Trippin’ Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 19, February 197
Determined on expanding his farming horizons, Albert announced, “I’m going to raise a pig.” Together we built a pigpen under the oaks overlooking the creek, using scrap hog fence for the project. The following morning, we set off for the Dixon livestock auction. A group of rednecks eyed our long hair, making no attempt to hide their contempt. We went out to the livestock pens to inspect the pigs that were waiting for auction.
A gentleman named Bill, decked out in overalls and a ragged, duck-billed cap, offered us advice. He pointed to several pens with pink and black pigs. “These here Hampshire pigs fatten nicely, and they’re good-natured. But you don’t want to pay more than thirty, thirty-five bucks for any of 'em. You just have to raise a few fingers to the auctioneer when the bidd’en starts. Make sure you catch his eye. Yep, them Hampshires are good eat’n and will fatten up in about four or five months if you give 'em plenty of grub.” It was a quick, welcome education.
Albert thanked Bill, then we went inside and found bleacher seats around a small pen. Before long, the area was packed with farmers and ranchers. One or more animals were ushered onto center stage, starting with the goats. The auctioneer raised the tempo of the crowd with indistinguishable garble. It took concentration to pick up the bids he was requesting and to spot the bidders who were discrete with their gestures.
We watched while trying to adjust to this alien language. Next came the sheep. And finally, the pigs were brought in. We waited for a single female Hampshire as Bill had suggested, and Albert started the bidding at ten dollars. Someone we didn’t see upped it to fifteen, and Albert bumped it again to twenty. The competition ended at thirty dollars. “Sold to the long-haired gent in the straw hat over there,” the auctioneer announced, pointing at Albert. We followed the pig out of the pen, paid the cashier, and led our new purchase on a rope to Albert’s truck.
As he tied her in the back of the truck, Albert said to the creature, “You’re going to have a fine home with us for a while, Priscilla Pig. And someday, we will respectfully honor you on our dinner plates.”
On the way back, we stopped behind Safeway, where we found veggies, bread, and cracked melons in the dumpster. Once home, we placed Priscilla in her pen and dumped the goodies in a rusty washtub. She dove in, and it was clear that fattening her up would be no trouble at all.
I was enjoying my new found freedom, unencumbered by a mate, but sometimes I wondered whether I’d made the right decision. Missing Rosie became a frequent emotion, especially during those vacant twilight hours that occur before sleep. Gina still occupied my thoughts on occasion, but not as often as before.
* * * * *
On a rainy afternoon in January, Albert, James, Freddie, and myself were holed up in Freddie’s kitchen shooting the breeze. James took a strong hit off a joint and held it in. He handed it to Albert and continued to speak as smoke leaked out with his words. “Farmer Alexander is tearing out an old apricot orchard. He told me if we take out all the trees down to the ground, we can sell the wood.”
Albert choked and snorted. “How many trees in this orchard?”
Freddie answered, “Six hundred and thirty six. I took a count this morning.”
James continued, “Once we get the wood out, they’ll use heavy equipment to pull out the roots. We don’t have to deal with those or the small wood pieces. They’ll bulldoze that stuff into piles for burning. We have three chainsaws. We can cut the trees into six-foot logs and haul them over behind the tool shed. We’ll set up a lumber saw to hone them down to firewood size.”
Freddie added, “When the wood is cut up, we can put an ad in the paper and deliver it in my truck. I can carry two, maybe three cords with the racks on.”
This sounded interesting. “What’s a cord sell for these days?”
Freddie smiled. “Apricot is a good hardwood. We should be able to get seventy dollars for a cord, thirty-five for half a cord. Hank says he’s in. If you two want to join us, it would be the five of us.”
Albert handed the joint off and raised his hand. “I’m in.”
“I’m with you too,” I said.
We worked four long days in that muddy orchard. When we were done, there was a mountain of wood behind the tool shed, twelve feet high in the center and twenty by forty feet at the base. We were bushed and decided to take a day off before proceeding.
Two days later I arrived at “wood mountain” to find the rear of James’s pickup on blocks and the right rear wheel removed. There was a twelve-foot-long belt wrapped around the truck axle at one end and an ancient saw blade attached to an iron table at the other. The rusty blade was nearly a yard in diameter. Hank was sharpening the blade with a file, while Albert and James were setting up the mechanics.
“It’s time to test it out,” shouted James. Albert climbed into the truck and turned it on. He put it in drive and placed a concrete block on the gas pedal. As the rear axle spun around, the saw blade did the same. James strapped on plastic goggles, picked up a log, and placed it on the saw table. Chips of wood flew, as the saw moved through the wood like a knife through butter. Our sawmill was up and running! Freddie ran off to place an ad in the paper.
We couldn’t keep up with demand. It took most of two weeks to reduce that mountain of wood to nothing. Albert, Hank, and I would man the mill, while Freddie and James took orders and made deliveries. But when all was done, the money we made was disappointing. James said they had to take out a portion for gas and wear on their trucks, as he handed Albert and me $110 each. That was less than fifty cents per hour for a lot of brutal work.
We figured James and Freddie's math calculations might have been bent in their favor.
To be continued ...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
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If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns