Summertime Joys of the Horse Tank

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Among the more pleasant memories of my youth are the hours I spent swimming in a large metal water storage tank while living on our farm south of Perryton, Texas. The windmill pumped into an overhead tank furnishing water to the house, then overflowed into a ground-level tank furnishing water to the livestock out at the barns.

This lower tank was about 30 feet in diameter, stood 6 feet deep when full, had a cement bottom and sported a diving board on a platform built between the tank and windmill tower. This wasn’t an Olympic swim site, but it was a favorite gathering place during the summer.

Seems we always had a bunkhouse full of working men, and trying to get each washed up before a meal was a chore. Dad built a wooden stand about halfway up around part of the tank where men could stand and wash off the dust and grime of the fields. We wired coffee cans to the top edge of the tank to hold bars of Lava soap and hung towels on nails driving into the windmill tower legs. At night, the men bathed in the tank with access in and out provided by metal ladders taken off our junked combines.

Like all mothers, mine was afraid her little boy might fall into the tank and drown, so she asked cousin Clifford Mathews to teach me to swim. I’m sure she meant for him to gently hold me up until I learned to float and do strokes. That night when the men came in from the fields, Clifford tossed me into the middle of the big tank and I nearly drowned before I made it back to the edge. He let me rest a minute and tossed me back again. By the end of the week, I was part fish. Mother never knew the truth.

After a few weeks of washing and bathing by harvest crews and plow hands, the water had a milky, whitish ting to it and even the livestock out in the pens made faces at the soapy taste. On Sunday afternoons, others from the community dropped by. As this was before life vests and rubber ducky flotation devices, we relied on plain old aired-up black inner tubes. The younger kids quickly learned to stay out of the center of the tank or you might get cannon-balled.

The boys imitated Johnny Weissmuller (who played Tarzan) and the girls tried to look like Esther Williams; both appeared in Saturday matinees at the Ellis Theater. It was a gentle time of history when rural families could gather for an afternoon of fun without having to pay admission.

The best horse tank memory of all was killing that hot, dusty tractor at sundown, arriving home, donning a pair of cutoff Levi’s, diving into the cool depths of the horse tank and just floating along, leisurely soaking out the effects of 12 hours of hot summer sun. Somehow, you just knew you could make it another day and everything was going to be all right. FC

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; email:

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