Horse on high

Alamo Shoe Repair steed is an 'easy keeper'

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.

Read this story in Views magazine, available for free on June 27.


Like this comment
Posted by Harald A. Bailey
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Thank you, Dolores,

I still have the CD on how to pursue an "artful herd" of resin horses if local artists groups and sponsors are interested in horse-art contest. I also have the history of a plaster horse claimed to be near the Stone Valley corner where the original Alamo School stood. Several former students still refer to the horse as Norman and existing in the 1950's/1960's "across from the motel." That history indicates that Alamo Square Drive was once Stone Valley Road's intersection with Danville Blvd and the horse stood on the southeast corner.

Just to add some future flair to the current horse, I still support putting a coiled horn in its forehead and painting it mother of pearl so it can have a new life as a unicorn.



Like this comment
Posted by Nick
a resident of Blackhawk
on Jun 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Why is this a story?

Like this comment
Posted by [removed]
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Dear Editor,

It is a fair question to ask why this Diablo View by Dolores is a story? It is quite common for many residents of Alamo to get on their high horse in opposition to the presence of a horse on top of a sad little red building in an Alamo business district desparately needing rejuvenation. At the same time, the minority that is Alamo's traditional community culture treasures the horse as a symbol of their semi-rural community.

Thus, the story will play out in posted commentary as both sides defend or defame a high horse in Alamo from their equally high horses.

Like this comment
Posted by Alamo Ron
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I would much rather read a wonderful story about Norman than read about the lies from lewd congresscritters. Come to think of it, Norman would be a better candidate for the legislature than many of the current crop of politicians.

We already have too many back halves of horses in congress. Let's elect the front half for a change.

Norman For Congress!

Like this comment
Posted by Harald A. Bailey
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 16, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Dear Editor,

RON is BACK! Alamorons aside, the rich humor that will come from this horse of another color vaudeville routine is well on its way and in good hands.

Applause to RON!!


Like this comment
Posted by cardinal
a resident of Diablo
on Jun 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Two things:

1 -- what kind of tree grows fiberglass? and

2 -- As a general observation, I think the fact that said fiberglass wooden horse is only rarely painted school colors or otherwise informally decorated demonstrates a deplorable lack of initiative and imagination on the part of our local teenagers. SRV kids (raised by wolves) might be forgiven, but doesn't the other local HS have an equine mascot, even?

Like this comment
Posted by Dolores Ciardelli
editor of Danville Express
on Jun 17, 2011 at 6:56 am

Dolores Ciardelli is a registered user.

LOL. Easy Keeper (or Norman, if you prefer) is not "wooden" as I originally thought -- and wrote. It's been changed to "life-sized."


Like this comment
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Danville
on Jun 17, 2011 at 7:49 am

Leave the horse! Leave things alone, or end up having it be a massive dangerous CELL tower, like next to Vista Grande school! Now that's a story you must cover. Not a cute little horse. I drive to Alamo to get my dog food, and some back to basic feeling the town gives. Love that place and the owner! Keep it real people.

Like this comment
Posted by jayne & john
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 17, 2011 at 8:21 am

We love our horse! And thanks to John Bellandi, he keeps him nice and healthy! Been there as long as we have lived in Alamo, over 45 years and understand he was there, long before that! So he's family!

Like this comment
Posted by Gate
a resident of Monte Vista High School
on Jun 17, 2011 at 8:40 am

Appreciated the story and the local history of Alamo Hay and Grain. John is a gentle spirit and isn't it wonderful to have some positive local news. Would love to see even more stories about what is right in this world. Please learn compassion everybody for your neighbors.

Like this comment
Posted by guynextdoor
a resident of Danville
on Jun 17, 2011 at 9:22 am

Dolores, Thanks for the real story. It's charming.

"A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
And this one'll talk 'til his voice is hoarse.
You never heard of a talking horse?

Well listen to this.

I am Mister Ed."

Like this comment
Posted by Debbie Carmel
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Love the horse! It is an Alamo icon... Thank you for sharing it's "roots!"

Like this comment
Posted by psmacintosh
a resident of Danville
on Jun 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Thanks for the local history!

Like this comment
Posted by [humor]
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 20, 2011 at 8:11 am

Dear Editor,

This morning's review of comments by many Alamo residents to focus polling by news service researchers establishes the horse, its little red building and quonset hut behind to be an amusement. Such polling illustrated that few neighbors recognize the horse as a desirable landmark in Alamo and see it more emblematic of a declining business district.

Beyond a very real idea of moving the horse to Hap Magee Ranch Park, there was much humor about its "real" story. I liked the concept that it was a flying red horse on top of an early Mobil station with wings and all. More humorous, "How did the horse miss signage review after all these years?"

There seems to be two, or maybe more, sides to this story

Like this comment
Posted by Carolyn Gwynn
a resident of Alamo
on Jun 20, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I would like to thank John for his kindness to our family last week when we brought him our sick chicken. What else could we do? When a chicken is lethargic and living in his nesting box for no apparent reason, and there's no vets who take chickens, we had to do something. So we brought him (actually it's a her, named Kevin) to Alamo Hay and Grain. John knew just what to do. Popped a tetracycline pill down his throat, handed us a five day supply and sent us on our way. Now Kevin is doing much better. Thanks John! Without Alamo Hay and Grain, it just wouldn't be Alamo. Long live Norman.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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