"(F)requently constrained to overnight in the the desert to meet an early-morning flight schedule, he whiled away the evening at Pancho's. Not given to garrulity, more often than not he sought out the solo company of Millie Palmer, one of the lovelier specimens who found temporary refuge at the Happy Bottom Riding Club."
HOSTESSES, SOUND BARRIERS, AND BIG BA-BOOMS: ACES HIGH: The Race For Mach 1
Photos Number 1 and 2 above, showing an image of woman seated in the center surrounded by a bevy of other women is the famed aviatrix Pancho Barnes. The bevy of other women sitting in a circular fashion around Barnes were associated with her through what typically fell under, nomenclature-wise, the term "hostesses." The two photographs, circa late 1940s early 1950s, were taken at Pancho's high desert "Happy Bottom Riding Club," a so called dude ranch she built near Muroc Dry Lake right on the edge of Edwards Air Force Base. Pancho's "ranch" featured a motel, an abundance of riding horses and thoroughbreds, a restaurant, three landing strips, a dance hall, gambling den, an ever present bevy of hostesses, and a world-famous bar that catered to military personnel from the nearby air base along with all of her Hollywood friends.
Pancho's Club, although off to a slow start before the war, continued to grow throughout the war years, really taking off big time shortly after the war ended starting around that 1947-1948 time bracket. In 1952 it was still reaching upward for the top of it's game when suddenly everything came crashing down. The following is how it written up as to how that crashing down occurred as found at the source so cited:
"In 1952, following a change of command at the air base, friction between Pancho and the base commander began to increase because of the number of flights in and out of the Club's landing strip and what the commander called an encroachment into the base's airspace. When the government attempted to buy her property allegedly to expand the air base runways and Pancho refused, a series of unproven allegations surfaced that the Happy Bottom Riding Club was, among other things, a brothel. The Air Force slapped an off limits on the ranch, effectively banning servicemen from going to the club. Falling on hard times and basically deserted when the government moved to appropriate the ranch, Pancho sued. Then, on November 13, 1953, shortly after she beat the government and won the lawsuit, the ranch, under very, very suspicious circumstances, burnt to the ground, some even say, although it was never proven, from a possible strike from the air."(source)
With Pancho's ranch shuttered suddenly out of nowhere, catching almost everybody top-to-bottom off guard, the hostesses along with the employees, bartenders, stable hands, cooks, etc., found the need to scramble to survive. The high desert from Muroc Dry Lake for a hundred miles around in almost any direction didn't offer a whole lot of opportunities, especially so for the people with the type skills and talents of those working for Pancho, who was as well, a most generous employer. Finding the same kind of work for the same kind of pay wasn't going to be easy.
Then, as sensitive dependence on initial conditions would have it, my stepmother just happened to return from a two-year extended excursion to Mexico and South America with my dad. During that same two-year period their marriage, for reasons unknown to me, deteriorated to such a point it simply disintegrated. With my stepmother, or ex-stepmother as the case may be, now finding herself seeking a pathway of resurgence using what came naturally to her, that is, her former experience and expertise, a miracle in the desert occurred as fate, timing, and karma came together unexpectantly to reunite two old friends, re the following:
"My ex-stepmother stepped into the picture when the Air Force placed the off limits decree on the Club. She had a California liquor licence and owned several bars in Los Angeles. Pancho, as a friend from their old Laguna Beach days, in a casual conversation with my ex-stepmother, who supplied hostesses for the club on and off over time, suggested she open a facility similar to Pancho's now, or soon to be, defunct Club --- only far enough from the air base that they could not mess with it, but still close enough that it was easily accessible --- AND with NO known or on the surface affliation or ties with Pancho. So she did, opening the closest bar in those days to the air base south gate, somewhat east and south of Pancho's old place, duplicating almost all of the same amenities and wide open services except for an airstrip."
Even though she and my dad were no longer married I spent a good part of every summer while I was in high school on one property or the other she owned in the Mojave. The short time I was there during the summer prior to high school she had only just bought the property or was in the process of buying it. At that time it was pretty much a run down former attempt at a dude ranch. One year later, during my first full summer there, what she called a 'ranch' --- even though as a ranch it was a little on the sparse side in what I would call standard ranch fare --- had been completely rebuilt and refurbished with a rather long fully stocked bar, food service facilities, swimming pool, dance hall, live entertainment, along with rodeos and boxing matches on the weekends. It also had at least two dozen one-armed-bandit slot machines in a secret hidden room, plus like I like to say, a flock of ever present hostesses --- several of whom took me under their wing and one or two that may have been slightly more friendly than they should have been considering my young age, the youngest at the time at the very least being six years older than me.
After a several months period trying to get everything off the ground, which at least for a few years afterwards anyway, provided anyone who wanted a home and employment at my stepmother's newly opened "ranch" were able to if so interested --- all done of course with Pancho's blessings from behind the scenes. See:
HEAR NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL
Interestingly enough, one of Pancho's hostesses pictured above, Pauline Page, who also had been affiliated with my stepmother in some fashion at one time, didn't move over to her when the chance came up. Instead, she got married, and because of that marriage she eventually played a major role in my life as found in the quote below. In Photo Number 3 Pauline Page is shown standing to the right of Fifie, albeit on the viewers physical left.
In Photo Number 1 Page is photographed in connection with her sometimes association with an ever present bevy of hostesses. She is shown next to Barnes in the middle row also on the viewers left. In photo Number 2, a basically wider view of Number 1 with some minor shuffling, Page is the woman on the far left. For those who may be so interested, further down the page is a list of seven links with the top link of the list reading: PAULINE PAGE I. Clicking that link takes you to an online article that opens with the quoted paragraph below that pretty much sums up Pauline Page:
"Pauline had been an entertainer with the USO during World War II, billing herself as Pauline Page and Her All Girl Band.(see) Near the end of the war she became associated with both Brenda Allen and Fifie as well as my stepmother, and then, eventually, after meeting my father through my stepmother, to whom of which he was still married, falling madly in love with him. Seeing it was not going to work she married a former sergeant she met while touring with the USO who had never stopped pursuing her. They bought one of those look-alike every other house had a reverse floorplan tract homes that sprang up all over in former stoop-labor farmland south of Los Angeles while he went to work for one of the aircraft factories and she stayed home wearing an apron and no underpants."
During the two year period my dad and stepmother were gone my brothers and I once again found ourselves in a position to be parceled out. Both my brothers had somewhere to go but because of my history nobody was really stepping forward to take me. My uncle, after relentlessly begging non-stop for hours as he recalled, was finally able to convince the foster couple who was taking in my younger brother to take me as well. That foster couple was Pauline Page and her newly minted husband. Pauline, of course, at least as I saw it, only taking my brother and I in to somehow maintain a continuing connection with my father. Me being the odd one out, it wasn't long before I began searching for alternative ways to improve my own personal situation, and as I had done in the past, I decided to run away.
As soon as I was able to put together enough information, knowledge and resources to do so I did just that, run away. Under the guise of spending the day with a friend and without anybody's knowledge, including even my younger brother, I took a Greyhound bus north to the Mojave Desert searching for and eventually finding my then just divorced-from-my-father stepmother basically with the following results:
"Although impressed that I ran away just to be with her she thought it best to get in touch with my dad and see what she should do next. Unwilling to talk with my grandmother she called the woman of the foster couple I ran away from, who she knew and was friends with, hoping to find out if I should be returned to them or to locate my father, telling the woman that I was in good care and everything was OK. The woman of the couple, Aunt Pauline, told my stepmother to 'keep the fucking little asshole, I don't give a shit what happens to him.' Then she added, 'Don't forget his prick of a little brother, either.' My stepmother, taking into consideration there were no subtle or hidden messages in her response, being quite clear as well as taking her at her word, contacted my uncle to see if he had any idea where my dad was. He didn't, but told my stepmother if she could find no other solution and she could get me to Santa Fe he would deal with situation until everything could be hammered out. With that, having no success locating my dad for whatever reason, rather than sticking me on some grungy multi-day cross desert bus ride to my uncle's and not knowing for sure if I wouldn't just get off somewhere on the way, she arranged for the same former World War II P-47 pilot that flew my uncle and me to Sacramento a few years before to fly me to Santa Fe, ensuring, she hoped, I would be less likely to get out mid-trip."(source)
Before I went to live with Pauline in the first place, my stepmother, within hours if not minutes of her departure for South America, seeing there was a good chance I was going to end up living with Pauline, and always thinking of me in a good light and the best for me as she viewed it, handed an envelope to my uncle to give to me with strict instructions that I was not show it or give it to anybody else except to the person it was addressed to --- in other words, keep Pauline out of it. Re the following:
"The envelope was addressed to a man named Russ Miller, the owner of the Normandie Club, one of six legal poker casinos in the city, with those six being practically the only legal poker clubs in the whole state. I knew enough about gambling places to know that no 12 or 13 year old kid was just going up to the front door and walk right in."
Miller looked the letter over for a few minutes, asked how my "mother" was, then after a bit of small talk wanted to know what is was he could do for me. I told him I was looking to earn some money and was hoping for some kind of regular after school or weekend work. He asked what grade I was in and stretching the truth a bit I told him I went to Gardena High. He said come back in a couple of days and ask for Rick. Which I did. See:
THE NORMANDIE CLUB
HOSTESSES HELP BREAK THE SOUND BARRIER
(please click image)
"Prior to heading back to North American to brief the engineers, George telephoned Millie Palmer. Excitedly, Millie related that a terribly loud ba-boom had nearly blown her out of bed. The time was noted and it corresponded to George's dive."
In the late 1940s, and especially so following the end of the war, the U.S. Army Air Force, with no real competition other than themselves, began putting a tremendous amount of extra time, money, and effort into breaking the sound barrier. To accomplish that end they focused all of their time and expenditure on one single pilot, Chuck Yeager, and one single aircraft, the Bell X-1, a rocket-powered supersonic research airplane built by the Bell Aircraft Corporation. At the same time, although the Bell X-1 was a noble craft as was the attempt to break the barrier, there were those who felt that planes that were actually more akin to the fighters being developed, i.e., jets, was where the strength of the efforts should placed. Dropping a plane that couldn't take off on it's own from the belly of a high altitude B-29 and carrying only enough fuel for a three minute flight didn't quite fit the picture for some. Thus entered North American Aviation's jet-powered XP-86, a prototype of the F-86 Sabre and their pilot George S. Welch. Although not officially sanctioned by the powers that be like the Bell X-1, for North American and Welch it didn't matter.
Welch, who had risen to fame for being one of two pilots, along with Ken M. Taylor, to take out eight Japanese planes between them over Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, as found in Taking Out The First Meatball, had become a civilian by the time he became a test pilot attempting to break the sound barrier. In the spring of 1944 while still in the service, North American Aviation approached him to be a company test pilot. Welch, by then a three-times over fighter pilot ace was becoming increasingly concerned with the lingering effects from the malaria he contacted in the South Pacific during the war and how it might adversely impact upward mobility in the military, especially as a pilot. With potential peacetime on the horizon, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army Air Forces and accepted the job.
As a civilian Welch wasn't able to avail himself of the officer's quarters on the base. Instead he stayed at Pancho Barnes' Fly Inn. The Fly Inn, built and owned by Barnes, eventually came to known throughout the latter part of World War II and for several years afterwards as the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a dude ranch built near Muroc Dry Lake right on the edge of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of the Mojave.
Her place featured a motel with quite a number of rooms and several suites, an abundance of riding horses and thoroughbreds, a restaurant that served up fabulous western-style meals and breakfasts to die for, three landing strips, a dance hall, gambling den, an ever present bevy of hostesses, and a world-famous bar which catered to military personnel from the nearby air base along with all of her Hollywood friends. The ranch became famous for it's all night parties and high-flying lifestyle of her guests.
Welch and the North American team knew that the official National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) equipment was being used to officially track Yeager and the X-1 and them only. There wasn't a chance of getting use of the equipment before Yeager and their crew did their thing and held the official record. Welch was on his own.
Welch had become quite close to, some say even excessively over enamored with, one of Pancho's hostesses who went by the name of Millie Palmer, taking her into his confidence. He told her that on a certain day at a certain time he was going to break the sound barrier and wanted her to go outside and listen for the sound, documenting where she was, what she saw, heard, felt and time, telling her not to mention a word to anybody. Sure enough, just as Welch said would happen and what time it would happen, did. Re the following:
"Prior to heading back to North American to brief the engineers, George telephoned Millie Palmer. Excitedly, Millie related that a terribly loud ba-boom had nearly blown her out of bed. The time was noted and it corresponded to George's dive. 'Pancho,' Millie related, 'is really pissed. You know how she feels about Yeager.' Apparently, Pancho claimed the boom was a result of mining operations going on 30 miles away to the north. Of course, no one had previously heard any mining explosions, nor could that account for rattling windows only on the east facing side of the Fly Inn. Welch chuckled and swore Millie to secrecy."
The following is how Al Blackburn, a test pilot himself, writes about the same scenario in his book ACES HIGH: The Race For Mach 1 (1999). Although a test pilot with North American Aviation like Welch, he wasn't there during the attempts to break the sound barrier not joining the company until 1954, around the same time Welch died. Blackburn writes:
"Such was the aphrodisiacal lore told with a shrug at Pancho's and Patmars' and other watering holes from Hollywood to the beach communities of Los Angeles. So it was with George Welch, frequently constrained to overnight in the the desert to meet an early-morning flight schedule, whiled away the evening at Pancho's. Not given to garrulity, more often than not he sought out the solo company of Millie Palmer, one of the lovelier specimens who found temporary refuge at the Happy Bottom Riding Club. It was Millie that George confided on an early autumn evening that she should be listening for his historic boom, and returned for for a subsequent tete-a-tete to learn that she had indeed been nearly blasted out of her bed by the ba-boom of the sonic shock wave emanating from his supersonic Sabrejet."
As for running off to engage in tete-a-tete's with more lovelier specimens after just breaking the sound barrier for the first time, a few paragraphs later, as found at the same source as the first quote above as sourced for both below, the following shows up:
"(As soon as Welch landed) he was informed that his wife Jan had gone into labor with their first child. Welch flew the company plane up to Los Angeles, but arrived after his son had been born. That evening, Jan phoned her family to announce the birth of Giles, and of course, tell them about George breaking the sound barrier. Years later, Jan's brother Jimmy would recall that he could not determine if Jan was more excited about her new baby, or her husband's supersonic adventure."(source)
Seven years after his attempt to break the sound barrier, on Columbus Day, October 12, 1954, Welch's F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre disintegrated during a 7g pullout at Mach 1.55 over Muroc Dry Lake. He was still in the ejection seat when found. Critically injured, he was evacuated by helicopter to the Air Base hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Welch left a wife and two children. Millie Palmer would be well into her 90's if still alive. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
GEORGE S. WELCH, SEEN WITH HIS 1946 MG TC AND
A BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER XP-86 SABRE JET
(please click image)
TAKING OUT THE FIRST MEATBALL
KENNETH TAYLOR, GEORGE WELCH, PEARL HARBOR, AND THE P-40
As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
On November 13, 1953 Pancho Barnes' place burnt down, totally destroyed by fire. In 1958 or 1959 my ex-stepmother's place burnt down, totally destroyed by fire. On January 22, 1962 Willie Martello's El Rey Club burnt down, totally destroyed by fire.
When Pancho first built her place in the high desert of California near Muroc Dry Lake prior to the war the air base for the most part didn't exist. As aircraft continued to developed and required more and more landing area and room for support facilities Edwards Air Force Base began to expand, eating up property all around Pancho's until they reached a point they were actually eating away at hers.
Following a change of command at the air base in 1952 friction between Pancho and the base commander began to increase because of the number of flights in and out of the Club's landing strip and what the commander called an encroachment into the base's airspace. When the government attempted to buy her property allegedly to expand the air base runways and Pancho refused, a series of unproven allegations surfaced that the Happy Bottom Riding Club was, among other things, a brothel. The Air Force slapped an off limits on the ranch, effectively banning servicemen from going to the club. Falling on hard times and basically deserted when the government moved to appropriate the ranch, Pancho sued. Then, on November 13, 1953, shortly after she beat the government and won the lawsuit, the ranch, under very, very suspicious circumstances, burnt to the ground, some even say, although it was never proven, from a possible strike from the air.
However, in regards to Pancho's place being a target for "a possible strike from the air," there is an article that was published on April 23, 1953, page 33 of the New York edition of the New York Times with a headline that reads: "Threats to Bomb Ranch Charged to Air General." To view the complete article requires a purchase of the article from the Times through their Order Reprints service. However, prior to any purchase of that specific article the Order Reprints page offers the following thumbnail sketch of the article which includes the headline and the first paragraph:
Threats to Bomb Ranch Charged to Air General
Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES APRIL 23, 1953
LOS ANGELES, April 22 -- Alleged threats by Brig. Gen. Joseph Stanley Holtoner, commanding officer of the Edwards Air Force Base, to bomb her resort ranch were related to Federal Judge James M. Carter today by Miss Florence Pancho Barnes, also known as a flier. She asks $300,000 damages for injury to her resort business.
I have however, for my readers, been able to retrieve a complete and unabridged United Press version that appears for all practical purposes, at least information-wise, to be basically the same as the Times article, albeit as it appeared in the Lubbock Evening Journal, Lubbock, Texas, Thursday, April 23, 1953, page 3, and presented here for educational purposes at no charge:
THREAT TO BOMB RANCH CHARGED
General Accused By Woman
LOS ANGELES. April 23 UPI: Florence Pancho Barnes, pioneer aviatrix, charged in federal court Wednesday that Air Force Brig. Gen. Joseph S. Holtoner threatened to bomb her out of her Mojave Destert dude ranch. Miss Barnes accused Holtoner of making the threats because of efforts to serve a subpoena in connection with her S300.000 civil suit for damages against him. Holtoner is commanding genera] of Edwards Air Force Base near Muroc, Calif., which adjoins Miss Barnes' dude ranch. "He said he'd bomb my place; burn it up with napalm bombs," Miss Barnes told Federal Judge James M. Carter. "I'd like Congress to answer for him," the round-faced aviatrix said. "They made him an officer but they didn't make him a gentleman." Mrs. Barnes appeared in court as her own attorney after her civil suit was transferred from state to federal court at the request of the U. S. attorney's office which is handling the general's defense. In her action. Miss Barnes accused the general of instituting a boycott against her as part of the government's effort to condemn the ranch she valued at $1,500,000 for only $180,000. She charged the alleged boycott in which service personnel were warned to stay away from her ranch was ruining her business.
Notice Pancho tells the Federal Judge, in court, that the good general had told her in no uncertain terms, "he'd bomb my place; burn it up with napalm bombs." Then what happens, the place burns down under mysterious circumstances with witnesses reporting they heard not only loud explosions but saw whole walls blown out. I'm with Pancho on this one, and as far as her place being a brothel, Pancho was no madam. That was left for others to do. The full story can be found by going to the following link:
THE CODE MAKER, THE ZEN MAKER
OF SHANGRI-LA, SHAMBHALA, GYANGANJ, BUDDHISM AND ZEN
CLOSE UP OF THE SAME P-80 SHOOTING STAR GRAPHIC BEING HELD BY THE HOSTESS
"'Pancho,' Millie related, 'is really pissed. You know how she feels about Yeager.' Apparently, Pancho claimed the boom was a result of mining operations going on 30 miles away to the north. Of course, no one had previously heard any mining explosions, nor could that account for rattling windows only on the east facing side of the Fly Inn. Welch chuckled and swore Millie to secrecy."
-------- CHUCK YEAGER BREAKS THE SOUND BARRIER OCTOBER 14, 1947. BOTTOM RIGHT SHOWS YEAGER AND PANCHO
TOGETHER. NOTICE PICTURE OF SAME P-80 SHOOTING STAR IN BACKGROUND THAT HOSTESSES WERE HOLDING.
NORTH AMERICAN XP-86, 45-59597, PU957, FLOWN BY GEORGE WELCH TO BREAK SOUND BARRIER BEFORE YEAGER
Shortly before the X-1's famous flight, North American test pilot George Welch had been conducting high-speed dives of the XP-86. During these flights, he had noticed odd behavior of the aircraft's speed indicator which jumped erratically as he approached Mach 1. Later on, this phenomenon would come to be known as "Mach jump" and is indicative of encountering shock waves at transonic speeds near the speed of sound. Witnesses on the ground had also reported hearing the tell-tale "BA-BOOM" sound indicative of the sonic boom created by a supersonic vehicle.
Welch flew two of these possible supersonic flights before the X-1 officially broke the sound barrier, one on 1 October 1947 and the other on 14 October, mere minutes before Yeager achieved Mach 1.06. Unfortunately for Welch, his aircraft was not equipped with instrumentation to determine conclusively just how fast he had gone. It was not until 13 November that ground stations were used to measure the speed of the XP-86 in a dive, during which the aircraft was clocked at Mach 1.02 and 1.04 on two separate attempts. Since the dive angles during the measured attempts had been the same as those on his earlier flights and the aircraft had not undergone any modifications, it is quite possible that George Welch was not only the first to fly supersonically in a jet-powered plane, but the first to break the sound barrier as well.
DR. JOSEPH N. YOON
P-47C-5-4E (41-6326), HAROLD E. COMSTOCK, 56th FG, 8TH AF, USAAF
As long as I can remember I've liked Curtiss Wright P-40s, always it seems having held them in the highest regards, primarily because of their close association with the Flying Tigers. However, P-40s invariably seem to get nothing but the short end of the stick when it comes to how good they were as a World War II fighter. A perfect example is what I was told by a former WW II P-47 pilot one day when I was around ten years old as found on a couple of my pages, both of them circulating around trains. In the first I ended up in a train wreck that injured 113 as well as killing the fireman and three passengers, with me escaping uninjured, titled Santa Fe Chief #3774. In the second, I was a couple of years older, albeit not by much, finding me, as the title states Riding the Cab Forwards:
The pilot had flown in both the European and Pacific theaters during World War II and, even though he never claimed to be an Ace, he did say he had a number of kills under his belt, both German and Japanese. When I asked him about the Thunderbolt he had both praise and fault, but mainly lauded their armament and power. He told me P-47s had eight .50 caliber wing mounted machine guns and if all were fired at the same time they could even slow the planes forward momentum. Some 47s he said, even though the Army Air Force never confirmed it, had even broken the sound barrier in steep dives.
The P-47C-1-RE production block differed by having an extra 8-inch section added to the fuselage forward of the firewall giving improved flight characteristics through movement of the center of gravity. The first P-47C (41-6066) was used as a prototype for the fuselage modifications. There were some detail changes to the main undercarriage and brakes. There were also some changes in the tail wheel, and steering was eliminated. There were some changes in the supercharger air ducting. Bob weights were installed in the elevator control system in order to help to overcome the compressibility problems that had made high speed dives in the earlier P-47C extremely dangerous. Latches for linking the engine throttle, propeller, and turbosupercharger were added, which made correlated operation possible by moving a single lever.
On November 13, 1942, Lts. Harold Comstock and Roger Dyar managed to reach indicated airspeeds of 725 mph during high-speed dives in their P-47Cs. This was beyond the speed of sound, which, if accurate, would have made them the first pilots to break the sound barrier.(source)
HAROLD E. COMSTOCK
P-40: THE OBSOLETE WAR HERO
HEAR NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL
Not everything always came up buttercups and roses at Pancho's and my stepmother's. I can't speak specifically about Pancho's per se' as I wasn't personally involved. Except for one time as found in Riding The Cab Forwards where I flew out of her place early one morning with my uncle and a former World War II P-47 Thunderbolt pilot, I really didn't come on the scene until after her place was closed. My stepmother's is a different story. As the "son" of the owner and a young boy at that, I was never perceived as a threat. Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil, if there ever was any in the first place, that is.
If you remember, my stepmother's "ranch" had over two dozen illegal one-arm bandit slot machines in a secret hidden room that had rumors of being tied back to the mob. Boxing matches on weekends that always drew a number of gamblers betting on the outcome of those matches. Some of the gamblers were known to be pretty nefarious, often packing heat with nobody knowing for sure who they were going to use them on, for, when, or if. So too, Pancho's place was a club, that is, a real club, or at least a faux-real club, where an actual dues paying membership was required to access the facilities --- and that membership, as far as service men was concerned, was limited almost exclusively to officers. My stepmother's place had no such restrictions. She used to say, "Officers, enlisted men, ranchers, farmers, truck drivers, Indians, even entertainers, they're all welcome," making my stepmother's a much different mix of clientele, a clientele that wasn't always as sophisticated or as understandings as Pancho's. People were always suspiciously viewing the hostesses and/or casting aspersions toward them and acting toward them in a variety totally uncalled for ways. Misinterpreting roles, true or not, most of them didn't deserve it or earn it at least as far as I viewed as a kid.
One way or the other none of it mattered very much because a lot of the subtle intricacies escaped me, actually or on purpose. My stepmother was a true lady in all sense of the word and her word was her bond. She seemed to do good for everybody. I couldn't wait to spend the summers on the ranch and did so almost every summer of my high school years. I had a number of chores to do while I was there daily and on the weekends, but I also had a lot of free time with my stepmother always making sure I had everything and anything I ever needed.
The summer between my junior and senior year in high school, I was once again back on the ranch. So was the usual cast of characters who had been there all along, including the usual bevy of hostesses. A six or seven piece western band played in the dancehall almost every Saturday night and usually I would go by and hang out most of the night just to listen to them and for something to do. The next morning, as I had during the previous summer, and was considered part of my keep according to my stepmother, usually found me helping the swamper that cleaned up the place following the Saturday night bashes. Typically I would gather up and rinse tons of old beer bottles (usually stuffed with cigarette butts put out in stale beer) and put them back in their cases, empty and wash ashtrays, wipe down tables and chairs, hoe out the restrooms and barf and sweep the dance hall floor and stage with oiled sawdust.
One morning, three or four weeks into me being there for the summer, in the process of making room for more cases of empty beer bottles in the storage area (in those days there was a deposit on the bottles) by switching out full cases with the empty bottles, putting the full ones in a refrigerated area, I came across a sort of bedraggled young woman unconscious on the floor of the storage room, almost hidden away in a darkened far corner. The swamper and I were able to get her to one of the tables in the dancehall, then tried giving her hot coffee, but all to no avail. She had no purse or identification and in a moment of being quasi-lucid she tried to identify herself as being one of the hostesses, although it was clear to both the swamper and me, in that between the two of us we knew all the hostesses, that she wasn't one, at least not one of ours. Not wanting to disturb the "real" hostesses we waited until around noon to see if any of them knew who she was. In the meantime the woman put her head down on her arms on the table and continued to, if not sleep, at least sleep it off.
My stepmother came along and told us to give her a good breakfast and have one of the "girls" clean her up, give her a shower, and find her some half way decent clothes. The next time I saw her I saw an absolutely stunning young woman, maybe 25 or so at the most. I told her I was the one that "found" her and I could tell she rebuffed me, not making eye contact and turning away. In that I found her passed out laying in her own barf on a cold concrete floor with her dress pulled up over her head and no underpants on I was wondering who she thought she was, especially if she was thinking I was no more than some lowly clean-up guy or stable hand with horseshit on his boots that she didn't have to answer to.
Any thoughts like that would have dissipated into thin air rather quickly when my stepmother returned on the scene. She made it clear in her actions that I might have a slightly higher status. Even so, I continued to be the invisible man. My stepmother learned she was a local, living on the opposite side of town from the ranch, the town being to us, although it was quite some distance away, Lancaster, and that she came the night before with some guy. What happened to him or how she ended up unconscious in the storage room she didn't know. My stepmother, making sure she was OK and unhurt in any fashion for any reason told the woman she would have her driven back to town, but would appreciate it if she not come back.
We walked toward the outside of the dance hall where the car was waiting. My stepmother opened the door for her to get in, but just as she was the woman stopped and turned toward me, gave me a little smile and a light touch on the nose. Then in an almost ballerina-like move with a similar grace, with one hand she held her dress out to the side and gave me a slight curtsy followed by a bow, getting into the car. Then it struck me, she was the exact same girl with the cowboy that night he woke me to get out of the seat. She must have rebuffed me because of being embarrassed since I had seen her so close up for so many minutes in such a compromising position.
My stepmother closed the door and the car drove off. Because nothing ever escaped my stepmother, observing the woman's actions, the touch of my nose and all, my stepmother questioned me if there was someway or somehow that I come into contact with the woman previously, that is, did I know her. I told my stepmother how, and she told me to stay away from her, she was bad news, and besides, I was underage. Of course I didn't, discovering several times over the summer why the cowboy felt she was worth searching for.(see)
TV reception was piss-poor and after I complained to my stepmother there were only a couple of fuzzy channels and wasn't much to watch she bought me a Zenith Trans-Oceanic H500 shortwave radio, then brought in and set up on the property a single wide mobile home trailer like a construction office filled inside with a sort of work shop with long benches, overhead fluorescent lighting, all kinds of hand tools and air conditioning provided through what was called a swamp cooler. She also gave me a brand new build-it-yourself Heathkit shortwave radio in a box for me to put together, which over one summer I built totally by myself and that actually worked when I was done.
When I say I totally built the set by myself, I did have some on and off help on occasion. From time to time a certain particular hostess would drop by while I was working on the set and assist --- although I must say she spent more time exposing her rather bountiful cleavage and the rest of her breasts than soldering wires, with me burning my fingers with a soldering iron on more than one occasion trying to nonchalantly reposition myself as best as possible for the least restricted view of her nipples.
Even though I said not everything came up buttercups and roses at my stepmother's, most of the time it did. The biggest time it didn't just happened to involve the single-wide. Although I didn't go to the single-wide and tinker around or work on the Heathkit radio every night, when I did, if I wasn't already there, it was usually somewhere around 7:00 o'clock or so when I showed up. Late one night on a day I hadn't been to the shop since early morning I noticed some, but not all of the fluorescent lights on. When I went in, sprawled on the floor in a definite unconscious state was a woman I recognized as being one of the hostesses, but not the one that usually visited me. Rolling her over the best I could I saw she had a piece of neoprene surgical tubing, the kind like used for a spear gun, wrapped tightly around her upper arm. On the floor by her elbow was a syringe. In the back corner of the trailer, propped up in a sitting position in the dark, was some dude fully dressed in a suit and tie with his shirt pulled out and wearing a hat, but with no shoes or socks. His white shirt was covered in blood practically from his chin to his belt, and like the hostess, totally unresponsive. The bar had all but closed for the night and except for the fry cook who was cleaning up and the bartender all the big shots were gone. At my request, reluctantly the bartender, followed by a couple of hostesses, came to the trailer. After entering and briefly looking over the scene the bartender tried to do what he could to revive the two, with no luck. Even though the girl was still breathing, barely, she wouldn't come to. The bartender got nothing from the man. To me it was clear the he had a least two bullet holes in him, but if he was dead or not I didn't know.
Less than an hour after my stepmother was contacted she arrived and by sunrise there was no sign that anything ever happened. I'm not sure about the man but I was told the hostess was OK, although I never saw her again. I was told to never mention the situation to anybody or acknowledge it ever happened. So too, no county sheriffs or any other law enforcement types showed up in connection with the incident that I was ever aware of either.
When I was in high school, the cypher I was, I don't think anyone even saw me, but I had another life. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year at Redondo Union High while staying on my stepmother's ranch for the first time I had flown up in a private plane to a casino in Searchlight, Nevada with her for some business she had with the owner when a working girl, otherwise known as a "hostess," threw the contents of a half empty glass of ice water toward her, albeit missing her totally. When it appeared the woman was about to lunge toward my stepmother following the water mishap, Martello, the casino owner, seeing my stepmother was pulling a nickel plated .25 semi-automatic Baby Browning out of her purse and with me ducking for cover, maintained the distance between the two by slightly nudging my stepmother around before she got close enough to use the pistol, saying he would take care of it. When summer was over I was back in school like nothing ever happened.
THE WANDERLING AND HIS HIGH SCHOOL CHUMS
When I first ran away from home to find my stepmother I took a Greyhound bus to the town closest to the ranch she used to own in the desert, basically ending up stranded. It was late in the afternoon and just standing in front of the cafe where the bus left me off wondering what to do next when a man in a cowboy hat came out of the cafe. After he walked by he stopped and turned around saying he knew me, that I used to live on a ranch with a bunch of kids not far away a few years ago. Knowing the ranch was shut down or sold, he asked what I was doing in the high desert all alone. I told him my stepmother had bought a new ranch and I was trying to find her and where I was is as far as I got. He told me he had a couple of horses to deliver out across the desert before morning, but after that, if I wanted to tag along, he would help me find her. Considering the idea was better than any of the other options I seemed to have, I nodded in approval and climbed in his truck.
"He got gas, a six pack of beer or two and about dusk we took off heading east across the desert all the while him continuing to swig beer. After stopping at a couple of bars looking for a certain woman he was hoping to hook up with as well as imbibing even more drinks and staying an hour or more at each joint, I finally laid out across the seat of the cab while parked outside one of the bars, and under the continuous on-and-off flashing glow of a Lucky Lager neon sign, fell asleep.
"It was well after midnight heading toward the dawn of a new day when the cowboy shook me awake and told me to get out of the truck he needed the seat. He and a woman crawled into the cab on the shotgun side with him positioning himself on top as best he could while she pulled up her dress and knees, going at it for about 20 minutes. When they were done she got out, gave me a little smile and a light touch on the nose while she straightened out her hair and dress. In an almost ballerina-like move with a similar grace, with one hand she held her dress out to the side and gave me a slight curtsy followed by a bow, then using both hands lifted her dress all the way up fully showing me her exposed pie. The cowboy started the truck and without a word between the two of them off we went leaving the woman standing in the closed bar parking lot all alone in the dark holding both of her shoes to her side while leaving her underpants on the floor of the truck cab under my feet. In the process that night the cowboy and the lady added a whole new dimension to my budding young life as to what love was all about."THE CODE MAKER, THE ZEN MAKER