Buck Smith’s Options
Part Five
 
                     By Tom Word
 
Buck and Kyle had decided to make just one prairie trial, the North Dakota.  At the end of the first week in September, they drove for Columbus with four horses and their short strings of dogs, two derbies each, plus four all-age.  Buck had retired Naomi and shipped her by air to her owner.  Kyle had still not sold Headstrong.  He would advertise him after the North Dakota, where he hoped he could notch a win.  That was a long shot, for the entry list was long and included most of the best strings, and the judges were not among Kyle’s favorites.  Of course, like all handlers, Kyle figured every judge had prejudices against him and in favor of other handlers.  Paranoia about judges was a part of the handler culture.
Buck and Kyle loved the grounds at Columbus, and rumor had it there were plenty of birds this year.  The crops were in, so visibility would be good.  When they pulled in to headquarters at the Koppelsloen homestead, a dozen rigs were already parked there.  Pipe corrals were in place for the horses, and dogs were out on chains beside the trialers.  The grand Sears and Roebuck house, built with profits from the 1919 wheat crop, the most profitable ever for Dakota farmers, still stood proudly, despite being unoccupied since the 1960s when old John had moved to town where one of his sons ran a dairy.  A grandson still farmed the original homestead, plus others adjoining acquired from other homesteader families over the decades.  A half mile northwest lay the graveyard that held the remains of four generations of the community, sturdy Norwegians of Lutheran faith.  The church that John Koppelsloen had built with his neighbors had been moved to Lake Powell, collected there with a half dozen others from similar homesteader communities in the vicinity.  On the way in, Buck and Kyle had stopped at the graveyard and looked into the one-room schoolhouse just across the section road from it, its windows knocked out by vandals, but still standing against the constant winds of the prairies.  They marveled at how nothing decayed in the country due to the lack of humidity.
Buck and Kyle got their dogs and horses settled, watered, and fed, then lit out for town.  They checked into Ken’s Motel, then went to the Outback Bar for a supper of beer and pizza.  The place was packed with trialers, plus the local regulars, farmhands, and oil-well maintenance workers, a few retires who would soon be off to Arizona for the winter.  Buck and Kyle renewed their friendships with the locals.  Columbus was perhaps the most trialer-friendly community in America, with the North Dakota stakes serving as a homecoming occasion for many families that had moved to Minot or Bismarck or beyond, but still were drawn to visit their ancestral roots at this time of the year when the bleakness of prairie winter lay just ahead.     

to be continued in Part 6