The Other West Texas Giant

“You just kind of drive through it. Push on the gas.” He was so calm.

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My jaw clenched,  left eyebrow frowned and good ol’ right eyebrow raised high in an arch of stubborn New England skepticism.  My future husband smirked at my reaction.  Although his lilting Texas drawl was bursting with trust, the sheer craziness of “just driving through” a 4′ tall, 10′ wide gate made of solid steel bars, was anchoring my right foot. We weren’t going anywhere. New England skepticism: 1, Texas Bump Gate: 0.

“You can do it.  Just go kinda slow, then push through.”

skull

 

Thousands of what if’s and why’s flooded my brain as I slumped my shoulders in frustrated despair.  Why can’t I just get out of the truck and open the gate?  What if I break the gate? What if I break the truck? Or the horrifying question – what if the gate swings back and hits us? This swinging behemoth of steel, wood, pulleys and cables was scaring the hell out of me.  Instinctively my future husband read my mind and said again, “You can do it.  You won’t hurt anything.”

The parched dirt below the parched tan 1975 Chevy  Silverado cracked in the scorching Texas sun. Hungry buzzards screeched overhead watching a death march below.  I felt like I was in a wild west shoot-out with steampunk villain.

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No, not the 1975 Silverado, but another beauty and former gate bumper.

“This is nuts!”  was the only thought reverberating to the tips of my shaky toes.  I finally hit the gas, pushed the gate open and drove through.  The back swing of the gate came inches from scratching down the side of the truck as I plowed through in a cloud of dust, gas fumes and fear. But I did it.  I opened my first Texas bump gate without killing anyone.  My future husband laughed.  This was my crash course in the rare West Texas bump gate.

Wikipedia offered this definition as to what a Texas bump gate is:

bump gate is a drive-through gate used in rural areas to provide a barrier to livestock that does not require the driver to exit the vehicle, open the gate, drive through, and then close the gate. By contacting the swinging bump gate with the front of a vehicle and then accelerating, the bump gate is pushed open, allowing the vehicle to pass. This requires some skill to avoid the gate swinging back and striking the vehicle. Accordingly, a bump gate is unsuitable for long vehicles.
The bump gate self-closing mechanism consists of two cables mounted on the gate, and also on an elevated crossbar. The gate does not swing on a conventional hinge. Instead it is fastened to cylinders that encircle a post. When the gate swings open, the swivel action causes the cables to raise the gate slightly. After the vehicle passes through, gravity causes the gate to swing like a pendulum (parallel to the ground) until it settles in the closed position.
While not a common type of gate, it has been observed in several locations in West Texas.

If you’ve never seen a bump gate before they seem to defy all logic and common sense.  Plowing through an imposing steel structure seems, well, crazy.  But then I realized that the swinging ton of rolled steel IS actually the most common sense approach to opening the gates out where the days are long, hot and lonely.

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Approaching a gate that has clearly been bumped before.

From a rancher’s perspective, why would he want stop their truck and get out to open as many as 20 or more gates on a 104 degree August afternoon? Especially when they could stay in the cover of their truck and drive through them saving precious time and energy.  It’s practical.  West Texans are practical and the bump gate’s simple reason-for-being reflects the pragmatic ideology of the ranchers using them.

But it’s also a recipe for some naive “city-slikah” Yankee to come down and really mess things up…

A few years ago my father-in-law entrusted my husband and I to drive his brand new truck down from the dealership in Dallas. My husband drove our truck and I followed him in the new one.  The 6 hour trip to Ozona, TX was smooth and uneventful.   I heaved a sigh of relief as we drove onto their ranch. We made it!

Fueled by a desire to finish the drive we rashly decided that to get up to their house (another 20 minute drive from the entryway) we should double up on the bump gates and drive both trucks through at once so we could save time and I wouldn’t damage the grill on his dad’s new truck by bumping the gates.  My husband would bump with our truck and I would follow him closely in the new truck and drive through behind him.

I think we were both a little nervous.

The gate swung open as my husband plowed through and I punched the gas and followed.  Time stopped when I saw the gate swinging back at me – FAST!  I swerved to the left to try to avoid the inevitable screech, crash, metal twisting convulsion that ensued.

Thankfully, my in-laws still talk to me.  And I think he’s had a few more bump gate mishaps judging by the fresh scars that now adorn his truck.

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Future gate bumpers

To me, the bump gates are an integral part of the West Texas culture.  They’re hard working, unapologetic, and strong.  Just like the landscape.  Just like the people.

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Brother-in-law and niece at the ranch

 

 

 

 

 

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