Eddy was short, wiry, high strung, belligerent … a real outlaw in a community where people played with being outlaws. He had served time for armed robbery in New Mexico State prison. Eddy’s latest gig was hustling illegal Mexican immigrants – people called them “wetbacks” in those days – to work for U.S. Forest Service contractors in the extensive national forests of the Southwest. His last group of illegals had walked off a job in Utah and Eddie needed to put together a new team. He stopped by Llano on the off-chance that hippies would be dumb enough to work like wetbacks.
You could make $5.00 an hour around Llano in those days, but work was scarce. I helped build some houses on the Picuris Pueblo and helped make mud bricks, did some plastering, but it was intermittent. The job Eddie offered would last until fall, guaranteed $5.00 an hour for a full day’s work with room and board. My farm was in ruins. It was a chance to get away from Llano and make some money.
All the fathers without trust funds in our group needed money, and we were among the ones who went away to Utah. Brad, in his early twenties with a young wife and new baby, a sweet-tempered, good-natured very large guy. Scott was my age, a former physicist who had worked in research for a big company, a remarkable lead guitarist and a real intellectual. And Fast Eddy.
We headed to Utah in a couple of trucks filled with camping gear. When we stopped for gas in the small town of Monticello, Utah, just across the border from Colorado, the attendant didn’t like hippies and refused to let Eddie use the men’s room. Eddie whipped it out and peed against the side of the gas station. The attendant called the cops. They threw Eddie in jail and ran a check on him, discovering he was an ex-con. We got him out of jail only after much pleading, the expectation of our job in the Wasatch Mountains and the promise that we’d never again stop in Monticello.
Further up the road, in Moab, Eddie almost got us into the poolroom brawl. He’d picked the wrong place to do it. We had come through a long narrow bar room that opened into another long narrow room with two pool tables. We were at the far end and Eddie was getting drunk. We’d played every song on the jukebox and racked up too many games of pool, pissed out too many bottles of some unknown beer. We all felt lousy.
Eddie was winning his game with one of the locals. The bar room and pool hall had filled up by now and the game had attracted some interest. The local turned to the crowd and said, “God damn, now, you watch that little fella, ‘cause he’s gonna tighten’ up.”
There was silence in the room as Eddie tried to concentrate on the shot.
The local continued, “That’s the thing about these little guys. They always blow it in the end. Can’t take the pressure.”
More silence as Eddie steadied his shot.
“Oh! Oh! Don’t get rattled now Shorts.”
Eddie missed the shot and the local went on to win. Eddie, in a black rage, accused him of changing the position of the cue ball on the last shot. Cue sticks started flying. Brad, Scott and I grabbed sticks and Brad, our jolly green giant, led us through both rooms with a disarming smile and a poised cue stick, Scott and I close behind to defend his sides while Eddie scooted in behind us and backed up wildly swinging his cue and catching an occasional wack as we stepped into the Utah night and ran for it, leaping into our trucks and roaring away.
We came into the contractor’s camp the next morning. His name was Destry Trainham, “But you can call me ‘Boog’ as in ‘old booger,’” he said with a heavy West Texas accent. Boog was huge, six-foot six, buff as a body builder; his fore arms the size of my thighs. He was the Marlborough Man, the archetype western cowboy, with a deeply tanned face as craggy as the desert mountains.
As we walked down the hill toward his trailer, Boog looked up and saw to his astonishment four long-haired, bearded hippies instead of the five wetbacks Eddie had promised. He looked dubious and said, “You boys gonna’ be double tough before this summer is over.” He was right about that.
We quickly learned that it was Boog’s work rules that drove the illegals off the job. The routine was inflexible. Before dawn Boog would stick his head in our tent and yell at the top of his voice, “Up an’ at ’em.” I would try to wake up just before him, but Boog would fool me by coming in either earlier or later than I expected. It was a moment of delight for him.
Two of us would start breakfast over an open fire while the other two rounded up the six mules, led them to camp and put on their packsaddles. We ate breakfast, cleaned up the camp, loaded the twelve inch spikes, sledge hammers, chain saws, gasoline and oil, sharpening jigs, rags and lunch and headed off to the fence line before dawn, following the path of the worm fence across the high meadow, then sloping down to the canyons for which the Wasatch Mountains are famous.
Once in the trees, the fence plunged precipitously down a timbered slope of loose soil with a few bushes and rock out cropping. We hung onto the mules to help control their descent to the roaring stream below. There we unloaded the mules, switched the pack saddles for dragging chains, sharpened the chain saws and fired them up. When the last chain saw was roaring Boog would call out, “Start time, and let’s move it!” We didn’t get paid for any of the prep or cleanup time. When the fence was furthest from the camp, it took an hour and half each way, so an eight-hour day stretched to 11 hours of hard, dangerous work.
We complained about the start time but Boog just came back with a rejoinder of some kind. His favorite, “If you boys don’t want to work, you can just stay home, jerk off and shit in a bucket,” pretty much summing up what money was all about for Boog.
The exploitation was aggravating but the work was gratifying. We cut down six to eight inch diameter trees with chain saws, stripped them of their branches and cut them into 16-foot lengths. We used the mules to drag the trees to the fence line, then lifted them into position, and beat the spikes in with sledgehammers. I aimed for 85 trees a day cut into three sections each and I hit 105 on my best day.
For food, Boog gave us canned meals featuring “Beanie Wieners.” We saw the cowboys who worked with Boog eating steak and barbecued chickens at the trailer where they all slept in some comfort. We confronted Boog on the food issue. It was a nasty fight, but he reluctantly agreed to give us the money he spent on canned goods and let us do our own buying and cooking.
We had one day off a week, Monday, which gave us Sunday as our night out, when nothing was happening in the nearest town, Price. Boog explained that if he gave us Friday or Saturday night off we’d be useless the next day. “You can’t get in much trouble on Sunday night in Utah,” he told us, and he was right about that.
Well, not entirely.