Weiser rancher carries on sheep trailing tradition

Harry Soulen, above, made it to the ‘Red Train Bridge’ in Caldwell with his band of sheep on Saturday, March 9. His next destination was Letha, west of Emmett, where shearing began on March 13. Soulen, whose family has been in Weiser for three generations, runs one of the remaining traditional sheep ranching operations in Idaho. He and his crew make several stops along a 300-mile journey from south of Kuna to north of McCall, all on foot, and then back again. Photo by Philip A. Janquart

Harry Soulen, center, leads his sheep across the ‘Red Train Bridge’ off Old Highway 30 in north Caldwell. He has been a Weiser rancher his entire life. Photo by Philip A. Janquart
Philip A. Janquart

Harry Soulen and his crew of sheep herders travel 600 miles on foot every year

They show up at various points during the long trek, people who come to watch and others carrying camera equipment.

 On Saturday, March 9, Weiser resident Harry Soulen, of Soulen Livestock Co., led his sheep along Plymouth Street, over the “Red Train Bridge” that crosses the Boise River in north Caldwell. 
 It’s a popular spot for photographers looking to get a rare shot of an historic Idaho bridge being crossed by one of the few remaining traditional herding operations in the state, one that is now in its 98th year.
 Earlier that morning, Harry and his crew began herding the band of sheep from the dam at Lake Lowell to the bridge, a distance of about 10 miles, where dozens lined up to witness what has become more akin to an event.
 “Yeah, we have a lot of people who like to come out and watch. Down just on the other side of Simplot Boulevard, there were probably a hundred people or more. A lot of days, we’ll trail about 10 miles,” he told the Signal American on Saturday, as his band left the bridge and rolled over one last hill to pasture on a grassy parcel on the east side of Old Highway 30, across from Rocky Mountain Fireworks, a yellow building clearly visible from Interstate 84.
 “The longest day we have on this bunch is when we come from Melba off the desert,” Harry explained. “That’s about an 18-mile walk, so this isn’t too bad.”
 He and his gang of herders start out at the Snake River Birds of Prey area south of Kuna, ultimately ending up in McCall where the sheep continue feeding on natural grasses and brush. It’s all done the old-fashioned way – on foot.
 There is weather and predators to contend with, but the journey is better for the sheep, said Harry, a third-generation rancher.
 Letha, off Highway 52, west of Emmett, is the next stop in the 300-mile trip.
 “I’ve got 160 acres there on the Payette River and we’re planning on shearing these [sheep] starting the 13th of March,” Harry said. “Once we start, it’s about a six-day run and if the weather is good, we shear every day; it doesn’t matter, Saturday or Sunday, we just go. We shear from 8 a.m. until noon. The shearers take a break for an hour, then we go again from 1-5 p.m.; we try to shear about 800 a day.”
 Surprisingly, herding sheep in populated areas doesn’t require a permit of some kind, just communication.
 “In Canyon County, the Sheriff’s [Office] is really good,” Harry noted. “I call them early in the morning; today, we had to cross Highway 55, a busy highway, so they have a couple of patrolmen come up and walk the road.
 “Tomorrow, we hit Highway 44 … that’s a real busy highway, too, so they help us on those spots. The other place is coming out of Melba. We have to cross Highway 45 and there are a lot of trucks, and they are rolling right through there, so I’ll call to get a little help there, but that’s about it.”
 Factors like wind or random noises, such as flags whipping around, can make moving the sheep more difficult.
 “Sometimes, if too many people are around, they get spooked and then they don’t want to go,” said Harry, whose grandfather, Harry Sr., began doing it this way almost a century ago. His son, Phil Soulen, who was very active in the Weiser community, ran the operation until his son, “Harry Jr.,” eventually took over. 
 “It’s all part of the game,” he said. “We’ll eventually get them there.”
 Lambing takes place from April to May in the Crane Creek area. They hit the trail again in June and eventually drop into the Cascade reservoir area before moving on to the McCall area where they will stay from July through September. Around late September or beginning of October is when they turn around and go back the other way.
 It’s a total of approximately 600 miles per year.


Signal American

18 E. Idaho St.
Weiser, ID 83672
PH: (208) 549-1717
FAX: (208) 549-1718

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