Schlegel’s Feedlot Construction was our family business while I was growing up in Dodge City, Kansas. It wasn’t much but enough to keep some sort of groceries on the table most of the time. Basically it was just my dad and usually one other employee. My mother took care of the payroll and expenses from a ledger book in her desk in the corner of the kitchen. Of course, it was very seasonal since once the ground froze in the winter Dad would have to come up with other ways to support his family. Sometimes however, that “other employee” that I mentioned would be one of us kids if dad was short of help.
Even though my dad wasn’t a good role model to us children majority of the time, he did teach us one work ethic that has always stuck: “If you want something, then you are responsible to work for it, don’t expect it to be given to you! If you don’t have enough money for it, then work an additional job or save up until you can afford it.” Period.
Mom would pack our lunches early in the morning of bologna sandwiches, Oreo cookies, a small bag of chips, and some sort of fruit. Those old lunch boxes were the “impossible-to-break-stainless-steel-round-topped-ones” with a single handle and a matching thermos hung inside from the top suspended by a wire spring contraption. My thermos held a weak version of flavored Kool-aid while dad’s kept his scalding coffee hot all day. Even in the middle of the hottest weather, he drank coffee. All of our childhood friends thought it was absolutely gross to think how we could sit on a tailgate and eat lunch in the middle of a stinky, foul-smelling manure filled feedlot surrounded by more manure-producing cows. Easy. If you are hungry enough, you’ll eat. And besides, after a while your sense of smell becomes accustomed to the environment and you become desensitized. But it was much more fun to hear them say “EWWWW!”
On this particular day, my little brother Jake was also commissioned to go out with dad to Polkinghorn Feedlot, east of town (now it is called Winter’s Livestock). So here we are, all of us out working building a wood post fence, three poles high and sturdy to keep the cattle in. It was only a few years down the road that dad finally would purchase a post hole digger that could be ran by the PTO of the small tractor, but on this day, it was the old fashioned way; by hand with a post hole digger.
Once the proper depth was reached, then Jake and I would alternate taking turns holding the post upright without moving it an inch while kicking dirt into the hole and tamping down the loose soil to set the pole. Dad with his “Schlegel’s Feedlot Construction” cap cocked sideways on his head, would “eyeball” the newest post to the section to make sure it was perfectly straight in line with the previous post. We continued that way until the fence line was complete and then went back to drill a hole, and hammer a large metal nail attaching the top, middle, and bottom pole to each post in each section.
“Hey Sis. Grap that little hatchet out of the back of the truck and knock off that piece of knothole hanging down there on that top post.” Dad said to me as Jake and I finished hanging it to the post.
“Wait! Let me do it Vic!” Jake protested. I think he just wanted to hack something to feel important.
“Okay, I don’t care, you can do it.” I moved back and to the side as Jake ran to the parked truck and came back with the sharp weapon in his hand along with a big smile of accomplishment on his face.
He stepped up to the fence and gave a few feeble whacks to dislodge the unwanted piece of wood that was attached to the pole.
“Oh for crying out loud! Hit it harder Jake!” I commanded to my brother four years younger than me. I moved directly behind him so I could get a better perspective of what the problem might be with his swing.
Jake was determined to make the next attempt his last effort as he reared back with all of his strength over his right shoulder . . . and then the hatchet flew out of his hand . . . backwards!
THUNK! Was all that he heard as I let out a groan of pain as the force of the blow knocked me off of my feet and flat on my back!
“OH MY GOD! VIC? VIC! ARE YOU ALRIGHT?!” Jake whirled around almost afraid to see what sort of condition I was in on the ground.
I was fine. The hatchet blade hit me in the chest. Broadside. It had only knocked the wind of out me.
Dad remained standing beside the last post waiting for us to stop laughing at our “new near miss” and to get back to work.
I picked the hatchet up and told Jake while I walked back up to the problem pole –
“I’ll get it. You’re fired from “hatchet duty”. The post-hole digger is the only thing that is going to fit your hands from now on buddy!”