By: Randy Tucker
The business end of a 9mm can look like an artillery piece if you’re looking straight down the barrel. Thankfully I’ve only had this unique experience once.
It was a lazy Saturday afternoon in early August when our home phone rang. My wife answered and handed the phone to me. My friend, Clay, had gotten into a predicament with a US Forest Service Ranger above nearby Lander, Wyoming.
Clay augmented his income cutting firewood for customers around Fremont County, and a routine check by the local Ranger had Clay emptying his entire pickup load of 18-inch fireplace ready logs onto the side of the road.
We run into these overzealous “Rambo Rangers” at times out here in the Wild West. These guys come from back east with a big chip on their shoulder and look for any excuse to harass the locals. Thankfully they rarely last long as their more experienced superiors quickly catch on to their less than savory behavior and send them packing.
Suffice to say, these guys went into law enforcement after getting picked on in junior high school.
Rambo discovered a single piece of green wood in Clay’s entire load of dry firewood. Clay tried to explain that it was from a recent blow down that he cleared to drop a larger still standing dead tree, but Rambo heard none of it.
The Ranger called a deputy sheriff who was a friend of mine, to come pick up Clay and his single piece of contraband. The deputy wouldn’t confiscate Clay’s load and helped him restack it, but during the investigation, he discovered Clay’s license had expired the day before.
The deputy wouldn’t let him drive the load back to his place. That’s where I came in.
Clay asked me to pick up my dad and drive the 35 miles to where his truck was detained, so dad could drive the truck and Clay back across the valley.
I picked up my dad and brought along my son Brian who was about 11 years old at the time.
We reached Clay’s truck at dusk.
Brian and I drove Clay’s green, 1986, Dodge, 3 / 4-ton pickup back to Riverton, and Clay rode with my dad behind us.
As I pulled into the middle of Riverton, near the restaurant district on Federal Blvd, I saw a city police car swoop in front of me blocking the northbound lanes; from my rearview mirror, I spotted a highway patrol car and a couple of Fremont County sheriff SUVs swerve to block any exit.
On my right was the Pizza Hut parking lot where I spotted an officer crouching by the front of his cruiser with a pistol in the ready position.
I told Brian to freeze and put his hands on top of the dashboard.
From my rearview mirror, I spotted an officer approaching with both hands on his semi-automatic, walking sideways as he approached the rear of the truck.
I quickly rolled down the window and locked my hands on the steering wheel.
The officer jumped back four or five feet from my driver’s side window with his gun at the ready.
I recognized him, “Hi Charlie,” I said. “What’s up?” Charlie was a pole vaulter from a larger, nearby school. I’d gotten to know him when I was coaching track in Shoshoni.
He was visibly relieved as he replied, “Hey coach, don’t move. I’ll tell the guys.”
I heard him yell, “Stand down,” and watched him holster his weapon as he walked back to the cab.
“You guys a little bored tonight?” I joked.
“I’m glad it was you, coach,” Charlie said. “We had a match for a truck just like this one, with out of county plates coming this way.”
Clay’s truck had Park County plates; in Wyoming, the first numbers from 1 to 23 identify the county you’re from. Fremont County was 10, but they only had a partial description of the truck with a 1 in the front meaning it could be Natrona, Park, Fremont, or any of the 11 counties with a 1 on the plate.
The truck in question had a fugitive suspected of killing two people at a rest stop near Rock Springs earlier that afternoon, before heading north.
South Pass separates Riverton, Lander, and Fremont County from Rock Springs where the murders were committed.
The bore of the 9mm Charlie carried that night looked much larger than the 10-gauge shotgun I once owned.
It’s all in perspective.
They caught the guy later that night in Casper; he had taken the turn east toward Jeffrey City before reaching Lander and then Riverton. He was convicted and now has three squares a day on the state in Rawlins for the rest of his life at the state pen.
Clay got his license renewed but had a three-year ban from cutting firewood in the national forest as a result of that one green log.
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.