Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sheep Shearing Crew

Sheep Shearing Crew

The Chapel brothers, Travis and Wes, came to the ranch to shear our 240 sheep yesterday. It is earlier in the season than we usually shear but the weather was pretty good and they were available--working around the crew’s other full time jobs of teaching, driving wrecker and working concrete. They bring their own shearing plant with its four stations and back it up to our chute. Loud country music plays above the din of the electric clippers. The long accurate cuts of the shearers maintain the integrity of the three inch wool fibers. We raise Targhee sheep and they have wool graded as 62 and categorized as fine wool as compared to the coarse wool of crossbreds.

Travis’s girlfriend was conned into coming with him and she swept up the wool and sorted “bellies and dirty wool from fine” and readied the wool for stomping into sacks. They arrived right after breakfast and went through our sheep in time for midday meal at the ranch house. No holding back with a Chapel. These guys are fun loving and outgoing…none of them afraid of work.

It was a treat to see Pat Chapel drive down the bumpy lane to the sheep shed. The youngster with him is Daniel who at three years old is almost 80 years younger than his great grandfather Pat. It is clear that Daniel is a Chapel as he joins the crew of kids working the sheep. Each taking a turn “Mutton Busting” riding the sheep in the holding pens.

The Chapels have shearing in their blood and that is a story that could go on for a real long time. Chapel blood is thick and it doesn’t dilute out over the generations. Pat is 82; you might say he grew up with my folks and with eyes sparkling he gives me a hug. I remember Pat’s smile and some of the pranks he played on my parents when I was a young girl. He recalled the 35 years that he sheared sheep averaging 10,000 sheep a year…Some more, some less but a total of 350,000 in his career.

Our parents and our grandparents were sheep men and women in the 1920’s and 30’s and 40’s when Big Timber, Montana, was known as The Wool Capital of the World. Coming to Sweet Grass County from the old country (Norway), my grandfather Haug made his home in sheep country on Upper Deer Creek just up the road from Rick’s grandfather Halverson. When my father married my mother they spent their honeymoon summer living in a sheep wagon herding sheep on the grassy slopes of Livingston Peak--Shepherds and shepherdesses in a time when the sheep industry was in its heyday.

But those days are long ago and far away. That’s why story telling is so important. It is all about remembering and sharing the ranch family traditions.