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Mesa Vista & The Livin’ Is Easy – Pingin’ Pickens’ Place

September 4th, 2019 · Tags: Arts · Cities · Hotels

Can you think of any blog other than PingWi-Fi.com that would lead into a Texas ranch story with a “Star Trek” analogy? Well, here it goes … In one of the Star Trek films, “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock,” the plot centers around a “Genesis device” — a technology that has the power to create life from lifelessness … turning a barren, wasteland of a planet into a veritable garden of Eden.

 

Pickens Waterway

Well … you should see the Texas Panhandle ranch of T. Boone Pickens! … That’s Pickens, the oil/gas billionaire, philanthropist and corporate raider and/or ultimate defender of the American shareholder, depending on who is telling the story.

Regardless of perspective, this much is certain.  Mr. Pickens is one of the most successful, self-made men in the history of business, period. Yet his humble beginnings include a rural upbringing in the heart of Oklahoma, and then later a stint as a high school basketball star in Amarillo, Texas during his formative years.  And today, his one-of-a-kind ranch property is the crowning jewel, atop the top of Texas in Roberts County.

Among all of Mr. Pickens accomplishments, his ranch may be the most impressive legacy.

 

Pickens’ spread —  Mesa Vista Ranch — is bordered by 24 miles of The Canadian River, and entails 100 square miles of what might have been fairly mundane ranch land in one of the most ruggedly handsome corners of The Lone Star State. (That’s 64,809 acres, for my Metroplex friends who call 100 acres a ranch …) Just across the river from Mesa Vista lie huge, picturesque geological escarpments, sweeping vistas in the shapes of battleships, plateaus with great changes in elevation, bluffs and iconic rock formations, everywhere.  But at first glance, the terrain of Pickens’ property is less dramatic … more like pleasant rolling hills, endless grassland, native brush and the telltale green, shimmering leaves of cotton wood trees that pretty much are synonymous with the path of The Canadian.

“People who don’t know talk about it being flat here,” Pickens says. “That’s a joke.” (A quote regarding the real North Texas … The Panhandle … from a 2017 piece in The Dallas Morning News, by Alan Peppard.)

However, The Canadian — a sometimes-seasonal “river” that runs or perhaps at times is also just dry, sandy creek bed for 900 miles from its Colorado origin to its confluence with The Arkansas River in the region where Oklahoma and Arkansas borders kiss — for the most part is nothing like the miles of beautiful waterway derived from the property line of Mesa Vista and augmented with well water.

As if Pickens had some Genesis device, his portion of the sometimes sad little Canadian River Valley is made of lush, deep channels — a far cry from the narrow, meandering, mere footnote on the Texas map. T-Boone’s terrain is transformed into pristine blue water with lakes and well-stocked fish ponds and cattails and wildlife and a thick stand of native, century-old cottonwoods and thousands of transplanted trees as well.

On the day that the Ping entourage toured Mesa Vista, about 30 minutes north of Pampa, Texas, we saw the unmistakably fresh, black, powdery, scarred ranch land from a formidable grassfire the night before — a fire that snubbed out 1,000 acres of grassland, before firefighters subdued the flames some time in the wee morning hours.

But before happening upon that burned-black acreage along U.S. 70, The Panhandle ranch land appeared a dry, yellowish green/grey blend as the land eagerly awaited the next, all-too-scarce rainfall.  It’s difficult to imagine or describe that dry backdrop juxtaposed with the more scenic parts of the Pickens place. Much of the Mesa Vista spread is so green and manicured and landscaped it could rival most metropolitan botanical gardens … or a PGA event.

Despite the night-and-day difference between the charred grassland and the emerald look of the heart of the Pickens property, we learned that the grassfire — conceived by a lightning strike from a storm that did little to water the grass — actually had hit the perimeter of Mesa Vista, albeit a more characteristically dry southern portion of the ranch, and also a neighboring property … And, our tour guide, Mesa Vista Ranch Foreman Keith Boone, had been one of the firefighters on the previous night, and now was hosting us after scant shuteye.

 

Ping Tour

Our group of six met Keith Boone — or K. Boone as this blog will call him to point out the coincidence of his name — at the ranch security gates, and we formed a dusty caravan of pickups and SUVs over rocky but decent ranch roads among hills and down through gentle draws, hardly noticing the oil/gas holding tanks along the way …  tanks painted in the earthy colors of desert camouflage, similar to the outfits of many a bird or deer hunter who has visited the ranch.

The group consisted of Courtney Westerfield (the former PR coordinator for PingWi-Fi.com), her boys Grayson and Asher, her daughter Hadley who quickly took the reigns of the tour guide; a VIP … a very important Pingel, Brad Pingel, the mayor of nearby Pampa; and one old blogger.

Hadley, K. Boone

In preparing for the visit, I noticed various magazine features throughout Mr. Pickens’ career tell of his love for bird hunting, a love that began as a boy hunting with his father. It is said that one of the first goals or personal marks of success for Pickens was to some day own fine hunting dogs.  Despite horse racing lore, a young Pickens believed that bird hunting was truly the sport of kings.

 

Fittingly, one of the early stops on our ranch tour took us to an attractive, ranch-style building, encased in flag-stone masonry … a country architectural design complete with what looked to be hayloft doors on the second floor.  As we parked and approached the building there wasn’t much indication of what was inside, until we opened the door and entered a small entryway office. Further inside, we entered doors to a large, wide-open facility with high ceilings and about a couple of dozen or more spacious and modern dog pens — pens in two long rows for hunting dogs, on either side of the long concrete walkway.  The sound of the excited hounds was deafening.  The younger members of our group actually had to cover their ears to block out the noise and excitement.

“‘Pick me! Pick me!’ … That’s what they’re all saying,” said Foreman Boone over the shrill yelps and loud barks.  “Pick me!  Pick me!”  … Their pleas lobbying to be selected for the next hunt they thought imminent, as the ranch foreman systematically worked his way up one row of pens, and back down the other, stopping to pet each dog and share a little treat — dog collars rattling, ears flapping in the air … stirring and tails wagging. And in turn, each animal simmered down, settling for a nibble of food consolation prize, and in about 10 minutes, the 12,000 square feet of kennel was somewhat quieted.

One old dog in the kennel knew his number would not be called. He has been retired from active duty … but only after he had died … twice.  K. Boone is not only a dog whisperer, he is a dog healer.  The dog in question had been lifeless on two instances, but the rancher had performed mouth to ‘mouth’ on said occasions, and also did doggy CPR, bringing the lifeless dog back in Lazarus fashion.

“With dogs, you close their mouth and cover it tight with your hands, and then breathe into their nose,” K. Boone instructed us.

If any animal advocates are wondering, it was obvious that no dogs ever had a better life than the dogs in the ultra-modern kennel — even the ones who had lived but once.

What dog would not want to roam among what has been called “The world’s best quail hunting?”

Logically, our tour of the kennel actually was prefaced with an interesting discussion of the wildlife management techniques enforced on the ranch, ensuring a balance between selective hunting and the potential of overpopulation on the remote property.  Outside the kennel, one of the adjoining rooms is decorated with more than a dozen hunting trophies — beautifully preserved, mounted heads of game animals taken on the ranch.  Much conversation about the animals’ maturity and full racks or antlers ensued.  The facility also houses the hunting trucks, with special separate compartments for the hunting dogs and guns … all vehicles parked beneath the watchful eyes of the trophies mounted high above.

 

Inside the offices and garage of the kennel, our guide shared specific information about several of the deer on the wall. … The most interesting, the story of two deer mounted side by side near the corner with their antlers forever intertwined.  The second deer of the pair was shot after the first deer was already dead, killed and ravished by coyotes.  The two animals racks had been entangled at the end of their lives, and the scavenging coyotes were eating at one dead deer, while the remaining live deer was trying to fend them off or escape. Hunters took the remaining animal while it was fending off the pack and so the animal racks are still together.

And after we saw how well man’s best friend can live, our tour continued, showing us how “the other half lives.” On to the guest houses, the libraries and eventually the residence Mr. Pickens calls The Lake House.

In the midst of a four-hour tour, when we saw the view from the balconies of The Lake House, it was then that our guide said, “This is the prettiest view on the property.”  But first, K. Boone had strategically shown us the other three or four prettiest viewpoints in succession, revealing the best last.  The Chapel was an early favorite with its Panhandle green stained glass, outlining a traditional decorative church window frame, with distant mesas and the river showing through the glass, behind an alter.

 

 

But well before seeing that most impressive view, the property and the many structures and gardens and kitchens began to run together in my mind.  The kitchen was fit for the five-star restaurant of choice, yet I remember little more than the chef-like gas burners of the stainless steel stove and the wonderful home-made cookies that were offered to us (and accepted) several times during the day.  Yes! We were “forced” to run astray of our dietary constraints when we toured the commercial-grade kitchen.  Blame the cookies. And for the record, Mr. Pickens is said to have a sweet tooth rivaling my own, but I think our things in common probably end right about there.

 

So much to see …

Years ago as a newspaper reporter, I interviewed a cowboy friend who had spent time working on ranches in Australia — or “stations” as they are called on that continent — and I never forgot one of the anecdotes.  My friend Rob told me that the advice is simple.  If you get stranded on the station.  Walk to a windmill and stay there until help arrives.

Hell! At Mesa Vista, after only a couple of hours into our tour, I was totally turned around and lost in just about every mansion-like structure we entered.  It was tempting to find my way to an easy chair near the water purifier or perhaps one of the bars and just wait there until help arrived:)  No seriously, there were several times during the tour when I would have been hard pressed to find our SUV that we had parked outside on the opposite side of the building.

Opulence!  Opulence with a western flair.  I don’t know how else to describe the things we saw. Mesa Vista has to rival the spender of some oil sheik’s palatial compound, but with decidedly Western accoutrements. For the record, my hometown of Fort Worth has some of the most impressive collections of Western heritage artwork by sculptor and artist Frederic Remington and the like, and museums dedicated to the genre.   And although that motif might not be my cup of tea, I am at least educated enough to realize the immense value of those highly collectable pieces.  Original works by Remington, Charles Russell and N.C. Wyeth were generously available in various rooms and libraries and grand entrance ways of the structures we visited.

 

The other thing that caught my untrained eye were the magnificent oriental rugs throughout the homes and guest areas.  I would estimate that in the larger rooms that some of the rugs may easily have been 60 or 70 feet long  and 50 feet wide or bigger … and there were dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of these finely crafted, beautiful pieces of art of all sizes, on the floors under our feet.

Then there is the easy-life simplicity of the rocking chairs on the shady veranda of The Lodge …

Numerous times during the tour, I daydreamed about the unlikelihood of me ever attaining a fraction of this kind of wealth … and the more realistic thought that if I had somehow ever been that wealthy that I would lack the imagination to have assembled the art and furnishings and fixtures decorating even one of these guest rooms, or dining halls, or foyers.  I have no words …

One of several libraries was perhaps even more impressive than the other libraries, because it had a very unique circular stairway that allowed book lovers to circle on up to the second floor where exquisite woodwork adorned a catwalk design all around the second floor, overlooking a beautiful chandelier and thousands of books on the two floors.

 

Ha … I didn’t see my one published work on the shelves, but was drawn in close by an oversized Bible — probably two and half feet tall, and two feet wide — propped up on a stand, and open to the Old Testament book of Esther, for whatever reason. (Esther, of course, the Biblical account of a beautiful woman who married a Persian King, and in so doing, saved her people.)

Everyone in our group was pretty much blown away by what we saw, and I know personally, I have no idea of the scope of wealth and art and furnishings displayed in each and every corner of the massive property.  But then again, for the majority of the tour, things were not what one might call “showy.”  The masterpieces or finery or whatever worked so well and somehow still had a welcoming, comforting, relaxed feel.  Does that make sense?  Is that even possible?  

Here and there were hunting scenes depicted in paint on canvass and in bronze statues and in photos of family and associates and visiting dignitaries.

Something I do understand a little bit about — being a fan of gizmos (a.k.a. nerd) — was the impressive value of the ranch’s home theater.  Well, Mr. Pickens, I salute you!  No “crib” I have seen in youthful media has a leg up on the personal theater where T. Boone eats cookies and popcorn during movies … A theater where he also hosts watch parties for his beloved Oklahoma State Cowboys as they represent his alma mater … a campus with the Pickens brand proudly displayed on various educational and sports facilities in Stillwater, Okla.  By the Way, Bijou Boone, as I want to call it, was equipped with plush theater seating for 30 and a giant television screen — all state of the art, I am sure.

There is an additional guest house of sorts called The Pub. Almost a sports bar/road house in its design — dedicated to entertaining guests with libations and decorated with sports memorabilia — both Dallas Cowboy signed footballs, bowl games and various souvenirs focusing on the home team — the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

As the tour continued and we left one guest house and headed up a hill toward The Lake House — we saw in the distance, a castle-like stone mansion — a showpiece that you might expect to see in the most scenic wine country of southern Italy … 

 

 

 

And as the stone structure became closer and closer, we were more emerged in the grandeur of the water wizardy that runs through Mesa Vista. This ranch is more than some upscale trophy property featured in so many lifestyle real estate magazines … Mesa Vista is a hydrology/engineering marvel. Mr. Pickens and his team of engineers and managers have taken 45 years of planning, selective purchases, land management, water management and created something that exists nowhere else … and a place, that frankly, could not exist in The Texas Panhandle without genius … and ambition … and tenacity.  A magical place that has entertained presidents and politicians and other billionaires … and guys who sing about “Amarillo By Morning.

As we drove, I laughed as I recalled the misguided words of one of my favorite physicians in Fort Worth.  When I told the doctor that I was taking some vacation time in The Texas Panhandle, he said, “Oh … I’m sorry.” And after an awkward silence — as I debated defending the place I love or just letting it go — the doctor backpedaled, and said, “Well … The Panhandle is just not a scenic place … you know where you typically think of vacations.”  I bit my lip and let the doctor straighten my spine, but I didn’t straighten him out.

“Doctor,” (I said to myself) … “If you only knew the grand, natural treasures hidden throughout the Panhandle ranches … most closely associated with the Canadian River Valley … and then there’s this!”  I digress …

 

To get to the Lake House, our vehicles drove across a massive stone bridge leading up to the circle drive way.  As we climbed out and walked around the property, we could better appreciate the dramatic drop in elevation, behind the manicured terraces and reflection pools and waterfalls surrounding the structure. The grounds were covered in perfect, green grass, beautiful pink flowers in huge tera cotta pots, ornate water ways and fountains, balconies, and rich blue ponds of water … and then a few hundred yards down the hill in the distance, K. Boone pointed out a scale-model stone replica of one section of Stonehenge, at the edge of the water.  Now that’s a nice timeless, European touch.

 

Ping Rings Bing Door

The front entrance of the home was shrouded by a meticulously ornate metal door that was as much an artistic treasure — perhaps of Moroccan or Mediterranean influence — as it was a barrier to the outside … A door that was once owned by Bing Crosby. (It was almost like having Bing and Ping in the same room … I digress …) Good to know!  The balcony was furnished with the most comfortable outdoor seating, all focused toward the best view of the property.  The interior circular stairwell of The Lake House was highlighted with a priceless, artistic skylight masterpiece.  And of course there was more western artwork juxtaposed with modern technology that could systematically draw the drapes or regulate the temperature from other control panels in the heart of the ranch’s information center.  There were long stonework hallways separating studies and guest rooms and grand living areas … and a modern wine cellar that’s content and climate controls surpassed my lifetime gross natural product, exponentially, I am sure.

 

Somewhere during the tour, we saw a small, masterfully handcrafted leather saddle in a translucent display case.  The saddle had been specifically made for President Ronald Reagan during his time in office, and then later was a gift from First Lady Nancy Reagan, presented to Mr. Pickens for his 78th birthday.  Wow.

 

 

After beginning our tour with the dogs, near the end we saw the collection of “Panhandle Piranhas,” as K. Boone calls the 5- to 10-pound catfish that breached the surface of a fishing pond surrounded by cattails. They pretty much leaped from the water as he threw them handfuls of feed from a dispenser on the dock.

So, I guess in summary, the tour of Mesa Vista was nothing like I expected nor like anything I could have imagined.  I had hoped to hike up rock-face cliff with my camera and tripod in hand to capture some rugged canyon photos. From what I saw at Mesa Vista, there aren’t lots of scenic rock formations. Perhaps there are no ancient canyons, cutout by a glacier or some massive violent river, adorned with the ochre paint masterpieces of cave-dwelling indigenous types.  The beautiful mesas in the distance are across the Canadian River and are the property of another land baron who resides in Perryton, Texas.  The most interesting natural land feature we saw was Red Bluff, a sand or limestone formation rounded off on one end — the product of wind erosion and perhaps water erosion at one time …  standing out above the grassland and cottonwoods.  Native grapevines grow up around fence posts at the edge of ranch roads — reminders of nature’s history on this ranch and its limitations … along roads on a spread so large, a full-time road maintainer is required.

 

Mr. Pickens was not on site during our tour, but was scheduled to arrive the following day, as he has done most weekends for decades, to spend time out of his Dallas office and in his favorite place on the planet.  As a last option of our tour, we were invited but passed on the opportunity to see the private runway and elaborate aircraft hangar that make the ranch accessible for Pickens, his family and guests.  Maybe we opted to leave that part to our imaginations, though we were told that the hangar no longer keeps a private jet on standby. Nowadays, Mr. Pickens travels less and a chartered aircraft will suffice.

 

Keith Boone

And to think, the long, indirect journey to visit Mesa Vista Ranch for me began in 1985 with a visit to another Panhandle millionaire’s ranch — The Cadillac Ranch.  As a freelance journalist, I was commissioned to take some photographs and interview Amarillo’s outlandish art financier Stanley Marsh 3 … and then the article and photos combined to form the cover story of a weekend magazine called Texas Weekly, featured in many mid-size newspapers across Texas. Throughout the decades, as my career ebbed and flowed, my editor from that story first progressed to the Governor’s office in Austin, as a press secretary.  And then a few years later, my friend Jay Rosser became a communications executive, working with Mr. Pickens.  And we have stayed in touch pretty well …

So … after seeing lots of fairly recent media coverage of Mesa Vista and its future plans, I decided to make a call to my old friend.  And he said he would present to Mr. Pickens my request to visit and see what happened. 

 

Pickens, Pieratt Twins AHS Sandies

A couple of months went by and I hadn’t heard yes or no.  So, I decided to play the family history card.  I digitized and sent to Jay an old piece of family history.  It was a photo layout of my mother from her Amarillo Sandies High School yearbook, then known as Billie Jean Pieratt … and beside her in the yearbook layout, of course, was her twin sister Jackie Dean Pieratt.  But get this! Immediately to the left of the two twin sisters was a photo of this handsome, somewhat babyfaced young gentleman named Boone Pickens.  That was the attention-getter that  helped to seal the deal … I think.  … A reminder of what a small world it is, and the humble beginnings that sometimes entails.  I don’t know if Mr. Pickens ever saw the photos I forwarded … or if he ever knew the two twins, or even possibly remembered them.  But, Jay assured me that T. Boone would get a kick out of the photos.  I hope he did.

OH … and the score on the PingWi-Fi 1-7 pingometer?  Let’s just say there are not enough pings to represent all the digits in the ranch’s price tag. Seven Pings … perfect sccore!

 

 

Know what I sayin?

 

Mesa Vista Ranch Website:

Mr. Pickens Regarding Decision To Sell:

 

Dog Days Of Duke — Another Place In Time

July 28th, 2019 · Tags: Uncategorized

When my children were young, we had a tradition of my telling the three city kids about the old ways — fun family history from many miles away — “Farm Stories.” The kids loved the stories, or maybe it was just one more ploy to get to stay awake a little bit later. I never told this one, or certainly not in its entirety. It’s the story of ol’ Duke.

Duke was from a different era. A farm dog, in the truest sense of the word. Duke was loved, but never pampered. His toenails were a la natural🙂 He knew he was a dog and not a human … and Duke was good with that. He seemed to understand that he needed to pull his weight to be justified on the team. Duke never saw a vet, yet was healthy until his final years. His shots were not current, but he had them a few times thanks to the vocational agriculture program in lieu of a small-animal vet. He wouldn’t dream of being “fixed.”

With Duke’s combination of bloodlines, he would grow into roles as both a protector and an instinctive herder. I first saw Duke’s protective side when — as barely more than a pup — he fiercely growled, barked and snapped at my cousin … when it only seemed as if there was an issue.

I am pretty sure Duke would take on any and all comers — any one and any size — if anyone raised a hand toward me or my sweet sister, or any of us kids. Duke probably learned the hard way that his job description would also include being a protector of our chickens … but he also learned, they were “forbidden fruit” despite the grizzly actions of of his cousins — raiding coyotes, if they ever caught a bird left out of the coop at night.

The only thing that scared Duke was was the firearm — for his entire life, as far as I know.

When I first met Duke and my dad started to train him as a cowdog, we had a maroon ’64 Chevy stepside pickup. It wasn’t very long before Duke could jump up, first on to the built-in step of that Chevy, and then on up and over to clear the metal sides of the truck bed … easily.

Duke loved to ride in the back of the pickup, head and neck preening to the side of the cab, to get the full cooling effect of the dry Panhandle wind as we drove down the dusty trails between green fields of wheat pasture and yellowy-grey maize stubble. He lived to ride in the back!

When we upgraded to a ’72-or-so yellow and white Ford Ranger fleetside pickup truck, Duke’s leaping ability wasn’t challenged at all … By that time, just a quick “Get in the truck!” … and he was mid air, flying over the Ford’s sides … just as a thousand bales of hay did back in the day.

Duke could still hold his own and jump over the sides of our red, ’75-ish, four-wheel drive Chevy … even though it was taller than the pickups he cut his teeth on, so to speak.

Get in the truck!” … Always his favorite words.

There were only two things Duke liked as much as riding in the pickup — working cattle and plowing the fields. Duke was as smart as any cowdog I ever saw. My dad would give Duke a stern “sick ’em” and as soon as Duke heard the words, the dog was flying out of the truck, hitting the ground on the run. No lie … I knew Duke was smarter than me, especially when it came to cattle — and I moved a few head of cattle, by the time I was 10 — both on a horse and in a pickup loaded with hay as bait. Instinctively — probably the Collie half of his blood (also mixed with German Shepherd) — he knew where the cattle were supposed to be headed and he would convey that to the beasts with a quick nip at their heels and a bark or two. Duke was happy to work cattle, hours on end just for fun and little reward. But, when he got to chew on the recently removed horn, previously adorning a steer’s bellowing head … well that was a bonus.

Duke’s other conditioning exercise of choice was to follow the tractor out in the field when my dad, brothers, sister and/or I were out destroying the weeds that stole the moisture from our fields … us turning the unwanted plants over fast with a roaring engine, a cloud of smoke and a quick slash of a steel implement, to reveal the sometimes moist, dark and aromatic soil beneath. The smell of fresh dirt, tall green Johnson grass, blue weeds with their tiny, shriveled daisy-like blooms and the sickening-sweet perfume scent of the white, pink and yellow blooms dangling from the hollow stems of a devil’s claw plant. … Smells and memories that remain fresh for a lifetime.

It was hard work and it was beautiful too, in many ways.

Like our pickup trucks, our tractors got bigger and our methods more advanced. We started using more and more sweep plows and tandem discs and such. But Duke … he was a purest — or “old school” — you might say, when it came to plowing the fields. The farm dog preferred the already antiquated one-way plow. If you don’t know, a sweep plow and a tandem disc typically go back and forth and back and forth as they turn the weeds to barren ground. (Now of course, farmers conserve more moisture with no-till farming methods …)

But in the farmers’ world of driving tractor back then, pulling a one-way was sort of like the old joke about being a NASCAR driver. “Go to the end and turn left.” Pulling a one-way is hours and hours of circling the outer perimeter of the weeds — turning left — with each lap getting shorter and shorter and the dark brown, plowed-out “frame” growing bigger as you work your way to the center … the green interior diminishing … until you reach the middle of the field in a day or two, depending on the acreage.

Contrary to how a Hereford calf or an Angus steer would behave, I think Duke liked the predictability of the one-way plowing. I think he loved to let his mind wonder to the careless days of his youth, when my sister Cindy and I would push Duke in the old tire swing … or put a suit jacket on him, or turn his floppy ears inside out and change his name from Duke to “Whammos” because his ears were folded under … or laugh at him when he would roll around in the mud of the playa lake to cool off. I don’t know where it came from or why the “Whammos” nickname was a thing. But it is a cherished memory of good natured Duke.

But, yes … I think Duke could daydream about stuff like that following the one-way … he could follow with his eyes closed, because one of the other characteristics of the oneway is that the plow moves at a slight angle, as the tractor moves straight and one of the back wheels of the plow — the wheel nearest the center of the endless circle — cuts a distinct furrow in the ground, beside the freshly plowed soil. On the next revolution, the tractor driver puts the front wheel of the tractor in that furrow, from the previous lap around the field. It’s a way to mark the place, when driving. That way, the farmer doesn’t miss any ground or weeds, but also maximizes the reach of the plow … the plow only overlaps a tiny bit. It was that “mark” — that furrow — that helps to keep the plow in place … and from Duke’s perspective, the furrow also created a nice little smooth, level, cool path for his feet. He could have ran ahead of the tractor on unplowed ground, or anywhere else … but the furrow, with the topsoil freshly dug away was much cooler and easier on Duke’s pads. Now, in the event that a fun lizard or tasty rabbit or something else hopped out of the plow’s path, that would be a bonus.

Duke was happy to follow that one-way hours at a time.

My dad was Duke’s favorite person in the world, except for us kids. I mentioned that Duke snapped at some of my cousins when he thought teasing or other shenanigans were going to somehow harm me. But also, there is a family story — that I might not should tell — about one of the siblings returning home past curfew. Upset and concerned, my dad had some heated words for the rebellious youth, late one night out in front of the farm house. Apparently Duke mistook heated, parental advice for something else, and he jumped between father and son, taking a bite out of my dad’s thigh. Those were the days of “monkey blood” or mercurochrome — the bright orange miracle cure for all cuts and nicks and punctures. I saw the bites as Dad covered them in orange.

Whenever there was the much-beloved rain, and by chance some vehicle became stuck in the seldom-seen mud, Duke would position himself near the muddy vehicle and then if the back wheels began to spin, he would bark at the tire, just as if it were encouraging a heifer who had lost her way. So funny! Tractor tires, pickup tires, car tires … Duke “herded” all of them out of the mud.

Duke didn’t like dog food, but he loved table scraps (in addition to an occasional rabbit without the stew). Thee was an ample supply, because all farm boys learn gun safety and then marksmanship … or at least they did when I was a kid. And we were taught there was no killing without a reason. Shooting a rabbit for Duke was totally acceptable and justified. He loved it … but bless his heart, like the guy who needs an antacid after satisfying a pizza craving … Duke usually paid his dues after enjoying a nice fresh rabbit, who had unfortunately wondered into the wrong wheatfield. But Duke never stopped loving “wabbit.” And he never stopped hating the gun that made the dish possible.

Anytime a gun was pulled from a pickup, or taken from the farmhouse … for whatever reason, Duke would kowtow instantly and as fast as he could — tail between his legs — he would hide and not come out from under the wooden shelves or the workbench in the back of the old ramshackle garage. He would hunker down, long before the first report from any weapon fired. He was so smart. He new the smell of gunpowder and the noise and the results. He was petrified … until the weapons were put away.

Somewhere between the red Chevy four-wheel drive pickup and its successor, a brand new white four-wheel drive Chevy originally intended to be a public utility work truck, Duke “lost a step.” He never stopped riding in the back of the truck, but slowly, his ability to get on board was fading.

Toward the end of the red Chevy 4-wheel drive’s time in our family, time was catching up with old Duke too. He wouldn’t admit it though. He would try to jump in the truck when he knew we were headed to work in the fields … but it was no longer graceful. He would jump and scratch the sides and claw at the metal and pull his weight on over the side of the truck — kind of like an infantryman training to climb over the wall in “basic” … Duke’s face would look as if he was embarrassed, and knew it was awkward, but then when he was safely inside the truck, his face beamed with happiness.

We loved to see his sense of accomplishment when he struggled but then achieved his goal of riding in the back of the pickup … still hopping up on the tool box across the back, or propping his front paws over the side of the bed to look outside …

But, Duke … it was time to face reality:(

In addition to me stepping out of the pickup truck and opening the barbed wired gates, when my dad drove us up to the tractor parked in the field, I took on the new task of having to let down the tailgate for Duke.

Get in the truck!

The first few times that I helped him, he looked at me questioningly … “You serious?” … as if to say.

In about ’72 something changed Duke’s life forever — a huge wheat crop — for our farm and pretty much everyone in the area. After so many years in a tiny, rundown farm house, our family bought a nice house in Vega. Texas … and moved to town. (I became known as “the city kid” to my brothers.) We knew Duke would never adjust, even to a small town lot with a fence, after having more than a thousand acres of ours to call his own — not to mention the adjoining, uninhabited farms — for the first dozen or so years of his life. So, the decision was made to allow Duke to continue the peaceful, carefree life on the farm that he loved, knowing we would see him every day, just as we had before. He would lack for nothing. But, his best friend, and smaller peer — a housedog named Snoopy — made the move to town … and sadly it was Snoopy who would be poisoned for roaming the neighborhood as other dogs did in the tiny town. (It was rumored that a very close neighbor was putting out poison … and we found it to be true the hard way.) Snoopy lasted just a few short months in town and Duke continue on several years at the old homestead … Increasingly happier and happier to see us every time we drove the seven miles to the farm, fed him and loaded him up for field work.

“Batchelor life” in the country was wonderful for Duke, even as the effects of age continued to slow him and his system.

Then one day, we arrived at the farm to find Duke limping badly— more like hopping on three legs — with blood oozing from a bullet hole in his leg. Someone shot Duke while we were away. Duke’s only “crime” — his yellowish brown coat and his size probably resembled a coyote to some passerby in the remote, unpopulated area of the county. At least we hoped it was a case of mistaken identity and not just pure meanness.

Duke survived, but he was never the same again. He hobbled for the rest of his life and didn’t eat as well and his health and weight continued to decline. I have no doubt, despite the limitations of his farm dog existence, he would have eventually have died of old age … if some idiot had not put a bullet in his leg.

Duke had lived in a different world from our animals today, so when my dad faced the inevitable — that Duke had “had enough” — the time came for a merciful ending. I don’t think I had ever seen my father so miserably sad as when he saw there was no choice but to put ol’ Duke down. Duke had been the best cowdog ever and a wonderful daily companion to my dad for so many years. They had raised a pack of kids and a few thousand cattle together. Accordingly, my dad reached the decision that he wouldn’t let just anyone — some stranger — end Duke’s life. I can’t imagine how difficult the decision must have been for Daddy.

Like I said, it was a different time … a totally different era … and things were done differently back then. And, anyone who has ever lived on or been around a farm knows the animals are loved and highly respected and well treated … but subject to different things than their city cousins. Duke’s last time would not be like that of a city dog, or any dog nowadays.

My dad made the perfect plan, thinking it through and through for days. He knew that potentially, Duke would run away and hide as best he could, if he ever spotted or smelled the gun. That could not happen. So, when my dad drove out to the farm on that day, he had a small rifle loaded and ready in the pickup floorboard beside him. When he got to the farm, my dad stopped and unlocked the gate, and Duke hobbled out to greet my dad, as he always did. My dad placed Duke’s meal on the ground by the gate. It was an extra portion of table scraps, served in a used plastic milk jug with the top cut away to allow the dog to eat all he wanted, easily. This day, the scraps included an extra serving of everything … and an especially large piece of a juicy steak. As Duke enjoyed the meal — living what had been his best life and enjoying his favorite — my dad climbed back in the truck as he sometimes did on a short visit. Duke’s face was buried deep in the plastic container, chewing and gulping down meat and chomping on a small bone. Slowly and silently, my dad reached for the rifle and turned the barrel toward the door, still concealing what was about to happen. Slowly, my dad eased the rifle to the top of the door, poking the dark barrel through the open window, still partially hidden by the large side mirror of the truck. Duke was only a few feet from the door, so however dreadful, this would be a quick, painless end.

My dad readied the gun, took aim and cocked the gun.

For a fraction of a second, I am sure that all of the wonderful years of work and companionship all flashed through my father’s mind. And in that millisecond just before my dad pulled the trigger … Duke stopped eating and looked my dad right in the eye … and then he fell over dead.

When my dad told me about this day, it was the only time I ever saw him cry.

 

Know what I’m sayin?

Fly Away Little Bug, Before VW Kills Off Species

July 13th, 2019 · Tags: Cities · Satire

 

Social media tells me that the Volkswagen Beetle is no more … again!  Remember the U.S. “Bug” was quashed years ago, although the Latin American-made Bugs continued to multiply south of the border, following that whole Boys From Brazil kinda thing – German stuff migrating to the southern latitudes and all that … I digress …

So, with the demise of the most peculiar of all automobile species, accordingly … how about we focus on the VW Bug for a moment with a few randoms … Do you have some favorite Volkswagen stories too?

Ha … In a few years, will it be that the Volkswagen Beetle becomes the “New Coke” of the automobile world, again?  Is this another “Now you see it, now you don’t” marketing ploy?  Will the Bug be back, after consumer outcry? I wonder …

Small Wonder … that reminds me … that is the name of a book that Volkswagen published and packed in its Bugs along with the owner’s manual, back in the day.  I had my hands on a copy of it in like 1970 — right about the time of the famous Lubbock, Texas Tornado … the storm that almost quashed the hometown of Buddy Holly & The Crickets … I digress … Anyway … in my mind the Bug and that tornado are mashed together.  My oldest brother had a brand new Volkswagen and was living in Lubbock at the time of the devastating storm.  The first or second time I saw his Bug, it bore a “spiderweb” cracked/shattered imprint all the way across the automobile’s front windshield.  What is that, about four feet across on a Bug?🙂 My brother and the car were caught in the high winds of the Lubbock storm’s path, when a metal trash can flew across their path and left a mark. Ouch!

I wonder how many Bugs got smashed in Lubbock that day. If you ever visited 1970-era Lubbock, you know the place was crawling with Volkswagens, probably not unlike most college towns of the day.

So VW has a special place in my heart, although I have never owned a “Bug” … because I stole one once:)  Ha … it was that very Lubbock Bug, after its windshield and black eyes had been mended.  For some reason, my brother left his Bug on our farm for a few weeks for us to use.  It was quite the farm-boy thrill when I was allowed to fill up the VW with gas, because it meant I could drive the 1/20th of a mile loop from the farmhouse to the gas tank and back … ha … never needing to shift out of 1st gear on that brief drive — shifting, still a bit of a tricky maneuver for this 10 year old (at the time).

Driving that little fill-’er-up circuit was fun … But not as much fun as the day I stole the Bug.

My mom could barely master a stick-shift transmission, like the one in the loaner Bug we had at the time — but that didn’t stop her.  One day she was determined to attend some Home Demonstration meeting, or 4-H Leaders event or something at the Oldham County Barn in Vega, Texas, and she took The Bug.  What’s more, she took me, my sister Cindy, and our friend Teresa was with us too.  For some reason, we were left out in the car in the shade that day, with the keys so we could listen to Top 40 tunes on KIXZ or KPUR on the AM radio in dash.  That’s when a great idea hit me.  Let’s go for a little ride!  So I hopped behind the wheel with my two accomplices (“older women, no less) … and we took off down the dirt and caliche roads around the County Barn.  OK … “stole the car” is a bit of hyperbole, but still … what a great adrenalin rush … that whole “doing-something-a-little-daring” thing … I think we drove around for about five minutes before we parked the Bug without mishap.  So fun … thus … I rave about it about a half century later … I digress …

I’ll never forget the smell of a nice clean vinyl Volkswagen interior back then.  Maybe the plastic mixture of the vinyl from Germany was different or something.  Ron’s bug was white with a red vinyl interior … “four-on-the-floor” transmission … (although I only needed two gears for my getaways) … oh that little rumble and shutter as I let out the clutch and putt-putted down the road.

Hmmm … other top VW moments … actually this is perhaps the low point … an old friend once confided in me that an old girlfriend OF MINE “slept” with HIM in a VW.  Wish I could forget that one … or that my “filter’ worked, and I would have better sense than to report it.

Another Bug that comes to mind is Eli’s baby blue Bug — the car of a co-worker at my first, part-time college job on the fuel island, fueling up 18-wheelers at Ryder Truck Rental in northeast Amarillo.  Eli was not a tall man, nor was he fast at filling and washing trucks, but he was pretty interesting.  I still remember his best stunt that he taught me.  Back in those days, the aluminum of canned drinks was slightly stronger, and you could stand on top of an empty can on one foot, and it would hold your weight.  However … if you stood on the can and at the same time bent down, and with your index fingers, tapped both sides of the can at once … voila! … it would instantaneously crush into a perfect little “hockey putt” of recyclable goodness:) Ha … Eli forgot to tell me that you had to be very quick, or when the can crumpled in a flash, it would also catch and pinch the hell out of your fingers.  Ouch!

Of course no VW tale would be complete without … “SLUG BUG!”  I bet you played it too on road trips … you’d see a VW Beetle, call it out loud to your friends or family … and “find me somebody to ‘slug.’”  Ha … in my PR career, I pitched many an out-of-box idea (because those are the ones that get attention, despite what corporate America PR might think/say and want to bill you for) … and at some point, I pitched a “Slug Bug PR” idea to some large company.  The idea was to lease and logo-wrap VW Beetles in every major city where the company had offices … but most importantly to put the company logo on the very top of the Bugs … then have drivers go up and down the streets of the downtown, between the skyscrapers.  The plan was to put out a news release in advance, to tell other companies and potential clients about the ploy … and to suggest that office dwellers — those lucky enough to have a window in their cubicle — watch for the Bugs every day and then to race across the office and punch their coworkers, yelling “Slug Bug!”  Workplace bedlam would ensue, I predicted, and everyone in the financial districts would be watching for the company’s logo on the streets below … every day.  They didn’t buy my idea … 🙁 … I digress …

And now, leaving the canyons of Manhattan behind, mentally, travel back with me to the level Texas Panhandle.  Certainly, If you have followed this blog — or Route 66 for that matter — you have seen or viewed many references to and photos of the art installation … or maybe you have seen the world famous “Cadillac Ranch” near old Route 66.  Well … have you ever heard of “The Ranchette?”  As you may know, Stanley Marsh 3 commissioned a group of artists from California — The Ant Farm — to assist with this famous art monument to roadtrips.  But also, sometime after the Cadillac Ranch’s initial notoriety and early, new coats of paint, a friend or family member of Marsh 3’s presented him with a present — a VW Beetle planted in the ground in front of the Marsh home … “The Ranchette”  … Stanley also had a giant “pool table” — a green pasture of grass or winter wheat, planted to resemble a playing surface and pool table pockets — visible from an aerial view with assorted brightly colored and numbered Volkswagens — moving around like billiard balls.  How fun!

 By the way, is Volkswagen already the plural form?

Also in the Panhandle … The owner of two of the coolest, best AirBnBs on Old Route 66 had a great, off-white VW Super Beetle, cleverly named “Pearl.”  But dang it … I just learned that Pearl was sold … like a year ago. Ha … and I was not consulted!?! Oh well … glad I didn’t create any ideas for future tourist postcards to promote the AirBnBs … or anything like that:)  I am in shock.  But regardless, can’t wait to see “Station 66” and her sister AirBnB “The Lucky Horseshoe” again!

 

 

Like I said … I never owned a Bug, but was part owner of a VW Rabbit convertible once … that was fun, but no one ever punched anyone because of the rabbit, to my chagrin.  Ha … I still remember the classified ad I put in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when we sold that car:  “Topless bunny wants to play.  Fast. Good condition, but needs facelift”  … The first looker bought the car, the day the ad ran.

When I first moved to Fort Worth, I used to see a camouflaged version of VW’s other fun car — The VW Thing — which looked pretty much like a WWII-era, German personnel carrier … ha or maybe like Dr. Doolittle’s mythic creature the “push-me-pull-you.  The box-like body was pretty much the same shape coming or going. But here’s the thing … about the Fort Worth Thing … it had a band name spray painted on the side of the car.  “The Toadies” … never did find out if that was an early sighting of one of the bandmembers — Fort Worth’s most famous rockers at the time.

The Toadies “Possum Kingdom” … what a great song … what a great rock voice!  “I’m not gonna lie …” I digress …

Ever see any of the quirky old VW advertisements?  They were always fun … My favorite: a TV ad that featured a Bug being driven over a river bank or into a lake or something like that, to illustrate that the VW was airtight and would float … pretty much just like a fishing bob … you know in the event that you were ever in a 40-day downpour or whatever …  What a great advertisement!  Other’s claim that Volkswagen’s “Think Small” ad campaign was the best of all time.  I still prefer the floating Bug, hook line and sinker.  But here it is:

Think Small Campaign

“SLUG BUG!”

Know what I sayin?

Happy Fourth! Make America Great Again!

July 4th, 2019 · Tags: Politics

Starbucks Floorplan Not Enough For This Footprint

July 2nd, 2019 · Tags: Coffee Shops · Satire · Wi-Fi

 

AND THESE PEOPLE DRIVE CARS!?!

I’ve told the story many times about the day that I took the driving portion of the test for my Texas Driver’s License.  My parallel parking abilities back then were pretty good at 16, but not used very often in Vega, Texas.  So if there was an area of concern for the driving test, it was parallel parking.  I practiced a little, but for good measure, I also went to the courthouse the night before and spread the rusty, iron “pylons” a few feet wider.

I was reminded of spreading the obstacles, just now … in Starbucks … as I hopped up from my seat in the coffee shop and moved the two tables directly in front of my usual seat, further away from my seat … creating a bigger passage way for customers.  Was I about to test some tricky maneuver? Or just needed a bigger walkway for me?  Well … not exactly …

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Boys Of Summer Played In Vega, Texas — Old Home Week

June 23rd, 2019 · Tags: Sports

You might be from Vega, Texas if … you remember the good old days when the Little League baseball teams consisted of boys from the age of eight competing on teams with boys up to the ages of 12 & 13 … all mixed in one league. 

These days, I think it is great that Vega has t-ball for the young children, and has mixed softball to include the girls too … but there was something really special about small town Little League. Doing whatever it took to put a few teams of guys together, most of the players “fresh off the tractor” for practices and games.

 

Way back when, we had three Vega teams and we also competed against Adrian, Texas, and Wildorado, Texas a time or two (a Palo Duro Baptist team).  But most of the time it was the yellow-and-white Eagles, the blue-and-white Dodgers, the red-and-white Giants and the Adrian guys in Matador maroon.

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Will Texas Tech & Ping Do Omaha College World Series?

June 4th, 2019 · Tags: Cities · Sports

 

Well … they made me park the bike today (figuratively) … said I was “a quart low” on chemo:) So I am parked at the clinic for treatment #16. Ha … not gonna say “Sweet 16” in a post about cancer:) I will say this: “Guns Up!” … What a great year to be a Red Raider … basketball … baseball … track … softball … tennis … meat judging … (yes that’s a thing) Lot of successeseseses. I digressessessess …

But this … most cool today … #16 Josh Jung, the third-baseman-turned-shortstop for Texas Tech, will be a Texas Ranger. Congrats on being the eighth pick overall in the MLB Draft!

So many great things for Red Raiders this year … I can only hope the team wins in Omaha this year … and maybe I can be there to see it!

Know what I sayin?

(Oh … and here are some Texas Tech Baseball blogs from the PingWi-Fi archives, posted below …)

 

 

 

 

Rode To Omaha VS. Road To Omaha … College World Series

 

Pinging The College World Series … Steely Dan

Texas Tech College World Series #1 … #WreckEm

 

‘Austin To ATX’ Author Represents PingWi-Fi

May 15th, 2019 · Tags: Music

 

J. Nick

In Lubbock, while working at the college paper many years ago, I heard that “nuevo wavo” musician Joe King Carrasco was coming to town. I had seen the Dumas, Texas native on “Saturday Night Live” (where he tore it up for a national audience), and I had a Carrasco record or two in my collection … so I HAD to interview him! … Got on the phone. … Talked to his manager — some nice guy named Joe Nick Patoski — who set up the interview for me. (It was so much fun, I actually interviewed Carrasco on two of his visits to Lubbock.)

Ha … being the “undisputed master of misunderstood lyrics,” The UMML — in one of the interviews — Mr. Ping asked Mr. King about a favorite line from one of Carrasco’s songs … something about “peyote tengo.”  (English translation: “I have enough of a certain fun sort of cactus to land in a Mexican prison …”) Joe King told me there was no such lyric in the song … although he added, “But … Hey, I like that!” To this day, I don’t know how the actual lyrics went. I digress …

The best part of the meeting was that I made first contact with a man who evolved into one of the most prolific authors in Texas … a long-time Texas Monthly regular … a Marfa radio host … an expert musicologist who NEVER gets his history wrong … nor the lyrics, I am sure.  

All of this is to say that I enjoyed the book signing at Record Town in Fort Worth the other day, J. Nick. Thanks for shakin’ yo “Wi-Fi Money Maker” the PingWi-Fi way — for the photo!  Yes … J. Nick will live forever in infamy in my VIPings photo album on Facebook.

Know what I sayin?

Annexico? Enhance Mexican Lives In Mexico!?!

May 10th, 2019 · Tags: Politics

 

Not being a political scientist, or historian or diplomat or economist —and certainly not politically correct — I don’t know why I should NOT ask this question.

Why doesn’t the Mexican Government put it to the voters in that country?  How about if the U.S. annexes parts of Mexico that may want to become a U.S. Territory?

Crazy right?  Or is it?

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Pink And Purple All Over — Is This A Case Of Same Same?

May 7th, 2019 · Tags: Music

 … So this is one for only my most hardcore music nerd friends. See if I have lost it on this comparison … or could I be on to something?

Since I have down time today, I broke out a famous album that I have never played, although it has been in my collection for about 35 years. It was time to check it out:) — “Music From Big Pink,” by The Band, circa 1968. (You may know the song “The Weight” (Take a load off Annie — or Fannie — depending on who you talk to.) I digress …

So, I was spinning this on the Wi-Fi turntable … and on side two, some obscure song starts with a very ’70s-sounding organ solo. Then the song progressed and I heard the bass line and the background instrumentation. “Where have I heard that before?,” I thought.

 

 

Wow … to me it sounds way too similar to the bass line and background instrumentation to an obscure Deep Purple song from ’72. Trust me … I am probably the only person on here who remembers “Might Just Take Your Life,” on Deep Purple’s “Burn” LP. I digress …

I wish I could orchestrate a better head-to-head comparison of the two. But I really think I am on to something here … for those who are into this kind of thing. Not the lyrics or vocals or tempo … just the bass line and instrumentation. Ha … you be the judge, if I am successful in posting both songs.

 

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