Jeff Jardine

Jardine: Steers' enormous headgear turning heads east of Modesto

From the e-mail and voice-mail:

AROUND THE HORN -- Drive around the valley long enough and you're bound to see something along the road that catches your eye and compels you to slow down for a closer look.

Sometimes, it's good: Kids love to see a farmer on tractor in the field.

Sometimes, it's bad: a TV, refrigerator or furniture dumped along the road. Classless.

For the past couple of months, folks who drive Claribel Road east of Modesto have been slowing down near Bentley Road to see the incredible racks of horns on a pair of Watusi steers. These cattle look like Texas Longhorns, but with horns that are three to four times bigger where they connect to the animals' heads.

The Watusi breed originated in Africa and first appeared in the United States in 1960 when two breeder bulls were brought over via Scandinavia. They didn't get their first hot dates until the first female Watusis arrived a few years later.

Thomas and Sandra Matthias of Waterford own the steers along Claribel. They got them as calves from a friend in Chowchilla five years ago. They named one Wa and the other Tusi.

"We have pictures of them when they were babies," said Matthias, a native of England who moved here a decade ago and owns the Stagg Cattle Co. "They had tiny little horns."

Now, he said, "we haven't seen others with such an impressive rack of horns. It's funny. Since we've moved them out there, people have been stopping to look at them."

One Bee reader, Richard Wharton, clearly was awed.

"While these have extraordinary length, it is the circumference of the horns that is amazing," Wharton wrote in an e-mail last week. "It makes one wonder how they hold their heads up, what with the massive horns."

Sometimes they don't, Matthias said.

"In the summer, when it is hot, they rest their jaws on the ground because their horns are so heavy," he said.

COST OF A KID -- Recently, reader Mary Dietrich of Modesto sifted through some old family papers and came across the receipt from when her brother, Anthony Kliss, was born in 1921.

The bill from Providence Hospital in Oakland totaled $39: $24 for a six-day hospital stay, $10 for "confinement" and $5 for infant care.

That $39 the family spent in 1921 would translate to $380 in 2006 dollars, according to the Westegg.com inflation calculator.

The cost of having a baby in a hospital today? Roughly $4,300, which covers an uncomplicated childbirth with, at the most, an overnight stay in the maternity ward and doesn't include any physicians' charges.

NOMINEES -- In my Nov. 4 column, I wrote about a TV crew from Sweden in search of the most extraordinary American and 99 runners-up. The crew will arrive in December and stay through February. In the column, I suggested a few local possibilities, since the Swedes had contacted the Stanislaus County Film Commission soliciting names. The commission is part of the Modesto Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The Swedes want people who are extraordinary because they go the extra mile in whatever they do. They want people who are likeable. And they want people who are offbeat. And they are looking for individuals, not groups.

A couple of folks didn't quite get it. One nominated a musket loaders gun group and another nominated the Columbia Firemans' Muster, a hand-pumper water-squirting competition held each May.

Two people nominated themselves: Mike Mattos of Patterson, who owns a collection of army tanks and other military vehicles; and local music connoisseur Dave Curnow, who calls himself "Hippie Dave."

Among others nominated so far are three people I mentioned in my column: 95-year-old Modestan Nelson Hackett, who rides his three-wheel bike with his three-legged dog in the basket; William Lawliss Pace, 98, of Turlock, who owns the Guinness World Record for living the longest (90 years) with a bullet in his head; and 86-year-old Bette Belle Smith, who is one of Modesto's most special people. She serves on numerous boards and committees, and is recovering from a ruptured Achilles' tendon.

Bette Belle is clearly extraordinary and infinitely likable. But I didn't think she'd qualify as offbeat until it hit me: She hurt her Achilles when she tripped on a city-owned sidewalk and she isn't even suing anyone. In this litigious era, can you get any more offbeat than that?

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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