Cowboys are slow to pick up on new technology. That’s probably because they’d rather fix up an old machine than spend good money on a new one.
When I was a kid, my dad drove around the ranch in a mid-fifties GMC pickup. The rig was aesthetically pleasing, with rounded fenders and little corner windows in the cab. It was slow and bouncy as hell, but got the job done.
If the thing broke down in the middle of nowhere, Dad could fashion a new distributor rotor out of a Copenhagen lid, gap the points and plugs with a gum wrapper, tie the whole shebang back together with baling wire and off we’d go.
Our outfit was tight with a buck, and we pinched nickels until the buffalo squealed, and never bought gloves because skin grows back for free.
I learned to love machinery “of a certain age” that begged for attention but still got the work done.
I recall a rusty Minneapolis-Moline tractor that was fired up only during haying season, but never let us down. It was great for training rookie cowboys, sent by their folks to spend a summer on the ID branding, riding and haying. Acquiring manly skills, ya know.
When we got the tractor started in late July to start cutting hay, it ran rougher’n a cob and sounded like a gunfight. Some crusty old hand would in the seat, fiddling with the spark and throttle. He’d holler over the noise to a young rookie, “She’s just cold. Pee on the magneto, and she’ll run fine.”
Naturally, a young’un would unzip, lean back and micturate on the magneto and the electric arc would snap and sizzle, knocking him back on his butt. I think that the record in my day for a magneto back-flip on the ID was seven feet. It probably still stands.
That might border on rookie abuse, but they have to learn somehow. And we didn’t worry about our carbon footprint back then because there was too much work to do.
So, I have a healthy skepticism about newfangled electric vehicles replacing those gas-guzzling trucks on the ranch.
I have an uneasy mental image of a one-ton crew cab 4WD pickup with a six-horse fifth wheel trailer powered by an electric motor struggling to make it out of the barnyard. It would take one helluva motor to budge that weight. The battery would need to be big as the State of Montana.
In my skeptical vision, we proceed up the steep incline of Windy Ridge, a road that makes the stoutest of internal combustion engines cry for momma. We’re headed up to the divide between Bradley Peak and the Seminoes, and gravity is not our friend.
The horses are raising hell in the trailer, and the young cowboys in the back seat start to look worried. Wheels spin and gears grind but we’re making progress until one of the kids says, “Hey, I smell something burning!”
Sure enough, acrid smoke seeps through the vent and it smells like a transformer fire. I set the brake, and tell the young cowboys to bail out and put rocks behind the tires so we don’t roll backwards for eight miles.
We stand around the front of the brand new Tesla Big Empty Special and I finally pop the hood. The massive battery has simply been asked to do more than it can. Waves of heat rise from the blistering skin, and little sparks pop back and forth on some wire.
I look around for the young cowboy with the most fear in his eyes. “It's just overhearing”, I tell him in my calm, cow boss voice, “stand up on the bumper and pee on it.”