Monday, June 1, 2015

Trail(er)ing Goats

The first goat show of 2015 lurked on the calendar and I still didn’t have a way to transport Katherine and The Herd.  Katherine carpooled with Bubba to a couple of goat shows at the end of 2014, but the situation was tense to say the least.  Besides, I am a grown woman and I am perfectly capable of taking care of my family and myself, thank you very much.  Katherine and I half-heartedly searched for a used trailer in the late autumn; but, I admit, I was entranced with my new romantic interest so the trailer project had gotten bumped way down on my “to do” list.  With only four weeks to go, I had to get back on the case.

My experience with trailers was extremely limited.  While I had owned horses for 8 years, I had never once driven them anywhere.  That’s what trainers are for, right?  I signed the horses up on the “to go” list at The Barn and, voila, they magically appeared in their assigned stalls at the designated show at the appropriate time.  Bubba trailered the goats; not me.

For some unknown reason I purchased a rust bucket of a (true) stock trailer from our handyman back in 2011.  And for those of you not familiar with the vocab of trailers, let me give you a quick lesson.  First, a trailer is either a bumper pull or goose neck.  Bumper pull is self-explanatory; “goose neck” means the trailer extends over the bed of a pickup truck.  Second, enclosed horse trailers versus stock trailers.  Enclosed horse trailers have full walls on all sides and windows.  A “stock” trailer refers to the slatted sides.  A stock sided horse trailer has these semi-open sides at about horse head height as well as a tack room for storage and dressing.  A true stock trailer “refers to a trailer designed specifically to haul untamed livestock.”  (  What exactly does “untamed livestock” mean? Rodeo bulls?  BLM mustangs and donkeys?  Chincoteague ponies?  Range cattle?  Pygmy goats?

Here is an example of a super swank horse trailer I found on the Internet.  This baby is a 3-horse, bumper pull, slant load trailer.  It has interior dome lights; an escape door (which comes in handy with “untamed livestock”); a tack room with bridle and saddle racks, blanket bars and a brush tray; mangers for each animal with storage underneath; full padding inside, even on the removable dividers; finally, the piece de resistance, a dressing room with closet and fold-down bed (!).  It could be yours for $27,200.

That is so NOT what I bought.  I paid $800 and got a rust bucket stock trailer, more like this one (which is listed for sale at $1,000):

This example is a gooseneck, so in your mind just imagine it as a bumper pull.  And mine was not such a groovy shade of orange either.  Mine was a “true” stock trailer with one cavernous space into which we stuffed 20+ pygmy goats.  No lights anywhere—including the ones you are supposed to have to legally drive it on the road.  Details, details.  It was solid American steel, baby, tough as nails.  I really should’ve photographed it before I sold it for $500.

To this day I’m not sure why I bought it; we already had Bubba’s trailer.  I think I got caught up in the “bargain” of it.  Bubba is a talented salesman.  Come to think of it, I was pregnant with Cash at the time and everyone knows that pregnant women do irrational things.  Back then I owned a GMC Yukon XL Denali--top of the line, luxurious, every option imaginable.  I drove it around San Francisco for carpool and up to Tahoe.  I did not drive it around with a trailer, though it did have a hitch and a tow button (it had every button they could squeeze onto it, actually).  The GMC had a ½ ton engine (1500), which, the Internet tells me, is suitable for towing a canoe or a kayak.  That comes into play later, so remember that point.

I had to drive my rusty trailer once.  Well, twice actually because I had to have a lesson on how to drive it before I got thrown into the deep end.  The lesson was easy enough.  Make wide turns.  Check.  Give yourself lots of room to stop.  Check.  This is how you hook up.  Yeah, yeah.  I probably should’ve paid better attention, but I didn’t fully comprehend that I was going to have to actually DRIVE it somewhere.  We were competing in the goat show at the State Fair, but Bubba was unavailable to drive the goats home at the end of the show.  So I had to do it.  The day arrived and I drove my GMC up to Sacramento to pick up the trailer and goats.  I had the foresight to bring Charlie, who was maybe 15 at the time.  Definitely not driving yet.

We found our rusty trailer in the trailer lot.  Good start.  Bubba had jotted down instructions on how to hook it up to my car – with rough illustrations.  With the help of the GMC’s backup camera, Charlie and I got the beast hooked up.  Cameras are incredibly useful, I might add, if you ever have to hook up a trailer.  Then I drove the trailer to the show barn.

All the exhibitors were loading up to leave, including the cow people.  Those people all drive gargantuan stock trailers, the biggest on the market.  My decrepit stock trailer hooked up to my super lux SUV looked a little out of place.  Whatever.  Charlie and I got the goats and the gear in the trailer.  So far so good.  Then I had to get the trailer out: a cow person blocked me in.  Uh oh.  Bubba had told me nothing about going backwards…it’s not like a car…at all.  Eventually a frustrated rancher ordered me out of my SUV and backed my trailer out for me – he was tired of waiting.  I looked like such a powder puff, ditzy blond, teacup goat woman.  I reminded myself that it’s good for kids to see their parents embarrassed – then they know it happens to everyone.

Charlie and I pulled the trailer out onto the city streets of Sacramento and then onto the highway onramp.  My car strained against the weight of the fully loaded steel trailer and we crept up the ramp.  My trailer-driving lesson certainly did not include merging or highway driving in rush hour.  “Dear God, please let them see me coming and get out of my way because I have no idea what I am doing.”
We survived the 2-hour drive home without a scratch.  We even made it up the one lane, one-mile long road (with low hanging branches) to our house at the top of a hill.  By the time I got to the back of the property where I was supposed to park the trailer I was too frazzled to even attempt backing the trailer into its parking spot.  I threw the GMC into park, jumped out and told Charlie to park it.  I would direct him (!).

Kids don’t overthink things – like parking.  They also believe you when you say with great confidence and gusto, “You can do it!”  So Charlie got in the driver’s seat and put the GMC in reverse.  I think he had driven the prehistoric ranch truck up and down the back road a couple times.  But that was it.  I didn’t bother explaining that if you want to go right you have to turn left and vice versa.  I didn’t compare it to steering a boat or tell him to put his hand at the bottom of the steering wheel.  I don’t think I knew any of those tricks at the time.  Even if I had known, I wouldn’t have confused him with too much information.  And so, Charlie just looked out the window over his shoulder and parked the trailer.  He got it on the first try, too.  Kids.

About six months later my transmission started slipping in the GMC.  What could that be, I wondered?  It didn’t have that many miles on it.  Then it occurred to me: maybe towing the heavy steel trailer over hill and dale had overtaxed the transmission of my luxury, canoe-towing SUV.  Before the transmission got worse, I traded in the GMC for a Chevy Suburban 2500 with the full tow package with heavy-duty brakes, suspension and engine.

Fast-forward three and a half years.  I had not driven a trailer since my State Fair experience. Katherine needed a way to get to goat shows without imposing on Bubba ever again.  I was just going to have to bite the bullet and do it.  One afternoon at the end of Katherine’s Christmas break, about a month before the first show, I finally got tired of procrastinating and identified a trailer sales place in the next town over.  I could’ve shopped around for price, but sometimes I really don’t have the patience.  I also recognized that I was going to need a full on lesson of how to hook and unhook it from my car.  I would be too embarrassed to ask a random person selling their trailer to show me how to operate the thing.

“At least I have the right truck this time,” I reassured myself as we pulled into Truck Tops USA.  Within 30 minutes we had picked out a 3-horse, slant load, stock style horse trailer with a tack room.  It cost somewhere between $800 - $27,200.  It’s certainly not the fancy model, though.  My stated objective to the salesman was to purchase something that would hold its resale value because I would sell the damned thing as soon as Katherine went to college.  No more goats!  We’ll see.

Anyway, I wrote a check and the salesman filed the DMV papers.  Meanwhile, a guy out back measured the height of my bumper so we could fit the Chevy with the correct ball hitch.  I hadn’t even thought of that detail – good thing we did not do a private party sale.  The helper hooked up my trailer.  I requested that he unhook it and give Katherine a tutorial on how to hook and unhook it (she’s just a kid, you know).  Yes, I blamed my ignorance on my child.  Bad parenting.  The salesman was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable about my Suburban 2500, thank god.

“There’s a big lot in the back if you want to go practice,” he offered.  “Good idea!” I said cheerfully.  Katherine and I got in the ‘Burb and closed the windows.  She looked at me skeptically.  “We can do this!” I asserted.  I pulled the trailer down the back road a little ways, looking for this practice field.  “Big” was an overstatement; my goat field is bigger than that lot was.  I pulled forward and then back, swerving like a drunken snake; then I got the trailer kind of wedged in a spot between a mountain of dirt and some cement blocks.  Katherine got out and surveyed the situation thoughtfully.  Meanwhile, a semi drove up the driveway from the other direction.  The truck driver watched us a couple minutes, and then honked impatiently.  Unlike the kind rancher at the State Fair, this guy did not offer to remedy my predicament.

I have a tendency to flee situations when I get scared, embarrassed or rattled.  “Let’s go! Practice is over!” I chirped at Katherine through my open window.  Fortunately, the driveway looped around to the main road – so I didn’t have to go backwards.  We pulled onto the road and so began my new role as Goat Hauler.  I’m sure the salesman wondered if we made it home in one piece.

By some absolute miracle, a huge parking near the fairgrounds was unlocked and totally empty.  Except for a port-o-potty.  Convenient.  No one would see us and we couldn’t hit anything.  Like I had done with Charlie, I jumped out and made Katherine drive the trailer.  I’m such a chicken.  Like her brother, she had only driven our little sedan around a parking lot once before.  And like her brother, she just drove Suburban and the trailer around the parking lot, backwards and forwards, without thinking about it.  I drove the rig home since she didn’t even have a learner’s permit, and then Katherine backed it into its new parking spot at home like a pro.  At the upcoming goat show, we would switch seats and Katherine could maneuver the truck and trailer down the narrow parking lot.  She would also hook and unhook it, since the salesman had taught her (not me) how.  We had a plan, even if it was technically illegal.

I am in awe of children.  They are so trusting and they believe us Parents when we say, “You can do it!”  And when do people start overthinking everything? Is that the definition of “adulthood”?  With a little encouragement, kids just do what needs to get done because they don’t think they can’t do it.  Kids can teach us adults a lot.

No comments:

Post a Comment