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Rhonda's Husband's Gun Shop... and one stinky bear

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Rhonda’s Husband’s Gun Shop


     Oh, I loves a good road trip.  Especially when there's hunting or fishing involved.  Or both!  And one in particular comes to mind.  It was 'bout 1989 or there ‘bouts, as I recall…


     Ol’ Palouse and I were returning home from one of our hunting-fishing excursions, this one to the Mendocino Forest (about three and a half hours north of San Francisco). 


     As usual, we’d been skunked.  But it didn’t matter, since we still had a grand time – the best part of these trips was bein’ out in the woods and communing with nature.  Food cooked over a campfire was always special.  Sadly, with campfires now extinct, those wonderful meals are but charred, sand- and dirt-gritty memories.  But there were usually other minor adventures to keep the outing interesting.


     This trip was no exception.


     One afternoon, we’d been working the brush along the rim of a small canyon.  Suddenly, my nose wrinkled. 


     “Oh Gawd, Palouse!  Do you smell that?”


     With a bit of a grimace, Palouse replied in the affirmative.


     “Ya know,” I continued, “that doesn’t smell like anything small.”


     We had a discussion, with both of us recalling having read and heard stories about this part of the Mendocino National Forest being used by gangsters, drug runners, and other assorted bad guys as a dumping ground for bodies.


     With this knowledge, we agreed that it would be our civic duty and responsibility to do at least a cursory canvass of the area.  Being younger and in those days still more spry (having not yet matured out of his Army Scout physique), Palouse took the near side of the canyon wall, and I the upper perimeter.


     After about twenty-five minutes or so, Palouse called “Found it!”


     Dreading his answer, I called back the query:  “Well… whadda ya got?”


     “Wait there!” he called.  Several minutes later, he busted out of the brush nearby, breathing kinda hard.  After catching his breath and taking a hit from his canteen, he looked at me for a moment, then said “Bear.”




     Yup.  Bear.  Some rat-bastard done gone and shot a bear outta season and dumped it in the canyon.”


     Well, we were at least grateful it wasn’t a human.


     After a couple more days of unbridled fun we headed home.


     All was good… no deer, but we’d enjoyed fresh-caught trout and other fine imported-from-home gastronomic delights.  Tired but happy, we were just a few hours from hot showers and cold beer.


     As I was driving along a “switchback city and hairpin curve” narrow dirt road, I happened to glance in my side mirror.  And was shocked!  There was a red light, mounted to a dark green truck.  Wotinell??


     “Palouse… you ain’t gonna believe this…”


     I pulled over and killed the engine.  The green California Department of Fish and Game truck pulled in behind, red light still shining more brightly than Rudolph’s nose.


     We waited.  The driver of the truck waited.


     When finally the dust settled, the California Department of Fish and Game truck’s driver side door opened.


     I watched in my mirror as a booted foot hit the ground below the door.  I glanced, expecting to see some muscle-bound proper Dudly Do-Right character.  But there was no head visible!


     How odd.


     And then the warden stepped into view, and strode purposefully toward us.


     All five-foot two of her, with light brown hair, twinkly-blue eyes, and an almost brilliant smile.  Oh, and dimples. And the only thing Dudly Do-Right about this ranger was the hat.


     She was CUTE!


     With a radiant smile, she said “Hi!” and engaged us in a conversation about our trip, our successes (or lack of), and general chit-chat.


     When we told her we had taken no game, she asked if she could peek beneath the tarped bundle in the back of my truck.  When she returned to my window, she said all looked good and wished us a safe drive home. 


     Enjoying the company, though, I decided to add to the conversation a bit and said “Well… there actually was an incident we should tell you about!” and proceeded to describe the event with the bear, and to grouse about the miserable s.o.b. poacher who would do such a dastardly thing.


     Immediately, like flipping a light switch, she became totally business-like, serious and focused, asking us to describe the setting as precisely as we could, and querying us on the exact location.


     And then, a surprise.  Followed immediately by a second surprise.


     Surprise one:  She blushed!  And then she giggled.  And then she snickered!


     Surprise two:  Then she said “Oh MY!  After I shot that bear, I thought I’d dumped ‘im so far away he would NEVER be found!”


     Uh… YOU shot the bear??


     “Uh huh.  It was rogue, and marauding a couple of ranches.  It was sad, but he had to go down!


     “The toughest part was loading him in my truck by myself.  He was HUGE!  He must’ve topped three hundred!”


     Finally, she shook our hands, then giggled her way back to her truck.  And off we went, pondering and discussing the world’s cutest Dudly Do-Right.  Who actually far more resembled Sweet Nell Fenwick.


     Less than an hour later we were out of the hills, headed south toward the dreaded Bay Area.


     Now, hunting and camping is fun, but like many, while on road trips we enjoyed seeking out small gun shops in small towns we’d pass through on our expeditions.  Usually the pickings were slim, but once in a while we’d stumble across some treasure or at least interesting artifact, and it was fun. And besides... one never knew when one would come across that elusive Savage Model 1920. 


     So there were, passing through some town (St Helena, perhaps?) when I spotted a phone booth. Anyone remember phone booths?


     “Hey, Palouse! Pull on over there for a minnit and let’s check the yellow pages!” and he did.  We flipped through the phone book, and came across one interesting looking listing – “Rhonda’s Husband’s Gun Shop.”


     Wow!  With a name like that how could we go wrong?


     So I consulted our map, and off we went.


     We went up streets and roads.  We went down streets and roads. And we never found the one we sought.  Finally, I pointed, and said “Hey! Let’s pull into that fillin’ station and a see if we can get some directions!”


     As we pulled in, the proprietor strode out to greet us.  Middle aged, not too tall, and wearing a huge grin, he walked up to my little Ford Ranger as he wiped his hands on a blue shop rag.


     “Say!  I bet you fellas are lost and yer wantin’ directions, now aint’cha…?” he asked good-naturedly.


     “Yessir, we surely are and we’d appreciate it!”  we replied.


     “So where ya need to go?” he asked.


     “Well… we need to find ‘Whatchacallit Road’!” sez me.


     “Oh!  That’s EASY! I LIVE on that road!  Just turn right here, go up to the next road that goes off at a diagonal to the left…”


     “Okay, got it so far…” from Palouse.


     “Then ya go about a half mile and… Say, what address are ya lookin’ for?”


     “Oh! We’re lookin’ for 1234 Whatchallit Road!” I said.


     “Oh, okay!  Well, when ya find Whatchallit Road, just go on… about another… two hundred…




     “That’s MY house!”


     Palouse and I looked at each other, then looked at the helpful but now befuddled-looking gentleman, and simultaneously pointed at him and blurted “Are you Rhonda’s Husband??”


     The poor fella looked shocked, and took a step backward, eyes wide…


     “What?  What?  Omigawd!  Did something happen to Rhonda??  Is she all right???”


     O Lordy… what’re the odds.


     We – Palouse and I – busted out laughing, which further baffled the poor fella, until we explained our mission.


     When he finally recovered, he explained that he was a moonlighting shop owner and gunsmith, with the shop behind his house. We had a great conversation about old guns, he was sad to have to inform us that he did not have a Savage Model '20 in his inventory (although remarkably, he at least knew what it was). 


     We hung out for a while and all in all, we had a fun visit.  I had his business card stuck to the wall next to my wall phone (remember those) at home for the next several years.


     Yup ~ finding stinky bears and li’l shops in small towns can make for worthwhile road trips.



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when it goes in the book you need a good illustrator to help with the visualization of that warden putting the bear in her truck...

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NO, No, No, no, no!


You got the bear part right. Anyway, the bear was headless and had been skinned, which added to the thought it was poachers after trophies or "medicinal parts".  


It's the LEO part!  We weren't stopped by her, we were already stopped!  'member? Yes, it was a dirt road, but we were scoping the field across the road.  It was the field that you said the millionaire ended it all by nose-diving his restored P-51 Mustang into the dirt at a 90 degree angle. (F'ing criminal!!!)  Didn't you recover a piece of that P-51 during a younger-years hunting trip?  Nothing to see, except a normal back-woods fenced rustic pasture. 


Then, a light green pickup pulls up at a decent distance behind us.  THAT pickup had a second light green pickup pull in behind it a truck-length or two.  From lead pickup, out steps the honest-to-goodness mountain-climbing, uniform-wearing, sharp-eyed, dimple-faced Annie Oakley!  (This was NOT someone that would "...make the rockin' world go 'round"!) We were hunting P-51s, and she was hunting ROAD-HUNTERS!  We (you) explained the P-51 story.  I could not talk because I kept having to spit gnats, mosquitos and flies out of my mouth. I got my jaw working, and we describe finding the bear.  And she was a bear-killer, too!!


The second pickup was her BACKUP.  You could see the shotgun barrel above the dashboard in the center-mounted easy access rack.  A sad comment on the state of California law enforcement conditions, even back then.  (And WHAT "red light"? Or was that your reaction when she stepped out?)


The most memorable part of the trip was being stopped along the road. The LEOs must have driven off. I looked at you and said, "Dang it!  I was born 10 years TOO EARLY!!"  (And thinkin' I was married 2 years too early!!)


I remember the trip where we checked a road-side yellow pages for gun shops in the area, tired and dehydrated as we were.  When we drove ahead a few miles to the town, and could not find a sign for the shop, we stopped at the first likely spot to get info, an open Union 76 service and repair station.  (Yes, I do normally think that asking for directions is pointless.) I remember walking up to the guy in greasy overalls with the Union 76 patch standing in the bay and saying, "we're lookin' for 'Rhonda's Husband's Gunshop'."  He says, "Well!  You found it!".  The Union 76 station was just part of his business empire in that region of California.  There were other businesses in town, but to hit it first try was amazing.  I still love checking out hole in the wall gun shops.

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