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The Knife Fight

I directed the actor Slim Pickens in a TV spot for the Forest Service one time. He was an actual cowboy in his early years and then got into acting. His most famous role was in the movie, “Dr. Strangelove” where he played the character, Major ‘King’ Kong. He was also a rodeo announcer and had worked the Boonville Fair. I’m told he said that Boonville was the roughest town he ever called a Rodeo in.

Slim jumping his horse, Dear John, over a buckboard. The signing is made out to famous rodeo cowboy, Casey Tibbs. It says, "Hi Casey, This is me in my best jumping form. Yours, Slim Pickens 11/1/54."

One of my uncles was named, “Kid Dutro” and he used to tell stories about those days as he had been a professional prize fighter as well as a blacksmith and he was the bouncer at the local Bucket of Blood saloon in Boonville. You didn’t want to mess with Kid because he could donate you to a graveyard if he wanted, even in a bar full of loggers.

By the time I got to Boonville for my high school years, things had calmed down quite a bit. Except there was this one night.

We were not yet old enough to drive or purchase alcohol, an item of which we were in constant pursuit. This meant that we had to make alliances with people who had cars and/or, who were old enough to buy beer.

There were two people who had these qualifications. One was a Mexican guy named Rudy. To call Rudy a bad driver would be such an undeserved honor that I cannot bring myself to include the name Rudy in the same sentence with the word driver. He may have had a car but it would have been a grave injustice to call him a driver. His car somehow moved, but it was never under human control. It may have been the first self-driving car. In order to save our lives we occasionally would grab the wheel or even stomp on the brake to try and avoid tragedy. Somehow we continuously overlooked our personal safety for the distinction of knowing someone who could transport us, however ingloriously, and in addition provide beer.

The second person on whom we relied was a guy named Tucson. He lived in a small apartment right next to the old Philo post office, whose postmaster in those days was Marshall Wynn. Marshall had two sets of cash drawers in the post office because he was also a coin collector. One was for incoming coins and bills and the other, which had been carefully gone through the night before, was for the outgoing coins and bills, as change.

Tucson owned three things. A T-Shirt, a pair of Levis, and an old Harley Davidson motorcycle. He had a kind of James Dean look about him except with jet black hair. Without the T-Shirt he had enough bad boy look to bankrupt every girl in the Valley if he had sought donations. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t know that.

In addition to the Boonville fair in summer time, we would occasionally find someone to drive us to Cloverdale for the Citrus Fair. Where the citrus came from we didn’t know, and still don’t, but that’s what they call it. Tucson was our spiritual advisor on these trips and since a car was not among the three things he owned, we must have been riding with someone else, but he was there.

Our plan was to drink beer and chase girls. However, we had not as yet settled on a specific approach, so we just drove up and down the main street yelling at any girls we happened to see. After a couple of passes through the town, Tucson finally started talking about a specific flaw in our strategy. “We are trying to attract them, not scare them away.”

We were immediately struck with the logic of this criticism. We could not find a flaw in his reasoning. I remember thinking that, “Come talk with us” might have been a good approach but my companions were not high in verbal skills so I didn’t mention it. Our respect for Tucson had by now reached a great height even as we retreated home without victory, except for the beer of course.

It may have been the next year, I don’t remember, but we were still carless so we made the same excursion in my cousin Avon’s car. At the time, he owned a 1956 yellow Ford convertible. Since he lived on a ranch, where you could drive without a license, he had run through at least 15 cars before his 16th birthday. They were all just old jalopies at the time but would attract much more attention today.

I believe this was a time when we actually attended the fair. That was usually just something we said to grown-ups who were always asking questions and it seemed like a logical reply and hard to counter. Much better than answering, “Where are you going?” with “Nowhere,” or “What are you going to do?” “Nothing.”

This year we attended the Citris Fair. However, about 10pm Avon announced that he would be leaving the fair and going home. We could go or stay. It was one of those suit yourselves announcements. This was quite a shock to us because the night had just begun. There was a dance still to come. Of course we couldn’t dance or were too shy to ask but you could at least go and stand around with your hands in your pockets and later when someone asked, you could truthfully say, that of course you had gone to the dance. Now, all that was ruined, and so we were pissed. Nevertheless, we now had no choice. If we wanted, we could walk the 27 miles back to Boonville. But there were no takers.

We all unhappily piled back into the yellow ’56 Ford and raced out of town. As we blasted up Hwy 128 on the Cloverdale road, we started needling Avon for driving like an old woman or whatever insult we could come up with. Avon just drove faster and faster, most of the time dangerously on the wrong side of the road just to have enough room to make the turns on that windy pavement at high speed.

Besides myself and my cousins, Avon and Mike, the passengers included Gary Robertson, Gary Owens, and David Bloyd.

Most of the angry talk took place between Avon and David. I had never seen David so angry, he was usually the quiet one. It got so ugly that by the time we reached the Mountain House Avon and David had decided to fight it out. Avon pulled the car over and we all got out to watch. I could not imagine a stupider decision on Avon’s part. To fight a Bloyd? On the side of the road in car headlights? This was going to be Mike Tyson against Minnie Mouse.

It was true that Avon was over 6 feet tall and David just 5-8, if that. But still, no contest in our beer befuddled minds.

Now something astonishing happened. Somehow David Bloyd wound up on the ground and Avon sped off in his car leaving us all behind.

In a few minutes David was almost unconscious. How could this be? We flagged down an oncoming car and got David and ourselves back to some kind of Cloverdale emergency room. They called the cops. David had been stabbed and it collapsed his lung.

My aunt drove to Cloverdale in what was now the middle of the night to pick us up. She always had a pink Lincoln and this one was a 1959 model. It was the largest American production car ever made and it had an engine to match.

A year later, after I had finally gotten my driver’s license I used to borrow this Lincoln to go on dates. If you punched the throttle on the Grange Hall stretch it took off and could easily hit 100 mph before you reached Farrer’s Turn. The body just lifted up off the wheels as if to fly. With that speed and a 12 way power seat made of Australian leather, you had the perfect date car. Not to mention the radio that blasted from I don’t know how many speakers. My aunt once complained to the dealership about the gas mileage which was pitiful, and they responded by saying, “Madam, people who buy Lincolns don’t care about gas mileage.” Well, my aunt cared even though she had her own private gas pump at her Valley Summer Resort. During WWII, with its gas rationing, our guests were afraid of long drives for fear they couldn’t buy gas for their return trip, so my aunt put in her own gas station.

To put it mildly my aunt was not happy with our actions and especially for going to the police. You just didn’t go to the police for Valley fisticuffs, even if a weapon was involved. We all understood that. Once the police get involved you suddenly have a whole new set of problems. I thought then, that we were just so upset that one of our buddies got hurt, that we got the cops involved. But that wasn’t it. That wasn’t what happened. We were just too inarticulate to explain what really happened.

No one went to the police. We went to the emergency room. You can’t go into an emergency room with a wound from any kind of weapon and not have them call the police. That is the law. How many shot-up gangster movies have we all seen where the mobster can’t go to the hospital because they will call the police? The victim is bleeding to death from machine gun hits and he and his gang are avoiding the hospital like you avoid an old girlfriend.

No, the police came to us. As a result of all this, my cousin Avon did a stint in juvenile hall and our family had to go see a counselor as a group. This was because when they tested Avon’s intelligence his IQ was so high that it set off some kind of alarm bells somewhere in the juvenile justice system. That marked the end of my cousin’s crime spree.

David recovered completely and we all went back to raising hell in the Valley, but now with our own hot rod cars.

And the knife? Well, it turned out to actually be a sewing machine screw driver. Counting its handle it was maybe four inches long.

(Copyright©2020 by Bill Kimberlin, author of “Inside the Star Wars Empire: A Memoir” about his years working on motion pictures for George Lucas, to be released in paperback June 1 from Rowman and Littlefield.)


  1. Marshall Newman May 20, 2020

    Nice article. A little before my time, but a lot of familiar Anderson Valley details from the middle of the 20th century.

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