The Walkman Wreck
By John Langmore
One thing familiar to every working cowboy is the notion of a “good wreck”. And I’m not talking about just getting bucked off. Something has to get injured (hopefully not seriously) . . . and it’s usually the cowboy that comes out on the short end of that stick.
One of my favorite wrecks was on Benny Binion’s Ranch outside of Jordan, Montana. Steve Fechser (Benny’s grandson who was drug out of Las Vegas each summer to cowboy in remote eastern Montana) and I were making a long ride from headquarters to the Highway Pasture on the far side of the ranch on two young colts. Benny was meeting us at the Highway Pasture with two fresh colts for the ride back to headquarters. It would add up to a long day in the saddle.
About ten miles into the ride I was sick of Steve riding along with his Walkman (this was the late ‘70s) listening to Marshall Tucker and leaving me with no one to talk at over the course of fourteen hours in the saddle. I finally insisted that he share the Walkman and give me a turn with Marshall Tucker. [For the cowboys reading this, I’ll confess right now that there were times at Binions, when we were out of Benny’s sight, that we’d screw off with things like Walkmans when we should have been training our horses.]
Steve finally relented after my persistent pestering. I put my hat and reins around my saddle horn while I attempted to arrange the Walkman for a long ride. Word to the wise – don’t put your reins around the horn while on a young colt! About then, a warm breeze blew across the Montana grasslands and lifted my hat up off the saddle horn and placed it right under my horse’s nose. For anyone used to riding colts, they know what came next. That buckskin horse saw that hat fly out of nowhere right under his nose, figured the young cowboy on his back was doing something he shouldn’t and took the opportunity to teach me a lesson. He took off bucking hard. The Walkman exploded against the saddle horn that once held my hat, and he unloaded me face first into the Montana sod.
Just getting bucked off certainly doesn’t qualify as a wreck. But that buckskin wasn’t done with me. Although he had about 150,000 acres to choose where to run, he chose to make a 100-yard circle and come right back at the stunned cowboy standing there hatless, surrounded by remnants of a Walkman and a Marshall Tucker tape. I started flapping my arms and screaming when I saw what he had in mind. It was to no avail. He ran right over the top of me at a dead run. Steve wrestled with conflicting feelings of great hilarity at the spectacle he had just witnessed and anger that the only Walkman on the ranch had just exploded.
Steve eventually caught that horse and I got back on only because that was more appealing than walking the remaining fifteen miles to the Highway Pasture (and, of course, you always get back on!). When Steve and I arrived at the Highway Pasture Benny was there waiting for us with two fresh colts. We kept the Walkman wreck to ourselves. I pulled my saddle off the buckskin and put it on the fresh bay. I climbed on, sat down in the saddle and off the bay went bucking hard (I always describe their bucking as "hard" when I get unloaded). I made some number of jumps but once again found myself pulling my face out of the Montana prairie. Benny laughed because he loved watching a good buck-off. Steve laughed because he took great pleasure witnessing my deserved fate for denying him a summer of Marshall Tucker.
John Langmore began cowboying in 1975 at the age of twelve, after his father photographed the seminal book, The Cowboy. John spent twelve summers cowboying across the West before pursuing a professional career. In 2012, after thirty years away from his time in the saddle, John began a six-year project photographing fourteen of the nation’s largest and most famous ranches. Of all those who have photographed the cowboy, John is one of the few who came to it first as a cowboy and only later as a photographer. John’s photographs and writings reflect this deep connection to the cowboy world and offer an unrivaled chance to witness a way of life that many dream of but few experience.