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Putting his good hands to work: From ranch to farm, caretaker has followed an interesting life
Apart from the bleating, lowing and clucking, Auburn's Mary Olson Farm is serenely calm in the pale light of early morning.
By that time a lean, wiry man, hands calloused by a lifetime of hard work, black hair flecked with silver, is already at work feeding the beasts, checking fences, taking his daily walk through the orchard to pick up fallen apples for the Auburn Food Bank or for use in the farm's cider press.
Gary Moberly, who started work Sept. 1. says being the farm's caretaker is "this retired cowboy's" dream come true.
"Mainly, my job is taking care of the stock," said Moberly, scratching the fuzzy head of Peaches, one of the farm's two goats, and trying to coax Peach's buddy, Dino, the farm's latest addition, to munch an apple slice. Alas, the goat turns up his nose.
Lining up alongside are Moberly's other "buddies," namely, Henrietta the calf, a weaning ring in her nose to keep her from nursing on 2-year-old Libby, Holo, a 37-year-old horse, and Mocha, a 19-year-old miniature horse.
"I make sure they get their feed, I check and make sure there's none of them sick or anything, and that's where my knowledge of stock and stuff comes in handy. I know what to look for in the cows and horses when they get sick," Moberly said.
That "knowledge of stock and stuff" flows by the quart in every vein of the 66-year-old former cowboy's body.
Moberly was born and raised in the tiny town of Jordan, Mont., about 290 miles northeast of Bozeman. His grandfather homesteaded on the Montana ranch in 1894, running a thousand head of cows.
"Jordan was one of those towns," he says, "that if you blink your eyes, you're going to miss it."
Moberly served in the U.S. Army, spending the years 1964-66 in Vietnam. He served later as a drill instructor and paratrooper instructor for the 101st Airborne Division.
Life as a cowboy
After his return to the states, Moberly rode professional rodeo for 10 years.
"I was what they called a 'four-event cowboy.' I rode saddle bronc, bare back, calf rope and team rope, so I done two timed events and two riding events. I did that up until 1972 when I got hurt real bad just before the national finals and wound up in the hospital for six weeks. I had broke about 13 bones, and was pretty well messed up from that trip.
"I was married and had kids, and it had gotten to the point where I couldn't make anything out of it. My best days were over so I got out. Rodeo is a young man's sport," Moberly added. "There's still a lot of old guys doing it in the roping events, but you don't see any more of them in the riding events any more. You have to be a bit on the wild side to do something like that."
Moberly went on to build a successful trucking company in Montana, before losing it in a divorce.
In 1980 he settled in Washington and went back to work, this time as a trucker. Here he met and married Jean. The couple settled into a house on R and Southeast 49th. They were married for 31 years.
"Me being a trucker, Jean became a trucker, too, so she could spend her time with me," Moberly said.
The couple also spent a lot of time square dancing, traveling for 15 years throughout the United States while he trucked. When Jean developed emphysema and doctors put her on oxygen 24 hours a day, Moberly quit driving and picked up a full time job building truck transports.
"After Jean died, I bought me a motor home, figured I'd travel the country, but that didn't work out. Jean's last request was that I would go back to doing what we loved to do, which was dancing. She told me not to worry about her, that she was going to be fine," Moberly said.
He retired in March 2011 after his wife's death and returned to Montana to spend three months at his sister's ranch.
Upon his return, he found a new square-dancing partner and love, Millie.
One of his main tasks now, Moberly said, is fixing up the caretaker's mobile home at the farm.
"Once I move into that mobile home over there, I'll be at the farm all the time. I'm still in the process of getting it ready to be moved into. It was left in shambles before," he said.
The advancing bite in the air is nothing to this Montana boy.
"I remember 40 and 50 degrees below zero in Montana at the time I was living there, but it wasn't so cold," Moberly recalled with a wry smile.