By Austin Snedden
Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
My grandfather would say in reference to the challenging short grass country that our family runs cattle, “If this country was any better, someone else would own it.” Making a go on land that others had homesteaded and moved on comes with a sense of pride that money can’t buy. Just like the old colloquialism “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
I think it goes beyond people having different tastes and one person liking something another person might not care for. Many folks enjoy finding value in something someone else didn’t, purely because they feel they got the upper hand. Though many have this characteristic, and some folks do it out of necessity, only a few will cross over into master level scavenger/trader on a voluntary basis.
The master level scavenger/trader doesn’t steal–that is for beginners. The thief is sneaky when no one is looking, but the master level scavenger/trader wants to experience the look of despair and loss in your eyes as they tell you how they will repurpose something you were discarding.
I don’t have the full blown syndrome, but I dabble in it. Yes, that broken jawed crescent wrench I picked up on the side of the road is just like the one I threw in the scrap pile last week, but this one I found and someone else is probably missing it–I better keep it.
Sometimes the master level scavenger/trader gets lost in the thrill of the deal. “Look, I traded my hay broker an old pickup truck and a six pack for this herd of cows. Sure, they chase me over the fence and cost me five hundred dollars a day to feed, but look at that herd. My hay broker sure is dense; I bet that old truck is only worth a couple thousand.”
The litmus for identifying who is master level scavenger/trader is to ask them how they acquired said item. “Hey Earl, where did you get that tractor?” and Earl responds, “Well, you see, I had this old goat…”
For the master level scavenger/trader, the only thing more enjoyable than the deal is the tale of how the deal went down, and how many times they traded up to get to the tractor. The tale of the trade may be longer in duration than the trade itself–similar to that of a hunting story. I recently asked my buddy how his three day hunting trip went; after 4 days of listening to his story, we were just getting to the part about the wind speed and the sun in his eyes.
If you promptly regret asking how someone got something when they start explaining, you are probably dealing with a master level scavenger/trader. For some of these folks, the less others want it, the more attractive it is.
“You see, there was this single wide mobile home that lost an axle on the highway. Real good shape, but no one came back for it. Had a litter of stray cats in the living room, a dead skunk in the attic, and a wasps nest in the wall, but they were just keeping critters and thieves out. Only cost me four thousand to get a guy to haul it out to my place.” Earl wouldn’t have paid two thousand for that trailer if it was “for sale” and included delivery, but a master level scavenger/trader never lets a bad deal stand in the way of a good find.
I think there may be more scavenger/traders in the cattle business than other fields, maybe because we are often having to improvise with whatever is available or maybe because the business can be pretty dang tough and another man’s trash really is still useful. Someone asked me, “How did a not so bright cowboy from the hills get the paper to print their column?” And I answered them, “Well, you see, I had this old goat…”