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You Really Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd



We took the Bison Ranch Tour at the FMCA Family Reunion, 50th Anniversary Rally, in Gillette, Wyoming. It turned into a real adventure, much more than expected. Our tour was Friday evening and was to include a meal before our return to the rally site in Gillette.

We met the bus at the assigned location and boarded without incident. This was a nice commercial bus with comfortable seats and air conditioning. After the last passengers were on board we were on our way south on Wyoming Highway 59 toward the little town of Wright. The trip was uneventful, the bus moved along at a good clip and we arrived at the Bison Ranch in about 45 minutes. We were met by the manager, a member of the family that owns the ranch, he lives on and operates the ranch. This ranch has 100 square miles of land, a bison herd of over 2000 and ships bison meat to a number of national markets.

We learned all this as we were traveling gravel roads across the grassy plains out into the ranch. About 20 minutes into the trip across the ranch to the location of the bison herd the bus stopped. Those of us in the rear of the bus could smell the hot antifreeze, this was not a good smell. After several attempts to restart the bus we all got off and began milling about. The mechanics in the group immediately began opening up the engine compartments to see what the problem could be. It wasn't much of a mystery, there were wet hoses and the strong smell of hot antifreeze. So now we watched as our guide called his wife on the cell phone. He gave our location in order for her to guide the replacement bus to our location. From where we were we could see the town of Wright on the horizon and a few other houses way off in the distance. Over to the southwest we could see the bison herd. With a pair of binoculars you could actually tell that they were indeed bison. So our guide spends some time telling us more about the ranch and bison. He explains the difference between buffalo and bison very clearly. True buffalo are found in Asia (water buffalo) and Africa (Cape buffalo). Our North American bison are only distantly related to the true buffalo. They are more closely related to cattle and yaks. He relates a story about an Australian speaker at a meeting who explained the difference between a buffalo and a bison. You can't wash your face in a buffalo! Think about it. OK, say it with an Australian accent. Eventually, we all got it. His talk gives out and everyone starts to explore.

After about 20 minutes of exploring, our guide decides we need some entertainment so he gathers up a pile of chips, bison chips! We are going to have a chip throwing contest. Now this is a group of FMCA members, serious RV'ers, who have never turned down a camp game of any kind. I don't think that everyone tossed a chip but starting with the women, one after another, they picked out their special chip from the pile and stepped up to the line to give it a toss. It didn't matter too much which direction you threw your chip, it varied some, none of the spectators were hurt except perhaps from laughing too hard. Being generous our host counted the tiniest chip that came off the chip when it exploded as it hit the ground. The piece that traveled the greatest distance was where you stood until someone threw further. They tossed chips 30 feet, 40 feet, 50 feet, this was serious business. Finally with no more takers, the winner was announced. Then it was time for the men to show their form. We stepped up to pick a chip. The process went quickly, I believe more women stepped forward than men. Cameras clicked, people laughed and a good time was had by all.

Shortly after the last chip crashed to the ground the replacement bus could be seen winding its way over hill and dale to our location. Relief was in sight. We loaded onto the replacement bus, our bus driver joined us and we were off. As we started out we passed the stinky old bus, out across the field we went to get around it and then back onto the road and on toward the bison herd. Arriving at the herd, we got off the bus and while enjoying the herd our bus was turned around and ready to take us back for our dinner. We spent a good 40 minutes watching the herd. There they were, huge bulls, abundant cows and those light brown calves. Hundreds of them grazing on the range. We stood less than 50 feet from the closest. Once in a while a dispute would break out, a quick charge, butt or bump your way to where you wanted to be and then things settled down. Occasionally a cow or bull would lay down and roll in the dirt raising a cloud of dust. Calves trotted around from place to place, taking life entirely too lightly as the young are prone to do.

Now it was time to go so we load onto the replacement bus ready for a trip back to dinner. Guess what, the replacement bus won't go into gear. It turns out that it would not build the air pressure to a sufficient level for the coach to be put in gear. The bus engine was run at a high idle for what seemed like 15 or 20 minutes before we finally achieved suitable air pressure. At last we're headed for dinner. We pass the stinky old bus on the way out, a mechanic is deep into the engine compartment. It doesn't look like a real pleasant job. On our way back to the dinner we enjoy watching storm clouds off to our east. At sunset the clouds are spectacular. We arrive back at the ranch headquarters. By the time we've eaten it is almost dark. A short wait while we build air pressure again and we're on our way back to Gillette. Everyone is pleased to see that the volunteers are still running the shuttle as we arrive at 10:30 p.m. It all makes for a very memorable FMCA Convention!


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