Several years ago, I read in a man’s magazine (not Playboy, probably Popular Mechanics) a list of the top ten tools of all time. Duct tape was number one, and “Vice” Grips was also included, which, according to mine, is properly spelled Vise Grips®. Believe me, Vise Grips® have no vices. Also on the list were zip ties, margarine tubs, a big screwdriver, and to show you how old the list was, a phone booth, and a quarter was number ten. I haven’t seen a phone booth in years and believe, based on personal experience, they’ve been outlawed in Nebraska for years.
According to the article, really only two tools are needed: Duct Tape and WD 40®. One for things that refuse to move and the other for things that move, but shouldn’t.
When I was making my living as a cowboy, not a single one of my essential tools was found on that list. When I composed my list of cowboy tools, I left off things like a pick-em-up truck, a horse, Gooseneck® trailer, chaps, and saddlebags. They are all indispensable, but I didn’t consider them tools. Horses are members of the family, saddlebags are for holding tools (like a toolbox), and chaps are more appropriately called clothing, not tools.
I also didn’t include things like a chainsaw, nail gun, drone, or ladder. Although cowboys are occasionally called upon to use such things, they usually avoid them like the plague. Here’s my list of the top ten tools of the modern-day cowboy.
10 The Cell Phone: Although I don’t own one, I hate to admit that the cell phone has become a vital tool for the modern cowboy. If they can get service out in the boonies where they work, I admit a cell phone might come in handy if your horse bucked you off and ran home, or you’re trying to find the trucker who was supposed to show up two hours ago.
9 Fence Pliers (American made)- Your average cowboy knows that the most expensive thing you’ll ever buy is a cheap tool. That’s why cowboys don’t buy fence pliers at Harbor Freight that were made in China.
8 Digging Bar- Unfortunately, these are needed to dig post holes, but they also come in handy for putting behind recalcitrant cows in the lead-up alley to keep them from backing up.
7 Hoof Pick- Used for getting rocks out of the frog of your horse’s feet, and in a pinch, it can be also be used as an offset screwdriver.
6 Cowboy Hat- Also known as a lid, war bonnet, conk cover, hair case, and a Stetson, cowboys live their life under one. It can be used as an umbrella, to throw in the face of a charging cow, fan a fire to get it started, water your horse, keep rainwater from dribbling down your back, and put on a stick and raised above the rocks to draw gunfire from renegade outlaws.
5 Leatherman® Multi-Tool- For cutting baler twine, castrating calves, picking your teeth, gutting fish, pulling out a hook or a splinter, or cutting the meat at a bull sale.
4 Wild Rag- Can be used as a napkin, towel, tourniquet, handkerchief, piggin’ string, dishrag, sling, to keep out the dust when riding drag, cover up an ugly face, rob a bank, or acting as a spur strap when one breaks. Speaking of which…
3 Spurs- Also known as gut hooks, pet makers, persuaders, irons, rib wrenches, can openers, Chihuahuas, and grappling irons. They can be used to communicate messages to your horse and to make it giddy-up.
2 Saddle- A cowboy’s workbench, this is where a cowboy does his best work. It provides front-row seating for sunsets, wrecks, brandings, and ropings. A saddle can act as an anchor, someplace to tie to, a foot protector in brushy country, a cup holder, closet to hang his or her slicker, and is a portable string dispenser of “whang” leather to cut off and be used as needed.
1 Rope- Also known as a reata, string, lasso, and twine. Unlike non-cowboy tools, the rope comes with no instructions written in six different languages. It’s been said that the simpler the tool, the harder it is to master, and that certainly applies to the cowboy’s number one tool.