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In the late 50s, I was living in the Ocala national Forest in an area between the Oklawaha and the St. Johns River. My great-grandfather, Anderson Roberts, homesteaded there when Florida was still a territory. I was working cattle as a day worker, buying and selling a few cows and anything else to make a buck. A couple of the local cowmen, Ray Martin and Billy Holly, told me about a big steer that Mrs. Reynolds wanted to sell.
The lady was up in years, and when I went to talk with her about the steer, I found out she had tried to hire the man who recommended me. And after seeing the steer, I could understand why he didn't want any part of him. He was a monster, weighing about 1,400 pounds, with a horn spread of about five feet.
I told Mrs. Reynolds I didn't have a horse big enough to handle that big of an animal.
"Oh, you don't need a horse," she said. "I can get him in the cow pen. He's gentle as a lamb. I raised him myself from a calf."
Well, that sounded like it might work. We settled on a price, and it looked like I might have made a week's wages out of the deal, as long as I could get the steer to Swift's in Ocala. At that time, day working cattle only paid $10 per day.
Mrs. Reynolds said she would call me when she got the steer in the pen. When she called a few days later, the steer was penned up like she promised. I took my old Army Jeep and a single-axle horse trailer, which promised to be a tight fit.
The trailer had a drop-down ramp, and my plan was the rope the steer in the pen. He was happily munching on the feed Mrs. Reynolds had talked him into the pen with, but when I got my rope out of the Jeep and made a big loop, that steer stopped eating and began to get a little nervous. I knew this was a one-shot deal, and there was no margin for error.
The pen was about 30 feet long and 20 feet wide. It was made of hog wire, about 5 1/2 feet high with a board at the top and a board in the middle. That big old steer could look out over it anywhere, and, by then, he started circling the fence with his head held high, and I knew he was thinking about jumping out. I was standing behind the horse trailer, about as ready as I was going to get.
When he came by, I got my rope around those big old horns. This was a surprise to him after being coddled for the last 15 years. Well, I got me a dally on a post right next to the back of the trailer. When that steer hit the end of the rope, he went straight up in the air and flipped over backward.
As he was scrambling about, trying to get up, I had just enough time to get my rope off the post and run it through an opening by the manger. I brought the slack back and tied off to a fence post, and the battle was on. He was pulling with all his might, and every now and then he would jump forward four or five feet, and I'd get some rope back.
Soon, he had his front feet in the trailer, but when he was halfway in he balked. I had an electric prod called a Hot Shot in the Jeep, so I tied him off and got it. When I hit him with that Hot Shot, he went all the way to the front and almost over the manger — and would have had it not been for the hole up front.
Now, I had him in the trailer — almost.
That's when I realized he was longer than the trailer. His rear end stuck out about a foot. But we had come this far, so after catching my breath I hit him again with the hot shot, and when he lunged forward I brought the ramp up as far as I could and tied the rope around it and the steer's rear end.
Now, I had most of him in the trailer.
When I pulled the Jeep and Trailer up on the dirt road, the back wheel of the Jeep came off the ground because of all that weight. By taking mostly back roads and using the front axle of the Jeep, I finally delivered that old steer to the Swift Meat Packing Plant, 18 miles away in Ocala, and I cleared my week's wages.