Balloons Plea for Help from The Last Grand Adventure
“We’ll give them a show!” I snorted as I pulled the heads of my lead team to the right and steered around to the drive-through of a fast food restaurant in the military town of Hawthorne. “We’ll shake ’em up and make ’em laugh!”
The donks overshot the order tube somewhat, but they were right on at the pick-up window of the local Mc Donalds . Six eager noses had caught the odor of warm French fries and they were all trying to reach the paper bag held aloft by a chubby, teen-age cashier. It was all I could do to get my team to move ahead of that inviting window so that I could pick up our lunch from the driving seat. I didn’t really pick it up, I snatched it up as we blew by and then Carol had to run back for my change while I drove to a parking space where all eight of us could enjoy those fries!
Munching a lunch that I didn’t have to cook was delightful! Munching a lunch at all was a marvelous thing because one of the problems of our trek was that we never were able to really figure out a way to conveniently do lunch.
Sometimes we’d make a stop in order to quickly cook a meal, but that was inconvenient because the burros didn’t like to stop in the middle of the day for a rest…. (They were wanting to get the job done!) And, sometimes we thought ahead and boiled some eggs to have with a bit of pepperoni, cheese, and onion while we were moving, but being so far from any markets, and having no refrigeration really cut down on the days we could enjoy a lunch. We had quickly learned that carrying perishables and\or ice on the desert was impractical, and we had no support team, such as some trekkers use to bring fresh supplies.
As we enjoyed those French fries in Hawthorne, Nevada, I was excitedly thinking that we had made it over halfway to Virginia City and that Beef, Bean, Rags, Chaps, Disney and Dean had managed to pull us sixty miles since we had eaten fried chicken at Scotty’s Junction with the Wellborns.
It had been the Wellborns that first mentioned Carl and Julie Hulings to us. Carl and Julie and their two young children had ended a 5-year wagon trek from Oregon in Scotty’s Junction the summer before we started out from Death Valley.
Anyway, we met up with Carl and Julie there at Hawthorne. Julie, pregnant with their third child was suffering from thyroid disease and Carl was making a living painting signs.
They came to find us while we were camped at the town corrals and the first thing Julie said to my wife after introducing herself and her family was, “Can I take your laundry home with me and wash it for you? I have been longing to help another wagon family in some of the ways that others have helped me.”
Carol immediately agreed and thanked Julie saying, “I can see that you fully understand our difficulties!” When Julie returned to us later that same evening, she not only brought our clothing back clean and fresh and folded, but, she brought us a box of precious, little, practical gifts.
Carol carried the clean clothing into the wagon and then returned placing “The box”, unopened beside her chair. Julie couldn’t wait for us to open it. She picked it up off the ground and offered it to Carol again.
“Open it,” she pleaded, “I want to explain some of it to you.”
Smiling understandably, Carol lifted the flaps of the box and lifted out the goodies one at a time. I stayed long enough to see a fully equipped sewing kit designed for mending, a bottle of toothache medicine, with accompanying cotton balls, and a tube of lip balm for Carol’s blistered lips before wandering off with Carl in order to show him my harness and talk hitches with a like-minded man.
Even though we had just met, I somehow felt like I had known Carl and his family always. We had much in common. Just before they left us for the evening I felt a tug on my arm and looked down into the upturned face of Carlin, their eldest child, and only son.
“I miss having a donkey,” the boy said, “would it be all right if I could have a ride on one of yours?”
“Well, I have been lame-brained,” I murmured, “of course you can have a ride, and your sister, Carlee, shall have one too!”
“Hail! In June!” I grunted as ice the size of pigeon eggs drummed on the canvas overhead. Carol and I were sitting cross-legged on the bed in the wagon, which was parked to the west of Hawthorne, at Lucky Boy Mine.
“At least we have shelter,” chattered Carol as she moved closer to me for warmth. “The storm will blow over.”
“It’s the middle of June,” I almost howled. “We’re not prepared for this.”
Prepared or not we were about to take on the challenge of crossing Lucky Boy Pass, elevation 8,001′ a climb of over 3,000 feet on our way over the Wassuk Mountains to Bridgeport, California. Going out of our way to Bridgeport was an unexpected detour to the route we had planned to take, but I had been told that there was a big Fourth of July celebration in Bridgeport and I wanted to sell some more old time photos.
Carol was thinking that the storm would blow over, but the weatherman was not. We had spent the evening with local historian, Georganna Mayer, her husband Larry and their son Jonathan and after a dinner of tacos we had watched the television weather report. The weatherman was expecting snow “down to the seven thousand foot level.”
Georganna was concerned enough to give Carol a gift of long-underwear that evening and Larry commented, “I figure that if the weatherman is right, you’ll have to push your way through one thousand and one feet of snow on either side of the top! You know, a few ranchers and miners only use that road. It will be a mighty hard climb. Snow or no snow!”
Guess who was right… Uh-huh! It was that gorgeous blonde lady that accompanies me everywhere I go. She climbed up Lucky Boy Pass on foot the following morning, walking in the sunshine ahead of our laboring team. It was cool enough that the burros never broke a sweat; but not cold, and there was no snow to hinder us!
Dirt roads are seldom straight, and this one sure wasn’t. It had hair pin turns on steep switchbacks and sometimes I couldn’t see the road ahead of us because of mountain spurs that stuck out into the right-of-way. The donkeys weren’t sweating, but I was, and it wasn’t only because I had overdressed. It was hard to drive a six up of asses up Lucky Boy!
Our rig was forty-six feet long, from the noses of my leaders to the horns of the skull hung on behind our trailer that I was in the process of upgrading to a sheep-herder wagon. Twenty-four feet of the forty-six was taken up by living burros that needed constant guidance, both to keep working and to take each turn at exactly the right time!
I would ease the leaders out and around each jutting rock, and then pull the swing team out of line to the left to bring them around, and finally draw the wheelers out of line in their turn while straightening out the leaders. Dim-witted Rags always resisted coming out of line, when it was the wheeler’s turn, (especially when he was trying to snag something to eat on the right!) and so I had my hands full!
Cutting in too close to one of those rocks was our downfall, and I’d blame it all on Rags, but I realized that by now you have jumped to the conclusion that I am uncharitable to that same jackass. You would be quick to jump to the defense of the underdog. So, I’ll not blame him.
I’ll just tell you that a sturdy 4″x4″ outrigger that was holding one of our thirth gallon water tanks on the side of the wagon was snapped off as though it were a toothpick by my tough little team as they endeavored to draw the wagon around the rock we snagged! I told you they are tough and they are!
Five hours later, we were high enough to enjoy a grand view! Pinon pines covered the mountains around us. Under and around the trees were clumps of golden bunch grass, Red Indian paintbrush and small purple and yellow wood violets. I breathed a sigh of relief and remarked to Carol, “Just look at that view, would you? It was worth the climb to see such beauty. There are wonderful colors surrounding us!”
I meant the blue of the sky and the colors of the plant-life and the lichen on the rocks but suddenly I realized that one of the blots of color I was gesturing toward was not quite natural.
“Hold the lines, Carol.” I suddenly demanded, and dropping to the ground added: “You need to practice driving!”.
Away she went, holding the ribbons of six burros who didn’t even realized that I had turned back to investigate some unusual color.
Twenty-five yellow and blue helium filled balloons were my prize! I grabbed them up from the ground where their strings had become entangled in brush and rushed after the departing wagon. By the time I’d caught up to my transportation, I’d realized that the balloons came with a note attached.
It was written on a blank sheet of computer paper and it read:
“Help! I’m being held captive in a cheap, ungrateful company that thinks people can be worked for peanuts and like it. Please send assistance quickly! Can’t last much longer. Sincerely, John Doe Clerk”
‘Twas such a beautiful day, and the weather was so pleasant that we went on and on over twenty one miles of mountainside, setting a new record. Of course, we wouldn’t have done all that except that just as I was beginning to look for a camping spot; Kathy, from Nine mile Ranch, came looking for us. She brought us hot coffee and home-made chocolate chip cookies and told us that we shouldn’t stop for the night until we made Fletcher Spring, “just two miles further on.”
It was worth the push she assured me. And so, we pushed on to our new “longest day” record, and were rewarded with one of the loveliest camping spots of the whole trek.
It was so lovely at Fletcher Spring that we rested there for three days. We took long, peaceful naps with the sound of falling water in our ears; and spent countless hours staring dreamily around us at the green grass, blue ponds, myriad water birds, and the blue and yellow balloons now floating jauntily above the wagon just below our huge American Flag.
Yes, I remember that I mentioned to you earlier that our burros would get perturbed if we rested in one place for more than one day, but even the donks were loath to leave Fletcher Spring.