I drove through Yellowstone once. I was on my way to Montana for a sibling rescue. It was January and colder than Nancy Pelosi’s heart. Road crews plowed through with giant blowers, creating snow corridors 20 feet high. From the safety of a heated pickup interior, the outside wilderness looked pleasant enough. Crisp blue skies. You could see for miles. Minus the wind chill, it was 3.
THUH-ree. As we say in the Western vernacular, that’s a two-syllable word.
I’ll never forget the lament in the Motel 6/boy-howdy voice of the Montana AM disc jockey: “Tonight’s low — 30-below…”
Do the math. That’s 60 degrees colder than ice cream.
We stopped at a town consisting of a market and gas station to stock up on sunflower seeds, Big Gulps, jerky and to fill up the truck. Not wanting to splash ethyl on my leather gloves, I took them off to pump the gas. A strange idea visited. After topping off the double tanks, I kept my gloves off and marched directly into the store to the freezer section. Open the glass door. Stuck my hands in. I’ll never forget that sensation. Amidst the ice cubes, my hands were warm. It was so blasted cold that winter day in Yellowstone, I could warm my hands up in a freezer and the ice cubes felt like a campfire.
I’ve visited the other “Yellowstone” recently. Not the national park. The hit TV cowboy soap opera. It brought a smile to my face.
When worlds collide.
Actual Ranch Life vs. TV Westerns.
Most of you weren’t around when the television show, “Stoney Burke” was filmed here in Santa Clarita in the early 1960s. It’s an absolute assault on the senses to see what the SCV looked like a half-century-plus ago. Even as a kid, I marveled at how Jack Lord, in the title role of the top rodeo cowboy Stoney, managed to stay so free of sweat, so squeaky clean. There’s a scene at the old Saugus rodeo grounds where Stoney’s in the chute, atop an apex bucking bronco. Stoney’s wearing chaps. For you condo monkey yuppie subscribers, chaps are leather leggings used to protect Western types from the sudden erosionary nature of wild shrubbery.
Stoney Burke is wearing chaps that looked like someone had just cut them from the front seat of a brand-new Rolls Royce parked in a Beverly Hills showroom floor. There wasn’t a scratch or fleck of horse poop on them. EVERYTHING about Stoney was pristine, as if he had been transported in Tupperware to the arena from Liberace’s living room.
Remember “The Rifleman?”
That was the classic TV series about the peaceful sodbuster Lucas McCain raising his son, Mark, on a New Mexico Territory parking lot posing as farmland. Chuck Connors was the fabled marksman with the trick fast-repeating rifle. Even as a kid I wondered. What the heck, please and exactly, did The Rifleman raise on his spread?
From time to time, you’d spot a guest cow. Maybe a cameo from a stunt chicken. Lucas would strip off his shirt and perspire while whacking top soil the hardness of concrete with a pick ax. If I were moseying by on horseback in an episode, I might be tempted to ask:
“Hey Luke! Preparing the soil to grow a beet?”
Never saw old Lucas plow or pull a weed, bale hay or water a turnip. He and his son went out to lunch more than Marlee Lauffer. The only thing I could figure was how that ranch made a profit was from Lucas McCain robbing the corpses of the scores of bad guys he killed. According to pleasekillme.com, there were 245 men killed in just 168 episodes — about 1.5 per show. Lucas Boy accounted for about half that tally. There’s even a cool, time-compressed video on YouTube where you can see the peaceful/aw shucks Rifleman ka-tow ka-tow every victim.
Fast forward 50 years to “Yellowstone.” Kevin Costner plays John Dutton, the hardscrabble patriarch of a ranch larger than some states, including insanity. Like Stoney Burke, Dutton’s a cowboy curiously immune to dirt. Check it out. Costner is an elder male catalogue model. No rips in the jacket. No dust on the boots. The guy’s immaculate. I’m waiting for the cast to break out singing “YMCA.”
As with “The Rifleman,” I have no idea how Costner/John Dutton makes money.
It must cost a gazillion samolians to run that Montana ranch. The overhead alone in useless cowboys has to be fiscally crippling. And I know labor doesn’t spend all their time lynching villains, shooting bears, punching each other in the nose or procreating with cowgirls with low self-esteem (Montana’s No. 1 growth industry).
But cripes. There’s always SIX guys sitting on an arena fence rail, watching ONE guy break ONE bronco. It’s as if, in some primitive tribute, they’re emulating Caltrans.
Never knew there was so much money in horse aerobics.
“Why Slim. We’ll just take 12 hours to ride that pony to exhaustion, kick the holy crap spirit out the noble steed to the point of making him useless then we’ll magically get a check for $6.8 million and pay off the mortgage on the ranch!!”
Why stop there?
Two broncos? That’s $13.6 million.
You break a dozen horses and that’s serious lotto money, figuring Sundays off for church or cowgirls, of course.
Can you keep a secret? Ranch work is essentially weed abatement with better hats. It’s scraped knuckles. There’s no moisturizer or hand lotion. A North Korean socks salesman makes more money.
Still. I can see why all these TV bad guys, from the neighboring Indian reservation to New York City boardrooms, want to get their mitts on Costner’s Yellowstone Ranch. There’s a fortune to be made breaking broncos.
It never gets cold in TV Montana.
John Boston, amen boy howdy, is a local writer.