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The Fire That Took My Life. 1st in a series of the Gary Chronicles

Updated on May 6, 2017

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

Sometimes I don't remember so clearly
Sometimes I don't remember so clearly | Source

I like the man and his music and I reckon he has been touched

I dare you to climb it!

Just another thing to crawl up on
Just another thing to crawl up on | Source

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.


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    • Ericdierker profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Dierker 

      16 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you Ann, these stories are fun to write. I am sure they have grown bigger in the passage of time.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      16 months ago from SW England

      This is full tilt action and then more action, Eric! Loved it; you've put us into a different world. Amazing what goes on in our pasts.


    • Ericdierker profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Dierker 

      19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thanks Mel that makes a lot of sense.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      19 months ago from San Diego California

      I confused Sparrow Hawk with Chicken Hawk. The Chicken Hawk is the Cooper's Hawk. The Sparrow Hawk is the tiny American Kestrel, which is not a hawk at all but a small Falcon. When you mentioned the part about hovering I realized my error. I'm out of practice.

    • Ericdierker profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Dierker 

      19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thanks buddy. This is great. I love to have experts in my pocket even though I do not pay them. I watched a Cooper's Hawk for five minutes as it hovered like a helicopter and struck like the wind to get what I assumed was a Finch. Much to learn. See you over at your site.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      19 months ago from San Diego California

      This is a good time for songbirds, Eric, but I suggest you redo the ocean portion of your bird walk in the fall and winter, when the shorebirds come in by the droves. We do have sparrow hawks here. They are quite ubiquitous, in fact. The reason you might not find them in any bird guide is because their official name is "Coopers Hawk." On my mail route, I often see one breakfasting on a careless pigeon atop a light pole. You can often hear their monkey-like series of squawks emanating from a stand of Eucalyptus trees.

      You can sample my birding fare by going to I haven't contributed to the site for a while, but I think I am going to start bird blogging in earnest again because I have an article in Bird Watchers Digest pending publication in August or September. Happy birding!

    • Ericdierker profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Dierker 

      19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Mel it is so good to hear from you. Please give me your link to anything about your "birding". Within a week I will have done the whole Sweatwater "river" trail for ocean to Jamul. and I have so many questions. Not to mention that wheat looking grain grass that came up is drawing in all the birds. I need that portion From summit park to Plaza Bonita - and that is going to be bird heaven along the golf course and "lake". We do have Sparrow Hawks here don't we?

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      19 months ago from San Diego California

      That was a fantastic story. Your writing pen is on fire! Along with the seat of your britches.

      I see you've been very busy here on HP as late, while I have been taking sabbatical for some personal BS that stole a month of my life from me. The ticking clock already taunts me, now it just ticked away another month while I did nothing productive. Oh well, these things happen. Hopefully I'll return to the mediocre form I was comfortable with before.

      I love your stuff. I'm going to try to catch up little by little.

    • Ericdierker profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Dierker 

      19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Dora, at the time I had given up on praying for things from God. Make no mistake I thanked God often but felt I had no right to ask God for things. Later as a dad I found that asking my Father for things was a blessing for God as well as for myself and others. My children taught me the blessing of being asked for help. It is good.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      19 months ago from The Caribbean

      Glad that you survived both the fire and the gymnastics you did. "I reckon if it were just me God would not have spared the time." I know you're not serious about that.

    • Ericdierker profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Dierker 

      19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Bill the stuff I survived is remarkable. And you are right the only proper way to give thanks is to live in love as you do.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Fine men for we survived some of the events of our life is a mystery...but survive them we did, and now it is our job to go forth in love, giving meaning to our borrowed time.

      Blessings and love, my friend

    • Ericdierker profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Dierker 

      19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      John I am really glad you like it. Gary and I just seemed to have a lot of adventures together. I hope you do like them being told.

    • Ericdierker profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Dierker 

      19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you Manatitia for your very interesting comment. Yes it does seem that some people are just wise souls. It think you can also see this in children.

      Great advice I see exactly what you are talking about. I shall improve.

    • manatita44 profile image


      19 months ago from london

      You branching out, Bro.

      Nice! I like it. Excellent work! I feel that you are quite right about Louis Armstrong and again not only him and his creative genius, but this song is also immortal.

      The Indians call these people Vibhuti's, sent into this world for a special purpose like Gandhi. Perhaps that's what you're saying. Sort of like higher messengers of the Divine Will. Guruji speaks of them too.

      As you tend to ask for comments, shorten a couple of paragraphs. Keep them as short as Bill's. Easier to read and do not go beyond, let's say, twelve hundred and fifty words. This can lead to lesser speed - reading and better comments. Minor tidying up in grammar needed. I will help, should you need it.

      Overall, it is a promising piece.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      19 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for sharing this exciting experience, and deserving tribute to Gary. Good work, Eric. I,look forward to reading more,in the series.


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