Lonesome Dove Two

January 21st, 2013

Alice asked me to get her a roll of stamps at the post
office. While I was there, Elroy Faust drove up. He was wearing his battered
Stetson, and fresh ironed blue shirt, jeans, and scuffed boots. . And driving a
new pick-up truck. It was a big white three quarter ton beauty. We howded and I
bragged on his truck. “Boy she sure is pretty. What do you need with a monster
like this?” “I bought it to haul hay for my cows,” he said.  “You have plenty of hay for the winter?” I
asked. “Well, I do now. I have just bought 100 round bales of coastal hay that
should get me through till spring.” “Where did you have to go to buy that much
hay,” I asked. “Found a fellow down around Lockhart with plenty of hay, but he
won’t deliver. I have to go get it. That makes the cost a good bit more.”
“Elroy, how many trips to Lockhart will that take to haul the hay to your barn?”  He thought a minute and said he could get it
all in about a dozen trips. With the price of diesel, that does add several
dollars to the cost of hay.

All of that talk about hay got me to thinking. Now I know
that doesn’t happen often, but some days you just can’t help yourself. A plan
was hatching in my head. “Hey, Elroy, you have time for a cup of coffee?”
“Sure. Meet you at the Exxon.”

“Now, Elroy, you just listen to this wonderful idea that has
just come to me. We can have some fun, make some money, and save you all the
trouble of hauling that hay.” He flashed that sly smile of his and said to
spill my idea. I said my grand thought was this, “We will advertise in the
Liberty Hill Leader for men and women to join in a grand cattle drive from here
to Lockhart. We will say this might be the last time you or your kids will ever
have the opportunity to be a part of a genuine old west cattle drive. You see
Elroy, we don’t have to haul all that hay…we will take the cows to the hay. We
will charge each rider about 4 or 5 Hundred dollars to participate in the
cattle drive. We will call it something like, ‘Lonesome Dove Two’. You can play
the part of Robert Duval as Gus, and I will be Tommy Lee Jones as Woodrow
Call.  I will invite Alice to come with
us and she can pick a part to play. I will call one of the TV stations to film
the adventure, and we will make some money there. We will promise not to have
any shootings, hangings, or anything that might be painful.  We will stage an Indian raid down about half
way. Or maybe we could have a bunch of cattle rustlers show up, and it will fun
for all. Don’t you think that would make a great time for all those part time
cowboys?”

“I figure we need about 25 men and their horses to manage
those cows of yours. I bet Pete Kauffman and E. U. Johnson would like to be in
on the drive. We may even get Bob Rook and that Berry guy to join us.  And 25 times $500.00 comes to about 12 thousand
dollars. We can buy a lot of hay for that kind of money. The fact is there may
be some money left over for other necessities: like beer and hot gut sausages.

“Whoa, whoa, Baker. How do you think we can drive a hundred
head of cows all the way across Williamson, Travis, and Hays County without
getting into some big trouble?” “Well, we can drive east on Highway 29 to
Georgetown. That won’t take more than a couple of days. If we leave real early
in the morning, before the rush hour we ought to make it just fine. Then we
will be on the toll road 130 going south. The right of way is plenty wide and
the cattle can graze along on the trip. We may get our feet wet fording the
Colorado River and Onion Creek, but that is part of the experience. I am all
excited about it already, and I don’t even own a horse or saddle.”

Elroy just hung his head and laughed. “Baker, you must be
nuts. Or out of your head. Maybe both. Besides I have figured how to get that
hay up hear easier and cheaper. I already have 20 guys with pick-ups that will
drive down to Lockhart and bring back a couple round bales in their truck. A
few trips and the job is done. Then I will pay them off by taking them to
dinner at Dahlia’s.”

Well, there goes one more grand idea, and a chance for fame
and fortune down in flames.

Hollis Baker  13
January 2013

July 17th, 2012

Just Singing in the Rain

July 8th, 2012

Just singing, singing
in the rain

Do you ever get a song hung in your mind? You know, it comes
into your head as you are busy with the chores of your day and you hum a few
lines of the song. Then it becomes a challenge to remember the words. It is
exciting to find you do remember the words. They have been waiting, buried
somewhere in the recesses of you mind. Songs like “Old Dan Tucker,” or “Yankee
Doodle Dandy,” just pop up without notice, and you sing them. Some of the songs
are the sophisticated little ditties like, “Three Blind Mice.”   Quite often,
it may be a Broadway melody like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “On the Street
Where You Live” you remember. And you sing it…all day long. And you can’t stop
singing it. You have gotten the song hung on the barbs of you mind and there is
no getting it unhooked. It is a lovely song, and you enjoy it…but all day long?
You are bitten by the bug infecting you with “Clogged Cranium Disorder,” or as
the media would say, “CCD.”

A more advanced malady is the case where the bitten singer
can’t remember all the words. He sings a few lines then trails off into an
unintelligible jumble of words and notes. That is called, “CCDUJ.” Greg, our
son, remembers riding to work with me, and hearing me struggle with bits of
songs like: “Deep within my heart lies a melody…..,” and “Mares eat oats, bears
eat oats, little lambs eat ivy. I’d eat ivy too, wouldn’t you?…..” That must
have driven him up the wall of the pickup cab. It bothered me too.

Recently I have a little song that has lodged in my mind. It
refuses to move. All day long, the thing just grins and keeps me singing, and
singing. I know all the words, and a close feel for the tune, but I can’t seem
to dislodge it. The song is “Blue Tailed Fly.” I think Burl Ives made it popular
when I was a youngster. The working men sang this old traditional song in the
fields and workshops of early America. Thank goodness I don’t have the advanced
symptoms of CCD, for I know all the words. And I am going to share them with
you.

The Blue-tailed Fly

When I was young, I
used to wait on my master and pass him his plate, and hand him the bottle when
he got dry, and brush away the blue-tailed fly.

(Chorus)

Jimmy cracked corn,
and I don’t care, Jimmy cracked corn and I don’t care, my master has gone away.

One day he ride around
the farm, the flies so numerous they did swarm. One chanced to bite him on the
thigh, the Devil take the blue-tailed fly.

(Chorus)

The horse he bucked
and he pitched. He through my Master right in the ditch. He died and the jury
wondered why; the verdict was the Blue-tailed Fly.

(Chorus)

Now we buried him neth
the simmon tree. His epitaph is there to see; beneath this stone I am domed to
lie, all cause of the Blue-tailed fly.

This little song just hangs on. It has been hung there for
two days, and it is getting a little old. It is not a bad song, I just want it
to go away. So I called the doctor. He said, “Take two aspirins, and call me in
the morning.”

 

Hollis Baker  17 June
2012

Burning Pear

February 10th, 2012

 

Dry cold winter days on the ranch can be a real chore. It is
especially so if all of the summer, grass is gone and the winter grass is
scarce. Those cows can get a little lean and hungry. But if you live here in
central Texas, you probably have plenty of prickly pear on the ranch. That has
saved many ranchers and their livestock.

 The day was crispy
cold with a gentle north breeze. I decided I had better check on John Steel. I
drove up to his little shotgun house and that spotted dog didn’t run out to eat
my leg off. I saw John’s battered pickup parked under the live oak tree near
the yard fence, so I knew he was not far away. I beeped my horn, but got no
answer. I listened carefully and made out a roaring sound from out in the
pasture. I moseyed out that way. There John was, burning pear for his little
bunch of cows. The spotted dog came to meet me, but the cows did not look up.
They just kept eating with gusto the freshly burned pear leaves. John noticed
he had company, and he shut down his flame throwing, thorn burning, propane
pear burner. “About time for a cup of coffee,” he said.

Back at the house, John put another stick of wood in the
kitchen stove. I knew then we were in for warmed over breakfast coffee. It was
plenty strong, a bit bitter, but hot. I knew he liked it that way. I pretended
to agree. We sat around the stove in his two rawhide bottomed straight-backed
chairs, and sipped the black brew. I said, “John tell me about burning pear.”

“When I was just a kid Dad and I burned pear one winter from
November until spring grass finally came up,” he said. “We would hitch the
mules to the wagon and go over to the Howard place and get a load of pear. We’d
done burned all of ours. We cut the leaves off the plant with a long handled
ax, and loaded them on the wagon with a pitchfork. We’d bring them home, build
a brush fire, and burn all the stickers off the pear leaves and feed them to
the cows. They sure loved those green, juicy pear leaves. It took from 50 to a
hundred leaves to fill up one cow, so you can see it was a lot of work feeding
all the stock. Then we got a kerosene fired pear burner. Man was that a relief.
It was a tank that held a few gallons of fuel with a harness to carry it on
your back. We pumped it up with a tire pump to give it pressure. It had a long
pipe with a burner on the end so you could walk around a pear plant and burn
all the stickers off real easy.” We walked out to the barn and he showed me the
old kerosene pear burner hanging from a nail on the wall. “We got through that
winter with that old burner,” he said.

“What kind of a burner are you using now to get the stickers
off the pear leaves,” I asked. “A few years after the kerosene burner came out
Dad heard of a new kind.  He found it
advertised in the Sears and Roebuck catalogue, and he ordered one. Now that was
a honey. It used propane for fuel and you didn’t have to pump it up, nor carry
on you back. It had a long hose you just dragged behind you from the tank. It
rarely gave you the trouble the old kerosene burner did,” he said. We finished
that pot of black stuff he called coffee and he went back to burning pear
stickers.

I talked to my cousin Barney Baker, who lives on the home
place, way up Morgan Creek in Burnet County. Said he was burning pear himself
these days. It is not cold but it sure is dry. He burns pear most of the day
and then puts out range cubes for the cows to supplement their diet. His cows
are doing well, and the market is good for the rancher. “You can borrow my
pickup, or my shot gun, but you can’t borrow my pear burner,” he said.

Getting Home for Christmas

December 25th, 2011

 

 

Six hundred miles from home at Christmas time is a long, long
hill to climb. That is 12 hours of driving, or 14 or 16, but I felt confident
that my old Buick could make the trip. 
My new bride was home with the folks, and that pulled at my heart. But
the commanding office had posted an order, “No furloughs.” 

I used all my persuasive powers but nothing could sway his
decision.  Finally I played my trump
card, “But Sir, she is expecting.” He relented.

Exuberantly I packed the car, filled the gas tank, aired the
tires, and checked the oil gauge. Dawn found me on the road east. I filled the
cab with my gravelly voice singing Christmas carols even including the
Chipmunks’ new song.

I glanced at the instrument panel.  Speed; 55 miles an hour.  Oil pressure; perfect. Gas gauge; full.  Water temperature; pegged on hot! I pulled
off the road and raised the hood…steam enveloped me.  On closer inspection I noted the steam came
from a rusted out freeze plug. A nearby parts house had a fit, and I installed
the errant plug.

Fifty miles on eastward with a song in my heart I heard the
dreaded sound of steam spewing from the engine. 
The heat gage pegged again.  I
pulled into a garage and the man said, “Some of these old cars get hot and need
a new set of spark plugs.”  I bought them
and installed them. I think I noticed a faint smile on his face as I drove
away.

Fifty miles further east and the problem reared its’ ugly
head again. This time I found a station and filled the radiator with water. Fifty
more miles and I had to find water for my huffing beast. I had about driven out
of the valley, and I knew the desert between here and home water was going to
be hard to find. I found the last station, filled the thirsty radiator with
water and bought two five gallon cans. By now I had figured the pattern of my
beast…50 miles and he needed a drink. I filled the cans with water and turned
to crawl over the mountains that separated the valley from the desert.

By now the evening was upon me as the shadows crept longer
and longer. Home seemed to stretch farther and farther away. Out in that bleak
desert I spied a small village. The lights were still on and a garage was
open.  He said, “Some of these old cars
need a new distributor cap as they age.” 
I bought it. He was smiling as I drove away.  Anyway his kids needed a toy for Christmas I
told myself.

As the cool of the evening came on I noticed I could drive 70
miles before needing to water my raging steed. 
But watering holes were becoming fewer and fewer. Somewhere in the inky
night I found another wide place in the road that had a few scattered housed
and one garage…all dark and locked up tight. 
The water cans were empty. A check proved the gas tank was approaching
the same fate.

I napped as best as you can in a crowed car cab. Dawn finally
climbed over the sage brush hills and the station opened. “Gasoline and water
please,” I pleaded.

Some distance on I notice the brush covered hills were now
sporting cedar and live oak trees.  Home
could not be far away.  The last of the
water in my cans proved to pose a problem. A ranch house with a windmill was
visible a few hundred yards off the highway. I took my two empty water cans,
crawled over the fence and came face to face with a growling dog. We had a
conversation. I explained my problem and that my wife and folks were expecting
me home for
Christmas. Could I please have just two cans of water? He relented and I went
on my way.

As dark came I managed to crest the last hill, and drove into
my parents driveway. They were all up and waiting.  We embraced, laughed, and cried. The
Christmas lights on the tree melted away the toil of the last two days.

I never told my commanding office that Alice was just
expecting me home for Christmas.

Old Dogs and New Tricks

November 2nd, 2011

A New Trick for an Old Dog

 

 

Now as my old uncle Newt liked to say, “I have been to two goat ropins and the county fair; aint nothing I haven’s seen, done or heard.” That made good sense to me. When I was a kid they had already quit having goat roping, and county fairs were about gone. My worldly education had to come in a different way. The Army helped me some. I was stationed at Ft. Bliss at El Paso during the war. They told me the New Mexico state line was just over the next hill. I took their word for it; I could see there was not much difference than where I stood. And someone pointed out that old Mexico was just a short swim across the Rio Grande, but I decided to just accept that as fact also. Oklahoma lay just north of where I found Alice, and I didn’t need to see that state after finding such a lovely little girl. I had heard rumors of a land far to east, but decided that was just what it was…a rumor.

You are probably asking yourself how I got so smart with out having ever gone to goat ropings, county fairs, or seeing the lands that lay just across the state line. Well, that is easy; I have just paid close attention to what Alice said, and followed her advice.

After working this life’s field for more than 80 years I felt I had just about experienced almost anything that may come along. Last week I was brought up short with something totally new…we needed to prepare to evacuate our home… now. The wind was gusting out of the north, the sky was filled with a strange color, and we could smell smoke. A few phone calls confirmed our fears…wild fires were in the area. What a strange feeling gripped me and Alice. These decisions were of a new kind.
What do you take? What do you leave? Years of accumulating things make for difficult choices. But Alice knew just what to do. “Get me a suit case, now,” she said. I found one, took it to her as she dumped an arm full of papers into it. “Insurance papers, house and land deeds, bank books, our will,” she said more to herself than me. “Get your medicines and a change of clothes and put in the suit case,” she commanded. This meek and mild little lady just became a big, burly first sergeant. She was getting things done we all need to have ready at a moments notice. She tossed the suit case into the trunk of the car and slammed the lid shut. “Now, we are ready to go if we need to,” Alice said.

The emergency passed; we did not have to run, but we are ready should the need arise. We hope you or any of your family or friends will not need to make a quick dash for safety. However should the time come you must go, I hope you are prepared.

See there, old dogs can learn a few things besides laying in the shade, on the porch, scratching fleas.

A Modest Case of the Shingles

August 30th, 2011

 

Alice got up early the other day, flew into the kitchen, and made a batch of yeast bread.  It sure made the house smell good.  I puttered around the yard, watering the flowers, marking time until the loaves came from the oven.  I timed it just right.  She handed me a loaf in a paper bag and said, “Take this out to John Steel.  I bet he hasn’t had a loaf of yeast bread in some time.”  “Don’t you think we might sample it first?” I asked.  “No I don’t.  You can have a slice when you get back.  I want him to have this while it is still hot.”

So I went to see John Steel.  You know he lives way out County Road 200 in a little shotgun house sitting on a ridge over looking the San Gabriel River.  Of course that spotted dog of his met me at the yard gate, and played like I was some kind of a bugger.  John was sitting on the gallery drinking a cup of black coffee.  He hollered the dog under the house and invited me in.  “I have just put on another pot of coffee.  You sit and I will get you a cup.”  Now as hot as it was I really didn’t want a steaming cup of coffee, but you don’t say no to John.  “Thank you, don’t mind if I do.”  I noticed he was eyeing the paper sack I was carrying.  “What you got there?” John asked.  “Something Alice sent you John,” I said, handing it to him.  I wish you could have seen his face light up as he went into the kitchen with the sack of bread.  He came back soon with two slices of hot buttered bread and our coffee.  “It don’t get no better than this,” he said.

            We talked of the weather, things going on around town, the state and the nation.  He said our Mayor was doing a good job; that Perry could do a good job if they let him, and the lunatics had taken over in Washington. On the national debt ceiling he said, “Four trillion dollars?  “Why I could buy me a new mule, and a good second hand pickup for half that much,” he said.

            We sat quiet for a while, enjoying our coffee and bread, enjoying the morning breeze, as the last of the gulf clouds drifted by.

            “How is you garden?” I asked. 

            “Let me show you,” he said.

            We walked out to the garden that sits between the back of the house and the barn. I noticed he moved a bit slow and favored his right side.  The windmill was making a pleasing, squeaking sound as it slowly brought water into the tank.

            “The garden is about gone.  The beans bloomed, but never put on a pod.  The tomatoes did fair at first, but the heat burned them up.  But we got plenty of black-eyed-peas,” he said.

            We eased back on to the porch and I asked him about his getting around so careful like.  “Got a case of the shingles,” he said.  I asked if it hurt much.  “Only when I try to sleep or when I am awake.”  “But I think that warm loaf of bread will just about fix me up.”

            I hurried back to Alice’s kitchen and got me a slice of still warm bread—with butter.  It just might protect me from a case of the shingles.

 

 

           

 

 

John Hairston Visits with Travis Baker

June 13th, 2011

Sixty Year Journey

June 10th, 2011

 

  

     One October evening, just as the sun went down behind Post Mountain, Eugene Pirtle, a buddy of mine, came by Zimmerman and Sawyers Feed store, where I worked, and made a rash suggestion.  “Lets go to my home in north Texas and spend a few days. I will show you around where I grew up.”  “How?” I asked.  “We don’t have a car and it must be hundreds of miles to your home.”  Eugene explained that it would not be a problem.  We would hitchhike home.

          Being young, adventurous and almost handsome I consented to the outlandish adventure.  Dark found us standing on Highway 281 thumbing each car and truck that came by.  Soon, Master Sergeant Phil Sands, from Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, stopped and invited us to join him.  “I am going to see my mother in Ft. Worth.  I need some one to keep me awake during the three hour drive.”  We soon realized Phil drove wide open from one beer joint to the next one.  But we got to Ft. Worth in record time.

       Eugene was pleased.  He said we were just a few miles from his home.  And it was just midnight.  The next fifty miles only took three hours to get close enough to his home for us to walk the last five miles.  Eugene’s mother rousted two of his sisters, Willine and Alice, two pigtailed little girls, from their bed so we could sleep comfortably.

      That hitchhiking trip changed my life forever, and for the better.  The little pigtailed girl, Alice, grew up, cut her hair, moved to my hometown, and agreed to go to the movies with me.  Life and love flowered and soon prompted a proposal of marriage from me.  However Uncle Sam made a proposal that I had to accept first.  The flow of letters from Ft. Bliss to home and back used up a forest of paper and a river of ink, but kept the fires of love burning brightly.

       We were married and have had a grand march through time with plenty of highs and a few lows.  Childhood illnesses kept the lights on till the wee hours a few times.  Tough work decisions made days drag by with no visible end.  But the bright times came in abundance.  The children’s successes at school, and life gave us much joy.  Alice’s hard work as an ambassador to the world has been rewarding.  The business has made it through the highs and lows of our nations economy, and continues to do well.  Seven grand children and one great grandchild warm our hearts daily.

       The matrimonial knot was well tied.  This week, we will have been married 60 years.  That is not a record, but it sure beats the average.

        What have I learned from this trip down life’s road?  One; hitchhiking can bring joy, happiness, and fortune.  Two; listen carefully to Alice, she knows the way.

 

Hollis Baker   5 June 2011

 

A Modest Proposal for the NASA Space Shuttle

May 31st, 2011

  I am always on the lookout for activates to promote Liberty Hill.  A few weeks ago I suggested we build a track for making Television Car and Truck Advertisements; TCTA. You know… the cars and trucks climbing over rocky terrain, splashing through pools of muddy water, dumping large loads of logs into pick-up trucks, and things like that.  Nothing came of that brilliant idea.

            This time I have hit upon a champion plan to put Liberty Hill on the map.  Bob Rook and I were having coffee at the Exxon the other day.  Bob flew F-4’s for the Navy and is writing a book on guided missiles that are on display at White Sands Guided Missile Proving Grounds.  This led to a spirited discussion of NASA’s Space Shuttle program ending soon.  He said that the Space Shuttle Enterprise is now at the Smithsonian.  The other three shuttles are to be displayed around the country.  The Atlantis will go to Kennedy Space Center, the Endeavour will be installed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, the Enterprise that is now at the Smithsonian will be moved to the Intrepid Sea-Air Space Museum in New York City, and the Discovery placed at the Smithsonian.  They have snubbed Texas.

            But I have a plan to change that and give Texas the honor it deserves.  We will have a fundraiser down town on Main Street. We will raise moneys to send a group of lobbyist to Washington to urge NASA to send one of the Space Shuttles to Liberty Hill. I think we can persuade our mayor, Michele Murphy, and our Mayor Pro-Tem, Mike Crane to take the job. They can get it done.  We will even send an alternate, John Steel to help if things get a little tough.   With all this moving around, it should be easy to get them to land one of the shuttles on Highway 29 along about Seward Junction.  We will get PEC to remove overhead wires and signal lights for a few minutes so the shuttle can land.  Shucks, the thing is only 58 feet tall, 78 feet wide and 122 feet long.  I bet we can get Pete Kauffman to pull the shuttle to the Lion’s Park with his International-Harvester farm tractor.  Wouldn’t that be a site to see?    

            I can imagine it now, the Space Shuttle, all shinny bright, with NASA painted on the sides, sitting on the playing field, across from the library.  We can build a snow cone stand for summer visitors, and a hot tamale shack for the winter folks. We would attract citizens all the way from Hutto to Burnet and from Kyle to Salado.  Wouldn’t take long to pay off the 28 million dollar price tag the government wants for each Space Shuttle.