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Chapter 7

From Big Rig Rustlers
By Max Elliot Anderson


Uncle Reid’s plane rolled down a bumpy little road with two ruts in it just the size of the skinny wheels underneath. When they came to a wide grassy area, Todd’s uncle moved the plane into the center of that strip, stopped, checked some dials in front of him, and put his foot on the brake. Then he took a minute to look up into the sky and out both sides of the plane. Todd couldn’t exactly figure out what he was looking for because there sure weren’t any other airplanes for as far as he could see. The engines roared even louder than before. Todd felt the plane struggling to get moving, but the brakes held it back like the leash on old Stony at the park back in the city.

I miss Stony, he thought.

Then Uncle Reid took his foot off the brake and they started rolling, first slowly down the runway, then faster and faster until Todd noticed a queasy feeling in his stomach like the time his dad took him on a roller coaster. He looked out to see a shadow of the plane getting smaller and smaller on the ground below.

“Hey, Todd. Didn’t you say you wanted to see Devil’s Tower?”

“Yes. Could we?”

“I’ll take you over there first.”

The plane soon began flying level as the sun burst in through the windows. Todd couldn’t remember the sky ever looking this blue back home. His uncle had a microphone and headset on. He began talking to someone Todd couldn’t see, using words he didn’t know, and a lot of numbers and letters. Todd figured it must be some kind of pilot talk or something.

“Okay, kids. Devil’s Tower dead ahead.”

Todd strained to spot it, but all he saw were trees, tall grass, and a lot of rocks and dirt. “Where?”

“Out there,” his uncle pointed.

Todd squinted his eyes again, and then, way off in the distance, he thought he did see something. “You mean that little speck way out there?”

“Good eye. That’s it all right.”

“But it’s smaller than I thought.”

His uncle laughed. “That’s because it’s still a few miles away, and we’re up in the air. Don’t worry, it’ll get bigger. I promise.”

In just a few minutes Devil’s Tower began to look like a giant clay model sticking right out of the ground. The monument had a flat, almost round top, but it was the sides that were the most interesting. They looked as if enormous mountain lions had used them for a scratching post. There were straight lines cut right into the sides, all the way around. They stretched from the very, very top all the way to the very, very bottom.

“It’s huge!” Amanda exclaimed.

Uncle Reid began to make a wide, slow turn until they flew around the rock tower in a perfect circle. Todd counted and they circled three times.

“It looks exactly like the model my friend made in geography class. Only this one is much better.”

“The real thing usually is better. Okay, Drew. Wanna take over for me?”

Drew held the control tightly with both hands. Todd noticed that his knuckles started turning white, and little beads of sweat began forming on his cousin’s upper lip. His eyes were locked straight out the front window, and he hardly blinked.

“Remember, son. Relax. Make sure you keep the little plane in this control, here, level.” The plane was now heading away from Devil’s Tower and back toward the ranch. Todd thought Drew was doing a pretty good job.

“That’s fine, Son. Do you want to let your cousins have a turn?”


“Todd first!” Amanda yelled.

“Okay, you’re up.”

Drew squeezed between the front seats and made room for Todd to come up. After they had changed seats it was Todd’s turn to have white knuckles and sweat on his lip, plus everywhere else.

“This is fun. I didn’t know it could be so easy. Mand, wanna try?”

Then a gust of cross wind made the nose dip slightly so that Todd’s uncle had to grab the control.

“No thank you. That’s all right,” she said.

“You sure?”


Todd flew for about ten minutes. His uncle only had to make a couple of minor adjustments. Then he said, “Okay, I’ll take over from here.”

Todd slithered into the back seat again as his cousin moved up to the front. The plane dropped lower out of the sky until it looked like it wasn’t flying much higher than a tall tree. Todd quickly looked out all the windows to make sure none of those were nearby. His uncle flew past other rock formations, through canyons, over rivers, and rugged hills.

“Where are the animals?” Todd asked.

“Most of them should be over this way.” With that the plane made a steep turn and headed right into the sun. Todd had to cover his eyes for a minute until the plane turned again.

“There they are. Some of them at least,” Uncle Reid announced.

As Todd looked out, he could see hundreds of reddish-colored animals with white patches on some parts of their bodies. “Are those all yours?”

“Sure are. Those and a whole lot more. And that’s what we’re going to do this week. We’ll pack up a bunch of horses, food, and gear, then head out for our spring round up.”

“I can’t wait,” Todd said.

Amanda looked over at him. “I can,” she groaned.

“Hey, wait a minute. What was that?” their uncle asked in an alarmed tone.

“What was what?” Drew asked.

“I’m not sure. I’ll take her in for a better look.” They made another sharp turn, steeper than before. Todd had to look straight up in order to see his sister who was now sitting above his head. The plane leveled off again, then dropped down until Todd thought his feet could touch the ground if he put them out there. They went speeding along a barbed wire fence for several hundred feet. Then Uncle Reid yelled, “There, that!” Again the plane soared into the sky and made a steep turn in the opposite direction. This time Todd was looking straight down at his sister. And his stomach wasn’t feeling too good either.

“I’m sorry for the rough ride, kids. Is everyone okay?”

“Not me,” Todd said in a quivering voice.

“Well, it’s my fault. Sorry. If you’re feeling a little woozy, there’s a bag in the seat pocket in front of you. Feel free to deposit your breakfast in there if you need to.”

It was a good thing he said that, or everyone in the plane would have been wearing Todd’s breakfast. He grabbed a bag and ripped it open just in time to say goodbye to all those good things his aunt had cooked for him.

“We call that giving it the old heave ho,” Drew joked. “Don’t worry. It’s happened to me too. But you get used to flying after a few times. Now you’re a member of the Wyatt Urp Club.”

Todd looked over to his sister and noticed she looked all chalky white. She was staring straight ahead, didn’t blink, and didn’t say a word. He quickly grabbed another bag just in time to put it over her mouth. She made what he did look like a warm up act for the main event. It took her two bags until she was done.

“If we go up again, I think we should eat a smaller breakfast. Then we’ll have less to hurl,” he told her with a twitching smile.

Uncle Reid was intent on studying the landscape. “Look there, Drew. You see it?”

“Yeah. The fence is busted.”

“Cut is more like it. And do you see those tire tracks?”

“Oh yeah, I do. Rustlers you think?

“Rustlers I know.”

Uncle Reid flipped a switch on his radio and called out, “Base, this is Reid Rider, over.”

“Read you Reid Rider, what’s up?”

“That you, Travis?”

“Yes sir.”

“I don’t know what it is, but whenever you have radio watch, we seem to call in repeated rustler reports”

“I know. Got another one?”

“I think so. We’re off in the north fork area, and one of the fences has definitely been split wide open. I see two sets of big tire tracks, and three or four sets of smaller ones.”

“Want me to report it to the sheriff?”

“Affirmative. Get your map out and give him the coordinates.”

“Will do, out.”

“I’d like to give you a longer tour, kids, but we need to get to the ranch.” With that the plane turned again, but not as steep as before, and headed back. Uncle Reid had a serious look on his face. Todd could tell that something was very wrong. In about fifteen minutes the ranch came into view just ahead. The plane made one wide circle around the buildings and lined up with the grassy runway strait ahead of them. Softly the wheels touched the ground, bounced into the air, and touched again. They taxied up in front of the hanger. Todd’s uncle gunned the motors, and the plane turned around in a small circle. Then he switched off both motors and the propellers slowed to a stop. There was still a spinning sound in the front of the plane, but that also soon stopped.

“Okay. Everybody out.”

Drew turned and looked back to Todd. The look on his face said he wanted to tell him something, but he couldn’t. Not just now. Todd wondered why he suddenly seemed so serious. He remembered what Drew had said about Travis. Could he be helping the Rustlers? Todd wondered. Couldn’t be, he thought, He works for my uncle.

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