Mind Your Boots

By Brooks Potter

I stood at the open tailgate of the ‘64 County Squire station wagon—Ford’s next-gen answer to the iconic Woody. The vinyl wood grain along the wagon’s flanks looked like real wood…from about 20 paces.

But for the crickets who’s cadence had begun to slow as the season eased toward fall, all was quiet in the neighborhood. I was dressed in my Levi’s and a pair of roughout boots. Size all that to a boy of only eight years.

Dad slid the dinged up metal Coleman cooler into the back of the wagon and swung the huge tailgate shut.

“Ok son, lets go”

It was opening day of dove season, September 1st, 1966, 1:30 A.M.

The drive to Coachella took about two-and-a-half hours. Though groggy from a lack of sleep, I was wide-eyed. Dad and I talked intermittently about this and that. I was one of those kids that asked a lot of questions. He never really seemed to mind.

Each year we’d meet at the Trukadero no later than 4 A.M. The Trukadero, an old school open 24-hour truck stop, was an institution in the Coachella Valley. The place had long fed the local ag community and the endless conveyor belt of truckers hauling east and west along Interstate10, a 2000 mile straight-shot from Santa Monica to Tallahassee, or the other way around.

With daytime heat north of 100 degrees, traveling through the desert at night was easier on trucks and about everything else for that matter. Consequently, the dark hours before dawn were busy at the Trukadero.

Dad had been shooting the dove opener with Redman and Dudley for years. The two owned the largest farm implement outfit in Mexico—in an era when banditos weren’t the fictional characters cast in Saturday morning westerns.

Dudley, or “Dud” in the familiar, was a fire hydrant of a man with no visible neck. He was just kinda all one thick piece. Deeply tanned and always with an immaculate butch waxed crewcut, his gravelly bourbon baritone voice was an unmistakable identifier.

Dud’s brother, Redman, looked to be a brother of a different mother. Tall and thin, he was a spitting image of Robert De Niro. Red was a drinker, but the keenest wingshot of the lot. When it came right down to it, he’d center patten the winning feather.

Their years competing in the high-stakes arena of pigeon ring shooting had honed their shooting skill razor sharp—well beyond that of mere shooting mortals.

After greetings and backslaps, copious amounts of coffee were consumed as the antivenom to the previous night’s hootch, along with an endless chain of Pall Malls. I mostly just listened to the man-banter and ate my Cap’n Crunch.

Typical of the period, the Trukadero’s waitresses wore brown polyester uniforms and support hose that made a swooshing sound between their generally thickish loins as they walked. The contrasting colored half-apron’s oversized pockets held order pads, pens, straws and other stuff you had no idea you might need. Invariably, they’d  call you “hun.” Not a particularly special address as they called everyone else “hun” too.

We were out the door at 5 A.M. and into the 90-degree heat.

About a 20 minute drive out on the powder cake dusty roads that ran square along section lines, we pulled into the mercury-vapor-lit yard area of a commercial feedlot. The owner had long hosted this years-old fraternity. The mountains of grain stockpiled around the operation’s some 100 acres brought doves in droves. No. It’s not baiting.

All were on station at 5:30 with shells chambered. Once shooting hour came, it was a masterclass. Doves simply rained from the sky. No corn shuckers in this group. All were vintage double gunners. Red smoked birds with his Parker 28. 

Sill a few years away from shouldering my first shotgun, I stayed out of the line of fire, scampering to fetch up downed birds.  The “atta boy’s” confirmed my place on the team.

These men of men were my mentors in all things afield. 

With a pause in the shooting, I walked to a small greasewood and took a leak.

“Everything ok?” Dad asked.

“Uh huh” I nodded in the affirmative.

He turned to look at me and then looked down at my Justin’s. The tips of my boots were wet in the otherwise impossibly dry desert.

 Our eyes met with full understanding. In his always measured tone he said, “Son, don’t piss on your boots.”

Now 60 years in hindsight, his counsel has morphed into dictums of great utility to me—way beyond the literal.  

From the FE Films Archive

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