The Caretaker

We are all captivated by stories of animals who exhibit human-like emotions or actions. Pat experienced something the other day that we thought was unusual.


A few weeks ago, Pat was cleaning out the refrigerator. She came across a dish of shelled English walnuts that had probably been there too long. She decided to toss them into the backyard where perhaps a bird might enjoy them. A while later she looked out the window and saw four crows prancing around the backyard and eating the walnuts. They were typical crows, black, shiny, brash, and noisy. Pat enjoyed the birds and after that first morning, threw out a piece of bread or something every day. The crows, being their obnoxious selves, stepped up their game. If Pat didn’t throw some food out before the crows got there, as soon as they arrived, they started raising hell. They were spoiled!


One morning, Pat threw out some bread crumbs and then went on about her business. Later, she looked out the window and saw a strange sight. There were four crows as usual, but one of the four was a pretty sorry looking specimen. Its feathers looked dull and dirty and it looked sick or beat up. And, the strange part was that one of the other crows was feeding it! The Good Samaritan bird would get a piece of bread off the ground, swallow it, then regurgitate it into the mouth of the frail-looking bird. It seemed quite strange. Was the bird sick? Was it young? If it could fly, why couldn’t it feed itself? Was the other bird its mother? Mighty strange. Mighty strange.

Dave Thomas


Company For Breakfast

Pat and I had gotten up just a few minutes before and were just sitting down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. We heard a noise outside and Pat got up and opened the curtains. There was a donkey with his lips almost against the window. He must have been as startled as we because he cut loose with Hee-Haw, Hee-Haw and it was loud enough to shake the house! We recognized the donkey as the pet of the Noble family that lived several houses up the hill from us.

We had been visited by the donkey a couple of times before. We had a Shetland pony for the kids that we kept in a corral next to our back fence. In the previous visits the donkey had come down the back fence- line but for some reason this time he had come down the street. I had my jeans on and was wearing flip-flops or thongs or shower shoes or whatever you call them. I went out to the shed and got a lead rope and came back and snapped it onto the halter the donkey was wearing. I headed for the street to take him home and he was well-mannered and led on a slack rein, walking beside my shoulder.

We got to the street and started up the hill but it was tough going for me. The asphalt streets in our development had been sealed a couple of days before and then a fine layer of sand had been spread on them. The footing wasnt that good and I kept scooping up sand with my flip-flops. I was relieved when we got up the hill to the Nobles house. However, about this time, the donkey must have realized he was almost home and he snorted and whirled around and started running back down the hill. I dug in my heels and yelled Whoaas I held onto the end of the lead rope. It was a wasted effort! That donkey was going downhill as fast as he could go and I was out on the end of that rope with my heels dug in and looking like a water skier on a slalom course. Our wild ride finally got us to the bottom of the hill and as we got to our house, I could see Pat in her pajamas and housecoat out in the front yard pointing at us and laughing like a crazy woman. The donkey stopped and I looked back up the hill and here comes Noble, laughing. He was kind enough to say that he had seen the donkey escape but had to get dressed before he could come out. As you have read, I got no respect at all. It may have been caused by the donkey but I made a complete ass of myself.

Dave Thomas
July 13, 2014

Republish date November 1, 2018



It was a sad day, last month, when Ringling Brothers announced that they were going out of business. What is life without the circus? The feeling of impending doom started last year when they said they were retiring the elephants. I have really had some mixed feelings about that. To me, the elephants are the circus. Sure, they’ve got the trapeze acts, the lion tamers, and the clowns, but what of it? It’s those giant-sized, majestic creatures with the wise old eyes that set the tone for everything else.

On the other hand, elephants shouldn’t have to live that kind of life. Most of the day they were chained to a stake in the ground and bored to death. They were only free long enough to go out and perform those demeaning little tricks. Not a good life for such a marvelous creature.

I know, that I shouldn’t discuss serious stuff. Well, here’s a remedy for that. As you may have guessed, I have a circus story.

The circus and the carnivals used to stop in Augusta, Kansas, our little town of 5,000 people. In the south end of town, there was a big lot behind the homes on the west side of the 500 block of Oak Street. It was a nice, level piece of property, bounded on the north by the Frisco Railroad tracks and on the south by the White Eagle Refinery. That was a good location but one year they changed the venue, y to get more space. I was probably between the ages of 14 and 16. That would put it between 1950 and 1952. Up in the north end of town there was a pasture that probably was within the city limits. It was bounded by Kelly Road on the south and Washington Lane on the west. I think the northern boundary was even with the entrance to Garvin Park. The circus people set up their tents and equipment up at the north end of the property.

If I remember correctly, the circus arrived via the Santa Fe Railroad. I believe it was the next day that they had a parade down State Street. For some reason, I was watching from a spot front of Schneider Brothers Grain and Feed Store as the elephants strolled past. The circus had put out a call for some boys to show up that first morning and clean up after the elephants. It’s a monumental job but someone must do it and I would have been honored. On that specified morning, we headed for the pasture and the super duper pooper scooper job. I think Gary

Casner was my partner in this adventure. Unfortunately, we got there too late and the jobs had been filled. Such is life.

That evening, we went back to the circus to see the show. We got there early and split up to look around. There was a side-show set up on the west side of the big top and there were posters advertising the usual attractions like the Bearded Lady and the Tatooed Man, and of course, the Exotic Dancer. There was a stage in front of the entrance to the tent and it was surrounded, about three deep, by men and high school boys. I had arrived during the time segment of the Exotic Dancer and she was on stage smiling and posing as the barker extolled her wares. According to the barker, once you paid your money and got inside the tent, you were going to see some spicy stuff. I wouldn’t be able to find out because the posted sign said, “No One Under the Age Of 18 Allowed Inside”. That was okay for it turned out that I saw an amusing show anyhow.

I knew most of the guys in the crowd. There were a couple of high school classmates, a couple of dads of classmates, businessmen from down town, and men that worked at the refinery. I was surprised to see one man that seemed to be hanging back a step or two behind the rest of the crowd. I knew this man well. He was a businessman that I saw whenever I went to town. He was a sharp dresser, always in a white shirt, tie, sport coat, and slacks. He was a talker, too, and always had a word for every man, woman, or kid he came across. That’s why I was surprised to see him standing by himself. There was no one to talk to.

I was watching this guy out of the corner of my eye when suddenly, I found out what was going on. His sport coat was unbuttoned and he would reach across with his left hand and pull the coat back, exposing the camera he had hanging around his neck! It was a small, flat camera, looking much like the digital cameras we have today. Once the camera was in the clear, he would reach up with his right hand and snap a picture and then let the coat fall closed. Whenever the woman would change her position or her pose, he would snap another picture. This went on throughout the barker’s spiel and the guy was so intent on what he was doing, he didn’t know I was watching. Thinking about it now, I don’t remember seeing him wind the camera to advance the film. I must not have been paying attention. I don’t believe we had the technology or the miniature batteries to support automatic film advancing.

I don’t know what the guy’s motivation was. Maybe he was in training to become a spy. Or, maybe he was taking pictures for an up-coming coffee table book about exotic dancers. Maybe he was just a pervert. All I know, is that I got a good chuckle from his covert performance.

Dave Thomas
June 30, 2017


Critters With Tools

Our son, Russ, was fascinated by the welding processes. He was interested in arc welding, gas welding, heli-arc, Mig, Tig, and the complete spectrum of methods for joining metals. He took all the classes that were available and by the time he graduated was becoming an accomplished welder. After high school, he worked a job building bumpers for off-road vehicles. He continued working welding jobs and sharpening his skills with an eye to getting into the union. When he was about 19, he hired on with a company that had a contract in Indio, California. The contract was for fabrication of a conveyor system for a sand and gravel company.

If you should ask anyone about Indio, they will tell you that it is hot! Indio is located 130 miles east of Los Angeles where the Colorado and Mojave deserts come together. The record high temperature for January is 97 degrees and for December, it is 98 degrees. Record highs for the rest of the months vary from 100 to 125 degrees.

I like stories about animals and their ability to think and reason and am especially intrigued by stories of animals that have learned to use tools.

Russ was working over in Indio at the hottest part of the year. They were building a conveyor system for a sand and gravel company. They were building this conveyor in sections and ended up fabricating nearly a mile of it. The man Russ was working for had rented the property next to the sand and gravel company so they wouldn’t have to transport the finished sections of conveyor too far to set them up. The rented property looked like it had been an RV park. A good portion of it was paved, with asphalt streets and pads. There was a small building that looked it had served as an office. This was a real plus as it was a safe place for Russ and the other guys to lock up their tools at night. Also, one side of the building had an awning that provided a shady area for the guys to eat lunch.

While eating lunch one day, Russ noticed that there were several small lizards living in the area. They were small, probably no more than 4″ long and were black, with a yellow stripe on each side. Russ was entertained by watching them forage for bugs and whatever else was a part of their diet. One problem, of course, was

that they needed to cover a lot of ground to find enough food to sustain them. Those areas that were covered by black-top were so hot you could fry an egg on them. Necessity being the mother of invention, the lizards had found a way to cross the asphalt without getting fried themselves. When a little lizard guy wanted to cross the tarmac, it would locate a small twig approximately the same length as itself. Next, it would pick up the twig with its mouth and take off running across the black-top. When the heat became unbearable, it would drop the stick and climb up on top of it. When its feet had cooled off sufficiently, it would jump down, pick up the stick in its mouth again, and run like the devil. By repeating this drill a few times, the lizard could safely reach its destination. Wouldn’t that be something to see?

Life is hard! All living things face challenges every day. The ability to think and reason makes it possible to solve problems and survive.

Dave and Russ Thomas
June 23, 2017


“Employee of the Month”

I recently told you about Sam, our desert tortoise who was turtle-napped from our back yard. It was quite a loss in that we all enjoyed feeding Sam and watching him as he enjoyed his snacks. He was a quiet and gentle spirit and it was pleasant just to sit beside him and share his peacefulness.

Our next experience with desert tortoises didn’t go as well. Sometime after losing Sam, Pat was in the lunch room at work, enjoying her lunch and talking about pets with one of her co-workers. Pat had just finished telling about Sam and desert tortoises in general when a young man at the next table interrupted and introduced himself. He said he was a part-time employee and was having to move from a rental house to an apartment. A major problem was that he had 3 desert tortoises that had been with him for several years that he would have to give up. He wanted to be sure that the tortoises got a good home and would be understood and appreciated by those raising them. He said that he heard Pat talking about her tortoise and he thought she would be perfect to take care of his animals. They talked a little more and Pat agreed to take the tortoises. Pat gave the kid our address and that evening he delivered the 3 tortoises and told us a little bit about them. The largest tortoise was a mature male. The middle-sized one was a younger male, hardly more than a teenager, and the smallest tortoise was a female. We talked about caring for them and then the young man thanked us profusely for taking them and left.

The next day was a Saturday and we were all at home. Suddenly, from the back yard we heard these terrible sounds and my first thought was that something was killing our new tortoises. We went running to the back yard and were shocked to see the older male on top of the female and humping away like crazy. With every thrust he made, he would let out a groan that could be heard half-way up the block. It had never occurred to me that a tortoise could be such a randy S.O.B. as this guy. Over the next few days we managed to embarrass family, friends, and most of the neighborhood. This turtle was as regular as clockwork. It was as if he was carrying a lunch pail and showed up for work every day like he was bucking for “Employee of the Month”. I mean, he was on the job!

Prior to writing this, I thought I would review what I knew about desert tortoises. Here’s one sentence from the Wikipedia paragraph on reproduction: “The male may make grunting noises once atop a female, and may move front legs up and down in a constant motion, as if playing a drum.”

A few days pass and Pat is again in the lunchroom at work. She is at a table next to a young man who is telling a couple of employees of his future plans. He says he is only working part-time because he attends San Diego State and is majoring in zoology. He loves animals and is especially intrigued by the animals and reptiles of the desert. He said he  has a particular interest in the desert tortoise. He said he built a compound for desert tortoises in his parent’s back yard and though he only had 2 tortoises now, he hoped to acquire more very soon. At this point, Pat realizes her good fortune and interrupts. She tells the kid that she has 3 wonderful desert tortoises, 2 males and 1 female that she is trying to place in a good home. “Do you think you might be interested”, she asks? The kid can hardly talk fast enough to accept and thank her and tell her what a wonderful person she is. They discuss the details and he cmes to the house that night and picks up the tortoises. Good job, Pat!

Dave Thomas
September 24, 2014


The Porter Ranch Cougar

Russ has been working on a big housing development this past year. The job is only 15 or 20 minutes drive from where he lives and is the closest to home he has ever worked. Ventura County has a lot of big, rocky hills so Russ has had an interesting time of it. They are chopping the tops off the hills and have a blasting crew working every day. Russ has been driving a D-11 Cat and doing the ripping after each blast.

Russ told me a good story and I’ll try to repeat it for you. If I mess it up, he can straighten me out later. Here it is:

When the job first started, Russ was one of the first guys brought in. He was setting grade stakes and climbed the biggest hill on the place to check out the lay of the land. It was too steep to drive so he had to hike up and grabbed onto bushes to get to the top. When he got there he was looking around and ran across some of the biggest paw prints he had ever seen. He figured it was a mighty big mountain lion and he was uneasy about being afoot and got the heck out of there. He told the other guys about it and they thought he was nuts. Over the next few days two of the crew had to go up there and they saw the tracks and backed Russ up on his story. Of course, the rest of the men continued to tease him about his phantom mountain lion. This happened several months ago and no one has reported anything since. However, I was talking with Russ on the phone and he told me some interesting stuff. He says there is another big housing development (Porter Ranch) being built near the one he is working. Last week, the water truck driver spotted a big mountain lion and was able to get a picture of it. Russ said he was sure glad because some of his crew were still laughing at him about it and he feels that now he will finally have some credibility. Russ shared the picture with us.

Dave Thomas
August 16, 2016

Mountain Lion

“A” IS For Armadillo

  We’ve covered a lot of animals and a few days ago even had some zebras. To make sure we have covered the animal kingdom from A to Z, let’s go with some armadillos.

We were living in Keller, Texas and decided to drive up to Wichita and Augusta Kansas and visit friends and relatives. It’s a straight shot from Keller to Wichita on I-35 and usually an uneventful ride. This trip, we must have been out during mating season as there were armadillos everywhere. No, we didn’t see a one that was alive…they had all been run over on the Interstate! This was so hard to fathom that Pat kept track of how many we had seen. I forget how many we saw on the way to Wichita but by the time we got back to Keller, the total was 43! My vision was already getting poor when we took the trip so Pat was the official counter. What looked like a “lump” to me, she would identify as an armadillo or a rabbit or a possum or whatever.

Pat has got sharp eyes and I’ve always known I could rely on her to see things correctly. This particular trip though we had a little credibility problem. We were rolling south through Oklahoma, on the way home, and we passed another road kill. Pat yelled out, “Oh, my gosh, that was a monkey!” “No”, I said, “there are no monkeys running loose in Oklahoma.” “Yes,” she insisted, “that was a monkey!” All I can tell you for sure is that we argued the rest of the way home.

In 2005, we invited all the kids and grand-kids down for Thanksgiving. Almost everyone made it and we had a great time. Besides the Thanksgiving dinner, we also enjoyed a day in Old Fort Worth at the Stockyards. We ate and shopped and the kids went through the maze and rode the mechanical bull. Some entrepreneur had even set up an armadillo race in front of the Live Stock Exchange. The kids had never seen armadillos before and the only ones I had ever seen had been squashed on the highway. The grand-daughters, Michelle and Christie, got to participate as starters in the race. They held onto the armadillos until the guy yelled “go” and then they acted as cheerleaders for their charges. It was so exciting I could barely contain myself. Sorry, I don’t remember who won. 


A Contender


The Track


Christie and Michelle 

Dave Thomas
November 9, 2014


The Big Trip of 1944, Part 1

This is about a vacation trip my family took just prior to my eighth birthday in 1944. We saw so many extraordinary things that made such an impression on me.

My Mom’s Dad, my Grandpa George F. Sicks, lived in Los Angeles. Mom’s 1st cousin, Ruby Mae (Peebler) Bernard lived in San Diego. Grandpa’s trip to come back to Kansas and get us and take us to L.A. had been scheduled for quite a while. The fact that Ruby was traveling at the same time may have been just a coincidence. She drove back with her baby son, Barney Jr. who was probably 6 months old. Ruby had come back to show off her baby and get her sister, Carol Jean, who lived in Wichita. Carol had three daughters, Vicki Sue, Carolyn Jo, and Carmen Jane. Vicki was the oldest but I doubt that she was more than 4 or 5. Carol, Vicki, and Carmen were going to San Diego for a visit with Ruby and then going on to Klamath Falls, Oregon to visit with our great-uncle, Virgil Peebler and his wife, Peggy. Carolyn Jo was going to stay with Peggy’s sister, Edith, and her husband, Ted. They would take Carolyn Jo to Klamath Falls to join the rest of the family.

Ruby was tall, good-looking, had red hair, and was brash. She was fun but you never knew what was going to come out of her mouth. Her husband, Barney, was in the Navy and was overseas in some war Zone. Carol was tall, good-looking, and had long blonde hair. I hadn’t thought about it before but Terri looks a lot like Carol Jean.

Grandpa and Ruby were both driving 1942 Pontiac, 4-doors, with the “torpedo” rear ends. Grandpa’s was black and Ruby’s was sky blue.


Mom, Dad, Sylvia, and I traveled with the rest of the group, in the two cars. We swapped cars now and then to keep from getting bored. Cars didn’t have air conditioners back then so it was impossible to keep cool. Most filling stations still had outhouses rather than tiled restrooms and quite often they were 4 or 5 holers in order to take care of crowds. Quite often, you had neighbors on either side as you tried to cope with the stench and the flies in the 100 degree heat.

What must have been our second night was spent in a motel in San Simon, Arizona. This was one of Grandpa’s favorite areas and he knew the people who owned the motel. (When I spent the summer with him in 1950, Grandpa owned 160 acres about 1 ½ miles west of town). When we were loading up to leave the next morning, Grandpa put a couple of boxes with chicken wire covering the ends, in the trunk. He opened one of them and reached in and lifted out a Gila monster and scared the devil out of me. He had already told us a number of stories about Gila monsters and how they bite down on you and won’t release their grip unless you cut their heads off. Grandpa said he had caught these two and was taking them to California. He said he was giving one to the Griffith Park Zoo in Los Angeles and the other to the San Diego Zoo. He said he had provided critters of different types to both zoos in the past.
Gila Monster

Another thing I remember about San Simon is that when you leave town, driving west, you can look to the south, to the Chiricahua Mountains and see what is known as “Cochise’s Head.” When you are in the right area, and several mountain peaks are lined up correctly, you can see the profile of a man’s head as if he were lying on his back and looking up. Cochise is still there looking after his stronghold.

The next thing I remember (besides the stinking outhouses in the desert) is arrival in Yuma in the early afternoon. We were ready to eat some lunch and were looking for a place to stop. Remember, this was during the war and everything was rationed. We were looking for a café when we came to one which had the word “Butter” painted across the window in big, bright letters. Since we were all sick of eating the margarine which had become available during the war. We thought we were in for a treat. We got in, got settled, and ordered a meal. Everything was fine until we were served and Grandpa realized that the stuff in the butter dish wasn’t butter but was the hated margarine! First, he called the waitress over and explained the error to her. Well, she was sorry but margarine was all they had today. Her explanation wasn’t adequate and as Grandpa started getting up a full head of steam he demanded to speak to the owner of the place. When the owner came in from the kitchen where he presided over the grill, Grandpa tried to explain the error to him. He got the same response…”no butter today.” Grandpa was soon shouting at the top of his lungs about people that painted “Butter” on their windows to lure people into their place and then had the gall to serve them margarine. Grandpa felt that he had been tricked and cheated and he wasn’t going to stand for it. I remember a lot of noise and embarrassment but don’t remember how this was resolved. I don’t know if we went somewhere else or if the owner of the place somehow placated Grandpa.

We split up in Yuma with Ruby and Carol and the kids heading for San Diego and us heading for Los Angeles. Grandpa owned a home at 6151 Dennison Street in East Los Angeles. It was a nice neighborhood with Spanish-style houses and well kept yards full of flowers. I remember being amazed at the sight of streets lined with palm trees.

My Dad only had 2 weeks’ vacation but Mom and we kids were going to stay for 6 weeks. Grandpa set up a sight-seeing schedule that would allow Dad to see as much as could be crowded into his time period.

Dave Thomas

February 4, 1994; Revised and added pictures March 5, 2015.






Plan B

It was February or March of 1958. I was attending the Navy’s Aviation Electronics School in Millington, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis. Pat was working in the Accounting Department at the corporate headquarters of Kroger’s Grocery Stores.

It was a weekend and we decided to go across the river to Arkansas and explore a little. We got to the bridge over the Mississippi and the road ramped up, probably to get the bridge high enough to be above flood level. We crossed the river and were on the downhill straight-away that would take us into East Memphis, Arkansas. Way up ahead we could see something hopping up the shoulder toward us. As we got closer we could see that it was a dog! He was hopping on his front legs and was vertical, with his rear legs curled above his body. Apparently, his rear legs were injured and he had to come up with an alternative way to get around.

I don’t remember anything else about that day…only that courageous little dog getting on down the road. Both animals and humans find a way to cope.

Dave Thomas
December 17, 2014


Sam, The Desert Tortoise

ack in the mid-1960’s I had a man named John Grant working for me as an Assistant Foreman. One Monday morning John came in and handed me his letter of resignation and said he was moving to Colorado to work for his father-in-law. We talked about it for a few minutes and I wished him well. Then, he told me that one problem he hadn’t resolved yet was what to do with the desert tortoise named Sam that he had kept as a pet for several years. John was afraid that the extremely cold winters of Colorado might be too much for Sam. He suggested that I might like to adopt Sam and care for him. It sounded good to me so a few evenings later John brought him over to the house.

The desert tortoise inhabits the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. There are two species, one living east of the Colorado River in Arizona and Mexico and the other living west of the Colorado, basically in the Mojave Desert. They are considered to be endangered and if you run across one in the wild, it’s against the law to touch, bother, or harm them. There is a means for adopting those who have been rescued from unsafe conditions.

The desert tortoises live from 60 to 80 years. Mature male tortoises can be from 12 to 18 inches in length with females being somewhat smaller.

In these little stories I’ve been trying to shed some light on the thought processes of animals but in Sam’s case I’ve got to ‘fess up and tell you that I’m up against the wall. He ate, slept, pooped, and hibernated, and I can’t make any funny stories out of that. We turned him loose in the back yard where like a cow, he grazed and slept. We fed him lettuce every day and he really enjoyed that. For goodies or snacks, he seemed to enjoy things that were red. For instance, in our back yard we had 3 hibiscus bushes that were about 8 feet tall and were always full of blossoms. Two of the bushes were red and the other was white. If you picked a bunch of blossoms and put them in front of him, Sam would eat them all but he ate the red ones first.

Sam’s favorite snack was watermelon. He would eat every bit you gave him and when he was done, he would have red juice all over his jaw and face and he would sit there blinking his eyes with a satisfied look on his face. What a feast!

A desert tortoise hibernates through the winter. As the fall season moves in, temperatures drop and the days become shorter. This tells the desert tortoise it’s time to start looking for a place to hole up for the winter. They get sluggish and don’t move around as much though they may start crawling under things or digging holes. Taking John Grant’s advice, at this time we would pick Sam up and carry him into the house and put him in a dresser drawer. He would sleep there until spring when the days got warmer and longer. Then, we would either arbitrarily take him to the back yard to wake up or wait until we heard him moving around before taking him out. As I recall, Sam spent a couple of years in dresser drawers and a couple of years in a closet.

One day, Sam wasn’t in the yard. I checked every square inch and there were no burrows or holes that would have allowed him to escape. Sam had been turtle-napped! It was a shame. We had all enjoyed seeing him out there in the yard. He was docile and seemed to be content with life as he grazed his way through each day.

Desert Tortoise

Dave Thomas
September 23, 2014