Teri Vance: Bookmobile in Ruby Valley

A few weeks ago I returned to my alma mater — the one-room schoolhouse in Ruby Valley about 70 miles from Elko, the nearest town — to write a story about the importance of Bookmobiles, especially in Nevada’s remote landscape.

It was one of those moments. The ones where you can see your life from the outside in.

Going back home after a long absence, you see things with fresh eyes. And that’s what I saw on the Bookmobile — it’s like a portable library that visits remote locations every couple of weeks.

It may be a library on wheels, but there are things you’ll see on the Ruby Valley Bookmobile you won’t see anywhere else.

For as long as I can remember, Ben Neff has ridden with the Bookmobile driver to the stop in front of the school.

Ben is a few years older than me. He’s mentally handicapped, and has an enviable interest in the world around him.

Ben gets to start the movies at the theater in Elko, he often gets invited into the cockpit of planes.

He wears four or five watches on each arm, and collects anything official, like name tags and work shirts. On this day, he’s wearing a jacket from a correctional institution in Texas.

He asks what you think of his beard. You tell him it looks great. He asks again.

One thing is for certain, Ben will always make you smile.

Although I haven’t seen him in years, as soon as I step on the Bookmobile, Ben says, “Hi, Teri.”

And it felt like coming home.

While the Bookmobile stops in front of the school, it’s available to the entire community.

Stephanie Dahl — who I went to high school with — stopped by with her oldest son while I was there. We caught up on each other’s family, and I told her to say hello to her husband, Marlow, for me.

She said he had planned to come with them, but had to stay home to skin a calf.

To an outsider, that may sound macabre.

But it’s a pretty routine part of calving season. When a calf loses its mom for whatever reason — death or lack of milk or just bad mothering instincts — you can pair it with a momma cow who lost her calf.

To make the mom accept the foster calf, you skin her dead calf, then tie that hide on the back of the foster. She’ll typically take the new calf as her own.

Mary Neff, Ben’s sister-in-law, also brought her kids to check out books.

Mary was busy catching up with neighbors, chatting with the driver, talking to Ben — and all the while keeping an eye on her kids.

She paused to chastise her son, “I told you to keep your bullets in your pocket,” she said.

They say you can never go home, but you can spend the morning on the Bookmobile — and it feels really similar.

Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at terivance@rocketmail.com.


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