Millionaires and Hooligans from Last Grand Adventure
We accidentally traveled down two private and restricted roadways during our journey and they were both in the same area.
The first mistake happened as we came up to the west of Yerington. The road we happened on was a dandy and went along in the direction we wanted to travel. It was “very” level and “very” wide and “very” smooth and “very” quiet with no traffic. I should have realized that something was “very” wrong!
But, I didn’t. Half an hour later my team started to get a little fidgety and suddenly we were facing a three story high ore truck barreling along at forty miles an hour in our lane! There was nowhere to go! I just stared, as the driver swerved off around us and headed for the hills. He must have radioed into the Yerington Copper Mine that we were on their road because it was just a few minutes later that a security truck pulled up alongside.
“You’re not supposed to be out here!” the driver yelled. “This is a private road!”
“I’m leaving it,” I called back, “just as soon as I’m able!”
“Next left,” he called.
“Okay!” I acknowledged.
You probably know that ore trucks are driven on the left so that the drivers can see the edge of the roadway over the bulk of their rigs. I knew it too, but I didn’t realize that I was on a road built for their exclusive use. We could have been crushed!
I hadn’t learned my lesson yet. I mapped out a good short-cut and took Campbell Road out of Yerington in order to avoid the highway and get to Virginia City the back way.
I intended to turn right at the end of Campbell Road but when I got there the road I wanted was fenced off with a ‘road closed’ sign.
We had taken closed roads before up around Aurora and Bodie… Did I forget to mention that?
Anyway, just as I made ready to go around the barricade I glimpsed a flashing light coming toward me on the closed road. I waited and observed a four-wheel Jeep Wagoneer traveling toward us in excess of one hundred miles and hour! When it got near the barricade it
The SUV whipped around in a U-turn, throwing up dust, and retreated back in the opposite direction. I watched for an hour and the scene was repeated time and again.
The driver could see that I wasn’t going away, so he finally pulled over to a dead stop, got out, and walked toward me.
“I planned to take this road over to Fort Churchill,” I told him, “but it doesn’t look safe!”
“You can’t do it,” the driver said. “This road belongs to Hodges Transportation. It’s a test strip for high velocity travel!”
“Oh,” I stammered, with bells ringing in my head. “Would that be Henry Hodges’ company?”
He stared at me, I stumbled on, “and I once took the Henry Hodge family on a horseback ride in Death Valley, if you tell him West from Death Valley is here with his wagon…”
The driver questioned, “Henry Hodges, Senior or Junior?”
I fumbled and made a wild guess, “Senior!”
“Okay,” the driver returned to his vehicle and I waited. A few minutes later he was beside me again. “Mr. Hodges is on his way out to see you. Have a good trip. Good-bye!”
I saluted him and he had hardly gone before Henry Hodges, Sr. pulled up. I had guessed right and he knew me. He shook my hand as I explained my idea about a short-cut.
“Only for you, West,” he said. “Only for you, and because I admire what you are doing, I’ll let you travel our road, and suspend all of our tests on it for one day. Tomorrow. Can you make it through in one day?”
“How far is it?” I questioned.
“Exactly ten miles,” he answered.
“I can do it,” I assured him, “Is it all right if we camp right here tonight?”
That was how we happened to be camped at the junction of Campbell and Hodges Transportation Road when a car load of young people drove up in the dark of the night and riddled the stop sign with bullets!
We took our pioneer Sabbath down along the Carson River almost a week later. There were danger signs all up and down the river warning folk not to drink the polluted water but we Sad to say we were out of that precious substance so I watered the burros with river water and boiled it for our use.
Cowboy-ramrod, Jim Miller found us doing that and got worried. “You’ll kill yourselves!” he declared.
And for each of the next three days, Jim appeared with a gallon of frozen water for us so we’d have something cold to drink. On the second day he brought two horses, one was for me, so I could help him move some Break-a-Heart cattle to the other side of the river, ‘Twas good to be on a horse again.”
Horseflies and mosquitoes were thick down there by the Carson River and our burros would come up to the wagon and ask for their fly spray (Skin So Soft by Avon) several times a day. I’m not kidding. They didn’t ask in words exactly, but they did ask by making their hides shiver, flicking their broom-tails, shaking their heads, and standing in line when the bottle of spray was brought out.
I had read that our route along the Carson River was where Chorpenning’s Jackass Mail they actually used mules before the Pony Express had come through this part of “The Great American Desert” back in the 1850’s and 60’s. The record for speed was set on this stretch which was then a willow-road built with bundles of willow branches laid down corduroy fashion.
Now that I’ve camped down there by the Carson River I can tell you why the record for speed was set there. It was the mosquitoes and horseflies that made those mules and ponies run so fast!
One of our visitors in that camp was Ben Norwood, a small man with one eye squinted half closed and the other eye wide open. (He had been a weapons inspector and armorer in the army and had squinted down too many gun barrels.)
Ben introduced himself to us as “a blood-sucking, drug-running, bank courier from Reno.”
“You had better explain that statement!” my wife demanded.
Ben laughed, happy that he had gotten the response he desired. “Don’t be alarmed, ma’am! I work as a courier carrying urgent paperwork for several banks, blood and drugs, back and forth between doctor offices, labs, hospitals and pharmacies.”
Our new friend got excited when I told him that we had decided that we didn’t want to go straight back to Death Valley after Virginia City, and now planned to go through Reno, his home town.
(We had accepted the job of carrying a banner for the Bureau of Land Management into Reno’s Wild Horse and Burro Show at rate of ten dollars a day not long before we met Ben.)
“That’s wonderful,” Ben enthused. “I’ll get you newspaper and television coverage and I have friends who will want to put some advertising on your wagon. I’ll take a video of you and sell you to Reno!”
So it was, that when we left camp on the Carson River, we were carrying three advertising signs. One for a gold & silver company “Swiss America”, one for the wild horse and burro program through the BLM and one for ‘Reno’s Prospector Supply’ owned by Ben’s friends.
Ben had done his best to sell us to the city of Reno, Nevada. We went forward to Dayton wondering exactly what “selling us,” meant.
It was a steep climb from Dayton to Virginia City the back way, up Six Mile Canyon. I spent most of my time walking alongside the wagon, calling out the names of the burros to encourage them forward and up, up, up. I’d call out “Diz, Dean, Rags, Chaps, Beef, and Bean,” and then add “Pete, Rose, Pat, Tom, Dick, and Hairy” so that my donkeys would think that they had other donkeys helping them with the load! (Sure, I know that it’s usually spelled H-a-r-r-y.)
We made it almost all the way up before it was time to stop, and we made camp a mile below Virginia City.
Someone had mentioned to us that there was an old well at that point and I scouted around until I found it. I hauled water from the well for our burros and the first couple of buckets I drew out contained more beer and soda cans than they did water!
There was a shade tree within the boundary of the electric fence and plenty of graze. The burros were content, and so were we. It was a calm, dark, and quiet night and we slept well only to be startled awake at four o’clock in the morning!
A hoodlum had driven up in a pick-up truck and scared our burros through their fence by banging pots and pans together (at least it sounded like that) and by the time I got my head out from under the canvas our unwelcome visitor was snapping off his headlights and driving away up toward Virginia City pushing my burros ahead of him.
I was as angry as a tom cat suspended by its’ tail, and I sputtered and threatened as I got into my clothes and pulled on my boots.
Carol was grim. “We’ll hang him for horse-stealing when we catch him,” she declared. That woman never kids.
The dim light of dawn saw us walking up canyon with six empty halters, lead ropes, and a bucket of grain.
“You looking for your horses?” a driver headed down canyon asked. “I saw them; they are headed into Virginia City! Come on, I’ll give you a ride.”
Sure enough, three of the four blacks were standing on the road on the outskirts of the city. Diz, Dean, and Chaps. I hopped out of the car, thanked the driver, and caught up those three, wondering all the while about what happened to my other draft animals.
I sent Carol on up the road to see if she could locate the missing donkeys and tried to lead the captured blacks off the hill and back to the wagon. They refused to go!
I begged from in front them. I threatened from behind. I slapped them with lead ropes, and jerked them around by their halters. Nothing worked. By the time Carol returned from a fruitless search I was altogether frustrated by my failure to move them.
She picked up the grain bucket and walked down the hill in front of me calling for her big black pets to “come.” To my relief the burros finally decided to go along! I forgot that Chaps was my “tattle tail burro” and if I had listen to his rebellion for what it was I would have saved myself a lot of grief.
With half the burros tied to the covered wagon I walked back up hill alone in search of Bean, Beef, and Rags.
You have probably already guessed the answer to the puzzle….the puzzle of why those three captured burros didn’t want to come home.
I found my missing three just over the hill from where I found the first three, they were eating from a stack of alfalfa; keeping company with horses! Diz, Chaps, and Dean had known what I didn’t and I should have been cool enough to figure it all out.
Do you know the story of Balaam of the Bible? His jenny donkey tried to help and protect him, and for her pains her master beat her. God gave that jenny a voice and she took Balaam to task for beating her when she had been trying to save his life. I hadn’t beaten the burros but I sure felt chagrined! Like Balaam must have…