I attended the Caldwell Night Rodeo a couple of weeks ago and thought about the first time I was there. The trip about 20 years ago started at 3:30 a.m. in Oakdale, Calif., loading horses and hitching up the trailer.
By 3:45, Jim and I were on our way to pickup Jerold and Leo to head for Caldwell. As we pulled into Jerold’s yard, we could see the light in the barn and two horses tied to the hitching rail in the yard.
The plan was to drop our trailer and hook up to Leo’s bigger trailer to accommodate the four horses. Naturally since it was dark, it wasn’t that simple. The plug that was wired for Jim’s trailer didn’t match Leo’s.
While I held the flashlight, Jerold rewired the plug. Why is it that this job is almost always done in the dark?
Three hours later, we were passing through the biggest little city in the world. Crossing the great basin, we pretty much solved all the problems with the current condition of the roping world and were well into discussing quarter horse pedigrees and picking on individuals when we pulled into Caldwell.
It was nearly 5:30 p.m., and the evening performance didn’t start until 7:30. This gave us time to put up the horses and get a room.
My traveling companions all placed in the go rounds, and Jerold and Leo made it to the short round the following day. The Camarillo’s were flying out to rodeos in Colorado so that left Jim and me free to leave for home the next morning. We fueled up the pickup and met Jim Underwood from Montana to pick up a horse he was sending with us to California.
We made Winnemucca around noon and had lunch in one of its great Basque restaurants. Rodeo cowboys know all the good places in the Western states, and they are not all restaurants.
Since I had driven from Caldwell and felt a nap attack coming on, Jim was driving as we headed west. I woke up around two hours later and noticed the fuel gauge was sitting on red. “You better get fuel in Lovelock,” I commented.
“We went past Lovelock about 20 miles ago,” Jim replied.
I then asked how long the gauge had been on red, and he thought about 40 miles. About then, we passed a sign that said “Fernley 35 miles.” We looked at each other and knew we were sunk.
When the Dodge coughed and quit, we were on a flat stretch east of Fernley about 31 miles. The Nevada landscape never looked worse. Jim’s approach to this kind of predicament was to sull up and have someone save him, so I got out and stuck out my thumb.
After 10 minutes or so, a van slowed and pulled over. I trotted down the side of the road and opened the passenger side door. “Can you give me a ride to Fernley?” I asked the driver?
“Sure, hop in, and we’ll be there in no time,” the driver said. I settled in and looked around the van. There was a wheel chair behind the driver, and I noticed that he was using a hand throttle and hand brake. We visited about where we had been and where we were going, and in no time we were pulling into a truck stop on the edge of Fernley.
As I was getting out, I thanked the man for the ride.
“We have to help each other out now and then, even in this tough old world,” he replied.
“Well for starters, I won’t park in handicapped parking anymore,” I said.
“That would be a start,” he laughed as he pulled out.
I walked over to the truck stop and bought a five-gallon plastic gas can and filled it with diesel. As I was paying for it, I was wondering how I was going to get back to the rig alongside the road.
It was then I spotted a familiar face. Carly, a not-too-bad looking lady truck driver we had loaded many times was walking toward a loaded cattle truck. I hurriedly caught up with her, and after a brief interrogation determined she was heading east on I-80 for Colorado.
I begged a ride and 31 miles to the east we pulled over. Carly said she would wait till we got going before she pulled out in case she needed to radio for help. I crossed the sagebrush median and woke up Jim who had been reading the “Ropers Sport News” instead of the Ram manual on how to restart.
We found the instructions and were told to find the primer pump on the fuel line and pump it 20 times, then crank the engine. After we figured out how to open the hood, we started tracing fuel lines to find the primer. No luck.
By now it had been 20 minutes, and Carly crossed the median to see how we were doing. She disclosed that the lines we were searching for the primer were actually air conditioning lines and not fuel lines. In about 30 seconds, she located the primer and dutifully pumped it and had us successfully on our way.
Being rescued by a cripple and a woman could be humbling for some, but we were OK with it and also damn grateful.
Barrie Quallie is a Wallowa County-based columnist for the Chieftain.