In an age of lost traditions, Willy Buffington from Luning holds to his family roots as he watches his grandson shear his flock of sheep.
Buffington, who was raised herding sheep, keeps the animals on the same land as his parents but instead of raising the animals for meat, Buffington utilizes the animals in rodeos around Nevada.
Known for his mutton-busting sheep, Buffington keeps a nice size flock of larger ewes for the events around the state.
Unlike his ancestors, Buffington has his sheep sheared in the fall, as the animals will need the woolly growth for the youth to hold onto during the summer rodeos.
This year, his grandson Thomas Filkowski traveled down from his home in Idaho to help his grandfather shear the sheep.
Raised around the animals, he is assisted by his mother, Rachelle Goebel, who lives on the family ranch at New Boston, located between Mina and Luning.
Both have fond memories of the Buffington ranch and the sheep herding stories. Goebel tells a story of losing the sheep on her sixth birthday and destroying a pair of birthday slippers in the process.
Filkowski is honored to help out his grandfather. As Buffington sits and watches on, Filkowski listens to stories of his grandfather’s youth and that of his relatives, long gone, who spent much time in the shearing shed, just as Filkowski has done.
Unlike the modern ways of electric shears, on the wall of the shed, hangs an old pair of metal shears. At one time, razor sharp to cut away the wool. As time progressed and technology improved, the shears where left to hang on the wall, a silent reminder of those who have came before Filkowski.
Goebel fondly remembers her father using the old shears. The experience of helping her parents and son adds to the many memories she herself made in this exact shed.
The wool that is shorn, is stored in plastic bags and then transferred to large burlap sacks that are placed into a metal holder and compacted by Filkowski, who stomps down of the wool to make sure it is compressed and ready to be placed into metal barrels where weevils cannot disturb the commodity.
The health and safety of the sheep are priority to Buffington. As his lead sheep, Wyoming is shorn, he fondly calls to her and she answers him back. Unlike those sheep used in the mutton busting contests, Wyoming is not put out to pasture at Old Boston. She instead stays in Luning at the family ranch where she is treated like royalty and is able to talk to her master morning and night.
Wyoming is used to human contact. Instead of placing the animal on her haunches in a sitting position, as most sheep are shorn, she is allowed to lie down. Where others hate the shearing process, Wyoming acts as though it is just another day at the beauty salon.
In questioning Buffington about why he chooses to shear in the winter, my question is about the animals’ coats and the ability to protect themselves from the Nevada winters. He explained to me that by doing the shearing in October, the sheep have enough wool in place for the coldest parts of the winter.
Spending an afternoon in the sheep shed and learning about forgotten traditions can bring about old memories of your own childhood. In today’s throw away society – where possessions are bought and tossed with no thought, watching traditions being passed from grandfather to grandson help to strengthen family lines.