Best Friends II

Karl Dagel, with children Bo and Karlissa, shows off a Montana pronghorn antelope taken in October.

The pronghorn antelope wasn’t the finest kill of Karl Dagel’s hunting career, but he was nevertheless proud of it. So he left it where it fell in the hills of eastern Montana early this October and went to get his daughter, waiting back in the pickup with his wife Becky.

He brought 4-year-old Karlissa to the antelope, and she walked around the buck, slowly taking it all in. She nodded slowly.

“That’s a really fine buck,” she concluded.

Karl, 37, grinned the biggest grin he could grin, thinking all the while, “Just like she knew everything she was looking at.”

“Thank you,” he said to his daughter, and he told her how he had found the antelope, stalked it and shot it. She listened intently to every word, still thoughtfully assessing the buck with her blue eyes. Karl stood by her side, his 22-month old son Bo in a carry-pack on his back.

But Karlissa is by no means inexperienced. A year ago she went bow hunting with her father. Crouching next to him behind a log, they watched a spike bull come to their cow call and cow decoy. The bull circled closer until he was only 20 yards away. Karl drew his bow, and with Karlissa almost bumping his elbow, a slightly confused Dagel fired. Karlissa gently poked her father: “You got him, Daddy.”

It was a lifetime of hunting with his father, sisters and brothers that brought Karl to trucking. He’d gone with his father since he was small, kindling memories of bouncing around the mountains in a two-wheel drive Suburban or following his father tracking elk, snow up to his armpits. A natural at working elk, deer and mountain lion in his native western Montana and surrounding states, he found a way as a young man to get some part-time guide work with a local outfitter. First day and his clients came back with elk. Second day they came back with bear. Third day he was hired full time.

As the fall came in he guided hunters to elk and mule deer. After a break he’d go after mountain lions with his dogs, then after another break he’d guide people looking for bear in the early spring.

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“I could really only guide in the winter,” says the Watkins & Shepard company driver. “I took to driving in the summer. I found out the money was pretty good, so good that I gave up the guiding and went driving full time. That was 11 years ago.” But guiding had already lost some of its luster for Karl. “There were too many people just out there to kill something. They talked and talked about how much it had cost them and they wanted something to show for it, so they were there for killing, not hunting.”

Karl wasn’t surprised by his love of truck driving. His father had been a state trooper and deputy sheriff who finally became a truck driver. “If my dad loved the work, I was fairly sure I would, too.”

Karl began driving OTR, and one of his first long hauls was out of California to Philadelphia and on to Brooklyn, N.Y. “I asked the dispatcher, ‘Are you crazy? I’m a country boy from a town with 300 people in the middle of nowhere and you’re sending me to New York City with your truck?’ She said, real calm, ‘Well, you’ll either be a driver or you won’t when you get back.’ I enjoyed very mile.” Karl settled into mostly hauling LTL through the north and into Canada. But making daylong deliveries in busy cities like Calgary and Edmonton made Karl long for big sky country. After six years he found a way into a dedicated route. These days he spends his week hauling carpet and furniture to stores that are mostly in eastern Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas in a 2001 Volvo VN.

“I work maybe a four-day week if I get it right, and I earn good money. But I do earn it. It wasn’t easy I was looking for, it’s being home most nights of the week with my family.”

Karl’s life had changed suddenly when his father died suddenly in 1996 of a heart attack at age 63. “My dad was my best friend all my life. I was lost. I was out of my head for six months.” Karl wandered to Alaska. Fortunately his girlfriend Becky went along, his link to reality. On a caribou hunt he proposed, and Becky said yes. They decided that a year later they would be married. Back in Montana, Karl shook himself and realized his father would be disappointed in him, so he asked to go back to work. “Watkins & Shepard never said a word, just put me back in the truck.”

One of his first jobs was to ride south to L.A., and Becky was with him. “We left on a Friday, heading out for two weeks. Sunday morning we got married in Vegas.”

Karl says that if he weren’t out hunting elk, he’d be out watching them. And when he is hunting, his enthusiasm is infectious. “I get to shaking and looking like I’m really tense, but it’s just always so exciting to be out there. Sometimes I’m shivering like I’ve got hypothermia. When I’m like that guiding, a lot of clients start out a little wary of me, I think; then they see just how excited I am.”

Karl and Karlissa reeled in this carp in the Yellowstone River in North Dakota despite having to retrieve the rod (and fish) from the water after Karlissa accidentally dropped it.

There’s a story from just a couple of months ago that tells you a lot about Karl’s attitude towards the outdoor world around him. “We were walking down a creek wash, and I looked back at another wash to the left that ran into ours. I saw something. I started back, and there was a big dead mule deer. I figured a hunter had shot it and lost it and it had come down to the wash and died. We got to about 20 yards away when I realized the buck wasn’t dead. He was asleep. You could see an ear twitch, his tail moved, an eye would come open lazily then slowly close. That was the coolest thing I’d ever seen hunting, it was so cool I couldn’t have killed that buck if I’d wanted to. I love everything I see out there, and that was way cool. We left him there asleep, but with instincts like that I don’t think that buck would have lasted long.”

Hunting these days, especially with his family, “is like a vacation,” says Karl. “I really love driving that Volvo; it’s a great living. So when I go hunting, or take a few weeks a year to go back and work as a guide or hunting solo, it really is like a vacation.”

But things can still go wrong. “I was on my own hunting lion and I slipped. I broke my leg in five places. I’d bought a new pickup five days before, and Becky was pregnant with Karlissa. The Watkins & Shepard CEO said ‘don’t worry,’ and they paid me something to keep me going while I was recovering. They didn’t have to.”

His continuing closeness to outfitter Ty Throop has benefited at least one more driver. Curtis Jones, another Watkins & Shepard driver that Karl had never met, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. His last wish was to go elk hunting, and the company contacted Karl to see if he could help. Karl called Throop of Royal Outfitters in Hall, Mont., the man who had first employed him as a guide and still did. “I asked Ty if he could help. I told him Curtis couldn’t really walk very far or ride a horse but could he give us a deal. Ty just told him to show up with his rifle; he never charged him. Curtis got a big mule deer buck. Later on I went over and did guide work for him for free to help pay him back.”

Karl and his daughter have been out hunting for elk and deer and antelope quite a lot. After all, this is a girl whose first gift from her father was a little camo outfit. Karl wants to make sure he lets her find an enjoyment of the wild that will stay with her for life.

“Earlier this elk season, must have been the first week of October, we went on a father-daughter elk hunt. It was a Sunday morning, and I had my bow. We left the pickup and walked several miles. We got into some light snow and rain, and we were about 200 yards from some good elk when Karlissa said ‘Daddy, I’m cold and I’m tired, and I don’t want to.’ For a moment I suppose I was disappointed, I could see how I could take a good bull. But I tossed her on my shoulders and carried her back. I didn’t want to ruin her experience or to risk having her think she had spoiled my day. So we laughed on the way back, and sure enough she was just as eager to come with me next time.”

The time the two spend together hunting reminds Karl of so many of the hunts he went on with his father. “I go back to places where Dad and I got something or camped out, and it comes back to me like yesterday. Karlissa remembers places like that, too. She suddenly said recently, ‘Daddy, this is where you picked up those stinky antlers.’ I’d forgotten, but it was a place where we found a dead deer and I’d taken the antlers. That was two years ago; she was only 2 then.”

It is one of Karl’s fondest memories that his father would introduce him to friends by saying, “This is my boy, he’s my best friend.” Today, says Karl, “that’s how I feel about my daughter.”

Young Bo is shaping up to be another fine addition to the ranks of the best hunters Montana can produce. Just like his big sister, he is never bored by the abundance of game, always excited to spot one. As the family rolls along in the country, he is quick to point out game and label them “buck,” one of the first words he learned. “Matter of fact,” beams Karl, “Bo said ‘buck’ before he said ‘Dad’. How cool is that?”

Rods & Barrels
Texas Striper

It was a long fight before Terri Hayes landed this 23-pound striper in the E.V. Spence Reservoir off state highway 158 in Robert Lee, Texas, just about 50 miles south of Sweetwater.
“It was about 20 minutes, and that’s too long,” says the driver for Cimarron Trucking out of Ballentine, S.C. “I wanted to release the fish, but it had fought so long it was stressed out. They get like that, and they can’t survive if you release them. So we filleted it and it was delicious!”

Terri had pulled a 211/2-pound striper from the same lake just six months earlier. “It was also too stressed to release, so we made a sort of hobo stew with it. That was a mistake we weren’t going to make again.”

Though they weren’t quite trophy fish, says Hayes, they were bigger than her previous bests of less than 20 pounds and “they were a blast to catch,” she says. “When you don’t get much time off, spending all day out fishing is a wonderful way to relax and get the road out of you.”

Terri drives team with her “soul mate,” Emmitt Parker, and miniature dachshund Pete. They haul a reefer behind a 2002 Pete 379 from the Carolinas to California, Washington state and back on three-week round trips with a three-day break.

Terri was a solo driver hauling peanuts when she met Emmitt, a solo driver hauling carpet, via her cab radio. “We got to talking and he sounded interesting, and we exchanged phone numbers. Then for a couple of months, nothing. Then he called, and we got together. We talked and we couldn’t stop talking. After a while we talked team and decided to try it. It’s great, we love it. I wouldn’t go solo again.”

Don’t you just love a good fish story with a love story thrown in?

Off-duty Destinations
Visiting Santa Claus

So many of you will spend this holiday season on the road, I thought it would be nice to help you find a way to visit Santa Claus, or at least really get into Christmas. Or help you spend this time of year at North Pole. So check your route, because it may not be impossible.

There are at least three towns in America named Santa Claus, four North Poles and four called Christmas. They’re small towns, mostly on small roads. So even if you’re a long way from home you may not be far from a place that’s special this time of year.

On the East Coast there’s Santa Claus in Georgia, sitting there on U.S. 1 south of Lyons and Vidalia, sweet onion capital extraordinaire. Down in Florida you could spend Christmas in Christmas, a town on S.H. 50, about half way between Orlando and our space base at Cape Canaveral.

If you’re way up in the northeast, maybe running Canada, you might be able to spend Christmas at North Pole, N.Y. It’s in the northeast part of the state, just off state route 86 east of Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.

Maybe you’re trucking through the South. There’s a North Pole in the far southeastern corner of Oklahoma on state route three, just a little west of Broken Bow, or maybe you’d prefer to spend Christmas in Christmas, Miss. This little town is south of Beulah, right there on the banks of the Mississippi River herself on state route 1.

Perhaps you’ll be somewhere in the heart of the heartland round about Christmas time. You could go visit Santa Claus in southern Indiana. The town is right on state route 162 a little south of Interstate 64 (and, get this, it’s near Christmas Lake). Or celebrate Christmas in Christmas on the northern coast of the upper Michigan peninsula on the shores of Lake Superior on state route 28.

If you are out west you might drop in and see Santa Claus in Arizona. It’s on 93, just off Interstate 40 if you’re leaving Kingman and heading to Las Vegas. Or go see Christmas in Arizona, off state route 77 east of Phoenix, south of Globe.

In the great northwest you can drive to North Pole, Idaho, north of Coeur d’Alene on U.S. 95, not a long sleigh ride from Spokane, Wash. But if you really want to get into the spirit of things, drive north and keep on driving, just as if you were trying to reach Santa’s real home. But you can stop before you get there and spend Christmas at North Pole, Alaska, a winter wonderland town southeast of Fairbanks, an Alaskan stone’s throw off state route 2.

Merry Christmas, driver, wherever you are.