One piece of equipment that every rancher or cowboy inevitably carries and cherishes is his or her dependable pocket knife. Regardless of regional differences such as hat shape, size, color, boot height, or heel design; there will be a knife somewhere on his person.
It may fold up and actually be in a pocket as the name implies, or it may reside in a small sheath attached to a belt, and may even resemble a small hunting blade. Be that as it may, it will be a utilitarian device that is employed for everything from cutting hay string to cleaning fingernails.
The handle may be bone, diamond wood, space age materials, deer horn or almost any material suitable. The blade is usually steel, but may be from a broken hoof rasp, ball bearing steel, stainless, or good German knife steel. Whole conversations may center around which hold an edge better. Most fastidious ranchers pride themselves on keeping their blade sharp enough to shave the hair on their arm. While the rest of us sharpen in on a brick, corral pipe, or tractor bale fork when we discover we can’t cut a hay net off a round bale, or relieve a young bull of its family jewels as it fights to retain them.
Once, when hog hunting with my friend Angel (an-HELL) he asked to borrow my knife to butcher the pig as he said his own had become dull. Upon attempting to cut the tough hide, with no success, he simply used mine as a sharpening steel for his and went back to work on the carcass.
Two cowboys sparking up a conversation might compare pocket knives, and sharpness almost as if it were a sign of a man’s character. Which reminds me of the story about the hiring of a barn manager for the Cal Poly Horse program. An older horseman had been assigned the position of horse program director and was told to interview candidates for barn manager. After hiring a really good one the dean asked how he’d accomplished the feat. The man said that it was pretty simple. He planted a piece of baling wire in the barn hall, and waited to see if the candidate saw it and picked it up. Then he asked if they had a pocket knife, and if they did he asked to see it. Those who didn’t carry one were instantly eliminated. The rest were sorted as to who had the sharpest blade!