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Friday, June 1, 2012

A Stampede of One!

Greetings fellow travelers, does everyone have their towel?

The weather forecast for beautiful downtown Fallon, where farm implements still travel Main Street and drivers obey the speed limits, will be a warm 94F under sunny skies with a light breeze of 8 mph from the SSW to stir the cotton floating in the air. Drink more water than you think that you will need! Do it!

It has been an eventful and busy week with appointments every day and tasks to accomplish, and the never ending stream of e-mail that threatens to burst my inbox, and my brain.

Mr S. continues to deteriorate mentally with his dementia, now believing that he is "better than ever" and can live on his own again and get a car. Which he told us four times in a row without realizing that he had said it before. Fear not America, we will not turn him loose on the highways. We took him to the doctor early in the week for a check up and adjusted his pain medication to help with the degenerative joint disease and arthritis in his knee, which may account for his feeling "better than ever". He has yet another appointment today.

It is a very hard task to do what you have to do to care for the older members of your family, because you also are trying to preserve their dignity while keeping them safe and as healthy as possible.

We also had to make the tough decision to give away our young dog Jessi, who was just too much for us to handle and never really fit in with our old dog or our lifestyle. She is better off with someone who can and will spend all of their time with just her. It was a choice that had to be made. Mikki (our 10 yr old Border Collie) is happy and relaxed again and doesn't feel the need to run outside and bark constantly. Life is calm again.

We are one month from moving into the Silver Legacy for the Mensa AG and the pace will be frantic for the next 40 days or so. I am looking forward to this 5 year ordeal being over. And so is my doctor.

Today we will hop in Mr Peabody's way back machine and travel to Alaska and 1978. Put on your warm coat because it is freezing cold outside!

A Stampede of One!

It was January of 1978 and I was at Ft. Greely located at Delta Junction, Alaska where “Operation Jack Frost” was about to get underway. It was 65 below zero without figuring the wind chill, and the wind was blowing steadily and hard. The official reported wind chill was minus 120F. Damn it was cold!

Fort Greely is a U.S. Army base and the home of the Arctic Test Center. It has a large, but unmanned airport located on it, (that we were now using) and the University of Alaska has a large parcel of land adjoining it where they do agricultural studies of all types, including animal adaptability to severe winter conditions. This agricultural center is home to one of the largest buffalo herds in existence and they are not always where they are supposed to be. However, wherever they are they are very, very protected. In essence, they could do no wrong.

There is a paved road that runs between the airport and the Ag Center and it is patrolled by the Alaska Highway Patrol, who are your only hope of getting help if you break down on this stretch of highway. Because of the remoteness and lack of equipment, all of the vehicles that operate in and around Ft. Greely and DJ (Delta Junction) use the same radio frequency, including the AHP.

One afternoon, a day or so before the big exercise was to begin, we got a call from a Highway Patrol unit saying that a very large bull buffalo was on the highway itself and he was going to chase it off before somebody hit it in the snowstorm that was going on at the time. We could see him (actually his car) easily, he was straight out from the tower, stopped in the middle of the road, about a mile from us. 

This young police officer was new to the district and had grown up with cows, but had never experienced the size and attitude that comes wrapped in a buffalo robe. He had no way of knowing that he was facing a bull that ripped gates off of their hinges and ran through barbed wire fences for fun.

Right after the trooper ended his radio transmission; we heard another, really bad, radio call that we could only understand the word "lights" out of all that was said. I grabbed the radio and transmitted instructions to, "Say again Lights?" basically asking for a repeat of the message. I had no more un-keyed the microphone and the partial answer, "lights" and "buffalo" came through that time.

What we didn't know was that a gamekeeper from the Ag Center, (who was nearly out of radio range), was trying to warn the trooper NOT to use his flashing lights because he knew the bull that was out there was "Bob" (which I was told stood for Bad old bastard) and lights or even anything shiny, sent that particular animal into a berserk rage for some reason. Bob had been exiled from the lower 48 for causing destruction everywhere he went, he was truly a "Stampede" all by himself.

As you would guess, the trooper heard the same thing that we did; but he thought that he was being advised to USE his flashing lights to run the bull off the highway. So when he turned them on, the bull charged the patrol car and head-butted the radiator! Bob smashed that radiator right back into the fan and "killed" the unit! This was the newest vehicle in the AHP fleet and had not had the push bar/grill guard installed over the plastic grill, and didn't have a scratch on it. Until now that is!

The old buffalo staggered off a bit dazed and the officer got out of his vehicle, (which was a decidedly bad choice) to inspect the damage. He did hang his radio microphone out of the partially opened window (and then rolled it up to keep the warmth in), so that he could communicate if necessary.

Of course “Murphy” is known to ride with police officers too, so as luck would have it; he also unwittingly locked his door; with the keys inside. Well, big deal you might say, the car was out of service anyway; but you forget about the Bob, and the lights that were still going around and around.

When the bull shook off the affects of his collision with the cruiser, he saw the lights again and proceeded to launch another attack; this time with the trooper on the outside of the vehicle and suddenly very aware of his position.

He yelled into the radio microphone as he started to run around the car, "I need permission to fire" and took off around the vehicle, trying to keep the car between him and the four-legged demolition unit.

That ornery buffalo proceeded to bang the sides in on the car and broke the glass on both ends (because the headlights and taillights were flashing) and when the trooper got back to his radio he again yelled, "Please get permission to fire". About that time Bob jumped onto the hood and roof of the patrol unit going after those infuriating lights and the officer was in dire straits. He was still holding off shooting until he had permission to blast the beast. It certainly seemed ridiculous, but he was scared of the consequences if he should shoot one of these critters without authorization. He was the new guy in the district (and still on probation) and had been briefed about how precious and valuable the buffalo herd was and how HE (the trooper) was replaceable.

Finally, there came a loud and booming voice over the radio; somebody said, "Shoot the Damned Thing!" And he did, six times, and reloaded his 44 magnum revolver, but it had done its work and he was safe finally.

We “officially” never did find out who gave the order, but it was alright with us and I'm sure it was just dandy with the trooper. I had my suspicions based upon the signal strength and clarity of the radio call, but I wasn’t going to even voice my opinion, he was too far up the food chain for me to say anything about and I agreed with what he did.

The University veterinarian performed an autopsy as a matter of procedure. Of course it was pretty obvious that "lead poisoning" from a 44 magnum was the reason for his demise, but that buffalo had been acting very strange before this incident and he wanted to try and find out why.

The doctor had his answer in very short order; the old rascal had a huge brain tumor and he wouldn't have made it much longer anyway. He felt that the tumor caused extreme light sensitivity and possibly pain from the intensity of the flashes, thus driving the bull into a frenzy.

The Ag Center guys were happy that this cantankerous old bull got to go out in a "Blaze of Glory" doing battle and not wasting away to nothing standing in a holding pen somewhere, waiting for the inevitable. They also heaved a huge sigh of relief that they wouldn't have to repair the pens and fences daily any more and constantly have to watch over their shoulder for the surprise attacks of Bad old Bob.

The trooper was exonerated of any wrong-doing in the shooting and cleared of any negligence in regards to the complete and utter destruction of one brand new 1978 patrol unit, with less than 500 miles on it as it happens.

As for the buffalo, he has a plaque on the wall at the Ag Center in DJ telling of the "Great Battle" and he provided one hell of a barbeque that following June when they unfroze his carcass and invited the entire staff of the Alaska Highway Patrol to a feast in honor of the two "combatants".

You've got to love that Alaska sense of humor!

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