“Buckhorn” Bob Wright – January 9th, 2009

GEDC0007I met with Bob in his new “compound’ at the far back corner of Tucker Court, on the east side of Hwy 128 just south of Jack’s Valley Store. He and wife Dee Dee have recently moved their vehicles, camper and trailer to this spot and as I drove up he was sitting down basking in the sun with a can of Natural Ice beer in his hand. There was nowhere for me to write outside so we moved into the trailer and sat at the table surrounded by books, postcards, magazines, and all sorts of personal affects and knick-knacks. It was very cozy…
Bob was born in 1936 in a town called Niles, California, situated at the east end of the Dumbarton Bridge, a few miles north east of San Jose. Bob’s parents were of English/Irish heritage but they split up when he was just two years old and his mother and new stepfather moved to San Francisco soon thereafter taking Bob with them. He grew up in the Inner Sunset district and attended St Anne’s Catholic School from 1st through 8th grade, where school uniform was compulsory and he had to wear a tie every day. “I enjoyed school but when I wasn’t there Golden Gate Park was my playground. I knew every inch of that place.”
At the age of thirteen, he moved north to join his father and four half-brothers and sisters in northern California in the town of Dunsmuir, between Mt Shasta and Redding, where he attended the local high school. He played basketball for the school and was regarded as a very good player with the potential to go further in the game. He loved animals and even had thoughts of becoming a vet but in his final year at school he fell in love with Donna Malapig, a Philippina girl, and she became pregnant. He graduated in the summer of 1954 and they were married in early 1955. “If you got a girl pregnant in those days there was no alternative – you got married and had the kid; any thoughts of a college career were gone.”
Bob got work in the logging industry and joined the National Guard. He and Donna were not doing well together and they parted ways when daughter Marsha Lynn was just a year or so old. Then, following his refusal to go on a weekend of National Guard duty, the commanding officer, who happened to be his brother-in-law who was upset at Bob over the split with his sister, decided to make an example of him and he was court-martialed for this ‘offence’. “I was working six days a week and just didn’t want to go on a weekend away. I was put in jail for thirty days!”
He was drafted into the Army and although there were no conflicts it was the time of the Cold War and troops were still being sent to Korea to “keep an eye on things”. Bob had flat feet so he avoided that particular tour of duty and was sent to Ft. Lewis in Washington instead. By coincidence his wife was not far away, in Tacoma, and they got back together, resulting in a second daughter, Monica Louise, being born in October 1957. Another girl, Melody, and a boy Richard, were born in the next couple of years. His son Richard was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at five and although told he wouldn’t live very long he actually didn’t pass away until he was twenty-three.
In 1959, Bob moved to Stockton and got a job with P.G. & E, a company he was to stay with for seventeen years. He climbed poles, flew in helicopters looking for trouble spots, and worked as a ‘hot washer’, which involved the use of a high-pressure water hose to clean off the high voltage insulators. “It was hard work and we had no idea of the dangers to our health the exposure to pcb’s was doing. These were highly toxic compounds and pollutants that the company didn’t tell us we were working with. They stopped making them in the early 1970’s.”
In 1972 Bob was lucky to survive a horrific crash on his motorbike that left him with multiple injuries, including a fractured skull and other serious head injuries. It was a life-affecting accident – not only was he off work for five months but it would affect his ability to hold down regular work for the rest of his working life. Furthermore, when he finally left the company in 1976 Bob had no idea that he had already contracted a form of skin cancer as a result of his work on the cleaning of the electric transmitters and distributors.
During his time in Stockton he and friends had often traveled up to the Cloverdale area on their motorbikes. Meanwhile he had received a settlement as a result of being the innocent party in the bike accident and so when he and his wife finally split up for good he gathered his savings and moved to the area. To his disappointment, and still causing him sadness, Bob is now also estranged from all three of his daughters. “It was all my fault”, he says regretfully…
Soon after arriving Bob decided to put his savings into a venture with friends Bob and Chris Yarmie and in 1977 they opened a bar, ‘Elmer’s’ in Cloverdale, now called the ‘Eagle’s Nest’. “I had been in bars since I was five years old. I was very experienced in the bar scene”…He initially lived at the bar but he soon moved into a house at the front of some property in Yorkville. There were two cabins on the property with the one at the back of the property occupied by Bob Murdoch. Hence they became Back House Bob and Front House Bob of Yorkville.
It was during this time that Bob used to first visit Anderson Valley on a regular basis. He drank at The Boonville Lodge and quickly got to know many Valley people. He sold his bar in 1979 and bought twenty acres and an unfinished house on Holmes Ranch Road from Cheryl Schrader. He loved the Valley lifestyle and began to grow pot on his property. “I had done all the ‘up-the-nose’ stuff in my earlier days but it was not for me. I do not do any pharmaceuticals and find people who do that stuff are generally unpleasant to be around. Cannabis is my drug…and alcohol of course.”…
“I was at most of the social events that took place in the Valley. We always went to the Cheesecake Complex on the Philo-Greenwood Road for the jungle ball games once a week. It’s like volleyball but with few rules. It was co-ed and therefore lots of fun!…I would always turn up with Buckhorn Beer – they don’t make it anymore.  It cost me ninety-nine cents for a six-pack – from that time on I was known as Buckhorn Bob.”
“I particularly liked the music scene in the Valley and have followed the music of Pilar Duran, Kevin Owens, Rod DeWitt, and John Becker for years. My favorites were A.J. Soars and David Dart. I loved his “you never miss your water until your well runs dry” song. I’m getting goose-bumps now just talking about these time.”
“Money was tough. The injuries from the accident meant I could never really find regular work. I sold the house and lived rough for a time. Then in 1989 Bill Ahrens told me about a Dodge Overland trailer that was for sale in Ukiah. It was in good shape and a good price. I’d been to Germany, Denmark, and England but I’d not really seen much of this country so I bought the trailer and set off to see the likes of New Orleans and the south…I loved the books ‘Travels with Charlie’ by John Steinbeck and Blue Highways’ by William ‘Least Heat’ Moon and they inspired me to want to travel more.”
During his travels Bob had some wonderful times and particularly enjoyed attending the harmonic convergence at Mt. Shasta in 1990 but then when Bob returned to the Valley in 1991 he was involved in another accident just south of Boonville. His motor home was wrecked and he was homeless once again. “The insurance investigator found that the accident was the other guy’s fault and I avoided any fines or penalties but I had lost my home and received no compensation. I’d met Dee Dee around that time – I guess you’d say we are soul mates, it’s weird how we connect at times – and we moved around the Valley in an old camper I’d bought and stayed on various properties. I’ve been all kinds of homeless in my lifetime but when you see what is going on in this world and how many others are homeless you realize you’re just one of many, brother.”
In recent years they moved to the space on Cheryl Schrader’s property in Boonville behind the Redwood Drive-In where he and Dee Dee helped with the Animal Rescue run by Cheryl. “We walked and fed the animals twice a day, seven days a week for three years”…His health problems continue and he has had a hip replacement and more neurological treatment in recent years “and every time I go to the hospital and the doctors read my charts they say how lucky I was to survive that crash. I have a medical marijuana card and my many aches and pains are soothed legally.”
I asked Bob what were his favorite places to hang out in the Valley. “I love to go to the river with the dogs and hang out there and throw sticks and enjoy the sun. I need the sunshine and it’s warmth – it helps me live…I also like going to The Lodge in the late afternoon for a beer and a game of pool…I love the Valley. Maybe it’s because I know so many people here and can get whatever I want whenever I want it from friends and to help them if they need some favor in return. Then every Wednesday Dee Dee and I go to Sweetwater Spa and Gardens in Mendocino and for $6 each we get a shower, hot tub and sauna…There’s nothing about my life here that I don’t like…
Next I began to put forward the usual button-pushing issues for Bob’s comments…The Wineries? – “I just think they are part of what we should expect. Growing up in San Jose area I remember all the orchards and now look at that part of the world.”…KZYX? – “Well, I have some negative feelings about that. I simply don’t think they play enough ‘good’ music. They now finally have some coverage of school sports which I welcome. The technical difficulties are annoying and never seem to end. Overall, give me the Beatles on a Sunday morning over that Celtic music anytime.”…The A.V.A.? – “Without a doubt it is better with Bruce at the helm. He’s definitely softened up – good for him, although he still tells it like it is and there’s nothing wrong with that.”…The High School? – “I’d like to support the school but we don’t have the means to. I used to play pick-up basketball games in the gym right up until the early eighties – I suppose I’ll always have my basketball ‘jones’…We are friends with Assistant Principal Jim Tomlin and his wife Suzanne. They have always treated us very well and I admire his relationship with the kids…And what Cassidy Hollinger has achieved in getting accepted by Vassar College is remarkable – good genetics right down the line in that case. Bill Ahrens was a great guy; his radio show was one of my favorites”
We took a break and Bob went outside and asked Dee Dee, “Did you roll me a doobie?’…”I did”, answered Dee Dee, “but I smoked it.”…”Good answer” Bob replied as he raised his bushy eyebrows and gave me a grin as he began to roll another one…
On our return to the trailer Dee Dee joined us and gave me a slice of delicious homemade lemon pie with a gram cracker crust along with a can of Natural Ice beer…I now asked Bob who he’d vote for Mayor if such a position was created. “Emil Rossi would be right up there. He calls it like it is and that’s what I’d want in a mayor.” And what would you do if you were Mayor? – “I’d have a well-marked crosswalk in town with people stopping traffic and giving tickets for those who failed to stop. People drive far too quickly through town and nobody gets after them. We have lost Lorkin who was hit on the crossing. It’s a matter of time before someone else gets seriously hurt.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Bob from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
What is your favorite word or phrase? – ‘Voluptuary – it means a person devoted to the pursuit and enjoyment of sensual pleasure. I’ve tried to do this to some extent and I’ve done quite well considering I haven’t had much money.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Hypocrite.”…Dee Dee then added, “And what about ‘damn flies’ – as a baby, according to his baby book, that was the first thing Bob learned to say”…Bob replied, ”Well, that’s a good one too – life in a trailer can certainly be miserable with those damn flies.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Growing things and having animals around.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – ”The radio cutting out in the middle of an interesting conversation – hint, hint!”
What sound or noise do you love? – “The flute playing of Herbie Hancock.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “The sound of boulders being dropped off from the back of a dump truck.”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – There are so many but I suppose ‘oh shit’ is the one I use the most.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Playing pool”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “I wish I could have been a vet. I love animals and I know how to handle them. Animals trust me, and I wouldn’t think of doing anything to them so that they wouldn’t trust me.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “I couldn’t be a doctor or M.D….
Do you have any words to live by? – “Like others, I have tried to live by the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ I give everyone respect until they stop giving me respect – then I drop them like a hot potato.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Ha, ha!…It would be, “Welcome home, Bob!’…

Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 7:11 pm  Comments (1)  

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