The road to ranch headquarters

When you live north of Ingomar, Montana, you don’t take drinking water for granted.  There’s not exactly an abundance of water out here.  Sure, there’s plenty of water for our cows to drink, but their water comes out of a well that’s 2,590 feet deep… and it’s not fit for human consumption.

So… every drop of water we humans drink here at the VX, we haul here in bottles.

Anybody who hauls drinking water quickly figures out his or her preferred way of doing it.  For us, it’s in these blue 5-gallon bottles:


We have 11 of these bottles now.  (We’re building up our herd.)  We love our bottles dearly; after you spend so much time packing something around, you kind of grow fond of it.

As we are desperately short of Culligan men out here in ranch country, there are two ways to get water into these bottles when you live north of Ingomar, Montana:

  1. You can take the empty bottle to a source of good water and fill it yourself.  This water is free.
  2. You can take the empty bottle to the store and trade it in for a full bottle.  This water costs money.

Now:  there is plenty of good, clean, free water coming out of the faucets at PV Ranch headquarters, 40 miles to the south of our cow camp, where my parents live.  This is probably where my folks, the ever-frugal ranch managers, would prefer for us to get water.

But since we’re driving anyhow… 10 miles past ranch headquarters is Hysham Hardware, where I can carry in my empty bottles, where they load my pickup with full bottles, where I can charge the ranch account for the water I’ve purchased, and, well… where everybody knows your name.  (Anybody else watch Cheers when they were little?)

A related point:  Many times have I seen my parents, through the years, go out of their way to save a few dollars for the billionaire ranch owner we work for.  They are, indeed, exceptional stewards of his property.  They take the phrase “riding for the brand” to a whole new level.  Suffice it to say:  Faced with the choice (which they’re not because the water at ranch headquarters, where they live, is good to drink) they would fill their water bottles with free water and save our employer a few bucks.

Something — good, bad, or indifferent — has been lost between their generation and my own.  As I have written about before, I just feel like I have a lot on my plate keeping all these little Blake children alive.  Also, I am either running out of energy or becoming exceptionally lazy as I age.  Filling those water bottles myself seems like an awful lot of work.  And so I like to pamper myself with pre-bottled water right off the shelf in the hardware store.

Confession:  My name is Tami Jo, and I spend the boss’s money on water when I could actually be getting said water for free.  There.  That feels a little better, to just get it all out.


Here’s a photo of Hysham Hardware, where the water comes pre-bottled.  Every time I visit this store I find all kinds of wonderful things I just can’t live without.  Seriously, the family checkbook is in danger whenever I enter.  Beau might have to set some restrictions on how often I can go there, especially unchaperoned.  For instance:  today I got seeds, potting soil, and pots for growing seedlings with the kids; a (turquoise!) barn rake to pick up bones the dog has scattered all over the yard; kites and frisbees for the kids’ Easter baskets; hardware for hanging the baby swing off the back porch (because clearly I am going to have to take that project into my own hands); stickers for adorning our mailbox here at the VX; a 6-pack of vintage-green canning jars (because, I ask you, who could resist those?); and a new chef’s knife.


This is the best.  Chef’s knife.  Ever.  I can’t live without it.  How do I know?  Because I already have one of these knives.  We got it as a gift for our wedding.

The problem is, I can’t find the knife we already own.

So.  Now Beau not only has the problem of my propensity for binge-shopping at the hardware store, but also the problem of me losing chef’s knives in a house overflowing with curious children under the age of 5.  Yes, this is not the first time I’ve written about losing knives.

Speaking of trends, have you noticed a trend in my love for Ace hardware stores?  Remember The Crying Baby Torture Method story?  Do other people love hardware stores the way I seem to?  Let me know if you do.

I was at Hysham Hardware today because, well, last night we realized we were on our last 5-gallon jug of drinking water.  Feeling courageous, I made plans to spend the day on the road with the kids, stocking up on water, securing other supplies, and stopping in to visit my mom at ranch headquarters.

Here’s some of what we saw as we traveled those 40 miles of dirt and gravel between the VX and ranch headquarters:




This bridge over West Blacktail Creek.  (Though the route shown is our shortest to get to ranch headquarters, we can only drive it in dry weather.  As you can see, the road is only dirt, with no gravel, and a little bit of moisture turns it into an impassable mess.  In wet weather we take an alternate — longer — route to civilization.)


Ingomar!  Seventeen miles of dirt road from our house, it’s the place we call home.  I think Ingomar’s current population is somewhere around 15 people.  We love Ingomar and the Jersey Lilly… but unfortunately, if you need anything more than a bowl of beans and a shot of whiskey, you have to keep driving once you get there.


About twenty miles south of Ingomar, near the turn to the Mission Valley Road, we came upon our first sign of life since Ingomar:  my dad!  He still rides almost every day.  Proud of him.


Dad and the crew were trailing heavy heifers out of the feedlot to pasture at Horse Camp and Butte Camp.  These heifers, almost two years old, are pregnant with their first calves and will start calving in two to three weeks.


These coming-2-year-old heifers wouldn’t have wintered in the feedlot in a normal year.  We’re just in such a darn drought right now that the decision was made to feed them silage and hay through the winter to save on grass in the pastures.  They’re trailing out to pasture now, though, as that’ll be their optimum environment for calving.


The kids and I watched the herd trail on by our pickup, headed northward as we headed southward.  This is my favorite picture of the day.  I like the tumbleweed blowing across the road.


Next stop, ranch headquarters, home to this calico cat.  And many other wild cats.  (Anybody need a cat?  Anybody?)

Also at the ranch, the kids and I visited with my mom until she had to take off to relay a pickup to the cowboys.  Just another day in the life of Grandma at the PV.

After a trip to town to secure everything needed to make the drive home with the kids and survive at a cow camp north of Ingomar for the next week or two (55 gallons of water, dog food, Dr Pepper, Lunchables, ice cream, chef’s knife, ahem), I headed back up the long dirt road toward home.


Emi fell asleep on the way.  This is not a very flattering picture of her, but it’s interesting because when I was a little girl my mom and sister claimed that I slept with one eye cracked open.  I always thought they meant that I wasn’t a sound sleeper because I was on the lookout for adventure.  But now that I’m a mom who desires sleep very much, I find that my middle child actually sleeps with one or both eyes cracked open.  Interesting.  But also weird.  Poor girl.


Oh, and do you ever wonder what happens to those helium balloons you let loose of and watch until they float away into oblivion?

Yeah, they usually end up snagged in a fence north of Ingomar.

The Blake kids and I made it back home to the VX about 4 o’clock this afternoon, at which time I had to admit to Beau that I’d gone hog wild at the hardware store… again.


Aw, it’s okay.  The end of the rainbow is almost always right here at the VX.

Or, from another angle…

rainbow 2

© Tami Blake

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