It’s a pairing I never thought I’d see. Chip and Al. Al was a cowboy I worked with for 10 years. He was an example to lots of the young buckaroos. He was 25 years older than me. We met one spring when he was in a cow camp on the Brown Place in North Fork, Nevada.

The ranch manager took him supplies once a week and paid him the first of every month. The manager put half his pay in a bank and gave Al the other $150 in cash. Al would climb in his old car and drive to Elko, and he didn’t come back ’til he ran out of money. FYI, he was never gone more than three to four days.

On occasion, he would spend some time with Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. He was either all in or out cold. Early one mornin’ I was drivin’ out to Farm #2 on the Bruneau River. I glimpsed out over a sagebrush flat that lead from the Black Sands Bar.

Al’s horse was standing out in the brush. The reins hung loose. I pulled over and walked out to him. Al was laid out on his side snoozing with his ol’ dog Brownie curled up beside him. I guess he didn’t want to be arrested for an RUI.

In the fall, we worked cows. As the vet, I was always stationed near the exhaust. Most of the chutes, I would put my right arm through the side panels on the left side of the cow. I’d also work the tail gate. The cowboy mouthing the cows worked the head gate and squeeze. We were often side-by-side.


Chip is in the clothing business and at one time was the director of Global Male Grooming. Grooming isn’t a word that comes up when you talk about Al. He was from the old school. Always wore his cowboy hat, never earmuffs.

He dressed in layers: long johns, jeans, socks, boots, five-buckle overshoes and from one to three shirts, including his jean jacket. As the weather got colder, he would stuff his sleeves and shirt with wadded-up newspapers for insulation. I don’t think I ever saw him with gloves.

He smoked, rolled his own and only had one upper incisor in his jaw. He could stand there forever, the squeeze handle in one hand, the head catch in the other and a lit cigarette dangling between his lip and tooth. To top it off, his nose was always runny. Standing beside him, one learned how to duck quickly when he whipped his head around to see the next cow comin’ in.

I treasured Al. So imagine my thrill when I read that Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss jeans, validated Al’s practice of never washing his jeans.

Al would wear a new pair ’til they stood in the corner by themselves. They became like canvas, then fiberglass, then galvanized stovepipe. They were waterproof for sure and, I’ll bet, bulletproof.

Chip himself says he wears them for months on end without washing, though he recommends treating them with white vinegar or vodka regularly for unpleasant odor. I can’t remember Al being concerned about odor, but I’m positive he would think it was a waste of good vodka.  PD