The Fire That Took My Life. 1st in a series of the Gary Chronicles
The Willow and the Bramble
Seems to me it was the 4th of July weekend. I worked as the Ramrod of a place called Mormon Lake Lodge sitting on the then dry lake known as Mormon Lake. Ramrod is an interesting term. You do not say assistant Ramrod you just say Head Ramrod and Ramrod means the assistant to the Ramrod. I never did figure that out how they say Sheriff and Deputy. Go figure. Ramrod is a trail boss. It came from the rod used to push the ball down the barrel of musket loaded rifles or pistols. It generally means making something fit that don’t fit. Well my Ramrodding job was not glamorous at all. I was a steak cook at the aforementioned lodge. That is, my buddy Gary and I were just what they called hired hands.
I was taught how to cook from a real cowboy. No, really a guy who had spent as much time in a saddle as in bed. A man who surely did wear a six shooter on his hip and was quite adept at shooting things with it. His name was Gayle Wingfield. He was what was left over from a time when horses were used to herd and move cattle. I figure he was about 70 in 70 so you do the math. The state we are talking about was not a state until Gayle was a teenager. And a 14 year old in 1914 was pretty much a man outside of cities. Perhaps young men are cowboys and old men are Ramrods, businessmen and cooks.
Now you might think of a steak cook as a person that cooks steaks and puts a wisp of garnish on them and yells at the waitress to get it to the table. No such luck in my world at the time. It was up at the crack of dawn. Out somewhere into the lake bed to grab a cow and take it back for butchering. Sure you wanted me to say lasso a steer, but truth be told you can walk up to most of them and put a butchering chain around their neck attach it to your truck bumper and lead them back to the slaughter. Real glamorous don’t you think. Yes sometimes I got to ride the horse and actually do that swirling deal with a rope. Very fun.
Butchering everyday or otherday is backbreaking work. And then you got to go out and chainsaw some Mesquite and Oak and Poplar. Load it up and bring it back for splitting. We burned a couple of chords a day so this was brutal day in and day out work. A chord is close to a 4ft by 4ft by 8ft of wood. A very thick 40ft tree.
Life is a toss up
I like the man and his music and I reckon he has been touched
I dare you to climb it!
I just folla good men and things do fine.
Yes, all of this is very anti-PC. Sorry. Well my buddy Gary was a Ramrod too. We were quite manly for quite young men.
Well this particular July 4th was the world’s largest ever Rodeo. Right there on the dry lake bed. We are talking Team Roping Jackpot type Rodeo. What I always called the heal and toe. This is when two cowboys shoot from behind a barrier and reach speeds of 60 miles per hour in under 5 seconds and rope the head and the feet of the faster than hell young cow. I tell you that the horses and cows love this crap. Just before they go you can see them talking smack to each other. The cowboys are just an excuse to kick each other’s butt. Yep the cows generally beat the boys on horseback. I remember though sneaking away for a bit from the lodge and they had this side stall. You guessed it I tried my hand at Bronc riding. Well I made it back to work but I was wondering whether I had broke something.
So by about 4pm we had served up at least 2,000 mesquite cooked steaks over an open fire where the open steak pit reached temperatures of over 150 degrees. No I am talking about the cooking pit. The grill was hot enough to bend normal metal.
I am going to call him Willy he lived in the quarters above the lodge. Willy was deaf and a cousin of some sort of Gayle’s. The problem here is that heat rises. Willy was to start tindering our fire in about half an hour. We do not know how anyone could have slept through the temps up above 150 degrees. Much less take a hot shower.
The damn thing, and I mean the entire lodge burst into some kind of spontaneous combustion. Oh no nobody gets to call that a fire, it was a bomb going off. Gary on my right flew across the broiler room and knocked three waitresses down to the ground and saved their lives. Yes indeed one was my sister. Just the percussion threw a side cook into the raging cook fire 5 by 10. Thank God he had a big cowboy belt on that allowed me to grab it and yank him back against a wall. Timbers bursting into flame and folks yelling a screaming as though hell had reached its holy hand up to grab us poor sinners. We cleared the place. Everyone outside and no way back in again. And then my stupid friend Gary smacks me hard from behind with his ten gallon and says “oh my God Willy is up there”. The second floor had not burst into flames yet. Gary grabs me and throws me into a horse trough. Soaks us both clear through and says we got to get Willy. Oh shit I think I wet my pants. There is a side vent window on the north side up a floor, Gary gets men to lean a large post onto the roof which is corrugated steel and already hotter than hell. And he pushes my butt up first, I reckon so he can crawl up over me if it all turns to shit. He just plain took a dive through that vent. And yelled at me to follow. What an idiot, I did. We wore and kept bandana’s wet down in the broiler pit or maybe they were just wet from sweat. Up and over our mouth and we kicked in doors and found Willy. Passed out. Gary reached down and grabbed him and then tossed him over my shoulder and held my hand to get us out of the smoke and out through the vent.
Gary did this headfirst flying winged dive. He took out the remaining wood on the vent clearing it for me and Willy. All I could do was a foot first ass second vault on to the hot tin roof knowing that it was not the jump that would kill but the flaming hot roof and the twenty feet to the ground. Maybe Willy would make it but I gave up all hope of me as the flames did not lick the vent they fully engulfed it. My pants butt literally burst into flames upon impact on the tin which looked an ethereal red hot coal. Bounce and bounce and we were in the air.
Carry me back to the loving arms of my younger days
I walk behind heroes and they make me well.
They say that good things happen to good people. God must have looked out for Willy that day. Cuz I reckon if it were just me God would not have spared the time. For as we spun through the air headed for a crashing and burning landing 8 good Hopi men caught us. They were Hotshots stationed near by and the greatest of firefighters that literally parachute into forest fires. Catching Willy and me was a walk in the park.
I can’t really see the back of my butt. But my wife tells me there is a very strange scar there that looks like the corrugation of tin.
Gary was a hero that day. But he was a hero in two ways. He fully at complete risk of his own life saved Willy. But he helped me to redeem my soul and move on to a better life. (Willy’s real name was also Gary but that would be confusing)
Stay tuned for the rest of the Gary S series. He was and is quite a young man.