Vagneur: To catch a thief

It was a day for the senses: brisk breeze, golden sunlight on autumn leaves, the longer shadows of fall enticing one outside for adventure. The school bus had dropped me off and I jumped on my bike, hurrying to see what was happening in our little valley of Woody Creek.

Just up the county road, I spied my dad and a crew of men putting up what was likely the last of our second cutting of hay. Ever one to be in the middle of things, I stashed my bike in the barrow ditch along the road, climbed over the fence and ran down to where all the action was. Only 12, I was a good hand around the place and my dad put me on the Farmall loader, rounding up bales and placing them on the pile to be stacked by men who were orderly at such tasks. We worked until dark through falling temperatures, aware that an impending storm would bode ill for the hay still on the ground.

That night a freak storm dumped 5 or 6 inches of snow, putting an end to the hay operation for a while, and instead of jumping off the bus and helping my dad, I’d saddle my horse and take a ride through the jack-oaks and scrub brush on the mesas strung out across the road from our house.

Soon enough, winter claimed us and skiing took up most of my time, with social activities high on the list. Most of the cattle work got done while I was in school, so I was reasonably free from rural responsibility. Whether it was a good winter I couldn’t really say, but I do remember getting a pair of blue metal Kastles (with Marker long thongs, of course), the first ski that really made me a believer in technological advances.

And spring came late, the slushy afterbirth of late winter snows making a walk through town a wet proposition; the cool breeze of fall became the cold breath of spring, searching deep for its own warmth, but not harsh enough to stop the green that struggles and finally bursts forth, totally tenacious in its bid for the short mountain growing season.

A couple of buddies and I were hoofing it along Main, in front of Matthew Drug (now Carl’s Pharmacy), looking for some kind of excitement when I saw it. My bike, that two-wheel phenomenon that had connected me to so much of my life, was ridden right past me by a man I had never seen before. My friends, not sure of my quick ID, kept an eye out for the man to return from making a purchase inside the drugstore while I further examined the bicycle.

We followed him on foot, jogging and running like only young kids can, eventually down to the Riverside Trailer Park, adjacent to today’s Eagles Club. He was an unfriendly-looking sort of guy, with dark, unruly hair and what seemed a permanent scowl upon his face. Thin, darting eyes surveyed the park road as he pulled the bike up close to his front door and went inside. I felt violated.

A sneak attack, stealing the bike, appealed to us, but there was a level of fear coupled with the certain understanding that kids, when involved in such an endeavor, always get the short end of the stick, so we retreated to formulate a better plan.

Conversation with my dad revealed the obvious — “It’s your bike, you want it back and you’ll have to have the conversation with whoever took it.” And, naturally, I couldn’t remember where I’d left it last so was at a bit of a disadvantage going into the upcoming conversation.

The next night, I approached the man’s trailer with a pounding heart, not sure if I’d live through the encounter, wishing my buddies, who had found other things to do, were with me. That same stern face, the unsmiling one, answered the door, “What do you want?”

He wanted to argue ownership, claiming he’d found it abandoned in the barrow ditch along Woody Creek Road the previous fall while doing road maintenance for the county. Ah, yes, now my memory was refreshed and I could pursue my side of the argument with greater fervor. “I live along that road.” He eventually relented, but not before lecturing me about how I didn’t seem to appreciate the things I had.

I felt bad, taking away what the man claimed was his only form of transportation, but in the long run recognized that he lived only two blocks away from work (behind the courthouse), and besides, he made more money than I did.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comment at


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