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Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at

It’s no accident that in my dictionary the word “help” comes after “hemorrhoids” and before “Hell,” as the following story will illustrate.

The man I call Mr. Chips made his millions with exactly that … chips. And I’m not talking Ruffles with ridges. No, I’m referring to computer chips. He used a week’s worth of interest income to buy a small “ranchette” that bordered part of a ranch we leased, and he was the best and the worst neighbor we ever had. He had a new chain link fence installed between us and made a pest of himself, wanting to help whenever we’d let him. The problem was he was raised on the pavement, and the closest he’d ever come to a cow was the milk in his morning Cocoa Puffs.

Mr. Chips learned everything about the cow business from binge-watching Yellowstone, so he thinks all ranchers do all day is have torrid romances and play cowboys and Indians.


On his way to becoming a cowman, Mr. Chips ordered some checks from the bank with the name of his 20-acre spread on them: “El Rancho Grande”. He paid me to make him a silver buckle with his brand written in gold: Chips. He ordered a cow branding iron with letters five inches high, and I worried that his calves if he ever had any, wouldn’t be long enough for the brand to fit. He purchased a new four-horse slant trailer that was 32 feet long and cost north of $100,00, and to pull it, he bought a Peterbilt he didn’t know how to drive, nor did he possess the necessary license to do so.

We let Mr. Chips buy lunch for several of us every day and the hefty price we had to pay was having to listen to him recite his cowboy poetry. Maybe we praised him too highly because the next thing we knew Mr. Chips reserved a room in Elko and started wearing gaudy wild rags and designer neon boots. Despite never having swung his leg over a horse before, he bought a 22-year-old nag that fully funded the retirement plan of a local horse trader of questionable repute.

Within the first week of his being a rancher, Mr. Chips asked me to teach him how to rope and ride in preparation for branding season, which was less than a month away. The first thing I told him to do was quit wearing his custom-made American flag shirts because we didn’t know if we were supposed to rise as one, put our hats over our hearts and sing our national anthem every time he entered the room. I also told him to lose the peacock feather in his new Stetson that he wore straight out of the box.

One week prior to our branding, Mr. Chips asked, “Would this be a good time for you to teach me to ride and rope?”

“Maybe we’d better save that for another day.”

“Well then, what can I do to help?”

“I’ll tell you what, Mr. Chips, why don’t you bring a pot of beans for the lunch?” 

I could see the disappointment in his face, but on the day of the branding, Mr. Chips showed up with a pot of beautiful beans. I should have known something was amiss because the beans were bubbling like a Yellowstone mud pot, and they weren’t even over a fire. But they tasted good and Mr. Chips was proud to tell everyone he’d cooked them. 

Ours was an all-day affair as we gathered cattle in the morning and went back to work after the noon meal to brand the calves. At least for a little while, we did until one by one the ropers slid off their saddles in gastrointestinal distress and the ground crew was hunting for brush they could squat behind. 

We only got half the calves branded and henceforth Mr. Chips didn’t dare show up at another branding. Not long after, he sold his ranch for twice what he paid and moved back to Silicon Valley where, I’m told, he entertains his rich friends with his poetry while wearing all his cowboy garb. He insists everyone call him “The Computer Cowboy.” 

As for me, I put up a big sign at the entrance to the ranch that reads, “No more help wanted.”