by Ron Walker

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June 2, 2012
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Cactus Jack and filling bags with a million pounds of sand

t all started back when Cactus Jack was in high school. He dearly loved horses, and because his dad owned a truck farm, he could have one.

Cactus Jack would buy a horse, and sell it for 20 percent more than he paid, sometimes on the same day. "I really liked when I could buy a nice looking horse, for maybe $400 and sell it for $1,000," he says.

Life was going good for Cactus Jack.

Then he got sidetracked. He signed up for four years at California Polytechnic University, where he studied animal science.

It was there that he met and married a beautiful, blond, cheerleader. "I've always been partial to palominos," Cactus Jack says with a wry smile. Darlene and Jack have been married for 47 years.

What followed, was a travesty. Jack got roped into being a pharmaceutical salesman, and manager.

He was so good at it, that his company threatened to promote him to district manager in New York City.

This bowled him over, so while on vacation at June Lake, he and Darlene made an offer on a motel and ended up owning it.

Cactus Jack was reborn. He loved living in the mountains. Soon he fell in with a pack station owner named Dink(the tree fella, in Carson Valley). What one of them didn't think of, the other did. Dink and Cactus Jack had some real hooting and hollering good times.

In 1978, California had a bad drought year, and Southern California Edison decided to repair Waugh Reservoir. Trouble was, the job would require one million pounds of sand that had to be transported seven miles.

Dink and two other pack station owners got the contract. Everything began to fall in place. Cactus Jack would now get all the horseback riding he could stand. All summer long, Cactus Jack led a team of eight mules, seven miles up the trail and then seven miles back.

"That trail was so slippery and treacherous, that one time, I lost a string of mules. They slipped and fell over the edge. Fortunately, only one was hurt. I thought I could take the rest of the day off, but Dink wouldn't hear of it. While we were filling sand bags, a woman came over and asked what we were doing with all the sand. I told her we had a contract with the California Department of Fish and Game to fill cat litter boxes for California cougars. They're an endangered species, and they want them to be more comfortable. The woman just walked away shaking her head."

This is one of Cactus Jack's proudest moments.

Later on, another dream came true for Cactus Jack. He became a cattle breeder. He and Darlene bought and operated Meadow Cliff Resort in Coleville. "We had 35 acres with water rights. I started with three Gelbveik cows, and by the time we bought a ranch in Smith Valley, I had a herd of 25 mother cows, he says.

Today, Cactus Jack's riding days are over. "I got bucked off a mustang. It was something that shouldn't have happened. It was time to quit riding," he says. Sure enough, Cactus Jack has a barn full of memories and a whole lot of horse sense.

Ron Walker lives in Smith.

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The Record Courier Updated Jun 2, 2012 07:14PM Published Jun 2, 2012 07:13PM Copyright 2012 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.