Snake Handling

Gila Bend, Arizona is parceled out sort of equally on either side of highway 238. It is arguably one of the hottest pieces of real estate in Arizona, maybe in the world. Mostly it is gas stations, truck stops, a couple of lesser known fast food places, and more than anything motor lodges. Gila Bend is pronounced Hee-la Bend. Like the gila monster. The entire strip of store fronts is less than 3 miles in length. If you were to view Gila Bend from 30 miles straight up you might just begin to see the Western Edge of Phoenix to the East. To the West there is nothing but desert, and to the South the tiny town of Ajo is 40 long hot miles down US 85 and through the Barry Goldwater bombing range.
The USAF has the care of the bombing range. During my stint I was a regular visitor to the motor courts in Gila Bend. Our crew of four would stay at the motel on TDY. TDY is military speak for temporary duty. The crew would depart Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson and drive a non-air conditioned two and a half ton truck to the base at Gila Bend for a refuel, and then we would check in at one of the motels. Normally we would have to hit the rack early as we needed to be up on the mountain even before O dark thirty. The wonderful thing about Gila Bend is the water and the town’s water tower. The metal container that holds the water has been painted black. As even a child knows – black absorbs heat. Did you know that in the middle of Summer in the middle of the night you can take a shower in Gila Bend with the cold water full on and darn near get scaled? I’m telling you the truth. But every spider, bug, roach, and beatle for miles around crawls, runs, or flies in there to get a drink. PTL cows don’t fly. I could never get you to fully appreciate the flavor and the texture. Something you will have to do for yourself.
Most military folks will tell you that they have eaten some bad chow. What they don’t tell you is: The more remote the site, the more off the beaten track, the better the chow. It’s like the military knows they are putting you at the end of the world, but they are going to station their best cooks there as a reward for putting up with the remoteness. Gila Bend was no exception. We would sometimes go to midnight chow and when asked what we wanted – it was like no limit ordering. A four eqq ham and cheese omelette didn’t even cause a batted eye.
Normally we needed to be on station by three. The power pro guys would fire up the generators, and the microwave guys and gals would get the radar van online as soon as the power folks said the generator output was good. We would spend 45 minutes to an hour going down the checklist and then just wait for the officers to arrive by helicopter. Long story short: we would do what was required and by mid day the generators and the radar van would be shut down.
We had an old steam thermometer on the outside of one of the radar vans. We came out at about noon one summer day to see it register 130 degrees F. So the officers would helicopter back to Tucson and we would drive the truck down the mountain, thru the back roads of the desert and finally back to Gila Bend.
On one particular day my Sgt was driving and I was nodding off in the back seat. He slammed on the brakes and started to back the truck up. He had seen a rattlesnake basking in the middle of this dirt road. He got a 2 by 6 out of the bed of the truck and by climbing in the bed of the truck he was able to pin the rattlesnakes head to the ground. He then got out his pocket knife and cut the snakes head off. By kicking the back of the board like a croquet mallet he was able to send the snakes head 10 feet away. He threw the body of the snake in to the bed and we watched it writhe for about 20 minutes. I got bored and walked toward the snakes head. When I got with in 3 feet it spun around and hissed with an open mouth at me. Well I never have jumped back so high and so fast in my life


About tnman

I was born, then I was born again.
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