On the Way to WorkRichard Soberpaintings

Drifting Backward

“It was near the end of May. Nights in the garage were cold. No matter how much we swept it, the grit on the cement floor always returned. The cots were narrow, even for a skinny kid like me. From a butte above the river Steve and I watched the evening sky turn its shoulders on the world. The forsaken town below looked like a faded beauty. The weeds in the drive-in movie parking lot stumbled over each other. Henry Walborn chained his on-eyed dog, Blackie, to a short metal rod hammered into the hard soil. Dry gulches cut through Walborn’s face, eroded brown soil pocked with decades of exposure to wind, sun, precipitation. His lips were two parallel scars long desiccated by anger, an excavated loneliness. Walborn’s eyes were turquoise, I mean the stone, not the color. His blue overalls and work boots were another geologic saga of skin. His hands brutally articulate growths. I never saw him touch his wife. Walborn’s wrath sometimes assumed the form of holding diatribes against Indians, despite their profound absence. He sent us out to teach ourselves how to drive one of his 40,000 lb. capacity dump trucks. Steve and I practiced stalling, grinding gears, drifting backwards downhill, laughing nervously. We watched the deer and the antelope roam. For weeks we worked chores for Walborn who was a custom wheat harvester. He left Oklahoma in the 1930’s. We were preparing to drive to Oklahoma and work our way back to Ft. Benton, Montana for the summer wheat. We followed Walborn south, he in one truck, we in the other. At a truck stop in Casper, Wyoming we asked when we were going to be paid. Walborn said, paid? Why you boys are just in training, you get paid once we start harvesting wheat. While Walborn was relieving himself in Cheyenne we grabbed our bags and walked away past idlers leaning against storefronts, cigarettes glowing a few inches from their faces. We never saw Walborn again.” Thirty-six years after Steve and I hopped a bus for Denver from Cheyenne, I told the driver pulled to the side of the road at the transfer station in Santa Fe the story behind why I wanted photos of his truck. He said take as many as you want. After I did, he drove off with a wide grin and a hand goodbye.

RS 2008