We had a lot of hired hands come and go on the ranch out in Woody Creek and there were more than enough adventures to comprise a small book, although many of them would be better left untold. Some gave us smiles while others made us wonder the reasons they ended up with nowhere else to go. What happened to them when they left the Woody Creek Canyon? There was the guy named Hartford who showed up one spring in his own airplane, ready to put in a summer of haying and moving cows. The year he brought his girlfriend was an education for me ’cause she kept her intimate parts more uncovered than covered. We had a man who was legally blind help us almost every year over a 20-year span, a prince of a guy who had 13 kids in the Grand Junction area and who worked diligently on inventing a perpetual motion machine. Another fellow spent a very cold winter in the milk cow barn, next to the chicken house, sucking the yolks out of the raw eggs and only coming to the house for hot coffee. Polly got mad at Fred after too much town and whiskey and filled the bathtub with a month’s supply of flour and eggs. Some guys found girlfriends in Aspen, got married and had a kid or two before moving on. A hard-luck guy my dad hired about a year before I started school was one of the toughest cases I can remember. Keith Clark seemed quite old at the time, but I imagine he hadn’t yet hit 30, with a wife and two kids, one of them a girl about my age. My dad put them up in the old log house where I had been born. It didn’t seem too serious at first, the little things that happened, like the time he was shoeing his favorite mare and she bolted from the blacksmith shop. Keith, in a frustrated and desperate move, threw a very sharp hoof knife at her, which, on its way by, seriously sliced the leather seat of a flashy new saddle. A hurried welding job outside the same shop resulted in Keith’s car catching fire from a leaky fuel line. I was there for that one and can honestly say that there was some frantic action going on until the fire was finally quelled. This event led up to the only three-toned car in the whole of Woody Creek for a while – green, white and scorched. On the way home from a family shopping trip to Glenwood Springs, Keith’s daughter somehow fell out of a rear door of the car, bouncing and rolling her way into the barrow pit somewhere around the Catherine Store. Seriously hurt, she was forced to wear a full upper-body cast and her usual expansive energy and curiosity disappeared. That in itself was a tragedy, but what happened next was the coup de grace that may well have served to eventually destroy the family. Playing out in the yard on a lazy summer afternoon, I heard the thundering hoof beats of a horse coming down the Woody Creek road on the fly. Even a kid of my young age could ascertain the panic, the fear that emanated from the sound of the galloping horse and as I stood there, mouth agape, I saw Keith on his sorrel mare rounding the corner above our house, hollering, “Fire! Fire!” As the horse glided up to the hitching rail in a finely-tuned sliding stop, Keith bailed off about halfway through and ran to get my dad, who was already on his way out the door. The house was almost totally engulfed in flames by the time they got back up the road to save what they could of Keith’s possessions. Very little could be snatched from the burning house, and as my dad came to our car to have a word with my mother, I could smell the smoke on him and see the melted roof tar on his shirt where it had fallen as he fought his way through the burning house, trying to save anything he could.Before sunset, the Clarks were gone, never to be heard from again. Tony Vagneur wonders how they made out. He writes here every Saturday and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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