A glow of light creeps over the eastern horizon. Its intensity heightens until the air is heavy with heat. Dust devils swirl along sheep trails that traverse the hills, while on flatlands yellow tufts of wheat grass bend with southwesterly winds. Across the flatland of washes and sagebrush, from east to west, cuts a single line of railroad tracks… The rails reflect the sun like mirrors, bright and blinding… Parallel to the tracks runs an old highway, cracked and buckled from the shifting shale sands, and next to it a sleek modern freeway, Interstate 70.
Where the old highway meets the interstate, at the narrowest point between the roads and the railroad, sits a meager cafe, an Amoco station, and a little community—two houses, three trailers and a horse corral, to be exact.
Before the highway was built, long before the freeway was even invented, this little community was just a switching station. And when Dad came with his father and family in June of ’47 to build a business there, it was called Brendell. Old timers still call it Brendell, but Grandad named it Crescent, for the bend the railroad tracks take along the flatland. It doesn’t resemble much of a switching station anymore. An extra row of tracks and old loading ramps are all that remain. Now it’s a truckstop whose backyard is cluttered with old cars—relics from the fifties and sixties, piles of ties, empty bomb boxes from World War II, and an assortment of someday useful junk that has found its home there.
A soft smear of light marks the horizon to begin another day at Crescent. The stars to the east slowly fade one by one, and to the south, the ragged clefts that edge Salt Valley cast soft shadows on the valley floor. A range of cliffs resembling a library shelf of grey-bound novels forms the northern border of the flatland, looming above the desert—harsh, stark and grey. But in these early morning hours, its sandy base and rocky rims are lavender and distant. The desert sun is low and mellow, and the air is still cool from the night when Dad wakes, stares in the mirror at a reddened face and puffy eyes. He slowly pulls his Levi’s on. They have holes where battery acid splattered on them, and a little grease around the bottom, but they’ve got a long way to go before they’re really dirty. He buttons his grease-stained shirt, fumbles with the laces of his work shoes and mutters to himself, “Another day, another dollar…”
By the time he reaches the horse corral, the sun is in full view and beginning to warm the desert floor. He untwists the mess of wires on the gate and opens it wide for the horses to pass through. He pats each one on the flank or scratches their foreheads. He tells them to stay away from the freeway and warns that if they run off to Thompson (six miles away,) he’s going to lock them up for a couple of days. He stays there and watches them pick their way through the junked cars. Then they bolt, with tails in the air, over the railroad tracks and across the flats.
Buddy meets him at the door of the Station. He barks, paws the window in the door, sits, whispers, whines, and turns circles while Dad unlocks the door. In short, he tries every trick he has ever learned. Dad knows what Buddy wants and throws him a piece of beef jerky. He’s a faithful companion for the rest of the day. Wherever Dad is, Buddy is. If he’s lying outside a door, Dad is inside. If you can’t find one, most of the time you can’t find the other.
After Dad opens up the garage doors, and sets out all of the equipment—the air jack, the old rack—he ambles over to the Cafe to have a cup of coffee with Grandma. They discuss the newspaper and worry about the heat, her back, and the sad state the world is in. While they sip their coffee, the temperature is rising. By noon it will be in the high nineties, and Dad knows he’s got a lot of work to do before the heat sets in. There is always garbage to be hauled and cars that need to be fixed. If the air conditioner isn’t broken, then the sewer is backed up, or the pipe line that comes all the way from Thompson with the water supply has sprung a leak and is forming an oasis. Sometimes he has to jump in the wrecker and fly down the freeway to chase the horses off the road and back down the flats. There are always bills to be paid, gas to be ordered, and books to be balanced. He has hired help, but aside from pumping gas and fixing minor car repairs, he has to do most of the work himself. He knows that if it’s going to be done right, he has to do it. In short, Dad’s the plumber, the carpenter, the bookkeeper, the gardener, the garbageman, and the cowboy of Crescent Junction.
When a tourist naively asks him, “What’s there to do around here?” he just grins to himself and doesn’t bother to explain. When they ask about the plaque on the wall of the service station that reads, “In memory of Ed Wimmer, a dream fulfilled,” he tells them about Granddad and how he wanted to build a business here. They either stare at him blankly or whisper among themselves, “Why here? This was his dream?” Few people understand, but he really doesn’t expect them to.
Dad doesn’t mind the hard work, and he really doesn’t care what people think of the place either. He sweats and swears, and grumbles at the hired help. Sometimes he’s just a mean old bear. But he almost always apologizes. It’s funny how he grumbles at the tourists who run out of gas five miles down the road but always gives them a free ride back to their car—or at least trusts them with a gas can. And it doesn’t matter how busy he is, he always has time to watch the sun set.
At night, when the desert is cooling down, and Dad finally has time for himself, he lies on the grass in the front yard. With his hands behind his head, he hunts through the vast expanse of stars for the Big Dipper. He thinks about what happened during the day and worries about what he didn’t get done. Sometimes he dreams about the places he wants to go, and the land he wants to buy so he can build his adobe house and just raise horses—that is, if he ever gets the money. But he knows that he can never leave for very long and that it’s already asking a lot just to save enough money to help his daughters with college and to keep his two grandkids in toys. Besides, he doesn’t want to move. It’s more than just a place where work is never done, more than just a greasy, grimy gas station in the middle of the desert.
Dad lies there for hours sometimes just listening. A warm summer zephyr rustles in the trees and busy little crickets rub their feet together. Out on the parking lot, diesel engines purr and bats swoop at the light posts, while the horses pace restlessly in their corral. Sometimes Buddy barks at nothing and distant voices drift from the houses. As the moon rises boldly over the freeway, all these sounds echo through the cool night and finally fade into the openness. They speak to a man of comfort in simplicity.
In addition to the illustration, Page Holland contributed the photographs and their captions.
To read the PDF version of this article, click here.
To comment, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Don’t forget the Zephyr ads! All links are hot!