Old Lew and the Pot Bellied Stove

It was cold out. In the north country that doesn’t mean freezing, it means maybe 60 degrees colder than that. The wind was howling outside and when the work is done you don’t linger around. Dark out by four thirty in the afternoon and a fella just heads for cover. Take off a good twenty pounds or more of jackets coveralls, boots, gloves, fur caps and wonder if any body parts froze up. The cows were hunkered up with plenty of hay in front of them at all times to stoke their fire in the gut. The night before I checked em and the thermometer said 47 below, those cows never even laid down, they got in a tight group and kept lifting their legs in order to keep some blood flowing and not freezing. I do remember those days in my younger years and there’s one special memory that keeps running through my head during weather like that. Its about a guy named Lew, an oldtimer that was born in 1900. A friend of mine and I miss him. He died in the year 2000, made er to a hundred and never went to an old folks home, just stayed out on his small ranch and had himself a few Herefords near the end. By the end he couldn’t drive a car any more so he drove around on his little Ford tractor when ever he wanted to go some where close by. I used to visit Lew, and my favorite times were those cold winter nights. I’d have to go out every hour or so and start the pickup so it would still turn over because of the cold, but a feller didn’t think anything of it. Those evenings around Lew’s old potbellied stove are some of my fondest memories.

Being born in 1900 a person was in a world not all too much different that the time since creation. Lew never seen a car till he was a teenager and a little later for the first airplane. He was from a large family and sometimes in those days that meant just taking off when you’re in your mid teen and make a go of it on your own. Lew and myself would sit pretty close to that blazing hot pot belly stove because that old time house wasn’t exactly weather tight and they had no insulation. He’d get that stove where it would turn red on the side, had a huge pile of hard maple limbs cut up outside the porch just for the evenings and later he’d put in a night block or two when it was time for him to get to bed under a thick feather tick. Sittin close to that stove a fella would almost start on fire on the side close to the stove and probably be freezing on the other side. Typical back then was the curled up wall paper in the close area around the stove, curled up from the intense heat in that corner of the kitchen.

When Lew struck out on his own as a young teenager he was in practically every state west of the Mississippi at one time or another working for cattle outfits or grain farms. And his stories held me spell bound. At that age he worked mostly in Arizona and western North Dakota, both not having been settled all that many years before. Most of the time when you signed on to an outfit the owners were the original settlers from a few decades before and seen the opening of the west. They knew open range, they knew how the land was when it was first settled. The stories were amazing and one thing about Lew, he didn’t stretch the truth. Personally my favorite stories were when he was working for years on different outfits on the hi-line, which is mostly Montana, but I always put northwestern North Dakota in that too. A new land that was opened up by the Great Northern railroad. Making it possible to ship out cattle by train and get supplies in to and from Minnesota. I know the area well and could just see what he’d be talking about in my mind.

Another thing that struck me years ago was Lew’s faith, something I didn’t even have at the time, but he planted some seeds in me faithwise and some memories as well. Lew was a simple man by all appearances, but held allot of knowledge inside of him. He’d know about me screwing up, but never ran me down or condemned me for anything. Always calm, always deliberate in what he’d say, I knew I was in the presence of a man with wisdom. He’d tell me about “wolfin” in the winter in the very early days on the hi-line. Large packs of wolves, hungry, and they were reeking havoc with the livestock back then. Earned extra money in winter doing that, both from the ranchers and the county bounties. He’d talk about how the packs would come circling as he’d be riding his horse, or be driving a wagon, always with rifle and pistols. And they’d use em.

Sitting here tonight I miss old Lew. Knew him for a few decades, went to his funeral and remember with a smile how he’d tell his stories. I know Lew is in heaven, without a doubt. He trusted Jesus in everything. There ain’t nothing new about cowboys trusting Jesus and I know that for a fact. They see His creation all around them every day. I think I might start looking arround for an old pot bellied stove to sit around come winter.

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Published in: on September 22, 2011 at 8:06 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yep. Knew a fella like that over near Inkster, Noth Dakota. Bernie Diemert. Us boys were the only ones at his funeral.

    • This is kind of an intriduction of old Lew, plus a few others over the decades that influenced me allot. Figure those stories are just to good to lose.

  2. Nothing like them old cowboys and their stories. But like you said, it’s the faith that bleeds through the words that make ’em memorable.

    • I hope when the time comes and I’m getting up there in years that I can be as content with it all as he was. He worked till the end, much slower of coarse, but what a life he had! Then to have the faith that takes the fear out of when it all ends here, looking forward to meeting Jesus!

  3. we need more “Lew’s” in the world…get the pot-bellied stove, my brother! 🙂

    • I agree, need more of em. I reckon its up to us 🙂

      I’m a lookin for that stove!!


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