Friday, March 21, 2014

Buffalo Tour Guide

by Jean Henry Mead

During the mid-1980s I served as secretary-treasurer of a world-wide writers' group and spent most of  my writing time answering phone calls and snail mail correspondence, collecting dues and paying the organization's bills. One of my biggest challenges was a call from a German PBS crew filming the U.S. for viewers back home. 

The producer called to ask for information about western reenactments and said that actor Glenn Ford was narrating a TV series (I had no idea Ford spoke German). He also said that Louis L’Amour had agreed to serve as their technical advisor. I had recently interviewed L’Amour for my book, Maverick Writers, and was told he had given them my phone number, so how could I refuse?

The crew of five arrived in Casper in late July, following their filming of Cheyenne’s “Frontier Days.”Among other suggestions, I told them about a 2,000-member buffalo herd located 120 miles from where I lived. Big mistake! They insisted that I lead them there. I regretted not telling them that I had grown up in Los Angeles and had never ventured near a buffalo. But I reluctantly agreed.

The next morning found the crew waiting for me, travel weary and not terribly anxious to leave for the Wyoming outback. Three of the men were past fifty, perhaps even sixty, and spoke English well, although they lapsed into German when not speaking directly to me, which was disconcerting. A young video grip, whom they had hired in San Jose, agreed and complained whenever they were out of earshot.

The director/script writer decided to ride with me while the equipment caretaker; cameraman;  and producer followed in a old van and station wagon. Accustomed to driving the German Autobahn, they had acquired a spindle full of speeding tickets.Quite a collection, in fact. I’m sure they were annoyed that I only drove 65 miles an hour on back roads to the buffalo ranch near Reno Junction.

Two hours later, we arrived at the ranch where the foreman had arranged to meet us at noon. Obviously unimpressed with German film crews, he  left earlier that morning to buy tractor parts in a distant town, so we never saw him. After an hour's wait, his teenaged son left the ranch house to lead us to the herd. With a contemptuous glance at our motley crew, he led us down a bumpy dirt road in his decrepit pickup truck which appeared to have been held together with bailing wire. The pickup bed flapped like a large bird on takeoff, and I knew why when we followed him through the rough, sagebrush-peppered  terrain.

Our first glimpse of the herd came some five minutes later as they grazed peacefully on a hill. We parked nearby and my passenger asked if I would stampede the herd so the cameraman could film them raising clouds of dust. I refused because my Bronco was nearly new  So while they persuaded our guide to do the deed, I drove into the herd and watched as the buffalo showed off by wallowing on their backs with feet in the air several yards away. In order to get some great pictures--which I’m now unable to find--I foolishly left the driver’s seat to get a better look, finding the buffalo so large that they towered over me. 

I never got around to writing about the experience until now, but was later told that I had appeared on German TV as the crazy woman who stood in the midst of a buffalo herd. I had no idea that the crew, stationed on a hill nearby, had their camera trained on me.

That was my first and last role as a buffalo tour guide and foreign TV reality star as well as a secretary-treasurer. 


Jackie King said...

Jean, I've always thought that you have lived an unusually interesting life, but this article is the icing on the cake! I loved hearing about this experience. You could make this into a book without murder--maybe just some kind of non-violent mystery. This is just wonderful!

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks, Jackie. I'm afraid that I would be tempted to write about a flim crew producer trampeled in a buffalo stapede. :)