The period of my life from 1959 to 1964 was spent finishing up my Army duty, working three jobs and welcoming my first child, Brad. All of this left precious little time for any outdoor activities.
Several times during this period I did have the opportunity to spend a day hunting and fishing in the Trinity River bottoms, between Dayton and Liberty, Texas. We would enter “The Bottoms”, as we called it, at a remote place near Dayton, at the Kennefic Fire Tower, then proceed down seven miles of probably the worst road in the United States. This road was always flooded, mud axel deep on a jeep, deceiving ruts that covered bogs and the home of the largest mosquitoes on the Gulf Coast.
The road was only part of the challenge. The leaseholder of the land, I never knew his name, would come by several times during the week to check on his cattle and hogs and to scare poachers out. He even chased us out one time mounted on a horse! When the river was up and out of its banks you couldn’t possibly get in. But if you could get to the river, the creeks and sloughs provided some of the best bass fishing and duck and squirrel hunting to be found.
My brother-in-law, Jim Buck, was desperate to get down to “The Bottoms”. He had heard my Dad and I talk of the fabulous hunting and fishing opportunities. Just a month before my Dad and I had a very enjoyable afternoon fishing there, in one of the many sloughs, catching one to two pound bass.
My Dad had an “employee” and friend, a telephone company contractor who worked for him and had first taken us to “The Bottoms”. The friend had a jeep with mud grip tires and a “new” Warn winch mounted on its front bumper. If we got stuck, hook up to a tree and let the winch pull us out. That was the way to conquer “The Bottoms”.
Well, Jim found, for $500.00, a 1947 Jeepster Station Wagon, four wheel drive, a rusted green color, but mechanically sound, which he promptly purchased “Bottom” here we come! “Jimmy, we need a winch. Did you get one for the front bumper?” I Asked him. He replied, “No, I have something better, a hand winch which we can use front or back.” At that time, I had a very elementary knowledge of mechanics and uses of a hand winch so I thought we were fine. “Bottom” here we come!
The new, old, Jeepster made the trip to the Kennific Fire Tower with no problems. It turned out it ran very well on a smooth road. Pulling up to the gate in the not light, early morning, it was unlocked, but we also knew where the key was hidden, and there was no sign of the leaseholder. Many times during the day to come I had wished for the evil leaseholder to show us up and “help” us out of this infernal place. “Bottom” here we come.
We navigated the first six hundred yards and came to the first boggy spot. The Jeepster, and its skinny road tires, we never thought about mud grips, plowed gamely through the muck and deposited us safely onto solid ground. “Piece of cake”, we thought. Another low spot, spinning tires, mud flying everywhere, stuck! No problem we have our hand winch. There is a tree close by in front of us, very convenient, and we hook on and begin cranking the winch and the vehicle moves, all of six inches. (My mind flashes back to a duck hunt that turned sour, where, in a boat, me and two of my friends had to scoot across the mud flats twelve to eighteen inches at a time to get back to our launch area.) Twenty minutes of cranking and we are out of the mud and sailing down the “road”.
Winching through three more bogs we notice the sun is up, its hot and humid and the mosquitoes are out in force. We missed the sunrise fishing we had planned on. No worry, so little fishing pressure where were going the bass will hit all day.
More bogs, more winching. We are both wet and covered head to toe in mud and its getting close to noon, we won’t have much time to fish. We gamely “soldier on”. We hit this one spot which I had worried about on the way in a fifty foot run through bog, mud and water and we splash in, four wheels spinning and making no progress. Stuck again. No tree close by, so I volunteer to push. Maybe that will help. It did for five feet. Still, no tree near, and we are really stuck! Finding small logs and branches to give our street tires some traction, we inch forward until we can reach a tree with our winch line. Crank, six inches. Crank, six inches. Crank, six inches. This ceases to be fun. Crank, six inches. Solid ground and we break for a late lunch.
We assess our situation. Over the past seven hours we estimate we have made about three miles. We are almost out of water. We have been stuck twelve times. If the Jeepster doesn’t break, at this rate we will get to our fishing spot about dark. Maybe we don’t have the right equipment. We can always blame the Jeepster no mud grip tires. We can blame the weather that last big rain really made a mess of the bad road? We can blame the leaseholder maybe he came in with a Dodge Power Wagon and deliberately ruined the road. Admitting a tactical defeat, we turned around and headed out. “Bottom” you won.
However, there were some good things to come out of this ill-fated trip. We only got stuck seven times coming out. We got out just before dark. I did not have to push. We “made” the leaseholder some new road. We had no fish to clean. And, best of all, we dried out before we got home!