John Bellandi, the owner of Alamo Hay & Grain, has 14 horses that he keeps on his ranch in Brentwood. That's a lot of hay and grain to provide, even if he does get it at cost, in addition to grooming, veterinary services, shoes and harnesses.
That's why Bellandi is fond of the life-sized horse he keeps on top of the little red building at the front of his establishment that houses Alamo Shoe Repair (which served as the post office in 1936 when it was located across the road south of Las Trampas Road).
"He's the easiest keeper I've ever had," Bellandi says. "He doesn't eat all day long."
And that's what he calls the horse -- Easy Keeper -- although some Alamo residents refer to him as Norman.
Bellandi bought Easy Keeper in 1980, paying $900, a fraction of the cost of a real horse. It's made of fiberglass and was originally an appaloosa, Bellandi said; it's currently a black-eyed chestnut with four white socks and a white patch on its head.
He installed Easy Keeper because he liked the way horses looked in front of stores that sell western dress, he recalls, and now it's a landmark.
Lately Bellandi's taken to decorating Easy Keeper with new balloons every week. For Memorial Day, the horse was decked out with flags of red, white and blue.
"We just lift a person on the roof to do it," Bellandi explains. "We're promoting chicks and rabbits at this time of year, and it draws more attention."
"This used to be a horse town, now people buy backyard pets," he says. "I'd say one in every five houses with kids around here has a chicken."
As late as 1979-80, when Bellandi bought the business, kids would ride horses right through the streets and into Alamo Hay & Grain, he says.
"Click, click, click, they'd come right through here," he recalls.
The Hay & Grain opened in 1962, after being the site of a grocery store in the 1950s. The shoe repair building once served as the Alamo post office.
Easy Keeper has been taken three times as pranks, Bellandi says, and once ended up on a rooftop at Monte Vista High School.
But he always returns to his perch, luckily for those who love him as a sign they're almost home and as a symbol of the rural charms of Alamo.
While an equine rules the roost, or roof, pigeons are often seen hovering over the Hay & Grain. An unusual sight in a suburban area, the pigeons are Bellandi's side project.
Bellandi is a pigeon breeder and has raced pigeons for 60 years, since he was 10 years old, growing up in San Jose.
"My dad thought it would keep me out of trouble," he recalls with a smile.
Pigeons can race anywhere from a few miles to hundreds of miles. The long-distance racers are specially raised and trained.
During the season Bellandi will drive his pigeons to Sparks, Nev., and they'll arrive back in Alamo about three hours after they are released.
In early June a pigeon convoy truck made 12 stops in the Bay Area, including in Alamo, to pick up the pigeons from the owners. They were trucked to Rogerson, Idaho, where they were released at 4 a.m.
"It's 515 miles," said Bellandi. "These birds all have bands. When they get home and go in to eat, they cross the scanner."
The scanner automatically records the bird's number and time of arrival.
After hours, if you walk by Alamo Hay & Grain, listen closely. You'll probably hear the soft cooing of pigeons from their home in the back, resting up for the next competition.