My galleys are off to the publisher. I am now formatting my book for Smashwords anticipating an ebook available next week. My publisher will handle placing NO MORE BULL on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders and others I’m not familiar with. I’ll be making an announcement and releasing a press release, so you’ll know where you can get it if you are an ebook reader.
I was asked the other day, “How do you come up with ideas for the plot?” Having spent years around the livestock industry has given me a treasure trove of ideas and stories. Probably more than I’ll ever use.
When I do use them I sometimes have to change the names and places to protect the innocent - or guilty - as the case may be. Take the story of Darner Thompkins who you’ll meet about midway into NO MORE BULL. His story is based on a real incident that was told to me by a veterinarian. It didn’t take place in Pryor and the guys name isn’t Darner Thompkins. And I have exaggerated the size and capacity of the junk yard. But I think it’s a great story and wanted to tell it. Unfortunately much of it hit the cutting room floor. Darner’s tale was designed to show a day in the life of a veterinarian and doesn’t really help drive the plot. Plus I needed to cut my initial draft from 120,000 words to 95,000 words to meet requirements of a publisher.
However, having Gil go to Darner’s does feed the plot by placing Gil in a position to get in trouble. Sorry, you’ll have to read the book to find out how.
But I thought my faithful followers might get a kick out of Darner’s complete story, so I have included it in this post.
Have a good week. I’ll talk with you next Thursday. I’m skipping Monday to not watch the fireworks. Dry around here you know.
“You’re in for a treat,” Janey told Gil.
“You get to visit Darner Thompkins.” She said this like Ed McMahon introducing Johnny Carson.
“I’ll bite, who’s Darner Thompkins?” Gil asked.
“Darner Thompkins is one of Huerfano County’s premiere dairy owners. His herd consists of one Holstein that he keeps at his junk yard south of Walsenburg. It seems that his cow, who he lovingly calls Sally, is sick. And so is Darner. She’s the love of his life.”
Janey went on to fill in the saga of Darner Thompkins.
“His grandparents opened a dairy down near Pryor, just south of Walsenburg, in the early 1900’s. Pryor’s mostly been torn down or fallen down by now, but my dad says it was a fairly bustling little town when the mines were working. Anyhow, Darner’s dad inherited the dairy and ran it for years. Darner grew up there and took it over when his dad got too old to run it. He preferred messing with his old metal junk.
“After his dad and mom passed he let the dairy business go to hell. When a cow would die, he wouldn’t replace her. So his herd dwindled to only Sally. She is the last of the stock his dad left. She was just a calf when the old man died. I don’t think she’s given milk in more than five years.
“Darner now runs the place as a junk yard. You’ve got to see it to believe it. And you will. Your next stop, Darner’s Dairy.”
He didn’t have any trouble finding the Thompkins place. The sun glistened off the windshields of at least a hundred old cars and trucks on top of a hill about three miles west of I-25. The entrance to the property was guarded by two 1952 Chevy pickups standing on end, their beds buried about four feet into the ground, a mini version of Amarillo’s Cadillac Stone Henge.
The faded wooden roof of an old barn was barely visible over the assortment of vehicles and other objects d’rust. The collection was scattered and stacked between the cars. As he drove along he was amused at the metal medley which included huge shiv wheels from past mining glory, conveyors, transformers, electric motors, refrigerators, plumbing fixtures of various types and sizes, stoves, ore carts, wagon wheels, cable coils, bed frames – you name it. If it has metal in it, it was probably represented. But the objects were placed with a pattern that created a gigantic metal collage – almost a mile-long sculpture.
Gil wound his way through to the used-to-be dairy. Surprisingly, the house was freshly painted and neat in appearance. A large, well-tended vegetable garden sat on each side of an inlaid brick sidewalk that led up to a covered porch. Gil recognized several tomato plants climbing through some brightly painted yellow bed frames. Four corn stalks, showing silks but not yet brown, stood lookout - two on each corner of the porch.
A small lady sat in a rocker on the porch, shucking peas. She had on a faded blue gingham dress buttoned up to her neck. A long graying braid hung over her left shoulder, down her front, ending in a loop in her lap. A white cat napped at her feet by the bucket.
Gil got out of the truck and approached her, taking off his hat.
“Afternoon. I’m Doctor Tailor from the Spanish Peaks Veterinary Clinic. I’m looking for Mr. Thompkins.”
“You’ll find him in the barn with Sally,” she said, not looking up or stopping the shucking.
“Sally would be his cow?” he asked.
She didn’t answer.
Gil shrugged, put on his hat, got his bag and headed for the barn. It was a stark contrast to the house. One of the double doors hung askew. Dirt built up around the bottom of it indicating that it hadn’t swung in some time. There was no door on the hayloft and the whole building hadn’t seen paint since John Wayne was a pup.
The corrals that erupted from the west side of the building still had the skeleton of the original cedar posts and rails, but were patched and filled with a conglomeration of bed frames, bed springs, truck axels and various appliance parts. One corner had a refrigerator holding up the post. Or was the post holding up the refrigerator?
A rusty hydrant dripped water into an old claw-foot bathtub that was apparently being used as a trough.
Gil peeked through the leaning door. The only light came from the hayloft. Along each wall was a series of wooden stanchions in front of wooden feed bunks. There were probably enough stanchions to accommodate twenty or so cows at an earlier time. They wouldn’t hold much today. It took imagination to picture what they had looked like. Only broken and splintered pieces hung or sprouted on the frames.
Both feed bunks were stacked with more metal objects. Gil recognized ax, rake and shovel heads, oil pans, radiators, hubcaps, wheels, brake drums and gears. A large rusty pipe wrench was propped under the middle of one bunk, apparently holding it up. There were things there Gil had never seen before.
An old truck with its hood up stood in the middle of the barn. It looked like Gil’s granddad’s old Studebaker. Tires, ladders, T-posts and one potbellied stove with a missing leg leaned against it.
“Mr. Thompkins,” he hollered into the hodgepodge. “I’m Doctor Tailor.”
A deep growl that sounded like it had to pass through a ton of gravel, emanated from somewhere near the back of the barn. “Goddamn, where you been boy? I been worried sick about Sally.” The voice came from a short, dark shadow leaning against a wooden fence that stretched across the back of the barn. The fence was the only piece of sound construction in the place.
“Come on, boy, times a wasting.”
As Gil got closer his eyes adjusted to the dim light and he was able to make out a burly little man dressed in denim overalls and an oily chambray shirt. His round face was covered by an equally round gray beard that showed a thin line of bright white teeth through a hole in the middle. Bushy black eyebrows sprouted over intelligent brown eyes that were magnified by thick wire rimmed glasses. He was wearing a stained gray welder’s cap over shoulder length sandy-grey hair.
Gil offered his hand. “I’m Doctor Tailor.”
The hand that strongly grasped his was surprisingly large for a man that barely reached to Gil’s sternum.
“You already said that,” the man said with what was could have been a smile.
“Guess I did. Your wife said I’d find you here.”
“You’re lucky. That’s more than Nelly’s said to me in ten years.”
There was a twinkle to the eyes, but Gil couldn’t tell if it was a joke. Mrs. Thompkins didn’t seem to be much of a conversationalist.
He looked into the stall and spotted a Holstein lolling against the back wall.
“What seems to be bothering Sally, Mr. Thompkins?”
“Call me Darner. Mr. Thompkins was my daddy. He died ten years ago, bless his heart.”
Nodding at the cow, he said, “She’s been off her feed the last couple days, Doc. And she doesn’t seem to want to go outside. She kind of stays right where she’s at. She looked a little bloated yesterday, but that seems to have gone away.”
Gil went into the stall with Sally. He looked into her eyes and checked her temperature. He got his stethoscope out of his bag and listened to her respiration and then her heart. Thompkins vigilantly watched every procedure.
“Whatcha think, Doc?”
“What have you been feeding her, Darner?” Gil asked.
“Hay and grain, like always.”
“Where do you get your hay?”
“I’ve been buying it from the feed store in town for ten years. Just get a couple bails at a time. Only got the one cow now. Don’t take a lot. Daddy used to put up his own hay when we had the big herd.”
“Where do you feed her?”
“Out there in the corral,” he said pointing outside toward the corrals Gil had seen before entering the barn.
Gil walked over and opened a door in the west wall. He looked over the pens.
“I don’t see any bunk or trough for the feed.”
“ Just put her hay on the ground,” Darner said. “Giv’er her grain in that tub.” He pointed to an upside down black rubber tub in the corner of the stall.
Gil took his hat off and wiped his brow with his kerchief. It was stuffy in the barn and he had worked up a sweat with little activity.
“Have you ever given her a magnet for hardware disease?”
“Hardware disease? What the hell’s that?”
Gil was surprised, but decided to explain.
“The way cows eat off the ground, they tend to pick up extraneous objects with their feed. If it’s rocks or gravel, they’ll pass it on through. But if it’s metal, like bits of bailing wire or nails, they can get stuck in the digestive tract. If they get into the intestines and puncture the wall, they can cause severe internal infections which usually leads to death. I’ve also heard of cows having their heart punctured by hardware.”
Darner was nodding and looking Gil in the eye with a look of alarm. “So what is the magnet for?”
“We can place a magnet in her stomach. Metal objects are attracted to the magnet and don’t travel any further. Eventually the stomach grows around the object and keeps it in place. I’ve done post mortems on cows that had as many as half a dozen different objects in their stomach. One had eaten half a horseshoe.”
“Is it too late to put the magnet in her, Doc?”
“There’s no real way to tell exactly whether it will help or not. She seems healthy enough. No real signs of massive infection. I think the reason she doesn’t move is that the object is sticking her when she moves. Probably the same reason she doesn’t eat. It hurts.
“We could operate on her, but she’s an older, dry cow. It probably wouldn’t be worth the cost or the risk. There’s no guarantee it would work.”
“I’ll place a magnet in her stomach then give you some tips on how to keep her immobile until the magnet has a chance to work. Just to be safe I’ll give you some antibiotics to fight any possible infection. If all goes well she could be all right in two to three weeks. If it’s gotten into her intestines we’ll know pretty quick, she’ll start going downhill fast.”
Gil went to his truck, got a magnet and with a balling gun slipped the magnet into her stomach. He then retrieved some antibiotics and gave those to Darner.
“Doc, I sure want to thank you. Hope Sally is going to be alright.”
“I’m optimistic,” Gil said. “Once we get her through this I’d recommend you feed her in a bunk of some sort. That feeding off the ground can cause lots of problems.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll do it,” Darner said.
“I’ll stop back toward the end of the week to see how she’s doing. In the mean time, if you see any sign of her getting worse, holler.”
“I will, Doc. Thanks again.”
As Darner Thompkins turned and walked away, he was shaking his head. Gil heard him say, “Hardware disease. Huh, wonder where she got it.”