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by jdgarcia | March 9th, 2017 under Big Bend Blog » Big Bend Blog Highlight

Meanwhile, back and forth on the ranch


“No way, Cisco, no way Pancho/Why don’t you meet me back at the rancho?” — Van Morrison and Linda Gail Lewis

“Don’t you know you’re riding with the king?” – John Hiatt

Balgaard, Clint and the Pinzgauer

Balgaard, Clint and the Pinzgauer

South Brewster County – Riding a Pinzgauer H-M A-T 4WD MUV over roads and other assorted obstacles through many square miles of rugged terrain produced no pigs, but plenty of observations.

A Pinzgauer High-Mobility All-Terrain 4-Wheel Drive Military Utility Vehicle provides all the accommodations of an elephant: transportation in several gears with the ability to go where other devices/means of mobility may find themselves stymied; with an elevated vantage point.

Unlike an elephant, the Pinzgauer does not need to relieve itself, but mechanically, like a pachyderm, may be temperamental.

The territory we covered represents roughly one-seventh of Grant County, MN where Dave Balgaard and I spent our youth, and for Dave, many years beyond. Traversing a similar area in Grant County would likely require a boat among several assorted motorized vehicles.

“Definitely a harsh environment,” Dave noted, as we enjoyed an elevated perch on the Pinzgauer, ably chauffeured by Clint “The Pope” (whose new nickname will be explained later).

Harsh indeed, I agreed, pointing out that the first two jackrabbits we spotted bounded at a slower pace due to the lunch pails strapped on their backs.

The day’s excursion included cave exploration, arrowhead hunting, triggering a quick round at an equally surprised coyote and clicking numerous snapshots. During forays up 45-degree inclines, down rocky gullies, over greasewood bushes and around numerous cacti and sagebrush, Clint the Pope pointed out landmarks, identified various species, pointed out places where pigs usually roamed but on this day did not, and occasionally cussed waterline leaks.

Dave remarked that he felt like royalty.

“Yeah, like those guys who rode around on elephants,” he explained. After a pause, he added, “This might not measure up to royal standards, but once upon a time, I told Clint Eastwood where to go.”

Telling Dirty Harry where to go seemed both perilous and authoritative, and now Dave definitely commanded my full attention.

In the 1970s, Dave worked at a ski resort in Sun Valley, ID, and one day was in charge of directing ski parties to the proper lifts. He pointed trios and quartets to the larger lifts, while individuals and couples were assigned smaller units.

“I kept sending people to one line or the other,” he said, and all of a sudden, Clint Eastwood whooshed up by himself.”

“So I told him, ‘You go there,’ and pointed to the smaller lift.”

“That’s a tough act to follow,” I admitted, “Although I was serenaded by Tiny Tim.”

I interviewed the modern-day crooner over 20 years ago, and knowing he loved the old Brooklyn Dodgers, I brought along some of my mid-1950s baseball cards. Tim went through each card, mentioned an anecdote or two, and when I asked him which card he would choose, he said, “Carl Furillo.”

“It’s yours,” I said, and he smiled as he placed it in his warbag. At the end of the interview, he asked me to stay for his afternoon concert, where he played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in my honor.

“Ah, we’re living the dream,” Balgaard smiled as our up-and-down trek continued.

“Yup, and the Pope is our chauffeur,” I said, referring to yet another story.

Clint, not knowing he would become a legend in our own minds, listened in as I recalled the tale of a high school classmate, Ole, who bolted for the Big Apple shortly after graduation.

Despite years of effort, Ole’s quest for the Broadway stage fell short, but his driving skills enabled him to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. As the senior driver for a well-known limousine company, Ole hauled kings, prime ministers, senators, ambassadors, rock stars and pro athletes all around New York.

When the Pope came to town, Ole’s company was hired to squire His Holiness, and Ole served as the principal driver. After a couple of days, a friendship developed, and the Pope asked Ole a favor.

“I’ve always wanted to drive one of these,” His Holiness said, “but my security is so nervous they won’t even let me take a spin around the Vatican courtyard. How about letting me take the wheel just for a few minutes, Ole?”

Ole hemmed and hawed about liability and the risk of injury, saying, “If it vas my car, your Holiness, aye vould let yew drive in a heartbeat, but aye yust can’t risk company property and most importantly, your safety.”

The Pope said he understood, but on the final day of his visit, he asked Ole again.

“Oh, vat da heck,” Ole said. “Here, Your Holiness, yew take da veel and aye vill set in da back.”

His Eminence joyfully stepped into the driver’s seat, buckled in, yanked the limo into drive, wheeled away from the hotel curb and cut across six lanes of honking traffic, pulled a U-turn and rumbled down the avenue in the opposite direction. Ole hung on, but said nothing.

“There’s an art gallery a couple blocks down that I wanted to check out,” the Pope said, and soon yanked the wheel to the right to catch a vacated parking space.

Unfortunately, he did not compensate for the light-touch power steering, and the limo lept the curb, sheared off two parking meters and came to rest against a fire hydrant. An NYPD patrolman watched the maneuver from half a block away, jogged up to the limo, looked inside, shook his head and immediately called his watch commander. He described the accident, but said he was reluctant to issue a citation because of a high-profile celebrity in the vehicle.

“Is it some rock star?” the commander asked.

“Higher up than that,” the patrolman said.

“An ambassador or U.S. Senator?”

“Even more important.”

“Well, who in the world is it?”

“I don’t know, Sir, but the Pope is his driver.”

About this time, Clint rolled to a stop by a small herd of cows.

“Because of the drought, our herd is a lot smaller than usual, so I guess a little more of what they drop won’t hurt anything,” he said.

Steve Lang thanks Clint and Dave for another one of life’s memorable outings. And, he did not step in anything soft.

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