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Tools of the Cowboy

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By Lee Pitts

Several years ago I read in a man’s magazine, a list of the top ten tools of all time. Duct tape was number one and “Vice” Grips was also included, which I’m pretty sure is properly spelled Vise Grips®.

 Believe me, Vise Grips® have no vices. Also on the list were zip ties, margarine tubs, a big screwdriver, and to demonstrate how old the list was, a phone booth and a quarter was number 10. 

I haven’t seen a phone booth in years, and I believe, based on personal experience, they’ve been outlawed in Nebraska for years.

According to the article, really only two tools are needed – Duct Tape and WD 40®. One for things that refuse to move and the other for things that move but shouldn’t.

When I was making my living as a cowboy, not a single one of my essential tools was found on that list. When I composed my list of cowboy tools, I left off things like a pick-em-up truck, a horse, Gooseneck® trailer, chaps and saddlebags.

They are all indispensable, but I didn’t consider them tools. Horses are members of the family, saddlebags are for holding tools, like a toolbox, and chaps are more appropriately called clothing, not tools.

I also didn’t include things like a chainsaw, nail gun, drone or ladder. Although cowboys are occasionally called upon to use such things, they usually avoid them like the plague. Here’s my list of the top 10 tools of the modern day cowboy.

10. The cell phone: Although I don’t own one, I hate to admit the cell phone has become a vital tool for the modern cowboy. If they can get service out in the boonies where they work, a cell phone might come in handy if their horse bucked them off and ran home, or they’re trying to find the trucker who was supposed to show up two hours ago.

9. American-made fence pliers: The average cowboy knows the most expensive thing they’ll ever buy is a cheap tool. This is why cowboys don’t buy fence pliers at Harbor Freight that were made in China.

8. Digging bar: Unfortunately, these are needed to dig post holes, but they also come in handy for putting behind recalcitrant cows in the lead-up alley to keep them from backing up.

7. Hoof pick: Used for getting rocks out of the frog of a horse’s feet, and in a pinch, it can be also be used as an offset screwdriver.

6. Cowboy hat: Also known as a lid, war bonnet, conk cover, hair case and a Stetson. Cowboys live their life under one. It can be used as an umbrella, to throw in the face of a charging cow, fan a fire to get it started, water a horse and keep rain water from dribbling down their back. It can even be put on a stick and raised above rocks to draw gunfire from renegade outlaws. 

5. Leatherman® Multi-Tool: Used for cutting baler twine, castrating calves, picking teeth, gutting fish, pulling out a hook or a splinter or cutting the meat at a bull sale.

4. Wild rag: Can be used as a napkin, towel, tourniquet, handkerchief, piggin’ string, dish rag, sling, to keep out the dust when riding drag, cover up an ugly face, rob a bank or act as a spur strap when one breaks. Speaking of which…

3. Spurs: Also known as gut hooks, pet makers, persuaders, irons, rib wrenches, can openers, Chihuahuas and grappling irons. They can be used to communicate messages to a horse and to make it giddy-up.

2. Saddle: A cowboy’s workbench. This is where a cowboy does his best work. It provides front-row seating for sunsets, wrecks, brandings and ropings. A saddle can act as an anchor, someplace to tie to, a foot protector in brushy country, a cup holder, closet to hang his or her slicker and is a portable string dispenser of “whang” leather to cut off and be used as needed. 

1. Rope: Also known as a reata, string, lasso and twine. Unlike non-cowboy tools, the rope comes with no instructions written in six different languages. It’s been said the simpler the tool, the harder it is to master, and that certainly applies to the cowboy’s number one tool.                  

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