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By the time Cliven reached eighteen, he’d already become a talented dirt-work equipment operator. He was registered with the Union as a Journeyman and would get called to work all over the west, working even as far away as Los Angeles, driving a paddle scraper to level land for building pads. While working there in 1965, the fella he was working for “kinda went bankrupt” so, the John Deere manager came to him and asked if Cliven wanted to take over the payments on the equipment and continue working. He agreed, thinking that it seemed to be a good opportunity.
One of his jobs was on the south side of Los Angeles. He positioned his equipment at the job site and checked into a nearby hotel so he could just walk to work. He had left his car back in Long Beach, figuring that once he was done with his current job, he would just move to another job.
That first night, the Watts Riots broke out. Cliven was watching it all on TV. As the Breaking News! alerted America’s watching public about the fires that were inflaming the city, he realized that the news feed looked very familiar, he stood up and walked to the window of his high-rise hotel to see the very scene that was playing on his hotel television. Cliven told me he looked out the window, and then looked back at the TV. “I think the news crew was filming from the same floor I was on, I was that close! I didn’t know it; but that night, I was witnessing history.”
As the next few days passed, Cliven was stuck in that hotel room, he couldn’t work and was running out of money. His scraper was in the middle of it all and the job site was closed down. He didn’t know anyone in Southern California except two Mormon Missionaries, who were willing to try to come and get him. With the glowing fires in the streets and the surrounding buildings in flames the missionaries decided to make a rescue attempt. The missionaries picked up Cliven’s car and headed north, way north of Cliven’s location, where he had ‘hunkered down’ waiting for his rescuers. Most of the direct roads into the area had been closed by the National Guard, so the missionaries had to take a circuitous route into the area. By the time they made it to the hotel, Cliven’s car was running low on fuel and nobody had any money left for gas, even if a gas station was open, which “they wasn’t.” As he tried to leave the area, he kept running into crowds of people and burning vehicles.
“I just decided I needed to make a run for it right down the Harbor freeway, so I drove through all the chaos and fires, got on the freeway and headed south.”
Confused and somewhat lost, he wasn’t sure where he could go. The confusion was compounded by the sheer desolation on the freeway. “There wasn’t a car to be seen on the freeway that night, on either side of it! The ONLY vehicles we saw were National Guard trucks on the overpasses.
“Then out of nowhere, two cars of black boys came along side of me. It scared us to death. Were they gonna shoot at us, drive us off the road? They ended up right alongside us for nearly an hour, until I got to familiar territory, Long Beach, right in the area where I worked my last job. So, I sped up in front of them and quickly took the off ramp. It was a night I’ll never forget.”
Then the story turned a corner I didn’t expect.
“For fifty years I have always thought those men wanted to harm us, but, now I’ve come to realize those men escorted me down that freeway and kept up the escort until I was safe. I felt like they became my guardian angels.”
“So, what happened to your scraper?” I asked.
“I stayed with the missionaries until things quieted down. Then I went back and got my equipment, it seemed to be untouched by all the rioters.”
“So, you just drove your big, giant scraper down the freeway?” I asked.
“Yep, that’s how I got it around Los Angeles.”
“You never even got a ticket?” I asked, incredulously.
“No. I got pulled over one time though. I was coming from church in my suit and tie and needed to move my scraper to the next job,” he paused, now grinning, “when the cop sees me in the suit, he pulled me over. Guess it looked a little weird!” He laughed.
“How did you get back to Nevada?” I asked.
“I drove ’er, Mike. I’m just a country boy and, after the riots, I wanted out of there.”
Cliven finished his jobs in Southern California and headed back to Nevada, just stopping for fuel and necessities. Before he left Long Beach, he washed the tires of his scraper in the Pacific Ocean, threw his bag behind the seat and headed to the ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada, and on to his next job site, a trip of about 500 miles up the highway, a highway that lead on through Arizona City (Arizona) and eventually on to Salt Lake City.
It was winter. When he made his way through the 4,728’ mountain pass on the California-Nevada border, the scraper’s tires started to slide as he was descending from the summit. But, as experienced an operator as he was even in his late teens, he scooped up a load of snow for some extra traction to get his tires back to the pavement. He was successful in negotiating the slippery roads to and through Las Vegas (crowded with traffic) and even got into North Las Vegas, still with his load of snow! Seeing a group of kids playing in the nearby field, he pulled in and, to the delight of the little ones there, he dropped that load of snow right there. As he drove off, he could see the snowballs flying in his rear-view mirror. He stayed that night at the ranch and then drove on to Bunkerville for the new job in the morning.
To be continued…
But there is much more to tell about the story of Cliven Bundy challenging the government’s authority over federal land … so, stay tuned.
Learn more about Cliven Bundy: American Terrorist Patriot or get your book copy here.
About Michael Stickler
Mike is an author, radio host, ex-felon, and a highly sought after motivational speaker. His best-selling book, A Journey to Generosity, is widely acclaimed throughout the Christian community. He is the publisher of Generous Living Magazine and writes for the Christian Post, 'A Generous Life' column (MikeStickler.com)