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Cattle Drive Revives 'Best of Old West'

September 28, 1996|MAYRAV SAAR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hunkered down against a haystack in Marshall Canyon, the cowboy removed his hat, scratched his head and took a hearty swig of--bottled water?

"Oh, excuse me," he said, reaching for his buzzing turquoise fanny pack. "My cell phone is ringing."

The Los Angeles County Fair kicked off its Wild West Weekend with a not-too-wild, semi-Western two-day cattle drive, roping in the likes of cellular phone wrangler Mark Edwards, 37, for an opportunity to play cowboy.

The San Dimas science teacher ditched school Thursday and Friday to spend his time trying to keep short, smelly, unruly critters in line--an experience that, he convinced himself, differs from teaching.

As Edwards answered his cellular phone, no fewer than six other folks in spurs and chaps drawled away on their phones at a high noon lunch stop Thursday, the first day of the cattle drive.

Some cowpokes drank beer, but most enjoyed a variety of soda in addition to their prepackaged sandwiches and little raisin cookies.

John Wayne would'a cringed.

*

"A lot of the Old West wasn't so neat," said Darrell Twisselman, 63, a rancher whose family has been herding cattle near San Luis Obispo since the late 1800s. Through the fair's event, "people get the best of the Old West--the riding, being close to nature--without getting the heat and the going without water all day and the ornery old cowboys you had to go out there with."

With a stance as steady as his gaze, Twisselman stood among the 250 head of Mexican roping steer he donated for the drive, a herd he called a "small order" compared with some of the other events he stocks. The family contributes more than 1,000 head for the California Midstate Fair and annually hauls out 1,900 head for its own recreational cattle drive in Northern California.

Twisselman said the push for a more tourist-attraction type of ranching is a matter of necessity: The profit margin for selling cow meat is drying up like the dew in July. But the cobalt-eyed cowpoke has no plans to give up his lifestyle.

"An affluent society creates frustrated people because they're bored," he said. "A boy can go into town and become a doctor or a lawyer, but he'll never find what you have out here."

Horseman Glenn Girard tipped his hat to that sentiment. A tall drink of water with leathery tanned skin and a neatly groomed goatee, Girard provided several riders with horses from his Marshall Canyon boarding and rental center.

"I love my job," said Girard from atop his horse, Russell. "I get to play all day."

An award-winning roper seated on a trophy saddle, Girard was one of a dozen group leaders directing riders on Friday's six-mile drive from La Verne to the Fairplex's racetracks in Pomona.

He smiled affably as crowds watched cattle and horses ride past their schools, golf courses, gated communities and business districts.

"Hi, Black Beauty! Hi, Black Beauty!" squealed a preschool student dressed as a cowgirl, when Girard's horse trotted past.

*

Attention to details may have eluded the onlookers, but not the federal, state and city agencies involved in the event. La Verne closed its streets, the Pomona Police Department's mounted patrol rode along for crowd control, and most important, a street-sweeping vehicle took the rear, ensuring that the cows and horses left behind nothing more than pleasant memories.

Significantly fewer people greeted the riders at the racetrack than along the drive route, but an announcer's voice and the crowd's applause made the stadium seem full--and the riders seem like real wranglers.

Dan Taylor, 48, a Victorville process engineer who had not been on a horse in 25 years, squinted beneath his cowboy hat as he tied up his mount.

"This is a kick, getting out of the humdrum," he said. With vacation days on his hands, Taylor said, he decided to get back in the saddle when he saw an ad for the fair's cattle drive in a local paper. "I thought about 'City Slickers,' " he laughed. "I've never done this before. It's fun."

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