Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chapter 3 – Hi Ho Silver, Away!

When I was in 6th grade, age 12, I had a good friend named Donnie. Donnie was in my class, and he lived about one mile from my house. I could walk to his house in about 15 minutes.

Donnie's parents were really rich. His father owned a coal company, and their house was gigantic. The house was situated in the middle of about 50 acres of central Pennsylvania rolling hills, and on their property, about 100 yards away from Donnie’s house, they had a horse barn. The entire 50 acres was delineated by a beautiful white fence.

There were always a lot of horses wandering freely all over the property, and they couldn’t escape, I guess, because of the fence.

Donnie was a serious horse rider. Eastern saddle, riding boots, crops, little red fox hunting jackets and hardhats. Really serious. Just about every weekend he was in some horseshow somewhere, proving his proficiency at jumping his horse. His parents had a special room built in their house just to showcase all of Donnie’s ribbons, medals and trophy cups. Donnie was only twelve years old, but he had already won some sort of prize in horseshows 9,265 different times. Poor Donnie.

One day,  the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus came to town, like they did every year. But this year, 1963, the famous Lone Ranger was coming with the circus, and somehow or another, it was arranged that he would keep his wonder horse, Silver, in Donnie’s horse barn out back behind Donnie’s house.

This wasn’t just any horse barn. This horse barn could hold 30 horses in separate stables, had a place where a caretaker could live comfortably inside the barn, and it had an upstairs. They kept the hay upstairs, and when they wanted to bring a bale downstairs, they simply opened up a trapdoor, and threw the bale down. Donnie and I would play in the stacks of hay upstairs, and we’d rearrange the bales to make forts that we could hide in and nobody would ever know we were there.

Donnie and I were riding the school bus home at the end of the school day to begin our weekend fun, when Donnie mentioned to me that Silver was living in his barn for a few days. I didn’t believe him, so I skipped my stop and got off with Donnie at his, which was the very next stop after mine. It would only take me 15 minutes to walk home to my house, so I called my mother from inside Donnie’s house, told her where I was and that I’d be home in time for dinner.

No one was home at Donnie’s house except the maid and the cook and the gardener. Donnie and I walked from the house down to the barn, and sure enough, there was Silver, all alone in a 15 foot by 15 foot stall, looking like a million dollars! Many years later we found out that Silver was actually insured for more like five million dollars.

When I was six years old, I had an entire lone ranger outfit. I had a black gun belt with holsters on both sides, two white handled cowboy guns, a red scarf, a white hat and a black mask, just like the Lone Ranger. I even had one silver toy bullet in each gun. I’m sure they were lead, painted to look like silver, but hey, I was only six. I even had a Lone Ranger wrist watch that I wish I still had today. All boys my age in 1963 were in love with the Lone Ranger, and we wanted to BE the Lone Ranger. So when I saw Silver, in person, and was able to actually pet him and feed him an apple, I went nuts. I said to Donnie, “Let’s ride him!”

Donnie agreed, but said we could only walk around on him, and only inside the barn. That was, for the time being, okay with me. For the chance to actually sit on Silver, I would have polished all of Donnie’s sterling silver trophy cups for a year.

We could have gotten on top of Silver and walked around on him bareback, but Donnie said “I think his saddle is in the tack room.” WHAT? “You’ve got the Lone Ranger’s saddle here, too!?!” With that, Donnie and I walked the thirty feet over to the spotless tack room, and in there were about 12 saddles on stands, all kind of light and dark tan, all English saddles, too. None of them were Western saddles, the kind with a pommel that a cowboy could tie his lasso to after he’s roped a cow.

And then, there we saw it. One beautiful, black saddle, a cowboy’s Western saddle, with silver studs all over it! Holy cow. I was in the presence of greatness, and I was ecstatic. Sitting next to the saddle were Silver’s reins and bridle. If there were an eBay back then, I think I would have stolen the bridle and reins. I would have kept the bridle, but I would have offered the reins on eBay with a staring bid of $100,000.

Donnie told me to grab the saddle, and he took the reins and bridle and walked back to Silver’s stall. I followed, and Donnie put the saddle, bridle and reins on Silver, and THERE HE WAS. All decked out, looking just like Silver had always looked to me all my life.

I put a foot into one of the stirrups, pulled myself up onto the saddle and I started walking Silver around inside the barn. I felt like I was king of the world! After a few minutes, Donnie said he was getting worried that someone might see us and we’d get in trouble. So I jumped down, and Donnie hopped up onto Silver in a flash. He was just tricking me into getting off him.

Now, when one walks from Donnie’s house to the barn, but doesn’t stop there and keeps on walking, one comes to a wooded gully. At the bottom of the gully there is a stream, about 10 feet wide and eight inches deep, surrounded by old trees. You could shoot a shotgun off down by that water and nobody would ever hear it. This is all still part of Donnie’s property. The horses that are allowed to wander around the property like to hang out in the gully, I guess for the water and the shade.

After Donnie spent a few minutes walking around inside the barn on top of Silver, I said, “Let’s both get on him, and ride him down to the gully.” Donnie asked me if I was crazy, to which we both said, at the same time, “yep.”

We both stuck our heads a little out of the barn to look toward the house. We didn’t see any cars parked outside the house, so we knew neither of Donnie’s parents had come home. We scurried back to Silver, and with both of us perched on top on him, Silver trotted out of the barn and down the hill toward the gully. We were out of view within seconds.

Once we got to the other side of the stream, we took off at a gallop, and Silver was everything I ever thought he would be. He was like lightning; he would stop on a dime, turn like a Ferrari, and Donnie was able to get him to rise up with his front legs way up off the ground! I was in heaven, and wished that I had a camera. Of course, only parents had cameras in 1963.

We rode around like a couple of movie stars for about 30 minutes, when Donnie said we should be getting back before his parents got home. I agreed and we started back for the barn. We were back inside safely within a dew minutes. But then  I looked down and saw that Silver’s lower legs were covered in water and dirt from walking through the stream, and we realized that we may have made a big mistake. We knew we wouldn’t have time to clean him up before Donnie’s parents showed up, and we panicked. We couldn’t hose him off inside the barn because there would be water all over the floor, and we couldn’t hose him off outside because we’d be spotted and then we’d be beaten to death by Donnie’s dad.

So we simply left Silver dirty “from the waist down” and I jogged home. But not before I hugged that beautiful horse and thanked him for allowing us to ride him that day.

Donnie was not on the school bus on Monday morning, and he didn’t show up at school all day. I was afraid that he got into a lot of trouble and I was sure he ratted me out, too. But I was wrong. About an hour after I said goodbye to Silver, the Lone Ranger himself, along with Silver’s trainer, showed up at Donnie’s house with Donnie’s father! If I hadn’t been such a chicken, I would have met the Lone Ranger himself! From inside his house, Donnie watched all three of them walk toward the barn.  He waited and waited, but no one ever came for him, so he just kept peering toward the barn.

Soon, Donnie’s dad, the Lone Ranger, Silver’s trainer AND the caretaker who lived in the barn all walked out of the barn and up toward the house. When they went inside, the caretaker saw Donnie and gave him a wink.

That caretaker saved our butts. We didn’t know it, but he was in the barn, in his quarters, the entire time we were in the barn, listening to us plot about riding Silver. He heard us come back and freak out when we saw how dirty Silver was. As soon as I went home and Donnie left the barn, that caretaker began cleaning Silver. He was a pro at wiping down horses, and he had Silver spic and span before anyone was the wiser.

Donnie wasn’t in school that Monday because he got to ride on his horse, in the circus, right next to the Lone Ranger and Silver. How cool was that??


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