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Lee Pitts: Know-It-Alls Never Do

I have a hard time taking advice. I gladly accept advice from people who have far more experience than myself but when people start telling me how to do things they’ve never done before, I stop listening.

Conversely, I’ve always found it frustrating that people who really are experts in their field go out of their way to keep their secrets to themselves. In all the years I’ve been trying to become a better leatherworker and engraver I’ve had dozens of some of the best saddle makers and engravers in the country in my shop and I can count on one hand the times one of them has told me one of their secrets on how to do something.

My wife and I have always been savers, not spenders, so when we started out we saved money by living in some less-than-desirable neighborhoods with less than desirable neighbors. One next door neighbor was a portly guy whose yard was overgrown with weeds, an old boat was parked in the front yard and his house looked like it would fall down in the next earthquake. On the other hand, we kept a tidy place and every time I’d start a new project whether it was painting the house or working on my truck the uninvited neighbor would come over and start telling me how to do it. I quickly learned that free advice was the costliest kind.

When we finally had enough money to buy 100 cows we leased a run-down ranch because it was cheap. I wasn’t going to spend our money on another man’s place so I didn’t waste any on improvements. Every time I’d run into a certain cattleman he told me I needed to fix my fences and build a better loading chute. He also told me my bulls weren’t good enough and I needed to supplement more. All this from a guy whose calves wouldn’t weigh 400 pounds at weaning.

I had a great friend who was a very talented woodworker but who’d never worked with leather in his life. I’d made him several useful objects which he liked and he asked me if I’d make him two identical soft-sided breifcases. For the next week he was in my shop daily telling me how to tool and construct them. One day I’d had enough and I sat him down and said, “I want to tell you an old story that I think is pertinent and timely.”

It went like this: “An old cowboy was sitting on his horse by the side of a road when a guy drives up in a fancy Mercedes, wearing a pair of $500 sunglasses and an expensive Italian suit. He stuck his head out the window and engaged the cowboy in some friendly chit chat. Wanting to impress the cowboy the dude says, ‘I bet I can tell you exactly how many animals you have without leaving my car and if I do will you give me a calf?”

The old cowboy ponders this proposal and says, “Why not?” So the dude gets out his computer, connects it to his cell phone and surfs to the NASA page on the Internet. He uses a satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on the ranch which then tells a NASA satellite to scan the area in ultra-high resolution. Then he downloads this information into a special program that counts the animals. The dude says, “You have exactly 1,505 animals on your ranch.”

The cowboys looks at the dude in amazement and says, “That’s exactly right. I guess you get one of my calves.” So the cowboy looks on as the dude tries to stuff the small animal into his Mercedes. Then the cowboy asks, “If I can tell you exactly what business you’re in will you give me back my calf?”

“Why not?” says the dude.

“You’re an emissary of the U.S. government.”

“Wow. How did you know?” asked the dude.

“I know because you showed up even though no one called you, you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You tried to show how much smarter than me you are and you don’t know a damn thing about cows… this is a flock of sheep. Now give me back my dog.”

Lee Pitts: Unsustainable

I don’t know about you but I’m getting tired of all this sustainability gobbledygook.

I’ll tell you what’s not sustainable:

• Throwing our borders open to welcome drug dealers, human traffickers, terrorists, violent criminals and people infected with Covid to enter the country. And then flying them in the middle of the night to towns all across America so they have to deal with all the ramifications.

• Getting rid of police and wondering why crime is up.

• Printing money so fast the circulation of dollars in the US is up 336% in 18 months which is causing inflation to explode while savers are paid .03% on their savings. The fed can’t raise interest rates to curb inflation because the payment on the thirty trillion in national debt would use up a sizable chunk of the federal budget.

• We’re fighting climate change with idiotic and unnecessary overregulation while allowing China, India and Russia to pollute as they please. And we’re going to war against carbon dioxide which is what breathing produces. Are we therefore going to mandate that humans be phased out by 2035?

• Depending on foreign countries for everything from our medicines to toys. We are importing 15% of our food supply and from 1999 to 2017 the amount of food we imported into this country tripled to $147 billion. And allowing China buy our biggest pork packer and two Brazilian firms, JBS and Marfrig, to buy so many American firms they now comprise two of the Big Four meatpackers only insures that we’ll become even more dependent on foreigners for our food in the future.

• Spending $1,557,083 to watch lizards on a treadmilll; taking $4,575,431 from taxpayers to see what happened when alcoholic rats were sprayed with bobcat urine; wasting $36,831,620 on a study to see why hair turns gray; giving the National Institute of Health a $48,500 grant to write a history about smoking in Russia during the last 30 years; giving the DOD a $283,500 grant to study the daily lives of baby gnatcatchers because they’re threatened; squandering $65,473 of taxpayer dollars by handing it over to the National Park Service to figure out what attracts bugs to a light bulb. What’s next, giving the USDA a million or two to find out how many federal employees it took to screw in the lightbulb?

• Getting out of the manufacturing business and becoming a “service economy” where we’ll all make a living waiting on one another while depending on foreigners for almost everything we use and need.

• Spending 20 years and 83 billion dollars on training Afghan forces and then leaving behind American citizens along with 85 billion worth of military equipment.

• Freeing felons because the prisons are full.

• Adopting a “let it burn” policy at the Forest Service and BLM. Allowing 4,000 trees to grow where there should be 1,000, not allowing thinning or removal of deadfall, closing of roads, eliminating clear cuts which acted as firebreaks, and getting rid of cows and sheep to graze forest land to naturally eliminate fuel loads so that in 2020 California alone could spend $10 billion fighting forest fires.

• Being short 80,000 truck drivers and then mandating that all people driving a truck for a living be vaccinated for COVID or else lose their job.

• Paying people not to work is unsustainable. As is our current Social Security system.

• Going from being a country that produced 100% of its energy requirements to begging sheiks and cartel members to produce more energy. Canceling the Keystone pipeline, getting rid of leases on public lands and waters and suspending leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve all in the name of the Green New Deal and because of a prediction that melting ice caps could flood Los Angeles. (There could be negative effects too.) Then wondering why gasoline went up $1.30 a gallon in the past year.

• Substantially lowering the amount that farmers, ranchers and timber producers can shield from inheritance taxes so that upon the death of both parents the farm, ranch or forest has to be sold just to pay the taxes.

And these are the same people who you’re going to trust and rely upon to tell you how to sustainably run your ranch that’s probably been in your family for several generations?

Lee Pitts: The Cowboy Arts

I’m a shop rat. Always have been. If I wasn’t working on my cattle or other FFA projects I was more than likely to be found in our shop. I was also a vocational student which meant in my last three years in high school I spent an hour every day in the school’s ag shop. This was in addition to two automotive classes I took and one woodworking class in junior high school. Nearly every piece of furniture in our house has either been refinished or reupholstered by me. I’ve worked on all our cars and trucks and consider myself a proficient welder. By watching You Tube videos and reading books I’ve taught myself blacksmithing, silver soldering, plastic molding, engraving, and how to use a milling machine, wood and metal lathe and a key making machine which I restored. I even took classes in jewelry making which helped me in making belt buckles and repairing old bits and spurs. For years I restored items for a very high end antique store.

Having said that I hate the household arts. I don’t have the “thyme” for cooking and couldn’t stand working at Starbucks and doing the same old “grind” every day. (Puns intended.)

By far, the thing I enjoy the most is leatherworking and I’ve collected hundreds of leather working tools along the way. I taught myself and it was the second most difficult skill I’ve learned. (Engraving was the hardest.) It took me years before I was proud enough of my work to stamp my name on it. Now I’ve restored saddles for museums and leather bound French clock boxes that held $25,00 clocks. One of my miniature saddles brought $50,000 and a scrapbook I made was auctioned off for $18,000.

But leatherworking does have its drawbacks. For example, one of my best friends bartered a swap with a well known leatherworker for a floral tooled belt and I was with him when he picked it up. It was antiqued, fully tooled, the edges were smooth and it was a beautiful belt that I know took at least 10 hours hours to complete. But upon closer inspection my friend found where the leatherworker had sewn off the edge of the belt. It was a big boo-boo and I would have scrapped it and started over, as I’ve had to do many times. To make a long story short my friend refused the belt and the leatherworker, who was obviously embarrassed, made him a new one.

That’s the thing with leatherworking… it’s just not that forgiving. In most other trades if you make a mistake you can back up and redo it, or do something cosmetically to hide your error. Not so with leatherworking. Years ago I made what I considered to be a beautiful leather tooled binder with ornate silver engraving on the cover. To give the leather a nice patina I covered it with neatsfoot oil and set it outside in the sun for two days before applying the final finish. But when I went to retrieve the binder I was shocked to find that the neighbor’s dog had turned it into a chew toy.

The worst example of a lot of time being completely wasted was experienced by a great saddle maker I know by the name of Ron Butler. He’s no relation to my Wyoming idol Don Butler who passed away a few years ago. Don was the best designer and tooler of leather I’ve ever seen. And Ron Butler might be in second place. He is that good. Ron had just completed hours of tooling on the fender of a saddle and it was gorgeous. After tooling it Ron and his lovely wife spent hours dyeing all the spaces between the flowers and the leaves which in itself is an art because it’s very easy to get the dye on the flowers, leaves and scrolls. Ron’s very young grandson seems to want to follow in Ron’s footsteps because he paid close attention to everything Ron did.

The next morning Ron went to his shop only to discover that his grandson had taken his permanent markers and crayons and colored all the flowers and leaves every color of the rainbow on the finished fender. And he had definitely not stayed within the lines!

 

Lee Pitts: A Losing Proposition

People have been going on diets long before Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers or Oprah Winfrey. The first diet was probably William the Conquerer’s all-alcohol diet. Once morbidly obese, William lost so much weight he was able to start riding his much-loved horse again. Then he promptly died in a horse riding accident. Proving that everything old is new again, in the 1960’s a couple of authors revisited the alcohol diet and wrote two books called “The Drinking Man’s Diet” and “Martinis and Whipped Cream”. My old man was on the same alcohol diet the entire time I knew him and he eventually lost 200 pounds of ugly fat all in one day!

People are so desperate to lose weight they torture themselves with colonic cleanings, enemas and gross green milkshakes. A friend of mine even hangs himself upside down every day to redistribute his weight but now instead of having 46 inch hips he has a 46 inch neck. Another friend tried the no white-food diet to prove he wasn’t a racist. His goal on January first was to lose 30 pounds in 2021. He only has 50 pounds to go.

Many doctors have gotten rich on diets they devised. In 1890 Dr. Edward Dewey came up with a no-breakfast diet about the same time Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a staff physician at the Battle Creek Sanatorium, was promoting vegetarianism, pure food, calorie counting, colonic cleanses, and slow chewing. Dr. Kellogg was kinda weird but he could afford to be because two products he invented, toasted flakes and granola, made him millions. Another 19th century weirdo was a preacher whose nickname was Dr. Sawdust and when I tell you his name you’ll know why: Reverend Sylvester Graham. He preached that gluttony was a sin that led to the raising of unhealthy children. The Reverend advocated a diet of his Graham Crackers, vegetables and water. I don’t think you’d actually live longer but it would darn sure feel like it.

Dr. James Salisbury came up with a diet that included hot water and his minced meat patties which would come to be called Salisbury steak. I actually like it if you drench it in gravy and eat it with a baked potato filled with butter. But I suppose that kinda defeats the whole purpose.

The “slow-chewing movement” was started over a century ago by Horace Fletcher who was denied life insurance because he was so fat. He said you should chew your food until it was in a liquid state in your mouth. His idea came to be called “Fletcherism” and Dr. Kellogg even wrote a slow-chewing song you sang between bites.

It’s been said that if you want a new idea read an old book and many diet cookbook authors just recycled old ideas. One popular diet book in 1998 was called Lose Weight With Apple Vinegar but Lord Byron first drenched all his food in vinegar in 1811 and he went from 194 pounds to 130 pounds but became an old sour puss in the process. You may think that Dr. Atkins came up with the high protein diet but a London undertaker first promoted the idea in 1860! Selling diet books has been a get rich quick scheme for doctors ever since the first one from a commercial publisher was printed in 1950. This unleashed a torrent of such books including The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise, Sugar Busters, Protein Power, The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, The Scarsdale Diet (written by a man who was murdered by his lover), The South Beach Diet, The Beverly Hills Diet, and Calories Don’t Count by Herman Taller who was found guilty of mail fraud for selling worthless safflower pills through the mail.

Some diet plans were downright dangerous. In 1976 osteopath Robert Linn sold drinks made from animal tendons and hides that killed an estimated 58 people. And the Cambridge Diet, which consisted of protein drinks sold through a pyramid scheme, killed 30 people.

I myself have toyed with the idea of writing a diet book and have a few ideas including the If It Tastes Good Spit It Out Diet, The Keep Your Mouth Shut Diet, Eat All You Want of Everything You Don’t Like Diet and The Lee Pitts’ Don’t Diet But Die Happy Cookbook.

Lee Pitts: “Who, Me?”

I must admit, I’m not a big cat lover although I begrudgingly admit that cats have a few advantages over dogs. They clean up after themselves and they mind their own business and in that respect they are better than husbands. They are also smarter than dogs, after all, you aren’t going to see eight cats pull a sled and musher in an Iditarod blizzard, or try to sniff out bombs that could blow at any minute. But cats don’t have a sense of humor like dogs do and cats don’t take orders well. In fact, they give them. They don’t have “owners”, they have employees.

Cats are sneaky too. One of the earliest photos I have of myself is of me on my grandma’s porch petting one of her dearly beloved cats. But when the photographer was done snapping the photo that miserable cat scratched and punctured my arms to the point where I looked like a five year old heroin junkie. When I blamed the cat for my wounds the cat got that familiar “holier than thou” look on it’s face that said, “Who, me?”

That same cat also had the unnerving habit of sitting and watching you while you sat on the toilet.

Although I didn’t have any relationship whatsoever with my sister’s cat Tiger, I admit that it did have one good trait: it was a good “mouser”. Almost everyday it would place an offering of a dead mouse on the mat that welcomed folks at our front door. This presented a problem because you never knew when Tiger would offer up her “gift” and my mother was a seamstress who sewed for rich ladies and their debutante daughters who often came for fittings. Personally, I found it very entertaining to watch prom queens and debutantes as they left our house throw their new gowns up in the air as they screamed, “RAT!” Then they ran to their Cadillacs to cower in fear. And while cats may not be capable of smiling, Tiger was always in the general vicinity with a familiar smirk on her face.

Another cat I came to know quite well lived on the ranch we leased and belonged to my wife’s cousin. One day she came crying to me with her cat named China who looked like she’d been run over by a herd of cows. She’d already taken China to the vet who took one look at the cat’s squashed rear end and told my wife’s cousin that her cat “needed to be put down.”

“Oh no,” she cried, “Lee can fix her. I’ve seen him perform miracles with lambs and calves and I know he can save my cat.”

It was obvious that China was severely dehydrated so I wrapped China up tight in a blanket so she couldn’t claw me to death and administered IV’s of ringers of lactate. I did this for a week, religiously applied a salve to her deep abrasions and attempted to straighten out her plumbing in her nether regions. You know that old saying, “This is gonna hurt me a lot more than it is you?” Well, it was darn sure true in this case. Each time I treated China she’d make more progress in escaping from the blanket and eventually I had scratch marks from head to toe.

Son of a gun if China didn’t survive, but she almost murdered me in the process. Henceforth, whenever no one was looking China tried to scratch my eyes out and if anyone dared cast an accusatory glance China’s way she’d get that now familiar, “Who, me?” look on her face.

My wife’s cousin was so happy she had a cap made for me that said, “I saved China.” This was fitting because I believe cats are card carrying communists. Did you know that the average cat spends 70% of its time sleeping and the other 30% planning to take over the world?

In short, here’s the difference between cats and dogs. At a busy intersection a “seeing eye cat” would look both ways to make sure no one was watching and then she’d lead the poor blind person right into the path of an oncoming cement mixer. And as the blind person’s carcass was being loaded into the meat wagon the cat would look at the investigating cop as if to say, “Who, me?”

Lee Pitts: My Good Friend What’s His Name

I had many lasting impressions of our year in Australia but the fellow on the phone wasn’t one of them.

Some people have a hard time remembering names, well, I have a hard time remembering people. The Australian on the phone recalled our many good times together in Australia and said that he was coming to the states for a visit. “I am going to take you up on your offer mate to show me around,” he said in his Aussie accent. The only problem was that I had no idea who he was!

I assured him that I would be glad to show him around, after all, what are friends for? I figured in the two weeks before he arrived surely I would figure out who he was. But I had only one clue to work with. He said on the phone that he was with me the night I embarrassed myself.

That really narrowed it down.

It could have been the night that I was invited to give a humorous talk at the local Rotary banquet. My biggest laugh of the night was when I asked for a napkin. The whole place roared in laughter. How was I supposed to know that a napkin in Australia was a baby’s diaper?

Or my Australian friend could have been present the night I drank too much grog. (How was I supposed to know their beer is twice as strong as ours?) I also botched the words to God Save the Queen and spilled my peas which are mandatory at every meal. I suppose it was rather hilarious watching me while under the influence attempt to eat my peas in the traditional two handed eating style familiar to anyone who has traveled the Commonwealth. The peas ended up everywhere except in my mouth. I even found some the next day in the pocket of my shirt.

As the time approached when I was to pick up my “mate” his identity was still alluding me. It could have been any one of a a number of “friends”. He might be the grazer who saw me fall off the slick horned Australian stock saddle or the cop who ticketed me for driving on the wrong side of the road in my Holden car.

As it turned out I shouldn’t have wasted my time worrying about it. The minute I saw him I recognized him as my good friend what’s his name? We had become friends at a Hereford sale. (That’s three syllables…Hair-a-ferd) After that he showed me around New South Wales and even took me to a cricket match. The embarrassing situation that my friend, Ian, had referred to occurred during the match when I loudly asked him “who he was rooting for?” Half the people in the stands got up and left. It seems that the word “root” is a VERY bad word in Australia.

I had a great time showing Ian around and he loved this country, although his most lasting impression of our country was how fat most Americans are. I must admit that was my first reaction after having lived down under and returning home.

On our way home from the airport Ian and I drove through a construction zone with big Caterpillar® tractors, scrapers and dump trucks. Ian found it odd that every time a large piece of equipment would back up that it would make the now familiar sound… “ding… ding… ding.”

“Why do they make that noise?” Ian asked.

“For safety,” I explained. “When a large object backs up it makes a warning sound so that people behind it will know that it is coming in their direction.”

Ian seemed to grasp the concept.

Later during the drive we stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and a Twinkie® or two. Standing in line in front of us at the check-out counter was the largest lady I’ve ever seen, which just confirmed Ian’s impression of Americans. The fleshy lady wore a phone beeper, the kind that sounds off when the wearer has a phone call. Sure enough as we stood in line the obese lady’s beeper went off….”ding… ding …ding.”

My Australian friend jumped back out of her way and said to me, “Watch out mate, she’s backing up.”

Lee Pitts: Shearing Hogs

I know many cattlemen will think less of me but I confess, I used to raise sheep, Oh sure, I raised cattle too but that was for respectability, the sheep I raised to make a buck. (Pun intended.)

It’s hard to exaggerate cattlemen’s traditional hatred for the woolly things. They used to say that “everything in front of a sheep is eaten and everything behind is killed.” They also said that “there’s nothing dumber than sheep except the man that raised them.”

I must be pretty stupid because I raised them for a long time and enjoyed it.

Ranchers believed that if their cows were exposed to sheep for long periods they noticed the intellect of their cows and their cowboys would be decreased. Maybe that’s why Charles Russell hated them so. When Charlie left St Louis for Montana he tried to find work on a cattle ranch but finding none he signed on with a sheep outfit and only lasted two weeks. It left such a bad taste that in all of the 3,500 works of art that Charlie produced there’s not a sheep in any of them!

Historically, cattlemen believed that sheep had a gland between their hooves that exuded a substance that sterilized the ground. They even thought that cattle would refuse to go on to a pasture previously grazed by sheep. I’ve found this to be patently false. As long as I didn’t let the herd, or the flock, stay in one place too long I found that my very best grazing was on the land where I’d previously run the two together. I became a believer that “whatever the hoof of sheep touches turns to gold.” That’s why many old ranchers called their sheep “Mortgage Lifters” and I admit there were many years we wouldn’t have shown a profit without the sheep.

We know ranchers hated sheepherders but do cows hate sheep? There was only one time that I saw even the faintest hostility between sheep and cattle. I used to shear a lot of sheep in my younger years, mostly small commercial and purebred flocks. One time I was called to shear a bunch of “hogs”. Years ago the term “hog” was used to describe a sheep older than a lamb that had never been shorn. I hated shearing hogs because the fleece was hard, I nicked them more and it really dulled blades in a hurry. This day I was shearing a set of replacement ewes and after I sheared them they went from being “hogs” back to sheep. This is where the saying originated, “going the whole hog.” It had nothing to do with swine. After I sheared the band that day they were turned back into a field with a few cows in it. I don’t know if it was the shock of the freshly shorn lambs or the smell of KRS that I applied to any cuts but the cows came closer to smell and look them over and then ran to the furthest corner of the field. But for years I ran the two together and in all that time I never saw an ounce of aggression between the two species.

I compliment sheep in this way knowing I’ll be shunned by cattlemen but I hope the hatred isn’t as bad as when the west was first opened up to grazing. Back then if cattle ranchers found sheep on the public land that the cattlemen grazed for free they would kill all the sheep and hang the shepherd.

As a cattleman/sheepherder I have suffered some discrimination but it never reached the point where I had to keep an armed guard with the sheep or feared for my life. Mostly I just wasn’t invited to brandings, or awarded county cattleman of the year and I had to suffer some sexist jokes. I also had to import ropers to get my calves worked and even then I had to hide the sheep and any paraphernalia I used to raise them. There was a scare one year when an imported roper thought he saw some sheep manure but I told him the pellets were from the giant jackrabbits that roamed the area. He fell for it hook line and sinker. I figured his mental capacity must have been reduced from possibly hanging around sheep in the past.

Lee Pitts: The West That Wasn’t

I was reading a “Legends and Lies” book about the old West and it stated that the toughest town west of Chicago was Palisades, Nevada. I found it odd that as a student of the West I’d never heard of the place. According to the book the town had more than 1,000 showdowns, bank robberies and Indian raids in three years in the mid 1870’s. Then the book explained that all those incidents were fake, meant only to scare weak-kneed Easterners who came in on the stagecoach. Then the eastern dudes went home and told newspapers and anybody who’d listen about the dangerous West. It was akin to Chicago’s Chamber of Commerce promoting its murder rate in hopes of attracting tourists.

There were a lot of myths about the West created by people who’d never been here. Henry David Thoreau wrote about the wonders of the West but he’d never been west of the Mississippi River. Little Miss Sure Shot, Annie Oakley, performed before Kings and Queens in Europe portraying herself as a woman of the West but she’d never been here either.

The myth making continued unabated. When I was a little tyke with my Roy Rogers six gun and chuckwagon lunchbox, half of all motion pictures were westerns and there were 37 westerns on television. Gunsmoke was a television series that ran for an unheard of 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975. Cecil Smith, of the LA Times said, “Gunsmoke was the dramatization of the American epic legend of the west. Our own Iliad and Odyssey, created from standard elements of the dime novel and the pulp Western as romanticized by Ned Buntline, Bret Harte and Mark Twain.”

All those movies, TV shows and dime novels were mostly about a wild West that wasn’t.

For 150 years Easterners have looked down their snooty noses at the West even though it was our gold and silver that paid their debts accumulated during the Civil War. They thought of us as new kids on the block when in fact the West had been explored by white men half a century before the first colonists set foot on Virginia’s beaches. The West was portrayed as nothing more than a sad collection of miners, cowboys, saloonkeepers, gamblers, prostitutes, con men, mule skinners and bull whackers. Easterners thought of Westerners as the dregs of society who in the East probably would have been in jail. Sadly, that’s how they still see us.

Mark Twain came here for a short period before being run out of the West and wrote that, “The West was fabulously rich in thieves, murderers, desperados, lawyers, Christians, Indians, Chinamen, Spaniards, gamblers, sharpers, coyotes, poets, preachers and jackass rabbits.”

Owen Wister who wrote the classic book The Virginian said the West was full of “horses better bred than the women who ride them and dogs with pedigrees better than their masters.”

It was said the West was a dangerous place where no one died naturally. Elmer Kelton, wrote, “It was man’s country good for men and mules but Hell on women.” The West was portrayed as a place “30 miles to water, 20 miles to wood and 10 miles to Hell.”

And the characterization stuck.

Today America really is two countries. There’s the West where 93% of all federally owned land lies in 12 western states and the feds in Washington DC control more than 50% of most states west of the Rockies. Whereas in northeastern states it’s less than 1%. How would easterners like it if the boot was on the other foot? The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management employ 40,000 people to manage 446 million acres in the West and the words written in the Declaration of Independence regarding King George III could easily apply to Westerners today: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

Maybe it’s time we take a page out of the history books and do what they did in Palisades, Nevada, and greet every plane full of easterners with a welcoming committee of murderers, desperados, lawyers, con men, mountain lions, gunslingers and wild Indians so they’ll get scared and stay in Washington DC and leave us the Hell alone.

Lee Pitts: Vote Early, Vote Often

After last year’s election I just don’t trust the process any more. I first got suspicious when a network reporter said, “With 150% of the vote counted we can now project a winner.”

I think we need a voting system that is more transparent and honest and instead of copying Venezuela’s election process I think we ought to adopt the arrangement employed in the wonderful northern California town of Burney. This community is famous for its fishing, the fact that one of their citizens once appeared on the Price Is Right, and part of the movie “Stand By Me” was filmed in its environs. I keep up on the local news because for decades the Northern California Traveler carried my column and when they ceased publishing, The Intermountain News picked up my column. I have also been to the area countless times and the skies were always blue, the air fresh, the water pure and the fish were biting. I always thought it would be a great place to live. Unfortunately for me when I looked in the classifieds the only jobs available seemed to be for “strip and chain pullers” and I have no idea what they are, let alone how to do it.

Years ago I saved a clipping from the paper that detailed how Burney elected their honorary mayor and I thought enough of it to save it for several years. In Burney’s honorary mayoral election you can vote as many times and as often as you want. The catch is that every vote costs a dollar. Simply put, the election is more like an auction with the prize going to whoever collects the most cash. If we’re being honest, it’s very much like the way we run our elections now only Burney gets rid of the middleman… the lobbyists.

The election is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the money raised goes to charity. The winner gets to designate 50% of what they collect to their favorite charity like Boy Scout Troop #38, the local 4 H club, Make A Wish, an effort to “Bring Back the Swings” to the park or to paint a mural on the wall of a local building. The person placing second gets to donate 40% of their take to their cause, third place 30%, 4th place 20% and the remaining candidates get to donate 10% to their favorite charity. The rest of the money goes to the Chamber of Commerce to improve the community.

The candidates put up polling places wherever they want and collect the ballots, in this case in the form of cold hard cash. See how much more transparent Burney’s elections are? There is a candidates forum, usually at a park or Gepeto’s Pizza, where the locals can meet and greet the candidates, and ask them piercing and probing questions like, “If you were on American Idol which song would you sing?” Or, “What super hero would you like to be?”

Citizens can also hear the candidate’s platform. For example, one candidate wanted to, “Stop the Crime” but as far as I know the only potential for crime in the wonderful place would be to steal an election by pilfering some ballot boxes. We know this happens in Chicago but as far as I know, no one has yet been caught stealing an election in Burney.

Many of the candidates come up with catchy slogans like “Don’t be a schmuck vote for Luck.. They put up signs around town and some even have campaigns managers. The news clipping I saved introduced the candidates and their promises. For example, Dusty vowed to get Nike to move their international headquarters to Burney and then fully support the Burney Raiders athletic department. Katie, a waitress, promised, “If elected I will bring a fashion mall to downtown Burney.” Brooke, a bank teller said, “I would promise to put an end to all the gossip, drama and rumors that spread through the intermountain area on a daily basis.”

Good luck with that.

Corey, a pastor, promised, “I would coordinate a strategy team that would work with existing businesses, government and non-profit agencies to develop a long range plan to increase and diversify the income stream coming into Burney.”

No offense pastor, but you sound like the kind of politician we already have too many of.

Lee Pitts: For The Hearing Impaired

Isn’t it odd that two creatures are unable to hear the same sound? For example, a dog can hear a high pitched whistle whereas the human that blew it cannot. And husbands and wives who have been united in wedlock for more than six months are unable to hear a single word the other says. And generally speaking, if there is more than a ten year difference in age between an adult and a youngster the child is unable to understand a single word the adult is saying. Maybe it’s due to ear wax buildup.

That is why the universal language of hand signals is necessary. This universal code was first developed by heavy equipment operators and sheepherders to tell their dogs to GO GET IN THE TRUCK! But ranch couples may find just as much use for this universal body language.

A good example of where hand signals comes in handy is when the man and wife team is attempting to hook up a bumper pull horse trailer. As the women backs up the truck the man stands near the trailer hitch with his hands spread wide apart to indicate the distance remaining between the bumper of the truck and the trailer. As the wife guns the engine the man then signals for her to SLOW IT DOWN. This is indicated by raising both arms horizontally and waving frantically. As the rear bumper of the pick-up crashes into the trailer causing it to fall off the termite-ridden stack of wood it’s sitting on, the man then takes off his hat and beats it repeatedly against his knee indicating to the wife to “come hither” to remove the trailer which is now resting on his foot.

The most important hand gesture ranch couples should commit to memory is the STOP command. This comes in handy when the male is holding a cold chisel, fence post, rail splitter or any other item for his mate to hit with a seven pound sledge. When she misses and hits the male thumb instead, he should grab his swollen digit, jump up and down excitedly and spin around in a circle like a dog looking for a place to lay down. He should then draw his hand across his throat indicating to the wife that she should STOP before causing further nerve damage. Usually this warning comes much too late and the wife always gets in another lick or two. Or seven or eight, depending on the current condition of the couple’s marital bliss.

Some commands are totally male or totally female. When the husband comes in after a hard days work, smelling like an old pair of sheepherder’s socks, and wants to have intimate relations, the wife should first grab her nose between her thumb and forefinger at the same time making a very disagreeable facial expression, which should not require too much acting skill. This is the signal for NOT NOW DOG BREATH!

A typical ‘male only’ signal is the one to SHUT UP. The man covers both ears with his hands and pretends not to hear a single word his nagging wife says. This gesture should be learned in tandem with the defensive maneuver to PROTECT YOUR FACE. This is done by raising the male forearm and placing it in front of his ugly mug to ward off his wife’s wicked right hook, which if not checked will leave him laid out colder than a meat hook.

Hand signals come in particularly handy when working cattle that are wilder than a turpentined cat. If after a day of hard riding your elusive Mexican steers have been gathered only to be scattered to the four corners of the compass by a banker or a supplement salesman who comes barging in at exactly the wrong time, you should raise your hand in a clenched fist and wave it in a threatening manner. Next, the man should raise his right arm and motion the wife in the direction she needs to go to block the steer’s escape. This is the same signal used when the wife is in the way of the television set. The wife will probably give some sort of signal in return but it should be ignored.