A German woman made the news last week when it was discovered that she was hauling around a Shetland pony in the back of her Fiat. I chuckled when I read about this – not because of the sheer absurdity, but because it sounded similar to an old family tale.
My great-grandpa Otis raised Shetland ponies. He always had old Studebaker four-doors that he’d use to haul home ponies from the sale barns in Kalona and Eldora. He ran those old cars all over the place. If one started dying on him, he’d just pull into a dealership and trade it in for the next one. He went through a good number of cars, many of which probably saw their fair share of Shetland ponies.
In 1966, Otis purchased a brand new Ford Fairlane. His son Floyd (my grandpa) warned him not to haul any ponies home in this vehicle, and it looked like 74-year-old Otis would adhere to this advice.
But then one day, Otis drove that blue four-door to a horse auction. At the time, it only had about 600 miles on it. It still even had that “new car smell.”
Well, Otis ended up buying a Shetland that day. And he decided to haul that pony home in his new Fairlane. He unhooked the back seat and popped it out. Then he walked the pony right in. He tied the halter to the arm rest and they were off. That’s when the fun began.
Now unlike a promiscuous girl on prom night, the pony didn’t really enjoy the back seat of the Fairlane. He jerked around and ripped off the arm rest. And to put an exclamation point on the trip home, he took a nice, steamy dump in there, too.
When they got home, Otis led the horse out and went to work on cleaning the car’s interior. He hosed off the manure and threw the seat back in. He didn’t know how to re-fasten the seat to the floor, so he just set it in there. He re-attached the ripped-off armrest with a nail or screw. The manure stench just wouldn’t go away, so he poured half a bottle of aftershave in the car in an attempt to cover up the stink.
The next day, Floyd was out on Otis’s farm baling hay and decided to peek inside the Fairlane. He opened the door and WHOOSH! The aroma about knocked him over! Floyd asked Otis if he had hauled a pony in the Fairlane, but Otis denied it over and over. However, some pony hair gave him away; Floyd looked inside and noticed that the headliner still had hair where the Shetland had rubbed up against it.
Eventually, Otis bought a red-and-white Ranchero, which was a little more suitable for hauling Shetlands. Floyd constructed a slide-in box that safely held two ponies, thus preventing some future equine-related shenanigans.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another “Otis and the Shetlands” story. One time, he was hauling a trailer full of ponies over to his son Glenn’s farm. Somewhere along the way, the trailer broke off and rolled over into the ditch… only Otis didn’t notice until he arrived at Glenn’s place. So Otis and Glenn drove back to see if they could find the trailer (and the ponies). They found the trailer upside-down in the ditch… with the ponies all lingering nearby. Shetlands must be heavy duty, because they were all okay. They were just hanging around, as if they were waiting for him to return.
Otis and his Shetlands were invariably intertwined for the two decades that followed the Fairlane incident. He loved his ponies and, well, I imagine they loved him back.
Otis passed away on a Sunday morning in February of 1987 at the grand old age of 95. He was laid to rest in the cemetery just across the gravel road from the homestead where Otis and his wife Fern raised Floyd and Glenn, and where his ponies still resided on the day of his burial.
I’d love to wax poetic about that day in 1987, but someone beat me to the punch… more than 28 years ago. Andy McKean, a friend of Otis’s who was a state legislator at the time, penned these words in the March 4, 1987 issue of the Anamosa Journal-Eureka:
“Otis always loved his ponies. He was buried at White Oak Cemetery within view of his old home place. As he was laid to rest, some of his ponies stood by the fence with their heads bowed down. Then, as the crowd dispersed, the ponies ran off and frolicked in the field. Otis would have loved that. What a beautiful farewell to a wonderful man.”
Photos exist of a 90-something Otis sitting next to a youthful me. I was too young to understand the significance of knowing my great-grandpa, a man who was born during Benjamin Harrison’s presidency. But I’ve come to know him better through anecdotes from my family, online newspaper archives, old photos, and lots of family tree research. It was a blessing that my first eight years coincided with his last eight.