Herb Benham

Monday, May 04 2009 05:43 PM

Fort Apache, the 'Dale

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    Ray Hampson, owner of Okie Ray's Barber Shop on Airport Drive in Oildale, has more than a dozen figures that were used at Knott's Berry Farm as far back as the 1950s on display and for sale in his yard at the barbershop. Hampson has been in the same location as a barber for 13 years and has been in the business since 1961.

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By Herb Benham

Around here, Okie Ray has the market cornered on life-size papier mache Indians. If you want Crazy Horse or his midget love child, prepare to lock horns with Ray.

Ray's a barber by trade but a trader by heart. He has a one-chair shop on Airport Drive called Okie Ray's. Before haircuts, customers hang their ball caps on the business end of a double-barreled shotgun mounted below Ray's throne-like barber's chair.

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Okie Ray (Raymond Hampson) encourages the hat rack unless you have long hair, are under 18 or are one of Ray's ex-wives. Then, he might politely suggest (an improvement over an earlier version of Ray who is reported to have been much less deferential) that you park both your seat and your hat elsewhere.

Recently, Ray bought 16 Indians (including four Crazy Horses), four pint-sized miners with full beards and four townspeople, one of whom is called the Tombstone Marshall. They look like they weight about 220 pounds, but in fact are less than 15 pounds, even with clothes, and Ray doesn't traffick in naked Indians.

He bought them at a yard sale on Wilson from a guy who bought them from another guy who bought them from another guy who bought them from Knott's Berry Farm after the Japanese took over.

"We have a saying in Oildale," Ray said. "If we don't have it, we can steal it."

Most days, the Indians live in a locked metal shed between Ray's yellow house and his barber shop, which are next door to one another. On sunny days, or weekends, Ray, 65, brings the whole tribe out and arranges them hip to hip on a 16-foot-long bench anchored by rusty wheels on either end.

If a guy had too much to drink or stumbled into the shed on a moonless night, he could have a heart attack. Unless he happened to like Indians as much as Ray. But that would be hard.

About the only thing Ray likes more than Indians are Sophie, Panda and High Pockets --his three Jack Russells, or his '65 Ford Ranchero (yellow with red pearl and candy-apple wineberry trim) or his barbershop full of western antiques.

Picture a ghost town tipped on its side and its contents poured right into Okie Ray's front door. Antiques include old bottles, rusty keys, a homemade milking stool, adjustable wrenches, an ancient shoe shine box, leather tools, an Indian rain dance stick, a black cross-cut saw, branding irons, hay knives, lunch pails, Civil War rifles, a handmade covered wagon and autographed pictures of Roy Rodgers nailed to the wall.

The antiques are one reason kids aren't welcome. Children are naturally curious. That and they bleed.

Antiques spill outside. An outhouse sits in his front yard with two signs that read: "On this site in 1897 nothing happened" and "Okie Library."

Right now, his pride and joy are the Indians (made in 1953 by the Nelson Studio) and to a lesser extent, the miners and townspeople. Ray prefers the Indians, and one senses that if they were to come to life after hours and ended up scalping the settlers, Ray wouldn't cry much at the funeral.

"When we played cowboys and Indians as a kid, I was always the Indian," he said. "Everybody hated me."

Ray, who was born in Red Mountain, a mile from Randsberg, doesn't have any Indian blood that he knows of other than the one-sixteenth that everybody claims. No, it's not that he's Indian -- it's that he feels a kinship.

"I like their culture," he said. "Every time I handle an Indian artifact, I learn something."

At car shows, when he rolls out the Ranchero, he hangs a sign that reads, "Quiet Village. In remembrance of all the fallen Indian nations."

So far, Ray's sold three Indians at $350 each. He plans to keep one Crazy Horse and maybe Crazy Horse's midget love child. If he has extras, it's just like having more friends.

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