Trippin’: Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 45, August–November 1972
Hanna’s fifth birthday was coming up and I’d heard the little white pony that Hanna had fallen in love with when we visited our friends in Winters, was for sale—and the price was only fifty bucks. Doug and I were feeling a nice buzz from one of his hand-rolled weed-sticks when I shared this information with him.
Doug blew out a cloud of smoke and asked, “Like, how big is this critter?”
I held my hand up flat in front of me and said, “About chest high, maybe. Why?”
He gave me a big grin, “Bet if I took the back seat out of my VW bus we could jam her in there and then haul her up here from the valley.”
“What the heck. Gotta be worth a try.”
Now, there's a danger in forming a plan while under the influence of marijuana. But hell, wasn’t my wondrous horse trip through the Rockies born from smoke? And hadn’t that turned into the finest escapade, ever?
Two days before Hanna’s birthday, Doug and I drove to Winters to buy the pony. The small horse was wearing a rope halter and with some coaching, maneuvering, and an organic apple, we were able to guide her in through the side door of the van. She just fit—with her head over the middle of the front seat. The mellow pony was quite cooperative and seemed to enjoy the adventure.
In Marysville, we stopped at a McDonald’s for lunch. Doug parked the van next to two pretty teenage females who were eating burgers in a blue Corvair convertible. We strolled inside to buy our food and when we returned, one of the girls asked, “Do you take that little horse everywhere with you?”
We made it to Meadow Valley without any mishaps—and by that, I mean no equine drainage! I had arranged to hide the pony two farms up the road at Willy’s place and spent the following day enlarging our goat pen into a small corral, using the back of the house, the goat’s hut, and the woodshed as barriers.
Word spread throughout the hippie population and on Hanna’s birthday about twenty people were packed into our small cabin, eating cake and celebrating. Willy and I snuck out the side door to fetch the little white pony. We brought her to the corral and slipped back into the house.
After presents were opened, I suggested we all go outside for some fresh air. We filed through the side door that opened into the pony’s enclosure. One of the last to exit was Hanna. When she saw the pony, her eyes grew as big as horseshoes. With an enchanting smile and outreached arms, she proclaimed, “My pony!”
My heart melted, making me thankful for little girls, ponies, and pipe dreams.
Life continued much the same with Jodi. I would often find myself sitting on the back porch, trying to sort out my feelings. My quest to bring Jodi out of her shell proved a dismal failure and the predicament was tearing me apart. I was living with a person I loved, feeling as lonesome as a woodland hermit. That wonderful woman was gracious and generous. But she seemed incapable of giving or receiving the most precious gift of all—warm, heartfelt affection.
My heart ached, and it played on my emotions—which sucked big time!
One warm afternoon, I was hanging out, sharing a joint with Willy at his place.
Willy said, “Hey, man. Have you met the folks down the side road off from the fire station?”
“Don’t think so. Why?”
“Oh, they’re just cool. I used to live down there. If you want, we can take a drive and I’ll introduce you.”
“Sounds okay by me.”
So we hopped in my truck and drove a couple of miles to a grouping of small buildings. As we turned off the road, I saw three lived-in cabins, one on the right and two straight ahead. A couple of large sheds on the left formed a rectangular dirt courtyard. In the center of the yard was a medium-sized garden, surrounded by a fence of fresh chicken wire.
The garden consisted of neat little rows of tomatoes, squash, lettuce, broccoli, beans, and herbs. And smack dab in the center was something that struck me dumb. There, decimating weeds with a garden hoe, stood a young woman I could only describe as a superb specimen of the fairer sex.
Perfectly tanned with mid-length golden hair and eyes of the bluest blue, she wore light-navy short-shorts and a yellow swimsuit top with tiny red flowers. Her perfect, sensuous, pouty pink lips highlighted her high cheekbones. This woman’s face was soft and sweet and smart and proud and earthy and natural. And her body was truly fine—the kind that could evoke sinful thoughts in a preacher’s mind.
I was gazing speechlessly at this perfect artistry, committing every detail to memory, when Willy said, “That’s Ella. She’s something, huh?”
“Amazing! She could be a Pacific fleet pin-up girl.”
I pulled to a stop and shut off the truck. As we stepped out, Ella smiled and waved. I didn’t know whether to drool or fall to my knees in worship. My heart sang a symphony.
Willy said, “Hi. This is Rich. He lives two doors down from me.”
“Hi, Rich. I’m Ella.”
I said, “Where you been all my life, gorgeous?”
Actually, I barely peeped out a whisper, “Hi. Nice garden.” But inside, I was thinking, Wowie-Zawie! Va-va-voom!
I also met her boyfriend, Mike. Damn!
I wouldn’t cheat on Jodi anyway. But what a heartthrob! I was also introduced to Chuck and Faun, who lived there, as well. They all attended Feather River College with Willy and as time went on, we became good friends.
Big John Jefferson was a towering black man as wide and sturdy as a small house. His voice was full of laughter and sounded as if he were talking into a barrel. John won my heart and respect the first day we met. Summer was over, Nick’s Fruit Stand closed for the season, and Willy and I had acquired a temporary job putting up a chain-link fence at one of the county dumps. Work got me away from the house and my heavy thoughts concerning Jodi.
My buddy Sam teased, “So you guys are on the county teat now, huh? At the interview, did they make you practice leaning on a shovel?”
Big John was the dump master for all the waste disposal sites in Plumas County. He also qualified as one of the finest men I'd encountered. On a narrow county road, we approached a work crew. Three of the men were working, or true to form, leaning on their shovels. A large white guy with a notable beer belly came over to the car. He must have been the foreman, judging from the fact that he wasn't carrying a tool. Bending slightly into John’s open window, almost knocking off his scuffed-up, orange hardhat, he held out his hand.
“Hey, John. How’s it hanging?”
John grasped his hand and replied. ”How you doing, Ralph?”
“Can’t complain. I heard your old lady’s down in Yuba City.”
“Yep, she’s visiting her sister this week.”
“Gives you a little time to hustle some up on the side, eh?”
Big John, gentle as could be, reached over and patted a well-worn little black bible sitting on the middle of the dashboard of his Chevy station wagon. Then he said in his soft, non-judgmental, barrel voice, “It says here in the good book, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery.' So no, I won’t be doing any of that. No sir.”
Ralph’s face changed from a snide smile to one of a kid who got caught with his hand in a cookie jar. “Err, well, uh ... you take care, John. Nice seeing you.”
With affection in his voice, John said, “You too, Ralph. Take care of yourself as well.”
I had been on a quest to become self-sufficient and had entertained the thought of a job as a dump master. People threw away so many usable items just for the picking. One man’s trash is another man's treasure, right? Working at a dump would give me access to all sorts of valuable stuff. At the Quincy dump, I even found a small pool table that only needed a leg repaired. It was stored in Jodi’s pump house until I’d have time to work on it.
Big John and I hit it off, and he was teaching me some tricks. I think he appreciated the fact that I respected what he did. He showed me an old radio he'd found. After determining it wasn't worth anything in its present state, he fetched a container from his station wagon and poured gas over it. Next, he shot a lit match at the radio and it burst into flame. After it burned to almost nothing, he stomped on what was left of it. Slipping on his gloves, he shook out a number of flat metal plates and held them up. “This here is copper,” he said, “and you can sell it for good money.”
After we had worked together on a few projects, Big John approached me.
“Hey, little man. How would you like to run the Chester dump? You could be paid for managing it and can park your trailer up there.”
Chester was a small town in the northeast corner of the county, about forty miles from Quincy. “What’s the deal,” I asked?
“It don’t pay too much but it’s a beautiful location at the base of Mount Lassen. Pretty, pretty place out in the woods. I can’t say for sure but I believe in the spring they’ll need someone to run it full time.”
“Cool. Let me think about it, John. I’m definitely interested.”
Damn, it sounds like a dream job. Living in the woods and getting paid for it. Just have to burn stuff every few days and I’d get first dibs on the pickings. That could be profitable. I’d always admired the dump masters I'd gotten to know.
“Yep. Please keep me in mind, sir."
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