Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Bike Tale from the Old Wild West...

In the small, Mingus Mountain mining town of Jerome, Arizona, I met a man by the name of John Dempsey - an old, but stone bold character. With piercing eyes and an index finger that felt like the dull, dead lead weight of a thud-blunt rail spike, he pointed into my chest, demanded complete attention, and with a low rumble drum baritone, began a Wild West bike tale from many years ago....

"This [pointing to my bike] will be the most important machine for the rest of your life. Never stop riding. It will keep your mind clear and sane; your senses sharp; your spirit strong and in touch with the world. [Looking out and down to the valley] You climbed up from Cottonwood?"

"Yes sir. Began the day in Cornville."


"Yep, Cornville."

"How was traffic?"

"Hectic, but they gave me space."

"Good. It's never been a great place for bikes. Now let me tell you what happened down there in 1954. Back then, I used to live near Cornville, but would ride my bike to work up here to the mines and back home. One afternoon when I was headed down, a man in a truck ran me off the road. If I hadn't seen him at the last second and bailed, he may have killed me. You figure he would have stopped to see if I was all right, but instead, he burnt a tire and rode away. The SOB didn't give a s***."

"Were you hurt?"

"No, I didn't break anything....was lucky. The bike was bent up pretty bad though. Once I drug it out of the draw, I walked it through town, passing the local watering hole where I saw his truck. There's the second mistake he made. It was at that point that I decided that I was going to teach this guy a lesson. I went straight home, got my 45, went back to the saloon where I found him. He musta been a barrel deep cause it wasn't much to sneak up behind him, grab his collar, and put my gun up against his throat. I told the bast*** that if he ever ran another bicyclist off the road again, I'd find him and kill him."


"Yeah, the barkeep told the sheriff, who then told the judge, but he knew I was from good people, and he let it go after a short talk. Just told me to go easy...that I shouldn't be threatening nobody like that."

"So maybe I should thank you for laying the law long ago in that town I just rode through...guess you instilled one heck of an ethic?"

"Well, you can't just let hateful idiots run reckless. There's consequences. I got my point across."

"I'd say so."

"Anyway, you're losing daylight. If you're trying to make the pass and get across Lonesome Valley, you better get going. Otherwise you'll have to dump off the side of the road up in the forest, which ain't bad, but you won't freeze as easily down near Prescott."

"Thank you Mr. Dempsey."

"Get on now."


  1. As spoken by the ghost of Samuel Clemens.....

    True pioneer spirits.

  2. I'm thinking about living on the streets my good man. (seriously, for at least three weeks, till I can save enough for a deposit)

    Any practical advice?

  3. Jason - The bus pass with your email address got washed and destroyed. Hope all is well back in Phoenix man. Your Twain recommendation is on my radar. Tell the family I said hey and hope that tube has held up.

  4. Nicodemus - It is said that three is a good number, bums plunder dumpsters, and bogus brokers bury hopeful deposits asunder. Nay take the hobo's practical as mistake since people deem your street lice as just another blunder.

  5. My wife and I and a couple of friends go to Sedona in the fall almost every year. In 2008 while in Jerome we met the infamous Mr John "don't call me Jack" Dempsey. What a great visit we had.

    I was initially drawn to his yard which is full of "contemporary art" while some people might call it junk laying around. Wrought iron put together in somewhat of an arch, stop signals, jugs, vases and of course a couple of old bicylcles and much more. I shouted down to him that I liked his backyard and he came back with "I'm glad you do most folks don't think that way."

    From there he came up to the sidewalk to chat in only John Dempsey would know how and that is he'll spin the yarn and we'll listen and listen and we did. He told us of stories of his bike riding, which he is well known for in Arizona, going to the hospital with a broken hip and according to John immediately became deaf and lost most of his IQ as the staff spoke loudly to him and very slowly so he would "get" it. He claims he called his son two days into his stay to come and get him and he'll recuperate from home.

    My favorite story was about Barry Goldwater, then Governor of Arizona, President Richard Nixon and John. John owned a successful restaurant located in Jerome for many years. A representative for President Nixon called for reservations for the President to come enjoy dinner at John's place and to the dismay of the rep John said he couldn't fit President Nixon into the restaurant explaining people were on his reservation list a couple of months ahead and couldn't bump his loyal customers.

    The next day, following the phone call from the President's folks, John received a call from Governor Goldwater. The first thing out of Barry's mouth was that he was going to open his own restaurant. This puzzled John and he commented he didn't think that would be a good idea since he thought the Governor was having enough problems running the State of Arizona much less being able to handle the intricate operation of a restaurant. John then asked Barry why he would ever wish to run a restaurant and Barry replied, "then I (with strong emphasis on the I) can tell the President to kiss my a**."

    Should anyone read this and have connections with the CBS "Morning Show," which runs on Sundays, contact them and get them out to talk with John before he steps off. I think he is a US treasure that is a disappearing breed in our country and very well may be an a "one of a kind." At the very least if you go to Jerome look up John. If your looking for a story, laughs and smiles you won't be disappointed.

  6. Mr. Dempsey lived in California in the 50s. He did not work in the mines in Jerome. He arrived in Arizona in the mid 60s. He is an avid bike rider and, apparently, can spin quite a yarn.

  7. Aside from the spokes & tales... dining with John @ his House of Joy was always an otherworldly experience! Having courted my bride there & on the eve of my 27th joyful anniversary, I am grateful for the Joy he shared with us!