What THE DRIFTER is about
A young man rambles about through some of the North American continent in the 1960s. He sees everything, including the people he meets, through romantic and humor-appreciating eyes. These light adventures are recorded in the form of four consecutive true stories.
Don’t expect a normal study of what the 1960’s were like, for the author sees everything from his own adventurous viewpoint, and, in spite of seemingly being hassled by fate in a rather ongoing way (actually the negative aspects are often brought on by himself), he keeps on happily rolling along, entertaining us with his immature but basically positive outlook on life.
In spite of this humorous surface immaturity, he comes through with valuable insights. Most of all he shares his liking for adventure with the readers and expertly brings them with him over little-used dusty roads, through cowboy country, and into big cities with outlandish characters popping up out of seldom explored niches. Come along for a crazy, unorthodox, and basically happy ride.
For a sneak preview of this book read the sample pages below:
MY OLD 1955 FORD (ten years old) rattled me along over the red-soil country roads of southwestern Oklahoma. I didn’t know exactly where I was going or what I was doing, except that I was heading south (or at least I hoped I was) and that I was looking for someone, anyone, to sell me a good riding horse.
The year was 1965. Saskatchewan, Canada, the province and country from which I had begun this journey, had become unbearably cold; and although it does that every winter, the cold seemed to have become even harder to put up with since I had just become the owner of an old car that actually ran, and found that I had enough money in a pocket of my well-worn jeans so that the way looked reasonably clear for me to get to some warmer place.
I was in my twenties, totally romantic in the broad sense of the word, but quite immature in surface areas. This combination had its pluses and minuses, for my unquenchable bent for adventure kept my mind off the standard nasty problems of daily life–for example, the need for working for a living–which normal people simply accept as “the way things are.” I tended to keep such problems out of my mind for as long as I could–until my hungry stomach or lack of a roof over my head forced me into working at some unbearable mundane job for as long as I could stand it–a few weeks or days.
To this inner mix of ebullient lust for life and inability to cope adequately with the basics of survival had been added a wide streak of creativity–including an ability to write adventure stories, one of which I had managed to get published in a weekly paper and for which I had been thrilled to receive a forty dollar check. I also had deep spiritual yearnings and a bent for philosophy. In other words, I was sort of a strange mixture; but I managed to get by because I felt an ingrained meekness and good will toward everyone–man and beast alike. My meekness and shyness must have seemed ironic to some, for at that age I was a (do I dare say it?) good looking, slim and dark-haired, athletic six-footer. In short, I looked like someone who had the world by the tail. But then, those who got to know me a bit must have decided that it was the other way around–that the world had me by the tail and was swinging me around in cruel loops. Yet I survived, and, like Peter Pan, refused to grow up.
This present journey through Oklahoma wasn’t my first outing into the big wide world to seek my fortune. I had begun that as a teenager and was not about to quit just because I needed to shave more regularly now. Earlier I had explored western Canada; this time I had thrown a few things into my recently acquired car and had headed for the sunny south.
My intention had been to visit an uncle who lived in Oklahoma, but, being me, I had a lot of other plans as well. The main one, which I had been daydreaming about for many years, was to get myself a horse and ride through the great southwest. I intended to write about this and felt it would provide good material.
* * *
I got to my uncle’s place, visited, got everyone liking me and feeling sorry for me because of my immaturity and eccentricities. I enjoyed having them tease me about the fact that it had taken me nine days to get from Canada to Oklahoma. To me, nine days seemed like a reasonable time, for anything shorter would have curtailed my need to explore many of the places I passed through–not to mention that I slept in late almost every morning. Or I might spend hours sitting under a tree somewhere beside the highway writing or singing. Oh, yeah, I could sing too.
I worked for my Okie relatives, not enjoying the work but thoroughly enjoying the western atmosphere where everyone and their dog wore cowboy hats and boots as a matter of course.
In an outbuilding attic, I found an old saddle. The owner, My uncle’s brother-in-law, didn’t have any use for it–it was all dried out and curled up at the corners. So, along with a bridle and martingale-type chest-piece in the same condition, he gave it to me and knocked twenty dollars off my month’s wages.
After that I spent most of my spare time working at refurbishing this saddle outfit; in fact, I got so involved with it that my uncle’s brother-in-law’s wife began to get on my case for neglecting the visiting of my uncle and aunt on weekends. I mostly just stayed in my room and worked on my saddle outfit. And I sunk a considerable amount of my remaining wages into repairs and decorative materials. But when I was done, the saddle was all smoothed out with oil and polish, totally repaired, shining black and glinting with silver-colored conchos–a saddle that Roy Rogers would have been pleased to sit in.
By the time I left my relatives, months after I got there, I had acquired several other valuable possessions besides the saddle outfit. These included a western-style .44 six-gun complete with holster and gunbelt, saddlebags, bedroll, cowboy boots, and a thirty-five millimeter camera–in fact just about everything I needed to start out on my long-dreamed-of adventure. But I still didn’t have a horse.
Before I left my Oklahoma relatives I traded my ’51 Dodge for a ’55 Ford. I spent a few days in a cabin at a lake. Then I headed south, hoping that I could soon change my mode of transportation from car to horse.
* * *
I covered quite a few miles and looked at quite a few cayuses, but it was always the same; the price was too high and the animal too small. I wanted a tall horse. I had several reasons for this. For one thing, being tall and long legged, I felt I would look better on a big horse. Also, I weighed around a hundred and eighty, and this, with the weight of the saddle, bedroll, and other equipment I’d be packing, would be carried more easily by a big steed than by a smaller one. Besides, I just happened to like big strong saddle horses, like Roy Rogers’ palomino, Trigger. (A lot of years later I actually had the thrilling experience of having a conversation with the King of the Cowboys.)
Well, one horse owner would send me on to the next, and when that one didn’t have what I wanted, he’d send me on to still another. I finally got to the town of Walters, still in Oklahoma, where I was directed to a Mr. Charlie Glenn. I drove over there and found him at home.
At first sight Glenn fit in well with the type of persons I had been seeing a lot of in the past hundred miles or so. He was a westerner and looked it–lean, about fifty years old, in western clothes from hat to boots, serious looking, slow speaking, and calm. Not that it has anything to do with this story, but I found out later that his serious exterior belied a good sense of humor.
So we started in talking horses. He had two or three for sale but they didn’t suit me. By this time I knew I had to make one thing clear or I’d be wasting my time and his. “He has to be tall,” I said. “I want a tall horse. I don’t want my feet dragging on the ground.”
He looked at me and was quiet for a few seconds. Then he said, “Ah thank ah kin gayet jest what you wownt…. Ah know wayer thayer’s wown jest yore saz.”
That’s the way everyone talks in Oklahoma, probably even the governor.
The horse Glenn was telling me about was fifteen miles out in the country, he said–a palomino, yellow with a light mane and tail (like Trigger, Roy Rogers’ horse), which is a color I like very much; and, as a matter of fact, everything else Glenn told me about the animal made me think that he might be just what I had in mind. Glenn didn’t actually own the horse, but he felt confident that he could make a deal or a trade of some kind and acquire him. Then he would sell him to me, if I liked him. He said he’d try to bring the horse to town in the morning, and suggested that I get a room in a hotel for the night and phone him the next day to see if he had been able to make a deal. I agreed to this and left.
As I drove toward the center of town, rain began to fall and in a few minutes turned into a cloudburst. Water streamed down so heavily that I could barely see to drive.
I decided that I would not get a room in a hotel, but instead save money by sleeping in my car. So, with the rain still coming down by barrelfuls, I made my way to the east side of town and then followed a country road about a mile farther on. As I drove I kept looking for a gate into a pasture, or some small trail leading into the bushes, where I’d be able to park and spend the night. The road was getting more muddy and slippery by the second, the sky was dark, and my windshield wipers had no hope of keeping up with the heavy downpour.
I crossed a little wooden bridge that had water under it, and noticed even through the rain that people had been throwing junk over the sides. I had seen this sort of thing before in Oklahoma, and it made me wonder why people would mess up a beautiful picturesque scene by littering it with their garbage. (This was back in 1965; hopefully they’re not doing that anymore.)
On the left side of the road, a little farther on, I found a small clearing almost completely surrounded by bush. From the far side of the clearing a narrow trail led off at an angle in among the foliage, and I decided to follow it a ways so that my car would be out of sight from the road. Just as I turned into the trail, however, the back end of the car slid over into a hole. I soon found that I couldn’t go forward or backward.
When I got out and took a look, I saw that my rear right wheel was in some kind of a little trench about a foot deep and full of water. There wasn’t much chance of getting out without a pull. I wondered what to do but was too tired to think much about it, and, after I had eaten a little from my small food supply, I bedded down in the back seat and went to sleep.
* * *
When I woke up the next morning I didn’t feel any too bushy tailed. It was the second night in a row that I had slept in my car.
The car was a problem. The junk bucket would be hard to sell, so what would I do with it once I had a horse? After thinking about it for a while I decided to just leave the old oil burner right there in the bush. It would be no great loss, for even if I managed to sell it, I couldn’t expect to get more than junk price for it anyhow.
I had something to eat and then explored my surroundings a little. Farther on in the bush I found a creek. It was a wide stream, the actual water being about twenty-five feet across, and it flowed at the bottom of high, steep banks. The water was muddy, with much small driftwood in it and also some large, fallen trees. I didn’t know then that I would soon become very well acquainted with that creek.
I began to hurry, getting things ready. First I took my saddle out of the car trunk and wiped the dust off it, polishing until the black leather was clean and shiny. I packed my saddlebags with the things I wanted to take along. This included my gun and gunbelt, my camera, shaving equipment, extra shorts and socks, and other little items too numerous to mention. When I had filled both saddlebags to the top, I laced them onto to the saddle, and also prepared some lace leathers with which to tie down my bedroll. The latter was a good quality sleeping bag. Then I took all of this equipment–everything I wanted to take with me–and hid it in the bush. Among this stuff was a new pair of cowboy boots that I had bought some time ago but had been saving for this occasion. They were made in Mexico and hand sewn–a very handsome pair of boots.
I shaved–using my safety razor and a tin can full of cold creek water–put on a clean outfit of clothes, and combed my hair. No one would have thought, to see me, that I had spent the night in the bush.
With my bridle slung over my shoulder, I started walking. I intended to have a horse in that bridle when I returned.
As soon as I got into town I went into a grocery store and bought something to eat, and I ate it right there. Then I tried to call Glenn, but there was no answer.
After this I walked on until I came to a menswear store. I needed an outfit of western clothing because all I had distinctly western so far was boots. The pretty, dark haired girl who waited on me didn’t know beans about anything in the department she was working in, but the way she looked … well, they should have been paying her double just to stand there and attract customers. She had a nice personality too. She said she was new in the department and that’s why she didn’t know where anything was. But she did her best and helped me to get outfitted with a pair of blue jeans, a red-checked western shirt, and a white cowboy hat.
Next, I tried calling Glenn once more, and this time he answered. He said he was going to get a call in the evening and then he would know whether or not he could have the horse. He was confident that he could buy him, and reassured me that this horse was exactly what I had been looking for. I said that I’d call him again in the evening and see how he had made out, then hung up feeling somewhat disappointed, for now I knew that I’d have to spend another night in this area before I could get started on my great adventure.
I decided to take a room in a hotel this time, so I made my way back to one that I had noticed earlier as I had walked by. It was the Lines Hotel. Once I had my room, the first thing I did was take a bath and put on my new clothes.
I spent the afternoon doing some more shopping. There were various things that I still needed to buy. I needed a lariat, a halter, a saddle blanket, a canteen, and a fencing tool. For those who don’t know what a fencing tool is, I will explain that it looks like a pair of pliers, but is really several tools in one. It is so designed that it can be used as a pliers, hammer, wire cutter, and staple puller. I bought this instrument because I hadn’t forgotten what my dad once said to me when I was a boy. He told me that if I ever made a trip on horseback (he rode long distances himself) I should carry a fencing tool with me. That way, he said, if one ever found one’s way cut off by a barbwire fence, all one had to do was pull out a few staples and then lay a log or something on the wires to hold them down. After leading one’s horse over the downed wires, one nails them back in place again. No damage has been done and one has avoided perhaps many miles of weary extra travel. I think that during the times of my dad’s experience in such matters, trespassing of this kind was accepted.
Well, I found most of the equipment I needed, including the fencing tool, but I couldn’t find a canteen anywhere. Finally I had to settle for a small canvass water bag.
In the evening I called Charlie Glenn once more and learned that although he had received his phone call, he still didn’t know for certain that he could buy the horse. But he said that on the following morning he was going to go out to the owner, and, if he could make a deal, he’d bring the palomino into town to his place, and then I could come and look at him. I said I’d call him again at eleven a.m. the next day to find out how the matter stood.
* * *
The next morning I did some more shopping, buying more equipment that I needed or thought I needed. Then, with all my stuff packed in a big cardboard box, I hoofed it back to my car. It was quite a long, hard walk, carrying all that stuff, and I was dragging my butt by the time I finally got there. But I couldn’t take much time to rest, for I was supposed to call Glenn at eleven. (For the younger generation: this was before cell phones had been invented.)
Once more I took up my bridle and went back to town. By the time I got to call Charlie Glenn it was about one o’clock in the afternoon. He said he had bought the horse and had him in town, and told me to come over and look at him.
I was excited and curious to see what kind of a horse he’d have there, but didn’t expect anything very special. When I got close to his house and could see into his little backyard corral, I got quite a surprise. There stood a big, outstandingly handsome palomino—tall, beautifully proportioned. When he moved about, his actions showed health and vigor.
Glenn was in the yard and greeted me as he approached. “Is that the kind of horse you wanted?” he asked, smiling.
“I like the way he looks,” I said, and that was quite an understatement.
I put my bridle on the horse. He seemed gentle. Glenn saddled him with his own saddle so that I could ride him and try him out. The moment my foot was in the stirrup he began to prance and pull at the bit, his golden head up as high as the checkrein would allow. (The checkrein was Charlie’s, not mine; I don’t like them.) What a thrill it was to swing into that saddle, to feel and see that high-spirited animal under me, prancing, ready to break into a gallop at the slightest hint of a command.
I had been riding since I was five years old, but now it had been a few years since I had done any riding worth mentioning. It felt good to be in the saddle again, especially on such a horse.
I rode a ways, came back and dismounted. Of course I had a lot of questions, but it wasn’t long before I handed Glenn the money he asked for, and that made me the proud owner of a beautiful palomino saddle horse. Now I was all set to start out on my cross-country ride.
If I had known the trouble I was going to get myself into within the next two hours, I guess I’d have been shaking in my Mexican hand-sewn cowboy boots.
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