Stagecoach driver Burrel “Buckshot” Rambo Maier tells his cargo, a family of three, that it’s his first day on the job and he’s “a little nervous” as a pair of trotting horses pulling the coach embark upon the bumpiest stretch of their journey. The wagon jostles and dust flies, but the horses’ steady gait and the driver’s grizzled beard make the newbie act hard to believe. The family giggles and Maier slips a sly smile.
Maier has been driving stagecoaches in Yosemite for more than 40 years, work he started at age 16. He’s the only stagecoach driver/park ranger in the National Park Service, a title he’s very proud of.
The red-and-yellow stagecoach, “his office,” is the crown jewel of the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. The cluster of cabins is reached by a covered bridge along the south fork of the Merced River in Wawona, a relatively quiet corner of the park away from the bustle of Yosemite Valley. Maier uses the stagecoach as a fast and fun way to share history that he intimately understands.
“Burrel truly is one of Yosemite’s legendary employees. … His love of Yosemite is contagious,” says supervisory park ranger Dean Shenk, who has worked with Maier since the 1970s.
One of Maier’s young passengers, 10-year-old Alex Varner of Arizona, is so impressed that he says he’d save his money for two years to buy a stagecoach of his own if it cost what it did in the late 1800s – about $350.
“I could ride around on that before I’m 16,” Alex says enthusiastically, “and then you don’t have to buy a $5,000 car. … You can just work a lot of chores, get your wagon, and ride away and have fun!”
By contrast, a drive from Wawona to Yosemite Valley today takes less than an hour. Alex marvels at the difference and how the invention of the stagecoach led to the automobile.
Maier also passes on his knowledge to schoolchildren through a Park Service Environmental Living Program. He believes that “history is really important because you are carrying on the tradition of life.
Wild West roots
A ride with Maier is educational, but above all, entertaining. In character as Buckshot the stagecoach driver, he sometimes tells people that he’s searching for a wife. “You got to have all your teeth, be able to cook and sew, I make $40 a month, and I take a bath once a week whether I need it or not.”
“Now I want my job back,” Clay says with a laugh.
Maier has no plans of obliging that request. Stagecoach driving is hard work, but Maier has never seen it as a job. It’s a passion, one he hopes to still be enjoying in old age. He loves everything about being in Wawona, even cleaning up “road apples” – his horses’ manure.
“I’ve dedicated my life to this and it’s paid off wonderfully,” he says. “I’m still happy.”
A new stagecoach and horses purchased by the Yosemite Conservancy a couple years ago, along with a corral reconstruction underway, are helping keep the dream alive.
“It’s like a violin,” he says of the stagecoach and horses. “You tune the violin to make it sound good, and right now I’m tuned up pretty good.”
Maier’s passion was on display for millions to see during the 2016 New Year’s Day Rose Parade, where he drove the stagecoach in a procession celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.