Moving cattle under a railroad crossing sets the stage for a silent cowboy film.

Hopefully you’ve watched my directorial debut, A Train Wreck, above. It’s a silent film that hits all the original tropes: a day just like any other, a damsel (kind of) in distress, a daring rescue and a happy ending.

But here’s the story behind the story.

My wife and I were moving a set of cattle under a railroad crossing. We’ve done it dozens of times. At first, the cattle are hard to get going, but usually once they go, they really go. As the cattle filtered under the bridge, I saw a train coming and thought, “Hmm, this might be good to film.”

In truth, it was not. I quit filming when they started running back on me. But once we got the remainder of the herd back to the bridge, I saw a steer stuck in between the pilings. The herd was willing to go on through (he was kind of good bait to get them looking), and after the last one went under we began to assess the situation. This critter was stuck.

Moving cattle under a railroad crossing
Moving a cattle herd under a railroad crossing usually goes smoothly, but every now and then it has the making for a train wreck.
Photo by Bob Welch

He had pushed his head, shoulders and rib cage through, but was hiplocked. Like the Ian Tyson song, I just “stood there amazed.” I snapped a couple of pictures and sent them to a friend for advice. His best idea was to turn the steer sideways—like a hiplocked calf. My wife got her rope around his front feet, and I got mine around the rear, and we pulled him down. He started groaning for the first time during the whole process.

At first, we tried to just have our horses pull him out. He wouldn’t even budge. Our last resort was the truck—and I was sure hesitant. I did not want to break his back, a hip or a stifle. My wife drove and we put our phones on speaker phone to talk it through. My wife eased him out slowly. Despite being under a bridge, the angles actually worked out well. His left hip went through easily, but I had to lift his right leg as high as I could so it would slip through. Basically, he had to do the splits to get out.

Once free, he just laid there. I thought I must have broken his back. But, after a second, he scrambled up and sauntered out as if it were no big deal.

I thought it was.

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