Most people didn’t know his last name. They fondly called him Buggy Bill. He died unexpectedly at age 63. Murphys has lost an icon.
When I first met him, about 30 years ago, his horse and buggy was just a dream. He had just arrived in town with an acquaintance from Nevada where he worked driving a chemical truck. They set up housekeeping on her property way out on Ponderosa road where there was no electricity or running water. He loved horses, the leather, the times. He would say, “I was born too late.” He went to work mending fences for John Davies Ranch, at first.
He was visible in town with the same battered hat and an old battered pick-up. Over the years, he built his dream. He bought horses, broken down buggies that he lovingly fixed. He didn’t deck himself out like a cowboy. Bill looked the same in this picture from 2009 as when I first met him all those years ago.
He liked it when little kids rode in his buggy and petted the horses. For a long time, he had a white horse named Pepper, half blind with only one eye. It amazed him that some kids had never seen a horse up close enough to touch one. He didn’t make much money, but it was what he loved doing. Some years, during fair time, he was hired to taxi dignitaries around the steep grounds in a larger buggy with a team of horses. If he was hired to do a wedding, he decked out the buggy with white ribbons to carry the bride to the hotel, or Kautz winery to meet the groom. I can’t imagine how many rides he has given over the years. And, he had his problems. For many years he parked in front of the Murphys Hotel. A new owner wanted him gone and considered him a nuisance. He appealed to the Board of Supervisors and they designated his business as a cab, and provided a parking place away from the hotel’s main entrance, for cabs only. After three years, the owner put dining tables in the garden adjacent to the hotel, then claimed the horse drew flies. Bill was again relocated in front of the water company building.
Like everyone else, I’ll miss Bill. It won’t seem right without him on the streets of Murphys on weekends, giving rides to tourists. His son Zac lived with his dad and went to Bret Harte High School for one year in the 1980′s. He and my daughter became good friends. We will get together on Sunday at the Nugget, Bill’s favorite watering hole, and hoist a warm beer, (his favorite drink) and salute his long tenure as the last remaining remnant of a past life. If he were still with us I would tell him, YOU WERE NOT BORN TOO LATE.