JWThe+SearchersI don’t think it was the Internet that opened up the doors to friendships between people who otherwise would never meet in real life. Ham radio operators used to have whole communities of “friends” out on the airwaves. Even before that, people had foreign pen pals with whom they shared years of correspondence without any expectation that they would ever shake hands in real life. Sometimes it was better that way. I remember a professor telling me a story about Henry James that may or may not be apocryphal. Among the many woman, James corresponded with regularly was one he had never met even through years of letters where they found themselves to be soul mates in matters of literature and philosophy. Finally, returning to America after a long stay in Europe, James decided to visit this woman in New York or Boston or wherever it was that she lived. According to the story, just before James walked up the drive to this woman’s home, a housemaid, distracted by something, dropped a basket of soiled linen on the front stoop. Henry, who we all know was a bit of a prig, saw this basket of unmentionables where no respectable home should allow it to be. He was so horrified at the indelicacy that he turned around and never wrote to the woman again. Who knows if the story’s true? But it might tell us that some friendships work best on other planes of existence.

That was my friendship with a guy who called himself Jeffro Bodine. I never knew his real name. I assume at least part of it was Jeff. At first glance, he was someone I was hardly likely to meet, let alone come to appreciate, if not for the Internet. He was a long-distance trucker born and based in Cimarron Kansas. He was a pretty right-wing Republican, a Reagan fan and an avid collector of guns. Somehow, he found his way to this blog and started following along and commenting. I tracked him to his blog, The Poor Farm, and did the same. We both also frequented the witty Dustbury blog, where the politics were more his than mine, but the humor and good writing were intriguing to us both. As I say, on the surface, we didn’t have much in common. We probably would have appalled each other in real life. On the Internet, it worked.

Jeffro had more than a little of the homespun poet in him, as evidenced by his blog profile:

“I’ve lived here on The Poor Farm most of my life. Located in western Kansas, where the wind blows – supposedly the Dodge City weather station at the airport has the highest average wind speed in the continental U.S. It would be the “sticks” out here if there were any trees, but I like it. I really like the spring – when it is calm, and the smell of the fresh wheat and other plants fill the air with a unique “green” smell. My real love is the fall, when the air is cooling and calm, when you breath the air it is like a drink of cool water. Speaking of cool water, my well produces some mighty good tasting stuff. It is hard water for sure – all the faucets have lime on them, but I’ll take it over soft mossy smelling reservoir water from the city any day.”

His profile picture was the iconic last shot of John Wayne in The Searchers. A shared love of John Wayne can go a long way toward establishing a bond.

Jeffro was my go-to guy on all things ballistic -- especially if it had historical Western street cred.

Jeffro was my go-to guy on all things ballistic — especially if it had historical Western street cred.

Here’s why I think the Internet facilitated this unlikely friendship. Some of my Liberal opinions might have infuriated him in “real life”, but he reacted to me in cyberspace only with humor. The respect worked both ways. His blog was more political than mine, but I tended to skip over the posts that included anti-Obama or pro-Reagan cartoons and sentiments to comment on the posts I found most fun. Those would be the times he was on one of his trucking runs and took mystery shots of the highway and ran “Guess This Location” contests. I never won, of course, because my roadtrips always avoid large Interstate systems. However, when I took off on roadtrips, he’d usually show up in the comments with humorous suggestions for sights I shouldn’t miss and to provide some little known history of the area. Of course, he was always in evidence when I posted about Johnny Cash or classic Westerns. Most often, he included some fascinating historical tidbits to the discussion, such as this one on my musings on the remake of True Grit:

“I realized how authentic the clothing and gear were [in the movie] when Lucky Ned literally ground his boot into Mattie’s neck. They were crude. I’d read somewhere that footwear was not differentiated between right and left “back in the day,” and there was an example before me. Considering how boots are made today, those looked more like heavy duty slippers in a primitive form. In any other western, the boots would be of the modern narrow toed high heeled cowboy variety.”

Because Jeffro was nothing if not a student of history, especially the practical history of the West — as expressed through what people wore and the tools they used. He had a large gun collection that he seemed to treasure more for their history and craftsmanship than for the fact that they were firearms. When I finally bought a gun and posted about the experience, he couldn’t resist some good-natured gloating “Your conversion to the Dark Side is complete”. But he followed it up with some fascinating historical background correcting my false assumption that I had just purchased a John Wayne rifle. He provided such detailed gun history I immediately wished I’d consulted him before I purchased:

“If yer gonna be shootin’ like the Duke, twirlin’ yer gun, yer gonna need a lever action rifle, Cowgirl!

He was partial to the Winchester 1892 variant, but he also was seen using the later 1894. He also had the large loop lever fitted to his guns. It didn’t hurt that he was tall with long arms, either. A carbine with a 16″ barrel would be easier for shorter arms than a standard 20” barrel.

Winchesters so equipped aren’t made anymore, so finding one is difficult. Not necessarily expensive, just difficult…However, there are several companies making ’92 “clones” in pistol calibers for Cowboy Action Shooting that are readily available. Or, you can buy the rifle in the barrel length and caliber you wish, and have a loop lever fitted by a gunsmith. Or you could buy one of these Winchester made ’92 commemoratives, but you couldn’t shoot it or even cock the thing without seriously devaluing the gun. There is an older commemorative (I had one for a while) made in the early eighties in .32-40 that is a ’94 model.

Or you could go with a small caliber lever action – I’d recommend a Henry Golden Boy in .22LR. It is an “homage” to the Winchester 1866 “Yellow Boy.” I’ve got one, and I highly recommend it – the balance is good, the sights are superb, the action is smooth, and they are relatively inexpensive compared to the similar Winchesters and Marlins…It’s my first line of defense against certain four legged and no legged trespassers. A .22 of some kind is as important a tool to have on a farm as a hammer, IMHO.

Well, enough of the gun minutiae. I’m gonna keep an eye on ya – if I start seeing pics of the Prius all done out a la Mad Max and you in cycle leathers with bandoleers……”

On a more serious note, he included links to some of the best gun safety advice I’ve ever seen. He didn’t say if he wrote it, but because the author is listed as a “Jeff”, I’d like to think it was him. It sounded like him. He also urged me to get gun safety training from a professional and outlined some practical advice for finding a good teacher. He was considerate that way.

I never saw a picture of Jeffro. I always imagined he looked like John Wayne. In a Peterbuilt truck.

I never saw a picture of Jeffro. I always imagined he looked like John Wayne. In a Peterbuilt truck.

As I said, it was always fun to have him show up on the blog and comment. Until suddenly, I realized I hadn’t heard from him for awhile. Which was not surprising as I’d all but abandoned the blog in the last five months as I negotiated several moves and dropped back to maybe two posts a month. I quickly got over to his blog and discovered that his last post was in early May. I knew he’d had some pretty horrific health problems lately — which he blogged about in full excruciating detail and with absolutely no self pity. Somehow, I thought he’d pull through. He had a plan that he and his doctors had devised and he was really working on it.

Sadly, a mutual blogger friend, when I contacted him, confirmed that Jeffro was gone. I’d never thought that was a possibility. Like Tombstone, I assumed he was too tough to die.

If he were still blogging, he’d probably post a wry observation that, after living for years on The Poor Farm, he’d finally bought the farm. Well, he’s on a bigger spread now.

I hope he can get the Internet in Heaven — or at least John Wayne movies. Heck, he’s probably hanging out with the Duke now. And you know he’s pointing out to ol’ John all the gun details that were either authentic or inauthentic in his movies.

So long, Pilgrim. Thanks for all those times you stopped by. I’ll miss you.

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