Friday, December 25, 2009

Well past 'over the hill'

As I have reached an age well beyond any I had ever imagined, it occurs to me there’s a lot no one bothered to share when I was younger - or if they did, my memory has fulfilled the first prophecy.
I do remember people I worked with saying, “The mind is the first thing to go.”
I didn’t believe it then, still don’t. I forgot what they said was second.
But, just in case, the other phrase I hear often is, “He can remember 20 years ago, but he can’t remember what he had for breakfast.”
Got that one covered. I don’t eat breakfast. If someone asks what I had, I say, with conviction, “Didn’t eat breakfast.”
At least that way there is some room for doubt in their minds.
They never talked about gravity’s effect either. Not in family discussions, not in grade school and not in science class when the teacher would talk about how we managed to stay connected to the ground. Nope, no one mentioned that it also pulled on body parts. They never mentioned that as I got older I would need to buy smaller shirts and larger pants, nor did they mention that those smaller shirts needed larger collars.
And in those days, technology was related to some university filled with scientists studying no telling what. Television was the greatest thing since sliced bread - if a person could afford to buy one. At midnight, might as well go to bed - TV was over until the next morning, unless one was fascinated by the test pattern that was on all night. Never understood what they were testing for - seemed OK to me. Anyone else remember the playing of the “National Anthem” as the last thing?
That was more than 20 years ago, still didn’t eat breakfast.
Nope, they didn’t talk about technological advances back then or that first graders would know more about computers and such than most of the older population. Hate watching “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”
Within the last year or so, these university scientists - or whomever - came out with a thing called a Blue Tooth. The first thought was, who the heck wants a blue tooth? I paid too dang much for the white ones. And I got them in Mexico. Heard of a gold tooth, had even seen them. But a blue tooth?
I watched the smiles of total strangers - nothing. Saw some blue hair now and then, but no blue tooth.
Then, come to find out, it’s something to stick in the ear. Do what? So I asked a first grader and found out it was for cell phones. As technology advances, I wonder what other body parts scientists will use to name a new device. What concerns me more is where they expect people to stick them.
And no one talked about the day a person wakes up and discovers someone “over the hill” is too young. When I was in my 20s and 30s, there was a lot of laughter about folks who were “over the hill.” But no one mentioned that when I hit that particular landmark it wouldn’t be that funny. After all, for the first 39 years of my life, “over the hill” meant too old to cut the mustard.
“Life begins at 40” many people said. Once there, I found out suddenly I was looked at with a different perspective. The grandkids thought I was an old man as the hair began to thin - a little here, a little there, the effects of gravity began to take hold and the hair color - at least what was still there - began to change.
Life began, alright. What they left off was “Life begins (to change) at 40.”
No, I’m not too old to cut the mustard, but, in the words of Jerry Reed, I’m too tired to spread it around.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Aught-nine – what a year.
I remember my grandparents and other older folks talking about the “aughts.”
“As I recall, Uncle George went to prison in aught-seven,” someone would say.
Of course, that was only for family consumption, the family’s black sheep were not discussed in public. Friends already knew it, but they were polite enough not to mention it and strangers had their own problems to worry about.
“Bill, remember that big ole catfish that dang near done in ole Charlie? Was that in aught-eight or aught-nine?”
“Leroy, you knowed that was aught-seven. Remember? That was the year you dang near shot me when we was out coon huntin’ that time. Them dawgs was after that one big ole he-coon and you rightly swore it was yourn. Dang near took my ear off, you did.”
“Oh yeah, I remember now. What’d they pay you for that skin, anyway?”
“Dang near nothin’. By the time I got to it, them dogs had it darn near tore in half. And it was your dog did it.”
Well, aught-nine will be a year to remember some 40 or 50 years from now as old timers talk about what an unsettling and historic year it was.
“Hey, Betty, I see on my porta-puter your uncle is still registered as a sex offender. How long’s it been now?”
“Henry, that had to, uh, been back in aught-nine or so, long time ago.”
“Was that the year we lost the house and traded that ole clunker for a new one?”
“Yes, dear. That was the same year they shipped everyone off to Afghanistan, remember?”
“Oh, yeah.”
“Here ya go. Take your nutrition pill. This one is lettuce and tomato salad.”
“Dang. I was hopin’ for the steak one.”
“Now, remember you had that last week and red meat pills can only be served once a quarter. Government regulations, ya know, we gotta stay healthy. We can only see the doctor once every six months.”
“Wasn’t that aught-nine, too?”
“Yes dear, that was the year the government changed the rules. Heck, you should remember, you voted for it.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rick Jackson

He grew up in Jack County, as a country boy who rode horses and worked with cattle.
In 1980, Rick Jackson began working in bronze and the one-time oil field worker has parlayed his love of the west into one of the most recognized western sculptors in the country.
“I grew up north of Jacksboro, in the Squaw Mountain area,” he says from his home in Mineral Wells.
Jackson graduated from Jacksboro High School in 1967 and drove trucks for oil companies. In 1980, he wanted to make gifts for his friends and it started his career in art.
“It was sort of an accident,” he says.
There was a foundry near Springtown where he stopped in and inquired as to what it would take.
“My first piece was Old Buck. I sculpted on it for a year. I cast three or four and gave them as gifts.
“Then I did an Indian.”
A friend of his suggested it was good enough to send to the Texas Art Gallery in Dallas.
“They might handle your work he told me,” Jackson recalls.
He says that a couple of weeks after he sent the piece he worked up the courage to call the gallery to see if they were interested in carrying his work.
“The girl said, ‘If there’s anything to do for a living besides sculpting, you ought to do it,’” he says of her response.
Jackson says it bothered him and it gave him the incentive to stick with it and improve his work.
“In 10 years she called a friend of mine who told me she was interested in carrying my work,” he recalls with a smile. “I told him I didn’t have time to put anything in galleries.”
Up until 1990, his target was horse and cattle people. But that year he married Judy and his focus shifted to other areas of sculpting – more artistic. Which resulted in being invited to more shows.
“Nearly al my commission work is non-western,” he says.
He recently completed a tiger for Jacksboro High School and has also done work for the city of Abilene and pieces for a college and religious sculptures for the Lovers Lane Methodist Church in Dallas.
But his first love was and remains western art.
“That’s what I’m known for – western art,” he says.
“I’ve been real lucky – at the right place at the right time,” he reflects. “There’s probably no such thing as one big break. It’s all those little breaks along the way.
“One day you figure out maybe people know who you are,” he adds. “I’ve made a lot of good friends in 30 years of this.”
Jackson can be reached at 940-325-6355, 940-682-1272 or e-mail

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eye opener

My wife and I were fortunate enough to be invited as extras for the film “The Legend of Hell’s Gate: An American Conspiracy” in Granbury Sunday.
It was an eye-opening experience to say the least.
First, one sometimes hears about the arrogance of those in the movie business. I can’t speak about others, but this group of people, from the producers, directors, cast, crew, extras – everyone – was extremely nice at all times. They treated everyone with friendliness, courtesy and professionalism. It didn’t matter that we were there only for one day, it didn’t matter that we weren’t professional actors, just a couple of locals that were invited to join. It made an extremely long day much more bearable.
We arrived at 8 a.m. and waited and waited and waited. Finally we were sent to wardrobe where we waited and waited and waited. Once it was our turn, it only took a few minutes as those handing out costumes knew where everything was and what was needed.
From there, we headed to the set. There were minutes of filming followed by hours of waiting for our next scene. It wasn’t that the crew was disorganized, it was that it took so much time to set up shots – lights, reflectors, the director’s instructions, a rehearsal or two, adjustments – getting everything just right.
Then there would be more than one take and everyone went back to the start and did it all again – perhaps three or four times. A lot like taking photos for the newspaper – an insurance shot to make sure they got the right angles and the best action.
But perhaps the most amazing thing about the day was the fact that the scenes were not shot in the same sequence they would likely be shown on the screen. A piece here, another there, then go back and do another scene. It changes one’s perspective on what it takes to make a movie and the reason they are so expensive.
Tanner Beard, who wrote the script, has a role in and directs the movie, never raised his voice and never lost his cool while all around him there appeared to be chaos as assistant directors called for this scene or that or went to prepare for the next one.
Next will come the editing. The music, sound and putting the pieces into a cohesive and complete motion picture. That will take several months.
It was interesting, it was in many ways a lot of fun, but it was a 10-plus hour day. My wife and I had been on our feet almost all day – we hurt, we had trouble walking and we still had to return home. As for the cast and crew, they only had to drive to the local motels – but they had to plan for the following day and there would be another 14-hour day, and another and another.
It gives a whole new perspective to actors and crew members who spend their lives making movies. I came away with a whole new respect for those who entertain us.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

'Trapper' Rhoades

Farmers and ranchers in Palo Pinto County, in north central Texas, were faced with a problem – destruction of crops and land by feral hogs.
The solution? Get county commissioners to pay for a trapper – and that’s what they did.
Ronald W. “Trapper” Rhoades started in the county July 1. But he’s no stranger to Palo Pinto County. He was the county’s trapper from 1985-92. From there he went to Erath County where over that seven-year period he trapped around 7,000 hogs. Then he was trouble shooter for a feral hog program until he started back in Palo Pinto County.
The program falls under the USDA Wildlife Services on the federal side and the Texas Agrilife Extension Service of Texas A&M on the state side. It costs the county $2,200 per month, the fees going partially to the trapper’s salary and the rest for supplies, materials and transportation.
But feral hogs are a relatively new problem compared to when the program began in 1915 when wolves were killing livestock.
“There’s no wolves left in Texas,” says Rhoades. "Bobcats, mountain lions live here, they’ve always been here.”
He says Palo Pinto County with its rocks, hills and water is ideal for the big cats.
But the problem now is feral hogs.
“Just like this county, there weren’t any hogs when I started,” notes Rhoades. “Like the state, they’re just all over.”
And they’re doing plenty of damage – to crops, fences and wildlife.
“Vehicle damage – there’s more vehicle fatalities from people hitting hogs.”
He says most of the hogs are domestic.
“It takes three generations to convert back to an old-world hog,” Rhoades explains.
“A lot of hogs with big, long noses with characteristics of Russian boars, it’s just not there,” he says with a shake of his head. They, too, are domestic in origin. And there is some danger for people.
“In certain cases, if a sow has a litter, they will attack you,” he warns. “Lots of deer hunters are cut by hogs.”
In addition, coyotes will also be trapped.
Jan Loven, a district supervisor, explained the coyote problem.
“Palo Pinto County has always had a high coyote population,” Loven says. “You’re not alone. There’s probably nowhere that coyotes kill more than the Metroplex – they’re killing every night.”
He cites reasons for the increase in the coyote population. The first is the use of a chemical poison - Compound 1080.
“When I first came, we had Compound 1080, designed to kill certain species,” he notes. “We can’t use it any more.”
Loven explains that environmental groups oppose the use despite proof that it would not kill other animals. But ranchers started using it.
“Ranchers got this and increased the dose 10 times and killed everything in the pasture,” he explains. “EPA banned it, we lost that control tool.
“Another is the difference in land usage – a lot of properties are not raising anything anymore,” he says.
Loven adds that because there is less agricultural use, coyotes now have more places to live and breed.
Finally, development.
“We have a whole lot of suburban development – you call them ranchettes, we call them smorgasbords.”
He explains that coyotes can come in at night, take ducks, chickens and other small animals before moving on to another home.
“That’s been going on for 15 years.”
“Another thing we have more of is rabies,” says Rhoades. “When the fur market was healthy, we didn’t have the rabies we have now in Texas."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chuck DeHaan, western artist

Western artist Chuck DeHaan, 75, sits at the small table in the large bright kitchen, a percolator on the counter heating coffee, his gaze steady and direct, his voice quiet as he recalls a lifetime of love for horses, his work and his wife.
“Ever since I figured out pencils left tracks – since I was a little kid,” he says of when his love of art began. “I left home at 13 – it wasn’t because of anything bad. I figured there were a lot of bad horses in the world. I could ride them.”
DeHaan, who has won enough awards for his art to make any Olympic medalist jealous, says he competed in rodeos at a young age.
“I wasn’t that good a bronc rider,” he recalls, adding that his rodeo days were during the time of such riders as Casey Tibbs and Jim Shoulders. “I was training cutting and reining horses. After awhile, the art just kept increasing and increasing.”
He says he never had formal training as an artist.
“The point was, it made it harder for me,” he explains. “I wish I had gone to a good art school – I never was fortunate enough to go to any of them.
“Art school would have been good – teaching me discipline.”
Instead, DeHaan said he studied everything he could – even the old masters.
“Norman Rockwell was my hero,” he recounts. “I used to study his work, I studied the old Saturday Evening Post covers.”
While he started making magazine cover illustrations, it was advertising where he worked for some 20 years. Knowing people in the horse business and affiliated fields, he got work with such companies as the Justin Boot Co. and Potts Longhorn Leather Co.
From there he began doing limited edition prints where his work has appeared with the Franklin Mint, Hamilton and the Bradford Exchange.
He went with Craig Walker and Mike Herndon into Clearview Publishing – they wanted to print all his art, but circumstances changed everything. The company was dissolved and, not long after, his wife was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.
“My wife took sick with cancer,” he says, “I told everyone she was No. 1. For two years, I did everything I could to help her. I’d do it all over again.”
Joy passed away in March 2008.
“We lost three youngsters through the years,” he says simply. “It’s hard to lose a youngster. Joy was really a loss.”
Since her passing, DeHaan has had to adjust his life to take care of all the things she had handled during their years together.
“I really miss her and that’s part of that.”
The sound of a bubbling percolator fades away He rises, takes out two cups and pours coffee. Outside the wind is howling from the north, a biting chill. Inside, the house is warm and snug. He sets the cups on the table, still remembering.
“I remember for years being at the studio at 4 or 5 in the morning and stay till 10 at night. Now I go down at 8 or 9 in the morning and I’m done by 5 or 5:30.”
His memories return to his early life.
“I cowboyed, rodeoed – whatever,” he says. “My art studio in those days was in my pickup – a ’53 Chevy.”
He has come a long way since those early days – receiving awards for his original art including the Golden Spur Award for Best Western Cover Art from the Western Writers of America in 1984; Western Artist of the Year, 1986, Midwest Art; Texas State Artist, 1986-87; Equine Artist of Distinction, 1995, North American Horseman’s Association; Cowboy Artist of the Year, 1998, Academy of Western Artists third annual Will Rogers Cowboy Awards; Best of Show, by The People’s Choice, 2000 Annual Academy of Western Artists; and American Cowboy Culture Award, Western Art, 2005.
He stands and takes the cups to the coffee pot where he refills both.
“I’d like to do more historical-type paintings – not cavalry, they’ve been overdone,” he says, returning to the table.
One project he is currently working on is a historical painting of Palo Pinto County’s (Texas) earliest residents – the Wichita Indians.
He recounts that the name Palo Pinto means “painted post.” While the story is that early Spaniards found painted posts along the Brazos River and Keechi Creek, there is no historical documentation that describes what was painted or what it was painted on.
“The Wichita Indians had done this,” he says.
On a recent trip to Hillsboro, he met two from the Wichita tribe who live at Anadarko, Okla., who have invited him to Anadarko to enable him to research the tribe and their traditions.
“This painting is going to be a historical piece,” he says. “I want to get it historically correct.
“This thing has been really intriguing to me,” he continues. “The thing I want to find out most, the patterns,”
The patterns are the tattoos the Wichita Indians wore.
“They were heavily tattooed,” he says. “The Comanches and Kiowas called them ‘tattoo face.’”
DeHaan says the tattoos were not for decoration – each tells a story.
There is also a book – one he published for children, Informative Western Coloring Book. Now in its second printing, he hopes to get more into the hands of children.
“I’m working on another one,” he says. “The first one didn’t go to kids. It went to teachers and artists. It’ll also have tips on training horses.
“I feel like, if a person wants to paint a horse, they need to know something about them.”
It is a short, but brisk, walk to the studio, a rock building behind his house. He opens the padlock on the old door, its paint peeling, showing multiple colors underneath. He raises an old-fashioned latch. The door swings open quietly. On the walls are some of his paintings, smaller images.
In the room where he works an easel stands, the painting thereon one of a pair of horses running from a prairie wildfire barely visible through smoke.
“This is just the undercoat,” he says.
Around the room are saddles, steer heads, a petrified buffalo skull, pistols and rifles. On a table are sketches for his Wichita Indian painting of the county’s early history.
“I work sometimes more on the drawing than the painting,” he says. “I learned from experience, if you don’t have it drawn right, it won’t work.”
From his awards and the demand for his work, he obviously learned the lesson well.
(This was written in December 2008. Since then Chuck has remarried.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Old Gold

It was a warm morning in early June, the two friends had not seen each other in some time, and it turned out to be a memorable day.
Two Olympic gold medalists, visiting and reminiscing about the people and the games they attended some 56 years earlier in Helsinki, Finland.
Bob Richards won the gold medal in the pole vault that year and again in 1956 at Melbourne, Australia. Dean Smith won his in the 400-meter relay and was just nosed out – literally – for a medal in the 100-meter.
“Bob Richards was my hero when I was 19 years old,” Smith says. “He revolutionized this pole vaulting stuff.”
“I remember going over in the plane,” recalls Richards. “We went to the governor’s office. Dean was standing next to me. Dean said, let Bob speak – he’s the oldest of us.”
The two remember staying in the Olympic village where most of the athletes boarded. But not the Russians or the eastern block athletes.
“Fred Wilt, Perry O’Brian and I went to the Russian Olympic village,” Smith remarks, adding that, first, they weren’t supposed to, and second, they were somewhat fearful they would be kidnapped and hauled off someplace behind the Iron Curtain – but it didn’t matter, they went anyway.
“The Russian vaulters came to watch us,” Richards adds. “When I finally went over the cross bar these Russians ran out, picked me up and bear hugged me. That picture went all over Russia, but never in the U.S.”
So what does it take to become an Olympian, to compete with the best in the world and win?
“When I was 15, I found God,” Richards recalls. “That changed my life.
“A guy invested $5 in my life – he bought me a membership in the YMCA. I was around the right kind of people.”
Richards says when he was 15 he was 5 feet tall and weighed 90 pounds.
“I was so small, so slow, I never dreamed of going to the Olympics,” he says. “I was the last one on the totem pole – I had a dream.”
That dream was to play football.
“The best decision I ever made was to leave football and going to track,” explains Richards. “Track and field has really been good to me.”
“I didn’t have the size to get into football,” adds Smith. “I wanted to be a world champion cowboy. When I quit school my grandmother moved me back to Graham (Texas). It did teach me – there’s no short cuts, you have to work for it.
“I had the Lord and my grandmother to help me out,” Smith remarks.
“Did you ever dream of winning the Olympics?” Richards asks him.
“Heavens, no.”
The two were among the earliest track competitors to use a weight-training program.
“In ’52, Bob and I had a weight program,” Smith says.
“I was one of the few guys that weight lifted,” remarks Richards. “It was unheard of for track people.”
But they both agree – it takes a dream, determination and hard work.
“I went to the New York Hall of Fame,” says Richards, explaining that it contains the names of some of the greatest sports figures in the world – Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Willie Shewmake.
“I was sitting next to Frank Giffard. I said, ‘My God, Frank, I don’t belong in this group!’”
“‘Son,’ he said, ‘you dream a dream. Start letting that dream work on your body. Your body expands to meet your dream.’”
Soon, the names of those with whom they competed rolled across the large room that serves as Richards’ living room, echoing in the vaulted ceiling rafters from another era. Fred Wilt, long-distance runner with the FBI; Perry O’Brian ’52-’56 gold medalist in the shot put; Harrison Dillard, gold medalist in the high hurdles; coaches Clyde Littlefield of the University of Texas; Larry Snyder, who coached Jesse Owens; and head coach Brutus Hamilton, from the University of California. Hamilton is credited to leading the ’52 U.S. Olympic team to 14 gold medals.
After their wins at Helsinki, the two entered successful careers, Richards as a public speaker, Smith as an actor.
“I use sports as the greatest analysis of life,” Richards says. “These stories out of the Olympics should be in the Bible. They illustrate life better than Sampson.
“Hair just weighs you down,” he adds with a chuckle.
“All of my stories made hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he adds.
“Who introduced me to the (John) Wayne family was Bob Mathias,” Smith says. “I met them in 1958. I know all of his grandkids and all of his kids.”
Smith appeared in a number of John Wayne’s westerns, including “The Alamo,” Rio Bravo,” “Big Jake,” Rio Lobo,” “McClintock,” “Eldorado” and others. The Internet Movie Data Base lists 79 separate television shows and movies in which he appeared.
“I had great heros, not only in the sports world, but also in the movie world,” he adds.
“At this very, very moment – 76 – it’s like God put his hand on my shoulder.
“It will always be there for us,” he explains of his Olympic accomplishments. “No matter how big the story, as long as you set foot in that moment of history, you’ll always be there. The Olympic games are one of the greatest events in the world.”
“Peace through sports,” adds Richards. “There’s nothing like it in the world.”
For the future, Richards’ book, Heart of a Champion, written in 1957, is being republished.
“All it is is Olympic stories,” he says.
As for Smith, he has been trying for the last few years to get his story written. Texas writer Mike Cox has agreed to write his biography.
Smith, 76, raises longhorns and has horses at his ranch in Stephens County (Texas). He spends a lot of his time going to fund-raising events. He started the Dean Smith Celebrity Rodeo in 2002 to raise money for cancer research at the John Wayne Cancer Institute. In 2004, he was diagnosed with the disease and undergoes monthly treatments.
“I must have 15 friends with cancer and they’re worse off than I am,” he says. “I know how lucky I am because of how sick I am.”
Richards manages a 4,000-plus acre ranch in southern Palo Pinto County. He cares for his large herd of horses and works on anything he can find – cars to bicycles to heavy equipment.
“I wish I had 56 more years,” Richards says. “When I die, don’t feel sorry for me – I’ve had a great ride.”
Smith nods.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Laura Butler, western artist

Tucked back, away from the traffic, out of view, sets a quiet home surrounded by trees, an open lawn stretching away like a park.
The community, Mingus, is small and noted more for its night life than for, perhaps, its most noted resident, one with a national and international following.
Next to the home, a metal building stands, its windows and doors open to the natural beauty of the area. It houses the studio of Laura Butler, the Artist in Residence at Tarleton State University where she graduated with a master’s in English and a minor in art and history.
“My family has been in Palo Pinto County for six generations,” she says.
Butler says she has been painting since she was a small child. She sold her first painting when she was in high school. Now 52, she is an accomplished and well-known western artist.
“I started showing in Dallas with the Safari Club,” she says.
That led to the Savage Galley which had galleries in Scottsdale, Ariz., Santa Fe, N.M. and Dallas.
“Now I’m in one little gallery in Dallas – Monticello.”
About two years ago, she did a piece in black and white.
“I started doing everything in black and white, it captures more of the cowboy image,” she explains.
Those black and whites are 30-by-40 inch oils.
She travels to working ranches to find the subjects for her work, taking photos and sitting down to the easel she has had for 25 years. She says her goal is to show how the cowboy way of life continues into the 21st century.
“Everybody does things like they did 150 or 200 years ago.”
Perhaps the most amazing thing about her art is the artist herself – she has MS that was diagnosed in 1988.
“I lost a quarter of my eyesight in each eye,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me painting."
Besides having part of her vision blocked, she also tires easily.
“Thank goodness I work at home,” Butler confesses.
Tarleton has honored her achievements in her chosen profession by naming her Outstanding Young Alumni and, later, Distinguished Alumnus.
“Tarleton’s Artist in Residence position is awarded to a practicing, professional artist who has achieved a significant state, national and international reputation,” literature from the university reads. “Butler’s work is renowned by many across the United States and has been featured is such publications as Western Horseman and illustrated in the book Western Movies.”
Her show, Shades of Gray: The Contemporary Cowboy” was on display at the Clyde H. Wells Fine Art Center at Tarleton through Sept. 23.
Collectors have purchased as many as 20 of her paintings. Actors An Miller, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn have also been purchasers.
“Southland Corp., the parent company of 7-11, has a big collection.”
She also does commission paintings. For those interested in her work, she can be reached by e-mail at