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Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away..."
Hey, hey, for boot and horse, lad!
Yes—but in the end, Steve Cauthen remains a fairy tale, for it is not only that he has come so far so quickly, so improbably, it is that he has come from one existence to another, overnight, like frogs and princes. He may be the last of the line. Cincinnati will swallow up Walton, Ky. soon enough. Horses and blacksmiths will be confined to racetracks, as hoop skirts and carriages are to Williamsburg. No boy will grow up as a horseman, riding horses from childhood, feeding and tending them, practicing to master them upon bales of hay before dawn.
Riders will be made in Taiwan.
Walton will be made into suburbs. Already, says Ab Ryan, down at his implement store, his business in Walton is going toward lawn mowers, away from farm equipment. The kids drive up the interstate to Florence, where the big shopping mall is, and kick tires over at McDonald's; the town got government money for city-style sewers (instead of septic systems) and now ranch houses are flying up.
Oh, it is not all gone yet. There is still a town water tank, inscribed with high school class numerals and the names of first loves. The main street, named Main Street, still features an inordinate number of houses of worship, beauty parlors and auto body shops, and a billboard at the edge of town urges that citizens re-think this business about our getting mixed up with the United Nations. Posters advise that a turkey shoot is coming up: "So come out and enjoy a shoot and win a little something."
And there are still the trains in Walton. Two tracks run through town: the L&N, which stands for Louisville and Nashville, and the Southern, which goes by the Cauthen farmhouse. The engineer pulls his whistle right there, as the freight chugs into Walton, and it sounds loud and clear in the house, shrill enough to disrupt conversation, and shrill enough, for sure, to nourish the dreams of any child who ever heard it there, just as train whistles have sung to ambitious farm boys down through all the years.
Steve Cauthen knew exactly where he was going. He would tell his friends he was leaving very soon to become the best race rider in the world. He would tell them that flat-out, says his classmate Mark Gordon, who will himself be leaving Walton after graduation this May, to join the Marines. And the other kids would hoot and mock Steve, call him "Superjock," and flick towels at him. But it was in fun, and Steve would keep saying it, matter-of-factly. It was no big deal, it was just that he thought he could go out and be the best race rider in the world.
And he was absolutely right. "What Steve has done, you can compare it with soap opera," says Mark Gordon.