||Rutledge Books Inc.
||Jan 1 2002
It will be a summer and fall filled with changes for fifteen-year-old Robbie Duncan. He and his family are newcomers to rural Sebring, Florida where Robbie has just started his new job at the Flying R Ranch. Though the work is physically grueling, Robbie is excited at the prospect of really learning how to be a cowboy. But the grater (though unspoken) benefit of his hours spent at the ranch is the respite it provides him from the tyrannical control of his sternly abusive disciplinarian father–a man hardened and embittered by his experiences as a fighter pilot during World War II. Under the tutelage of kindly owner, Ron Summers, weather-beaten foreman Doug Marcy, and ranch hand Dwight Hopper, Robbie comes to understand the ways of horses and cattle, how to rope calves, drive a herd–and how to put in the satisfying full day's work of a man. Whether tending to the animals or toiling in the orange groves, Robbie proves himself equal to any job. Meanwhile, his summer isn't all work. Robbie has also embarked on the tender adventure of first love with his beautiful neighbor, Jane Dunlap. But the two young lovers must be circumspect in their joyous exploration of sexual pleasure–as each is closely scrutinized by strict parents. Finally, Jane's mother becomes concerned about her daughter's virtue, and Robbie's father suspects the infatuation might interfere with his upcoming performance on the football field, to the point where both families are compelled to drive a wedge between Robbie and Jane. However, when in a climatic scene Robbie rescues Dwight and Doug from a rampaging bull, he proves to his father and coworkers that he possesses the maturity, courage and resourcefulness to decide the course of his own life. Ranch Boy movingly chronicles Robbie's coming of age in an engaging narrative that resonates with authentic sentiments. As Robbie struggles against his authoritarian father, he learns self-reliance, independence, and the truth of his own heart. Undergoing formative experiences that will define the character of the man that he is destined to be, author H. Steven Robertson writes in an engagingly unadorned style to paint a vivid and sensitive portrait of a boy on the brink of adulthood.
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The boy reached the pasture, opened the gate and entered it, and began to record the needed information. He was out of sight of the barn in the farthest pasture which was across the paved road. This pasture had a lot of oak trees in it and the cattle were scattered all over the whole area. So that he wouldn't miss any of them, he developed a system of riding from one side of the pasture to the other. When he reached the fence, he would move up and cross again. Sometimes the cow and calf would be positioned so he could read the numbers easily. But most of the time he would have to circle the cow and calf at least once or twice. The boy was amazed that he could actually be paid for having as much fun as he was having. He loved riding the big buckskin horse. The smells of the pasture ranged from the crushed grass underneath Squaw's feet to the omnipresent odor of cow manure which dotted the land around him.
He was almost done when he came upon a huge, rust colored, butt headed cow. Butt headed meant she had no horns. The cow and her little calf were standing peacefully a short distance away from a small cypress tree hammock. The boy could see her jaws mechanically munching her cud. He needed to record the information about her and the calf so he rode over to about twenty-five feet from where she stood. He turned Squaw and had her walk to the side around the cow and calf. She watched him warily as he circled. He had recorded her number and the sex of the calf which was a female but the calf wouldn't stand still for him to read the ear tag. There was no frustration involved. The boy didn't care if he had to ride around the cow all day. He was having fun. His attention was not on the cow, however, since he was trying to see the number on the calf's ear tag.
As he was starting his third circle around the pair, the huge cow suddenly threw up her head and snorted loudly. The boy almost fainted from shock at what happened next. The cow pawed the ground with one of her fore feet, she snorted loudly again, all the while, looking malevolently and the boy and his horse. Then, to his horror, she lowered her huge head and charged straight for the boy and Squaw. With eyes the size of dinner plates, the boy dropped the pencil and notebook and grabbed the saddle horn with both hands. He saw the cow was aiming straight for his leg where it hung down in the stirrup and he jerked it upward just as the cow plowed into Squaw on her left side under his raised leg. Squaw screamed and reared up on her hind legs. The boy clung on for dear life.
Squaw came back down, stumbled sideways for a couple steps, did a few stiff legged bucks in the air, and started running away from the monster cow. The boy struggled to regain control and he remembered his lesson to pull the horse's head to one side and cause it to go in a circle when it had run off wildly. He got her to slow down and had her turning, so he began to pat the side of Squaw's neck while still pulling back on the reins. "Whoa, whoa. It's OK Squaw. Calm down girl, you're OK."
The horse pranced around, bobbed her head quickly up and down and snorted several times but she calmed down. The boy looked back to make sure the crazy cow wasn't following them. He knew she was just protecting her calf but he also realized he had just had a very close call. The cow and calf were trotting off in the other direction. The boy rode over to where he had dropped the notebook and pencil. He looked around one more time to make sure a mad cow wasn't going to charge him. She had gone and he saw it was safe for him to get down on the ground. The boy dismounted and picked up the notebook. It had a big hoof print in the middle of it and it was a little mangled from the weight of the cow. He couldn't find the pencil and he was glad he had brought two. He checked Squaw's side to see if she was injured. There was no sign of injury. He was thinking about how lucky he was the cow did not have horns. That would have been a disaster. He would never feel sorry for the little calves being dehorned again.
He just remembered he hadn't gotten the number of the calf. He wasn't quite sure what to do about that. He knew he didn't want to be charged by the rogue cow again. "Well," he thought, "am I a man or a mouse?" He decided this was part of a day's work for a cowboy and he'd just have to find a way to complete the job. He remounted Squaw and guided her in the direction of the cow and calf. As they got close to where they had run to, he reined in Squaw and just sat still for a few minutes to let the cow become accustomed to their presence. He was sure to keep a healthy distance from the cow. The monster cow turned her head around, looked at the boy and snorted as if to say: "Haven't you learned your lesson yet, boy?"
The calf turned around to face them. The boy was able to read the number and he turned Squaw away from the cow and trotted off to record the rest of the cows and calves. He would be a lot more careful and keep a good watch out for the rest of the time.
Doug coughed a couple times and added: "That's right, the ranch gates will always be open to him as far as I am concerned. But, Mr. Summers, you made one big mistake. This here Robbie Duncan ain't no boy no more. He's a man. He's the Ranch Man!"
With "Ranch Boy", Steve Robertson has penned a unusual, new coming-of-age
tale set in the late 1950's Central Florida area. Working as a ranch hand,
dealing with an emotionally distant father, falling in love, and playing
football for Sebring High School all combine to shape Robbie Duncan's
existence that summer in 1959.
I found myself absorbed in the accounts of ranch work, engrossed in the
descriptions of first love, immersed in the stories of football training,
and wrapped up in the narratives of citrus grove labor. Native
Floridians will recognize the descriptions of place and time, and newcomers
will learn what it was like to grow up in Florida as part of the baby boom
This multi-talented author has also provided some of his own amazingly
detailed sketches, taken from his personal experiences while working as a
teenaged roustabout. Written with unaffected eloquence, Ranch Boy is a
pleasing, timeless story of a young boy who becomes a man.
Anne Berkey, Med, MIS
St. Augustine, Florida
The journey to Manhood
The journey from youth to manhood is a trip with many obstacles. In a young man, maturity is a reflection of one's awareness of one's capabilities which grows as the various challenges of the journey are met and either overcome or not. Defeat providing sometimes greater learning value than success. "Ranch Boy" is a story of just such a journey.
Coach Robertson has penned what I suspect to be a semi-autobiographical tale of mid-century central Florida and the specific challenges that confronted Robbie Duncan as he learned about hard work, love, the importance of friendships and his own capabilities. With just
the right amount of detail married with his own skillful artwork, Steve has crafted a book that provides just the right backdrop to this coming of age story.
This book is not as much a story of a boy becoming a man as it was a chronicle of how this boy became a man. While the times seemed much simpler, the process by which one finds ones capabilities remains the same. Hard work, self respect, and teamwork are called out as some of the key elements of manhood in 1959 which is little changed where traditional appreciation for manhood exists today, on the football field, on the wrestling mat, in the fire station, or in a line unit of the military.
Young Robbie Duncan, or "the boy" as he is referred to throughout the book, is toughened by the hard work on the ranch, in the citrus groves, and on the football field. This combination of individual effort and self respect, with the recurring theme of teamwork and mutual respect, serve as the crucible that hardens the boy physically and mentally. Blended within this journey is a story of first love all of which Steve has placed in a skillfully woven depiction of rustic, central Florida.
Commanding Officer, USS HUE CITY
"Ranch Boy" immediately attracted my attention and kept it. It is a story that people of many varied ages will be drawn to and become engaged in. It is accurately descriptive of the period in which it is set. The story captures many of the important values of that time in our history such as hard work and love for one another.
Dr. Dennis M. Holt, PhD
Professor, University of North Florida
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