The Farm Chronicles: Wild Donkey Ride

All winter long, my dad had the stock truck tied up in what we called the “shed.” The shed was actually one of the more modern buildings on the farm. Half of it was horse stalls and a hay loft, and the other half had a concrete floor with two bays where trucks, tractors, combines, whatever, could be worked on (and most of it needed repaired more often than not), and a massive tool bench where no one but Dad could find any specific tool in the pile. One bay during the winter of 1962 and spring of 1963 was occupied by my dad’s creation of a camper built on the bed of the truck. Warren McCarthy, Dad’s close friend, was renting his camper for the trip. But Dad, in typical penny-pinching Welsh Wilson fashion that I, too, inherited, decided to build his own.

With each day, the excitement built for our western excursion during the summer of 1963. The idea was to travel with the McCarthy’s in campers throughout all the states west of the Mississippi during what amounted to almost a three-month tour. Brothers Larry and Chuck would handle the farm duties and Dad’s fuel delivery business in his absence. This was an enormous opportunity for adventure! Even my second-grade teacher (and Dad’s cousin) Elizabeth Richards gave me a travel journal to collect coins from each state and write about what we saw. It was a big deal. When we returned, we made the local Ravenna, Ohio Record Courier Community Page. There were so many things that we did and saw on that “Great Trip West.”

From time to time, I will write about that trip in the Farm Chronicles, which could be a book in of itself. One of the stops along the way was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. In Custer State Park in 1963, you could see the herds of buffalo in the open range from afar as you were driving down the two-lane road. They looked small from a distance, but they were huge when you approached them, seemingly tame, but not something you would want to test. Then there were the donkeys. They were the highwaymen of the trip. Wandering purposely in the road, they curiously would stop any vehicle they could, even sticking their noses inside the windows, hoping for a carrot or some other food. They stubbornly would not move until they got what they wanted. Like any cowboy, and particularly an 8-year-old cowboy, I wanted to see if I could ride one of those donkeys.

Dad understood. He rode whatever animal he could, just to say he did it. I was the same way. We are hijacked on the road anyway by these sweet street outlaws, so why not try to ride one of them? No bridle. No saddle. No halter. Just me and the wild donkey. Mom was very skeptical. Dad cautiously lifted me up and I gently swung my leg over his withers. He just put his ears up and lowered his head, kind of posing for the picture. He was rewarded with an apple. Later, we found out that we weren’t supposed to ride them. Psalm 104 begins with “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Verses 10-11 say, “He sends the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild donkeys quench their thirst.” ‘And God provides for those Black Hills road agents through riders of the sage like me.

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Bill Wilson