A visit with Bart

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Jeff Hoover

Blackhawk
Joined
Feb 25, 2009
Messages
919
It’s a rare occasion when expectations are exceeded on big upcoming events, or trips. Anticipation has a way of getting ones hopes too high, which ultimately leads to disappointment. However, sometimes the planets align themselves just right, the stars are in unison, and the earth spins just right, and the event, or trip becomes a phenomenal experience. Such was the case when good six gunning buddy and shuck maker extraordinaire, Doc Barranti and I headed South to visit with Bart Skelton, and his Lady, Joanna. The saying,” It’s not what you know, but who you know” definitely applied here. I grabbed onto Doc’s shirttail as tight as I could, and followed him. Since becoming a fulltime hide stretcher, Doc has been getting much deserved attention from a grizzled, skeptical group of cranky guys more commonly known as gun writers. One in particular was a Mr. Bart Skelton. I can remember when Bart first contacted Doc. Doc was ecstatic, his stitching needle tickled, that he was talking to Bart Skelton. You see, Doc has an obsessive compulsion disorder to anything Skeeter, as do many of us. However, Doc’s case is fatal. Bart stepped up, when his Dad left this world all too soon, and carries on the tradition of writing about good six guns and the way of life down by the border. Doc mentioned that he travels to NM periodically. Bart offered him a place to hole up if ever in the area and Doc made certain that one day he would be. Plans were made and firmed up, and the anticipation started.

Thursday had finally arrived! I would be driving up to Pittsburgh, via the PA Turnpike, to Doc’s house. I was packed, and ready to roll for our long awaited trip to visit with Bart and Joanna. The trip went quick, since I was daydreaming of our upcoming adventure. The plan was for me to get to Doc’s, catch a plane early the next morning to Albuquerque, NM, rent a car, and drive 4 hours to Deming, where the Skelton hacienda is surreptitiously hidden in the NM desert. I finally arrived at Doc’s. I brought along the traditional groceries, bullets and bottles. Two ½ gallon bottles of Henry McKenna and 500 rounds of hand loaded .223 ammo. Doc and I have a barter system of sorts. He made a nice thumb break shuck for a 4” Ruger Security six for me, which would be my main carry piece for this trip. We had dinner at our usual restaurant, anxiously talking about our coming trip and catching up. We would be getting up early to catch our flight.

Traveling with guns is always stressful when flying. You never know what to expect, and the thought of missing your flight, ruining your travel plans, because of some inadvertent oversight, scares you. I guess when the counter person saw two swarthy, misplaced easterners sporting cowboy hats, boots, and jeans rolling large gun cases towards her, it put her at ease, or at least made her laugh? The guns were checked without a hitch, along with the luggage. The biggest hurdle over, we waited for our flight. Everything went as planned, and we found ourselves in Albuquerque, NM after a second connector flight.

As our rented Pathfinder turned off of miles and miles of hard paved road, the dirt road was a welcomed change. With the temperature hovering at 105 degrees, the hot, black asphalt, complete with heat mirage constantly drifting upwards in the neverending distance, just made you feel hot, tired and miserable. The further south we drove, the drier it got. The landscape was vacant, brown, and dry. There was very little green to be seen. It was so dry, it makes a desiccated liver pill seem like a nice juicy, plump grape. Bart had to text us the directions to get to the Skelton home, after turning off the main road.

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Heat mirage was traded for dust clouds. Rolling slowing down the road to minimize the dust, one feels like they just turned off the road, and into the pages of a Skeeter story. You can experience first hand where Skeeter got the inspiration from this country for his stories, as you travel down the lane. Mesquite and scrub brush litter the landscape. After a series of turns, we came to a steel pipe locked gate. Holy cow! Just like Dobe Grant’s Turkey Track ranch. The only thing missing was a simple, plane wooden sign with a hand painted “Peligro”, Spanish word for danger. With that last obstacle tackled, we were in the home stretch.

We cautiously approached the house, trying to be as none invasive as possible, and not wanting to be mistaken for Mexican banditos. Pulling up, we spotted Bart, as he waived to us and showed us where to park. A firm handshake and greetings were exchanged as Bart invited us in to his home. And what a home it is! Large and spacious, it is a lived in home. Not one that makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s a one level home with Mexican tile through out and large cedar beams in the high ceilings. A large bookcase in the great room and paneling for the dinning room came from a church in England, as did the front door. The builder of the home had them shipped. A large bookcase pretty much covered all of the ajoining wall of the great room, leading into the dinning room. On its shelves lay any serious six gunners nirvana. Various badges, credentials, and memorabilia of both Bart and his dad’s lay scattered on the shelves. There was also a large wooden box that contained several of Skeeter’s knives, along with the skull of the brown bear that currently resides in the house. Also present were local Indian artifacts, reloading books, and old pictures. A bearskin rug lies in front of the fireplace. Next to it are two saddles, on stands. Hanging off the saddles are several gun rigs of various makes and vintage. There’s also a red felt pool table near the south side of the room. Looking out the south side windows, one sees a three peaked mountain 35 miles away, called the Three Sisters. The backside of the sisters is Mexican country.











After Doc and I got settled in our own individual bedrooms, complete with full bathroom, we joined Bart and Joanna in the great room to get acquainted. The conversation flowed free and easy. First hand accounts of Skeeter stories, guns, hunts, and leather dominated the conversation. Show and tell started, as Bart would run to the gunroom, showing and telling us stories along the way as to where the gun came from, who the previous owner was, how it shot, and condition. We were introduced to Pippin, the incredible Skelton family dog. This dog is a character, with character!




Every good ranch needs a dog! And this one is no exception. Pippin runs the ranch. He’s a white fox terrier with black saddle and face, with a snout that could pick a lock. Sweet in disposition, brave and ferocious at heart, his breath could knock a buzzard off a yugo wagon, as Joanna so eloquently stated. Like our president, Pippin has an unknown past. No one knows where he came from, and his records have been sealed. Adopted 15 years ago by Bart, he is probably in the neighborhood of 16-17 yrs. old, which would make him anywhere from 112-119 in dog years. No one knows for certain.

He’s tangled with coyotes, porcupines, and a snake or two. Win, lose, or draw, he is no stranger to the emergency room and has racked up a string of vet bills that has probably cost the family the price of a first generation Colt SAA. His favored resting place is atop the brown bear skin rug, killed by his master. I think Pipster fantasizes that he killed the bear as he sleeps on it.

The first night, Mr. Pip woke me up by jumping up on the bed with his front paws and breathing those dragon breath fumes in my face. Not wanting to rack up my own string of vet bills, I gingerly lifted the stiff hipped canine into bed where he laid against my back, providing us with traction for both our arthritic backs.



Both my and Doc’s eyes lit up as Bart came back into the great room carrying a 7.5” Ruger FT, the FT that was the catalyst for so many six gunners. A favorite of Skeeters, with only a little over a 1,000 made, there are a lot of disappointed Skeeter fans out there who didn't get theirs. Luckily, Doc and I were able to wrangle a few ourselves. When Bart asked if we wanted to shoot it, Doc and I were off the leather couch, at the shooting bench, with eyes and ears on, waiting for Bart. You can interpret that as a an astounding yes! Holy heck! Handling Skeeter’s gun, let alone shooting it, was some pretty heady stuff. A 10” steel gong was placed at 50 yds., and we both put 5 rounds through the iconic piece. I think we both went 4 for 5, as I pictured Skeeter smiling down on us, chuckling, “don’t want you boys getting too cocky” at the misses. What a treat! This simple act may have been the highlight of the entire trip! Shooting in 105 degree heat cut the session short, and it was back inside for cool drinks.

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For dinner that night, we were treated to a traditional border meal of grilled flap steak fajitas. The fajitas were the lightest, fluffiest fajitas I ever had. Bart told us the secret was that they were from Mexico, and he’s never had any better either. Joanna rounded out the meal with homemade cole slaw and a sliced onion wrapped in bacon and grilled. Key lime pie rounded out desert. Too stuffed to eat desert the first night, I made sure to save room and had a slice of key lime and peanut butter pie the next. Last thing I wanted to do was offend her……

Just as every ranch needs a dog of questionable character, all good ranches need a strong woman to be complete. Unlike Pippin, Joanna is a pedigreed lady with class. And her breath sure as heck smells a lot better. A picture perfect package of southern charm, looks, grace, humor, and cooking ability, she knows her way around the Skelton armory and kitchen. Using a well seasoned cast iron skillet, she made homemade sausage and biscuits along with cheesy grits with jalapeños. To say they were fabulous would be an understatement. She makes one feel comfortable while visiting, and welcome. Doc and I very much enjoyed her company and it's easy to see why it's a toss up between her lap and the bear skin rug as to Pippin's favorite place to lay. There's no higher endorsement than that!

After dinner, it was back to the great room couch for more story telling and show and tell. We talked till the wee hours in the morning. Having traveled so far that day, and a 2 hr. time zone difference, our eyes were rolling in back of our heads, but we didn’t at the same time want the night to end. Overall, it was a great day!

Morning came, and I felt a slimy, pungent object licking my face. Pipster has his way of waking one up. After a hot shower, it was coffee time. We regrouped, and made plans for the day. Doc and I wanted to see more of this beautiful country, and Bart obliged. He took us around to his old stomping grounds. We drove past his childhood home, and the mountains he hunted as a boy. He showed us where he killed a few bobcats with a .22 mag. I asked him if he rode his bike to the spot, as it was only a few miles from home. Bart turned his head, and explained he had his own horse to ride as a boy. Chalk one up for the city slicker! We got a good laugh out of that one.

After checking out the local terrain, Bart drove us around the area surrounding his ranch. We jumped a few mulies, and was hoping to see a few javelina, but to no avail. It was then back to the ranch, and a little more shooting. We had to watch our time, as the Belmont race was coming on, and we all wanted to see a potential Triple Crown winner, but California Chrome came up short.



















Later that evening, we were treated to the famous Skelton Margarita! I swear, Bart must have kidnapped and interrogated the best bartender south of the border to come up with this recipe! A high octane adult beverage, not for the faint of heart, they are smooth and potent. I tried to duplicate his recipe at home, and came up far short. Dinner consisted of a wonderful smoked beef brisket, homemade potato salad, and beans. What an outstanding meal. Bart was disappointed in how the brisket turned out, but Doc and I thought it was the best we ever had. As mentioned earlier, Joanna made peanut butter pie for dessert. Trying to show my best manners, I had a piece of that and key lime pie from the previous night, just to make sure I didn’t offend her. Pip did his part by cleaning up the dishes, tho he was disappointed when he got to Doc’s and mine plates. There wasn’t much to lick off.

With too many stories to share, two stuck out that I will share. The first involved Skeeter wanting to write a novel. While cogitating about the novel, a movie came out called ”They came to Cordura.” Skeeter saw it and was furious! “The SOB’s stole my idea!”

The second is my favorite. In Handgun Tales, there’s a pair of ivory stocks with a bison skull engraved on the side of them. They were a little thick, but Bart really liked them as they felt good in his hand. One day Bart comes home from school, and there’s Skeeter, sitting at this desk, in his underwear, glass of Henry McKenna nearby, filing away at the ivory stocks, with no sign of the bison skull. Bart yelled,” what are you doing?” and Skeeter simply says,” they were too thick.” I don’t blame Skeeter one bit. It gets hot down there, and I would spend a lot of time in my skivvies too.

What can I say about Bart? Hell, the man let me sleep with his dog. You can learn a lot about a man by doing that. As someone who has been a cop for 27 years, I’m a pretty good judge of character. Bart Skelton is the real deal! A SW lawman, gun writer, historian and sixgun aficionado, he is a true gentleman. He treated Doc and I like gold. He answered every question we had with a smile. He told us Skeeter was the best Dad a boy could ever have, and that he was a really good guy. Bart follows in his Dad’s footsteps in this regard also. Skeeter would be proud of the man he has become….

I hope I didn’t bore you all with this account of our visit. Doc and I had a trip of a lifetime, and just wanted to share it. The next morning we were treated to huevos rancheros, or ranchers eggs for breakfast. We ate at 10:30 that morning and didn’t eat till 5:30 that evening while on the road. What a delicious, rib sticking meal!




Doc and I sadly packed up, said our goodbyes, and headed north. Any apprehension we had going there was now replaced with regret and sadness that we were leaving. Thanks for a great visit Bart and Joanna! We really had a great time!
 

Hole Shooter

Single-Sixer
Joined
Jan 6, 2007
Messages
234
Location
Mississippi
Thanks for a fantastic story and pictures. That was a most interesting story. What an honor to be invited to Mr. Skelton's home. Talk about living the dream.....you are certainly living the dream of many! Thanks again for sharing this story and pictures!
hs
 

contender

Ruger Guru
Joined
Sep 18, 2002
Messages
21,792
Location
Lake Lure NC USA
Tank, as a long time fan of Skeeter & his writings, plus owning guns like he enjoyed, I could feel the deep joy that you & Doc felt. You have done quite well at regaling us with your tale of a "border trip" that would make Skeeter smile.
I had the pleasure of meeting him once, and still regard that as a highlight of my handgunning pleasures. I haven't met Bart, but he seems to be cut from the same cloth as his Dad.
Thanks for sharing your story of a trip of a lifetime.
 

Jim Puke

Hunter
Joined
Jul 9, 2013
Messages
3,088
Location
South Georgia
Thanks for sharing this...I really enjoyed going along for the visit.

But, I don't know how they stand that desert environment...just does't appeal to me at all. Too much dirt...not enough green.
 
Joined
Mar 24, 2006
Messages
3,975
Location
MANSFIELD, OHIO USA
Jeff,
Great read and photo's! Going to be hard to top that trip,,, :wink:
Thanks for sharing!

Terry

PS, That last picture of those "huevos rancheros" you had for breakfast got Jug's stomach to rumbling,,, :) :wink: Hope you got the recipe,, :)
 

Jeff Hoover

Blackhawk
Joined
Feb 25, 2009
Messages
919
Terry the food was fabulous! Something right off the pages of a Skeeter story. Doc and I felt like we were at the Turkey Track with Dobe Grant! I guess in a way, we kinda were. :D :D :D
 

Don Lovel

Hunter
Joined
Nov 10, 2003
Messages
2,270
Location
Red Dirt Oklahoma, Go Cowboys
Did you visit the Adobe Deli in Lewis Flats? One of my all time favorite watering holes familiar to Bart. Van Johnson has one heck of a nice bar there. It was my after work thirst relief when
I ran a big explosive demolition job on the old railroad coal scale house in Demming back around winter 1997/1998
 

Jeff Hoover

Blackhawk
Joined
Feb 25, 2009
Messages
919
Wish we had, Don! Sounds like an interesting place. We pretty much stuck around the house during the visit.
 

gunsbam69

Hunter
Joined
May 2, 2012
Messages
3,133
Location
Kansas
I just looked at the pics the other night when you posted this and didn't have time to read it. Just got hungry when I saw that breakfast plate. You write a dang fine yarn Mr. Hoover. Thanks for sharing :D
 

Wheelyfun44

Single-Sixer
Joined
Jan 22, 2013
Messages
295
Location
Vermont
Outstanding opportunity for the rest of us to experience your trip, right along with you!
I am envious, but glad for your writing about it.
 

mm6mm6

Blackhawk
Joined
Oct 31, 2007
Messages
507
Location
Illinois
Jeff, that was a fantastic read! It sure came through your words and photos that you and Doc had a great time and that you both relished every second of it. The photos are just terrific. You guys got to shoot Skeeter's 7.5" Ruger?!?!?! That's truly a lifetime event right there! Wow!

I really like the b/w photos of Skeeter in the clear plastic magnetic photo frames. They look like they're on a refrigerator or freezer. I imagine them on the outside of a spare fridge stocked full of long neck bottles of beer....

Thanks for sharing!

-Steve
 

J Miller

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Joined
Sep 30, 2000
Messages
977
Location
Not in IL anymore ... :)
Jeff,

I grew into my adulthood reading Skeeter Skelton articles and books. I still have all my old Shooting Times magazine and a couple of the soft bound books he wrote.

The Arizona and New Mexico desert is what I consider home. I'm stuck in Illynoise right now, but hope to get back to AZ/NM before I take the dirt nap.

When I read your post and looked at all those pictures my tear ducts opened up and I got awfully home sick.
Especially those pics of Skeeters guns. I've seen them all before, years ago, but seeing them again just brought back lots of memories.

I can totally understand how you felt getting to visit Bart and his wife. And that pooch, what a dog.

The picture of those huevos rancheros just made me horribly hungry. If you got the recipe could you please PM it to me????? Please..... :)

I've bookmarked this thread, for future therapeutic visits.

Joe
 

adam12

Single-Sixer
Joined
May 26, 2014
Messages
196
Thanks very much for sharing your trip with us. It sounded and looked spectacular, one of those occurrences in life that get permanently engraved on your brain and heart. Good on you and Doc!
 

6GUNSONLY

Hunter
Joined
Nov 30, 2004
Messages
2,806
Location
Alabama, in the bend of the Tennessee River
Wonderful story, well told. I lived in Silver City, 50 miles north of Deming back in the early 80s, so that country is very familiar to me. Have been in the Desert Den bar in Hachita that Skeeter used to mention. Worked a construction job down at Playas back when Phelps Dodge Copper Co. had a smelter and a company town down there near the border. Closest I came to Skeeter was getting to handle the .357 Maximum that Ruger sent him to test. The old Miniature Machine Company, maker of a neat little adjustable sight for "early" 1911s, was located in Deming. One of their guys (think his name was Carl) was a very handy gunsmith on the side, and I'd had him to some action work on a 4" S&W 629 (I bought the first one I could find when they came out in about 1980). I was there to pick up my .44 and Carl says " here, you might like to see this", and handed me the 7 1/2" max that Ruger had sent Skeeter for testing. Skeeter was going to pick it up there at MMC. Wish he'd happened by while I was there!
Enjoyed your story Jeff. My little New Mexico native bride and I will be in New Mexico in July to visit her family (if we can afford the diesel fuel to drag our camper out there!) who all now live over (up) around Ruidoso and Capitan. Little bit cooler up there at 7200 ft than in Deming, which is typically hotter than the hinges of Hades in July.
 
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