Rat Canyon Range Tale
The curt phone message scrawled on a sticky-note read “Boot dropped — call Chief R.” I was stunned. Boot dropped? I thought; geez, he was maybe mid-50’s and healthy as a horse! I shook my head and called Robbie, the retired chief boatswain and rangemaster at my old home shootin’ facility, the Rat Canyon Range.
“Boot dropped?” I sez, “Dang, Chief, what was it — stroke, heart attack? What the heck happened?” Robbie paused, confused, then laughed.
“Aw, not Boot, ya meathead!” he blurted, “He’s fine. The boot — MY boot! It dropped, like fell! And you’re on the list, so …”
Harken back to yesteryear, folks. In the September/October 2012* issue I told you guys about the weather-worn left-foot Tony Lama boot hung from an overhead beam, the mate to it interred out beyond the 25-yard line, and some of the guys’ range-names, including “Boot,” “Moon” and “Fiddlesticks.” Since the boot has fallen, it’s time for that tale.
The Boot & “Boot”
Long after retirement, Robbie still wore his old Navy khakis every day at the range, his only salute to fashion being his love of tall, fancy cowboy boots, the gaudier the better. He was driving a D8 ’dozer, mining an overload of slugs outta the berm of the handgun pit. He had deeply undercut the berm when a rare, apocalyptic thunderstorm struck, dumping record rainfall and causing flash floods. Bein’ no stranger to wet conditions, the former blue-water sailor kept working — right up until the whole hillside collapsed into a soupy clay pudding — right over the ’dozer blade and halfway up the tracks. It wouldn’t budge; just churned in that snot-like moosh.
Robbie hopped off the side, and bloop! — went right up to his hips in red-brown glue. A coupla guys sheltering in the range shack threw him a stout line, hooked it to a truck up on the gravel, and managed to pop him out — sans his starboard-side thunderbird-tooled $500-a-pair Tony Lama cowboy boot … He didn’t smile for a month.
Robbie hung the port-side boot from an overhead beam with a twist of wire through the pull-on loops and offered a $100 reward for recovery of the mate. Two teenagers tried, and had to be rescued; pulled right outta their sneakers. When the clay-snot dried a little, Crazy Ivan cruised over with his monster D10 and yanked Robbie’s ’dozer free. A week later the Chief ’dozed all that slug-sprinkled sludge flat over the whole range.
A month after that, the native clay was like concrete, with a dusty top layer pimpled with slugs. Robbie asked everybody to pick up a few slugs per trip when coming back from the target lines. With nowhere else to put ’em, they began reaching up and dropping them into that boot, which Robbie routinely emptied until loose slugs grew scarce. The boot hung there fulla lead, straining at the loops — waiting …
Before Boot became Boot, this Hungarian-Romanian immigrant, a heckuva good guy, was bein’ called “Hey you” and “buddy,” because his first and last names contained about 27 letters each, mostly consonants. It sounded kinda like “orangie-zsherbett kielbassy-fitz-kibble.” His English wasn’t too hot, but that was okay; ours was barely warm. When he got excited or frustrated, forget it; he’d choose one word in sorta-English and just repeat it loudly. We’d go along with it until he calmed down.
“Hey you” was a pal to all, a fine shooter and a master woodworker. He could make anything from a violin to an amazingly intricate folding chair from exotic woods we couldn’t pronounce either, like the one he brought to a summer hardball match. He shot, unfolded his masterpiece chair, sat his six-foot-five body down and relaxed to watch — right under that lead-filled boot.
Boot Gets Knighted
We had a problem with wasps at Rat Canyon. We sprayed ’em and sometimes burned ’em out, but they loved the place. There he was, fannin’ himself with his cap and focused on the firing line when a wasp flew up his shorts and stung him on the thigh just below his tenders …
“Buddy” launched outta that chair like a Pershing missile, ramming his head into that boot at Warp Nine. He went down on his butt almost as fast, but when he popped up like a Jack-in-the-box we knew his chimes were seriously rung. His eyes were spinnin’ like pinwheels, his fists were up like John L. Sullivan in a title fight and he quartered jerkily, spastically around, trying to find and focus on whoever had attacked him with a sledge hammer.
We circled him warily, out of fisticuffs range, everybody jabbering until I yelled “Shuddup! He don’t understand! Point to the boot an’ yell boot!” They did. As he slowed down, weaving, he finally got it.
“Boot?” he inquired drunkenly. “Boooooott? Boot!” At that instant the rusty wire snapped, the boot dropped, and poor ol’ Boot passed out cold.
Otter had been takin’ video of the match and got Boot’s dizzy-dance. We showed it to Boot at the hospital. “Ah, BOOT!” he cried. Robbie tapped him on the shoulders with a hospital spoon like he was knighting him and declared, “Henceforth, your range name is Boot.” He didn’t know “henceforth” from a Hottentot, but he understood.
“Eye yam Boot,” he grinned. “Boot. Iz good.”
Robbie hung the slug-filled boot back up with the same rusty wire — and the betting began: How many days until it drops? How many slugs are in it? Two bets, two prizes — but what? Moon suggested splitting the money in the Fiddlesticks Fund, and Fiddlesticks agreed — a tale for another time. Connor OUT
*Go to www.americanhandgunner.com, click on Digital Editions, and you can re-read the September/October 2012 Guncrank Diaries on page 22.
>> Click Here To Re-Read The September 2012 Guncrank Diaries
By John Connor