Trippin’ Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 14, September 1969
The next task at hand was fixing up the house. We found a pickup load of flattened grocery boxes behind the local supermarket and spent a day tacking cardboard insulation on the inside of every exterior wall. Mr. Wizard had a plan for heating the place. He did some quick measurements, and then we drove to his parent’s place in Sacramento, stopping to pick up a 55-gallon and a 35-gallon steel drum at a scrap-metal yard.
In his dad’s shop, I watched Albert perform magic with cutting and welding torches. Within a few hours, he had created a wood stove and a smoke-containment drum. The stove lay horizontally on steel legs, with a half-circle front door that hinged downward and a rotating handle that secured the door. The original pour hole of the drum was altered to act as an adjustable opening to draw air below a grill. Impressive. Again, Albert lived up to his reputation. He cut a hole at the top rear to fit a stovepipe. The small drum was fitted with two stovepipes sticking out of each end.
On our way back, we stopped at Vasey’s Hardware Store in Winters for additional lengths of stovepipe. Albert set up the stove inside the front door, in the space which was to be my bedroom. Then he took the stovepipe through the wall into his room, and ran it to the back porch where a smokestack went through the roof. In his room, the smaller drum enlarged the stovepipe to trap heat. We had it all installed before dark. Albert’s engineering degree wasn’t wasted.
I fixed my room up with an oriental rug, chair, bed, and hanging tapestries. The place was beginning to feel like home. What a change after being on the road for so long.
There was an unlimited supply of stuff around to fuel our creativity. I fashioned a self-filling chicken feeder out of an old stovepipe, jerry-rigged with baling wire over a headlight frame from an ancient automobile. In all, there were about twenty chickens roaming the premises and several nests supplying free eggs if you searched the barn and open hen-house.
Rosie came out for a visit, and we spent the afternoon exploring the property. We passed cows, steers, and one big, mellow fellow of a bull. Most of the land consisted of low, rolling hills, forested with scattered oaks. We discovered a swimming hole in the creek and skinny-dipped. On the other side of the creek was an abandoned plum and apricot orchard. Beyond the orchard, steep hills led to a barren mountain known to locals as Putnam Peak. We spent the day flirting and smooching. It felt good to be a bit smitten.
I missed Geronimo, so it was nice to have horses on the property. I was anxious to meet the owners in the hope that they’d let us ride.
Albert stumbled upon some hip folks living nearby who invited us to dinner. We drove ten minutes to Peaceful Meadows Ranch. Huge eucalyptus trees lined the property, which consisted of vast orchards of apricots, prune-plums, almonds, and walnuts. In three small cottages grouped together, I met our new friends.
Iris Hope lived in the smallest one-room cottage. She was a sturdy farm girl with blond wavy hair resting on her shoulders. She had the brightest blue eyes I’d ever seen. Iris oozed warmth and honesty. There was no way you couldn’t love this lady.
James and Carlotta Sandz lived in an elongated single story across from Iris. James was tall and thin and sported curly brown hair, a scruffy goatee, wire-rimmed glasses, and a serious look. But looks can be deceiving as he showed a quick wit and loved to joke. Carlotta’s long black hair accented her stunning Spanish features.
We congregated in Freddie Miller’s kitchen as he and the ladies prepared an elaborate meal of fresh vegetables and lasagna. Freddie was a short, stocky fellow with straight, long brown hair. I liked his warm smile and deep, wholesome laugh. They were a rambunctious group, prone to humor and teasing.
Freddie said, “Let’s get things rolling” as he pulled some papers and a baggie of weed from his shirt pocket. He crafted a joint and passed it around, and Albert and I joined in on the banter. While we ate, we learned that there was a larger, close-knit community of country hippies in the area.
Then James related a story that held our attention. “You’ve heard about the acid test, right? It was a love-in gathering put on by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, where two bowls of Kool-Aid punch were served—one spiked with LSD. I was there and it was cool for a while. All those folks tripping was enough to make your head spin—but some folks didn’t realize one batch had been spiked. There was a poor girl on a bummer, freaking out and screaming for hours. That definitely put a damper on the vibe.”
His story brought down the mood in the room. Fortunately, Iris stepped in, “Hey no bummer talk, mister.” She turned toward Albert and me. “Did I tell you guys where I’m from? Athol, Idaho is the name of my home town.”
That’s all it took to get us back on track as everybody chimed in with their punny remarks: “That’s a shitty name for a town.” “I hear that place is a real dump.” “Isn’t that at the bottom of the state?” “They should wipe it off the map.” “It’s the butt of many jokes.” “Is that why you’re such a stinker?”
Albert’s stove worked better than we expected. We had to leave the front door open once we fired it up. Eventually, we could pull it closed and the house would remain toasty for hours.
I’d been playing with Albert’s “firm mental treatment” procedure, and it was getting downright freaky. One evening I looked at the dwindling wood pile on the front porch and thought we need to locate more firewood. The next morning, I woke to find an oak had fallen down in the front yard—ten feet from the woodpile. Experiences like this were becoming more frequent and erasing any doubts.
* * * * *
I was in Davis when my friend. Melanie told me, “Hey, your mom has been trying to reach you.” Later that afternoon, I was walking on the university campus when I spied a pedestal phone booth next to the grassy Quad. I took the opportunity to call my mother.
“Hi, I heard you were trying to get hold of me.”
“Yes. Where are you?”
“Right now I’m in Davis, but I just got a place in Winters with my friend Albert. We’re caretaking a cattle ranch. No pay, but the rent’s free.”
"Do you have a phone there?"
"No phone. Just leave a message where I got this one."
“So you’ll be around for a while? Come by and see us soon.”
“Sure. Is that why you wanted me to call?”
“No. You received a letter from the draft board.”
“Okay." The draft board? Shit! The time has come! Damn! I said this silently to myself, knowing better than to swear in front of my mother."What did it say?” I realized I was staring at the exact spot where two years before I had walked up to a microphone—the same place I had decided to send my draft card back as a “No Thank You” to Uncle Sam.
I knew then that as the bureaucratic wheels of injustice began to roll, I could have trials to face, both in the courtroom and with my own courage. But possible incarceration was way too heavy to dwell on, so I did the best I could to file the matter away.
Now, I needed to face the bummer I’d chose to ignore.
“I’ll go get the letter.” Her voice seemed far away. I heard a loud clunk as she put down the phone—then silence.
Oh man, oh man! Here we go. Do I even want to hear this? I was barely aware of two pretty young co-eds drifting by on their bicycles, one pointing at Charlie. A feeling of dread settled in my chest, slowing my breathing and speeding my heart. My brain was clouded with an image of prison bars.
I paced nervously, taking tiny steps in a small circle, tethered as I was by the short phone cord. The suspense was killing me. I was tempted to yank the constricting wire straight out of the phone stand. Then came a rustling of paper and the sound of my mom clearing her throat. She was away for less than thirty seconds but it had seemed like an eternity. I held my breath.
My mother paused and then read slowly, “It says, ‘Dear Mr. Israel, In the case of Richard Sylvan Israel versus the United States of America, the prosecuting attorney has reviewed the documents and has made the decision not to take legal action at this time. Furthermore, your lottery number has not been selected. Therefore, you won’t be eligible for the draft in the upcoming year. Providing there is no illegal activity on your part, the court will hereby seek no further action at this time. Sincerely, William K Barkley, Office of the United States Federal Attorney.’”
In other words, don’t bother us and we won’t bother you. All right!
“So it’s over. That’s great.”
“Congratulations, I guess.”
“Thanks, Mom. I’ll get down to see you and dad real soon. I promise.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too. Bye.”
I let out an extended breath as a wave of relief washed over me. “Wow, it’s over! It’s over!” After two years of angst, I was finally free of the nightmare. I had been diligent in keeping thoughts of prison out of my head, but something like that always crept up on me, whenever it found an opportunity. Now I can leave it behind. The gratitude I felt overwhelmed me.
My feet did a silly little dance, leaving Charlie eyeing me with curiosity. I told her, “Yes! I’m a free man. And at the end of next year, I’m twenty-six—no longer eligible for the draft. Pretty cool, Charlie. Good guys don’t have to finish last.”
What a kick—and it went full circle. Here I am back at the same spot where it all started. What are the chances? Really? What are the chances of that?
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