flash back to the book Last Grand Adventure-Walking away from home
Those wild horses and our burros diminished some our bed of hay by the time we exited Death Valley Junction and pointed our wagon tongue to the north headed for Beatty, Nevada across the Amargosa Desert.
Carol led out this time, leading the team as before and the donkeys started out well. I took my pocket watch from my vest pocket and placed it on the wagon seat beside me as I drove. By timing our progress between mile markers I soon saw that we were taking thirty minutes to complete every mile. In other words, our wagon was moving at two miles an hour. It was something of a shock for me to realize that we were moving more slowly than an average adult can walk; which is three miles an hour. Or what was called a league the distance a man walked in the time it takes the sun to move the distance between you index finger and little finger when your arm is at its full extension..
Even the two mile an hour pace threatened not to hold after I climbed off the seat to relieve Carol at the head of the team. I picked up the lead rope and six little burros put on their brakes!
I tugged and yelled and advised Carol on how she should get them going to no avail. In fact, the only effects I achieved were negative. The burros scrunched further back into their traces to get away from my loud commands and Carol got mad at me for yelling at her in the same tone of voice I was using on the burros.
When Carol got mad at me she looped the lines over the dash of the wagon, without my permission, and came out to the head of the burros. Now, I got mad at her for leaving the lines on such a busy highway and I threw down the lead rope around the hames and stomped back to the wagon seat to “drive ’em from behind!”
The burros lined out and took up the march with Carol walking in front uninhibited from the encumbering lead rope and me driving from the wagon seat; and for the remainder of our journey I was never again able to pick up a lead rope and lead them forward as a team. They let me know that day in the Amargosa Desert and the succeeding days that my place was in the back. Carols place was out front if she picked up the driving lines they would promptly stop.
That’s how we worked out our pattern for travel. My main view from then on was the back of Carol out in front; (I could see why the burros liked her there. I like to watch her action myself.) Followed by twelve of long shaggy ears in six green halters. Each pair of ears would snap back at the mention of each burros name .
Those twelve ears were fascinating to watch as all of one accord they would turn backwards to listen to my commands, or pitch forward to trace the whereabouts of tourists or jack rabbits (depending on which of the critters we disturbed.) I shouldn’t have said twelve turned in one accord, for it was only eleven. The right ear of Beef would turn slowly in erratic circles independently of the other eleven ears! We’ve chuckled over that comical ear many a time. You might not agree that an out of control ear is funny but moving at such a slow pace we began to find delight in small, seemingly inconsequential things.
We tried to buy hay at the Ponderosa Dairy near the town of Amargosa Valley but they only had it available in one ton bales, which of course were much to big for us to manage. They did however, suggest that we get our hay at Funeral Mountain Ranch which was only a days travel away, and they took us on board their truck scales and weighed us. All together we weighed 5,920 pounds!
As we pulled out of the dairy on our way to Funeral Mountain Ranch a car pulled up alongside and kept to our pace for a moment. A young woman leaned out of the passenger window and asked, “Are you traveling?”
“If you call two miles an hour traveling,” I replied.
“No,” she sputtered, “I mean are you going somewhere?”
I just nodded my head at her.
She smiled and waved, crowing, “I thought so!”
The next afternoon at Funeral Mountain Ranch we tried again to buy hay. The owner wanted to make us a gift of oat hay. I explained that I really appreciated his generosity but that in my opinion oat hay didn’t have enough octane for hard-working animals, and again asked about buying alfalfa. He invited us to spend the night there and told us that David, the ranch foreman, would see that the team was fed that night if I’d put off buying the hay until morning. It was late and I agreed.
As David led off to show us where to camp, a diminutive man with a German Shepherd dog at his heels came up to us to shake hands. He introduced himself as Norman Talmadge, a former jockey, and said he’d like to come by in a bit and visit as he was very interested in what we were doing.
We were led to a clearing along the edge of an alfalfa field facing the panorama of the Funeral Mountains. It was a lovely spot. I unhitched the burros from the wagon two at a time, while Carol sat on the wagon seat with her foot on the brake: in case those still hitched would try to follow the pair I was removing that way both the burros and I knew where Carol was and then we worked together to un-harness the animals.
Our electric fence was up and the burros were inside of its protection when David brought us some oat hay “to try.” The burros pushed it around with their noses picking out the oat seeds and then voiced their rejection of the proffered dinner with clamorous brays. I laughed out an “I told you so!” and the oat hay was soon replaced with first-class alfalfa from some broken bales near by.