By any measure, Carmel Valley resident Pete Azevedo – aka “Tractor Pete” or “Cowboy Pete” – has lived the American dream. He is known, by most of the people in the area, as the colorful tractor-driving man who steers wine-tasting shuttles in Carmel Valley, but that is just the most recent chapter of a rich and varied life.
Azevedo grew up south of Fresno, in a community called Ferndale, and at various stages he has picked crops, been a ranch hand, an Air Force fire inspector, a backcountry tour guide, a ski patrolman, an aviation industry manager, a contractor, a dog trainer and a medical marijuana grower and distributor.
Now 77 years old, Azevedo says he’ll continue leading wine tours by tractor – which he’s been doing for 10 years – for as long as he’s physically able.
“It’s too much fun,” he says, smiling.
The Weekly caught up with Azevedo in Carmel Valley to talk about his storied life. He tried, and succeeded – partly – in keeping his cussing to a minimum.
Weekly: Do you prefer to be called “Tractor Pete” or “Cowboy Pete”?
Azevedo: I don’t care which one you use. My grandfather was a cowboy, his name was Antonio Joaquin Azevedo. He and his two brothers got on a boat at St. George Island, which is in the Azores, and they came to Ellis Island, and then came across the United States to Bakersfield. Then he married this little old Portuguese lady named Mary Silva – grandma – and every time he hung his pants on her headboard, her belly swelled. Sixteen children.
What was it like growing up in the Central Valley?
I was born in 1939, the grapes of wrath. It was a dairy community and a farming community, and so the only place you could get a job was on the ranches. So I got a job working at a ranch at a very young age. Hand labor, picking cotton, chopping cotton, picking fruit, cutting grapes. It was hotter than hell, and colder than a damp, wet son of a bitch in the winter. It was the armpit of the world as far as I was concerned. All I wanted to do was get out of there. So I graduated – I was the first one in my whole family to graduate high school.
So then you joined the Air Force. What was that like?
I was part of the war effort to keep Russia from bombing us. They put me at Goose Bay, Labrador base [in Canada], and it was quite a deal to say the least. I got to fly in a helicopter, and I was a fire inspector, so I was treated with elegance. It was a cold son of a bitch in the wintertime, and in the summertime, they got bugs big enough to eat your toe off. They had 20-engine motors in the mosquitoes. There was so goddamn many of them.
How’d you end up as a ski patrolman?
I went to work at a pack station – a dude ranch basically – and I took people on fishing and hunting trips through the Sierras on the John Muir Trail. I didn’t want to leave the mountains, so I got a job at China Peak Ski Resort. They taught me to ski, and I said, “Why don’t I become a ski patrol?” The ski resort was a very, very good job for the opposite sex. I was 21 years old, and oh my gosh, amazing.
You left your aviation industry job in Long Beach to live in Carmel Valley. How’d that happen?
I came here to visit [in 1973], and I wanted to be a manager of a cattle ranch. So I came here, drove down [Carmel Valley Road], looked on both sides, and said, “Wow, this is where I want to be for the rest of my life.”
You started using marijuana about eight years ago when you were diagnosed with cancer, twice. How did your thoughts about it change?
I turned from a redneck to a crazy motherfucker. [Azevedo dumps out a bag a cannabis-infused lollipops.] Those are all marijuana-enhanced. I went from one side of the world to the other side. Now I sell and raise it. I have a chef that makes these, I sell them to the dispensaries. I tell people it changed my life completely. I was an advocate against it, I didn’t want that shit, I thought I was going to die if I did it.
What would you say to people concerned about the number of events and the traffic in Carmel Valley?
It’s called evolution. I’m one for that. I’m not an advocate for sitting back on your ass, and “I got mine, you don’t have yours.” The people that are bitching and complaining about it, they’ve got more money than God.