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In our last chapter I was trying to take in both the Yuma Prison and the Colorado River as we crossed into California, the Golden State.
We drove through more desert and finally reached El Centro, the county seat of the Imperial Valley, where we would live a year later. But this time we just passed through on our way to Westmorland. When we got to that dusty little town, Uncle Ernie just kept driving.
“Aren’t we stopping?” I asked, anxious to get out of the cramped car and see something new.
“It’s on the other side of town.”
It took only a couple of minutes to get through the town, and a few miles later we pulled into a gravel-covered driveway. I looked out the window, and Mom read the sign that said Heise Station.
“Is this it? Is this it?” I asked, jumping up and down on the back seat.
“This is it. Everybody out.”
I hit the ground and circled the car a couple of times, then slowed down and looked around. I saw the gas station, the café, and little cabins in the back. That was it. Nothing else. No people, no buildings anywhere. Not for miles.
“This is it? Really?”
“Yep,” said Uncle Ernie.
“It’s great! (Nobody said “cool” yet, or I would have.) There’s nobody else here! Wow!”
Just about that time, a chorus of barks greeted us, and two dogs came running for the car. Uncle Ernie squatted to meet the dogs, and a big black and white, longhaired one ran right to him and tried to lick his face. A smaller brown dog hung back.
“This is Skippy. Go ahead and pet him, guys. He’s friendly.”
Rick and I and even Wayne started to pet and play with Skippy, running our hands through the long, thick hair and thoroughly enjoying ourselves.
“What kind of dog is he, Uncle Ernie?”
“He’s what they call a border collie. He looks just like a regular collie, but he’s black and white instead of brown and white.”
Years later I would find out that Uncle Ernie was just blowing smoke. Skippy was a regular collie that just happened to be black and white, what’s called a tri-color collie. Border collies are a separate breed and look very different from the collie in “Lassie.”
“He’s such a great dog.”
“Yeah, he’s gweat,” chimed in an excited Rick. “What about that other dog, Uncle Ernie? Can we pet him, too?”
“Might want to wait a while till you try petting Shorty,” said Uncle Ernie. “He’s not quite as friendly as Skippy. Here, Shorty. Come on, boy.”
The little brown dog crouched and crawled over to Uncle Ernie, but when he reached for the dog, it began a low growl deep in its throat. Shorty had a head that looked like a German shepherd, but his body was smaller and his legs were real short, like one of those wiener dogs . . . well, maybe not quite that short. I thought he was just a mean little dog, but Uncle Ernie explained later that his former owners had beat him and he was afraid whenever anyone began to raise their hand over him.
“Come on, boy, I’m not gonna hurt you. It’s all right.” Uncle Ernie talked in a low voice to Shorty and was finally able to pet the little dog. “You guys let him get used to having you around for a while before you try to play with him, okay? He will bite you if you move at him too fast.”
That’s all I needed to hear. I gave Shorty a wide berth for a long time. He finally got used to us and we could pet him, but every once in a while, he would still growl that warning growl and we’d leave him alone.
“Let’s get the car unpacked and get something to eat,” Mom said.
The dogs ran off to do what dogs do when you’re not petting them, and this looked to be the perfect time to explore the new homestead.
“Come on, let’s go!” I said, dashing after the dogs.

(Tune in next week for the next exciting chapter!)