The Great Horse Incident

As I remember now, it was the spring of 1946, I was five years old. The war over. The celebrations done, and folks were back to trying to find some normalcy in their lives after years of fear and sacrifice.

I lived with my dad and mom, my maternal grandfather (fondly called ‘Pa’ by his family and even by some of his closer friends), and our hired man, Tom, who was also my dad’s cousin. We lived on 160 acres of eastern Iowa farmland between Cascade and Dubuque. We had 16 milking cows, a breeding bull, two dozen or so hogs, a chicken house full of chickens and a large family garden. We subsisted on what we raised and grew. Our only income was from selling cream to the local ‘creamery’ that made butter and cheese. Also, when the hens were laying, upwards of 36 to 48 dozen eggs a week, which were picked up by the creamery truck, to be sold in town. It was a lot of hard work. Long 12 hour days in the hot summer sun. Work and long days didn’t let up much even in the cold Iowa winters.

But then there were the horses. Did I mention that we still used horses for some of the farm work? We did have a tractor, but my grandfather,as well as a lot of the farmers still used horses for various farm duty such as pulling hay wagons to the barn and pulling wagons to load shocks of oats for threshing. We used Belgians, a large work horse, but not as big as the Clydesdale we see pulling the beer wagon on television.

In late March that year, Pa and my dad went to a Tuesday farm sale. They didn’t show up for chores and milking so Tom and I struggled through the feeding, the milking, separating the milk and cream, and cleaning up. We went up the house for supper

Pa and Dad were already at the table, slightly inebriated. My dad had a silly grin, Pa was weaving a bit and Mom was frowning and not speaking.

“Well, by got-damnit, we bought horse today, delivery tomorrow,” Pa announced proudly, in his broken German.

Dad just grinned. Mom wasn’t speaking.

Cousin Tom said, “On it now, that’s a fine thing.”

Mom didn’t say a word. I was pretty excited, a new horse.

The next day dawned, breakfast, Mom still wasn’t speaking. The stock truck arrived, backed up to the loading chute and out stepped the horse, multi colored brown, black, and white. She was a proud animal, head held high, and Pa led her to her stall in the barn.

The next morning Pa opened the door to the barn and out came a charging large brown, black, and white steed at full gallop. She ran through the barnyard fence, didn’t stop until she had taken out two neighbors fences and ended up in yet another neighbor’s front yard. Pa, Dad, and Tom finally tracked her down.

All returned home, three men in the car, an embarrassed and humble Pa leading the horse from the back window.

Mom still wasn’t speaking.

Pa put the horse back in the barn, now haltered and tied in her stall.

He meekly called our neighbors apologizing the best he could, assuring them that their fences would be repaired adding, “that got-damned horse would either be taught a got-damned lesson tomorrow morning or would break its got-damned neck”.

Next morning came and chores were done, breakfast eaten, Mom still wasn’t speaking.It appeared to be time for whatever was about to happen. Pa went to the hay mow and carried down about 150 ft. of heavy duty hay rope. He proceeded to tie an end between two windows in the 18 inch thick stone barn foundation wall. He carried the other end in through the barn door to the horse stall. He walked back out and into the house.

Word had spread on the party line like firestorm about Pa’s horse, the fences, that something important was about to happen. Neighbors began arriving to watch in anticipation of possible spectacle that might be unfolding. Bottles were being passed about. Wagers were being made. Children were running about with crazed excitement. The women gossiped together. Tension and anticipation were thick in the air, like a gathering Iowa thunderstorm.

The moment had arrived. Pa walked out of the house, proudly, ramrod straight, into the horse stall. A few minutes later he emerged and held the door open and stood back. A moment later, there emerged a flash of a brown, black, and white locomotive gathering steam with every stride . . . until . . . until . . . until the rope ran taught. Everyone gasped, held their breath.

The three ton beast having, literally, come to the end of the rope, came to an immediate halt did a complete ass over appetite flip, landing flat on her back. The ground shook as she hit. We all felt it. She lay there for a minute, slowly rolled onto splayed legs, nose on the ground. All was stone quiet. Finally raising her head looking around, she turned and walked meekly back into the barn. That horse, eventually named, Molly, never did the door rush again.

Suddenly, the crowd came back to life cheering their approval. Pa closed the barn door and walked over and had pulls from several proffered bottles, shook hands, and exchanged words with a few of the folks, and went into the house for coffee and to read yesterday’s news paper. The crowd slowly broke up and went home.

The event was the topic of stories for years to come with added exaggeration as time went on.

Mom finally started speaking two weeks later.

Seven years later, Dad bought another tractor and the horses were sold. Pa died a year later.

© Ed Lehner


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