In the mid 1990’s I was living in the Rio Grande area of Texas, where I had been asked to create and manage two wildlife ranches, whilst at the same time trying to run my gun repair business. The ‘Flying G Ranch’ was a huge empty wilderness just a few miles from the Mexican border and here everything around either ‘bit you, stung you or stuck in you!’ The area abounded with White Tail Deer and an abundance of quail – Bob White, Scaled or Blue.
Our nearest town was Carrizzo Springs and I could go for months at a time seeing no-one but my fellow gringo ranch foreman Joe (an ex rodeo bull rider), or my team of Mexican ranch hands. Rains only came once or twice a year and it was not unusual for 6 or 7 inches to fall in a day and sometimes even 10 inches. Within days these rains could turn this semi-arid region into an oasis of grass and flowers, enabling the deer to fatten and encouraging quail to nest and hatch.
As all the roads were made of compacted soil, the rain would turn these ‘dirt’ roads into a sea of mud, and where creeks crossed them, they were often washed away. Driving on them in this condition with 4 x 4’s was strictly avoided as the ruts that were left when they dried would become as hard as concrete, damaging vehicle suspensions and steering. Therefore the preferred mode of transport was the horse!
It was after just such a rain when I was riding my trusty steed Tod along our fence line that I saw approaching me a huge and very strange spider-like wheeled vehicle that I would later know well as ‘Ole Mr Fox’s grader’. (an earth moving grading machine that when expertly driven could turn the worst rutted road into a highway!)
In this part of Texas there were few old men and even I had been nicknamed ‘Gramps’ by the cowboys when only in my 50’s! So to be 70 and still working, as was Mr Fox, meant he was well-respected and held in high esteem by all. When you work day after day without seeing anyone, a chance meeting is a good excuse for a break and a chat, and so Mr Fox produced two cans of beer from his cool box. Having the friendly ‘ear’ of someone he saw as close to his own age, he took full advantage of the opportunity to reminisce,
After putting the world to rights, and now on our third beer, the subject turned to the toughness of our youth and somewhat bizarrely – ‘outside privies’!
“Bet you didn’t have a ‘soil’ toilet” opened Mr Fox. I countered that we sure did and that it had three holes of different sizes!
“Wow, did you sit in line?” he asked. I explained that we did not sit in line but it was a sure enough fact that one size does not fit all, adding that squares of newspaper were often used. Not to be outdone, he countered by asking “So you didn’t use corn shucks?”. Explaining the technicalities of processing these husks from the maize, he mentioned ‘white’ and ‘brown’ shucks and I cringed at the thought of whether one was softer than the other!
“Gee, you don’t know much”, said Mr Fox with a great belly laugh, “You use the brown-uns to wipe and the white-uns to check!”
Laughing, we shook hands and went our separate ways and I thought how fortunate and privileged I was to have made a friend of such a character – a man who had lived all his life (with the exception of WWII) in South Texas and could have stepped straight out of a John Wayne Western!
When I was offered this job in Texas by Gil, the ranch owner, it was in very different circumstances to my later meeting with Mr Fox – we were flying in his Gulfstream G2! I asked for time to think about the offer and he replied – “Sure, you’ve got 24 hours but remember if you snooze you lose!”
I had a fantastic time and some great experiences in Texas and wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
More Texas tales coming soon!