I put my old Silvertone guitar up for sale and advertised it at a hundred dollars in the local Penny Saver. A young guy called about it then came to the house. He could play some. Not stuff I'd ever heard, but not bad stuff. He asked me, “Is there any wiggle room on the hundred? I'd have to put new strings on it.”
I said, “Yeah, I can wiggle down to ninety bucks. And I got a new set of Martin strings you can have. This old guitar has a lot of history. If you wanna buy it, you got to hear the story that goes with it.”
The kid looked a bit dubious about that, but he agreed. I poured us both iced teas and we went out on the front porch and sat on the swing. I use to play that guitar out there a lot. I played the kid a couple verses of 'Step It Up And Go,' and then started in on the story.
Johnny Gillespie and I went out to Rapid City in the summer of 75' for a Waylon Jennings concert and to see the Black Hills. Great concert and I loved it up there around Sylvan Lake and the Custer area. We saw Buffalo, Mount Rushmore and most of the usual stuff.
We came down out of South Dakota through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Not the best place to break down, but that's where the car overheated. We were driving my 63' Chevy Biscayne. Medium blue, four door, six cylinders, three on the tree, upholstery pretty much destroyed by a beagle I left in the car one time. The sides of the body were beat to heck. It had been my grand dad's and toward the end of his driving days, it made a lot of contact with the sides of the garage.
We found a little gas station and bought some radiator stop leak. We filled the radiator up with straight water and made it down into Nebraska. We were heading back to Iowa on Nebraska Highway 20 which runs West to East up near the South Dakota border. Pretty country. A lot of cows and not a lot of people. We were crossing Cherry County, which looked huge on the map. Like a square fifty miles by fifty miles and five piss-ant little towns until we got to Valentine, which was bigger.
Between us, me and Johnny had enough money for gas to get home and to maybe eat somewhere. That was if we had no breakdowns. We had a Styrofoam cooler with five cans of Coors, five hot dogs and four buns. Then the heat gauge topped out and steam started wafting up out of the hood. We refilled the radiator with coolers full of creek water and babied the Chevy into Valentine. Where the heat gauge topped out again. Shit!
We rolled into a tiny little Sinclair station with two ancient gas pumps, An old guy in a faded red cowboy shirt and trucker hat came out and talked to us. Funny, me and Johnny had on cowboy shirts and trucker hats too. That's what the young guys wore back then. Country rock was big.
Gees, this old guy had to have been near eighty. We got the Chevy into his one service bay and he sent me and Johnny into the office which was about eight feet by eight feet and crammed full with a candy machine, cigarette machine, ancient cash register, a few tires ~ and propped against the counter was this very guitar. It had a yellow piece of paper on it that said, ' For Sale - $25 - to the rite byer'.
The old gas station guy, his name was Cecil, was poking around on the Chevy's radiator. I asked him, “Mind if I try this guitar?”
He said, “Go ahead, son. But treat her gentle.”
I didn't have my own guitar but had been learning on Bob Snyder's. I knew a one finger G chord a D and A7. I could play like three songs. You Are My Sunshine was my specialty and I'd been trying to learn Me and My Bobby McGee.
Cecil came in while I was playing and inquired, “You put a bunch of stop leak in that radiator?”
“Yup. Three cans in the last week.”
“Well, boy, it stopped up the whole radiator cept' the one bad leak. That radiator has had it.”
Cecil made a call and found a used radiator and would put it in for us pretty reasonable, but we didn't have the money for that. The Chevy had almost a hundred thousand miles on it and that was a lot for a car in those days. I asked Cecil if he could give me thirty bucks for the Chevy. That's about what the junk yard price would have been.
He said, “Maybe. You like that old guitar?”
I sensed a deal in the making and pictured us hitchhiking back to Iowa with the old guitar in hand. That seemed cool at the time. I said, “Sure.”
Cecil pushed up the brim of his Caterpillar trucker hat, scratched his chin and said, “You might be the right feller for that guitar.”
Then he proceeded to tell me about it. He said, “Well, sir. That guitar belonged to my dear old friend, Shorty Schwarte. His real name was Vernon and he was over six feet tall, but folks called him Shorty. He was a for sure real cowboy, born in a Soddy here in Cherry County in the year eighteen and 99. He wanted to go fight in the first world war, but he had a real gimpy leg from getting hooked by a steer when he was just a little shaver.
Shorty bought that guitar brand new from the Sears catalog. That Silverone was made in 55' in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. of A. Shorty loved that guitar and played the tar out of it. He played You Are My Sunshine, just like you was just playing. He played all them old cowboy songs like I Ride An Old Paint and Streets Of Laredo and Red River Valley. He died this last winter. I know he wanted somebody that would play them old songs to have this. Would you be that feller?”
I picked that guitar back up and played and sang him the first song I ever learned. A two chorder. Down In The Valley.
That did it. The deal was done. I traded that Chevy for the Silvertone and a five dollar bill. Johnny and I hitchhiked home. And that was a whole another adventure.