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Article: Road Trip: Northward

Patrick Smith

Road Trip: Northward

I awakened to a crisp dawn at my Corral Camp. I still had the place completely to myself. Should I linger, exploring afoot…perhaps down to the Mimbres again? Or saddle up Sheeba and head up the road…get a taste of what lay northward? 


I wish I could report something “dramatic” about this trip…a goal or happening spicier than seeking out fine scenery and documenting locations for future Rambles. Much of the scenery WAS dramatic, especially down in the Big Bend, but the trip narrative contains no big game trophies collected, or edgy encounters on the road or with animals whilst out walking…that sort of thing. So let me liven things up a little with some tales from the past that could be considered a bit dramatic, even dangerous. 

The scene is West Texas in the mid-1960’s. I was travelling out to Arizona to do some backpacking in the fabled Chiricahua Range and experience the historic town of Tombstone. My ’56 Ford was loaded with typical-for-the-times military surplus packing gear, including my trusty Austrian mountain troops backpack. Too poor to buy lodging in motels I was camping off the roadside at night. This was before the Interstate Highway System was built, so roads were two-lane affairs and tucked-away spots for setting up camp were far easier to find and much more intimate. 

My shelter half was pitched back in the brush, the Ford beside it, and I was having supper on a rock at just about dusk. A souped-up Mercury with four young-ish fellows whizzed by out on the paved road. All four heads swiveled toward my camp as they rolled by, radio blaring. I should mention that this location was very remote…out past Pecos as I recall. The guys looked shady, tough. Uh oh. Sure enough, the car slowed, turned around and rolled back my way, pulling off onto the shoulder and stopping about 25 yards from my camp. “Hey Man, got any beer?” the shotgun-positioned tough yelled. The words were slurred. These guys must have been oil field roughnecks from their appearance. Which was menacing. “Nope”, I replied. “Well, whatcha got there, all that equipment? Pretty nice set-up.” (Speaking to his cohorts: “Hey guys, let’s go check this out.”) All four bailed out of the Mercury, assembled as a slightly spread out phalanx, and started walking with unmistakably menacing swagger toward my camp. And me. Quickly, I reached down beside my dining rock, grasped and raised my .455 Webley revolver, and aimed center-of-mass at the Talker of the group. Didn’t say a word. The foursome’s eyes popped wide at this. The whole phalanx abruptly stopped, about faced and made a mad scramble back into the Mercury and screeched off into the failing light, throwing gravel from the shoulder and leaving burned rubber on the pavement. They never came back. I know, because I stayed up very late and slept very lightly, the Webley right beside me. I made it to Arizona without further incident. 

Scene Two: Ouachita Mountains, Oklahoma. Mid-1960’s. I was visiting these attractive hills with the same gear as the Arizona trip. Camped the same way, tucked up by a small lake minding my own business. Four toughs roll by (Damn, why do they curdle up in foursomes?), stop, and this time “suggest” I hand over ten dollars for beer money. They liked my gear too. AND my rather handsome Ford with out-of-state tags. I’m sitting at a rough-hewn little picnic table having dinner, again. Nobody around, anywhere. As they started to get out of their car (I can’t recall what kind, except that it was what we used to call a rattle trap), I raised my .303 Enfield surplus rifle and drew down on the guy who first stepped out of the car. I hollered something like “Git”, and they did. Rapidly. 

This time the punks DID come back. About an hour later, lurching to a stop fifty yards away, and slurred cursing ensued from the car. I was informed that they had their shotguns this time, and that I was in a heap of trouble, you might say, in the vernacular of eastern Oklahoma of that era. By now I was behind the overturned picnic table with the Enfield’s snout poked up above it. After I endured a vile cussing out I reckon those fellows figured out that shotguns against a rifle-wielding hombre behind a thick picnic table fifty yards out was not good odds in their favor. They sped off. I moved the shelter half deeper into the woods and commenced a vigil. Never saw ‘em again. Even got some semi-alert sleep. The Ouachitas are handsome little mountains nonetheless. 

The reader will note that my bacon was (probably) saved in these two encounters by wielding surplus WWII British arms. I acquired both the revolver and the rifle via mail order and they both arrived at my door compliments of Parcel Post from the US Postal Service. That was IT. The prices? Astonishingly low. Those guns were very affordable to young men starting out in life. Things have certainly changed. For the record, I sporterized the Enfield, and it looked pretty good, to my eye at least. That old Enfield was replaced by a Model 600 Remington in .308 caliber. I do wish I still had that Enfield, and the Webley too, but I let them get away in foolish (in hindsight) trades. 

Next Time: Let’s continue with Interlude Five, this time recalling some scrapes with four legged critters. We’ll get back to Road Trip eventually….

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