Something’s Cookin’ at the
Turkey Track: Part I

76

Tank with Bart’s 8 3/8” Model 29 behind Bart’s home —
Col. Quiro’s favorite barrel length.

After the 7-hour drive from Deming, New Mexico, I pulled off the hard road onto what could barely be called a dirt lane. It’s easy to miss by design. I soon approached the familiar gate with a piece of sun-bleached board hanging from baling wire. In red paint is the word “Peligro” on the makeshift sign for emphasis. After unlocking the combination padlock, I swung the gate open and drove through, then locked it behind me.

Easing my pick-up down the rutted dirt lane was comforting. It led to the century-old, thick-walled adobe house of the Turkey Track ranch, where my good friend Dobe Grant lived. It’s been 8 months since I last saw him, and I was long overdue for a visit. Spring was in the air, and I was tired of being cooped up all winter. Part of the lane is particularly rough from recent heavy rains. The run-off cut washboard channels in the road, making the cargo behind my pick-up bed rattle in their cardboard box.

About a mile out, my olfactory senses are assaulted by the acrid smell of burning rubber and oil. I quickly sped up, worried the Turkey Track might be engulfed in flames. Skidding to a halt, I was relieved to see the crusty old codger bent over a hot coal fire. Above the coals was a large pot, and I could tell Dobe was dumping heavy five-gallon buckets into the pot by his effort. A closer look showed the buckets were full of wheel weights.

The former Marine and Seabee skillfully welded a piece of plate steel to the bottom of a 20” cast iron pipe, making a large pot. He even welded large handles onto the sides. The pot could easily hold over 1,000 pounds of silver, shiny, shimmery alloy when full. The pot was sitting on a heavy steel stand Dobe welded from scrap the gas company left behind when assembling the gas drilling wells on his property.

Yellow smoke bellowed from the coal fire before reaching peak temperature. Then it burned clean. It took about 40 minutes to melt the various lead alloys Dobe chose for his final brew. Next to the pot were about a dozen ingot molds he made from 4” steel I-beam.

Cut to 10” lengths, he welded them together, side by side. The ends were cut at an outward angle, and a steel plate was welded onto the beam ends. This created a trapezoidal-shaped ingot mold, making dumping easier from the ingot mold when the ingots cooled and solidified. They resembled gold bars from Fort Knox, only silver in color. To Dobe, they were just as valuable. He also had an assortment of muffin tins and bread pans for making smaller ingots.

When his alloy was melted, fluxed and clean, Dobe filled the homemade ingot molds with a large ladle. The ingots would be used later when he was ready to cast bullets. Dobe was old school all the way, preferring cast bullets to “new-fangled” copper-jacketed bullets. Besides, why buy bullets when you can make your own?

Dobe made homemade ingot molds from 4” I-beam and scrap steel
plate as well as using muffin tins and bread pans for ingot molds.

A pile of ingots ready for the casting furnace.

An Invite?

Donned in heavy leather welder gloves and an apron, Dobe was stirring his alchemist’s brew of old, used wheel weights he’d collected from nearby friends who worked at or owned service stations and tire shops with a large cast iron ladle. He dumped 17 five-gallon buckets he’d scrounged, heaped full of wheel weights into his homemade pot. He also recovered roof flashing, lead pipe and lead shot to round out his mix.

The wheel weight buckets had cigarette butts, rubber valve stems, gum, nails, candy bar wrappers, bolts and any other garbage garage mechanics saw fit to add to the bucket.

Dobe didn’t care, he said it all either melted, burned or floated to the top. With his pearl-snap plaid shirt soaked wet with sweat, he noticed me and greeted me as only he could.

“You just gonna’ sit there like a fool or help me and start dumping those ingot molds? There’s an extra pair of gloves by my shotgun.”

I chuckled as I exited my truck,” Nice to see you too, you old badger!”

So here I was, wanting to relax and spend time with Dobe. Thoughts of sipping sour mash whiskey, talking guns, outlaws and local lore next to a mesquite fire in his cool adobe home would have to wait.

Instead, I was bent over steaming hot lead, dumping 20-pound ingots from molds weighing 80+ pounds of lead alloy.

Many say Lt. Evan Quiros was Skeeter’s inspiration
for Dobe Grant, as well as himself and few other people.

Groceries for the house.

The makings of a mighty fine meal at the Skelton hacienda a few years ago.

Finally

When we finished, my back was tight and stiff from being hunched over like Quasimodo all afternoon. Dobe now had a mountain of lead brick ingots, over 300 in all. At 20+ pounds apiece, that was over 3 tons of future bullets. We loaded his ingots into the barn with his old, wooden wheelbarrow. The rusty steel band wheel with spokes creaked in protest with each trip.

“Bet you didn’t even bring a gift for the house, did ya?” the crusty old codger asked.

Walking over to the bed of the pick-up, I ease out a case of booze, a split mix of Henry McKenna and Jose Cuervo Centenario tequila, traditional groceries for the ol’ coot.

A wry grin slowly spread over Dobe’s deep, creased, suntanned face as he told me to bring the box in and place it on the scared pine kitchen table. He pursed his lips and curled his tongue, and a shrill whistle pierced the air. This is how he called Esteban, his trusted work hand and confidant.

Entering the house, the unmistakable aroma of pinto beans simmering in a clay pot welcomed me. My senses were relieved as my nose was raw and abused from the harsh exposure of Dobe’s bullet alloy. Garlic, green chiles and cumin flooded my intake, triggering a response in my salivary glands. I wasn’t hungry, I was famished! It had been hours since eating some beef jerky at the gas station on the trip over.

“How long them beans been simmering, ya’ old poisoner?” Dobe replied, “About a week. They should be about just right!”

And they were.

Esteban sweetened the edge of an antique forged butcher knife on the bottom of an old stone crock jug and started expertly carving long, thin slices of cold roasted kid goat. Along with the simmering beans and a large, roasted jalapeno, shredded pepper jack cheese, and the lightest, fluffiest flour tortillas from Mexico, we were set to eat like kings. The cold Mexican beer was a nice choice to chase our thirsts away. After a plate full of food and a few beers, my sense of “all is right with the world” returned.

“We’ll put those ingots to good use tomorrow,” Dobe said, wiping his plate with a rogue piece of tortilla.

To be continued …

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