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Irrigation Management, Beaver Slide Innovation Helped with Ranch Tasks

Written by Marcia Masters Powers

By Marcia Masters Powers, Dayton

My dad Leonard Masters was a prominent rancher in the Tongue River Valley between Ranchester and Dayton. He and his wife Marg operated a beautiful ranch at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains.

My dad loved Hereford cattle and ran purebred cows and calves from Oliver Wallop’s herd in Big Horn.

The meadows on the ranch along the highway were always lush and green. I believe the neighbors were envious of Dad’s success. His irrigation system was canvas dams and a shovel, which he used a lot. I remember seeing him out in the field with that shovel, watching the water travel down the ditches.

A newspaper article from the Sheridan Press in the late 1940s features Leonard Masters’s haying rig – a beaver slide and cage – and calls it a landmark in the valley during haying season.

“Although the slide is used extensively in some sections of the country, the cage is Masters’s own brainchild,” says the article. “The invention has saved him labor, time and money. (When approached on his cost of haying, he said simply: ‘You wouldn’t believe me.’)

“The cage was dreamed up during the war years when labor was scarce but he liked it so well he kept it, and this is the fourth year he has used it.

“In size it is 20 feet wide, 22 feet long and 18 feet deep and holds about 10 tons of hay. It is a huge, box-like frame covered with hog wire on three sides. The back side is open, with weighted steel cable dropped from the top for use in keeping the stack’s shape but allowing the cage to be moved away from the stack. When the cage is filled, Masters’s 30-caterpillar moves the structure forward on its two rear wheels and front skids and another stack is started

“The slide, up which is conveyed hay from the bull rake, is 36 feet long and 18 feet wide. It permits loads about two or three times the size handled by an ordinary stacker to be hiked up and into the cage. The caterpillar raises and lowers the stacker by moving backward and forward.”

Using a man on the caterpillar, one on the bull rake one cutting and two in the cage, the article reports that 50 tons of hay could be stacked each day on the Masters place.

Leonard said in the article that this type of stacking dovetailed perfectly with the feeding end of his business.

“Since he uses a unique cable system for loading hay for feeding, the uniform-sized stacks are a big advantage,” continues the article. “A feeding platform 20 by 12 feet is pulled up alongside a stack, a cable from the tractor is looped around the top third of the stock and is drawn off onto the platform by the tractor.”

Leonard said that by using this method of loading from the stack for feeding he could feed 500 head of cattle in about two hours.

Leonard and Marg had two children, Dick and myself, and we felt fortunate to be raised on a ranch and to be outstanding 4H members.

Leornard and Marg were community leaders. Leonard served in the Wyoming Legislature for several years and on agricultural boards and as a member of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Marg was state president of the Wyoming CowBelles. They were both 4H leaders, in beef and clothing.

They, together as a team, contributed much to the communities of Ranchester and Dayton, Sheridan County and the state of Wyoming.

The ranch is still operating and has become a landmark of the valley. Leonard died in 1979 and Marg in 1996. Our family still enjoys this land and hopes to have this privilege for many years to come.

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