Road warriors

The Transpo team
The Transpo team

The guys in the Transpo crew are a pretty rough bunch.

They were out at Trailer Row near the Depot the other evening, having a little “safety meeting” (wink wink) at the end of their big week of hauling everything from the work ranch out to the playa. And by everything, we mean allll of the stuff – hundreds of containers and trailers, living containers, boxes, tanks, supplies, vehicles … really, all of the things.

It’s a logistical and practical nightmare to manage, and it’s all done in the heat of the first days that Burning Man folks are allowed to be on the playa. While the fence is being pounded and the first pieces of the Man base are brought out and HEAT is setting up its camp, the Transpo team going back and forth from the ranch, picking up the right stuff and dropping it in the right place, making sure that everything arrives at the right time. And pretty much everyone wants it right now. “It must be a lot of pressure,” we said. “I don’t feel any pressure,” Cuervo answered evenly.

You can’t listen to the work radio here for more than five minutes without hearing Cuervo’s name. The man and his crew are much in demand. A few years ago, when the radios were extra wonky and just not working, Cuervo would go around to various spots and leave written notes for his drivers about what was going on and what needed to happen next.

“It worked,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.”

This year didn’t have that kind of technical difficulty, but still there were new challenges. Cuervo made sure at the end of last season that everything came off the playa in a way that made sense for when it had to go out the next year. Alas, there were procedural changes made in the offseason that changed the order, “but I think we’re reacting pretty well,” Cuervo said.

There was also a new emphasis on weight control and tie-down methods this year, and an emphasis on adhering to every safety regulation on the books. While it was the right thing to do, it still might have slowed down the pace of the move. On top of that there was rain to deal with, too. Still, as the crew stood there Saturday in the golden glow of the late afternoon, it was pretty clear that things had gone smoothly.

“I just want to thank you guys,” Cuervo said. “You’re a hell of a crew.”

And that they are, full of the kind of characters that you’d expect to find working the trucks at Burning Man. Among them are Vaughn Solo, an aggressively tattooed dirt-bike rider, Railroad Mike, who brought is six-wheel drive M931 Army surplus vehicle with him this year; and Scotty V (do NOT call him Fubar), a water-skiing grandfather. Then there is Rusty, who was born in Empire and has been coming to the playa his entire life.

“It’s in my blood,” he says.

Rusty’s nickname is Big Ugly, and while we don’t know about the Ugly part, there is no disputing the Big. The dude is large, but the thing is, he used to be a lot larger – 400 pounds with five percent body fat.

When Rusty pounded stakes, he used an 85-lb pounder
When Rusty pounded stakes, he used an 85-lb pounder

“I used to come in the bar and guys would say, man, he’s big and ugly,” Rusty says. We’re guessing that they didn’t say it out loud, though.

Rusty is an ex-military man, an ex Hells Angel, and an ex con. “I spent five years in the pen,” he says matter-of-factly. “I saw a guy beating up a woman, and I broke his back.”

He kicked around for a bit when he got out, and then he went to Burning Man in the early years. “They used to have bumper cars out there,” he says. “It was my kind of place.” So he stayed around. He’s been coming out for 15 years now.

In fact, he was on the legendary stake-pounding team of 2002, when a team of 13 people pounded every stake for the seven-mile trash fence and finished in a single day. By themselves. Without fluffers or shade or any of the other niceties that are out there now.

Trailer Park Romeo and D.A. were on that team, too. “I remember writing penances on the stakes after awhile,” TPR said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I must have done something wrong” to be in the situation he was in.

Rusty made an impact that year, figuratively and literally. He carried a stake pounder that weighed 85 pounds. Two bumps and the stake was in the ground. “A couple of guys tried to use it, but they couldn’t pick it up,” he says.

Rusty’s still around, but he doesn’t do any pounding anymore. His health won’t allow it. Three bullet wounds and 17 stab wounds will leave a mark.

Rusty and the other Transpo team guys were stood by the sides of their trucks, getting a little praise from Cuervo, but mostly giving each other crap. Think of them the next time you see one of the outrageously janky art cars crawling around the playa, or take a moment of shade in Center Camp. They’re the guys who got it here.

Railroad Mike and his M931 A1 six-wheel-drive truck
Railroad Mike and his M931 A2 six-wheel-drive truck

 

About the author: John Curley

John Curley has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 he spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. John is a longtime newspaper person and spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since leaving the Chronicle in 2007, he was a contributing editor on Blue Planet Run, a book about the world's water crisis, and for the past two years has been a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has also started an event and editorial photography business, and is also working on a book about the "Ten Dollar Doc" from Arco, Idaho, which will make a lovely film someday.

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