The inside of Mad Dog and the Pilgrim is a menagerie of antiquarian and out-of-print books. The place sells fresh eggs as well.
Lynda (Mad Dog) German, 66, left, and Polly (Pilgrim) Hinds, 58, own Mad Dog and the Pilgrim Booksellers in Sweetwater Station, Wyo.
Polly Hinds, co-owner of Mad Dog and the Pilgrim Booksellers in Sweetwater Station, Wyo., walked past the store, which has 70,000 old and out-of-print books.
Photos by MEL MELCOM Los Angeles Times,
A sign off Hwy 789 is at the entrance to the unusual rural bookstore. The store does not advertise but does not lack for customers.
For Wyoming couple: Old books, fresh eggs in the middle of nowhere
- Article by: John M. Glionna
- Los Angeles Times
- November 28, 2013 - 8:15 PM
SWEETWATER STATION, WYO.
In the fading afternoon light, the barnyard is turning raucous: The chickens are clucking, peacocks are pacing and sheep are bawling, making the llama a bit nervous. The donkey just works his gums as though chawing on a plug of tobacco.
Polly Hinds and Lynda German stand beaming amid the chaos, their old blue tractor in the background, framed by an endless expanse of prairie sky. For the two literary outliers, it is the end of another precious day on their unlikely experiment in the middle of Wyoming’s nowhere.
Their hands filthy from chores, the two veteran booksellers carry armloads of hard-bound volumes, careful not to dirty the historical tomes and two Zane Grey works of fiction, “The Last Ranger” and “Last of the Great Scouts.” The words scrawled in red on a storage shed explain the contrast: “BOOKS FOR SALE.”
Thirteen years ago, the pair fled Denver following a bizarre encounter with police, looking for a quieter life. They found it here on a deserted ranch 40 miles from the nearest store, where the only violence comes from two marauding moose that sometimes break their windows in search of food.
Since then, they’ve perfected the art of doing what they want, where they want to do it — running a thriving scholarly oasis with a touch of oddball rural charm. Their eccentric Mad Dog and the Pilgrim Booksellers offers 70,000 used and antiquarian texts — more books than the average Barnes and Noble — from a lonely wind-swept crossroads with a population between three and five, depending on the season.
On a nearby highway, a weathered sign advertises “Old Books. Fresh Eggs. For Sale.” At age 66, German is the Mad Dog, a self-professed curmudgeon. Hinds, 58, who dates her ancestry back to the Mayflower, is the Pilgrim.
Inside their two-story, climate-controlled book barn, volumes costing between $10 and $4,000 draw orders from the United States and Europe, including, they say, Buckingham Palace. A fourth of their $1,500 monthly profit comes from online sales. Buyers wander a store crammed with farm shears, pith helmets, fertility statues and a stuffed Syrian lion, taxidermied in 1900. The couple are also trying to find room for an 1850s child’s coffin.
Their menagerie includes 62 chickens, 41 sheep, three peacocks and six guinea fowl. There’s the donkey named Rucio, after Sancho Panza’s furry sidekick, and the feisty llama Jose Habanero, who takes his sheep-guardian’s duties seriously.
Fugitive sheep often wander the bookstore, particularly the old ewe Mona Moon. The littlest lambs are often dressed in diapers, prompting baffled book browsers to ask: “Are they, um, like, allowed in here?” That’s when Hinds says: “Heck, they own the place!”
Callers are greeted by a message with the barnyard joke of the day: “Talk after the beep, or baaaa, as it were. So what did the ram say to the ewe? Wool ewe marry me?”
Their transition to animal caretakers came when a rancher’s wife dropped off a box with two infant lambs whose mother had no milk to keep them alive.
Since then, they’ve adopted all kinds of animals, referred by ranchers and veterinarians.
The worst times are when the winter winds blow, or when they dig a hole in the yard to bury a beloved sheep. Hinds says, “You feel like a pioneer, so triumphant that you survived another day.”
Not everyone gets the pair. “People scratch their heads about what they’re doing out here. This is no country for old men or old people,” said rancher Rob Crofts.
Partners for 35 years, they are content to sell their books and be themselves. They don’t advertise, knowing real book lovers will find them. The ringing phone could be someone seeking a tome by Balzac or a dozen eggs. “I wake up and think, ‘Is my life really just a dream?’ I’m so afraid it’s not real. And then I realize it is, it is, it is,” Hinds says. “We both love who we’ve become. I’m a bookselling shepherdess, and I’m just amazed.”
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