Some of y'all may recall when I told you in these pages about the days when me and four other worthless cowboys were getting it down the road from one rodeo to another (SI, April 2, 1979). If you do, you'll remember that we had what we called the double-barreled pickup, which we had bought on time from one of our daddies and had subsequently converted to what was maybe the first of the two-seated pickups you see on the road today. I believe they call 'em crew-cab pickups, and it seems like they're pretty popular, but when we put ours together back in the early '50s, we had no thought of taking out a patent, else we might be wealthy men today. But that right there is a fair indication of how our luck was running, not only in contesting the bucking events in the rodeo but in just about all else.
As I said, our intention was other than commercial when we cut the cab of Player's daddy's 1948 Ford pickup in half and moved it back three feet and welded in a piece of sheet metal. If we'd known then that the idea was going to catch on, we'd have painted that piece of sheet metal and done better for a rear seat than the leatherette and chrome bench we'd stole out of the Greyhound bus station in Amarillo, Texas. God knows we took enough hoorahing about the appearance of that pickup from the cowboys who'd be standing around the contestant's gate when we'd come skidding up, late as usual, for the next rodeo. But I'm not bitter about our loss, even though Detroit stole our idea. All we were trying to do at that time was alleviate the suffering of the two of us who usually rode in the truck bed. This had been a sore spot ever since we'd all five gone rodeoing together, and it generally ended up in dispute, especially when we had to make a long haul through rainy weather or when there was a cold wind blowing that those in the truck bed claimed aggravated the cuts and bruises they'd received from being bucked off some bull or bareback horse.
But this story isn't about the double-barreled pickup. I only mentioned that to put you in touch with the general class of our outfit. This story is about rodeo cowboy hats—in particular, the hat that was the pride and joy of J.B. Kingman.
The five of us had gone rodeoing in a partnership. We were going to pool our money to pay expenses and entry fees and then split all winnings equally. Another way of putting it, given the caliber of our ability at riding bucking stock, was that misery loves company.
There was me, who, at 18, was an adequate-to-useless contestant on bareback horses and saddle broncs, primarily because I was too tall and generally ended up spurring myself in the heels instead of spurring the horses in the shoulder. I could've been a good bull rider because of my size and the strength in my right arm, but I was what was generally referred to as a 50-50 man. I had 50 percent of my mind on riding the bull and 50 percent on getting to the fence ahead of him. That isn't a combination that often goes to the pay window.
Then there was Player, whose daddy had sold us the pickup. To digress a moment from rodeo talk, in which praise is the kiss of death, Player was the best man I've ever known. He wasn't much in appearance, just a scrawny boy from East Texas with sandy hair and a crooked grin. He wasn't very much as a rodeo contestant, either; he wasn't my equal on the bulls and couldn't ride bucking horses better than me or any of the rest of the partnership. But he was our leader and I'll never know why. I've searched the souls of men ever since and never found one that could match Player's.
But, Lord, was he a joker! He once mayonnaised the sheets of my motel room bed just as I was about to tumble into it with a lady that I'd just fallen in love with and wanted to marry. But that's another story for another time.
Nor am I going to tell about the time when I'd broken my neck at the rodeo in Albuquerque and was lying in the hospital and he come in the room and give the nurse a raw calf's liver and told her it had fallen out of my body in the ambulance and ought to be replaced.
I will tell you that he got me out of that hospital by wearing one of those green doctor's smocks and without my having to pay the deductible that was due off the insurance we got from the Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Player wasn't his real name. He got it as a nickname because he was so good in the card games that were constantly going on in the rodeo clown's trailer. At 20 he already knew a good deal more about cards than the rest of us would ever learn.