Was it PERJURY?

By The Arrowflinger

(In the latest coverup in the Augusta Equipmentgate Scandal, which saw City of Augusta, Georgia resources deployed to work on private property in Lincoln County in March 2017  has just been released. In it, the Augusta Richmond County Grand Jury issued a statement which said they found no criminality had occurred.)

The Presentment of the Augusta Richmond County Grand Jury of yesterday, June 27, 2017 on the Use of Augusta manpower, heavy equipment, trailers, supplies, fuel, fringe benefits and trucks on Private Property in Lincoln County back in March contained this statement:

The testimony revealed that the excavator was never actually used as the weather at the time was inclement.

The presentment also says that the Augusta Mini-excavator was  on the Lincoln County private property from March 8, 2017 to March 17, 2017.

That statement is most interesting as video taken on March 16, 2017 at the Lincoln County site shows a large freshly-installed culvert and drainage work that certainly seems to have been performed by an excavator and the only excavator in evidence was the one owned by the City of Augusta.

District Attorney Natalie Paine needs to determine which witness provided that testimony and whether perjury occurred.

If there was no perjury in the production of that presentment, she needs to explain why not and, while she is at it, explain why so many material aspects of this incident were omitted from any investigation by her or the Augusta Richmond County Sheriff’s office.

-AG

The Still Waters of Lincoln County’s Lots of Murder

Tragedy…… when you lose control and you got no soul, It’s tragedy

The BeeGees

In the heady days of 2005, as the real estate bubble was inflating in full force, James Robert “Bob” Ward was lifting helicopter rides to show off many of the 8 subdivisions in 5 states his company, Land Resources, Inc., was marketing worldwide. A short six years later Ward was in prison with a thirty year sentence for the murder of his wife. The bullet that ended her life wasn’t fired in the northern reaches of Lincoln County, Georgia but the lingering tears of tragedy still water the financial landscape of the less than 8000 permanent citizens of the county and hapless investing victims far away.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Land Resources was founded in 1997 and had successfully completed a number of subdivisions in Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. Most providently HGTV picked Land Resource developments Cumberland Harbor and Grey Rock for two of its million-dollar home giveaways. Trouble arose from 2005, when Stillwater Coves in Lincoln County was announced, through 2008. A pattern emerged of unsophisticated, mostly rural county governments allowing Land Resources to market and sell lots before the basic infrastructure was completed to permit home-building. In 2008 Land Resources filed for bankruptcy protection. Suddenly lots that had sold for $300,000 were virtually worthless.

Bob Ward began this saga in Atlanta. Near the height of selling hundreds of millions of dollars of hot resort real estate in 2007, Ward and his wife moved to the Islesworth community in Orlando, Florida, this being also home to golfer Tiger Woods and his beating from wife Elin. When Bob Ward became subject of a criminal investigation, his wife Diane was called to testify, apparently causing the developer to shoot her in their bedroom in September 2009. The murder trial, incarceration, conviction, appeal, retrial, and drug overdose in prison made a twisting, turning and very compelling tabloid story. An excellent timeline from the perspective of the Grey Rock development can be found here.

The Big Four (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox News), CNN, The Orlando Sentinel (a series on the saga), Atlanta Constitution, various Florida TV stations and even the UK Mirror jumped all over the murder tragedy and the accompanying trial, yet missed the total tragedy. The connection to the Greater Financial Crisis that became manifest in 2008 and which has morphed into a world-consuming monster went unnoticed. The Augusta area media seemingly slept through it all, especially the Lincoln County connection. The closest article to do it and the only one found to actually mention the murder trial was an article by the Augusta Chronicle’s LaTina Emerson of October 15, 2009 reporting that the successor to Ward’s bankrupt Land Resources had promised that the development remained on track for 2010. Amazingly it took one of the lowly commenters to note “…..the original developer being tried for murder? Seems it would be a story.

Indeed it was. Ward’s Land Resources had sold out its Stillwater Cove lots in one week , garnering a reported $43 million(the author’s spreadsheet says $27 million) in the process. At the time of bankruptcy, the paving and grading of the roads had been completed, with water, sewer and fire protection systems only partially complete. Fortunately, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, under the direction of then Chairman Walker “Boss Hog” Norman, had insulated the county from all liability, obtaining performance and payment bonds on the crucial infrastructure before lots were allowed to be sold.

Most of the development was financed by Wachovia Bank, a rogue financial institution whose sullied name can be found in Augusta’s Parking Deck and Convention Center fiascos, the 2008 financial decimation of Augusta’s blueblood society, money laundering nearly a half-billion dollars for the Mexican drug cartel, identity fraud against elderly customers, selling $9 billion of bad securities as money-good, and $millions on mortgage fraud. There is much more to be reported in these pages on this bank. Those are stories for another day.

Elsewhere in county government, the tempting lure of the hundreds of millions of dollars in additions to the property tax base represented by the full build out of Stillwater Coves and the other lakefront subdivisions created in the boom was too great. Lincoln County needed a modern high school and that need had found a promising revenue stream. It was a case of chickens counted that were never to hatch. The Lincoln County Board of Education voted to build a $32 million new school complex to house junior high school and high school students. Financing for the project was to be $23 million. R.W. Allen LLC was engaged to construct the complex.

More bad news erupted in 2009 when it was discovered that the bonds protecting the Stillwater Coves lot buyers had been issued in an even bigger fraud. An insurance man named Ray Miller had sold fictitious bonds covering more than $500 million in projects. The bonds covering one of the water systems at Stillwater Coves proved to be worthless. The county doesn’t seem to be at fault, however, for most of the bonds had been forged in the name of legitimate bond insurors. Perhaps the only mistake that the county made was to allow reduction, perhaps too early, in some of the coverage on the bonds that were good. Perhaps the discipline to achieve completion of infrastructure before any subdivision lots are sold is better. Tragedy would have been averted!

The school board found itself in a fiasco when it decided to house only high school students in the new school, keeping the junior students at an old school. The State Board of Education withheld funds based upon the fact that the school it agreed to fund was for grades 6-12. Citizens cried FRAUD and for good reason.

Many of the lot buyers lost their life savings in the meltdown of the Land Resources empire. Diane Ward lost her life. Lincoln County found itself financially crippled with extraordinarly high property taxes created by the school bond debt, a collapsed lake front property tax base, and the reality that three successive property tax exemptions involving timberland removed two thirds of the county from the tax digest. Existing residential property owners bore the brunt of the damage, with elderly property owners denied exemptions from school taxes afforded citizens of Columbia and Richmond Counties because their money was needed to service the bonds. The corrupt shell of Wachovia Bank continues to threaten the viability of Wells Fargo Bank, who had the misfortune of wanting the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to fold Wachovia into their operations. The lots themselves might not ever be viable, as they were drawn up to be served by a sewage system that languishes without paying customers.

The waters remain still up on Graball Road but the tragedy continues.

At least now it isn’t an untold tragedy in Augusta and the Central Savannah River Area of Georgia and South Carolina. Lessons are never learned from things covered up.

Agraynation.com gets the big stories of our times and tries to make our readers think about what they mean.

Blame it on the Evans UFO

The first report in this series, Conflict in Columbia County, peered into the April 2010 vote to grant the mass banking contract of Columbia County, Georgia to GB&T, Georgia Bank and Trust, a bank in which 2 commissioners, Ron Cross and Charlie Allen held stock and a third, Ron Thigpen, serves as Chief Operating Officer.

The award came after an extensive Request for Proposal was issued to about a dozen local banks in January. Responses were due by February 18th. Four county employees were designated as evaluators of the proposals: Water Director Billy Clayton, Accounting Manager Debra North, Finance Director Lee Ann DeLoach (then Reece), and Phyllis Swain. After the evaluations were compiled and the scoring totaled, First Citizens Bank scored the highest of the responding banks, with GB&T in second place. First Citizens quoted a minimum interest rate on deposits of 1%, with DeLoach noting the lack of a floor with GB&T relative to First Citizens and Swain noting that First Citizens had the best rate. The initial recommendation was to award the agreement to First Citizens.

GB&T had quoted a variable rate with a floor of 0.75%, 0.25% less than First Citizens. This put the minimum interest rate income from First Citizens 33% higher than GB&T.

That is when the UFO landed and all sorts of communications were disrupted. In this case UFO means Unidentified Financial Official. Some member or members of the County Finance Committee put the award on hold and sought direction from Jeffries, the County’s sole-sourced Bond Underwriter. When asked the identity of the Finance Committee member(s) who initiated the request from Jeffries, the county administration could not provide it, not could it provide any correspondence from Jeffries other than an Analysis showing that the county would earn more with GB&T. That analysis became the basis for what came to the commission as “Option Two” and a revised recommendation to award the mass banking arrangement to GB&T.

Out of a Finance Committee comprised of then Chairman Scott Dean, who is now in prison on an unrelated conviction, commission chairman and GB&T shareholder Ron Cross and District one commissioner and GBT executive Ron Thigpen, who was the UFO? If the UFO landed in the commission chambers, why is there no video, no tracks and no sign of his coming and leaving, only a mystery document which turned out to be wrong, predicting higher interest rates that never materialized and costing the county dearly?

Citizens-activists working with agraynation.com also sought whether First Citizens or the other banks responding to the RFP were invited to rebid or comment on the Jeffries analysis.The county answered that there was no written contact found with First Citizens after notification that their bank was on the list of finalists.

Finally, a response to a Georgia Open Records request to Columbia County, shows that the county was paid the 0.75% minimum throughout 2011 and 2012 on nearly all of the accounts covered by the mass banking RFP, rather than the much higher rates expected when the deal was awarded to the three commissioners’ bank.

Doesn’t an old construction guy like Chairman Cross know that nothing produces more controversy and lawsuits in procurement than awarding bids based on new criteria that have been denied to the other bidders? Isn’t doing something like that and having it lose 33% more revenue than the recommended vendor even worse? How much of his net worth is in that bank stock and its related business ventures, anyhow?

A lot of answers are due Columbia County voters before May 20.

Here is a video presentation recorded in the waning days of April 2014.

Next up in the series – County Revenue Vaporized by the Evans UFO?

Victimized or Triumphant in a Gray State

Yes, I am A. Gray but we are all in a gray nation now. It is a nation of 75 million aging Baby Boomers and the massive pressures the simple math of that portends. It is a nation where the polydamnticians and manipulators want to hide the clear and simple truths found in the Bible and the Constitution of the United States in a gray fog. We find the rule of law being covered in a gray burial shroud by the very people sworn to uphold it. Swirls of gray dust billow out from our imploding institutions to cover us in what would be shame if we even pretend to be a civilized people.

 

 

These words were crafted from a perch 20 feet up an east central Georgia pine tree overlooking a sparkling lake. One vigilant squirrel had just alerted the entire squirrel network all of whom chattered ‘HAWK!’ In unison, lest even one fall victim. The squirrel feeding under the white oak below scurried next to a hollow log. It was a good thing, too for the hawk eye had picked him as prey. The sharp talons grazed his back just as that tree dweller popped into safety in a knothole. So it is with us. We have waited perhaps too long to escape danger. THIS is agraynation but a bright future beckons those who join in a network vigilant to the dangers lurking in the gray state we are in. Here in agraynation, we are going to wrest ourselves from being prey, laughing all the way at the polydamnticians, gold dome cowboys, exposed manipulators, crazy schemers, cozy crooks, devilish democrats, and especially the Pharisee Republicans who have gotten control of Georgia.

Hounded into Making a Splash

Al and Molly before a hunt

Being Molly

Sunday, September 30, 2012
By Al Gray

Rabbits probably laughed at Molly. A gray-headed, bow-legged old girl of a beagle just would not have filled their hearts with fear. Her voice at full cry was a moderate bawl. She didn’t have a fantastic cold trail nose that would detect where they had exited the sorghum field and tipped to their warrens hours before at dawn. Her legs were bowed, so speed wasn’t a threat.  Molly purely looked and sounded like what she was – a mostly worn out beagle bitch of about 7 years of age. She certainly wasn’t the ideal image of a dog around whom one would build a rabbit hunting pack.

Molly would have to do, as it turned out. We managed to aggregate a pack of dissimilar beagles into a rag-tag gang of hare-harassing noise makers.  Molly became the constant.  Jack and Dolly had superior noses, but tended to get caught up in trying to slowly extract the last scent rising from the trail. Queenie was a briar-busting runt of a jump dog, who had no nose at all. Back-track sometimes ran the trail backwards. Mabel was an even more aged relic, albeit a wise dog with experience. Of necessity, we rarely hunted pine thickets or open terrain. When we did, there was Molly to keep the clan functional.

Over time, Jack and Dolly discovered that their master was full of praise when they lifted their noses from back down the trail and went to Molly in the lead. Queenie found it was fun to stay with the gang and lend her squeaky voice in pursuit of those cottontails. Mabel kept pace and often straightened the pack out where Molly sometimes hesitated.  Back Track got left home and became a shot-deer tracking hound, as he confused the heck out of all the others, Molly included. By the second season, the group was a functional pack, just one devoid of speed.

Cottontails and swampers who survived a Molly chase were the ones who didn’t sit on their haunches laughing. Molly had grim determination. Molly purely LOVED to hunt rabbits. Had Br-er  Rabbit gotten close enough to see, he would have trembled with fear. The old gal had ears tattered and bleeding from dogged pursuit through blackberry briers. Sometimes one of those steel-tough green briers would have torn an ear. Her tail ended in a hairless tip, with only the peripheral hair left to offer when her tail was held high. The pads of her feet were like iron. Those bow legs might have lacked speed but made up with power to bulldoze through thickets.

In a hunt Molly was bold, audacious, relentless, and cunning. Without being encouraged or trained to do so, she took the initiative to find, defend, and retrieve a downed quarry. That the rabbit was a relatively huge burden for a 29 pound beagle carry never deterred our Molly. She had a heart seemingly as large as a whole rabbit.

Before the fourth season with Molly and company, life changes and the wear of time struck. Mabel passed away around Independence Day. Queenie had a severe back injury and had to be put to sleep by Dr. Garner. It was time to find replacements and to expand the pack with young blood.  Over in Grovetown, Mr. Stephenson found himself with his own health issues in the form of congestive heart failure which ended his beagling days just as his 8 month old litter of AKC-registered gun dog pups was ready to begin training. His five pups found a buyer eager to accommodate his wishes that the entire litter be kept intact to form a hunting pack.

Those pups were significantly faster than Jack, Dolly, Molly and Mr. Calvin Clem’s contributions to the pack, Lucy and Mack. Each sibling had a different temperament and style. Molly would bend them all to meet hers. She became their mentor. Sapphire, the only female, was the first to begin running rabbits and quickly became the leader of the pack, always adroitly and quickly handing the outs that the rabbits would throw at the pack. When she didn’t,  Jack and Dolly had learned to release the scent trail and go to where the leaders were, so they were there to work out the challenges Sapphire found more difficult. Brothers Louie, Andy, and Pete were quick learners and became excellent rabbit beagles.  Molly was there with them all.

The last hold-out amongst the Stephenson pups was Amos. The poor boy seemed befuddled and perhaps even afraid at all of the racket that the others made in pursuit. Amos stayed at Master’s feet. I could not shoot for fear of causing gun-shyness in Amos. This finally ended in a planted pine grove down below Girard, when a fleet cottontail that had far outdistanced the noisy pack darted across the fire break in front of us. Amos took off after him, barking in a high chop voice on the hot trail. From then on, Amos was a key member of the team that we released in open terrain and pine plantations. Alas, even a hot scent could not entice Amos into a brier patch. He would pace outside, hoping that the rabbit would play HIS game, not the rabbit’s.

The constant in the pups’ education in the field was old Molly. It was about the time that the naughty pups came into her hunts that she ‘learned’ to retrieve rabbits. Jack already had picked up on that as a way to gain his master’s praise. Jack was a burly enforcer, broad chested and 17 inches at the shoulder, which is large for a beagle. Molly had a lot of trouble because of her short legs. One can see the difficulty she had in this picture of Molly retrieving a rabbit.

I don’t know about you, but our pets at times have taught such powerful human lessons that it becomes humbling, poignant, and powerful all at the same time. Molly rarely led the pack any more. Sapphire and Pete seemed to have jumped to the fore. From the outset, they had more speed.  It might have hurt the old girl’s feelings, but Molly was all heart, with a smidgeon of cunning.

Most of the pups early training was in open terrain and planted pine plantations, but by late in the season, the hunting party had to resort to unconventional habitat.  One of the toughest venues for rabbit hunts were the brier choked drainage ditches for fields with center pivot irrigation. Down by Highway 301, near Rubin Oliver’s place, there was such a place. At the rear was a water filled canal that was too wide for us to leap. The water was too deep to wade.

A rabbit jumped up along one of the center ditches, exploited a gap in our containment to the sound of three desperate shots from Cousin Hugh, and dashed to the rear of the field and into the dense blackberry patch there. Pete and Sapphire led the pack in pursuit.  When the beagles reached the ditch, all noise stopped. The rabbit had swum the ditch. Five young beagle gun dogs were left clueless and whining at the edge of that canal. Suddenly, there was a graying blur as this bow legged doyenne of a wizened huntress barged through the youngsters and leapt into the water with no hesitation. The five whiners quickly followed her example and swam to the other side, where a furious pursuit of Mr. Rabbit resumed that lasted until dark.

The sight of Molly’s charge into the canal became more than a fixed memory; It became an inspiration for her masters. Molly took charge and plunged into what looked to her companions like a well of doom. Despite her age, aching bow legs, and the coldness of the water, Molly knew her duty and did not shrink from it. She inspired the youngsters around her and taught them with leadership in action.

We should all do the same in these times of encountering vast moats of troubles.

Be Molly.

Molly in Action

A Bad Hare Day?

The Jaws of Penny

Originally posted on CityStink
September 9, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray
The author, Al M. Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s leading companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns.
Red and Georgette were the plug-eared rabbit’s nemeses out on Owens Road in Evans. It was an age in which there was no Rhineharts on one end of the road and an Academy Sports on the other. Only 5 years separated those days from the time Owens road was dirt. Beyond  the by-then-abandoned old Owens Place, the families along that stretch were folks named  Strickland, Fleming, Thompson,  and Cone.  The term “Brandon Wild(e)” might have been figured as some punk rich kid from the Augusta hill throwing a drunken party brawl at the American Legion lodge over by Reed Creek.  There were plenty of those.
Sometime in mid-1968 a red and white rag top Ford Bronco pulled down the drive to a new home for the beagles and their aging mentor, Penny. One can sense the wonderment of those three, because the trip was not in hunting season and the beagles never went hunting with Penny, as much as she might have fancied herself a rabbit huntress. Moist noses would have been held high, trying to get a olfactory clue of where they were. Maybe they detected fresh asphalt, a smell alien to their former abode down on Stevens Creek Road. Perhaps it was the fragrance from all of the broomstraw and blackberry vines across the road. Whatever it was, it spoke of a new life in a new place.
As happy-go-lucky and adventuresome as beagles are, Red and Georgette were soon poking noses in brush piles, trying to roust out a cottontail for a chase. Old Penny was another case. Penny was a lemon and white English pointer who had roamed free alongside her siblings for nearly a decade. The move was traumatic. Penny slept every night for two months under her reliable companion, the Bronco. It was her security blanket – one supposes she figured that when that wagon left, she was going with it.
Eventually she decided to get as close to the family as possible which meant a position in the garage near the kitchen door. That garage opened to the rear of the house onto a large parking area which also served as the neighborhood basketball court. Alongside the home were the obligatory shrubs of hated holly (trimming was torture), pittosporum,  ligustrum,  sasanqua, azalea, gardenia, and boxwood. In places they were several tiers deep. Snakes, lizards, and birds loved the habitat.
The first time the plug eared rabbit was seen he was tipping around a pile of freshly-cut saplings from clearing the yard. Later it would be found that the brush pile was one of his hide-outs. Curiously, that particular brush pile was closest to the dog pens. It was almost like Plug Ear had his very own sense of daring. Most of the time the beagles ran free, but that rabbit did not know when those times were.
There is no substitute for experience and those beagles got plenty of it chasing Plug Ear and his relatives.  The next winter Red and Georgette would team up with Jinks and Blue for some sizzling races down below Girard, Georgia. Practice on their home boy rabbit might not have made perfect, but it made for very fast beagles.  The poor rabbits down there in Burke County paid dearly for trying to escape over some hill. Unlike Plug Ear back home, they didn’t have ponds to swim or culverts to run into when the chase found the bugling beagle foursome nipping at their heels.  The teamwork between the hounds in pursuit of an open field quarry was stunning in speed and effectiveness.
At heart, old Penny was a rabbit dog, too.  Our family of quail hunters had to be greatly disciplined with her rabbit pointing.  One could tell when it was a rabbit that she had pointed, for her tail would have a pronounced crook in it. If it was really, really twisted, that meant “snake,” not “rabbit.” One didn’t dare reward Penny by shooting a rabbit she had pointed, especially early in the day, for if you did, she would spend most of the day pointing rabbits instead of quail.
Back home, Plug Ear was getting more inventive with his escapes. Red and Georgette had started strategies to cut off his pond swims, runs on smelly asphalt to hide his scent and bolts through Mr. Cartledge’s hog wire fencing.  He came to run up to the house, slip and weave among the shrubs, and hug the foundation. He got by with that one day.
The next day he didn’t.
The hounds struck Plug’s trail down where he got a sip of water coming out of the Cartledges’ pond overflow. He shook them for a moment at the fence, allowing time to scoot into our pond’s far side. From there he jumped in, swam to the dam, crossed over, and ran a flanking trail down the cane break. Plug doubled back on his trail and leaped over the creek. After crossing the dam again on the near side, he made a run up to the house and tipped along the base of the wall. Then he stopped in an opening to listen for Red and Georgette.
It was in front of the garage.
A lemon and white energized bundle named Penny lunged at Plug Ear from his blind side, but the combination of pointer toenails on asphalt and one intact bunny ear provided salvation.  The gaping maw of Penny’s mouth snapped at Plug’s head, but caught his fleeing tail instead.
It was a shame that Red and Georgette were still down by the pond when Penny made her charging lunge. They would have screamed approval. Plug Ear survived.  If he were seen after that day, one would have branded such a species as a Plug  Earred Nothingtail.
There is a human moral to this tail.
 Sitting on your haunches gloating is not Penny wise.
Originally posted on City Stink.

Short Story: Fat Pitch Wood Ignites Laughter

The Fat Lighter Stump Rattler

Sunday, August 5, 2012
Lincoln County, GA

By Al Gray


An indispensable material in country life, a role that will accelerate its current reprise as the economics of energy demands, is the fat lighter stump.  Fat lighter is also known as “fat lighter,” “lighter wood,” “rich lighter,” “pine knot,” “lighter knot,” “heart pine,” and other similar descriptors of resin-rich pine wood. The stump is the most concentrated area of the tree to be left full of pitch, albeit not the only section, as trees with cat-faces, like this one, are also great sources.

Our modern homes are increasingly equipped with wood stoves and heaters, creating current demand, but strips and splinters of fat lighter have been used to start fires in the Southern United States for eons. One can imagine the nostrils of the earliest Americans flaring to take in the pleasant aroma of pine pitch as they stacked their own kindling to make camp fires or cook fires in their lodges.


For this aging scribe, that smell brings back memories and more than a few laughs.


Back in 1966, my great Uncle Land Rhodes set out to find some hunting land to rent in the Shell Bluff community of Burke County, Georgia. He found a willing partner in Bennie Gilchrist, who had about 250 acres off of Georgia Highway 23. The place had a couple of peanut fields on it for dove shooting, a few covies of quail and some briar patches full of rabbits. Mainly, though, the place was situated in close proximity to vast public lands of ITT Rayonier, Continental Can, and other private lands where the family could hunt.


In the midst of the first season the clan decided to camp out in an old tin-roofed shanty with just two rooms. One room had a working fireplace. The other did not. Naturally everybody with two legs slept in the one with the fireplace, for it was a brutally cold winter.  The greater number of the hunting party was better dressed for the cold and slept in the second room.

To get the fire started, they picked up some fat lighter over around Youmans Road on the way back from the first afternoon hunt. The splinters of that fat wood produced a rich, wafting odor of pine resin. Soon the fire was crackling, the stories were being spun, and before long, the tin roof was buzzing from the snoring from both rooms. No alcohol was involved, because John Rhodes was a tee-totaler and adamant about that.


The morning of the second day was a quail hunt, with plans for a grand rabbit hunt after lunch.  John, Land, and Andrew were the morning hunter contingent as the bigger party for the rabbit hunt was still up on Stevens Creek Road in Martinez. It was a good morning, too, for the uncles bagged 22 bobwhites before the hunting prowess of Bronco, King, and Nell.


Upon their return to the camp they found that Buster, Hugh, and Junior arrived. We won’t engage in a round of overstatement about the fare being sumptuous fried quail, cabbage, corn on the cob, cornbread, and a helping of Aunt Francis’ peach cobbler, because it was mostly saltines, sardines, and Vienna sausage. Afterward came a nap in front of the fireplace.


No one was asleep when a knock came from the front door. It was Alvin Needy, a local inhabitant who worked on farms part time. Old Alvin was known to drink moonshine and he had been into it early that day.  “Hey, fellas, y’all kill many birds this mawnin?” Buster said “Yeah, I wrung the neck of one of the yard hens for Hattie Mae just before we drove down, but you got to ask Land here if they got any quail birds.” Land said “Yeah, we found a big covey, got 5 on the rise and 3 more single birds. We knocked around and got a really nice mess of birds.”


By this time Alvin was inside, peering all around. “You mens got some licca you can spare for old Alvin? “ John spoke up and said “ I don’t drink. I suspect these other boys do, but not when I am around.” “WHAT?” exclaimed Alvin. “Six white mens down heah in dis sandy place in a shack on dis cold day and NO Booze?” By this time he had rumbled and stumbled to the door to the back room. He wasn’t taking no for an answer, believing he was being put off and mislead. Alvin reached for the door knob. One of the uncles said “I wouldn’t do that if I were you……”


“AiiiiEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! “


Too late, Alvin had opened a Pandora’s box. 16 beagles overran Alvin. Old Bo headed for the front door….John grabbed him and said “Oh no, Bo, not time to go.” Polly, Prissy, Peaches, Jojo, Jesse, Freddy, Hap, Annie, Mabel, Jinx, Rebel, Tom, Fanny, Lucy, and Missy were milling around a still-muttering Alvin. “OOOO….WEEEE..lookit all de rabbit dawgs!”  He turned to flee and tripped over Mabel. Then the licking started.  Imagine 16 beagle butts turned outward while lathering attention on a drunk.


Word has it that Alvin was in church the next Sunday and didn’t touch moonshine for a very long while.


That day was one for the books. The afternoon was crisp and the thunder of 16 beagles in fully cry carried for nearly a mile. Alvin was long gone by the time the pack returned to that back room of the shanty.


35 years later your scribe went on a hunting lease exploration up at Old Anderson Plantation in Warren County near Norwood, Georgia, much like Uncle Land’s in finding the Gilchrist place. The plantation manager – let’s call him Jim Doe – met me at the hunting camp. At the time the plantation was about 20,000 acres and it had a central area of about 1500 acres that was open to bow hunting only. Jim was very gracious and we spent a lot of time, not just doing the obligatory cruise of the roads and fields, but a lot of actual strolling through the oak stands on the property. About half-way through, Jim spotted a fat lighter stump that he wanted, so we uprooted it and threw it in the back of my pickup truck.




Eventually I had seen enough to conclude the excursion and return to the camp. We were approaching a creek bottom on the paved highway, when Jim yelled “Rattlesnake!,”  pointing at a reptile nearing the centerline. “Kill him” he commanded.I complied, despite having to cross the double yellow line, then slam on the brakes as we crossed the snake’s body. The rattler was slung to the edge of the pavement. 

 We backed up and parked. The snake had somewhat regained his senses to head for the high grass. Jim said “Shoot him.” That brought the response “With WHAT?” There was no gun in the truck. The only thing available was the old fat lighter stump. It was about 3 feet long and perhaps 8 inches wide at its base, but it was solid. While Jim was busily cutting a stick to dispatch the snake with the Gerber folding saw from my hunting pack, I grabbed that stump, walked over to the rattlesnake, and dropped it on his head. The rattle was buzzing furiously. The assault with the fat lighter piece stopped the advance toward the tall weeds, then Jim’s stick finished the job.


Jim said “Let’s take this snake back to Rooster back at the camp. He likes to make hatbands from rattlesnake skins. This is a good one because it isn’t full of birdshot or buckshot holes.”


Rooster had left camp. I was left with the snake in the back of the truck near the tailgate, as I had my cooler and drinks forward against the tool box.


The trip back to Augusta began.  When the on ramp to I-20 at the Camak Exit was approaching a sudden bout of thirst struck for one of the Diet Pepsi’s in the cooler. I pulled off on the apron at the top of the ramp, got out of the truck, reached for a can of Pepsi, popped the top, and started to drink. Out of the corner of my eye, there was movement and something red. At the bottom of the ramp was a fiery red Mustang GT, with the trunk raised. Walking toward me was a guy dressed in an Atlanta Braves T Shirt and jeans. There had been a big game early that afternoon in Atlanta. Obviously there was car trouble.


I pulled down the ramp and rolled down the window. “Hi,”the man said, “I‘m Charlie Reed. My buddy, Dan Potts, and I were driving back to Augusta from the Braves – Giants game, when we hit a piece of metal that blew out a tire. We cannot get the lug nuts off of the wheel because the #%$%$# lug wrench handle is too short to apply enough leverage. Do you have a 4 way lug wrench?” “Sure do,” I replied. “I have a length of pipe to slide over a lug wrench as an extended lever, too!” We located the wrench and pipe in the tool box.


Charlie was a talker, one of those incessant gabbers, to whom you cannot get in a word edgewise. We were about 150 yards from the Mustang.


Charlie said “It sure is hot, could I ride back to the car in your truck?”


I replied “my passenger side seat and the floorboard are filled with tree stand paraphernalia”


He said, “That’s OK I will just hop back there and ride!” The man never stopped flapping his jaws to look what he was doing.


I stammered “No…no!….”


Charlie said “It’s OK, I am not choosy.”


Me: There’s a……”


Charlie, stepping up on the bumper, lifting his right leg high over the tailgate: “I ride in the backs of trucks all the time.”


Me: “I wouldn’t do that if I were You……..”  


Charlie, looking down in mid-giant-stride, his leg perpendicular to the ground 5 feet below: Aiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

SNAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Charlie bailed out in mid stride and catapulted to the ground. No bones were broken, only his stream of talk.


I have that way with people. I go to find a little fat lighter to make a fire. Somewhere along the way, be it to a county commission or just a hitchhiker in a Braves shirt. I will advise “I wouldn’t do that if I were You……..”  They then ignore me but they come to their senses screaming.


I did that recently, warning about how the TSPLOST transportation tax in Georgia was going to bite them. They promoted it anyway.


It went TSPLAT.


They should have banged the TSLOST to death with a stick of fat lighter.  Now they have to bail out and land on their rumps.


I will laugh my large Gray-family-inherited buns off.***


A.G.


ITYS

The Neva Hex

Burke Hero Herman Lodge Debated the White Kid

Saturday, July 28, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray
The winter of 1977 was brutal on East Ninth Street in Waynesboro, Georgia.  The Georgia Department of Labor had become beneficiary to $millions in Federal funds under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), with a portion of them being released under CETA Title III. This program was administered locally by a consortium of 13 area counties. Nobody seemed to know what on earth to do with the Title III Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker program.  They did what came natural – they threw me into doing it – all the time muttering something about a need to “chill out.”  Those words were prophetic.
 
All of us have heard about bureaucrats being shuffled off to a desk in a closet with nothing to do, except being paid.  Sadly that wasn’t the case with this assignment. A nice closet would have been just fine. Instead the office to which your then-naïve apprentice bureaucrat was directed was “somewhere on East 9thStreet, down yonder in Waynesboro. You will be fine. Just think, with this job out in the farms, you can probably line up new places to hunt and, if you start early in the morning, you can even catch some afternoon hunts!”  You did catch the descriptor “naïve,”  didn’t you?
 
Imagine my chagrin when the office building was in a rusting galvanized tin-roofed, wood frame, old school on a weathered paved street where it intersected with a dirt road. This picture tells it all.

 

When one rolled his office chair across the floor, the roof would rattle. Heat? That was swiftly gone with the wind roaring through the cracks.
 
One particularly cold day found James Williams, Alton Spells, and your humble scribe huddled around the gas heater in the office. Get the picture. One mustachioed black dude in a suit, another in jeans with an enormous Afro, and one very white, then-skinny white boy from Evans in Columbia, County, all hunkered down – arguing politics, as usual.
 
That old building was also the informal headquarters of the Burke County NAACP. President Herman Lodge, destined to be Burke County’s first black commissioner, was a frequent visitor.  Between doing program enrollments in the field, this, the only white fellow in 5 Waynesboro blocks would, at age 25, would do battle with his elders, generally combatting the notion that everything was a total conspiracy. Sometimes they would shoo me off. A disbeliever in Whitey-Is-Evil and a social program skeptic made them uncomfortable.
 
Then there were the program enrollees. There were more than a bushel basket of problems with folks down on the farm.  Then there were the self-inflicted problems. Take the Reverend Benny Lapp’s interview.
 
Me: Rev. Lapp, employers are fickle about job applicant’s employment histories. I notice a gap between 1969 and 1972. Can we explain that?
Rev. Lapp – I were in-car-cer-ated…….
 
Then there was Shirley McCorn, a poor white gal living in a single wide with 5 kids down in Midville.
 
Me:    Shirley, that looks like a DOG Collar around your calf….isn’t that a rabies tag dangling from it?
Shirley: It certainly is.
Me: You wouldn’t wear that to an interview would you?
Shirley: I would.
Me: Why? What does it mean?
Shirley: Everyone kept calling me a bitch, so I decided to be true-to-life.
 
James Williams and I rode all over those counties, trying to find jobs for migrants and seasonal workers. There were sad sacks and there were happy faces. There were farmers who told us to get off their property, but more who were happy to take federal funds bounty for doing what they were going to do anyway in terms of employment. James always dressed to the hilt and drove a new Audi, of which he was most proud.
 
We were the enforcers.
 
In that day, in Burke County, Georgia folks still practiced witchcraft. We enrolled a person like that, named Neva Doodis. Neva was short for Geneva and she came from Gough….or maybe Vidette……those two towns always get mixed up in the cobwebs of time and a 3-score-aged brain. At anyway Neva’s enrollment was, well different.
 
Me: You enroll this one, she is a rootworker.
James Williams: Say wha…..at?
Me: She is a witch, a root doctor.
James: Nobody believes in that these days. What can a root doctor do?
Me: I don’t believe in that stuff, either. Just don’t leave Neva around your open beverages.
James: Why not?
Me:  If you let somebody who says she is a root doctor feed or serve in a drink a root potion conjured up by a root talker, then what the root doctor can do to you is supposedly unlimited. She can have you by controlling your thoughts, even to the extent that you might bark like a dog or even jump in old Walter Wimberly’s hog parlor to slop with his hogs on your next visit to Shell Bluff. Besides that, she can put a hex on you so that physical things so bad on you at inopportune times, even if you don’t drink or eat anything she got hold to.
James: I can handle her.
Me: Ok
 
Neva got into our training program. She was civil enough, despite being a lover of the moonshine that flowed freely into Waynesboro.
 
However, Neva was getting paid to attend class. She was missing too many from being hung over or maybe it was from howling at the moon. I finally had enough and drove over to her house during class times. There Neva sat in a rocker, bleary eyed, with a milk jug on the screened porch.
 
Me: Neva, this is a class day and you have missed it. Didn’t James warn you twice already?
Neva: Dat Williams? Naw, he hain’t been heah tellin me nuttin.
Me: He gave you the notice required to terminate you the last time and you signed for it.
Neva: Missah Ah-el, you ain’t gonna cut mah check off, you can’t do that!
Me: Why not?
Neva: I gots de powah on you.
Me: I made sure not to drink anything. Sorry, Neva but we gave you 3 chances. Like baseball, you got called out on strikes –your sit-at-home strikes against training sessions.
Neva: You gonna be sorry.
Me: James Williams will drop by your last check.
 
The next week James went out and dropped off Neva’s last check. He came in laughing.
 
Me: How did it go?
James: Rough, Neva threw pine cones at me – after I handed her check – but she was so drunk she missed. Let’s me and you hope she misses with her hex.
Me: Checks? She won’t be getting any more of them.
James: Clean out your ears, I said “HEX”….H……E……X.
Me: Hex? What hex?
James: On mine, she mumbled something about “your ideas gone bad”…and one yours she got to cussin’ about “whitey wot goes huntin’ meetin’? up wid Mr. Rattlesnake up ‘round de ‘Geechee Rivah.”
 
That year passed pretty quickly. I hadn’t met “wid Mr. Rattlesnake” just yet and James was packing up his office stuff to leave. He rolled his chair across the floor, causing one last celebratory rattle of the tin roof, got up and shook my hand. “ It was a lot of fun working with you Al, but you didn’t do any hunting much after work!” The gang here – Miss Dorothy, Alton, and Miss Alicia – you all have been wonderful. Even the clients were OK.  Hey, what happened to Neva Doodis, I wonder? Remember that silly hex about my “idea?”
 
James,” slapping him on the shoulder, I exclaimed “You accused me of bad hearing. I figured out what Neva said was ‘your Audi going bad’!!!” Remember? It wasn’t 3 days after you took her that last check and got bombarded with pine burs when your Audi’s engine blew on the side of Highway 56 and I had to take you home.
 
James grew pale “Holy Moly, you are right!”
 
What happened to Neva, we will never know. What we do know is this piece of good advice. Don’t snicker at the root doctor. There are forces in the world that are dark. If you imbibe or eat of their concoctions, you might end up howling at the moon, crawling on your belly like a snake, or have your blinders ripped off and see the very real conspiracies that my old debating adversary, the late Herman Lodge, warned about..
 


I like to think that I influenced old Herman a little. After all, we are the sum total of the experiences and people that we meet.
 
Seeing is believing. James Williams knows.
 
The Audi blew up on the way to fabulous wealth and power. You cannot convince him otherwise.
 
I know.
 
You will read about them as they are revealed.
 
No imbibing or feasting on offerings of the rootsayer needed or allowed. The guardian angels don’t approve and I will need them again.***



A.G.

Trucking Broncos and Sour Mash Victims

Old Bronco Bit Hard

By Al Gray

 English Setter “Jake” circa 1978

Calla Jean produced one fine litter of pups in the spring of 1960. In dog breeder parlance, Calla was the dam and Pal was the sire.  When the pups arrived, Stevens Creek Road had been paved a scant 4 years. Eisenhower was still President. Folks in Augusta knew the Old Fruitland Nursery. The Masters was dispensing tickets to all. Down the hill there was Bowen Pond, but no West Lake, only about 850 acres of Rhodes family and friends’ land which would become the pups training ground.


Nell, Bullet, Rock, Sand, Penny, King, and Bronco were lemon and white English pointers from a long line of the breed that had served the Rhodes family for decades. They came up during what was perhaps the heyday of quail hunting in East Central Georgia.


Penny turned out to be ours; or rather we were hers, especially my father. She was the first respectable quail dog he had owned, despite having a father, Allie Gray, who loved quail hunting about as much as he did gospel quartet music.  I would never say this to my father, but Penny had a couple of faults. First, she fancied herself a rabbit dog and you never wanted to encourage her by shooting a cottontail, because that would mean getting rabbit points the rest of the day. You could usually tell when she was pointing a rabbit, because her tail would have a crook in it. If it really was pronouncedly crooked, that probably meant a snake. If you didn’t encourage Penny to snake and rabbit hunt, she was a very good quail dog, too.


Her brother, Bronco, would turn out to be the stalwart bird dog of the litter. He belonged to my great uncle Land Rhodes, who did more quail hunting than anyone else in the family and even most anyone in the state. He took Bronco all around, starting with the usual trek from the gate into Bowen Pond, up to Mr. Skinner’s old hog farm, over to Baston and Furey’s Ferry Road, where his cousin Sterling Rhodes ran a small store. (This is the corner where the First Citizen’s Bank now sits.) There Bronco and the other bird dogs could be watered while the hunters took their own refreshments while gossiping with Sterling.  The return trip carried the party back through what is now Watervale subdivision and on home on Stevens Creek Road. It was a half-day hunt. In that day, the hunters could bag a couple of dozen on that hunting trek.


Other hunts took our family of hunters to McBean, Girard, Stoney Bluff, Millen, Hephzibah, Vidette and Sylvania. Mostly we hunted out of my father’s mechanical Broncos from the Ford factory.


Land Rhodes with Junior Gray (looking back from Bronco window)

Bronco, the English Pointer, purely loved to hunt. He was also a wizened master of the hunt and nonverbal communication. Many were the times that we made a turn, missed seeing Bronco, then found him standing expectantly at the corner of an adjacent field on the other side. He would be ‘saying’ “I got ‘em down here in the lespedeza patch, fellas, where did y’all go?” After he knew we had seen him he would dutifully trot back and remake the point that we had missed. Sometimes we would not even have to turn around, because Bronco would stand unmovable at an intersection of a field with his head high, until we noticed his resolute beckoning style and hunted his way.


Those were the days. Moonshining was not remotely dead in rural Georgia in the early 60’s and thrived until growing marijuana displaced it. Liquor stills were in the middle of the densest parts of the woods along branches and creeks. It was not uncommon to encounter one quail hunting. Old Bronco was part of one visitation. He had pointed a single bird on the edge of a corn field in sparse blackberry briars. Uncle Land was up to shoot with this writer as back up. The bird erupted from the broom straw and sailed into a high, twisting flight over the top of the more towering blackberries close to the creek. BAM! The quail tumbled out of sight. We gingerly walked around the briar patch until we found a path – a recently used path – that led to the fallen bird. After stooping under vines and briars for about 20 yards, we came to a clearing, in the midst of which stood an operating still. Not wanting to tarry, the search for the downed quail resumed in earnest. Turning to leave empty-handed, Land spied the quail – belly up in a vat of sour mash!


The years passed and Bronco began to lose a step. His range, never great, diminished. Along came the trio of Go Boy, Rusty, and Freedom, all of whom had greater range and complimenting abilities. The day came in which there were hard decisions on which dogs to carry in the aqua Bronco, with Bronco the Hunting Fiend increasingly relegated to the half-day hunts. The old warrior became a yard dog, an old, decrepit relic of glory days past.


He didn’t like that one bit. He did not hide it well either.


He liked it less when he was left behind even on those short hunts. He was left pacing the yard twice, I think, before The Day. It was early one morning, shortly after daybreak, when we pulled into Uncle Land’s yard. We began to load Go Boy, a young pup and Rusty into the bog box with Freedom and another dog of mine, who had already settled in for the next leg of the ride. I left the passenger side door of the aqua wagon open to load coolers, guns, and ammunition.


The implausible happened. There was the sound of loose gravel. I turned to see a lemon and  white blur LEAPING through the air and through the open truck door! Old Bronco had had enough. He was going today, thank you very much. The old boy clambered atop the dog box from the inside, laid down, and had his graying head facing the front. I made a motion to grab him by the collar.


He growled.


It was a very serious growl in Bronco’s life-long history of nonverbal communication. It said “Sonny-boy, we go way back. I remember when you got on the school bus every day. You didn’t want to make that trip. This trip is different. I am going hunting today…..or do you want to lose your face?” Yep, all that came out – loud and clear – in that growl.


I backed out and called for help. Uncle Land, Bronco’s master, was ready to go and wasn’t going to tolerate nonsense from a canine retiree occupying the space where the cooler was supposed to go. He reached up a grabbed Bronco’s collar. Well, it is a good thing the dog was dull and gapped toothed because Bronco was in no mood to be trifled with. He bit Land hard.


Old Bronco went hunting that day. The cooler got strapped onto the tailgate.


After then, it got to be a game. We knew to avoid leaving the door open and we knew to block the doors into the dog box, but yet again, Bronco managed to leap through. We learned that you could not let him even get onto the tailgate, for if you did, you had a snarling fiend on your hands.


After the season, we redesigned and rebuilt the dog box to prevent a dog from wriggling to the top of the dog box from the outside.


Bronco the English Pointer, who morphed into one very mad dog when it became necessary, set the example for the other dogs and was indispensable in training them. Eventually even the headstrong Go Boy and Freedom learned the trick of coming back for misdirected hunters. None other ever went to such lengths to go hunting as old Bronco.


We should all be like that, never giving up the hunt, leaping at opportunity, and hanging on for all the glory we can embrace.


Sometimes this old scribe has occasion to journey to some of those hunting haunts of so long ago. In places, the fields are much as they were 40 years ago. The last time I was down below Girard, upon turning down the River Road, a glance out of imagination saw a statuesque lemon and white pointer, head erect, saying in his old style “Sonny-boy, there are quail down in the broom straw field………”

The next time I will make sure I am driving this vehicle of mine.

The 1969 Ford Bronco in July 2012
One day maybe Bronco will bring along these two fellows in my vision.


Land Rhodes & Junior Gray approach a pointing bird dog circa 1978
That will be one fine day, even if Bronco bites me.