You Dirty Rat

This Is What You Get

By Gary Oberbillig

They say first impressions are the most powerful, and my cousin, Dave Oberbillig, reached the pinnacle of them in the late 1960s, during Salmon River elk-hunting season.

Dave happened to be in the backcountry because of my Aunt Billy, his mom, who was in the two-way radio business at that time, having inherited it from Dave’s dad, Don, after his death. The two-way radio system was the link with the outside world for all the isolated ranches, mines, and hermits along the remote stretches of the Salmon River. As the provider of this vital service, Aunt Billy usually got what she asked for, and when she contacted the management of a place on the river called Harrah’s Dude Ranch to request that some sort of job be found for Dave that fall, they obliged. Dave, a bona fide charmer and a character who was more like a younger brother than a cousin to me, is no longer with us, but this is one of many stories he told me.

It turned out his job that fall was to take packstrings of horses loaded with hay and other supplies into the elk-hunting camps scattered along the river, and to act as the “bull cook” or general man-about-camp for anything that was needed. The dude ranch provided outfitting and guide services for fishing and big-game hunting and it also had another important function: it was a rest-and-recreation retreat for headliners at Harrah‘s casinos in Nevada. That autumn, Glen Campbell and Bobby Gentry were recharging their batteries at the dude ranch. I imagine he caught only glimpses of these stars, as they would have been at the main ranch and he was mostly on the trail, but I’m sure it was a sensation for a kid barely out of his teens, although he probably never would have admitted it. I know I’m grateful for Glen Campbell’s haunting “Wichita Lineman” and for Bobby Gentry‘s “Ode to Billy Joe MacAllister.”

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Gary Oberbillig

About Gary Oberbillig

Gary Oberbillig was born and raised in southern Idaho. He has been a college art teacher, photographer and writer. He says, “I’ve lived on Puget Sound for many years, but to re-establish my birthright, I go east of the mountains and take a good long whiff of sagebrush after a rain.”