When I Was a Cowboy

Today’s post comes from Bill in MPLS

In the early 1970s, Robin and I and our friend Steve Carley drove to Calgary, Alberta for the Calgary Stampede. In truth, I was only vaguely interested in the rodeo. As it turned out, the rodeo wasn’t especially exciting; the problem was that the competitors were all excessively competent—every participant performed perfectly and the difference between them amounted to seconds or fractions of seconds.

The real reason I was in Calgary was because Wilf Carter was going to be in the pre-stampede parade. Wilf Carter, also known as Montana Slim, was one of the original singing cowboys. Carter was the first Canadian country music star. An unbelievable yodeler, Carter belonged to the ilk of Hank Snow, Jimmie Rodgers, and Gene Autry. Here’s a sample:

The Stampede was my chance to see him in person. He rode in the parade, in a convertible designed, I think, by the legendary Nudie Cohn. The header photo shows that car.

Nudie was a Ukrainian-born tailor who established himself making sequin-bedecked outfits for the likes of Elvis and Roy Rogers and later branched out to designing boots and even cars. Here’s what the interior of the car looked like:


I was going through my cowboy phase then. I was collecting and listening to a lot of early cowboy/country music. You couldn’t get a shirt in those days in the style of the classic movie cowboys, so I was making my own cowboy shirts, with fancy piped yokes and cuffs, curved slash pockets with arrowheads on the corners and pearl snaps. Sometimes the fabric was atypical— hawaiian prints, for instance.

I was never really interested in the actual business of ranching or horses.. What attracted me was the lore and milieu of the singing cowboys. The imagery of the likes of Tom Mix, Ken Maynard and William S. Hart. At the time I was working on a series of drawings I called my Patsy Montana drawings. They had nothing to do with the real Patsy Montana or her songs. She was my muse and the drawings were more along the line of “Even Cowgirls get the Blues”.

In downtown Minneapolis in the 70s and early 80s, on First Avenue, just north of Hennepin, on the second floor, there was a record shop called Pyramid Records. It was a big open space with waist-high benches around the perimeter, on top of which were boxes of records, many of them cutouts, all inexpensive, and chiefly old country recordings and vintage jazz. The proprietor sat in an overstuffed armchair in the center. He seldom made eye contact and never conversation. When you had made your selection, he would reluctantly accept your money. I’ve heard that he just disappeared one night, leaving his entire record stock behind. But he had some incredible, obscure records on offer, if you were in that market. There was a label out of West Germany, CMH, that had reissued classic early country music, including Wilf Carter, Hank Snow, the Carter Family and Goebel Reeves.

I bought them all.

Eventually I moved on from my cowboy phase, though I’ve never lost my interest in either the music or the imagery. I’ve overlaid them with newer fascinations but not many carry the pervasive richness that that long-ago cowboy fixation carried for me.

I can’t judge the extent to which I am deaf to the popular culture and the extent to which I am willfully contrarian. Some of both no doubt. But those are traits I also savor in others. What interests me, what I look for, are the obsessions people nurture that aren’t delivered to them as a readily consumable commodity— obsessions that call for research, diligence, craft and expertise. It could be an art, in the broadest sense, or it could be a collection. It scarcely matters how arcane, how peculiar the obsession might be. After all, the more elusive the interest, the more dedication it requires. And the more dedication it requires, the more it can be uniquely yours.

So, how do you entertain yourself?

101 thoughts on “When I Was a Cowboy”

  1. I entertain myself with crosswords, listening to classical music, and gardening. Husband gets on topical kicks such as Modern Irish poetry or the Ottoman Empire, or philosophical schools of thought, and then raids our collge library for books on the topics.

    Our college has a rodeo team, and daughter’s best friend, although growing up in town, also has a ranch in the Badlands. Friend comes from a rodeo family, and her grandpa rode the pro rodeo circuit in the 1950’s , even performing at Madison Square Garden. They have a team roping arena on their ranch. Friend hardly ever rides and wants to be an opera singer.

    Little kids here get their start in rodeo riding sheep in competitions called Showdeos. They win fancy belt buckles and wear them proudly.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. As with your husband, I like to go off on topical tangents and really dig down. In connection with her current fascination with fiber arts— knitting, spinning and dyeing especially-— Robin is interested in anything to do with sheep. Most of our travels the last few years have had a wool component- a fiber fair, visiting a farm or woolen mill, or some sort of workshop. She likes the sheep dog trials. I wonder if she’d like a showdeo?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Well, there is something called the Jackrabbit Stampede in Brookings, which gives me a pretty funny visual when I read it. I think the National College Rodeo Finals are held in Casper, WY.


  2. I forgot to mention that the older sister of daughter’s best friend also is a classically trained singer, and she also is quite a yodeler. She doesnt ride, either.


  3. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Wow, Bill. This is a loaded question that can go all kinds of directions. I will stay on the high road. I read over comments from yesterday and enjoyed your term “trumpeteers” which is apt and funny. It is my first entertainment of the day!

    I LOVE rodeos–this was a big part of my childhood with my dad the extension agent/farmer when I would view the contest from my dad’s shoulders. Last Spring in AZ we attended the Cave Creek Rodeo which was a delight filled with very competent horsemen/women. It was my first rodeo since childhood. I had a ball. I plan to attend again this year. (a blog post may be coming).

    For the last 2 years I “entertained” myself by stabilizing my practice, then selling it to two co-workers. Last February and March this resulted in not-entertaining despair over one of the buyer’s inability to make a decision to do this. Art work, reading, gardening, and travel, my usual entertainments, all sunk below this priority of trying to keep the practice going while negotiating the succession plan.

    To purge myself of the election despair produced Tuesday, I may start art work, reading, gardening next spring, and planning a trip to somewhere. I think I will take a break from political podcasts for a while….

    Liked by 3 people

        1. Not likely part of a rodeo. You’d remember it if you had seen one. Teams of huge draft horses competing to pull the heaviest sledge of weights…


    1. We’ve had a red-bellied woodpecker at our feeder the last two mornings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before. I think this is the edge of their range, but their range might be expanding.


      1. ive got a little one that lives outside my bedroom window. i had a big one at the last house but this house got a little one. if you want to encourage them put out suet. i find suet is also a wonderful trump repellant. since i have been putting it out not one sighting

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Weirdly, on election day Lou was working all afternoon in the yard and garden. Two bald eagles flying at tree level were with him all afternoon on the ridge in our back yard, drifting, diving and cawing. WAs it a sign? If so, of what?


        1. One of our Native friends says that when you see a raven, it means it is going to snow. He only sees ravens in the area when the weather is going to get bad.


  4. you have to be careful about having your interestes crossover into a labor of love then a task then work.
    i have always been a hat guy. i used to wear hats back in hippy days and my mom tells me i wanted hats starting about age 2. in my garage sale life i would on occasion run into a hat but odds of finding a hat that is the right hat the right size the right condition is a long shot so the rare occasion of a find was worth celebrating. i got into a sideways exposure to hats on ebay while i ran a short lived ebay store and while the rest of the ebay store idea was unappealing in almost no time the hats were something i enjoyed and got into in a big way. i have western and gangster and flop hats in boxes with numbers to eep thme straight so when someone wants to buy a hat i ma able to locate it. if someone has a qestion i can grab the hat look and reply and go from there. it was an interesting transition becoming a knowledgable hat guy vs a guy who likes hats. knowing the terms and the idiosyncrasies about what what used for which time frame etc . the easiest identifier was the sweatband. color, size the way it was printed on all gave a great indication of what who when it was made. then you started seeing the small stuff. hats in the late 40’s had a brass connector where a reed inside the sweatband that provided stifness and stability was joined in the back of the hat . after about 10 or 15 years they all turned green and discolored the felt the hat was made of. uninformed folks get really upset with the stain and i try to remember to tell them to look at picture number 8 to see the details of the hat showing the unavoidable inherited detail of historic fashion process. the same with the sweatband process. in the late 40’s the sweatband would bleed through the felt and discolor the felt in a 2″ ring around the crown. they put in a plastic raincoat to fix that problem but created another in the process. all interesting to hat guys but no one else.
    i am hard on hats and stuff in general and find it is a good idea to keep the good stuff in boxes. if i touch the value goes down so i tend to wear the beaters or the ones that i designate as mine. i grab a hat that is not perfect and have a bit of an adjustment when i am talking to someone who is a particular hat collector who wants no spots or hairs or smells on his new centerpiece. i have fun providing folks hats that wow them but some of the joy of grabbing a hat has been affected.
    today i relax with fantasy football and basketball. in spring it is baseball and gold. i know minuscule data bits on guys who get paid too much to do little sports specific defeats that it is a specialty area of expertise. i enjoy the sports with my kids. one in particular is a sports geek when it comes to stats and trivia. he goes off and has a hard time coming back to earth. its fun to watch but hard to stop.
    record albums are a collection but pandora has a shuffle button that makes life good for my musical wanderings. llyle lovett to yo yo ma is just the way it ought to be.

    bill i mentioned the record store across the street form cedar small engines a while back. you need to get there. it is incredible and will likely have the people you are able to pull out of your unique vault of wants and desires. neat guy too. i couldn’t begin to guess how to look them up. just go. all pre 60’s i believe. fun stuff and going to be a disappearing hole in the wall. i will never see this shop again i am fairly certain.

    any pictures of the cowboy shirts?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Unfortunately, no photos of the shirts. I did have one stolen off my clothesline, I remember. Your hat obsession is just the sort of thing I find so intriguing. I like hats on other people, but I can’t wear them myself without feeling like I’m in a costume. It’s an authenticity problem.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I look weird in anything out of the norm. Is plaid out of the norm? I was born to where plaid; it’s in my roots. But otherwise I ain’t need to address pure vanilla.


  5. I don’t collect anything. Not even golf clubs, and I’m an addicted golfer. I guess that’s entertainment. I also do the two Sunday crossword puzzles in the Strib every week. Can anyone beat my personal best of 35 minutes for the NY Times Sunday puzzle? Usually, it takes me a minimum of 60-90 minutes. Much longer if I get stuck on a few words and resist the urge to cheat.

    I’m also a voracious reader. I’ll probably finish 70+ books in 2016. Have been ratcheting up my goals for the past 4 years doing the Goodreads Reader Challenge.

    Other than regular golf in the summer, walking, ice skating and XC skiing in winter, a few trips per year, BWCA adventures, cooking, shopping for groceries, and maintaining the house, I spend most of my time writing my books or marketing my book(s), or editing books, or promoting on social media or trying to learn more about the self-publishing business.

    My wife “forces” me to watch a few hours of TV per week. NCIS, Modern Family, and now Bull, with a few episodes of Bones thrown in occasionally.

    Any time I have left in a week is reserved for lip diddling.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Morning all. I figure we’ll all have some significant crossover in the “entertain ourselves” arena. Reading (I have you beat, Chris… but what is the Goodreads Challenge?), cooking, gardening and crafts are my biggest self-entertainments.

    Unfortunately I have never been to a rodeo – being a city-bred gal, it has just never come up. Do we have rodeos around the Twin Cities ever?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. i drove right through the stampede to get to banff.
    i love banff and can never wait to get there. calgary feels like rochester or duluth . canada has toronto vancover and quebec other than that it is all mayberry with a maple leaf. could i love there sure. or in iowa or arkansas it jst takes some getting used to. with the internet yo are hooked p to the world music movies concerts plays books even antartica has podcast access if you can find wifi. if not its a good time to contemplate. rodeos are full of interesting people. nascar for cowboys. the guys who ride are salt of the earth and have great stories and bad backs. montana is my source for cowboy stories. i love montana and think calgary edmonton over to vancover is all gods country. i cold do that…..

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My, but how cruel you people are to me! You keep asking me questions in which my answer is that I cannot do anything anymore. Just joking. But then again, I have lost the ability to do all the things I used to do. Even my eyes have abandoned me.

    15 years ago I was working in a school system in Central Kansas. When you go in to present to teachers in places like that you often meet highly resistant teachers. But the teacher’s had asked for someone like me to do a workshop. They wanted to do more teaching of thinking and doing and not just knowing. It was two days of joy in a beautiful little school on a rise in the prairie of Central Kansas. Bill’s post reminded me of that joy.

    One of the English teachers with whom I immediately bonded was a singing poet cowboy. A bunch of us went to a bar after the first day. He and I talked and talked much of it at my request about how he traveled around to contests for singing cowboys and cowboy poets. He also did small gigs in bar and at rodeos. He was raised on a ranch. He told me he wasn’t very good but that he just loved it, meeting people and doing his bit. The next day he brought me a tape and told me again not to expect too much. It was months before I listened to the tape. He was really quite good in the way of that genre. The poetry had exactly the right note and style, some serious, some dirty, some very funny. His singing was not as good, but again he knew the style and I bet the audience. I did not exactly wear out the tape, but listened to a every now and again and then it disappeared. Clearly it was a joy in his life. I could tell he was a good English teacher and related well with the students.

    By the way I entered this post with voice recognition. The error rate was about 5%.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. My special hobby is dating moments from my personal past. No, let’s call it “dancing.” I dance with my past.

    Because I am old, my past includes a monumental number of memories. Some are vivid. Some are not. Some are decisively integrated with other memories, while some exist giddily in a vacuum. Some seem perfectly unambiguous, while others bother me by conflicting with other memories or certain facts. Some memories are agreeable, charming and funny. Some make me uncomfortable. But even these are old friends, and I welcome them all.

    It seems to me that I am in a vast ballroom with all these memories. It is dark, with a spinning mirrorball in the center. Everyone I have ever known is there. Every thing I have done is there, even if some things might be shiftily hiding in the dark recesses of the room, trying hard not to make eye contact with me.I go about greeting these old friends and, from time to time, asking one to dance with me.

    I’m normally shy, but these are old friends. I move from one to the other, inviting my old friends to dance. Then we whirl in the dark, laughing and remembering old times, trying always to improve our friendship by studying points of confusion or doubt. Sometimes I introduce one old memory to another, encouraging them to form a new unity. Sometimes I encounter annoying gaps, and I’m obliged to drop everything until I can retrieve a specific memory that has grown vague. But I am patient and skillful at this.

    I am fond of them all. While the music plays, I wander the ballroom flirting with all these memories. I play with dogs I once loved. I thrill again to my first kiss. I smile at memories of people I mistreated, and I make my peace with that. The music plays on. I am a tireless dancer.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. steve ‘the way your tell the story makes me think it would make an interesting scrap book type of journal where you remember an event document the dance and plug it in. then tomorrow another gets danced with and documented and you can plug it in and as you go along the pages fill in so we can all have a time frame when you publish it.


  10. By the way to no one’s surprise the trait Bill is describing about plunging into things deeply for awhile and then doing something else is a trait of high intelligence.

    Some of the errors in voice recognition are kind of fun. It insists that ravine is bra bean. Now it wants it to be reading.


    1. You might enjoy Kevin Kling’s story about working with voice recognition, Clyde. Funny and moving. His voice recognition program faithfully recorded the comments his pets were making. The program heard the cat (as I remember) asking, “Why? Why?” The program thought the dog was saying, “How! How!”

      As an editor, I once was driven by a deadline to have a taped commentary turned into English by voice recognition software. The taped discussion included many references to shotguns made by Browning. The VR software heard that as “brownies.” Try to imagine a discussion of modern shotguns where every reference to a shotgun becomes a reference to a little elf!

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Clyde, I am extremely grateful that my Naomi is so emotionally stable. She never betrays her inner self as she responds to the changing narrative of the trip. I can imagine her secretly thinking, “Dammit! Why did you do THAT?” Instead, she keeps calm and mildly announces that she is “recalculating.” And in my life outside the car, I struggle now to emulate the placid, cooperative Naomi who guides me inside the car.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. s does get insistent. Our private joke: And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you: for where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge.


        3. I get messages from Google Voice that are transcribed to my e-mail account. One of them recently ended with the words “Thank you so much for choosing central Angry Diwali business.”

          When I listened to the actual audio, the person had said “Thank you so much for choosing Century Link, we do value your business.” I had a good chuckle over that one.

          Liked by 2 people

  11. My current time killer is driving to medical places and waiting. The last couple days for both of us. Tuesday I saw Sandy’s neurologist for tests, tests you don’t ever want to have. She is Sandy’s best Dr. So contrary to medical privacy she and I discussed Sandy. Sandy went in yesterday. The Dr. said three of her drugs are causing her two scary symptoms right now. Tuesday she sees another specialist who well give her other drugs because she does need to address the issues that the drugs address. Gets all complicated for her and all her illness of.

    Sandy’s and Sandy are interesting words in voice recognition. Sometimes it gives me Sandy’s, sometimes Sandis, and sometimes Sandi’s. Sometimes Sandy, sometimes sandy, and sometimes Sandi. I think it is trying to please everyone.


    1. The VR on my phone has a lot of trouble with my daughter’s name, both cats’ names, both dogs’ names, MY namem among others. And sometimes when I say “period”, it actually spells out “period” instead of just adding punctuation. Very frustrating.


      1. I am slowly learning its ways. It is Windows 10 itself I use. It gets the commands like period right, but words it messes up. To get it to spell period I say “literal word” first.


    2. Now blue cross just called to talk to Sandy about her meds, which will be either to talk about switching to generics or telling her her drugs are in conflict, as the neurologist recognized. She was insistent I wake Sandy up. She lost the argument.


  12. Fun day here – I have had innumerable obsessions over the years, but most were short-lived, and I stayed with it just long enough to gather the gear: several different ethnic cooking forays, crochet and embroidery, drawing with colored pencils, beaded jewelry. Also usually involved a book or two. The ones that have stuck were folk dancing, journaling (morphed mostly into blog writing), reading, sewing (sporadically), and singing.

    The collections that still remain are brightly colored bowls of all sizes (though I did let go of a few during the move), and crates – I love old wood creates that either are or can be made pretty. I have a couple of orange crates from my childhood (my mom made us a “store counter” with an oilcloth covered board), now painted white. There are pear and asparagus crates from when I worked produce at the Wedge Co-op, and then an accumulation of old and new ones from the last couple of decades, when they were sort of “in” for decorating – no doubt you’ve seen those little wood CD crates… Some crates make nice closet shelves when there isn’t enough other shelving. They’re versatile because they can be turned any old way – vertical or horizontal, or on their “back”. If you’re clever (and/or have someone with a table saw), you can add more shelves…

    Now see, Bill, you got me started…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice, Barb. I have a fuzzy memory of your admitting to your interest in crates and boxes back in those weeks you worked so hard to make my bungalow market-ready. Did I maybe give you a fascinating box that once housed travel brochures gathered on our British Isles trips? I think I might have.


  13. My sister and her husband amassed two garages full of Fiesta Ware 20-30 years ago. About when they were ready to sell it off, Homer-Loflin (Is that the company?) reissued it and its valued plummeted. She does a complete perfect set in every color, which she could display in their house in Brookings, but they built a small house in Vermillion.
    My sister, for whatever reason, will not communicate with me, nor will her children. Now what did I do?


  14. A sign of changing times: my daughter and family had Cracker Jacks as their treat while watching Nature about cars last night. My son-in-law’s surprise requires him to open an app, which he did not.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. OT: I’m sorry baboons – my email is totally screwed up. I often email articles about politics to myself to later be able to insert them into Strib’s opinion or politics boards. Well, now every time I email to myself, the name in the “From” column reads, “Bitchy Pundit”. Every single one. Having yourself referred to only “Bitchy Pundit” has me upset and no one can explain how this could even happen. So, I’m stuck with it.

    I may have missed a TB story since my email no longer notifies me of a new one, but I have to tell you all that I’m in no mood for light hearted dialogue after the election of a sociopath. I’m grieving the loss of the country I’ve loved, and fearing the future for my grandchildren.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks so much for this. I’ve sent your link to several fellow-sufferers. It’s just horrific to know that 8 years of progress can be erased with a few executive orders and a hostile takeover of all three branches of gov’t over the next 4 years


  16. I find politics entertaining but I am taking a break from that and will be doing a two month marathon of watching “The Walking Dead.” Seeing how normal people deal with zombies taking over the world will help hone my survival skills when the real thing happens January 20, 2017.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. Heard the news that Leonard Cohen has died. Another sad event in a sad week.

    I think one of his most famous songs is Hallelujah, but it was a song that was sung more eloquently by others. Cohen’s own version was sort of a plodding thing. I have many favorite songs of his. What are yours?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. famous blue raincoat
      i was just having an extended conversation with another friend who is a poet about leonard cohen. i watched an hour of youtube speeces receptions video interactions and performances.
      what a remarkable remarkable man. he was dark but sensative and lovely. i fell in love with suzanne in 1971 and loved evey song of his i heard along the way. i have to find the isle of wright recordings again when he had a quirkey enthusiasm in his voice
      bird on a wire is one i first heard leon russel do with joe cocker at the guthrie at that time and i loved thwat one and did it in my rock star stint and still perform it in my living room for my own satisfaction
      those four are in my song list

      famous blue raincoat
      bird on a wire and
      are not a bad songlist ot leave to the world


  18. I am pretty sure I had a cassette reissue of a Montana Slim album at one point. I think it was called Montana Slim Sings Western Songs, or something to that effect. I can’t find it at the moment. It will resurface someday.


  19. I entertain myself by doing laundry. Most days there seems to be about 300 or so pieces of laundry that need to be laundered, dried, folded (sort of), and put away. I especially enjoy it when most of the dirty laundry is wet, stained, and/or turned inside out (or socks balled up) so I have to turn 200 items of clothes right side out and treat 50 or so stains. Yes, it’s a real joy. It’s nice but time-consuming to hang the laundry outdoors to dry because it smells so fresh when it’s dry. Yup, I can’t wait until tomorrow to start the next load of laundry.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, I can imagine. I know I have no right to complain when I’m not pounding the clothing against rocks or something like that. But there is something rather blah – and endless – about the whole thing, especially when you’re doing it for more than just yourself (including two very dirty 3-year olds).


        1. People who garden have lots of laundry, We do laundry all the time, too. At least husband loves to fold and put away laundry


        2. teach them to match and fold socks
          you can never start too young
          and teach them to do the micro wave so they can hours of enjoyment being being big


        3. I’ll consider that, tim, but It might be hard for them to match socks since most of them don’t match in the first place. Also, there aren’t that many socks in the daily load of laundry ever since I threw a fit about those people who like to stash socks under the bed or somewhere and then every 10 days or 2 weeks decide to pick up all the socks and put them in the hamper….it’s not terribly fun to hang up 60 or more socks in one day, I’d rather have just a few every day.


        4. Renee, you are better than I am. I just leave my gardening clothes out of the laundry until they pretty much stand up by themselves and then wash them – also, since I usually hang the clothes to dry, I can’t wash them on the same day that I might garden and I have only one set of gardening clothes. They get very dirty by the time I decide to wash them. I’m now all done gardening for this year and had to retire my gardening shirt – it was basically in rags.


        5. Matching socks is over-rated now. And mis-matched socks is a thing now. Mine are just all black so it doesn’t matter anyway… but if I had / wore colored socks, I’d do mis-matched….

          Liked by 2 people

  20. Hi kids–

    Climbing back to the surface after a rough couple weeks. And then, like the rest of you, I was in a mood from Tuesday night on.

    After some very, very nice emails and texts with some people I am proud to call my nieces and nephews, I feel better about some people.

    And now I have just finished cleaning up –( or at least what I am responsible for cleaning up)– after a fall concert and I plan to spend most of tomorrow in a tractor.
    I have been looking forward to that for the last month and I. Can’t. Wait.
    That’s one way I entertain myself.
    Another is simply to find things that amuse myself and whether anyone else gets it doesn’t matter.

    Later kids.

    Liked by 5 people

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