May 21, 2007

That Gol-Darned Wheel

This is one of those old cowboy poems that became a very popular song during the 1900's along the Rio Grande in Texas, and in New Mexico and Arizona. Despite the general revival and resurgence of certain poems from the past, this is one that does not seem to have garnered a very large following - as opposed to Bruce Kisskadon's When They've Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall. Still the same, this is a very enjoyable piece calling forth vivid imagery as the old cowboy tries to ride a high-wheeled bike for the first time. These old bicycles were referred to simply as "wheels."

The legendary folklorists John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax describe this poem as "Once popular along the Rio Grande. The unfortunate bicycle was of the very tall front-wheel variety, which preceded the safety type. W. Bogel, a student at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, first sang this song to me in 1908." (Cowboy Songs and other Frontier Ballads) The audio file at the end of this post is available in the Library of Congress Archives.

There are many versions of this poem - probably due to the fact that during its heyday, copies were handwritten, swapped and passed around among the cowboys "like they were some favorite recipe." I have reedited the version here to agree with the accompanying sound recording for the most part, but there are still some few differences.

That Gol-Darned Wheel

I can tame the toughest bronco in the wild and woolly West,
I can ride him, I can break him, let him do his level best,
I can handle any cattle ever wore a coat of hair,
And I've had a lively rustle with a tarnal grizzly bear;

I can rope and throw the longhorn of the wildest Texas brand,
And in Indian disagreements I can play a leading hand,
But at last I found my master, and he surely made me squeal,
When the boys got me a-straddle of that gol-darned wheel.

It happened on the Eagle Ranch, along the old Brazos,
When I first found that darned contrivance that laid me in the dust,
A tenderfoot had brought it; he was peddling all the way,
From the sunrise end of freedom down to San Francisco Bay.

He had traveled many hours and was tired of peddling,
An’ we thought that it was easy if a dude could ride that thing.

He tied up at the ranch as for to get an extra meal,
Never thinkin' we would monkey with his gol-darned wheel.

Arizona Jim begun it when he said to Jack McGill,
There’s fellows said to limit braggin' on their ridin' skill;
And he'd venture the admission the same fellow that he meant,
Was a very handy cutter far as ridin' broncos went;

He ventured I was handy with a lasso and a spur,
I had given many an outlaw what he wasn’t lookin fer,

But I’d find that I was buckin' 'gainst a different kind of deal,
If I threw my leather leggins round that gol-darned wheel.

Such a slam against my talent made me hotter than a mink,
And I swore that I would ride him for amusement or for chink.
It was nothin' but a plaything for kids and such about,
And they'd have their ideas shattered if they'd lead the critter out.

They held it while I mounted and gave the word to go;
The shove they gave to start me warn't unreasonably slow.
And I never spilled a cuss-word and I never spilled a squeal--
I was buildin' a reputation on that gol-darned wheel.

Holy Moses and the Prophets, how we split the Texas air,
And the wind it made whip-crackers of my same old canthy hair,
And sorta comprehended as down the hill we went,
There was bound to be a smash-up that I couldn't well prevent.

Oh, how them punchers bawled, "Stay with her, Uncle Bill!
Stick your spurs in her, you sucker! Turn her muzzle up the hill!"
But I never made an answer; I just let the cusses squeal,
There was enough to keep me busy on that gol-darned wheel.

The grade was mighty slopin' from the ranch down to the creek,
There I went a-galliflutin' like a crazy lightnin' streak--
Went a-dartin' and a divin’ first this way and then that,
With the darned contrivance wobbling like the flyin' of a bat.

I pulled upon the handles, but I couldn't check it up,
And I yelled and whooped and hollered but the darned thing wouldn't stop.
And then a sort of a preachin’ in my brain began to steal,
That the devil had a mortgage on that gol-darned wheel.

I've a sort o' dim and hazy remembrance of the stop,
With the world a-goin' 'round me and the stars all tangled up;
Then there came an intermission that lasted till I found,
I was lyin' in the ranch house with the boys all gathered round,

And a doctor was sewin' up the skin where it was ripped,
And old Arizona whispered, "Well, old boy, I guess you're whipped.
"I told him I was busted from sombrero down to heel,
And he grinned and said, "You ought to see that gol-darned wheel."

Traditional, from Songs of the Cowboys, 1921

That Gol Darned Wheel - Audio File

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  1. I admire your well-written and interesting site, and have put a link to it on my blog. Thanks for the terrific articles, and sharing an important part of American culture with us.

  2. Thank you so much for the well written comments on the "Gol Durned Wheel".
    You can imagine my surprise when I noticed that "W. Bogel" was my grandfather who graduated from Texas A&M in 1907 with a degree in electrical engineering.
    I wonder if Lomax actually recorded Bogel singing the song. Bogel later died after being kicked in the head by a horse on his ranch in Marfa, Texas and leaving a widow and 6 year old W. W. Bogel III. I am W. W. B. IV.
    Did Lomax leave any more detailed information or recordings from his travels?
    It would be unbelievable to actually hear one of my ancestors singing a cowboy song {or any other song}.
    Thanks again!