction in his bimonthly column. Some tales he’s lived through, some he’s been told. Zentz and his family are longtime Hubbard County residents. He has a picture of his grandmother and grandfather, seven times removed, sitting on a porch in Park Rapids.