What would Halloween be without a Cub hay ride?

What would Halloween be without a Cub hay ride?
by Michael Az

I just can't believe its Halloween again. Where does the time go? Every year we go for a hay ride and its one of the most enjoyable times I have with the kids and the little Cub. The grand kids are on the phone almost everyday, "Gramps, is the little red tractor and wagon ready yet for our hay ride?" Well, just you don't ever tell them, but I'm sure I have twice as much fun as they do! I always pretend its so much work. When they grow up, then they will understand.

In all my years, I have never had a Halloween as exciting and enjoyable as this one. I can't help but feel compelled to tell you my story, cause I know you love your grand kids {if your old enough to have any} and Cub as much as I do mine. So grab a cup of that old black coffee and settle back.

It started a couple weeks ago when I got this idea and called a good friend. I needed his help in pulling this off because I just couldn't come up with the people I needed. Bob is a professor at our small community college. I called him and told him I wanted to make the hay ride something special this year for the kids. I explained to him that I had a vague idea of taking the kids out to Raven Canyon on the hay ride and having somebody there to make something special happen. I didn't know what as I just don't have any imagination. I reminded him of the students there in drama class or acting classes and that was why I needed his help to get a couple of them that wanted to get in some practice. I figured the students would come up with something a lot better than I could. Anyway, they got all that energy of youth and they would probably have fun doing it. In a couple of days Bob called and said he had a pretty good plan worked out and for me to not worry about a thing. I know when Bob says don't worry, you had better worry! He wanted to know exactly where we were going to go and what time would we be there. My plan was to pull the kids down Raven Canyon about three miles and have a little party there under a big cottonwood tree. I could make some candied apples and popcorn balls, apple cider and things of that nature. Out in the desert at night, its pretty scary, the trees are all narley from lack of moisture and with the sounds of night and flickering lanterns it would be a great setting for some of my ghost stories.

The straw is all put down in the wagon with some of my gourds and pumpkins that I have grown this year scattered around. If any gourds survive the trip, I will paint them and make bird feeders. I try to take extra pains thinking about safety and being sure nothing goes wrong. I air down the trailer tires to about 10 lbs to prevent the trailer from bouncing too much, and double check the hitch. Well, I think we are just about ready to go. Good thing, because I think I would have a mutiny on my hands in a few more minutes, these kids are ready to go! All the kids and parents are loaded up and I request their undivided attention for their annual safety talk. What they can and can't do, they think gramps is an old worry wart and poke fun of me. I politely tell them any misbehavers will be drygulched once we get to Raven Canyon! Thats how I maintain order, keep them cowering with fear! {yeah, right}. Finally I climb up in the seat of the Cub and reach for the starter, hey, I'm sure she started before I even touched it! Surely must be my imagination, but then I also think the Cub is as anxious to leave as the kids. We can get to the canyon without getting on any paved roads which sure makes me feel better. The sun is over the mountain and by the time we get there it will just about be dark. The kids are having a blast, laughing and trying to scare each other. Kinda makes me remember way back to when I was a child in the early fifties and how we enjoyed Halloween. There were still a lot of outhouses back then and we used tur......uhhh, we had better not go there, that's another story anyway.

The way the Cub is humming along, I know shes just as happy as the kids in the wagon. One of my kids will be coming along shortly in the Dodge pickup. Just in case of an emergency and also hauling our goodies. I have to yell at one of the kids for getting a little too close to breaking one of the rules. A good captain must be firm about his authority and meter out discipline. {ha}

With the Cubs headlights pushing back the darkness, I can tell we are pretty close to our spot. Around the next curve and down a grade and we will be in Raven Canyon. I always love being in the canyon, with sheer cliffs reaching up to the clouds and a nice little stream flowing most of the year. Come to think of it, these narley trees look a little frightening to me! As we get around the curve, I'm kinda startled by what appears to be a large campfire in our spot. Oh, drat, somebody must be camping in the same spot I picked out! What luck. Oh well, I guess we will stop when we get there and let the kids get out for awhile and then find another cottonwood tree. When we get close enough for the headlights to show up the camp a little, I'm kinda startled again, that looks like some kinda covered wagon parked there. It is! Wonder what in the word is going on here? I pull the Cub up a little to the side and shut her down, telling the kids to stay in the wagon for a minute. About this time I see a slender tall fellow, in his sixties, dressed in buckskins walking from the campfire towards us. Man, this is too much, whad we do, slip into the "Twilight Zone?" He walked up to the Cub and stuck out his hand and announced, "Hello Michael, my name is Jim and it looks like your right on time!" O-K, now I get it, he's our surprise! Surprised even me! When we shook hands, I swear I could hear my bones breaking, wow, is he strong. I got off the Cub and told Jim I would get the kids unloaded which I did. They were as surprised as me at the covered wagon and we all looked it over as Jim said he had to go check on the biscuits real quick. This wagon is so realistic I can't believe it! Water barrels, sacks of flour, shovels, picks, iron skillets, bean pots, everything on this wagon looks like it belongs right there. I'm trying to sort this all out and here I am expecting some college kids to put on a show or do something of the sort, and heres this! Now it is starting to make a little sense, history is one of my passions and Bob knows this, so maybe that explains it. But where did he come up with this fellow?

I walk on over to the fire and notice several dutch ovens sitting in coals and some of them stacked on top of each other with red coals top and bottom. I am still having a hard time understanding all this and I say "Jim, are you cooking for an army"? "Well, he drawled, I got here this afternoon and thought I would cook up your supper as I have never seen kids that weren't hungry and I had to cook for myself anyway. I got some buffalo stew, biscuits, beans, some ham, and apple cobbler." "Jim, where are you from, that drawl sure sounds familiar?" "Well, I am proud to say I was born in Old Virginny." he said. "Hey, me too Jim, how long you been out here?" "Well, quite a long time, but haven't been in Arizona long, just here cause I wanted to see the country. I guess I call Utah my home, around Salt Lake." I'm sitting there thinking how much is this going to cost me, Bob owed me several favors, but I think hes cleaned the slate and them some with this deal.

Jim told me to gather the kids around, it was time for supper. Half of them were still looking the wagon over and some of them were looking at his team of horses. He give us all more than we could eat and it was delicious. I don't think I ever ate so much. I could hardly move, but I somehow got to my feet and helped him clean up. As soon as we got the dutch ovens cleaned and put away, Jim removed a big knife from his belt and started looking through the trees. He finally found a limb that was suited to him and cut it off about three feet long, trimmed the small branches and leaves and by skinning some bark, he tied the ends together creating a hoop. I watched completely captivated by his actions. Then he found a short stick and showed the kids how to play a game by keeping the hoop rolling along the ground with the stick. The kids loved it and I ask Jim where he picked the game up. He said it was a favorite game with Indian kids that lived up north. Boy, this guy was amazing.

Jim and I talked for about an hour while the kids played and he wanted to know everything about the Cub. You folks know how that is, we can never talk about our Cubs enough! He was absolutely mesmerized with it. He thought she was a beauty. I kept thinking, don't they have tractors in Utah? But I didn't say anything. After a while he called the kids around the campfire and started telling stories, there was no limit! He was telling the kids about hiking through Yellowstone and seeing petrified birds singing petrified songs. Trapping beavers, helplessly watching as a band of Indians stole his horses, fighting off a hungry mountain lion, and finding himself in a viper pit when he woke up one morning. He told every story with conviction and a realism that made you believe he was there even though you knew better. My mind wandered back to a time long gone. Jim had somehow taken us to a magical place. Made me feel as though I was right by his side as we went through some rapids on the Snake River. The kids loved it, but no more than me. I've told some tall tales in my time, but I could never hold a candle to this guy! I've never seen such a good natured fellow. Where did Bob come up with this guy?

Before we knew it, the evening was gone, and I reluctantly told the children to get loaded up cause we had to leave. They wanted to stay all night and so did I, but of course we couldn't. I told Jim what a wonderful evening it had been, how much I had enjoyed it, and he had been the perfect host. Told him where I live and told him to stop in anytime and let me cook for him, cause I also have a stack of dutch ovens. He handed me something wrapped in buckskin and said it was a gift from him to me. I told him thanks and carefully placed it in the Cub toolbox and packed rags around it so I wouldn't lose it. Told me he had more fun than anyone, he would see me again and to keep my powder dry. This guy wasn't going to give an inch, play it out to the end! Where did Bob find this guy? Once again, he broke every bone in my hand. Jim and his horses both jumped when the Cub started up. We did a big u-turn and headed home. I kept looking back over my shoulder still in disbelief at the evenings events. The kids were all asleep before we went two hundred yards. Dreaming of rock hard birds singing rock hard songs. All the way home I kept thinking about how much I had enjoyed the evening. I could tell the Cub was thinking the same thing and I noticed every time we approached a narley tree along the trail, she would pull pretty hard to the other side of the road.

When we got home, the kids were so exhausted, we had to carry them to their cars, wasn't any waking them. I dropped the trailer next to the shop and pulled the little Cub in. She was pretty tired herself. Turned her gas off and said good-nite. I think she was asleep before I patted her on the fender. She had a big night. Back inside the house I noticed I had a message on the answering machine. Back to reality and I wasn't ready to go there just yet. It was Bob that left a message, said the girls that were coming out got lost and could't find us! He was so sorry. What the hay! What's he talking about? I'm standing there looking out the window towards Raven Canyon trying to get this all sorted out in my feeble mind. I just don't know what to think. What girls? I remember the gift Jim gave me and ran {as much as I can run} back out to the shop and recover it from the toolbox. I unwrap it and its a big hunting knife in a sheath. Wow, it looks like a beauty, stag handles with some beautiful silver inlay work. I remove the knife from the sheath and I can't believe it, the blade is Damascus steel! I've never seen but one or two. I am just about ready to pass out here! I turn it over and see some engraving on the blade, it says "Jim Bridger-- Mountain Man".

I made my way back to the kitchen and pour a cup of strong coffee, and forgive me mother, I pour a big, big dose of bourbon in to calm my shaking hands. Yes, I'm still bewildered today as to what happened. I have gone back to Raven Canyon a couple times and can't find any sign we were there, much less Jim, but I know we were there and I know he was there. I still have a beautiful knife with sap stains on it. Is it possible to enter a portal at certain times in history that can bring the past intertwining with the present? Did Jim at one time spend a Halloween in Raven Canyon and this portal brought us together? Was Jim there just because he knew how much we would enjoy him? I don't know. I'm only glad it happened. Maybe mysterious things that happen shouldn't be discounted just because we don't understand them. I haven't told Bob what happened, not with all those scientific letters and abbreviations behind his name, nor the kids. Nobody but my Cub friends cause nobody else would believe me.

Michael Az

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