Cowboy up

Henri goes off the beaten path at Vic’s Branding Iron

RANCH HANDS<br>Manager Vic Woolery serves up some coffee during the busy breakfast hour.

Manager Vic Woolery serves up some coffee during the busy breakfast hour.

Photo By Mark Lore

Vic’s Branding Iron

3917 Main St.
Cottonwood, CA 96022

(530) 347-4036

I thought it was a pretty good idea for a costume: Randy Jones, Henri’s favorite Village Person—with a brand-new pair of chaps directly from Cowboy Jim’s online store. I modeled them for Colette as she sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

“Not bad,” she said. “You are going to wear something underneath, though, I assume.”

“What do ya say we load up the dogs in the back o’ my rig, pick up a couple o’ road brewskis, and go get us some grub,” I said.

She crossed her arms. “I am not going out of the house with you dressed like that … or talking like that. But …” She looked up and smiled. “The factory stores in Anderson are having a major sale …”

Mon dieu! A designer bandana from Tommy Hilfiger!

I was out of those chaps in no time, and Colette was pulling out onto the highway as I highlighted our route on the map, Miss Marilyn and Mr. Theo dozing on the back seat.

We exited in Cottonwood, famished, and Colette pointed to a big “Restaurant” sign, the dirt parking lot full of trucks with dogs sleeping on tool boxes in the back. Adjacent to the restaurant was a huge muddy corral with cows as far as I could see.

Vic’s Branding Iron Restaurant is part of the Shasta Livestock Yard, the highest-volume cattle auction market west of the Rocky Mountains, buying and selling some 100,000 cattle (worth $300 million) each year. First opened in 1966, the facility today includes the restaurant as well as a veterinary clinic, a feed store and a Western-wear shop.

The restaurant’s dining room has a three-sided counter on one side—surrounding a coffee station—and a dozen or so tables on the other. One wall is covered with the brands—burned onto wooden tiles—of dozens of North State ranches. Collete and I made our way to the counter and perused the menu as the waitresses balanced delicious-looking plates of food up their arms and delivered them to tables of CAT- and Deere-capped men talking about dogs and ranching and deer hunting.

Vic’s breakfast menu (served any time) includes pancakes, biscuits and gravy, omelets, steak and eggs ($6-$13.95) and the Trucker’s Breakfast (biscuits and gravy, three eggs, two pieces of bacon, two link sausages, an 8-ounce slice of ham and potatoes—$10.95). Lunch (also served any time) features burgers, sandwiches, soups and salad ($4.45-$7.25), while the dinner menu offers burgers, fried chicken, steaks and prawns ($9.95-$17.95), served with garlic bread, soup or salad and beans. Whole pies can be ordered with 24 hours notice.

I figured, when in Rome, and went with the chicken-fried steak, which I hadn’t had in ages. Colette ordered a side of scrambled eggs and sourdough toast.

Our breakfasts came out in about three minutes, about the same amount of time it took a man beside me in overalls the size of a bedspread to inhale a Trucker’s Breakfast—plate toast-scrubbed clean. My huge slab of meat was blanketed with thick country gravy that slopped over onto the hash browns and toast. It was absolutely delicious. Colette said her eggs were tasty, too.

After lunch we wandered back into the hallway that leads to the veterinary clinic and to the “Buyers” and “Sellers” windows. The high walls decorated with 8-by-10 black-and-white photos of ranchers from throughout the area—from Igo to Alturas—who have done business at the yard over the years, as well as with cork bulletin boards offering land, dogs, horses and cattle for sale.

I never did find my Tommy Hilfiger bandana—we probably should have stopped at the Western-wear shop at the auction yard. In fact, we ended up not even going out on Halloween. I did make the cutest scarecrow you’ve ever seen, though.

Thanks to