The old cowboy looked down at the cattle guard and swore under his breath.
"Kent?" he asked. "Got any other ideas?"
Mike slowly unhooked the chain from the one of the pipes that made up the cattle guard. The other end was attached to the bucket of the front-end loader Kent was running.
"I was sure that we could just lift up one side of the cattle guard and dig the dirt out from under it," Kent said. "But, it looked like the pipe was bending."
"Yep," Mike said. "And if we can't lift it up, there is only one way we can get all of that dirt out from under it."
Mike looked down at the cattle guard again. The heavy pipes were set about five inches apart, close enough that a vehicle could cross, but cattle would not even attempt to cross the pipes. This meant that a cattle guard was a gate that never had to be opened or closed—a real time-saver on a ranch.
This cattle guard, however, now had dirt filling the usual open space under the pipes. The recent rains from a a tropical storm that had not come within a thousand miles of the Brazos River ranch had flooded the road and washed in so much dirt and debris that the cattle no longer viewed the cattle guard as an obstacle—something that was made apparent by the cattle the two men had found grazing along the county road that bordered the ranch. Now safely returned to their pasture, the cattle would be safe as soon as a little maintenance on the cattle guard was finished.
An hour later, the two men were still on their hands and knees, scooping the dirt out from the between the heavy pipes. It was slow work, but they were making steady progress.
"You know, they've done experiments and all you have to do is paint the pipes on the ground and the cattle won't cross it," said Kent as he lifted another small scoop of dirt out of the space.
Mike stopped for a second and looked at the other man. "That's nonsense," he said. "Why wouldn't they just walk across them?"
Before his friend could answer, a county road truck slowly drove around the bend in the county road and the two men could see two workmen laboring behind the truck as it slowly made its way toward the gate.
Staring at the truck, Kent answered, "Cows can't see that well, so they think the stripes painted on the ground are the real thing."
By now, the two ranchers could see that the truck was stopping every 20 feet or so, and one of the two workers was using a posthole digger to make a hole in the ground about two feet deep.
"Those cows could see well enough to realize this hole was full of dirt—and these pipes are real, not just painted on the ground." As Mike was talking, he stood up so that he could get a better look at the approaching work crew. As he watched, the man had finished digging the hole, and as the truck slowly moved forward, the man with the posthole digger followed the truck as it drove another 25 feet up the shoulder of the county road.
Mike leaned back and stretched his back, one hand on his kidney. "I feel as beat as a rented mule. Besides, the eyes on a cow are so far apart they have about twice the field of vision as you and I. What they lack is depth perception: that's why you see them walk around shadows—they're afraid it might be a hole in the ground."
"But, you see, the cows think...." Kent began, but stopped as he watched the second workman following the truck walk up to the freshly dug hole and begin refilling the hole with dirt. When it was finished, he followed the workman with the posthole digger as the county truck moved farther up the road.
"Just what in the world are those two fools doing?" asked Mike. "Why are they digging holes and filling them back up?"
For a long minute, the two men just stood there watching the county workers as they dug another hole and refilled it. As they watched, the truck finally pulled up roughly in front of where the two old cowboys were working. Together, they crossed the road and spoke through the open window of the truck to the driver.
"What's going on?" Mike asked.
The driver nodded to the two men and answered, "The county wants to plant trees along the side of the road; they think it will help stop the erosion after heavy rains."
Kent walked over to the back of the truck and looked in. "Where's the trees?"
"Didn't bother to bring them," the driver answered. "The guy who plants them, Bob, is on vacation for two weeks."
"Then why are you digging the holes and filling them back in?" asked Mike.
"Well," answered the driver. "Just because Bob's on vacation doesn't mean the rest of us shouldn't get paid."