Breeding us a thousand more Carl Dregas

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted October 11, 1999

"Why are so many Americans going nuts?" our desperate statist overseers keep asking. "It must be the guns!"

Yeah, sure. And the answer to the snakebite problem is not to teach our kids to cut your average cantankerous rattler a wide berth when spotted in the woods, but rather to launch a billion-dollar federal program to capture, anaesthetize, and de-fang every venomous reptile on the continent.

(Well, perhaps not all at once. We could start with "reasonable, modest" reptile control -- only scale-printing and registering the serial numbers of the biggest, meanest-looking snakes, while requiring that manufacturers provide each new hatchling with a "fang lock.")

Shall we take a fresh try at explaining what's going on, here?

Many thought it was an exaggeration when a government bureaucrat in Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" explained to the hero that the bureaucrats' plan is to make everything illegal, the better to control honest citizens who will then live in constant fear of being charged with a "crime" for merely going about their daily lives ... especially should they ever cross an "officer."

But Ms. Rand -- nee Alissa Rosenbaum -- watched Comrades Stalin and Trotsky bring collectivism come to her home of St. Petersburg in the years after the First World War. She knew precisely how socialism works.

Presumably the idea no longer seems far-fetched to Jim Howard, either. The 30-year resident of Kyle Canyon -- a rural mountainside 40 miles northwest of Las Vegas -- just spent 14 days sitting in the county lockup, and could be facing another 40 days after county inspectors -- outraged that they've been made to look bad by recent press coverage of the case -- papered him with new summonses, including one for "operating without a business license," just before his latest scheduled court appearance.

Is Mr. Howard some kind of armed desperado, or despoiler of the young and defenseless?

Well, no. What happened is that one of Mr. Howard's neighbors -- they've all moved in since he set up housekeeping, you understand -- complained to the county that Mr. Howard had added a dormer to his house, years ago. They also complained that -- since his business is digging septic tanks and clearing snow in the winter -- he was storing a dump truck and a backhoe on his property.

The nerve of this man.

And some cars. Jim Howard collects cars. A few years ago the snow collapsed the roof of his 10-car garage, so he had 14 vehicles lined up on the property, covered with tarps.

That, and the dirt.

The "dirt" part sounds a little strange, until you realize that on rocky Mount Charleston it sometimes comes in darned handy to have a truckload of clean fill on hand to cover a septic tank or an irrigation pipe. The stuff commands a premium up there.

That's about it. That's why Dave Pollex, senior code enforcement specialist for the county's Public Response Office, was called in. Pollex cited Howard for having the cars and the dirt on his property. Howard paid the fine. But Pollex returned to cite him again, waving at the dormer and telling him to "get rid of that, too."

You see, Mr. Howard hadn't bothered to make the 80-mile round trip into town to get a building permit to add his dormer, all those years ago. Mr. Howard wasn't sure why he was supposed to get rid of the window, but he took the glass out and boarded it over.

That apparently outraged Mr. Pollex, who contends he meant Howard should slice the whole dormer off his roof, and that he should have known what was meant. (Though in fact, county regulations would appear to allow for a simple inspection of the structure, in such cases, to make sure it's "up to code.")

Justice of the Peace Nancy Oesterle -- whose campaign backers include a family that operates a competing snow-clearing business on the mountain -- found Howard in contempt of court and sentenced him to three days in jail, plus 22 under house arrest. Instead, he ended up serving 14 days in the clink. Some kind of "paperwork mistake," the authorities say.

For the cars. And the dirt. And the dormer.

Jim Howard has removed the dump truck and the backhoe with which he made his living. He's removed his cars -- most of which were in good running order. He even says he's removed the dirt -- though the county now wants him to remove another 500 cubic yards, which Howard says will mean hauling off topsoil that came with the property in the first place.

That's 500 more truckloads of dirt, a demand which leads columnist John L. Smith -- who broke the story of Jim Howard's trials in the Sept. 26 Review-Journal -- to quip "They've ordered him to remove the property from his property!"

We all know what Jim Howard's real "crime" was -- he got on the wrong side of an officious, "by the book" county bureaucrat.

This used to be the land of the free. When an old-timer is merely conducting his life as he has for decades, there comes a time when the appropriate response is: "Lady, you did move out to the country on purpose, didn't you? We do not put people in jail for maintaining a pile of dirt."

At least, we shouldn't.

Folks like Justice Nancy Oesterle and "county officer" Dave Pollex think they can shove, and shove and shove -- writing any of us a new flurry of citations or locking us up for "contempt" should we object -- and eventually we'll all bow our heads and fall into line.

But this is not Japan, and Americans are not ants. Even for patient and long-suffering men -- members of an armed populace accustomed to their freedom -- there are limits.

Judge Oesterle might want to inquire what happened to the local lady judge who kept shoving around a retired New Hampshire carpenter and recluse named Carl Drega -- cited and fined repeatedly over the years for "taking too long" to finish an "unsightly" tarpaper-covered barn on his property, for "filling without a permit" when he rebuilt the shoreline of his property, washed out by a flood of the Connecticut River ... that kind of thing.

The last straw for the long-suffering Carl Drega came when two local cops pulled him over in the parking lot of a local supermarket a couple years back, and started writing him a ticket for having "rust holes in the bed of his pick-up truck" ... a pick-up truck whose state-issued license plate read: "Live Free Or Die."

I'm not celebrating what Carl Drega did. I'm not predicting Nevada's harmless Jim Howard will follow in his footsteps -- nor am I encouraging him to.

I'm just saying that occasionally, one of these old-timers who only wants to be left alone can be pushed too far.

We can't ask the two cops who pulled Carl Drega over, that last time, what finally made him snap. Nor can we ask his long-term tormentor, the part-time judge and town administrator who Carl Drega sought out, downtown, after he was done with that traffic stop.

Because you see, Judge Oesterle, those cops, and that New Hampshire judge ... they're all dead. And no one's pushing Carl Drega around, any more.

Vin Suprynowicz, assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is author of the new book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," available at $21.95 plus $3 shipping through Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; or by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site http://www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html.




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