We bring this series of “Craig Week” posts to an end with some wrap up of the legend of The Bunkhouse Boys.
If you are joining us late, you might want to go back to read the previous blog posts. Fortunately, I have the links below.
Hoisington, KS — 1975-1980
PART ONE — http://wadebward.com/?page_id=474
PART TWO — http://wadebward.com/?page_id=1385
PART THREE — http://wadebward.com/?page_id=1177
PART FOUR — http://wadebward.com/?page_id=1401
PART FIVE — http://wadebward.com/?page_id=1410
PART SIX — http://wadebward.com/?page_id=1419
The Bunkhouse Boys had a nice 5 year run. We were all young and had a lot of stamina, so we were able to keep full-time jobs and still go out and play honky-tonks until the wee hours of the morning.
Ron Bailey worked as a welder at a livestock trailer manufacturer. Craig and I worked at the family newspaper business. A few years into that, Craig left the paper and bought the local pool hall. Many days he worked from morning to midnight there. As often as I could, I worked 8-5 at the newspaper and then went over to give Craig a break for supper, then he would come back and we would work until midnight together.
When we first started, we borrowed the family full-sized van to haul equipment. Our good friend Dave Collier usually went along to help move and set up the equipment, and he built us a trailer out of a pickup bed that we towed.
Craig’s pride an joy was a 1956 Chevrolet school bus that had been converted to a camper. It had 4 bunks, a kitchenette and a toilet. Dave, a professional truck driver, became our permanent bus driver. I believe it was Ron who found a painter to do our logo on the side of a bus — a hand holding a six-shooter and the band name in old-time Wanted Poster font.
We had two main local gigs in Great Bend, KS for several years. One was The Hatchery, which we played about once a month, and were the New Years Even band for three years. As the name suggests, the club was a converted chicken hatchery that had been bought and remodeled during a gentrification period in that town. It was very classy and enjoyable to play.
The other end of the spectrum was Smokey’s Dance Ranch. It would be uncharitable to call it a dive bar, but it was very working class and hardcore country-western. Smokey was a nice guy and we played there monthly.
Since venues were few and far between in Kansas, we did quite a bit of traveling around. We played one gig in Colorado, I remember, but mostly we hit every part of Kansas.
One of our proudest moments was returning to Norton to play the Stagecoach Inn. The Stagecoach was THE place for the larger-scale touring bands and Craig had spent some inspiring nights there (I was too young when we still lived in Norton). We publicized the appearance in the local newspaper as “The Return of the Ward Brothers” and although there was no internet at that time, we made as many contacts in our old home town as we could.
The night was a huge success. Besides the main bar, the Stagecoach had an auxiliary bar down by the dance floor that they opened up — and they only did that when the place was full-to-bursting. When we settled up at the end of the night, the owner told us that it was record bar business (which is really all that counts for them). We did return a few months later, but we were scheduled on the same night as some major function, like a school graduation or homecoming ball game. The turnout wasn’t as good as before, and we didn’t return.
The lineup was always built around the core of Ron on drums, Craig and me. Bart left to play new wave rock although he would return occasionally. We had a steel guitar at one time which opened up a bunch of new songs for us. One of the lead guitarists brought in to replace Bart was Barry Green, who was one of the most accomplished guitarists I’ve played with. Others were sometimes … um …. problematic, and some didn’t last too long. But we had gigs booked regularly and so we kept the revolving door swinging.
We never made a full-time living playing music, so we were reliant on our day jobs. By 1980, the computer age had started weeding out the various media markets, and newspapers were among the first. Small town papers were bought out by bigger chains, who often closed the papers and then incorporated a special section (or a page) the the little town news.
Leaving the newspaper field meant leaving Hoisington, since there wasn’t much of a job market there. Craig and I moved to Wichita. Initially we thought we would get another band there, but it was an over-saturated market and paying gigs were difficult to come by.
Craig followed his dream and went to truck driving school and spent most of the rest of his life as an over-the-road driver. He met his soul-mate, Joy, and married. She decided to go through truck-driving school too, and they became a long-distance driving team. They even took their puppy, Snookie, on the road.
I found a wonderful position as assistance manager at Superior Sound and got to stay in the live music business, through the equipment end. It was eventually bought out by another company and the employees all dismissed, but not long after that I met my future wife, Estelle, and that opened up a whole new world of adventures that don’t have a place in this story.
As a matter of fact, we had a ten-year reunion of the Bunk House Boys in 1985. I braced Estelle for the experience since she was from Boston and her father was a classical music composer and arranger and they had considered the Wild West (her parents asked about dangerous Indians and wild buffalo, and had to be reassured their little girl was safe).
We rented a building at the county fairgrounds near Great Bend and had our wing-ding in a metal building with a concrete floor. There were plenty of beer kegs and a lot of food and some interesting characters for Estelle to meet.
The Bunkhouse Boys never played together again. It has now been 40 years since that night in my parents’ basement and we’ve all come a long way from there. Bart is now in Kansas City, a grandfather, and he still plays the clubs with his son and a couple of different groups. Estelle and I are in California keeping warm.
And of course, Craig is gone. Where would he be if he hadn’t left us so early?
With Craig, you never knew … but you could count on it being interesting.
Eventually there will be more about Craig and the Bunkhouse Boys. We have stories to tell about the 4th of July picnics and a brush with celebrity and so many more tales of the road.
Check back occasionally … or watch Facebook for updates and alerts.
And now … happy trails to you until we meet again.