THE BOY AND HIS JEEP


ADVENTURES IN THE DESERT



ZEN AND THE ART OF FOUR WHEEL DRIVE

the Wanderling


"The ad offered surplus jeeps for $278.00. There were literally hundreds of scams around right after the war saying you could buy surplus jeeps from $50.00 and up and that's what most of them were, scams. After looking into it my dad discovered he could actually purchase a brand new, or at least never used, World War II Jeep for $225.00 cash right off the docks in San Francisco, which in reality turned out to be not docks in San Francisco, but across the bay in the naval ship yards at Vallejo or Alameda."

PARAGRAPH EIGHT, BELOW


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(for additional pages click image)


When I was a young boy growing up my grandfather worked in some capacity for the railroad. Just at the start of World War II they moved him from the Pacific Northwest to the Southern California area, relocating and settling in not far from where we lived. However, because of the war effort and the sudden large influx of people into Southern California related to that effort, housing was quickly becoming more and more difficult to come by. So said, at least in the short term, my grandfather and grandmother, as long as the railroad was willing to pay for it, they stayed in a hotel. From what I can remember it was my first experience of any significance dealing in any fashion with a hotel. There were bellhops, people who asked if there was anything they could get you, and what was called a hospitality suite. The hospitality suite had all kinds of stuff just for the taking. Donuts, fruit, drinks. It also had big plush chairs and couches as well as newspapers and all kinds of magazines.

One of the magazines was Life dated March 30, 1942, Vol. 12, No. 13, long linked on my Flying Tigers page. Of course I didn't remember the date or volume number at the time, but I do remember the issue. My older brother found a copy of it in the hospitality suite and inside was a lengthy predominantly photographic article about the Flying Tigers. I didn't specifically know what the Flying Tigers were at the time, but I remember him running all around yelling to my dad, "Flying Tigers, Flying Tigers," then a big fuss made all over him and the article. The point? The exact same picture of a shark-nosed P-40 with fly boys in a jeep in front of it appeared in that war time Life article, and is the same picture I use as the opening graphic at the top of this page.(see)

My older brother running all around all excited waving the article yelling, "Flying Tigers, Flying Tigers," with my mom and dad and younger brother all there along with my grandparents was probably the first time I ever heard the words Flying Tigers uttered or ever saw a picture of a jeep. Little did I know those happy semi easy going family days were numbered. With my brothers and I still young kids, after a quickly established but months and months long lingering illness, our mother died and the family disintegrated, dispersed to the four winds, with my father heavy into alcohol.

Several years later my dad got his act together and remarried. The woman he married, my new Stepmother, was a woman my dad had known long before I was even born. She had never been married nor had she ever had any kids of her own, but she was however, quite wealthy. In her new found role of motherhood she noticed my younger brother and myself, along with a bunch of other neighborhood kids, spent an inordinate amount of time 'playing cowboys' --- with cowboy hats, cap guns, holsters, boots, etc., and in doing so we often ended up in the street. Using her logic, she thought, what could be better than having their own real ranch to play on, especially so, not in the street. So that's what she did, bought a ranch.


GUNS, HORSE MANURE, AND ARMY SURPLUS JEEPS

That ranch, actually the first of two, was located in the high desert of the Mojave, encompassing a whole section of land in size, that is, one square mile, with ten acres set aside in one corner for the ranch house, barn, and horse corrals. No sooner had my stepmother bought the ranch than my brothers and I, basically all city born and raised, moved in, doing all kinds of ranch stuff like ride horses, mend fences like ranch owners were always doing on TV, and shovel horse manure like has to be done in real life. We also did other real important things too, like shoot guns, of which the ranch house had a number of --- some on the wall and above the doors such as a lever action 30-30 Winchester, a shotgun or two, a couple of .22 rifles, and a very rare antique 1847 black powder percussion revolver called a Colt Walker which was usually kept in a case. Every once in a while I would take the 4.5 pound Colt from the case and run around playing cowboys with it, sometimes even mixing genres by wielding the colt in one hand and a Buck Rogers Disintegrator in the other. In that the Colt was a black powder revolver and since nobody knew how to load it and everybody was afraid to, it was never loaded, although in later years the Colt was sent to a gunsmith for some reason or the other and while there the gunsmith let me fire three rounds through it.

Nearly as quick as we moved onto the ranch than my dad, who along with my stepmother remained living in the city, started to look around for tractors and all kinds of farming and ranch equipment, causing the local dealers to drool at the mouth over the prospect of a new rube. What they didn't know was that my dad was a long way from being a rube. He was an old time desert hand, knowing what was in it and how to handle it, having in his youth, lived and prospected for gold all over the eastern side of the High Sierras as well as the California, Nevada, and Arizona deserts.

Instead of any traditional farm or ranch equipment to speak of, and as pretty and beautiful and shiny the bright green and yellow John Deere tractors and combines looked on the showroom floor, my dad decided on other things. A hand-operated concrete block making machine and a four wheel drive World War II jeep. My dad went crazy making concrete blocks, he made so many until he tired of it we even had a concrete block outhouse somewhere out on the property. In the meantime, even though none of us kids were old enough to drive the jeep legitimately on any of the paved roads around or near the ranch, on the dirt roads and the scrub brush desert lands surrounding the ranch, as well as on the ranch itself, we drove it constantly all the time all over the place.

Although a lot of people think it is a lot of horse manure, my dad actually bought the jeep after answering an ad similar to the one below. The ad offered surplus jeeps for $278.00. There were literally hundreds of scams around right after the war saying you could buy surplus jeeps from $50.00 and up and that's what most of them were, scams. However, after really looking into it he discovered he could actually purchase a brand new, or at least never used, World War II Jeep for $225.00 cash right off the docks in San Francisco, which in reality turned out to be not docks in San Francisco, but across the bay in the naval ship yards at Vallejo or Alameda. I know because I went with him.




I still remember showing up, just a kid, with my dad and brothers. The whole dockyard, shipyard area turned out to be a huge labyrinth of buildings, cranes, railroad tracks, and narrow roadways squeezed between navy-gray single level and multi-story structures with up high, painted over glass windows, some broken, some propped open on an angle. Throughout the whole of World War II my dad worked in the construction and repair of Liberty ships on Terminal Island in the Long Beach, San Pedro area and one thing he knew was dock and piers of shipyards. He took us through the maze as though he had been there a million times. On the docks or the land adjacent to the docks between the buildings and the open bay were literally hundreds and hundreds of jeeps lined up row after row along with other rows with all kinds of other military hardware and equipment. The jeeps themselves had been taken right off the factory assembly line to the docks months before for transshipment to the South Pacific just as the war ended and when I was there with my dad as a kid, all of them were still just sitting there gathering dust and getting flat tires. Others weren't even assembled, still in boxes or crates, tires and everything.




Except for one thing other than learning a new word and having it added to my vocabulary, i.e., cosmoline, which I overheard and never experienced, saw, or touched, I don't recall anything specifically about the logistics of how or what my dad had to do to get the jeep. I don't recall how long it took, how much paperwork he had to shuffle, or how the jeep was prepared so we could drive it home, only that it was and we did --- drive it home, that is. The one thing I do remember is that the man who sold my dad the jeep told him he couldn't pick it up until the next day because of some longshoreman rule. Like I said, my dad worked in the shipyards on Terminal Island and knowing the ins-and-outs brought two longshoremen with him and the man who sold my dad the jeep gave it to him. The two longshoremen were provided by a longtime old friend of my stepmother named Johnny Roselli and when the man in charge of the jeeps heard about it from the longshoremen I guess he thought letting my dad take the jeep was most likely the most expedient thing to do.

As it was, it was a good thing that the two longshoremen were there that day because not only did my dad buy a jeep he also bought a World War II Army ambulance. With both a jeep and an ambulance a problem arose on how to get two vehicles back to the ranch. The problem was solved when my dad hired one of the longshoremen to drive it to the ranch. Actually both of them went and how or what route the took or how much my dad paid them I never learned. I do remember my dad and my brothers and I had a big argument as to which of the two vehicles we would use. My dad wanted to drive the ambulance saying since it was enclosed it would be much more comfortable than the open air jeep. All us kids wanted to use the jeep, of which we eventually took. My dad threw all kinds of extra jeep stuff like tops, side curtains, tools, tires and things into the back of the ambulance and off the two longshoremen went.




During the heat of the summer my dad wasn't about to drive down California's central valley on Highway 99 nor did he want to go east clear across the state and over the Sierras to use the 395, although once to either highway it would have been the most direct route to the ranch. Instead he chose to drive down the California coastline on Highway 1 --- and what a trip it was no matter what highway we would have used. A jeep, no top, my dad and three kids, no real back seats and all before seat belt days. At first the jeep wouldn't go over 45 miles an hour. When we stopped to get gas for the first time and with my dad complaining, the attendant, who had been in the Army and knew about jeeps said it was because of a "governor," a device or some such thing the Army put on vehicles to ensure they weren't driven too fast. The attendant took a screwdriver, fiddled with a few things, and the next thing we knew the jeep could do over 60! A couple of days later after camping along the way we were back at the ranch. Parked along the road outside the gate, with no longshoremen anywhere to be found, was the Army ambulance.[1]


Not everybody who reads my works catches on to the idea that when I write about me and my stepmother in conjunction with a ranch she owned, that there were actually two very separate and distinct ranches and ranch experiences. Some readers, not realizing it, have a tendency run of blend the two times and ranches together, which is easy enough to do. Except for me being the only constant between the two and maybe my stepmother, each of the two experiences actually involved completely different ranches, sets of people, and times

The first ranch experience revolved or centered around me as a young basically grade school kid along with my older and younger brothers and several other kids my stepmother more-or-less supported or took care of in some fashion, all living on a ranch she bought just for that purpose. Neither she nor my dad lived or stayed on the ranch, staying in the city, i.e., Los Angeles, and mostly coming up on the weekends if at all, on a semi-regular basis. Even then the two of them didn't stay at the ranch per se.' They stayed at a place several miles away from the ranch she designed and built that she named the "Stone House," built in what was called a Palm Springs style, complete with a swimming pool and all.

The second ranch experience found me just entering my teen years and starting my first year in high school. I didn't live on that second ranch, only spending the summers there during my high school years. My stepmother, after having just returned from a two year absence living and traveling in Mexico and South America, then divorcing my dad after she got back, bought what was a deserted, pretty much failed 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, a dance hall with a stage and live entertainment, along with rodeos and boxing matches on rotating weekends. It also had at least two dozen one-armed-bandit slot machines in a secret hidden room, plus like I always love to say, an ever present flock hostesses.(see)

The above purchasing of the jeep occurred during my my first ranch experience when I was around eight to ten years old. During that two year plus period I actually lived on the ranch full time and went to school while living there --- the fourth or fifth grade, possibly both or parts thereof, maybe even some of the sixth. When the onslaught or the heat of the summer came on full force, for the most part, all us kids spent it camping out and living off the land in the High Sierras, which is most aptly described in Franklin Merrell-Wolff, a man I met on one of our excursions deep into the mountains. The whole of that first ranch experience fell apart when my dad and stepmother left for South America for two years, with the ranch being sold right out of underneath us and my brothers and I separated and farmed out to live with foster couples and restarting new schools However, even though my dad and stepmother divorced and left the country for two years and my brothers and I went our separate ways during that same period, the exact same jeep my dad bought off the docks in San Francisco stuck around and actually showed up on the new ranch my stepmother bought for my second ranch experience.


IT NEVER FAILS: JEEP TRAILS, JEEP TALES, AND JEEPS ON RAILS

Any young kid growing up who had a jeep in their childhood, especially one of the early World War II jeeps, more than likely have a million stories to tell. I have a few myself, some minor, some humorous, some inconsequential, others of major proportions and forever unforgettable. From a young boy searching for gold to fighting fires through to my adolescent years racing locomotives across raw desert land as fast as the jeep would go, I've had a bit of both or all.

On the humorous side, one night a bunch of us kids took the jeep out into the desert to camp out overnight. Military jeeps didn't have keys, but instead a switch. In that the jeep was always parked out in the open and easily accessible to nearly anyone my dad had it fitted with a key. My older brother, who did most of the driving put the key into an empty can for the night when we hit the sack. The next morning the key was gone. In the middle of the night a pack rat had switched what he thought was an equal exchange in the can for the keys. We searched all over in the rocks and boulders eventually finding his abode. Inside we found the keys. Unfortunately we had to tear a major portion of his house apart to get them. On another jeep trip we were again sleeping out overnight and someone saw the reflections of eyes from the fire on some animals in the rocks. Thinking they might be mountain lions or some such thing all of us kids stayed up all night watching and hoping we wouldn't get eaten. The next morning when the sun came up the animals turned out to be a bunch of sheep that had come down from higher up and seeing we were blocking their way to go any farther they just holed up for the night.

Even though my first cousin and older brother were three years older than the next kid in our group, me, neither were anywhere near being old enough to have a drivers license. However, that didn't stop either of them from using the jeep as though they did. If the timing was right they would take the jeep and cut across the open desert land between the ranch and town in such a way that we could practically make it all the way without ever using any formal roads. At least to the fringes of town. I say "we" because my older brother and cousin always took the rest of us kids as cover in case they got caught, my uncle invariably being easier on the group compared to just the two of them alone.

One of my best friends in school at the time, although it wasn't as reciprocal at the level as I would have liked, was a girl named Ann Welch, who just happened to be not only the smartest kid, but the best looking girl in the whole school as well. Her father owned and ran the only drive-in restaurant in town, matter of fact, the only drive-in for miles around, Welch's Drive In. When we could get away with it and able to put enough money together to make it worthwhile, all of us kids would pile into the jeep and cut out across the desert, parking in the drive-in by sneaking through the scrub brush the back way. I always liked to go because it gave me a chance to see Ann in a non-school environment and look a little like a rebel by flaunting the rules.

I don't recall specifically if it was Ann or her father or both who claimed they were related to George S. Welch, a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, of which the air base wasn't that far from the ranch. George S. Welch just happened to be one of the two P-40 pilots that got off the ground during the attack on Pearl Harbor, the other being Kenneth M. Taylor. Between the two of them on the morning of the attack they took out six to eight Japanese planes. I was continually after the father and daughter to meet George, but it never happened. He was killed testing a plane at Muroc Dry Lake a couple years after I was there.


TAKING OUT THE FIRST MEATBALL
KENNETH M. TAYLOR, PEARL HARBOR, AND THE P-40


Some distance from the ranch, on the north face of the mountains south of us, was a year around fresh water creek called Little Rock Creek that fed into a man-made concrete-dammed lake called the Little Rock Reservoir. Sometimes on really hot days we would take the jeep and go over there just to splash around in the water to cool off. Not far from the dam was the remains of an old adobe structure originally dating back to the 1860s or before that was at onetime called the Garcia Adobe. As the story went, what was left of the adobe after it was abandoned and fell into a certain disrepair it was destroyed by treasure hunters. Apparently back in the old days there was a semi-notorious highwayman who operated in the general area by the name of Llargo. One day there was a fairly good size gold shipment going by stagecoach to San Francisco from Los Angels and Llargo, who had taken up residence in the adobe, held up the stage, got the gold, and made a clean getaway --- for a short time. He was killed in an attempted capture, but the gold was never found. Most people figured he hid it in or around the adobe and since then, over the years, a stream of treasure hunters have torn the place apart and dug holes all around the surrounding area.

One day my dad showed up at the ranch with an Army surplus mine detector saying he wanted to trace out some waterlines on the property. Us kids, eyeing the possibility of another use, decided to take the detector over to the adobe and search for the gold. My uncle, liking the idea went along. While we were searching we noticed fire trucks heading up toward the top of the mountains and not long after that we could see smoke and then fire along the ridge line. Although the fire was still some distance away my uncle suggested we should probably get out while we could. Before we had a chance firefighters or forest rangers stopped us and requested the use of the jeep and recruited my uncle and the two older boys to fight along the fire line, taking me and the rest of the kids up to the main operations base. I guess they thought the whole thing would be over in a matter of hours. Instead it took three days before in was under control enough for us to leave. In the meantime me, my younger brother and the other kids joined in serving food, cleaning equipment, and generally did whatever we were asked. On the third day I was serving chow and my uncle, brother, and cousin came through the line and none of us could believe each others eyes. They were all dirty and ragged and so tired they could hardly stand up. Eventually the jeep was returned and we made it back to the ranch. However, we never did find any gold and I'm not sure what happened to the mine detector.


My next encounter with the jeep takes place several years later, just before my second ranch experience wherein I start staying on the my stepmother's new ranch during the summers while in high school. Two are on the more intense side and involved not only the jeep but the ranch foreman, locomotives, and railroad trains as well. The first is a little more mellow, but it sets the stage for the experiences that come and starts during the summer just prior to entering the ninth grade.

In those waning months of summer just before high school found me having run away from the home of the foster couple I was living with in an attempt to find my stepmother --- who I learned had just returned from two years in Mexico and South America, and was in the process of buying a new ranch somewhere in the high desert. Although, no doubt I ran away from home for any number of reasons, none of which I remember specifically, the straw that broke the camel's back was basically because of the following as found in the source so cited:


"As I was reading the comic for the 100th time the woman of the foster couple, seeing the story I was reading was about a redheaded woman like my mother, grabbed it out of my hands and threw it across the room yelling at me to get over it, my mother was dead and long gone, and she was my mother now. It couldn't have hurt more if someone had jammed an icepick into the base of my skull."

FIREHAIR: Queen of the Sagebrush Frontier


Even though my stepmother was totally impressed with the fact that I ran away just to be with her, in that she had just divorced my dad, she felt it would be best we get in touch with him --- since she had no legal authority over me --- and see what we 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 her or to locate my father, telling the woman that I was in good care and everything was OK. The woman of the couple was in no way interested telling my stepmother in so many words just to keep me. In turn my stepmother contacted my uncle to see if he had any idea where my dad was. He didn't, but told her 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 knowing me 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.

A few days later Leo, the ranch foreman, shook me awake during the early morning hours just before sunrise, throwing me and what few things I could gather together into the jeep and taking me west out across the desert. He told me that for reasons unknown, the pick up spot had been changed from a friend's ranch who had an airfield to a basically abandoned old wartime double 'X' airstrip called Victory Field located out in the middle of the desert about halfway between Willow Springs and Quartz Hill just on the eastside of 90th Street West. We arrived about a half hour early giving me enough time to wander around some of the weed covered landing strip and through a couple of dilapidated dome-like structures that were at onetime somehow related to the airstrip operations before it was abandoned. The plane set down, Leo handed the pilot what looked like a couple hundred bucks, and shortly after that I was on my way to Santa Fe in the back seat of a World War II era North American AT-6.


Every now and then while I was in high school, especially so the last two years after getting a drivers licence and my own a car, I would go up to my stepmother's just for the heck of it. Sometimes I might stay only for the weekend, other times, say like spring vacation or something, maybe longer. There was always big going on's on the weekends, plus the ever present bevy of hostesses. One day, and the first time ever, I asked a high school buddy along. We borrowed his dad's pick-up with a camper installed on the back called a Telescopic Tuck-Away, a pretty much fully equipped camper with a stove, sink, table, lights, bunks, and fridge. It was built in such a way that the height could be adjusted up or down using a crank. While driving the top could be kept in the lower position, the same height at the truck cab. When in use as a camper it could be cranked up making all kinds of head room and interior space. After borrowing the pick-up camper the two of us headed out toward my stepmother's place in the high desert, borrowing the ranch jeep. We removed the front driveshaft for easier towing, hooked up the jeep to the back of the truck, and without staying overnight, took off. Our destination? Lovelock, Nevada, 80 or 90 miles east of Carson City located about 350 miles north of the ranch. Why Lovelock? Because of something I heard from my dad:


"(My dad) was always reading pulp western and science fiction magazines and in the process came across a story one day that said located way out in the middle of the desert wasteland near Lovelock, Nevada, there existed an ancient cave that had at onetime within it's cavern depths the skeletal remains of giant humans, red haired humans of a huge size, eight or ten foot tall or more. He said the women would have been twice as tall as my mother at 4 foot 11 inches who also had red hair. We, the near to graduating and deeply educated super-bright intellectual powerhouses that my buddy and I were, after hearing the story, like someone driven to see the world's largest ball of yarn, decided we couldn't live quietly the rest of our lives if we didn't go see the caves and its contents ourselves. So, with no real clue as to what we were doing, off we went, using the camper for comfort and the jeep to traverse the wasteland to find red haired skeletons twice the height of my red haired mother."(see)


In Carson City one morning having breakfast a woman sat down at our booth telling us she worked for a local brothel. She said in her line of work she met all kinds of people and in the process of that work knew a man who could show us the artifacts we were interested in. In the middle of the night, after meeting in some bar, we took the jeep to an abandoned miner's shack on the side of some remote desert mountain. There, while being shown the artifacts, the woman grabbed what I would consider one of the more important ones and took off in the jeep with me right behind her. While being pursued we suddenly screeched to a stop and she switched to a dirt bike, escaping out across the desert leaving me sitting there like I was an accomplice. Before I had a chance to do anything somebody took a shot at me yelling for me to lay face down in the dirt. When I did I had sand and rocks kicked in my face, with the kicker's heavy boot making hard contact against the side of my head as I turned away as best I could. Re the following from the source so cited:


"Sometime later, after being out, I groggily came to, sitting up with the blazing hot sun burning down on me, all my clothes gone, dried blood matted in my hair on the side of my head. After a quick search there was no sign of my clothes. I figured he must have gone through every stitch of them searching for the keys, but why he didn't just discard them somewhere close by I have no clue. Bloodied head or not I was glad he didn't just up and shoot me, or worse yet as I viewed it, in that I was still alive, find me amorously attractive in my unconscious and nude state. I dug around for the keys, started the jeep and headed in the direction I thought the main road should be, sitting all the while on a super hot sun heated drivers seat with my bare butt."

THE JEEP, NEVADA, AND THE RED-HAIRED GIANTS


The next two jeep experiences are, like the last one, a little on the intense side. Like the above, both took place during the second ranch experience, but besides the jeep and the ranch foreman also involved locomotives and railroad trains as well. The other difference is that during both of the two I am actually living on the ranch for the whole summer, where the one involving the AT-6 I had just run away and my stepmother hadn't even fully established herself with her new ranch, having only just returned from South America and divorcing my dad. The Red-Haired Giant experience she and her ranch were well established, but I was just going up to visit her on-and-off during the school year.

Sometime approaching the very last day of June 1944 when I was around six years old or so, I was put on a passenger train in Pennsylvania headed toward Chicago, traveling with who I do not know. If it was or was not the same couple described in The Last American Darshan who took me to India without approval of my family after my mother died and then, upon their return to the U.S., just dumping me off in Pennsylvania at my grandmother's on my father's side unannounced has never been determined.

In Chicago I boarded the premier all Pullman first class passenger train to Los Angeles, the Number 19 Santa Fe Chief. Toward midnight of July 3, 1944, between Flagstaff, Arizona and Williams, on a high speed downhill run and behind schedule, the Chief's locomotive, a powerful Baldwin built 4-8-4 Northern with 80 inch drive wheels and clocking out at over 90 miles per hour, hit a marked 55 mph speed limit curve, with the locomotive, bearing the Santa Fe identification #3774, derailing and sliding in the dirt on it's side off the tracks for nearly the length of two football fields before coming to a stop. The rest of the 14 car train ended up in various stages of derailment and wreckage on and off the track, some cars remaining upright with two actually staying on the tracks undamaged. The fireman and three passengers were killed. 113 passengers along with 13 train employees injured, among them the severely injured engineer, with me being one of the passengers escaping unharmed.

During a good portion of my childhood years, and especially so the years following the wreck, my uncle, under the auspices of my stepmother, more-or-less oversaw me in a guardianship position. By the time I reached the start of my high school years, with no thanks to my dad who basically sent him packing because he didn't like the fact that my uncle and I were going to Europe to meet Picasso, and no matter because of my uncle I met Albert Einstein, he was still out of the picture, being superseded in his role by either foster parents or my grandmother. However, when my stepmother had been in the picture, she and my uncle had formed a fabulous working relationship. It was my stepmother that put together the package that ensured my uncle was my guardian. It was she that picked up the tab on all of our adventures. And it was she that pulled all the strings getting us out of any misadventures we were always finding ourselves in.

In any case, out of the picture or not, nine years later, in July of 1953, my uncle, who was now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, knowing I was staying on the ranch for the summer, called my stepmother to tell her he had been in Las Vegas, New Mexico, not far from Santa Fe, a few hours before sunset, and saw what he called a highly unusual set of circumstances. What he saw was a steam locomotive, and not diesel during a time when most of the steam locomotives had been sidelined, go through town headed west pulling a special Boy Scout train on its way to Santa Ana, California for the Boy Scout Jamboree. What made what he saw so unusual was not only that the locomotive doing the pulling was steam and most people would have figured it would have been put out of business, but it was nothing less than the #3774, the exact same locomotive that had been pulling the train I was on when it crashed. He didn't know if it was going to be the motive power all the way through to the Los Angeles area or not, but even if not it should be going at least to Barstow and possibly down into the Cajon Pass sometime the next day, roughly 15 hours or so from the time of his phone call.




My stepmother, knowing how important the #3774 was in my life, immediately dispatched both the ranch foreman and me in the jeep out across the desert toward Barstow to try and catch it. We reached Barstow before the train, so we headed out on Route 66 to try and intercept the train as far east as we could and follow it back. Which we did. Cutting across the desert in the jeep from 66 to the AT&SF mainline, then racing the locomotive parallel side-by-side the best we could using the barely discernible rock strewn and no bridges service road along side the tracks into Barstow is a ride I'll never forget.




The locomotive, just like my uncle said, was #3774. If it went any further west than Barstow is not clear, however, an expert we talked to said no Class 3765s, of which the #3774 was, went through the Cajon Pass in 1953 at any time, including on the Boy Scout specials. It seems that Barstow was as far as it got.


THE FATE OF THE SANTA FE LOCOMOTIVE #3774



NAVY BAILS ON THEIR SAILS, THEN HAILS RAILS

Most of the military personnel that showed up at my ex-stepmother's ranch were fly boys from nearby Edwards Air Force Base. However, a number of Navy personnel showed up from China Lake on a regular basis, and a number of those were old navy buddies of the ranch foreman. There were always wide open goings-on in the bar and dance hall on Saturday nights, especially during the summer, and Sunday morning would almost always find a bunch of GIs laying around nurturing hangovers. Although I was there during the summer as the son of the owner it was not like I was a prince. My ex-stepmother had a whole series of jobs for me to do around the place to "earn my keep" as she would often tell me. One of those jobs, besides shoveling horse manure and cow dung after the once-a-month weekend rodeos, was to help the swamper that cleaned up the place following the Saturday night bashes by gathering up and rinsing tons of old beer bottles (usually stuffed with cigarette butts put out in stale beer), emptying and washing ashtrays, wiping down tables and chairs, hoeing out the restrooms and barf and sweeping the dance hall floor and stage with oiled sawdust.

Invariably on those Sunday mornings the ranch foreman Leo, the ex-sailor that he was, besides being a Pacific Fleet boxing champion, would hold court with a number of Navy guys sobering up over coffee and having a little breakfast.

On one of those Sunday mornings, a number of those sailors that had been stationed in San Diego at one time or the other brought up the fact that a weird and little-known railroad sometimes called the Southern Pacific’s San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway and sometimes called by other names that used to run passengers into Mexico from San Diego and clear over to the desert near El Centro and back that all of them had used going into and out of Mexico from San Diego had shut down passenger service after years and years of running the service. They came up with this big idea that turned out to be probably my biggest jeep adventure of all time. One of the sailors said he had seen where a jeep could be adapted to run on railroad tracks so we should take the ranch jeep down there, fix it to ride on the rails, and drive it into Mexico and the U.S. One of the other guys piped in saying that during the war, at least during the early part of the war, 1942 or so, when he was stationed in San Diego, the Army had regular patrols along the railway looking for saboteurs and that he had met a soldier that said that's exactly what they did, fixed up jeeps so they could run on the rails. Everybody figured, what the heck, if the Army could do, so could the Navy and most likely, even better.

The next thing I knew a bunch of sailors with Leo driving and me tagging along headed south toward the Mexican border. According to Leo we would be crossing the border into Mexico at Tecate about 20 miles south east of San Diego. Leo said he knew we could pick up the railroad tracks in an isolated area a short distance east out of town. Everybody was jumping up and down all for it like a bunch of drunken sailors --- of which they were. Leo figured the only way we could get away with it was for the whole thing to be done on the QT, especially me not saying one word to my stepmother. Not worried my stepmother would stop it, but not wanting to be blocked from going I most dutifully complied. Once we decided to go and head for Tecate the whole thing was approached it like a secret mission.




Somebody in the group contacted a buddy that was quickly able to track down an old dockside warehouse where the Army had stashed, dumped, got rid of, or simply thrown their old jeep-rail adaptation equipment, the guy telling Leo that as far as he was able to tell all of it still looked to be in pretty damn good shape. The buddy said there was no need for any money to exchange hands for the equipment and parts needed to adapt the jeep to be driven on railroad tracks IF he and a couple of friends could join in, which was agreeable by all.

By the time we reached Tecate the guy along with a few buddies and a one time World War II former Army technical sergeant who had done a lot of installations of the same equipment on jeeps during the war, were waiting, having crossed into Mexico at San Yasidro. In a dirt field on a little spur line behind a brewery not far from the border the men went to work, and not too long after that both jeeps, thanks to the technical sergeant, were on the tracks and ready to go. Jeep cans for both vehicles were filled with water and gas. Sometime before midnight on the night of a full moon one of the men switched the spur so the jeeps could drive onto the mainline and off our two jeep caravan headed east toward the U.S. and the town of Campo, the technical sergeant opting to stay back after saying there was to much crazy Navy for him.

So there we were heading down the tracks with no technical sergeant, a two-car jeep train with Leo and me in the lead jeep with the headlights on, the other jeep taking up the rear with no headlights on so in the dark they wouldn't shine all over us. Traveling in good sections at over 40 miles per hour we went through Jacumba, crossed over the Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge and got off the tracks near Ocotillo. A short time after that the guys had all the ride on railroad tracks stuff off the jeeps with both of them back in good order. After breakfast in El Centro we went our separate ways, with Leo, me, and the sailors we came down with headed north through Cochella Valley back toward the ranch. As far as I know nobody knew we did it nor nobody saw us. At least it has never been reported as such.



PLEASE CLICK MAP FOR INTERACTIVE VIDEO OF ROUTE

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GHOST P-40: LORE, LEGENDS AND HER WHEREABOUTS


THE JEEP, NEVADA, AND THE RED-HAIRED GIANTS


THE EL REY CLUB: RESORT, CASINO, BROTHEL


1942: THE GREAT LOS ANGELES AIR RAID


CHENNAULT AND HIS FLYING TIGERS


P-40: THE OBSOLETE WAR HERO


GHOST AND HAUNTED B-29


P-40 GOOSE SHOOT


P-40 WARHAWK
PEARL HARBOR SURVIVOR


(please click images)

WORLD WAR II SURPLUS JEEPS
NEW, STILL IN A BOX FOR $50.00

NOT! NOT! NOT!
(please click images)


CLICK
HERE FOR
ENLIGHTENMENT

ON THE RAZOR'S
EDGE


E-MAIL
THE WANDERLING

(please click)


SO, DID THE WANDERLING FLY?

(please click)



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.


















THE ARMY AMBULANCE:

This whole page has to do in some fashion with the jeep my dad bought that ended up on the ranches of my stepmother and I interacted with as a young boy. There is, however, one story that involves the Army ambulance my dad bought, from the source so linked, that goes like:

My mother died while I was a very young age. Most of my childhood following her death was spent living with people other than my father. I did, however, starting around age ten years or so spend time with him once in awhile on weekend trips and parts of a couple of summer vacations. Those trips usually circulated around fishing, camping and gold prospecting in his favorite haunts along the eastside of the Sierras and into the desert in and around Death Valley. To facilitate his trips, as long as I could remember he always owned four-wheel drive vehicles. On one of the trips he picked me up in a World War II army ambulance he fixed up like a camper. We were headed north up the 14 from Los Angeles toward the 395 and got as far as Red Rock Canyon when the front U-joint on the rear-drive drive shaft came loose allowing the it to drop to the highway and bending the shaft beyond use. Any other time it would not have been a problem because he could have driven just using the front wheels. However, on this trip, for highway driving, he had removed the front drive shaft. When he went to get it out of the back of the truck he discovered he somehow left it in Los Angeles. He decided to hitchhike back to L.A. and pick up the shaft, but, figuring traveling with a kid might present a hindrance, he left me for a few days at the rather rustic mining camp of a friend of his by the name of Walter Bickel.

Typically he would have stopped in Cantil, a small town just to the east of Red Rock Canyon where the truck broke down, to see a good friend of my stepmother's by the name of Pancho Barnes. However, my dad and stepmother were going into, getting or just got a divorce and he did not want to explain it all to Barnes.

Bickel, who just happened to live in a place called Last Chance Canyon right next to Red Rock Canyon, and my dad went way, way back. They were both born in the same year, 1905, and in the same month less that two weeks apart. They met in the goldfields very early on. My dad made it a habit to stop by and see Bickel on a regular basis during his forays into the desert, but, even though my dad and I did not travel all that much together, and I wasn't with him at the time, it was my second visit to the camp.

In an essay written by the past Curator of the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, California, the following is found:


"Last Chance Canyon was not the first experience Walt had with mining, but 'it was the first place I panned enough gold to think there might be more.' He prospected for gold and silver all over the upper Mojave Desert, from Jawbone Canyon to Owens Lake and into Nevada and Arizona. He originally saw the Last Chance Canyon area in 1927 while on the way to Nevada with a friend. It apparently made an impression because, in 1933, when he met a man in Mojave who had a mine in Last Chance Canyon, Walt and a friend had enough interest to go with him to see his mine." (source)


The 1927 friend was my father, not so sure about the 1933 friend. Bickel married in 1928 and my dad in 1931. Both started families shortly thereafter interfering with the close contact they had previously. See:


ALEX APOSTOLIDES






















CLICK TO RETURN


















The above photo, used as the opening photo at the top of the page, showing several men dressed in khaki military-like garb sitting in a jeep in front of a Flying Tiger adorned P-40, as mentioned in the text is from an article published in Life Magazine dated March 30, 1942, Vol. 12, No. 13. I cite the same article in my page on Flying Tigers.

It just so happens the man sitting in the jeep on the shotgun side is one Jack Newkirk, known as Scarsdale Jack, a top ace for the American Volunteer Group, or the A.V.G. as the Flying Tigers were so officially designated. Newkirk was killed in action. The following quote is found in the Jack Newkirk link below. Notice the cover date of the Life magazine and the date below regarding Newkirk:


"On March 24, 1942 two groups of A.V.G. pilots, one from the 1st Squadron and another composed of pilots of the 2nd Squadron, took off toward Chiang Mai with a plan for one group to hit the Japanese held Chiang Mai airfield while the other group was to attack a smaller field at Lampang. Jack Newkirk's group flew south looking for Japanese aircraft at Lampang and finding it empty began hitting nearby targets of opportunity. Although there is some dispute as to what actually happened, it is said Newkirk, while coming in low began strafing a column of Japanese armored vehicles and was hit by groundfire. His P-40, in a possible attempt at a hard landing hit the ground at a high rate of speed, ripping off a wing. All reports indicate he was killed instantly."


JACK NEWKIRK OF THE FLYING TIGERS


LIFE MAGAZINE: MARCH 30, 1942, VOL 12, NO.13 (VERSION I)


LIFE MAGAZINE: MARCH 30, 1942, VOL 12, NO.13 (VERSION II)


LIFE MAGAZINE: MARCH 30, 1942, VOL 12, NO.13 (VERSION III)




THE LADY AND THE TIGERS



















RED HAIRED GIANTS, RED HAIRED WOMEN, RED HAIRED MOTHERS

In the years before high school, not unlike any number of young boys growing up, I held an inordinate amount of comic book heroes and super heroes in high esteem. While most of my peers seemed to lean heavily toward Superman and Batman, at the top of my list was Captain Midnight, followed more-or-less a couple of rungs down by Captain Marvel. There was, however, another comic book hero right up there with my favorites that fell into the heroine bracket. Her character centered around a woman who, according to the storyline, had been found near death and saved by Native Americans. She was then adopted into the Dakota Tribe who gave her the name Firehair because of her red hair.




In several places, usually in relation to Firehair and right here in the above text as a matter of fact, I write that both my mother and her sister had beautiful long red hair. In that they were so close together age-wise and looked so much alike almost everybody mistook them for twins. Although I do not remember much about my mother I remember my aunt very well, and because of their look alikeness I always felt I had a good idea of what my mother looked like. In conjunction with Firehair, as a young boy I always held a certain affinity towards her character because I liked to believe that my mother, with her red hair and all, would have been like her, maybe even, since I never went to her funeral, found by Indians and saved. I have repeated the same or similar like statements in a number of places scattered throughout the web, almost always related back to Firehair in some fashion. For those who may be so interested, below are five of the most notable examples:



There was another red haired female comic book character other than Firehair that showed up in my life that I liked a whole heck of a lot as well. She just never got the "screen time" like Firehair because unlike Firehair I didn't relate her to my mother, which in turn brought in all the Oedipus Complex comments, followed then by a superfluous need to reply. Nor was I reading about her at anytime that the woman of the couple I was fostered to threw a fit causing me to run away. None of those things. Her stories were published in the comic book Wings monthly and I simply read them and moved along --- except for one occasion in my works where she got caught up in an adventure that involved the Flying Tigers. That story I made a full site on. Who was the red headed woman I speak of. None other than Jane Martin, War Nurse. Like, was she hot or what:



JANE MARTIN, WAR NURSE MEETS THE FLYING TIGERS
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The classifieds and other ads that appeared in any number of publications from Popular Mechanics to Boys Life to a variety of comic books offering "Jeeps for $50.00" or any other unrealistic low amount were for the most part scams. They may not have been out-and-out purebred lies, but were worded in such a way to trick or deceive the person sending in the money for the information that they, through the firm or outfit presenting the offer, could in fact from that source purchase a jeep. Such was not the case. If you read the ads carefully they are only offering information about other sources that sell military surplus items for the government. Where some of them may have sold surplus items jeeps were not among them. Although jeeps were often depicted amongst the graphics, most information in the ads that were jeep specific was in a special little bordered off section. That is not to say surplus jeeps were not available for extremely low prices, it is just that the popular media ads were not the source directly making the jeeps available. The color ad above left calls itself "Government Reprint Services" and offers a catalog for $4.00. The catalog is either the actual printed free and sent out by the U.S. Printing Office free or a copied reprint by the firm. In either case it is being sold for $4.00 and only informs the prospective buyer where, when, and how to obtain the jeeps. They themselves, don't sell them.



THE JEEP, NEVADA, AND THE RED-HAIRED GIANTS