We went into our fourth Spring in 1975 with a sense of confidence in our ability to manage a small farm but money problems loomed larger than ever. The well had been a setback, but our hens were hatching a new bunch of chicks and the goats had 2 healthy kids each. We jerry rigged a heat lamp over their straw bedding to keep the new kids warm in the cold Llano spring. Making the heat lamp permanent was one of a long list of things that needed to be done urgently, like mending the back fence so Sweetheart couldn’t get out, getting the truck running for wood runs so I could replenish our dwindling pile of firewood and cleaning out the irrigation ditches to catch the spring runoff.
Early one morning just as the sun rose over the mountains, while it was still cold enough to see your
breath, I started a fire in the 1930’s Quick Meal wood stove. My son was playing on the kitchen floor with a block of wood and the worn out plunger from a Chevy 235 engine master cylinder. I went outside and headed to the Acequia with two buckets for water when I saw flames coming out of the barn. I ran across the ditch with full buckets hastily scooped from the ditch, but it was already too late. The fire burst through the dry wood with awesome speed. The barn had been made from the outside edges of pine trees, sometimes the bark still on, and it was saturated in pitch.
A wooden corral enclosed an area in front of the barn where we penned in the goats at night. The whole barn was blazing by the time I reached the far end of the corral and the heat was intense. The adult goats were running around in a frenzy. One exploded in a small, flesh bomb as the intensity of the heat and her lanoline-laden fur of late winter collided. I managed to open the gate to let the remaining goats run free, watching my arm on the gate latch begin to bubble like a well baked ham. I bore the scars for years.
We lost all our farm equipment, all Sweetheart’s gear, all the feed, the next generation of goats, twenty-five prime laying hens, our sow with two baby pigs and three adult goats. The charred ruins of the barn joined the gaping hole next to the house as another vivid sign.
Unlike the old days of the pioneers, or at least the myth of the pioneers, the community did not rally around me and offer to help rebuild and restock the farm. Nobody had surplus time, animals or crops to give. I let the fields go to grass and put in a small vegetable garden.
It was a chaotic time in Llano. The outlaws were still hanging on, cadging free meals and a warm place to sleep, drifters and drug addicts, self proclaimed tough guys with horses and guns. Just as in the Haight Ashbury, heroin and speed had crept into the community. It was only a stage that Llano was going through, but it was difficult for people who took care of the kids and kept the fires going.
The big song that summer came out on June 10th, 1975, Take it to the limit One More Time. It summed up that summer.
… the dreams I’ve seen lately
Keep on turning out and burning out
And turning out the same
So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time
With the farm in ruins and dead broke we had few options. At this crucial moment, an ex-con named Fast Eddy made an entrance and my life veered off in another direction altogether.