I remember Joe well. I'm not giving his real name out, so we'll just call him 'Joe'.
I first met Joe by happenstance one day many years ago when I did what I occasionally do to blow off some stress where I toss a pack into a vehicle and just start driving to who knows where.
I noticed Joe camped not too far off the road outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, one day and what I saw was so interesting that I pulled over and struck up a conversation. We wound up talking for hours and I learned a lot that day.
Joe had volunteered for the Army before Vietnam and decided to try and make it a career. He went into Special Forces in the early days and eventually found himself in the Republic of Vietnam as an advisor just as the war was starting to heat up. He was there for several tours and was wounded several times. However, one day in 1967 a Viet Cong mortar round landed a bit too close and he wound up medically retired, his body mauled by Russian steel and missing an eye.
Joe had grown up in rural Idaho and never did take a liking to the cities or towns that much. Getting on in years with no wife or kids to worry about, and with a check from the government rolling in every month, Joe decided to wander and enjoy life.
So, Joe built his wandering rig. It was that rig which caught my eye that summer day up in forest of Northern Arizona. What Joe had was mostly built from scavenged material but the practicality and utility of it all was sheer genius.
He was wandering around in what was essentially an animal drawn covered wagon. The wagon itself looked quite cozy, protecting him in all sorts of weather.
The 'wagon' was at one time a Datsun pickup. The cab, bed, engine, transmission, etc, had all been stripped off, and using scavenged lumber and corrugated roofing tin a sheepherder's style wagon body had been built upon it. It had a wood stove inside and storage for his belongings and tools. He also had a long stainless steel whip style CB antenna mounted on the wagon, a well tweaked CB (out-banded, SSB, etc), a couple of deep cycle batteries in a side mounted box, with a solar panel wired to keep the batteries charged,.
Joe sat in the front, driving it just like an old wagon. The hydraulic brakes and the emergency brakes of the original Datsun had been retained. The brake cylinder had been repositioned in a jury rigged but sturdy fashion and had an improvised wooden foot pedal for when Joe needed to stop or slow down while going down a grade.
The tires were old, scavenged, regular style inflatable auto tires of questionable tread that wouldn't last a week on a real car but at the slow speeds he traveled would probably last the life of the rig and it's owner.
His method of propulsion was three strong, healthy looking burros pulling side by side. He said he preferred burros because they were tougher than a horse, easier to maintain, and more self sufficient.
One thing that was real interesting was his tack. The harnesses were fashioned from old, worn out fire hoses and they seemed to work quite well.
Behind the main wagon, Joe had a smaller, two wheeled cart that was hitched to the rear of the wagon as a trailer.
The bottom layer of the cart was a chicken coop where he kept a bunch of Bantams, a rooster and some hens. These kept him supplied with eggs and meat when hunting was inconvenient or scarce, or he just wanted a couple of eggs for breakfast.
The top layer of the cart was a sturdy carry rack where he kept chicken feed and couple of bails of hay for his burros for when grazing was sparse.
Joe had the basics for self sufficiency. He had everything he needed to maintain his animals, his rig, and himself: tools, guns, some books, etc. He didn't travel very fast, but he was in no hurry. He also didn't miss much of the countryside during his journeys. For most of us, travel these modern times is a blur, but for Joe it was an all encompassing experience.
It's been years since I've seen Joe and I have no idea if he's even still alive. But even if he isn't, he still lived a freedom that few in our society even realize can exist.