Riding shotgun and Jumping Claims

About the time  Iowan Marion Morrison { John Wayne } was playing football for USC, Bob was building fence in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. With a tent and a buckboard filled with wire and posts, Bob began his working career. While John Wayne made movies and money, Bob struggled to survive. Physically, they were quite similar, big, handsome, and rugged. Bob was my John Wayne.

The first time I met him, I was about to date his youngest daughter for the first time. He opened the front door and then filled it.

“What do you want?” he said dryly.

My first inclination was to run. He was huge and not particularly happy. ” I came to pick up Sue.” I said shakily.

“Didn’t you hear?”, his eyes pierced mine. “She died last night.”

What, no. really. A guy that big would never lie. Fortunately, Sue came into sight whistling and toying with her hair. If that hadn’t happened, I would have fled with my life.

My persistence in dating his daughter brought about a unusual relationship between Bob and I. He couldn’t believe my naivety, I never wandered into the world of gray areas. He rarely left. He enjoyed a nerd as a sidekick and I enjoyed John Wayne.

Weeks later we were on a trip to town for car parts, he turned  one street too soon, a one-way going the wrong way. Both lanes of oncoming traffic had just gotten the green two blocks in front of us coming our way. Bob finally aware, raced to next left turn, turned and pushed hard to the next corner and turned left again. As a panicky passenger, I was relieved until I saw the cars in front of us coming right at us. Wrong way on another one-way and they were already on their brakes. As the cars worked around us, we took another left and parked. Bob grinned  at me a little sheepishly, I was in full cardiac arrest thanking my Baptist God that he also looked over Bob as well.

The police car that witnessed the whole scene pulled in behind.With a intermittent red flashing light, the policeman approached for a visit. “Where exactly were you going?”.

“I’m not exactly sure,” Bob said puzzled at the situation,  “But wherever it was, I must be late, they’re all coming back.”

Later that summer we were sitting in his pickup truck, him with a beer and me with a Pepsi, a couple bad dudes.

“How would you like to own some uranium  claims? “Of all the things I thought I would like to own, mining claims was not one of them.

“Down in Disappointment Valley there are some claims that have not been proved up,” I sensed some excitement in his voice, ” and think we could jump ’em.”

I was not commonly known as a claim jumper, in fact I was not known for much. So, “Hell yes.”

We arrived at the claims in the middle of the dark. The corner posts were redone and replaced, and the big deal was the center post where Prince Albert flat tobacco cans were located. They held the claim information and owners names. My papers replaced the others.

In a pickup truck that could not race, we raced toward Telluride, county seat for San Miguel county. Since the claims expired on this date, they were essentially free for the filing. So we hurried and filed.

Now a proud owner of three uranium claims, then I learned that Bob used my good nature for a devious plot. The previous owners of the claims were Bob and two partners. By me jumping the claims, a new name that the buddies  did not know had done the dirty. About six months later, I quick-claimed the claims to Bob and now he was the owner without partners. A little in the gray area.

In the fall, Bob and I took a flat bed truck into the mountains for firewood. Bob knew this country well , hunter and logger. The burn scars on his hands were from hauling yellowcake off the mountain.  Yellowcake is unprocessed uranium and highly radioactive.

Before one tree was cut, Bob saw a deer and shot it. I knew he did not have a license, probably never ever had a license. It was just his way. We put the deer in the center of the flatbed and commenced to surround the carcass with cut wood.

Big load and uneven roads slowed our progress down the the hill. Into the last turn before the county road, I saw that a state game and fish truck was parked. This was definitely gray area living. Even though the deer was completely covered by wood, I knew this was not good. Riding shotgun with Bob was past risky, at times it was insane. Bob did not flinch , he put his front window right next to where the officer was now standing.

“Well Bob,” taking a good look at the pair of us. ” Getting wood for winter are you?”.

” Yeah, the older I get, the colder I get.” Bob reached between us and produced a beer for the lawman and he took it. “Catch any outlaws today?”

Struck first that the game and fish guy would take the beer, then Bob asking the game guy about his arrest success for the day. This was surreal, I was sure I could smell the musk scent  of the deer from where I was sitting. ‘Bob, we got to go’, a message sent from my brain toward Bob’s.

Bob seemed completely unaware of the position we were in. They talked ten more minutes like it was around the campfire or something.

Finally, the officer lifted his foot off the running board, probably for room to pull a gun or something.

Looking down the side of the flatbed , he said cowboy like, “Bob, you better get on home before your wood bleeds to death.”. The game guy waved and turned towards his truck.

Only John Wayne could have an ending like this…







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