I don’t remember just how it came about, but it was because of having an interest in enrolling in the saddle-making program at TSTI (Texas State Technical Institute) that I thought the panhandle of Texas might be a good place for me to be for at least a little while. For Amarillo was a location for one of the TSTI campuses.
No, I never got around to enrolling. For after my brother and his wife dropped me off on Amarillo Boulevard, I did some research on the craft, and I did not like what I discovered. For the truth of the matter was that even those who had received a degree in saddle-making had to complete an apprenticeship under an established master, which could take up to 20 years if they hoped to ever make a living from their work. For a cowboy doesn’t make a lot of money, and if they are going to invest over a thousand dollars on a custom-made saddle, surely they are going to get one made by someone they could brag about.
I still wanted to stay in Amarillo, however. For I was absolutely fascinated with the area, and even having to live out of the $300 car I bought the day I arrived for the first few weeks could not dampen my enthusiasm.
Yes, I suppose I was homeless at the time, but I was totally unaware of it. For that was before the term came into fashion.
No, that is not to say that I was totally unaware of my circumstances. For every night brought another adventure in finding a safe place (the boulevard was like a war zone at times) to sleep where the cops would leave me alone, and with me being so sweet, an abundance of mosquitoes were always around.
No, being homeless did not mean that I was unemployed. For I had secured a job as a floor-stocker at the Levi-Strauss plant a mile or so east of the Amarillo City Limits on U.S. 60 (old Route 66) within a week of my arrival, and a week or so later, I landed a night job as a delivery driver/dishwasher for a Pizza Inn on the north-side access road to I-40 (around seven miles southwest of Levi's).
From time to time, I also supplemented my income with some day-work on different ranches and feedlots in the area. Those jobs would include anything from fixing fence to helping with a round-up.
I even tried my hand at small association rodeoing a bit. For all it took was a $30 entry fee per event and some borrowed equipment, which would include a horse when competing in steer wrestling, calf roping or team roping.
No, I never made it into the money, which required placing in the top three in a particular event, but I was told on a number of occasions that I sure was entertaining (or something similar) when entered in saddle bronc riding. Some even went as far as to say that the way I was often bucked off reminded them of some of the stuff they had seen while watching the televised coverage of the springboard diving competition at the Olympics the summer before. To be honest, I did not always appreciate their appreciation as much as I probably should have.
So, why was I still living out of my car? Well, it came down to a matter of priorities. For instead of spending my hard-earned money on rent and utility bills, I could spend it on beer, and with enough beer in me, I did not really care where I was laying my head down to sleep.
Besides, things were gradually getting a little easier for me. For the owners of the car lot where I had bought my car/mobile home invited me to stay in their office and look after the place after-hours, and I helped pay them back some by effecting a citizen's arrest upon a man, who had defrauded them out of several thousand dollars.
Evidently, he was an old hand at defrauding people. For the detective, who took my statement, told me that the Amarillo Police Department referred to him as being the Rubber Stamp Bandit.
It was not all good, however. For despite holding down two full-time jobs and all of those part-time gigs, I was still not always able to buy enough beer to appease my sensibilities, and it was during those times when even the added amenities of the car lot office became most intolerable.
Therefore, I set about to find better accommodations, and I did not have to look far. For at $75 a week, the Wagon Wheel Motel just down the boulevard a few blocks seemed like the place to be.
Hey, how could I have chosen otherwise? For the room came with several neighbors, and what a group they were. For I was surrounded by hookers, drug dealers, dope fiends, ax-murderers, cannibals, sexual deviants and serial killers in training!
In other words, I was right in my element at the time, and with the Cattleman's Club being just a couple of blocks west, I could not ask for more. For the Cattleman's Club reminded me of the Branding Iron, and it was not long before I was recognized as being a regular there.
Be assured that being a regular at the Cattleman's Club also had its benefits. Nothing like I enjoyed at the Branding Iron, but being a familiar face did give me an advantage, come closing time. For bar-flies will often look for a safe place to land. Hey, when you adhere to a standard of eight to eighty…crippled or crazy…if they can’t walk…I’ll drag ‘em, there is not much left to just say no to.
Cheering me on was a bartender by the name of Sylvia, whom I never got to first-base with. For she was too focused upon making as good of a living as she could for her children (bartending was her night job) to make time for any romantic escapades with the likes of me.
Oh yes, she knew me well, and that is what makes what happened one night at the Cattleman’s Club so interesting. For when Sylvia saw me, she complimented me on looking so sharp in a western-styled suit, bolo tie and a brand-new light gray Resistol cowboy hat the night before.
Now, I was about as vain as anyone I knew of back then, but I was still quite shocked to hear what she had to say. For I had signed up to do some day-work for a ranch north of town, and I was around 30 miles away on the night in question!
Much to my disappointment, that was all there was to it. For the other me was never seen around the place again, as far as I knew.
Since then, I have learned a thing or two about doppelganger twins, who are supposedly two identical-looking people without a speck of related blood between them, and a few years after the Cattleman’s Club incident, I met a lady at a truck stop in Ozona, Texas, who swore up and down that she thought I was her brother when she first saw me. In fact, she admitted that it had taken her a bit to think otherwise, and she was still looking at me funny when we parted company.
Whether or not her brother was the sharp-dressed man at the Cattleman’s Club that night years before, I do not know. For when I asked her if he ever got up to Amarillo looking like that, she said that she did not have a clue. Considering the fact that her brother had been born and raised in the Phoenix, Arizona area, and was driving a dump truck down there at the time, I had my doubts.
Anyway, let us get back to me living in Amarillo, and just how special the Cattleman’s Club was. For aside from being a place where I could fulfill my wanton desires, it was also where I first met Margie.
Talk about our Heavenly Father’s mysterious ways, such was our getting together. For she swore up and down that she NEVER gives out her home phone number to anyone she has just met, and yet, that was exactly what she did with me.
Oh no, Margie was most definitely not a bar-fly. Perish the thought—I tell you!
Perish the thought, indeed. For she was a lady in every sense of the word, and what she wanted me for was a little brother, of sorts.
Okay, I must admit that I was looking for something more—especially at first. For she really was a mighty fine-looking lady.
Nonetheless, I quickly became very satisfied with the kind of relationship we had. For she provided me with a sense of stability that was sorely missing in my life at the time.
No, it was not that my friends and family back east were out of sight and out of mind. For they were still there for me, but there is a big difference between getting a personal letter (or even hearing a familiar voice over the phone) and actually seeing the look of understanding in the eyes of someone who really cares about you. Well, at least there is to me.
Anyway, the timing was perfect. For I needed to have some stability in order to secure a much better paying job at IBP (Iowa Beef Processors).
Oh yes, working at The Beef was a lot better than working at Levi's, or even Pizza Inn. For I was hired as a non-union night manager of the maintenance and clean-up supply department, and I really enjoyed being around most of the people, who would come down to my dungeon to checkout specialty tools and parts.
Just before Thanksgiving Day in 1985, one of the day-shift mechanics gave me the phone number of a lady from his church (who also worked at IBP in an area that I had no contact with) whom he thought would be good for me. After getting a look at Becky, I was really hoping he was right.
From the beginning, I had a feeling that she was as hopeful about me as I was about her, and after spending Thanksgiving Day with her and her children, there was no doubt about it. For she had become more and more affectionate as the day progressed, and by the time for her kids to go to bed came around, the stage was set for us to do the same.
That is, except for something she had said earlier. For she had told me that she was trying really hard to be holy in the sight of the Lord, and that it was because of that goal that she had run off previous boyfriends after having sex with them.
Therefore, I did something that should have resulted in being kicked out of the UMM (Union of Manly Men). For when she grabbed my hand to lead me to her promised land, I told her that I wanted her for more than one night.
Talk about being pathetic, and what made it even more so was that it was all for naught. For when I came by her place the next day, she did not want to even let me in the front door—let alone into her arms, and after it became clear to me that wanting to have sex was the same as actually having sex to her, I could see that there was no hope for us.
A couple of weeks later, I called to ask Becky what happened (just to make sure) and the answer she gave me was truly hard to take. For she said that she felt like we were going in opposite directions.
Hence, another scar upon my heart. For I was on my best behavior around her, and I was plumb serious about wanting to stay that way 'til death did us part.
On the other hand, maybe she was right. For in March (I think) of 1986, I was fired from IBP because of being suspected of drinking on the job.
No, it was not at all true. For I had not had a drink since going to bed at nine that morning. Granted, my usual breakfast of beer at The Hoolihan (a small bar and grill on the south-side of town) also included a couple of shots of Bacardi 151 rum that particular morning, but even that was not really anything extraordinary for me at the time.
Nonetheless, poor personal hygiene proved to be my undoing. For I had failed to brush my teeth before reporting to work at 5 p.m., and it was the smell of beer on my breath that was what actually got me into trouble.
Oh, but that was not the only thing messed up about the situation. For the one who first said something about it was a union steward I had let smoke marijuana in my office at times—even without any benefit to myself! For I never touched the stuff.
All in all, it was an educational experience. For when they asked me to blow into a breathalyzer, I registered a .026 (.008 will get you a drunk-driving charge in many states now) and no one in the room (including myself) had any thought of me being even the least bit drunk.
After that, I went to work as a dishwasher at a Carrows Restaurant (talk about having to swallow some pride) but a couple of months later, a miracle (at least to me) transpired. For one of the electricians I had worked with at IBP came by to ask me if I would like to join him on a harvest crew for the summer.
YAHOO! The kid was back in the saddle again, and there appeared to be some destiny involved. For like dominoes positioned to knock over the next one in line, so where the steps taken to get to that point. For if I had not of went to work at IBP, I may have never met Jack, and if that had of never happened, I may have never had an opportunity to go all the way to Roundup, Montana and back behind the wheel of a GMC Brigadier with a 24’ dump-bed while towing a John Deere combine!
No, I did not get to do much driving of a combine. For I was hired to be one of the truck drivers on the crew, and part of this was hauling the combines from job-site to job-site. Other duties involved fixing flats and performing minor servicing on the trucks, such as changing the oil and filters, greasing, etc., etc.
Those hired to drive the combines in the fields drove our service rigs and towed the mobile homes we lived in when we moved from place to place. They also helped with the maintenance of the trucks while we were out on a job, but their primary duties revolved around the combines. For there is a lot to maintaining a combine out in the fields, especially in regards to the 28’ headers we were running in the wheat fields that season. For this is the part of the combine where the grain first enters, and the truck drivers were often drafted into helping with the servicing of them, as well.
Our season began in Seymour, Texas, and we stayed there for about a month because of rainy weather. Then we went back to Amarillo to do some jobs around there, which lasted a couple of weeks. The next stop was at Lakin, Kansas, and after a couple of weeks there, we scooted on up to Burlington, Colorado.
Since I had never had any experience with row-crop farming before, I had no idea that production levels could vary so greatly. For a bushel of wheat by volume should weigh 40 pounds when brought to a grain elevator, but some we ran into was down in the twenties while others were way over the standard.
It was in Lakin where we ran into the heaviest wheat, and I was at the center of quite a stir at a grain elevator when I pulled onto the scales weighting in at over 72,000 pounds gross. For I had on a load of over 700 bushels of wheat that averaged over 68 pounds per bushel!
Years later, I came to realize just how grossly overweight that truck-load was in the eyes of the law. For the truck was, after all, just a 10-wheeler.
It was sometime around the first of August when we drove into Hardin, Montana, and we stayed there for around a month. For aside from the hundreds of acres planted by our host, we had several other customers in the area.
One of them was in Lodge Grass, Montana, which we called Homegrown. No, we did not know of any pot-growing operations in the area, but we thought it was funny, anyway.
If you don’t get it, I guess you would have had to have been there with as much beer and bloody marys in you as we usually had. For working from before the sun came up until after it went down did not slacken our thirst a bit, but we did refrain from actually drinking on the job.
On the other hand, we had a couple of hands, who swore that they did their best work while high. Hence, the inside joke behind our nickname for Lodge Grass.
Even though I had been around marijuana before, I had never actually lived with someone who smoked A LOT, and I am here to tell you that it can have a very addictive effect upon certain individuals. For one of the hands even resorted to scraping stems and re-firing the tar-like residue that had collected in the bottom of his pipe when he could not find any to buy in the area we would be in.
Oh yeah, we had our share of fun that summer, and working out of Hardin was no exception. For on days when we could not go out into the field for some reason, we were allowed to go on sight-seeing expeditions.
On one of those expeditions, we visited the Little Big Horn Battlefield, which was not very far at all from Hardin. Just in case you missed that lesson in school, the Little Big Horn is where the very astute (being sarcastic here) Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer got himself and over 250 under his command slaughtered by a force of several thousand Oglala Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors being led by Sitting Bull.
On another expedition, the owner of the ranch where we were staying loaded us all up and took us to The Grainery in Billings, Montana. Now, I don’t know if it is on any lists of fine-dining establishments, but I would certainly eat there anytime I was given an opportunity to do so. For I don’t know which was better—the prime rib we had for the main course or the Mississippi mud pie that was served as dessert.
Even as good as the eating was at The Grainery, the highlight of being in Hardin was when we went to Yellowstone on a scheduled vacation for the whole crew. For on the way there, we stopped at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, which was a spectacular wonder in and of itself, but Yellowstone was…well…YELLOWSTONE!!!
No, I do not have the words to describe what I saw at Yellowstone, nor am I willing to even try. For it has to be seen to be believed.
When all was done in Hardin, we headed to Roundup to hurriedly finish a couple of jobs before winter became serious about coming. For this can happen in September in northern Montana, and the nights were getting decidedly chillier.
Speaking of such, I only thought I knew what the dead of night was like before I made it up to Roundup. For on one particular moonless night, I turned out all of the lights around to see if it really was as dark as it felt like it was, and I found that I could not see my hand in front of my face! It was plumb spooky, I tell you.
Besides being plumb spooky, the added darkness added another peril to harvesting the wheat up there. For the stalks were not very tall, which meant that the headers on the combines had to be lowered to where they were just skimming the ground. Subsequently, that made it very easy to scoop up rocks littering the fields, and aside from the damage they could do to the combines, those rocks were not welcome at the grain elevators.
Thankfully, none of our loads were rejected, but we sure heard about it when someone at the elevator saw a rock we had missed removing before pulling on the scale. Some people in Montana really need to work on their sense of humor is all I have to say about it.
Others do not, and one of the best examples of that is a local truck driver, who was hired to haul over longer distances some of the grain we had harvested. For when he showed the picture of a couple of really good-looking young ladies he had in his wallet, I thought he was going to bust a gut from laughing so hard when I told him that he had some mighty fine-looking daughters.
After he finished wiping the tears from his eyes, he explained to me that they were actually his wives. For he was a Hooterite, which is a sect that had split off from the Mormon church years ago over wanting to stay true to the teaching of Joseph Smith about it being in accordance to the will of God that men should marry as many women as they could provide for.
I was absolutely shocked, and for the sake of honesty, I was also rather jealous. For his young wives were absolutely gorgeous.
No, wheat was not the only thing we harvested that season. For after finishing the jobs up in Montana around the middle of September, we headed back to Amarillo to get geared up for the second half, which involved the harvesting of corn, maize/grain sorghum, soybeans and even a patch or two of millet.
Getting ready for those other crops required changing headers on the combines. For a row-crop header was used to harvest corn and maize, and a flex header worked best on soybeans because of having to put the headers right on the ground. Yes, it would have been nice to have had some of them along for the wheat when we reached Montana, but being so far from home did not afford us such a luxury.
I must admit that I find it rather curious that I am unable to remember all that much about the details of the second part of the season. For I remember a lot about where we went in the first half, but all I remember about the second is just being around Tulia, Texas (around 40 miles south of Amarillo), Kress, Texas (around 20 miles south of Tulia), Plainview, Texas (around 13 miles south of Kress), Hale Center, Texas (around 15 miles south of Plainview), Slaton, Texas (around 10 miles southeast of Lubbock and 130 miles south of Amarillo), Friona, Texas (around 60 miles southwest of Amarillo), Hub, Texas (around 8 miles south of Friona), Muleshoe, Texas (around 20 miles south of Hub) and Lazbuddie, Texas (around 15 miles southeast of Friona). For in regards to what we harvested at each place is almost a complete blank.
Okay, I do remember a few details. For how could I forget about the owner of the place where we were harvesting millet around Slaton almost having a heart attack from laughing so hard when my prized Resistol cowboy hat got was spit out of the back of a combine after it fell off of my head while I was trying to help make an adjustment on the machine. Thankfully, both the owner and my hat made a full recovery.
I also remember that it was while working out of Friona that I ran into some trouble with an Allsups Convenience Store manager by the name of Terri. For she slapped the smirk right off of my face after I smarted off something that she did not appreciate as much as I thought she should.
Much to my surprise and delight, all was forgiven by the next Saturday night. For we ran into each other at the Copper Penny in Clovis, New Mexico (around 30 miles southwest of Friona), and for a month afterward, a torrid romance ensued between us.
Alas, it was over before it had hardly begun, but it was for the best. For if Terri and I had of stayed a couple, I would have probably had to settle for hauling cattle feed for a local company (which promised very long hours at very low wages) because of her kids.
Please, try to understand. For staying in Friona would have been a small price to pay for being a part of their lives, but I was destined to wander far and wide for a little while longer. In fact, the next step in my progression did not end until I had driven well over two million miles while visiting all of the continuous 48 American states and five provinces in Canada.
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