Chapter 15 The Sheep Wagon
What made a big difference for our family of four, not only for skiing but all our outdoor activities, was when we acquired a Chevy pickup with a cabover camper in 1964.
I ran a newspaper ad that read: “Wanted by Private Party. Late model truck and cabover camper”. The response and result was a 1961 Chevy half ton pickup with 6,800 miles on the odometer and a Terry eight foot cabover camper. The whole package cost $2,250.
From the day we bought it we kept a Journal for the “Sheep Wagon” which we promptly named it. We didn’t waste much time taking it skiing. We bought it on January 21 and on January 25 we took it to Blue Ridge for a day’s skiing.
And the log reads that the weekend of January 31 to February 2 we were skiing at China peak, which at this writing goes by the name of Sierra Summit. It proved to be an eventful weekend in several ways. I recall Jeff and I found a slalom course set up on one part of the hill and I gave him his first instruction on ski racing through gates. Also always remembered as a bit of family lore is the fact that it was on this trip that Brian skied into the creek.
Still new to the Camper we had to use empty coke bottles to carry water from the Lodge. Our tank water had frozen. With our own lodge on wheels longer ski trips were both logistically and financially more feasible.
We made our first trip to Mammoth in the Sheep Wagon on April 3, 4, and 5 and we were still learning. Driving up Highway 395 on Friday night we ran out of gas about a dozen miles short of Bishop. Two good samaritans stopped to help and gave us enough gas to get to a service station.
En route home from this trip we met a storm front with strong winds coming off the Sierra peaks. So strong that we took shelter behind a building at Little Lake till the winds dropped in velocity. The Sheep Wagon was kept busy all summer as well but that is another story.
The next ski season started November 14 when we once again were on the familiar road to Mammoth Lakes. The log reports skiing great on snowy Saturday but very cold and great powder on Sunday.
Every trip seemed to be an adventure that season. In February a Mammoth trip had unusually low temperatures for the Sierra. The Sheep Wagon was 18 degrees in the morning. Also Brian had altitude sickness and Mary sore feet. However log reports great skiing under clear skies.
Next trip was to China Peak and it was Jeff and Dad’s turn for troubles. On Saturday Jeff caught a ski to his head leaving a nasty gash. And Dad had a persistent cough. On Sunday Jeff hit his lip with knee. Next day Brian dropped a ski into creek.
Bakersfield is famous for its Basque restaurants and we never went anywhere close to that town without stopping at the Woolgrowers or Pyrenees Cafes for that wonderful cuisine. They were great favorites with four chow hounds.
Spring trips to Holiday Hill and Mt. Baldy reported ‘everyone got too much sun’, often a common complaint about Southern California skiing.
The Sheep Wagon gave us wonderful mobility and a wide range of choices. In 1966 we headed for Mammoth for the Thanksgiving weekend. It was very cold and very crowded so after two days of long lift lines we left and spent the rest of the weekend in the Panamint Valley and Ballarat near Death Valley. Actually desert camping had been Mary’s first choice that weekend in the first place.
But we were back at Mammoth in mid December with Jim Wegner joining the ‘Sheep Wagon” with the ‘Jimmy Bug’, his VW van modified with a bubble top. Only problem that weekend was running out of propane while preparing supper.
In February we were again a caravan to Mammoth with Jimmy Bug tailing the Sheep Wagon. Log describes it best: “Jim, Jeff and Joe off early for Number 3 chair, then to Number 5, then Number four, then Dry Creek and finally St. Anton. Skied, skied and skied. Brian took afternoon lesson. Mary stayed on T Bar. Supper was steak, mushrooms and champagne.
Next day it was more of the same with Brian now joining us as we skied the whole mountain. Log reported afternoon snow fall made for exciting time for one and all.
The down side of using Mammoth parking lots for our overnight stays in the camper was midnight knocks on the door by Dave McCoy’s KBG. We were never alone on these overnight stays, generally anywhere from 10 to 30 RV’s of all sorts would be looking for a nesting spot.
In those years using RV’s on ski trips to Mammoth was very popular, one reason being a shortage of overnight housing at Mammoth Lakes. Later the Condo boom began and with higher gasoline prices using a RV no longer was such an advantage.
Anyway we have several Journal entries describing these midnight interruptions to our slumber. One entry complains about someone leaving outdoor speakers on with hard rock music completely surrounding us all night long.
Another entry reads: “McCoy lackey gave us wrong information and said we could camp at Number two Chair parking lot but midnight knock at door by KBG told us otherwise. Made way for plow and finally got settled near Main Lodge after snow removal took place.”
There was never a need for an alarm clock in the morning. Employes arriving early delighted in sounding horns and making as much noise as possible as they drove by the lineup of RV’s. This was o.k. with us since we were always one of the first on the lifts when they opened.
Evenings in the camper generally including some games. I won a pair of dice cups in a golf tournament and taught the boys ‘Bull’ and ‘Ship, Captain and Crew’ using the dice. This made for some spirited games where the dice cups would bang the table harder and harder. So much so that one evening Brian put a dice cup right through the tabletop.
In 1969 we retired the 61 Chevy and Terry camper for a new rig which included a 1969 Chevy 3/4 ton pickup with a 350 V8 engine and a larger Dalton cabover camper. The big V8 was much appreciated since the 61 Chevy was notoriously underpowered with its six cylinder engine. The new rig was promptly christened Joe’s Jet.
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