The Crustiest Angel
Several months ago Reubene asked me to write a story about Tom. I was both honored and scared. Even now, as I lay pen to paper, I don’t know where to start. In the time that I have known Tom we have locked horns and been best of friends. We never quite came to blows, but if he had been 30 years younger…
Tom and Reubene Scott had been on the Sesquicentennial Wagon Train, but for some reason I didn’t have the opportunity to meet them until a later time. They were active participants in the Lone Star Wagon Train that started up after the Sesquicentennial train ended, driving the New Horizons wagon in that ride and carrying the kids from the home as they traveled down the Texas highways and byways. I think this was pretty much their first encounter with the New Horizons Ranch, and it was to prove to be a turning point in their lives. It turned out to be a turning point in mine as well. I just didn’t know it at the time.
It wasn’t until the spring of 1987, the year after both of the two “big” rides completed their respective journeys; somewhere along the trail from Junction to Uvalde that I had the pleasure of encountering the couple I have come to think of as best friends and mentors. That ride was the first of what Jan France billed as the Texas Wagon Train reunion rides. It was a two-week journey with move-ups daily. We were all so excited that the wagon train was to continue and a very large group of us showed up to make the trek. Somewhere in the first few days of that ride, I met Tom.
Tom was one of the most cantankerous men I have ever met. I knew this to be true from that first day. I had been making the move-ups in my old Ford and gooseneck trailer, parking where I could find a place. I tried to camp by folks I knew but there wasn’t always room. This particular day I drove into the new camp and passed by Tom sitting on the tailgate of his truck. When I failed to find a campsite I turned around and headed back up the dusty road. On the way I spotted a good place so I turned once again and headed back in, passing Tom yet a third time. Once I got settled and my mule was unloaded and penned, this old fellow whom I didn’t know came sauntering over. Without invitation he sat on the tailgate of my pickup and allowed as how he was sure proud that I had finally parked my rusty old wreck and quit stirring up the dad-gummed dust. I just kind of stared at this audacious old man with his eyes locked on mine and his bottom jaw stuck out and tried to figure out what to say or do. It isn’t often that I am caught without words, but this bearded old fellow had managed to take the conversation right out of me. Then he stuck out his hand, smiled real big and introduced himself. This was my introduction to Tom Scott.
Cantankerous and unforgiving he could be, but he was also kind and gentle when it was called for, and ever willing to impart some of his wealth of information on some unsuspecting soul. He and his life-long partner, Reubene, became some of the founding members of the group that eventually became known as the Texas Friendship Wagon Train Association, and they became my best friends.
As I said earlier, Tom and Reuben becoming associated with New Horizons changed their lives and mine. It has also changed the lives of countless children. Through the subsequent years Tom drove the New Horizons wagon in many a trailride, and hauled many a youngster down the dusty trail. The experience exposed the kids to this great man as he disciplined and taught them the ways of the real world. I could share a hundred stories of how Tom dealt with the kids, but one sticks in my mind more than the others.
It was on that first ride, the Lone Star Wagon Train that a young boy by the name of Wally reluctantly loaded onto the wagon in the little town of Blanket. He sat quietly for a while as Tom drove down the road, and then, shyly pointing at Tom, quietly asked Reubene if she knew that man. Reubene replied that Tom was her husband. Wally was quiet for a while longer, his eyes hardly leaving Tom’s back, then again asked a quiet question. “Is he a mean man?” Reubene replied that Tom was not a mean man. The obviously frightened little boy then asked, “Then why is he wearing that belt?” Reubene was a bit shook up once she realized just why the boy was frightened, but told him that Tom used his belt only to hold up his pants. Wally didn’t seem convinced, but a while later it was his turn to sit up front with Tom. Tom took his time with Wally, gently showing him how to drive the little team. After a bit little Wally was smiling. Tom had won another heart. They remained friends until Wally graduated from New Horizons and started a new life.
I started publishing the Trailrider’s Journal in the spring of 1990. A photo of Tom and Reubene sitting in the New Horizons wagon graced that first issue. When we were sitting around campfires the previous year discussing the state of trailriding and wagon training in Texas, the concept for the paper was born. I agreed that I could probably do the start up, but didn’t have much confidence that I could make it successful. Tom pulled me aside and told me not to worry. He said the paper was needed, and he was sure it would be a success. He was right, and in just a few of years we had over 600 members and the calendar listed in excess of a hundred rides in most issues. Tom’s photo graced several issues, because he and Reubene were always there – always supporting the kids, the wagon train, the Association and the Journal.
In October of 1990, we organized and held the first New Horizons benefit wagon train. Three weeks before the ride Tom was stricken with some abdominal problems and had to go in the hospital for surgery. It was very serious surgery too. I knew he would not be healthy enough to make the ride, but we all got a big surprise when Tom and Reubene came rolling up to meet the train at our first water break on Tuesday. Tom was not going to miss this event no matter what his doctor said.
It was at that October ride that our club held it’s very first membership meeting. We didn’t accomplish much, but we did decide to have the next ride in the Rock Springs area. Hogg and Helen Jones offered us the use of their ranch, so off to Rock Springs we went. It was a hot, dusty time we had, but it was a fine ride. Tom, who hadn’t sat in a saddle for years, decided that today was the day. He borrowed my trusty mule Red, adjusted my saddle, and rode with his back straight and head high as we paraded into Rock Springs the last day of the ride. I still have a dozen or more photos of him on my mule, wearing a well-worn straw hat and red bandanna and a grin from ear to ear. It seems that everybody thought he was a perfect photo opportunity. I’ve never been more proud.
In the fall of ’92 we again returned to the New Horizons campus for our fall ride. This was one of the better ones, as we were able to make a huge donation to the ranch’s horse program. Tom and Reubene were there, of course, but Tom’s knees were giving out. He was unable to ride or drive at all this ride, but it didn’t keep him from trying. On the first day he harnessed up a buggy horse, hitched it to one of the ranch’s rigs and tried to start the day. The horse proved uncooperative and Tom decided he would better serve the group by following behind in his car. In the later years this is where Tom could always be found.
At our meeting during that ride I proudly presented a small plaque of appreciation to Tom and Reubene for their efforts and work, both for New Horizons and our fledgling Texas Friendship Wagon Train Association. My words then hold true more today than ever. “This wagon train, plain and simple, would not exist were it not for the efforts and support of Tom and Reubene Scott.” Immediately following the train Tom entered the hospital for a double knee replacement. Something his doctor didn’t recommend, but Tom wanted to get it done and dusted. He did not want to be sidelined any longer than necessary. He showed off his new knees the following spring as he participated in a ride in east Texas riding one of Garry France’s mares. When Tom made up his mind it took more than physical handicaps to hold him back.
Another of my favorite Tom stories happened in ’93 when we traveled to Caprock Canyon for a ride. One early morning we were all awakened by a huge commotion in camp. I jumped outside to see what was going on. One of my mules had hit the end of his picket rope so hard he had snapped a welded D-ring. Elmer Stockton’s mules had run clean through the electric pen and were headed over the horizon. Stock was loose and running all over the place. We were camped in the middle of the park’s buffalo pasture, but we thought it was safe as the rangers had penned all the stock. All but one old bull, that is. He apparently hadn’t liked being penned and had jumped out. The rangers told us not to worry because this bull was antisocial and probably wouldn’t come anywhere near our camp. Well, they were wrong. I looked out in the middle of camp to see Peggie Kimberlin in her pajamas and duster facing off with a mangy old buffalo saying “shoo, shoo”. I hollered for Reubene to bring her camera, and as it turns out she was trying to do just that. But Tom had come out of their camper first, lit a cigarette, and then sat down on the step in front of the camper door blocking it from opening. He didn’t want Reubene to be out there and maybe get hurt. She spent half an hour pounding on the door before Tom let her out. By that time the old bull had lost interest and wandered off.
Tom was like that. Always crusty on the outside, but warm and caring inside. A kid never had a better friend, nor did our wagon train. All through his health problems, Tom kept coming back. When he couldn’t ride or drive he would follow with a blinking light atop his car, keeping traffic a safe distance back. If a driver tried to pass when Tom wasn’t ready for them, woe be unto the unfortunate driver. I can think of at least two instances where Tom chased errant drivers down and gave them a tongue-lashing. I also remember one episode where Tom was rammed repeatedly by an old lady in a Cadillac when he wouldn’t move over to let her pass the train. That is the only time I have ever seen him shook up.
One early morning when the wagon train was camped in Goldthwaite I remember passing Tom sitting on the tailgate of the old pickup that we had affectionately named the Red Roof Inn. As I went by I spoke to him, saying “how are you”. Tom replied, “Let me tell you, young fella’, if it don’t hurt, it ain’t workin’!”.
As I rummage through my memories I see flashes, like a slide show on overdrive, and Tom is there in so much of my life. I’ve known the man for a brief 14 years, but I feel I’ve had him in my life from the beginning. Tom and Reubene were part of the fire that forged some of the most important memories of my life, and they were the glue that kept me stuck together when I wasn’t sure which way to turn. I could never have done some of the things I managed were it not for the love and support of these two.
A long time ago I printed a little something in the Journal that I think suits Tom Scott well. This is an utterance by a Lakota medicine man in reply to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”
“…We have one chance. If you do good everyday, you will go to the spirit world and see other good people on the other side. If not, you will not see them. There will be a scale in the spirit world. It’s going to balance whatever you do. If you do a lot of good, it’s going to weight down the evil world. If the evil side is heavy, you’re dead, you’re done. There’s no chance for you. You’re only breath traveling on the wind.
have to kind of relax in this hurry life. Sit down for a while. Rest while you
are thinking. This will give you time to see straight. Then you will get the
idea what life is. You must tell your heed in prayer, control your mind from
thinking bad ideas and be in contact with the creator… He’ll understand what
kind of person you are. Nobody around, but you say the word. He has ears that
can hear you, long way off. We’re like ants, far away. He look down.
this modern time you have to do your best yourself. This is your answer to
‘what is life?’. You can’t depend on people to direct you. You must do it
yourself. The answers to the meanings of life are inside you”…
Around 5:30 on the evening of Monday, 8 October 2001, Tom passed away. He was at home attended by Reubene, his only love and wife of over 60 years, all of his children, several of his grandchildren and great grandchildren, as well as some of his wagon train friends. His passing was not unexpected. He had lived a life many of us can only dream about for 83 years. I have no doubt that Tom knew the meaning of life. He certainly walked his own path. I can only pray that I do enough good in my life to earn a spot in the spirit world close to Tom.
Rest in peace, old friend. You will be sorely missed.
by Donn Barnes