Life in a Sheepherder Wagon

Victor Croley describes growing up in a nomadic family of six with a sheepherder wagon for home and how years down the road he felt the urge to build a wagon of his own. Originally titled "The Sheepherder's Wagon" in the May/June 1970 issue of Mother Earth News

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    Victor Croley grew up with a sheepherder father, his family of six lived happily in a wagon like this, entertained by the outdoors and a fiddle.
    Photo by Victor Croley
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    This sheepherder's wagon is approximately seven feet wide by eight feet long with a table that slides under the bunkbed, a bench trunk, washbasin and stove.
    Illustration by Mother Earth News staff
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    Victor Croley and his wife took their recreated sheepherder's wagon on the road, pulled by a 1930 model A Ford, "for old times sake."
    Photo by Victor Croley
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    Patchwork quilts and wool batts were used for insulation over an inner wall of oil cloth.
    Photo by Victor Croley

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The temperature was forty degrees below zero at 6 a.m., and I knew it would be one of the coldest days of winter there in the high country of Wyoming. Fortunately, there was no wind with it and only seconds were needed to leap out of the warm bunk bed, pull pants and heavy flannel shirt over the wool "longies" I slept in, and start a quick fire in the sheep wagon stove.

This was an iron affair that stood to the left of the door facing out and occupied a space about two feet square and little more than two feet high. The six inch pipe was pushed through a sheet-metal guard in the canvas-covered roof and carried off the smoke.

The stove burned either wood, coal, or what was wryly called "Hoover coal." The depression years were on us and luckless President Hoover was bearing the blame for a great many minor hardships and economies. "Hoover coal" was the euphemism for dried cow manure and, when we could get them, the paper-dry pies were carefully gathered and hoarded in a sack tied on the rear corner of the wagon strictly for emergency use. Hoover coal made a quick hot fire but not everyone appreciated the pungent fragrance.

Lucky for me, the ranch boss had foreseen cold weather and knew I was in a sagebrush location where timber for firewood was scarce. He had sent me a sack of coal with the wagon tender on the last trip and I had it stashed away under the wagon with a bucket of lumps beside the stove. One lump in the small firebox lasted a long time and put out an amazing amount of heat, especially with the oven door open.

The water was frozen and had to be thawed on the stove before I could wash the sleep from my eyes and start breakfast. All canned goods and perishables were wrapped in newspapers and stored in cartons in the locker-benches on each side of the wagon.

By now the interior of the wagon was already comfortably warm. I sat on the bench beside the stove and surveyed my little kingdom while the water thawed.

Johnny mccracken
12/6/2019 10:45:49 PM

Love your story, sounds like you had a wonderful youth.Have a blessed day.

4/24/2007 8:03:12 PM

'Bush Briquettes" shall replace the term 'Hoover Coal' in the coming Great Depression 2.0 - or how about 'Cheney Chunks'?



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