OFF THE CLIFF from LAST GRAND ADVENTURE
“You don’t want to go up Gieger Grade!” The man in the red car called out to us as we began climbing out of Virginia City. “It’s mighty steep, much too hard for those animals to pull, and there is too much traffic moving too fast.”
“Is there any other way to Reno from here?” I inquired, already knowing that there wasn’t.
“You can’t do it, I tell you,” the man answered. “You’ll get yourself killed up there on the High Way!” He gunned his car ahead and up the mountain in front of us.
I kept driving. It was steep all right! We pulled over on every pull-out to give the donkeys a chance to catch their breath but they were showing me that they were eager to do the climb.
Remember what I told you about coming down out of the Sierra Nevada Range? Donks would much rather go up hill than down.
Traffic was moving fast, and it was thick just as the man in the red car had said, but there were several lanes, they could get around us all right…
We weren’t the only slow vehicle either. There was a bicycle group toiling slowly uphill, how-be-it faster than we were moving.
Most of the bicyclists were happy to see us and waved or stopped to snap our picture. One spiteful little wench had her say though as she peddled around us. “You are so cruel!” she sputtered. She like many others don’t understand that pulling my wagon up that hill gave my “Guys” joy : It was when I didn’t use them and left them in a pen is when they thought I was cruel!
Carol went to flagging around some blind curves as we neared the top. That is, she took a bright orange flag with the words “SLOW WAGON AHEAD” on it and walked backwards up the mountain behind the wagon warning the folk coming up behind that we were ahead on the curve.
That brought all kinds of reactions. The truckers were appreciative and waved to her. Some folk just gaped at her as though she was some curious bug as they sped by. Some acted like they were afraid of my tiny blond lady with the big blue eyes, and a car load of Mexicans tried to pick her up.
They couldn’t read the sign, and Carol didn’t realize that they couldn’t. ” Where are you going?” they inquired.
“To Reno!” she innocently answered.
“Okay! Get in!” they suggested.
She was hot and feeling befuddled. “No thanks, I have to work!”
They were getting confused too! “Aren’t you going to Reno?”
“Yes, we’ll be there in a couple of days!”
That was too much for the Mexicans. They drove out around her thinking that she was either crazy, or had been out in the sun too long… and she walked along for another mile before it dawned on her that they could not read her English sign. They thought that she was hitch-hiking.
We were several miles down the other side of the hill when a white television truck pulled around Carol at top speed and came roaring past the wagon, pulling over to the shoulder about a quarter of a mile down the road. The man driving got out and began to set up a television camera.
I pulled over too. Right there where I was, “We’ll let him wait,” I told the team. “Give Carol a chance to catch up.”
The Guys didn’t understand me but they were glad to stop. It was downhill now.
By the time Carol had caught up, soaked her head, and taken a long drink of water, John Tyson of Channel 8 News had gotten tired of waiting and was walking back to us. He introduced himself and told us that he wanted to put us on the evening news. I was
Amenable, Carol was not. Always one to slip back into the shadows and avoid the limelight she was shaking her head ‘no’ as I was nodding my head ‘yes.’
Instead of warning us back like the man in the red car, John Tyson goaded us forward. I know a great short-cut for you,” he told me, “it will get you out of this traffic, and give you some peace and quiet. It’s called the ‘old toll road’ and teams and teamsters used to use it to get to Reno!”
“Peace and quiet sound good. What shape is it in?” I asked.
“Let me get some footage of you now,” he responded, “and then I’ll go check it out for you. I can come back and catch you before you get past the turn!”
When John returned from scouting out the trail he told me, “It’s washed out in some places, but a good teamster can still make it!”
You can see what position that put me in. If I had backed off then, and taken another way, I would be admitting that I was not a good teamster.
It was agreed that John would drive down the ‘old toll road’ first and film us coming down and that we would stop halfway down the mountain and give him an interview.
John had called it ‘The Old Toll road,’ but it should have been listed as a trail. It was narrow, washed-out in a great many places, and studded with roots and rocks. Tight turns kept us huddled against the cliff wall rising to the right of us, and the cliffs continued down on the left giving us spectacular views.
I should say they gave Carol spectacular views. I had my eyes on my team as the wheelers over walked the swing-team, looking for comfort from their buddies ahead while the leaders stepped gingerly down each foot of the way thinking that their master was asking too much this time!
John got some great video tape footage on the first half of the trail! He was happy when we halted in the middle with the team turned sharply up into a crevice in the mountain side and he approached us grinning.
“It’s going really well,” he said. “I told you that a good teamster could do it!”
My head might have swelled a bit, and maybe I did feel a bit like “Hollywooding” it when I turned the team back downhill after the interview. My pride didn’t last.
As I turned the team sharply to get out of the crevice and back onto the dirt I turned them too sharply. The left wheel on the sheep-herder wagon (there are only two) went over the edge! I stopped the team and there we sat. John was still with us. He looked at that tire dangling over the edge and volunteered.
“Take the back wagon loose from the front wagon,” he directed “and I’ll back up around you, hook the sheep-herder wagon to my truck and pull it out.”
I tried to do it my way first. I was sure the team could pull it out. They surged forward into their collars on command but the tire didn’t come back up onto the road.
I finally agreed to try it John’s way, and unhooked the back wagon from the covered wagon. Carol sat on the driving seat and held the reins,
You are probably wincing and saying, “Oh, no, not again!” And you are right to cringe!
When John backed up to the sheep-herder wagon he rolled right into it and sent it crashing off the cliff and down into the upper end of a canyon, The “pop” of its’ impact, sounded like a cannon shot in that narrow place and the donkeys were off bounding downhill at a run while Carol prayed, “Please Jesus, help me!”
I was running behind trying to catch up when I heard my sweet woman call out “Ho!” And, miraculously, the wagon rolled to a stop.
I told my woman she had done a good job, chocked the wheels of the driving wagon for her and then left her again so I could get a rope on the bulk of the sheepherder wagon before it slid any further down over the cliff.
After John and I had roped the remains of the sheepherder wagon securely to a tree across the way, John drove off up canyon to get his flatbed truck and his ranch foreman, with the idea in mind that he would take us and the smashed wagon home with him where it could be repaired.
I climbed up onto the wagon seat and took the lines.
“I’ll drive them down to the bottom,” I told Carol and then warned her, “I want you to wait here. Do not climb down to the trailer-wagon. It is not safe; it could go over at any minute. Promise me that you will not.”
She promised, and climbed down off the wagon to wait for me. I drove downhill. Knowing that if I asked Carol not to do something that is the thing she would do: yet hoping this time she would be good.
Normally, we wouldn’t ask anyone to let us camp in their yard, or to use their corrals it we could help it. This time it couldn’t be helped. There was a small rancho at the bottom of the hill and the young couple there gave me permission to leave my donkeys in their paddock while I went back to see what could be done with the second wagon.
When I got back to the scene of the accident John and his foreman, Cody, were down in the head of the canyon with a young couple who had happened along after the crash. They were all scattered out, picking our clothing and other personal possessions off of the bushes and rocks and handing then up over the edge to Carol, who true to her word had not gone over the precipice.
I joined the laborers down below and as we worked together we joked and laughed about the incident. I was handing our camera and slide projector (surprisingly none the worse for their trouble) up to my wife when Cody turned suddenly to look at Carol smiling down on me. A look of pleased recognition lit up his face and he remarked, “You must be Christians!”
Cody gave up his bed that night and Carol slept peacefully therein while Cody and I rebuilt the sheepherder wagon from the ground up. By noon the next day it was reassembled and loaded. . Now the rest of the story the sheepherder had some problems of late and I had been talking to GOD about the need to rebuild the wagon from the deck up. But I had no tools with me. Can you see how HE does all things for good of them that love HIM? On June 13 it rolled up the middle lane of Virginia Street, right through the heart of Reno, proudly bearing it’s scars for any observing eye to see
It didn’t roll through the city alone. It followed the covered wagon which followed six wet burros, who in their turn followed my wife draped in her long yellow slicker. It was raining and cold and we were thankful for the bad weather as it kept most of the people around us in their cars and moving.
Most of them but not all. Several people braved the rain for snapshots calling out, “We saw you on the news!”
One middle-aged newspaperman was dogging our steps while he ran around through the Reno traffic taking photographs of us. He got at least twelve shots from different angles and then with pen and paper in hand ran up and asked Carol, “What are your names?”
“Meet us at the fairgrounds and I’ll tell you,” retorted Carol who had feared for his life.
“I can’t,” he said. “This is my day off, I’m going home! What are you doing?”
“Come to the fairgrounds and I’ll tell you our story!”
“I can’t, I’m off today! What are your names?”
He didn’t know my wife and her stance on cities or he wouldn’t have run along with us getting a cold soaking. Carol had made up her mind that she wasn’t going to give the man an interview as she walked in such heavy traffic trying to judge how to dodge the traffic flow at each on and off ramp. She was not going to cooperate! That newspaper man was irritated. He finally gave up and ran back to his car yelling.
I was yelling too. Giving commands to the donkeys, “get over, step up,” etc.; and to Carol, ” easy, watch out!”
We moved determinedly north through the rain and traffic noticing that all the police cars coming upon us would turn an abrupt ninety degrees and disappear!
We stopped for awhile at Reno’s Prospector Supply as a reward for their sponsorship. They greeted us with hot coffee and donuts and the crowd that gathered fed carrots to the donkeys!
Coffee goes right to the head of Christmas Carol and makes her the proverbial scatter-brained blonde, so she left there with the donuts alone as ballast. I believe she would have been better off to have had some of the coffee because she began to weaken from the stress and her enforced march. All afternoon she staggered along automatically obeying my commands without thinking and I was getting more and more concerned about her safety because she walked stolidly forward without paying attention to traffic.
The strangers that observed us were worried about her too. They challenged me, “Why don’t you let the lady ride?”
Carol, aroused from her stupor by their clamor, came to my defense, “I like to walk, I could never drive the team in this big city of yours, and my donkeys need me for moral support!”
We were so relieved to get to the huge complex that is Reno’s sport center and fairgrounds. Once there we kept asking direction from anyone who looked like they might know their way around until we were finally sequestered in a back corner. The Reno B.L.M. employees had been expecting us and they made us welcome. It was Friday afternoon. Despite the crash on “The Old Toll Road’ we had arrived on time!
Taking our team into Reno that year turned out to be a good thing for the Wild Horse and Burro Show. Only eight burros made it to the show and six of them were ours! We did not enter our animals in any of the competition events but took part in the grand entry parade
Every morning and spent endless hours answering questions about our team, burros in general and our journey.
Not everyone was pleased with us. Part of the show was an adoption lottery for a corral of wild mustangs quartered next door to our tame burros. Some folk thought that our gentle little burros were also up for adoption and were bitterly disappointed to learn that they belonged to us and that there weren’t any for them to adopt.
Several snide women remarked at different times that it wasn’t fair that we should own all six burros! And of the group, one tried to buy stout little ‘Beef’ for the $75.00 cost of the wild burros adopted through the B.L.M. I was insulted and let her know that our burros were worth much, much more than that to us!
It was Sunday afternoon before the crowds thinned out. Carol was exhausted. She climbed up into the bed of the sheepherder wagon for a nap and I locked her inside with our combination lock outside before I walked over to a grocery store for some supplies.
Two boys, about ten and twelve years old, had been hanging around us and our team all weekend and when we both disappeared from their radar screen they decided to ‘carry on’ our job and give tours of our wagons, introduce the burros and answer questions. Carol lay abed and listened to the tour being given by the two boys. They introduced the burros, explained the harness, its’ rack and the driving wagon and its’ cargo and then the group trundled along to the back of the sheepherder wagon.
“This is where they live!” One of the boys announced and pulled on the door handle. “Oh, it’s locked,” more rattling and banging at the lock… “Anyway, I’ll describe it to you. There’s a little bed over three big water tanks, a kitchen, two tables that fold up, and lots of stuff!”
Those grand entry parades in Reno gave us opportunity to drive our hitch indoors for the first and only time on the journey. I remember driving six nervous animals down into a dark submerged riding arena, through a tunnel like entrance, and out into a well-lighted roofed arena where we’d parade in a circle before climbing a steep dark tunnel up and out of the show area and back into daylight. Carol was beside me on the box each time and our burros did it all without her moral support out front. Oh yes, I definitely had my ‘driving team’ now! I was so pleased with our four-legged friends!
The last tunnel that led us back to daylight was so steep that we would start them up it and then yell “Yip, Yip, Ya!” to the donkeys to get them to throw their weight forward into their collars. The echoes of the tunnel helped drive them forward and spectators near the doors would run outside expecting to see us explode out of the underground complex at a run, only to see six little donkeys emerge at a sedate walk!
At the end of the show we turned in the “Adopt a Wild Horse and Burro” sign we carried and tendered our bill for the advertising we had done to the B.L.M. We were assured that we’d be mailed a check within sixty days.
All weekend I had been asking the locals how we could exit Reno quietly through the outskirts but everyone I talked to agreed with what I read on our map. There was no quiet way to slip out of Reno to the west. We’d have to take Interstate 80 across into Verdi, Nevada, located on the old Donner Pass trail, and then turn north and enter California again once we were in the Sierra Nevada Range.
It worked out okay. The wide shoulders along the interstate afforded us our own paved travel lane and we made quite a stir. Folk would come racing up on us, hit the brakes, pull over, snap our photo, and then tell us that we shouldn’t be there!