"Even when I was a little kid, I wanted to be like my dad and be a cowboy."
One of the coolest days on the ranch
Laundry is a dirty, somewhat futile, chore.
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An elementary school physical education teacher and coach in Colorado and an avid runner, Rob saw this experience as a new outlet for physical activity. He's no stranger to working outdoors and under the sun, having spent his early childhood on a farm in Horton, Kansas. After his family lost the farm and lived in Kansas City for a few years, they moved to a ranch in New Mexico. Rob relocated to Colorado in 1992 to attend Adams State College. He now has a master's degree and has been happily married to his wife, Michele, for five years.
"Even when I was a little kid, I wanted to be like my dad and be a cowboy. We'll drive by a dairy and I'll smell cow manure, and I'll be like, 'Yeah! That smells good,' and everybody's like, 'You're crazy.' So, I'm looking forward to all that."
The cowboy is an essential member of the ranch operation but considered a day laborer. Since the end of the Civil War, young men all over the country have been unemployed and are therefore willing to take on unglamorous, hard work. A cowhand is free to get up and go when he pleases. He is the consummate individual.
Rob works from dawn till dusk, seven days a week unless otherwise directed. On many ranches, cowboys were allowed only two days off: Christmas and the Fourth of July. His duties may differ each day, but generally include cow work and repairs to buildings, wagons, saddles, and other tack gear. Cowhands often spend the entire day in the saddle, but are also expected to help with ranch maintenance and other work. Rob may be asked to look after the larger animals, such as goats and pigs.
While working the open range, Rob is required to go on "cowhunts." Once he and his fellow cowboys find cattle, they must herd them back to a home range or an area where they can be tallied and either branded or tail-bobbed and in some cases castrated. Rob and the cowboys must also patrol the boundaries of the ranch for rustlers and other dangers. On the trail, days are longer, and at night the cowboys must take turns "night herding" -- watching over the cattle in two-hour shifts. Rob will also be assigned to a specific position on the herd as he drives it during the day. When cattle are well strung out they walk much better and are more readily handled.
A cowboy's horse is his best friend, and the welfare of his "remuda" -- the three horses that a cowboy rotates riding so as not to overuse any -- comes before his own personal comfort. He must watch that their backs and feet don't get sore or injured and keep an eye out for sores and bites. He should be able to correct and control his horse, but abusiveness will never be tolerated.
All ranch hands live in the bunkhouse. They are expected to keep their bunk area clean, airing out their mat and rolling it neatly, and keeping their personal possessions in order and out of the way of others. Respect for superiors and women is the hallmark of a well-mannered cowboy. Mr. Cooke expects and demands that the cowboys show deference and courtesy to himself and to his family.
Produced by Thirteen/WNET New York and Wall to Wall Television.
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