Total Pageviews

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jack S. Smith (Part 1 of 2)

Born on July 13, 1952 and passed away on July 26, 2008.

This isn’t a saddle story…, but I call this old George Lawrence saddle, “Jackson”.  I don’t name all my saddles.  Usually it’s just, “Julie’s saddle”, or “Jamie’s saddle”, or “My saddle”, or the “new George Lawrence”, if you’re speaking about them.  But this is a very special saddle…, and so was the fella that I named it after.  Oh man…, yeah.  Was he ever.  Songwriter, singer, guitar picker…, leader of the band.  And a hell of a musician.  Fighter, scrapper, logger, timber cutter.  And a hell of a man.  Classmate, teammate, employee, barroom buddy.   And a hell of a character.  Husband, hunter, father, grandfather.  And gone before his time.  Still in his prime…, at least musically speaking.

So, when it was widely known that Jack S. Smith had a deadly form of cancer and was only a few months away from performing the ultimate gig on stage in another realm, a Benefit Auction was planned for him in this one.  Another good friend of mine, Jim Jensen, offered up the old George Lawrence saddle as a donation for the auction.  And the damn fool even tried to bid against me on it!  There was no way that old saddle that I had already named “Jackson” was going to be anyone’s but mine.  Jim can be forgiven for being such a fool; he wasn’t born in Idaho like Jack, and he wasn’t raised in Idaho like Jack and I.  Jim came out from Wisconsin years after Jack and I had become friends back in high school, and he didn’t know just how close our relationship had been.  Oh man…, yeah.  For four glorious months in our senior year at Timberline High…, I had my hands under Jack’s butt almost every day.  Stuff like that can warp your mind…, and leave a lasting impression I guess.

You see…, Jack was the starting center on our football team, and I played quarterback.  Jack was also our starting free safety on defense, where he hit like another Jack…, Jack Tatum.  He wasn’t all that big…, even for a safety…, let alone a center.  Maybe 5’ 7” and all of 145 lbs.  He got a hold of the roster before the manager printed out the lineup card and changed his weight to 165 to make it look good.  At center Jack was always outweighed by a good 30 or 40 pounds, or more when he looked across at the nose guard lined up in front of him.  He was never intimidated, I believe he relished it.  Our coach gave out “hash marks” on our helmets when we made a hit that caused an opposing player’s head to “snap back”.  When you got ten hash marks on your helmet, the helmet was painted black.  Jack wore a black helmet early in the season.  Not many others did, even at the end of the season.  We finished tied for the League Championship that year.  Jack played a big part in making my glory days a winning memory.

I knew who Jack Smith was a few years before we went to school together at Timberline High School.  He lived in the logging town of Pierce, ID (pop 1029) which was just 11 miles up the road from my hometown of Weippe (pop 705), which had more farmers than loggers.  The two towns were bitter cultural and sports rivals.  There was always a little tension in the air, because back in those days it wasn’t hardly a Saturday night if there weren’t a couple of fights at a bar or at a local dance.   It was virtually guaranteed if there were more than a couple of Piercites in Weippe, or Weippers in Pierce.  Weippe had a venue called the Community Hall.  A classic old log structure with a hardwood floor, a wood stove, and a stage…, where Jack and a couple of other guys from Pierce would often play music on weekends.  And he had the reputation of a willing and able scrapper to boot.  A well deserved, and honestly earned one I might add.  So in the summer of 1969, I was walking down the street of Lewiston, ID (pop 17,900), heading to a dentist appointment, so the dentist could make sure the wires holding my jaw together hadn’t slipped any.  I spied Jack Smith leaning up against a building.  No one was sure how the consolidation of the Weippe and Pierce High Schools into Timberline High was going to work out that fall, given the ancient rivalry between the two towns.  But I knew that Jack and I were going to be playing football together that season.  I thought it proper to introduce myself, and after all, he might know who I was too.  I’d been out on the dance floor and on the basketball court a few times.  I knew…, from experience…, that it isn’t easy to introduce yourself through wire-clenched together teeth, and it’s pretty hard to slip into the conversation the story of why you are gritting your teeth and talking like that.  But if your listener is looking at you like you’re the kind of guy who might want to get his hands under your butt…, and your listener isn’t helping you out with small talk of his own, it can get a little uncomfortable rather quickly.  It can make you almost glad you have a dentist appointment.  Oh man…, yeah.  It gives you a chance to excuse yourself and move on.  Jack reminded me of that moment many times over the years and told me that I caught him at a particularly bad time.  

He later told me that he had just seen Linda off on a bus to school somewhere and he was pretty dejected. After I met Linda, I could understand why.  Oh man.., yeah.  Jack and his drop-dead gorgeous wife Linda were married probably a year after I introduced myself to Jack.  They were together for nearly 40 years, and she was at his side at the end.  Just like she was all the years they were together.  Through all the ups and downs, highs and lows, hilarious and horrifying…, and sometimes…, plumb sideways crazy, borderline insane times.  And that just describes the times that I can personally attest to.  They had “gone steady”, as we called it back then, all through high school.  After they got married, I know they were split up for a brief time early on, because Jack told me about coming home to an empty house one night.  Well…, empty except for the man and wife figurine that had adorned their wedding cake…, it was sitting on the kitchen counter under the bare cupboards.  He didn’t elaborate on what mistakes he had made to cause that, but he evidently never made them again.  If they were ever split up after that, he never told me about it.  
Me and Linda at an April Birthday Party

“I'll Always Love You”
I know you’re young, and I’m young too
I’ll do what I can, that’s all I can do
But I swear I'll always love you
I’ve made some mistakes, maybe quite a few
But one I didn’t make, was when I found you
And I swear, I’ll always love you.

Continued in the comments section

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What I'm Reading

Been wanting to get back in the saddle here..., and ironically enough..., Sean Paul Kelley over at The Agonist asked in a post what folks were reading.

It gave me an opportunity to post this response.

Right now? Thomas McGuane's “The Cadence of Grass”. One of my favorite books is Tom’s book of essays, “Some Horses”. When I had Amazon send my dear old Dad a copy…, I think he was as tickled with it as anything I ever gave him. More so than with the custom made pair of chaps from the Diamond “C” Saddle Shop, or the handmade elk horn button belt buckle with the inlaid silhouette of a cowboy leading two pack mules through the mountains, or even the border stamped George Lawrence saddle. Sad to say that I have the book, the chaps and the saddle now. Haven’t found the belt buckle. Anyway…, I wish the old cowboy was still around to share a seven page passage from “The Cadence of Grass” with. It’s a shame to have to leave out so much of it…, but here are the highlights.

“We had just got our horses up for the year. They was out all winter and the saddles didn’t fit and them horses would buck all hell west and crooked till we could get ‘em rode. I was down in the ranch yard and Leo, the illegal worked for me then, said some old-timer had arrived on a wild horse and rolled out his bedroll under the loading chute, put his head on his saddle and gone to sleep. I had an idea it was Robert Wood, and it was. Course I didn’t find him asleep, just caught his eye and told him I would see him in the morning. I pretty much knew what he was after. He had a band of mares up on the bench behind our ranch, you know, Ev, where that tank went dry, mares that was running out with wild horses there, not real mustangs but just cayuses folks had turned out when they went to war and they’d reverted and was all outright broncs. I’d promised to gather ‘em for Robert when we had a full complement of help, because it wasn’t going to be easy in any way, shape or form. Well, Robert lost patience with me…”

“Robert Wood was just an old puncher who’d outlived his day. Thought the Old West could be brought back if they’d just quit dammin’ up water to make alfalfa. He hated alfalfa and would go a long way out of his way to keep from seein’ it. I suppose he was seventy-five years old ‘cause I seen in the papers when he died about ten years ago he’d made ninety or better. Wore a Stetson right out of the box, no crease, no nothing’. He wouldn’t wear a straw hat in the summer, said it was a farmer’s hat.”

Continued in the comments section..., wish you could edit them !

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Wife..., Julie

The picture doesn’t do her justice. It was taken some 20 years ago and taking a picture of a picture…., even with a fancy new digital camera…, loses a little in translation. Graham Greene said, “In human relations, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.” I tell her that she is getting better looking every day…, just like me…, and I tell her that her graying hair and character lines only add to her beauty. But sometimes you just have to tell the truth…, and today was one of those days. Sometimes she just ain’t too damn smart.

I had been slaving away out in the pastures, cleaning up horse manure for a good long hour or so and needed a little beer and cigarette break. I probably hadn’t been sitting in the lawn chair in the shade of the shed for more than a couple of hours, when she appears at the one corner of the house I can see from that vantage point. She has a bucket of soapy water and something that looks like a toilet brush with a long handle…, and she starts scrubbing away at the side of the house.

I should mention that we live on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state in one of few temperate rain forests in the world. Forests aren’t the only things that grow here. If they ever prefect the art of making gasoline from algae…, we may be in the money. Green stuff creeps up the side of our house as relentlessly as government deficit spending. But that green stuff doesn’t look like money just yet. At least not to Julie. I have a better imagination.

I didn’t know that Julie was such a hard worker the first time I met her about 30 years ago in Idaho. I was an unattached bachelor, so naturally, I was at the bar where a bunch of my friends wives were having a girls night out in celebration of something or other. Julie happened to be sitting next to me. I had no idea who she was…, but after we danced a couple of times I began to realize just what a foxy lady she really was. Then she said she had to go. I was like, “Who was that girl?” to the gals I knew. I never forgot who she was…, but never saw her again until I came to Forks in 1987.

Continued in the comments section

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Garden

As my hero, Dick Pronneke, says in the PBS show, "Alone in the Wilderness"..., not much of a garden by Iowa standards. And it may not even rate as a garden by Texas standards. But I am brand new at this garden stuff. I'm a Rancher..., I ain't no Sod-Buster. Don Henry Ford Jr. inspired me to plant The Garden last year. Despite some life threatening experiences that happened back then..., I am trying it again.

If you have to ask about the .357 Colt Python that I carry..., you haven't heard thee story. This is what I wrote to Don last year..., admonishing him for his complete failure to warn me of the hazards involved.

Speaking of That Garden...,

you inspired me to plant. You could have warned me about hazards other than toil, sweat, and beers (to replace the sweat).

I will die of green mouth, the way many of my ancestors in Ireland did during the Great Potato Famine, before I will set foot in The Garden again. I mean, I planned The Garden as a life sustaining endeavor…, the sod-busting and planting of it produced a death wish on a day or two when the sweat was flowing like beer at a biker bash…, but last weekend I had one of those near death experiences that should be reserved for the movies…, or the Jerry Springer Show.

I was just trying to water The Garden. I stretched a hundred feet of garden hose out from The Barn and was proceeding along at a leisurely pace, with visions of baked potatoes, boiled potatoes, fried potatoes, mashed potatoes, and French fries dancing in my head. When a 10 foot python danced out of a flake of hay practically under my feet. I know you'll say that we don't grow pythons in Washington State gardens…, but make and model aren't important or relevant here. And I refuse to look at a picture card line-up to try to identify the culprit. I don't know how many people reading this have ever tried to fight off a 15 foot python with nothing but a garden hose…, but I don't recommend it. Even with a fancy, high-powered spray nozzle attachment in place. The slimy bastard had me around one leg in no time flat. Then the other leg. Then around my waist, my chest. I fought valiantly…, though somewhat blindly. I can't stand to look at a picture of a snake…, let alone look one in the eye that's trying to eat me. Once he got me around the neck he really put the squeeze on…, and I thought I was done for. My life passed before my eyes…, and other things passed from my body. There was a terrible stench and everything went black.

I probably hadn't been lying on the ground long when my wife Julie found me there…, tied up in 100 feet of garden hose. That 20 foot python knew I wasn't dead…, and that evil bastard trussed and tied me up in that hose…, and left me there. I don't know if it was a male snake and he tied me up like that, then slithered off to get his buddies so he could brag about his capture…, and then let them in on the kill…, and the feast. Or, maybe it was a female and she needed to train her offspring to kill with some live bait? I won't bother to dwell on those possibilities…, or speculate on others. I was sure that Julie had somehow sensed that I was in mortal danger…, that famous women's intuition…, that bond between two people that is so strong that you experience the others' pain. But she denied that that was the case…, she said she heard the most horrendous bellering and screaming…, she said it sounded like a Sasquatch with its foot caught in a bear trap. I didn't know snakes could scream and beller. I certainly didn't hear anything like that. But then, often times when you are in a life or death struggle, some bodily functions shut down..., so that more life giving blood and oxygen can get to more important body parts. It seems logical to assume that my hearing and vision shut down during the struggle to survive. And I don't remember any of the details of the epic battle…, just the horror…, the horror. Not all bodily functions shut down…, some go into overdrive. I was glad the hose was still handy when Julie found me.

Continued in the comments section

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Knock On Wood...,

I posted these comments on one of Don Henry Ford Jr's pieces over at The Agonist.

Knock On Wood..., the hard times haven't hit us..., yet. Not as long as I am shooting the elk with a camera..., instead of a gun. Hope it doesn't come to that. But there is a big disconnect between what is happening on Wall Street and what is happening on Main Street. Whatever you believe..., there is one thing that can be counted on. There is a balance in this old world, and that balance will be achieved. Either Wall Street is coming down or Main Street is going up. Given the recent housing start numbers and the employment numbers..., I don't need to tell you that I don't think Main Street is moving up any time soon.

The elk stayed on their side of our fence..., this time. I do wish they would have come on over and cleaned up that last patch of Scotch Broom. Since they didn't..., I suppose I better get out there myself.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Couple of Real Beauties on Ebay Now

This saddle was made by Carl Elmer, who was a saddle maker for the George Lawrence Company for many years. I found out about him while searching the history of the GL company. After leaving the company, Carl hand made his own saddles..., and this is the first one I have seen pictures of. Here's a quote from an Oregon newpaper article I found: In nearby Alfalfa, Carl Elmer has made saddles since he apprenticed at Portland’s George Lawrence saddlery in 1942. He ran his own shop in John Day for many years. An Elmer saddle is completely hand-made, from the “tree,” or inner structure, to the stampwork on the exterior—the signature of the saddlemaker. A "little" out of my price range at $1450 on Ebay..., but none the less..., a real beauty. I love the patina of this saddle and it is like the patina on most George Lawrence saddles I have seen. The first George Lawrence I acquired is very similar in style and detail.

Would love to add this George Lawrence to my collection..., for a lower asking price on Ebay. The seller says it is "40's" vintage..., but is more like very early 1900's if not late 1800's. The "slick fork", "loop seat", and "high back" design indicate the age. It appears from the pictures to be a true original in excellent condition. Probably well worth the $1800 asking price..., but out of my range. The oldest in my collection is probably 10 to 20 years later (not "loop seat" and not all original). Hope to get it cleaned up and pictures posted at a later date.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

40 Year Class Reunion

I recently got a notice of my 40 reunion..., and request to submit something for the "memory book". Here it is.

After graduation from Timberline (Weippe-Pierce) in 1970 I spent a semester at the University of Idaho, then dropped out and went to work in the woods.

I was one of the last of the draftees in 1972, and did my Basic Training at Fort Ord, CA before being assigned to Fort Eustis, VA. After I got out of the Army I worked at the Jaype plywood mill for a while before going back to work in the woods. The winter of 1978 I gave school another try at Lewis-Clark State College on the GI Bill. With no major in mind, I just picked out subjects that I was really interested in..., like Photography, Philosophy, Psychology, Intro to the Short Story, and Creative Writing. That only lasted one semester too.

In 1979 my younger brother Larry and I bought a used Skagit SJ-4 swing yarder and began contract logging on our own. By 1987 Spence Brothers Logging had acquired a Link-Belt 78 loader, a D-7 Cat and a Case rubber tired skidder as well. We had managed to have everything paid off and I was looking for new adventures when I took a job cutting timber in Forks, WA in the spring of 1987.

I had initially intended to just work during the yearly spring lay-off period that is common in Idaho. But once I got a taste of cutting really big timber "on the coast" and discovered the beauty and climate of the Olympic Peninsula, I decided to stay a while longer. It did take a while to get used to the rain in this area..., they don't call it The Rain Forest for nothing. But when the skies clear, I will guarantee you that there are no bluer skies anywhere that I have ever been. I was cutting big timber on Anderson Ridge on one of those days and I could look to the east and see the snow-capped Olympic Mountains gleaming on the skyline..., and look to the west and see the white crests of the Pacific Ocean waves breaking on the sea stacks at LaPush. Larry and I didn't have any jobs lined up for our equipment anyway. That summer Julie and I got together. She was in the process of getting a divorce and her ex-husband was in Clearwater County, so she didn't want to go back there. That suited me then..., and has for the last 23 years. And I should mention..., that the first winter on the coast went a long way toward keeping me here. After years of winter logging in Idaho in 20 or 30 degree below zero weather and sometimes eight feet of snow..., here in Forks the boss I was working for decided that at 8 degrees above zero and three inches of snow..., it was too cold and miserable to be out in the weather working. I haven't once regretted trading the snow of Idaho for the rain of the coast.

That doesn't mean that the adventures were over. In June of 1991, Joe Henson called from Alaska. He was working up there as a timber cutter and said that the company he was working for needed more cutters. The Spotted Owl controversy was in full swing in this area, the outfit that I was working for had cut us back to five days a week from six, and we had experienced a two week lay-off recently. So, with some misgivings..., by far the largest was leaving Julie in Forks..., I was on a plane to Alaska a week or two later.

I told myself..., and Julie..., that I was going for the money. A lot of guys do that..., and don't last long in remote logging camps. So, Leslie Cutting offered a bonus to guys who stayed long enough to cut one million board feet of timber. I was determined to stay long enough to cut that much and get the $10,000 bonus. I figured it would take about four months. The Labouchure Bay logging camp was on the northern tip of Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska. Four hours of rough gravel road to the nearest town of Craig..., and a half hour boat ride to the nearest phone. Luckily..., I like to write. But on the phone Julie would say things like, "I miss you and want you to come home." I tried to explain to her the money issue and the need to stick it out. I told her that if she missed me that much she should quit her job and come up to live with me in the logging camp. I never dreamed that she would give up her job. She had worked her way up to the manager's position at the restaurant where she worked..., but the next time I called she said, "Well..., I gave them my two week notice at work."

I really hadn't seen that coming..., but there it was. I flew home and we packed up the little Toyota pickup with as much stuff we could cram into it..., and save room for us, teenage Jamie, a big black Great Dane, an Old English Sheepdog, a Pit Bull, and a very frightened Kitty. Off to Bellingham, where we caught the Alaska Ferry for a one day, two night cruise to Ketchikan. A couple of days in Ketchikan before we could catch another ferry to Craig..., then the long drive to Lab Bay..., and our cracker box camper-trailer with two minute warm showers and one TV channel. We loved it..., and lived that adventure for four years. There was about a two month lay off each year when we would return to Forks and our place there. A couple of times we took the ferry to different spots in Canada and drove home from there.

On one of our trips "home" we were returning from the ocean beach at LaPush. We would almost always take a little detour and come home via the Quillayute Prairie road. It is a nice drive and reminds you of the Weippe and Fraser prairies. You can also get a good view of the snow-capped Olympics on a clear day. We happened to see a For Sale sign on a four acre, undeveloped parcel. It was over-grown with a proliferation of a noxious weed called Scotch Broom..., and about a dozen wrecked, abandoned, stripped out car bodies..., and all the accoutrements that go along with a junk yard. A lot of that stuff .., as we would discover later..., was hidden by the Scotch Broom.., but the view of the mountains was shining bright. We bought the property before we headed back to Alaska.

The last year we were up in Alaska wasn't meant to be that. It was going to be great. We had the trailer in Forks and the property on the Quillayute Prairie paid off. I had received a promotion to a Bull Buck position and we had moved from our cracker box camper into a three bedroom trailer with a real shower. Then Leslie Cutting decided to fold up shop. The same things effecting the logging industry down south had crept north and Jim Leslie made the decision to get out while the getting was good. I worked a couple of other jobs on other islands while Julie stayed at Lab Bay..., until that camp was closed. I had celebrated my 40th birthday in Alaska and there weren't many logging jobs that offered any kind of retirement plan. So when we returned to Forks I began to explore other career options. Since there was a minimum custody prison about thirty minutes south of Forks and a close custody facility about 30 minutes north of Forks, the employment prospects made it a logical choice. The guy I talked to at Peninsula College suggested that if I ever wanted to do anything but "walk the tiers"..., meaning if I was truly interested in career advancement I should get at least an AAS in Criminal Justice. With the help of WA State Re-Training program and my previous college credits I was able to get that two year degree in a short time. Now..., instead of jockeying a chain saw..., I jockey a computer as a Classification Counselor.

The rest..., as they say..., is history. I hope to get some stories and pictures of the adventures of developing our property on my web site..., someday. Julie and I are living and loving there now..., along with three horses..., and too many dogs, cats, chickens, and ducks. So..., if I haven't bored you to death so far..., I will quit while I am ahead. And hope that you all have faired as well.., and been as happy as I have been since graduation.

Best Wishes to All...,
and sorry that I won't be able to make the reunion.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Move Over Joe Bageant...,

make room for David Michael Green.

DMG may not cover anything new here..., but hearing is oh so sweet. Do yourself a favor and read it. Talk about hitting one out of the park..., old Yankee stadium wouldn't hold this one. This is probably the best fireworks you will see..., on this Fourth of July.

How on Earth Did This Happen?

Living the Regressive Dream


Let’s be honest: We live in stunningly, jaw-droppingly, ridiculously absurd political times.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: A far-right predatory overclass has spent the last thirty years undoing the hard-fought gains of the mid-twentieth century, which had produced a robust middle class and vastly more economic and social justice in America than the country had ever known before. These regressives used every kind of deceit imaginable to persuade unsophisticated voters to choose candidates whose real agenda was to assist their plutocratic puppetmasters in fleecing the very same people who voted for them.

Such candidates ran on issues like the death penalty, immigration, bogus wars, gay marriage and abortion. But what they really were about as legislators was exporting jobs to where workers are dirt cheap and politically neutered, crashing organized labor, shifting the tax burden onto the mass public, deregulating industry to allow unhindered profit-taking on the upside and socialized public responsibility for risk on the downside, and locking in a Supreme Court majority that would never blanch at even the most outrageous rulings enhancing corporate power in American society.

If the product of this slow and silent coup wasn’t so bloody and so ruinous to so many lives, you’d really have to hand it to these guys for their political acumen and patience. It took a while, and it required the building of a broad and robust infrastructure, spanning from mainstream media to talk radio and TV to think-tanks to Congress, the presidency and the judiciary, to the GOP and now to the Democratic Party as well, but they have pretty much completely succeeded in grabbing all the levers of power in our society. They dominate its discourse entirely, and they have been almost completely successful to date in securing all the elements of their legislative, regulatory and jurisprudential agenda, at least to this point (how far they ultimately intend to go isn’t clear – the US as Honduras, perhaps? – but it’s unlikely to be pretty). Perhaps the only major exception to that rule was their 2005 failure to privatize the vast pool of public money sitting in the Social Security coffers, which they lust over lasciviously, like teenage boys inhaling online porn by the bucketful.

And it just gets better from here. We may not celebrate another real Independence Day if things don't CHANGE..., for the better that is.

Right on DMG..., write on.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Saddle Bar(n)

Uh Oh ..., got a digital camera. An amazing little toy..., to say the least..., and I can forget all that I remember from a semester of Photography classes long, long ago.

The Saddle Bar(n) didn't start out as such..., it was orignally The No Dogs Allowed Timberframe Whiskey Bar Saloon. So named because my most frequent customers were our "pack of dogs" as my neighbor once angerly referred to them. The theme was to be nautical in nature with a genuine chart of the Labashure Bay area..., where Julie and I spent four logging seasons dreaming of The Ranch..., of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska hanging on the wall above the big spruce slab of a bar with a map of the Inside Passage from Seattle to Skagway wood burned into the surface. The sailboat themed lighted beer signs and the Hamm's bottle and can collection attest to an Ebay obsession that pre-dates the saddle obsession that evolved.

Pictured in the foreground are just three of the George Lawrence saddle collection..., that now numbers seven. Add a couple of Ray Holes saddles, a couple better know brands (Big Horn and Simco) and a Decker pack saddle..., and well..., there you have it. The Saddle Bar(n). And the coldest beer..., Hamm's of course..., on the coast.

12/17/16  -  Update  -  My cousin Debbie (Chapman) Smith commented about the bar that I mentioned above..., here's a photo..., I really should clean it off and get a good picture of it.  The blueish tint is the Pacific Ocean..., lower left is the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula..., just north of it is Vancouver Island..., and the Canadian coast is on the right.  The southeast Alaska coast is covered by the dead computer and various other objects that can't seem to find a better place to reside.

Just can't get all the saddles in the picture...,

This old..., and I do mean OLD cowboy stopped by..., for the free drinks it seems..., as I couldn't get any work out of the old fart !!!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

That Good Lookin' Al Spence

Being Memorial Day..., and I have been posting stories that involve my Dad..., I thought it fitting that I post his obituary from last year here.

Alexander R. Spence, 79, Weippe

Born: Aug. 23, 1929
Died: Aug. 07, 2009

The spoken phrase, “Hello, I'm That Good Lookin' Al Spence,” will be spoken never again by the man who coined and used it throughout most of his life. Al has passed on to be with his beloved wife Wanda in the hereafter. The one and only time he ever referred to himself as something other than “young and good lookin' “ was when he described himself as “…an old, homely, older-than-dirt husband… “ when he wrote Wanda's obituary in November 2006. It was a true measure of the depth of the loss he felt.

Al was born in Ellensburg, Wash., to Alexander Spence and Ethel Vanderkar Spence, both deceased. The family, including sisters Ethel Pollillo of Kennewick and Mary Ann Chapman of Weippe, and half-sisters Ione Jones Layman, deceased, and Elna Jones Marner, deceased, moved to Weippe shortly thereafter and Al spent most of his life there.

While still in his teenage years, Al took a job horse packing for Steve Russell at the Lochsa Lodge near the Idaho-Montana border and Lolo Pass. The experience was one of his fondest memories and he reminisced about them on a recent road trip to that location with his two sons, Scott R. of Forks, Wash., and Larry of Weippe.

Al was drafted into the Army in 1950 and served in California and Germany. Before being deployed overseas, he married Wanda Kautz, on July 7, 1951, in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Their marriage lasted a life-time and Al was at her bedside when she passed away.

When he returned to Weippe he worked for Potlatch as a cat skinner, and participated in the Clearwater Log Drive featured in the July 1951 issue of the National Geographic magazine. In the later 1950s, he bought his own dozer and became a contract logger. He continued to build his logging operation until the call of the north took him to Alaska and the pipeline project in the 1970s. When he returned to Weippe he sold the logging operation, bought a small ranch, and became the cowboy he always wanted to be. He ran his cattle-raising operation until an auto accident in the early 1990s. The injuries slowed him down physically and he could not continue the practice.

Al leaves three grandchildren, Keith Spence of Lewiston, A.J. Spence of Lewiston and Bert Spence of Weippe; two adopted grandchildren, Brianne Page of Sandpoint, Idaho, and Stacy Petty of Fort Hood, Texas; and three great-grandchildren.

Al will be cremated and no services are planned. Surviving family members ask only that he be always remembered as, “That Good Lookin' Al Spence”.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Biscuits & Gravy and the First Killing Frost

Encouraged by the comments from Ellen on my last post..., and of course by Don signing on as a follower..., I am posting this one from last fall. It was originally posted to my Diary on The Agonist (10/12/09). Hope Ellen (and Don) can smell the Biscuits & Gravey this time :)

There are few things in life better than biscuits & gravy on a frosty morning. Especially when it brings to mind fond memories of your recently departed father dishing it up inside a wood stove warmed tent in a hunting camp on Cook Mountain in Idaho many years ago. Yeah…, a little breakfast before the work begins. The fun is over but the thrill isn’t gone until we have saddled the horses and mules and headed back down the draw to pack the downed elk out.

But this morning…, it’s Julie providing the biscuits & gravy here on The Ranch on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Throw a couple of fresh eggs, provided by the chickens that roam The Ranch, fried to perfection on top, and you feel like you can take on any challenge. The game to harvest later today after this first killing frost isn’t elk though. I haven’t killed any game animal for meat since I left Idaho over twenty years ago. And I hope that I never have too. But will…, if I must. It’s been a few years since the elk have raised havoc with our fences…, but they aren’t far away. The horses and dogs attest to that. The Garden is closer though, and I feel confident that I won’t get the ambiguous feeling from pulling potatoes out of the ground that I did from putting an elk on it. We will see today how successful we have been at coaxing food from this ground we call home. A back up plan to put food on the table in never a bad strategy. In the days to come it may be a necessity to meet the challenges ahead.

I don’t see any back up plan for our nation. We are running on stimulus. We were served up a breakfast of dried biscuits in the form of a busted economic strategy to pull forward demand for housing and credit. Some say we couldn’t have chocked down those biscuits without an outlandish helping of gravy in the form of monetary stimulus. We will never know for sure now. But given the fact that the gravy wasn’t used for it’s initially stated purpose…, and has been spread over the plate to include things like enticing people to buy new cars that they don’t need…, I can’t help but doubt the wisdom of the plan. With real unemployment running around 20% and no real turn around anywhere in sight for the foreseeable future…, we are told we can count on a jobless recovery. The gravy hasn’t helped us choke down those biscuits either. What are we going to do when the gravy runs out?

I am going out to The Garden…, and think about better days and my father.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ray Holes Saddles

It was early fall in the low country…, but on top of Cook Mountain it was late fall. Water was freezing in the bucket at night and the heavy morning frosts looked more like snow in the meadows around our hunting camp. Inside the tent on those mornings you knew everyone else was awake, staying in their warm sleeping bags…, because the snoring had stopped…, waiting for some other brave fool to crawl out and get a fire going in the stove. The Western Larch trees that we call Tamarack, the only evergreen that changes color and loses it’s needles in the winter, were aglow with that rich golden color that deciduous trees aspire to…, but never attain.

We had packed in, on horses and mules, about five miles from our base camp on Weitis Creek a few days before. My butt told me it was much further than that and I was still more than a little saddle sore…, when my Uncle Leroy decided that it was safe to turn his bell mare loose. He figured that his horses and mules would hang around as long as Beer Nip was tied in camp. Beer Nip wasn’t a mare, but served as the bell mare for my Dad’s herd. Dad was already throwing his saddle on Beer Nip as I watched quizzically…, and my uncle shouted something like, “Oh shit,” as eight head of horses and mules headed across the meadow at a trot. They were headed the shortest route to the road that circled around to our spike camp. As Dad put the bridle on Beer Nip and handed the reins to me, he said something like, “Well…, if you can’t head them off before they reach the road…, they will probably stop at our base camp on the Weitis. If that happens…, you just as well spend the night there, load up some more grub and come back in the morning.”

That frost I mentioned earlier was long gone by that afternoon…, but the moisture it left on that dirt road made walking on that road a treacherous ordeal. Galloping a horse down that road was something else altogether. But my butt told me that it was worth the risk of avoiding a much longer ride. They say that some funny things can go through your mind when you have a near-death experience. Well…, my life may not have been passing before my eyes…, but mud and snot and sweat and slobber sure were. And I was thinking..., “Damn…, this is one fine saddle.”

The heavy brush along the road had more to do with turning back our quitters than any heroics on my part. But back at camp I remarked to my Dad that I kind of liked that saddle of his. He remarked, “That’s a Ray Holes saddle, boy.”

I didn’t even know what brand of saddle I had. I did know that I wished my Dad was riding it, with it’s padded “sissy seat”, and I was riding his hard seat Ray Holes when we headed off Cook Mountain that fall. I got half that wish the next day when it was decided that we would save a little gas in the stock truck by roading the herd up out of the Weitis. I got to ride Beer Nip and the Ray Holes saddle and lead my uncle’s bell mare…, while the rest of the head was turned loose. Dad and LeRoy took the vehicles about five miles up to the top of the ridge where we would load them up for the trip home. Beer Nip and Tillie didn’t much like the fact that the rest of the herd would gallop away up the road and out of sight, then turn around and gallop back to check that the alpha horses were still coming along. The fact that Tillie’s colt was one of the herd made her another type of pain in the butt for me to deal with. I had to keep a tight rein on Beer Nip to keep him from galloping away to catch the herd. I thought I was in for a miserable, bone-jarring trot that even a Ray Holes saddle couldn’t mitigate. I wasn’t so wrong about that…, but Beer Nip was a pacer. If it hadn‘t been for having to deal with a distraught mother in fear of losing her only child…, it would have been like riding a rocking chair. I now understand why Jake Spoon rode a pacer in “Lonesome Dove.” But he couldn’t have been riding a Ray Holes saddle. I bet he would have…, if they were made back then. He understood quality and comfort.

I never forgot about that Ray Holes saddle. Many years later when Julie and I had our own “ranch” here on the Quillayute Prairie and a couple of our own horses, she needed a saddle of her own. I searched Ebay…, and found a Ray Holes saddle…, with a $2500 reserve! I didn’t bid. I did call my Dad. He laughed at my astonishment at the price of a Ray Holes saddle.

So…, that’s the story of how my “saddle obsession” started. The George Lawrence saddles we have now…, that far outnumber our horses…, aren’t the quality of a Ray Holes…, but they are beautiful, well made…, and more in our price range.

In that 1945 issue of “Western Horseman” magazine I mentioned in my last post about George Lawrence saddles…, there is an ad for Ray Holes Saddle Co. It says simply:

Honest fellows

We’re swamped. No delivery less
than 8 months. Please order only
if a necessity.

Says a whole lot about the quality and character of Ray Holes and the demand for the saddles he built.

From Lee M. Rice’s book, “They Saddled the West”:

Ray Holes was living with the single ambition to become a full-fledged saddle maker with a shop of his own. At the same time, he was not blind to his lack of fundamental knowledge in the craft. He knew from experience that some saddles were good while others were bad: that many well-built and good looking rigs were uncomfortable to ride. Some were hard on a horse’s back and some would wear out a man in a day’s riding, despite their apparent quality. Occasionally he would come across some old hull, out of date and badly worn, that possessed a welcome comfort evidently bestowed by a superior craftsman who understood the secrets of overall perfection. Each day brought new questions for which Ray had no definite answers. The more he observed, the stronger grew his conviction that the most comfortable and best fitting rigs for all-around hard work on the range had been built by earlier saddle makers who had risen to prominence during the decades shortly before and immediately after the turn of the century, when the stringent demands of cowmen were at their height. Further study convinced him that the more important old-time saddlers were growing scarcer every year. If he were to benefit by their knowledge, it behooved him to undergo some first-hand studies at the feet of the old masters before rapidly advancing years took their final toll.

He therefore, set out to contact all the old-time saddle makers he could find who might initiate him into the basic principles of the craft. Some he was able to reach through correspondence; some he visited in person; others he worked with as a willing apprentice for varying periods of time. As might be expected, he met occasional rebuffs or cynical brush-offs. Not all men were willing to share their secrets with a stranger. Yet here were enough, who recognized in the eager young man a reflection of their own quest for knowledge, that he found himself led, step by step, into the inner circle of master craftsmen.

Armed with the best available knowledge, advice and practices gleaned from a wide variety of preeminent saddlers about the country, Ray’s main ambition was to produce something outstanding in saddles for the working cowboys, First in importance, he reasoned, was to set up the three basic qualities as his standard: mainly, comfort, durability and beauty. On this foundation it would be necessary to build a saddle that could meet all the requirements of the arduous range work that Idaho’s steep and rugged mountain country demanded. It was a big order. Yet his years of cow work and roaming the uninhabited wilderness, which had enabled Chief Joseph’s people to elude the United States Army in 1877, gave way an understanding of the special needs in riding equipment for such rough territory.

Along with these accomplishments, he developed a type of free-swinging stirrup leathers that avoided the bundlesome and awkward features of some patented stirrup leather hangers. In a mountainous country, where so much up- and downhill riding is necessary, these free-swinging stirrup leathers win praise from all who use them. They are only equaled by the Ray Holes carefully constructed saddle seats. As a matter of fact, the two items are actually combined to give the maximum in comfort. It requires extremely artful care to shape and place the parts that eventually combine themselves into a single unit of all-around durability, comfort and beauty, such as captured Ray Holes’ vision 40 years ago.

Rice’s book was published in 1975. Ray Holes started building saddles in the 1930’s, and though he has passed away, the tradition of fine saddle making is being carried on to this day at the Ray Holes Saddle Shop in Grangeville, ID.

Pictures added 5/30/10

The saddle that I rode in the story has disappeared. It was an older, pretty much plain with a "high-back" cantle if memory serves me correctly. Dad never would have sold the saddle..., my brother and I figure that he "loaned" it out before he passed away. Almost a year after he passed away now..., and no one has showed up to return the saddle. This one pictured above was numbered "1076" and it features some of the carving that Ray became renowned for. Ray began to number his saddles and records were kept of each order sometime in the 1940's. A Ray Holes saddle that I picked up on Ebay is numbered "1785" and was ordered by Coy Solander of Weston, Colorado on 10/28/55. It is a "rough-out" model and is pictured below.

Picture below is another Ray Holes that my Dad had. It was stamped "Caroline" on the back of the cantle. If I remember right..., it was an un-numbered saddle.

In David R. Stoecklein's beautiful book of photo's of "Saddles of the West" there is a picture of three saddles. The caption reads, SADDLES MADE BY THREE OF THE BEST SADDLE MAKERS OF THE 20th CENTURY - Lawrence, Hyser, and Ray Holes, Stoecklein Collection. (it should be Heiser I am sure). In the back of the book he says, "Ray Holes was born in 1911 in central Washington. He opened his first saddle shop in Cottonwood, Idaho in 1936. Soon after he moved near Grangeville, where his shop is still located today. Ray's son Jerry grew up in the shop and is now a master craftsman of the trade. They startd making their own saddle trees in 1955. Ray also invented tools for carving leather that are still used today. Ray, himself a master carver, considers Jerry's work to be even better than his own."

I don't have pictures of the one Ray Holes I have from Dad's collection yet. It is an older "high-back" (without carving)..., it is stamped "Cottonwood" as opposed to "Grangeville"..., obviously one of his earliest saddles. I have no idea how many "Cottonwoods" there are out there. Not many I think.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

George Lawrence Saddles

I am not a serious collector of anything..., but I have managed to "accumulate" a few old saddles made by the George Lawrence Company of Portland, OR. This is my latest addition.

From "They Saddled the West" by Lee M. Rice:

The George Lawrence Company of Portland, Oregon, has the distinction of being the oldest established firm in the Northwest engaged in the manufacture of Westen riding equipment. Some firms--including Main and Winchester and the L.D. Stone Company of San Francisco--were established prior to the founding of the George Lawrence Company, but the others are no longer in business.

The Lawrence Company was founded in Portland in 1857, at the end of the romantic Oregon Trail days. It was startd by Mr. Samuel Shylock, who came west to the Oregon country to establish himself in his trade of saddler and harnessmaker. In the new city of Portland, he found the opportunity he had been seeking. There was a great need for a shop to furnish harness and riding equipment to outfit settlers and army posts in the remote sections of the Northwest.


Mr. Shylock was joined by his brother-in-law, George Lawrence, in 1874. Two years later, upon the death of Mr. Shylock, George Lawrence took over the management of the company. The firm was reorganized in 1893, being incorporated as the George Lawrence Company, and under that masthead it has remained ever since.


The George Lawrence Company has never gone into extensive manufacture of high-priced custom-made goods. Their policy and reputation was built by concentrating on quality, catering to the cowpuncher, the packer, and the man who must spend many hours a day in the saddle. To win the cooperation of such men as these, they must provide a saddle that will stand up under the most severe tests with the greatest comfort to both horse and rider. A hundred years of satisfied customers is substantial evidence of the Lawrence Company's record of dependability.

A shorter version of this book excerpt was published in The Western Horseman magazine in Jan-Feb 1945. The George Lawrence Company quit making saddles sometime in the 1950's. I believe that the saddle pictured is one of the last they made in the 50's era.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Coming Storm

It's been a rainy and windy weekend here. It reminded me of this submission to The Agonist on 11/16/10. I was fearful that a disasterous Christmas shopping season would spell the end of the government efforts to "save the economy". As it turns out..., I was as wrong about that as the weather predicters were about their storm warning.

The Coming Storm

Here on the Quillayute Prairie the rain is coming down…, sideways. We have a steady 12 mph SE wind with gusts up to 27 according to the National Weather Service report…, with worse to come.




I take solace in the fact that weather men are far from reliable prophets…, especially government prophets. Well…, all I can say is…, if the forecast is correct the ducks will be swimming up to the front porch for dinner. The little pond is already backing up toward the barnyard…, but we are in no danger of any real damage causing flood. The ducks love it…, the dogs and horses…, not so much. I may not love it as much as the ducks…, but there is nothing like a good storm to clean out the cobwebs and get some juices flowing…, if you are ready for it. Julie made coffee last night in case the power was out this morning and we stored up extra water in the bath tub to flush the toilet with. Our water supply is underground in the well and with no power we have no way to get to it with a bucket. Yeah…, if you prepare for the worst it is never as bad as predicted. But when you are unprepared…, it can be damned inconvenient…, or worse The temperature is in the mid-forties so in spite of the fact we have electric heat…, we won’t freeze. If it gets too cold in the house…, we can always go to The Bar. The timber frame shed out back that we call The Bar, is equipped with a propane stove with a reasonably authentic looking fireplace view…, without the other hassles involved with the real thing. Once you have flipped a switch to start a fire you may just swear off ever splitting another arm load of kindling. And if the stove doesn’t provide enough light we can always pump up the old Coleman gas lantern and listen to it’s soft, comforting hiss…, along with the battery powered radio. The thought of it almost makes you wish the power would go out. We really should invest in a gas generator for such “emergencies”. But I fear that Julie would just want to hook it to the TV in the house instead of using it to power the 35 year old Heathkit 1515 stereo receiver in The Bar. I am still the romantic and she is ever so practical.

But…, it isn’t this Storm that I am worried about. It’s The Storm to Come. I have written here previously about a “Crash”. One year seven weeks ago on 9/25/08 I wrote, “The Crash is Coming…, with or without this Bail Out. The Bail Out is just that…, a Bail Out of the fat cat investors that run this country. It will accomplish one thing and one thing only. It will “buy” them time to reposition their portfolios and make money from this coming crash.” Well…, the Bail Out came, the S&P crashed to the 600 level. Do I need to tell you what happened after that? Record bonus for the fat cat investors this year and extended unemployment benefits for us. Not long after the Bail Outs…, the Stimulus started. Seven weeks ago I wrote in “Living on Stimulus” that, “… prior experience tells me that more of the same crap that got us here isn’t going to keep the party going. We have way to far to go for a quick rush to solve the problem. We aren’t going somewhere slowly…, we are going nowhere fast.” Well…, the extension…, and expanding…, of the $8000 mortgage credit is an attempt to keep that first rush alive. Our government is buying up houses so fast for people who have little…, if any…, hope of ever paying them off, that the FHA is already broke. Fannie and Freddy have been broke for a long time. As Denninger is fond of saying, “This is sixth grade math.” And it not just won’t work…, it can’t work. Somewhere along the line I made a comment and referred to a “Cold November Rain” coming in terms of our financial outlook. I meant that late in November we will get a pretty good picture of what the retail outlook is for the Christmas shopping season. I think it is going to drown a lot of “green shoots”. I don’t see consumers coming out of their cocoons. Many of the State budgets cuts of last summer are just now working their way through the system in terms of actual layoffs. Over 250 layoffs were announced in my agency just last week…, and the anxiety I see on the faces around me is frightening. We had been warned that this Storm was coming…, and are being warned that the Storm will likely continue for the foreseeable future. You just can’t prepare yourself for that kind of Storm.

I don’t think I am any better prophet than a government weather man.., but I have some common sense. Yeah…, I am ready for today and tomorrow’s natural Coming Storm. The other financial Coming Storm I see ahead…, not so much.

Scott R. November 15, 2009 - 3:23pm

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Julie..., Butch Ukura..., Me...,
and Khoel

Yesterday I was talking to a young fellow, and he remarked that he had grown up in the neighborhood where we had lived prior to acquiring The Ranch. He didn't remember me..., but he sure remembered my Great Dane dog, Khoel.

I remember him too..., and miss him. Almost a year ago, Don Henry Ford Jr. ("The Urepentant Cowboy") whose Blog I follow (link at my profile) wrote this piece for The Agonist

In it he described having to put down an injured foal.

"The week was rough. Wednesday morning Manuel called from Seguin and tells me that one of my mares had a foal but the foal isn't getting up. I arrive to discover that she has stepped on his front leg and broken the coffin bone. Not just cracked it--it's completely broken in two. The foal tries to get up and falls, again and again--the leg dangles like a limp rag. He looks at me and nickers.

I have no gun.

But I have a pair of fencing pliers...

I spent the rest of the day thinking I deserve to be dead.

Today marks the day we killed Jesus. Again.

Lord have mercy. I don't know about the rest of you but I'm going to need it."

I worte this piece about Khoel for him. It's almost as hard to read as it was to write.

I Thought I Was Tough...,

I wasn’t going to pay a vet $75 to take care of something that I could do for pennies. I felt it was my responsibility. We had raise Khoel from a pup.

A big, coal black Great Dane who struck fear in the hearts of the car deck hands on the Alaska Ferry System when they walked by the canopied Toyota pickup. They couldn’t believe we were going to let him out on a leash during the car deck call. He was fine with people when he wasn’t guarding his truck. And I have never seen a smirk dissolve on the face of a man as fast as the Rottweiler owner when the Rot “got away from him” and charged straight for Khoel. I gave just enough slack in my leash to let Khoel swat the Rot off balance with his front paw and pin the Rot to the deck with his jaws clamped to back of the Rot’s neck. Khoel had more than just heart…, he had the physical prowess to back it up.

But those days were long gone and his hips had given out. His back end was lifeless and he couldn’t get up at all or even stand with help. So I managed to wrestle him into the back of his pickup once more and we drove from town out to what is now The Ranch…, but was then just The Property. I dug the hole. Then we drove out to the ocean beach at La Push and looked out with him where he used to be able to stretch out more like a Greyhound than a Great Dane and run like the wind. We bought him a chicken dinner and drove him back to The Property.

I regretted most that he would never be there to guard The Ranch like he guarded his pickup…, at least not above ground. Then I put a 9mm slug in the back of his head. He stiffened out and didn’t move. I threw the gun on the seat of his pickup and took a couple of deep breaths. I took off his thin, decorative silver choke chain and put it around my neck. I gave him a pat on the chest to say good-by…, and his heart hadn’t stopped beating yet.

I’m not so tough.

Mercy granted Don…, mercy granted.

Scott R. April 11, 2009 - 12:24pm

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Joe Bageant

I have added Joe Bageant to the Blogs I am following. I must admit that the first few essays of Joe Bageant’s that I read, I was a bit taken aback. As in, “Lighten up a bit on the working poor Joe.” But I am reading his book, “Deer Hunting With Jesus - Dispatches From America‘s Class War” now…, and I have a much clearer understanding of where he is coming from. I encourage everyone to read it.... and his website.

Joe Bageant

You may be a bit disconcerted by the title of the book…, I was too. Joe explains it this way in the chapter, “Valley of the Gun”.

“To nonhunters, the image conjured by the title of this book might seem absurd, rather like a NUKE THE WHALES bumper sticker. But the tile also captures something that moves me about the people I grew up with--the intersection between hunting and religion in their lives. The link between protestant fundamentalism and deer hunting goes back to colonial times, when the restless Presbyterian Scots, along with English and German Protestant reformers, pushed across America, developing the unique hunting and farming-based frontier cultures that sustained them over most of America’s history. Two hundred years later, they have settled down, but they have not quit hunting and they have not quit praying.”

The morning after the 2004 presidential elections I called in sick. I felt the least little bit guilty about that…, but I just could not understand how George Evil Bush managed to win re-election after what he had done to America in the four previous years. How could it happen? Joe’s book provides the answers I was looking for…, and it still makes me sick.

From the chapter, "Republicans By Default".

“That is the American hologram. That is the peculiar illusion we live within, the illusion that holds us together, makes us alike, yet tells each of us we are unique. And it will remain in force until the whole shiteree comes down around our heads. Working people do not deny reality. They created it from the depths of their perverse ignorance, even as the so-called left speaks in non sequiturs and wonders why it cannot gain any political traction. Meanwhile, for the people, it is football and NASCAR and a republic free from married queers and trigger locks on guns. That’s what they voted for--an armed and moral republic. And that’s what we get when we stand by and watch the humanity get hammered out of our fellow citizens, letting them be worked cheap and farmed like a human crop for profit.”

From the chapter titled, “American Serfs”.

“Admittedly, a real blue-collar middle class still exists in some places, just as unions still exist. But both are on the ropes like some old pug boxer taking the facial cuts and popping eye capillaries with no referee to come in and stop the carnage. The American bootstrap myth is merely another strap that makes the working poor privately conclude that they must in some way be inferior, given that they cannot seem to apply that myth to their own lives. Hell, Pootie, if immigrants can put together successful businesses of their own, why can’t you keep up with your truck payments? Right now, even by the government’s spruced-up numbers, one-third of working Americans make less than $9 an hour. A decade from now, five of the ten fastest-growing jobs will be menial, dead-end jokes on the next generation--mainly retail-clerks, cashiers and janitors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

And here are ten more quotes from "Deer Hunting With Jesus"

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Archdruid Report

"Hillsfar" commented on one of my comments over at Ian Welch's Blog last weekend. He (she?) suggested that I check out the

I did..., and now I am a follower of that blog.

Here is a sample from a piece called "Endgame".

It’s crucial to realize, though, that this move comes at the end of a long historical trajectory. From the early days of the industrial revolution into the early 1970s, the United States possessed the immense economic advantage of sizable reserves of whatever the cutting-edge energy source happened to be. During what Lewis Mumford called the eotechnic era, when waterwheels were the prime mover for industry and canals were the core transportation technology, the United States prospered because it had an abundance of mill sites and internal waterways. During Mumford’s paleotechnic era, when coal and railways replaced water and canal boats, the United States once again found itself blessed with huge coal reserves, and the arrival of the neotechnic era, when petroleum and highways became the new foundation of power, the United States found that nature had supplied it with so much oil that in 1950, it produced more petroleum than all other countries combined.

That trajectory came to an abrupt end in the 1970s, when nuclear power – expected by nearly everyone to be the next step in the sequence – turned out to be hopelessly uneconomical, and renewables proved unable to take up the slack. The neotechnic age, in effect, turned out to have no successor. Since then, for most of the last thirty years, the United States has been trying to stave off the inevitable – the sharp downward readjustment of our national standard of living and international importance following the peak and decline of our petroleum production and the depletion of most of the other natural resources that once undergirded American economic and political power. We’ve tried accelerating drawdown of natural resources; we’ve tried abandoning our national infrastructure, our industries, and our agricultural hinterlands; we’ve tried building ever more baroque systems of financial gimmickry to prop up our decaying economy with wealth from overseas; over the last decade and a half, we’ve resorted to systematically inflating speculative bubbles – and now, with our backs to the wall, we’re printing money as though there’s no tomorrow.

My take is that our politicians are trying to fix a problem that can't be fixed..., by throwing money at it. The vast majority of that money is being siphoned off by the Banksters and other financial elites (and politicians). We need to do some deficit spending to keep the social safety nets like unemployment functioning. That money gets to the people who need it. Trying to "create" temporary jobs for them stimulates the economy in the short run..., but it won't do much to fix the underlying problem that we have been trying to solve by those very means for the last 30 years. We have used deficit spending to put off dealing with this crisis, hoping that "growth" would pull us through for far too long. I agree with John Michael Greer at The Archdruid Report..., I think we have reached an "Endgame".

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Growing Old With Jackson Browne

I posted this on on The Agonist back in July '09.

Stayed up late last Saturday night to catch Jackson Browne on PBS’s Soundstage program. Yeah…, I am getting to the age where anything past ten o’clock qualifies as a late nighter. It wasn’t just that, that was making me feel old. When I calculated it, I realized that it must be 25 years since I last saw Jackson Browne in concert. That was in Boise, Idaho…, a six or seven hour drive from where I called home at the time. I had an old partner who had just done a little time in Boise at one of Idaho’s finest facilites…, and a Jackson Browne concert was a damn good excuse to get down there to see how my old friend was doing. It was the last time I saw Jackson Browne…, or that old friend. I moved on…, the old partner went back. I tracked Jackson’s career moves much closer than I did that old buddy’s after that.

The first time I saw Jackson Browne in concert , about ten years prior to that Boise reunion concert…, was in Norfolk, Virginia. 1973. Courtesy, so to speak, of my “friends and neighbors” who selected me to serve my country. I can also thank the U.S. Army for choosing my assignment at Ft. Eustis instead of Vietnam. Jackson wasn’t the headliner in those days, he was the opening act for Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I didn’t even know who Jackson Browne was before that concert…, but I never forgot. That’s not to say that I appreciated just what a special talent as a singer-songwriter he was at that time. I packed a lot more years of living…, and almost dying…, into those ten years between Jackson Browne concerts than the time line would suggest. During one of the convalescent periods of a particularly close call…, I spent time reading “From Here To Eternity” and listening to “The Pretender”. If you are well acquainted with one or the other…, imagine experiencing them simultaneously.

“The Pretender" was an old album by that time. “Running on Empty” was out…, and I had about worn it out. So I pulled out the “The Pretender”.

“Though the years give way to uncertainty
And the fear of living for nothing strangles the will
There’s a part of me
it speaks to the heart of me
Though sometimes it’s hard to see
it’s never far from me
Alive in eternity
That nothing can kill.”

“The Fuse”

“No sooner had I hit the streets
When I met the fools that a young fool meets
All in search of truth and bound for glory
And listening to our own heart beats
We stood around the drum
Though it’s fainter now
The older I become
Living your life day after day
Soon all your plans and changes
Either fail or fade away
Leaving so much still left to say.”

“Daddy’s Tune”

“I’m going to find myself a girl
Who can show me what laughter means
And we’ll fill in the missing colors
In each others paint by number dreams”

“The Pretender”

It took a few more years…, but I found that girl…, and she is still filling in those colors. Brighter every single day. When we were living in a cracker box camper trailer in a remote logging camp in Southeast Alaska, we bought “Lives in the Balance” on cassette tape. And I discovered that Jackson Browne had even more range that I ever imagined.

“I’ve been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the crowd in my ear
You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you’ve seen it before
When a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war
And there’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who send the guns
To the wars fought in the places
Where their business interests run”

“Lives in the Balance”

That was a good 10..., closer to 15 years…, back down the road now. So I was anxious and excited to hear what Jackson had to say last Saturday. Jackson doesn’t get much air play on FM radio…, unfortunately…, and I never made the conversion to CD’s when the vinyl records turned to warpped crap in the 80‘s. It took me three tries to get a playable copy of “Running on Empty”. I got lucky with “Hold Out”…, but threw up my hands in frustration with “Lawyers in Love”. So I have missed a lot of Jackson Brown since then. Yeah…, I’m getting old. And so is Jackson Browne. I was happy to see that he hasn’t dyed his hair. No pretender he. He still looks good. I wish I could say that he still sounds good. But nearly 30 years of chain saw screams and heavy equipment bellers have taken their toll. That’s why I don’t listen to new music today. I can’t hear it. It’s a jumble of words that I can’t filter. I need a magnifying glass to read the lyrics on a CD. The old music is still there though…, inside the ear. I can still hear it load and clear. So, I don’t know what new perspectives Jackson had to impart last Saturday night…, but when he closed the show with a song released in 1986..., “Lives in the Balance”…, I realized that his music and his message are ageless and timeless.

“There’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who fan the flames
Of the wars that are fought in places
Where we can’t even say the names
They sell us the President the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us everything from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars
I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they’re never the ones to fight and to die”

“Lives in the Balance”

Scott R. July 18, 2009 - 3:30pm

Comments on "Health Care Reform"

Last week I posted this comment on The Agonist:

I am on record here (and elsewhere) predicting that a bill would get passed…, and that the only sure thing about it would be mandatory “insurance” coverage. I thought for a brief moment that I would have to admit that I was wrong…, it was barely on life-support. But it didn’t take the insurance companies long to swing into action…, raising rates. Now…, if they really didn’t want any bill passed they would have laid in the weeds waiting until it was completely dead…, but they didn’t…, they rose up and virtually shouted out load, “You need to pass some kind of bill NOW…, or look what’s going to continue to happen!” And The Big O stood right up with them (coincidence?)…, calling a summit…, promising “bipartisan” (compromise?) support for a new health “care” reform bill.

What we need is a health “insurance” reform bill…, not a health “care” reform bill.
The Big O is going to deliver for the insurance companies (mandatory insurance coverage & no competition)…, and the insurance companies are going to keep the premium increases…, and there won’t be much (if any) insurance reform in it.

I agree…, there is still “hope” that he will take a stand and deliver something meaningful…, or let it die…, but I am not holding my breath.

Scott R. February 28, 2010 - 11:02am

Last night on PBS, Bill Moyers asked as much of one of his guests.

BILL MOYERS: Excuse my growing cynicism at this age and stage, but could this be the briar patch strategy? In other words, they want to get people angry enough to– for Congress to pass that health care reform with the mandate that delivers millions of new customers to them under penalty of law?

The guest, Wendell Potter didn’t answer that question directly, but he believes that the bill should be passed because there are enough good things in it (at least the Senate version) to offset the “mandated coverage” requirement. Things like requiring the insurance companies to cover “pre-existing conditions”. My question is, will they be required to cover people with “existing conditions”…, and what’s the difference? He says there are meaningful regulations…, I say those will be eliminated or watered down in the bill that gets passed. And I say again…, a bill will get passed.

The next guest, Marcia Angell takes the position that there isn’t enough good in the bill, even if it isn’t watered down, to make it worth passing. And she echoes what I said above.

MARCIA ANGELL: It’s not lack of health insurance. It’s lack of health care. There is a difference between health insurance and health care. You can have insurance offered that is too expensive to buy or too expensive to use. What good does it do? And what happens when this occurs, is that what you see is instead of improvements, look at my state of Massachusetts.

So if you look at what’s causing the problem, the causes are not being targeted in this plan. They’re not being addressed. Maybe some of the symptoms of the causes are being addressed like let’s stop excluding people from pre-existing conditions. But it doesn’t stop the insurance industry from raising its premiums.…And what do you think they’re going to do? If you were an insurance company, you would say, “Well, thank you, Santa Claus. I’ve got all of these captive customers. Young ones are healthy. They probably won’t even use the insurance. There’s nothing to stop me from raising my premiums. I have all of these subsidies coming in.” Don’t you think that the prices would go up? I think it would be remarkable if they didn’t.

When I look at the Senate bill and the President’s suggestions, almost every paragraph, there is a poison pill for someone. I think sometimes they’re unintended. Let me give you one example. They allow for insurance companies to charge three times as much for older people as for younger people.

So from the point of view of the insurance industry, this is a god-send because either way, they win. Either the 55-year-olds cough up three times the premiums, and that’s good. Or else they can’t, and that’s probably the more likely situation. They can’t, and then they’re fined. And the insurance companies don’t have to take care of people who might actually get sick. They’re left with all of the thirty-year-olds, who are less likely to get sick, but who are required to buy their products.

So this sets up a situation which probably all plans, for 55-year-olds, are high priced. So they can’t afford to buy it, or if they do buy it, they have to pay an excise tax on it. This is a real poison pill for these older people. It’s a gift for the insurance industry.

Well worth the read…, or the watch.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Nothing New This Week...,

made some comments at The Agonist, Ian Welch's, and Don's blog. Now it is time to get some work done around The Ranch..., so here's an old Agonist diary submission on 9/20/09. It has a bit of relationship to one of my comments.

Living On Stimulus...,

to keep the party going. I remember those days. It was “speed” way back then. Cross-tops…, little white pills that kept your eyes open wide. It didn’t take long and we were crushing them to powder and snorting them to get the effect quicker and stronger. I balked when the needles came out. And never looked back. That isn’t to say that my eyes went shut. I could see a lot of old friends who thought they were going somewhere quickly…, I saw them going nowhere fast. After the initial rush was over and the magic was gone…, no amount of the drug could recreate it until your body had recuperated and purged the last dose. There was no way to keep the party going with more of the same. Over the years “speed” morphed to “crank” and “crank” morphed to “meth”. Which seems to be a different character altogether. I can’t speak from experience about those days…, I was busy going somewhere slowly.

It looks to me like our housing starts have received a meth injection, judging from the quarterly stats.

2009: 1st Quarter = 78,0002nd Quarter = 124,000

The “meth injection”…, or as it is called in the media “stimulus”…, came in the form of $8000 tax credits, low interest rates, and government (taxpayer) backed loans from Fannie, Freddie and FHA. My question is how long this rush will last?

We have already been through the “cross-top” faze with Greenspan keeping interest rates low for too damn long…, to keep the party going. We started crushing and snorting them with Adjustable Rate Mortgages…, to keep the party going. We turned to the needle with no money down payments and all the other liar loans…, to keep the party going. We moved to “crank” with the securitization and selling of those mortgages…, to keep the party going. We are in the “meth” and needle phase now in a effort…, to keep the party going.

At the height of the party in 2005’s second quarter (the historically high quarter for most all years) the number was 485,000. That quarter figure was above 400,000 every quarter since 2003..., until 2007 when it dropped to 333,000. In 2008 it dropped to 194,000. As you can see above, when the figured dropped to 78,000 in the first quarter of 2009, desperate measures were called for.

And we’re getting them. Like I already said…, I have no experience with “meth”…, so I don’t know if it this “meth injection” will work or not. But prior experience tells me that more of the same crap that got us here isn’t going to keep the party going. We have way to far to go for a quick rush to solve the problem. We aren’t going somewhere slowly…, we are going nowhere fast.

Scott R. September 20, 2009 - 1:22pm

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Great Read

Don over at linked to this one by Matt Taibbi. Thanks Don.

Taibbi writes about the Bail Out in terms of a great con-game. I urge you to read the whole thing..., here's a primer.

This may sound far-fetched, but the financial crisis of 2008 was very much caused by a perverse series of legal incentives that often made failed investments worth more than thriving ones.

The two key elements to the Dollar Store scam are the whiz-bang theatrical redecorating job and the fact that everyone is in on it except the mark. In this case, a pair of investment banks were dressed up to look like commercial banks overnight, and it was the taxpayer who walked in and lost his shirt, confused by the appearance of what looked like real Federal Reserve officials minding the store.

The scam's name comes from the Middle Ages, when some fool would be sold a bound and gagged pig that he would see being put into a bag; he'd miss the switch, then get home and find a tied-up cat in there instead. Hence the expression "Don't let the cat out of the bag."

They took so much money from the government, and then did so little with it, that the state was forced to start printing new cash to throw at them. Even the great Lustig in his wildest, horniest dreams could never have dreamed up this one.

In more ways than one can count, the economy in the bailout era turned into a "Big Mitt," the con man's name for a rigged poker game. Everybody was indeed looking at everyone else's cards, in many cases with state sanction. Only taxpayers and clients were left out of the loop.

One of the most common practices is a thing called front-running, which is really no different from the old "Wire" con, another scam popularized in The Sting. But instead of intercepting a telegraph wire in order to bet on racetrack results ahead of the crowd, what Wall Street does is make bets ahead of valuable information they obtain in the course of everyday business.

Not many con men are good enough or brazen enough to con the same victim twice in a row, but the few who try have a name for this excellent sport: reloading. The usual way to reload on a repeat victim (called an "addict" in grifter parlance) is to rope him into trying to get back the money he just lost. This is exactly what started to happen late last year.

More to the point, the fact that we haven't done much of anything to change the rules and behavior of Wall Street shows that we still don't get it. Instituting a bailout policy that stressed recapitalizing bad banks was like the addict coming back to the con man to get his lost money back. Ask yourself how well that ever works out. And then get ready for the reload.

Monday, February 15, 2010


that's about it for now. There is work to be done on "The Ranch"..., there always is. I am just glad that I have a job to go to during the week..., so I don't have to work all the time. :)

There are still some old Agonist submissions I want to "publish" here..., and I hope to get some new stuff rolling soon.

Days of Future Past...,

…, no…, this isn't a link to a Moody Blues video. I am still in the Dial-Up Dark Ages here on The Ranch. This isn't even a remembrance of any days I have ever known…, but if I was a pious man I would pray that I never will. We don't seem to learn much from our past…, or maybe we do. We have unemployment and welfare now to keep people from starving the way they did during The Great Depression. And we are dumping billions of dollars and tens of billions of dollars and hundreds of billions of dollars…, dumping them somewhere…, in an attempt to make sure we don't have another Great Depression. Or so they tell me.

I had never read Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" before. I have seen the movie…, and sure enough…, Henry Fonda is now starring in the book. It always happens if you see the movie first. But the movie left out a big part of the book. John Steinbeck didn't just tell a story of the Joad family's plight in "The Grapes of Wrath". Every other chapter dealt with something a bit removed from the Joad's personal story…, it dealt with the story of America at the time. Listen to this and tell me if Steinbeck is talking about Days of Future Past?

“And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history: The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored, plans for the change ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the cause of revolt went on.”

Substitute "banksters" for "great owners". Too much money concentrated in too few hands. Same problem…, past and future. I guess my question is…, are we building up this massive debt burden for our children and grandchildren in order to keep people like the Joad's from starving…, or are we ensuring the survival and prosperity of the great owners' and their ilk?

Scott R. May 23, 2009 - 12:43pm

Days of Future Past -- Part II

Well…, the seed potatoes are planted in the garden at The Ranch now…, and I am glad the lead up to that story is now in the ”days past” category. I should…, and no doubt…, could have done it much earlier. Hard physical labor was a way of life in my past…, along with hard partying. Like Don, I did inhale…, but unlike Don…, I am ever so happy that in my early 40’s I traded in my day job as a chain saw jockey for one jockeying a computer for the State. The days of the future warrant some anxiety for that job…, given the state of the State budget. But that anxiety is tempered by the fact that I made that transition over ten years ago…, so I have a bit of seniority. That…, and the fact that I now have some potatoes in the ground for the future. I’ll probably be thanking Don for the inspiration that led to all the perspiration…, after I fully recovered from the physical discomfort. But…, reading Steinbeck gives me no comfort. And his image of potatoes being dumped in rivers during The Great Depression…, while people were starving…, being dumped because they couldn’t be sold for a profit is haunting my present days and nights.

“The little farmers watched debt creep up on them like the tide. They sprayed the trees and sold no crop, they pruned and grafted and could not pick the crop. And the men of knowledge have worked, have considered, and the fruit is rotting on the ground, and the decaying mash in the wine vats is poisoning the air. And taste the wine--no grape flavor at all, just sulphur and tannic acid and alcohol.
This little orchard will be a part of the great holding next year, for the debt will have choked the owner.
This vineyard will belong to the bank. Only the great owners can survive, for they own the canneries too. And four pears peeled and cut in half, cooked and canned, still cost fifteen cents. And the canned pears do not spoil. They will last for years.
The decay spreads over the State, and sweet smell is a great sorrow on the land. Men who can graft the trees and make the seed fertile and big can find no way to let the hungry people eat their produce. Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits may be eaten. And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow.
The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all. Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. The people came for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be. How would they buy oranges at twenty cents a dozen if they could drive out and pick them up? And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges, and they are angry at the crime, angry at the people who have come to take the fruit. A million people hungry, needing the fruit--and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains.
And the smell of rot fills the country.
Burn coffee for fuel in the ships. Burn corn to keep warm, it makes a hot fire. Dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people form fishing them out. Slaughter the pigs and bury them, and let the putrescence drip down into the earth. There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates--died of malnutrition--because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.
The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

A couple weeks ago I asked here, “…are we building up this massive debt burden for our children and grandchildren in order to keep people like the Joad's from starving…, or are we ensuring the survival and prosperity of the ‘great owners' and their ilk?”

A rhetorical question if ever there was one…, in my mind at least.

Sure…, a lot of money is going to unemployment so people don’t starve. But one hell of a lot more is going to keep big business in business…, so they can produce the goods to sell to make a profit. By selling them to people on unemployment…,? How long can this Ponzi Scheme survive?

Today I ask…, are the measures being taken now to prevent another Great Depression doing more to fuel a future Great Depression than they are doing to fight another one?

Scott R. June 6, 2009 - 2:35pm