the Wanderling

When I was a young boy around ten years old I rode up front with the engineer and fireman in the cab of a fully operable freight hauling Southern Pacific Railroad 4-8-8-2 cab forward locomotive, one of the largest most powerful railway steam engines ever built --- and I rode in one not just once, but twice. The first time was with my older brother on the slightly down angle 50 mile straight-on set of rails in California's high desert out of the community of Mojave. The 100 car plus train was heading southbound towards Los Angeles, all sixteen of the massive locomotive's 63-inch drive wheels sometimes wavering along the distantly mirage laden tracks howling out at flatout speeds approaching 90 miles per hour. The second time I was sans brother riding with just the cab crew on the Donner Pass route out of Sacramento into Reno with the train barely able to crawl over some spots towards the pass and other times barreling down along the rushing Truckee River like an out of control roller coaster.

As thrilling or exciting as riding in the cab of a 6000 horsepower cab forward over the Sierras may sound to some, or as dull or boring as it may sound to others, the whole experience came about initially by an unfortunate set of events in my early childhood, put into motion by by the death of my mother while I was still at a very young age. Within days of her death, because my father was just not able to come up with the strength needed to deal with it at the time after caring for my mother during years of her deteriorating health, what was left of our family disintegrated, scattered to the four winds, with my two brothers and myself each ending up living separately under the auspices of a variety of relatives, shirttale relatives and foster families.

Several years later my father remarried and a short time after that he called the family, that is my two brothers and myself, back together in an effort at being whole again. My new mother, or Stepmother as the case may be, was very wealthy and spared little or no expense to see to it we got whatever we wanted, as long as it was within reason and made sense. What was unusual about all of that was sometimes what my stepmother viewed as being within reason and making sense was sometimes more wayout than what us kids thought would be.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph my new stepmother was quite wealthy. In the process of her newly found 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, capguns, 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, she bought a ranch. A whole section of land, i.e., one square mile --- with twenty acres in one corner set aside for the ranch house, barn and horse corral among other things. Then off we went to ride real horses and shoot real guns --- albeit not so much at each other, however.(see)

While on the ranch, as had been in the city and elsewhere, my Uncle along with my godfather were brought in to oversee all of us kids, which by then had grown to included a bunch of strays my stepmother picked up along the way somehow to take care of. Usually there were six or seven of us, with the core being my older and younger brother and our first cousin, a boy around my age somehow related to my stepmother by the name of Richard, and a real young kid we called Bub President Hudson. The kid was supposedly the son of some movie actress my uncle knew who went on-and-on continuously all day and night telling us that his mom was a spy and that she went to school with Tarzan.(see)

My older brother and cousin were the same age and being three years older than the next closest in age, me, made them in their minds too old to hang around with the rest of us. So said, the two of them were always going off and doing neat stuff, and when they would let me, often rather they liked it or not, I tagged along --- usually with my little brother in tow.

Across the ranch from the main gate the full length of the fence on the far end of the property edged right up along the Southern Pacific Railroad's mainline. In those days, since diesel-electrics had not come on the scene yet, the Southern Pacific locomotives for both passenger trains and freight trains were steam powered --- meaning they needed water to keep going. It just so happened that a short distance north up along the tracks from the far corner of the ranch was a major watering stop and siding that the freight locomotives, both northbound and southbound, almost always stopped at to take on water or get out of the way of the limiteds. The red, orange, silver, and black 4-8-4 GS-4 passenger limited like the Daylight and Sunset always raced on by and where they got their water from I don't know, but the freights invariably stopped.

Because of the climb coming up out of Los Angeles into the Mojave high desert and the continuing climb up over the Tehachapi Loop and summit in the south-central part of California as well as the need to traverse the Sierras at Donner Pass in the north-central part of the state, the Southern Pacific Railway selected as their choice for motive power, at least during the time I was around --- the 6000 horsepower 4-8-8-2 cab forwards --- or as my brothers and I used to call them when we were kids and first saw them, cab aheads. Cab forwards or cab aheads, in either case were huge long things (123 ft 9 in) counting the tender, so long that the two sets of eight drive wheels were articulated, that is, there was a hinged joint between the first and second groups of driving wheels so the sets could turn or swivel somewhat between themselves going around the tight mountain curves they encountered.

Not much time passed after we arrived at the ranch that we started showing up along the siding and watering stop when the cab forwards showed up, watching the train crews do whatever train crews do and getting as close to the rail cars and locomotives as we could. On one of those days my older brother and cousin climbed into an empty gondola car unobserved, and in a classic Sullivan brothers "Hey, fellas, wait for me!" moments, my little brother and I climbed in as well.[1]

It wasn't long before the train started to move, then began chugging along at a pretty good clip, ending up miles and miles north in the freight yards in Mojave. Well, getting onto a train stopped along a single siding out in the middle of nowhere was a lot different than getting off a train in a bustling freight yard. Not only that, lost and disoriented and not knowing what to do or what train to get on to get back, the train crew spotted us wandering around almost instantly. Lucky for us several crew members recognized us as being the same kids that hung out at the siding miles back down the track. They got together in a huddle and began a rather animated discussion on what to do with us. Apparently afraid of the repercussions from higher up and possible loss of their jobs, they somehow convinced the engineer of a just about to leave southbound cab forward to take the four of us as far back down the track as the water stop.

However, my older brother, the redheaded firebrand that he was (read, prick), seeing that the crews were really apprehensive about the four of us being there and were seeking a rather low key solution on what to do with us, began throwing a huge fit saying if he couldn't ride in the engine it could lead to trouble. After another discussion the engineer of the southbound 4-8-8-2 cab forward bearing the Southern Pacific Identification #4285, waved my older brother up the ladder into the cab --- and without anybody stopping me, I followed right behind, riding up front all the way to the water stop while my younger brother, who wanted to ride in the caboose anyway, and cousin rode in the caboose.

That should have ended it, except for one thing. My older brother and cousin continued to catch trains north, and after a couple of times got fairly adept at it, learning the various ins and outs of the Mojave freight yards and how to not get caught as well as how to get on the right trains back. One day though, they didn't return. By the time my uncle noticed they were actually gone and not screwing around off somewhere on the ranch --- and me beginning to worry about them myself --- he got out of me what they had been doing. He flipped out, started pacing up and down the floor trying to figure out what to do next, but before he could do anything he got the dreaded middle-of-the-night phone call. It was a reverse-charge call from my cousin. He and my brother were 500 miles away being held in a switch-tower in the Sacramento yards. A railroad bull had caught them and had all intentions to club them and throw them over the fence when my older brother convinced the bull that his stepmother was quite wealthy and there might be a sizeable reward in the offing if the two of them were returned, especially in a viable condition.

My cousin handed the phone over to the bull and he and my uncle talked for a few minutes, then hung up. Being well past midnight by then, my uncle rather hesitantly called my stepmother explaining the situation, all the while trying to put the best spin on it as he could. After an escalating back and forth semi-yelling match on her part and being rather subdued on my uncle's part she said to give her 30 minutes and slammed down the receiver. Thirty minutes later she calmly called back and told my uncle to tell the man it was possible she could make it beneficial for him but that no harm should befall the boys nor should any of it go any farther up the food chain than it was --- that is, keep it between her and the bull and off the record until she had time to resolve the issue on a personal level. She also told my uncle she wanted to make sure there was as much distance between any sort of trains and the boys when they headed home as possible, so she was dispatching her driver immediately to Sacramento to bring them back by car as well as oversee them. Then she told my uncle she wanted him personally to ensure everything unfolded as she expected, so, in order for it to transpire posthaste, she had called a longtime friend of hers named Pancho Barnes, the famed aviatrix and stunt pilot --- who just happened to own a ranch not far from ours that had three airstips --- informing my uncle that at that very moment Barnes was arranging to have a pilot and a small plane readied to fly him straight to Sacramento the second he stepped foot on her property and not to waste any time getting to either her ranch or Sacramento. As well, unbeknownst to any of us at the time, my stepmother had also called another longtime friend of hers, Johnny Roselli, a man well versed in the intricacies of persuasion. She asked Roselli to have some local Sacramento muscle to go by and visit the switch tower or wherever and make sure the railroad dick understood what she meant when she requested that no harm befell the boys, also in a roundabout way to let the bull know he wasn't dealing with a bunch of rubes.

My uncle with me tagging along in his shadow arrived at Barne's ranch just as the early morning twilight was barely glimmering along the eastern horizon. Soon we were in the air flying in a single engine overwing aircraft looking all the same to me as a bushpilot type plane only without the pontoons. A little longer than a couple of hours later we were landing in Sacramento. Not long after that we were in a well-worn building along the edges of the rail yard with long bench-like tables that served as an official and unofficial hang-out for train crews. My uncle, the bull and the pilot met at a table in the corner to discuss details while I positioned myself across the room at another table sketching in my drawing pad. There was no sign of my brother or cousin. Apparently my stepmother's request to Roselli had been fulfilled as the bull was quite compliant almost to point of just backing off. My stepmother however, felt business was business and expected to fulfill her side of the bargain --- besides, she never knew when she might need the services of a railroad bull.

I was just in the process of refining and finishing the details of a black and white pencil drawing of a cab forward I had started previously when the drawing attracted the attention of a number of railroad crew members. Soon several were passing it around and when I told some of them I had ridden in a cab forward out of Mojave I was told that I hadn't done nothing yet until I had rode in the cab of a cab forward on the Donner Pass run --- with crew members regaling the thrill of it all. In the meantime my uncle and the pilot finished their dealings with the bull and started on their way over to me when they were stopped by a crew member that had been talking with the bull shortly after the discussion broke up.

Seems the crew member had a wife or girlfriend in Reno that had to get to Las Vegas, and because of extenuating circumstances as quickly and covertly as possible. The crew member, who was an engineer, had overheard my desire to do the Donner Pass run in a cab forward and he was willing to take me in the engine to Reno IF the pilot, on our return trip to Los Angeles would quietly slip his friend out of Reno into Vegas. My uncle, always looking for an adventure for me to participate in thought it was a highly viable proposition. The pilot, who flew P-47 Thunderbolts in World War II, told my uncle he had no problem with it --- because of Pancho Barnes and my stepmother he was at the beck-and-call of my uncle for anything that had to do with flying. He said in a direct quote that he didn't give a crap where we went because he had a blank check, he would take us to Timbuktu if we wanted to. When I looked over to my uncle he told me to forget it, it was going to be no more than the Donner Pass to Reno thing for now.[2]

My uncle gathered up my older brother and cousin, contacted my stepmother's driver who had arrived in Sacramento by then, stuck the two boys in the back of her Fleetwood and sent them on their way back to the ranch, telling the driver to not let them our of his sight. In the meantime I was on my way out of the freight yards in the lead cab forward eastbound in an 80 to 100 car train crawling through the outskirts of Sacramento toward the foothills of the Sierras and Donner Pass.

For me, as the ten year or so old kid I was and simply a ride-along observer and not some poor working stiff who had to make the same run day after day through all kinds of snow, sleet, wind or summer sun, it was everything it was cracked up to be. From the low-grass plains and scrubbrush around Roseville to the tall pines at higher altitude to none at all above the tree line. Tunnel after tunnel, miles of snow sheds after snow sheds, granite gorges, rushing rivers, raw horsepower, billowing smoke, leaning out the window with wind in your face and the sound of whistles blowing.

After my arrival in Reno my uncle picked me up saying there was a slight change in plans. Seems we were going to fly down to some dirt strip 50 miles south of Reno near Minden-Gardnerville and pick up the mysterious woman under the cover of darkness that night. The pilot wanted to put the plane down in at least some daylight since it was an unmarked strip so we left right away without eating or anything. We waited out in the middle of nowhere for hours after the sunset practically freezing to death it was so cold, plus we had no food or water to speak of. Around 9 or 10 o'clock we could see headlights coming across the dirt road toward us. A Chevy panel truck pulled up and a woman got out of the back climbing right away into the co-pilot side without saying a word while my uncle squeezed into the back with me. The woman had a long black full-length coat on, white scarf wrapped completely around her head without revealing the length or color of her hair and showing very little face. She was very pale, had big round sunglasses on and no make up. She also wore gloves and carried no luggage. The pilot had the panel truck pull in behind the plane and shine the headlights down the strip. He walked it one last time kicking a few rocks out of the way he didn't like, then got in, fired up the engine and we took off.[3] Several hours later we landed in Las Vegas and the plane was met by a limo, of which the woman got into. Just as she undid her seatbelt and was about to step out of the plane she turned and patted me on the arm with her gloved hand. She never said a word then nor all the time she was with us and to this day I don't know who she was, how the engineer knew her, what she was doing in Reno, why she had to be in Vegas or why she patted my arm. Because the woman appeared to be so up-scale, like a movie star or something, I just couldn't put her together being the wife or girlfriend of the more-or-less working class engineer. She may have been a sister who moved up to being a professional or he may have been paying off a gambling debt by being involved in transporting her south in such a clandestine fashion. However, because of the mysterious woman, whoever she was, I was able add riding a cab forward through Donner Pass to my repertoire.[4]

Not everybody who reads my works catches on or gets the idea that when I write about the combination of me and my stepmother in conjunction with a ranch she owned, that there were actually two very separate and distinct ranch experiences as well as ranches. Some readers, not realizing it, have a tendency run of blend the two times and ranches together, which is easy enough to do.

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. The second ranch experience found me just entering my teen years and starting my freshman year in high school. The first ranch experience involved the above riding of the cab forwards. The second ranch experience involved a totally different riding of the rails experience.

I didn't live on that second ranch, only spending the summers there during those 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, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school, 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 of Hostesses.

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 or more 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.





Years later I was honored to be part of a friendly get together with my uncle at the home of a longtime friend from his youth, cowboy western author Louis L'Amour. Aspects of the above Cab Forward story found its way into our conversation after it came up that my ex-stepmother owned one of L'Amour's most favorite weapons to write about, the Colt Walker. L'Amour had done a lot of hopping trains and 'riding the rails' in his youth and he seemed fascinated by the story. L'Amour, who had written over a 100 novels --- with many of them made into movies --- always interjected into what he wrote parts of his own real life adventures. Although the conversation occurred when it was getting toward the end of his writing career age-wise and the Cab Forward story wasn't about him specifically, and, even though it happened in another era, it did happen in some of his favorite write-about stomping grounds, the High Sierras and the Mojave Desert. Because of same I often wondered if bits and pieces of the story ended up in any of his books.

Riding with the engineer and the fireman in a cab forward wasn't the only time that found me traveling at over 90 miles per hour related to a powerful steam locomotive. As a young boy I was a passenger on the record setting all-first-class Santa Fe Chief out of Chicago toward Los Angeles, being pulled by a Baldwin built 4-8-4 Northern. On a downhill high speed run between Flagstaff and Williams, Arizona it hit a 55 mph curve and derailed injuring 126 and killing four.[5]

The video below shows cab forward number 4274 in a variety of operations prepping for a Donner Pass run. The film clip is from an old VHS tape produced by a onetime company called VIDEO RAILS and presented here through YouTube format. Clicking the triangle will start the clip. Clicking the brackets on the lower right hand corner will enlarge the video to full screen size. The second video shows a variety of views of the Daylight Limited.



Their Life and Times Together





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As to the subject of donations, for those who may be so interested 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 "Hey, fellas, wait for me!" moment so mentioned in the main text above is from a 1944 movie made about the Sullivan brothers titled The Fighting Sullivans The movie was base on elements of the Sullivan brothers lives and the events surrounding them during World War II. The following is an actual summary of the aftermath of the submarine attack on the Sullivan Brother's ship the USS Juneau (CL-52), as found at the source so cited:

On November 13, 1942, during The battle of Guadalcanal, the Juneau was struck by a Japanese torpedo and had to withdraw. Leaving the Solomon Island later that day, the Juneau was struck again. A torpedo from a Japanese submarine I-26 hit the ship which caused it to explode and sink.

Not thinking there could be any survivors from the Juneau, Captain Gilbert C. Hoover continued on with his wounded ships and signaled a US B-17 bomber on patrol to send notification to Allied headquarters for a search patrol. The B-17 bomber crew did not pass along this information until they landed later as to not break radio silence.

The B-17 Bombers report of possible surviviors and exact location was lost in other paperwork and did not get noticed for a few days.

A PBY Catalina search aircraft found ten survivors. According to the survivors, Francis, Joseph and Madison died instantly. Albert drowned the next day. George survived for a few days.The grief of losing his brothers was too much, he was calling for them trying to find them. Delirious he jumped in the water thinking he was going to swim to shore. Thoughts are that a shark probably got him.


It should be noted, as mentioned above, that it was a torpedo from the Japanese submarine the I-26 that took out the Juneau. The I-26 was one of nine long range aircraft equipped Japanese submarines that had been dispatched to the North American Pacific West Coast at the very start of the war. Among those nine the I-17 shelled Santa Barbara, the I-19 torpedoed the SS Absaroka in the Catalina Channel off Point Fermin only to escape in the deep water trench off Redondo, while the I-25 carries all credibility of having been the mother ship that delivered the two-man midget sub that ended up bombed off Redondo.




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During our flight to Sacramento --- or south out of Reno, I don't recall specifically which --- I heard the pilot tell my uncle that during World War II he flew P-47s, both in the European and Pacific theaters, with a number of kills under his belt. Both German and Japanese. Later, in a lull while we were hanging out waiting for time to pass I asked him about the plane. 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. On the total opposite end of the spectrum, the forward momentum side, he said some P-47s, even though the Army Air Force would never confirm it, had broken the sound barrier in steep dives.(see)

I told him my favorite fighter plane was the P-40 Warhawk and that I especially loved the Flying Tigers. His response about the P-40 devastated me for years. The pilot said, and this is a quote, "A crappy plane, son, but it had merit." Of course, at the time, as a ten year old, and only a few years after the war, I didn't know the evolution of the planes. I just sort of lumped them altogether as existing all at one time, not realizing that the P-40, as one of the best we had at the start of the war, was totally outdated by the end when P-38s and P-51s dominated the skies.

My uncle's age sort of precluded him from having served in World War II and, even if he had been approached to do so, he was sort of a conscientious objector type and most likely wouldn't have gone anyway. Because of his age the question of why he didn't serve typically didn't come up. For those who did serve, if inklings of his C.O. leanings came out, it wasn't always well received. In the process he had pretty much learned not to discuss the matter much with people he didn't know.

Potential differences notwithstanding, he and the former P-47 fighter pilot hit it off really well almost right from the start. Since so much of what we were doing circulated around trains and my uncle was an artist, they almost immediately discovered they had a mutual acquaintance, a man by the name of Howard Fogg. As it turned out Fogg, who was a master watercolorist whose art work invariably concentrated on railroad imagery, and my uncle were friends. In turn, Fogg was also a P-47 fighter pilot during the war and he and our pilot flew together. It just so happens Fogg created the watercolor painting I used on the page regarding the train wreck I was involved in as found in Footnote [5], the watercolor depicting the same numbered locomotive, the #3774, that was pulling the train that crashed in the middle of the night outside Williams, Arizona and of which I was a passenger.

(Courtesy of Peter Fogg. Please click image)

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In the above I mention my uncle didn't serve in World War II and was a more-or-less a conscientious objector type. Some people take that as he wasn't very patriotic. Such was not the case. As a matter of fact not long after the war started he came across some rather alarming Axis-induced fifth column activities in the desert southwest and was shot point blank by foreign operatives and left to die because of it.

The year was 1943, the war wasn't even a year old, my uncle was a civilian living in New Mexico and for sure a non-combatant, actually like I have said, falling more into a role of a conscientious objector type than anything else. He had long been established as an artist in the region, but he was as well what I call a biosearcher. Prior to his death in 1989 he had, as a biosearcher, more than a half dozen plant species named after him following years of trekking, searching, and discovering previously unknown and unnamed plants all over mostly remote and hidden areas and sections of the desert southwest.

In 1943 he was biosearching alone in the then largely uninhabited mountainous and desert-like terrain in the central section of New Mexico between the New Mexico and Arizona border on the west and the north-to-south flowing Rio Grande on the east when he came across two men, and unusually so, both Asian. One of men was flat on his back all but unconscious and visibly quite ill after apparently having been bitten by a rattlesnake with the bite being left untreated. My uncle, after using the healing properties of indigenous plants he gathered up, soon found the man up and around. One of the men who had a rudimentary use of English told my uncle they were Japanese, were testing soil samples for radioactivity, and had been left off in Mexico by submarine. By then my uncle was wanting to beat a hasty retreat but before he could one of the men shot him. They took his truck and although they left him to bleed out he survived. In 1985 a book titled The Japanese Secret War authored by Robert K. Wilcox was published. In the book Wilcox writes about the two Japanese men my uncle encountered and the U-boat they arrived in, of which I turn around and write about as found in the sourced link below the quote so cited:

"Wilcox's book that, for the first time brought to the public's attention Japanese agents having been in the desert southwest during World War II specifically tasked with testing soil samples for radiation, was published in 1985. It was in 1970, fifteen years before Wilcox's book was published that my uncle told me about his 1943 encounter with Japanese spies soil testing deep into state of New Mexico and the fact that according to their own testimony, they had initially been brought to Mexico via German U-boat from Europe. "


Four years after the flight out of Reno, just as I was entering high school and not far into my teens, I packed up my stuff and ran away from the foster couple I was living with --- ending up at my stepmother's ranch totally unannounced and out of the blue. In that she and my father had only just divorced, she wasn't really sure if he would go for the idea of me being there. Unable to reach him she contacted my dad's brother, my uncle, who said he was willing to take me until things could be worked out. In that my uncle lived in New Mexico and I was on my stepmother's ranch in the high desert of California and she felt time was at an essence, she arranged for me to be flown to Santa Fe. She made arrangement for the same Sacramento-Reno pilot fly into a close-by one-time, albeit long abandoned military airfield called Victory Field and pick me up. This time the former P-47 Thunderbolt jockey was flying a two seat North American AT-6. It was the first time I had ever been off the ground and into the air in any kind of a World War II aircraft, so for me the trip to my uncle's to Santa Fe was not only highly memorable, it was as well white-knuckle exciting.





The P-47 Thunderbolt above makes sense considering the context, but why the F6F Hellcat below? Mostly because of my interest in a mysterious and unaccounted for remains of a crashed World War II F6F in the Sea of Cortez spread out and buried in the sand in a remote stretch of beach just off the coast of the Mexican state of Sonora, pieces of which still to this day only show up during rare tidal shifts brought about by extreme low tide events. The pieces have been fully identified as being that of a F6F Hellcat with the wings of which still having fully visible machine guns mounted in them.



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See also DREW HEMPEL AND THE WANDERLING discussing my various Zen droppings found scattered here and there throughout the internet, of which where the following is found:

"I do not claim to be a teacher, if anything I just shovel piles of shit out of the barn so the cows can have more space to move around in. After I have shoveled it out, that same shit shoveled, if used the right way by the right people and in the right places as manure, can contribute toward making flowers bloom or nourishment to be consumed. As chronicled in Riding The Cab Forwards I tell about me as a young boy being on a remote dirt landing strip in the desert along the east side of the High Sierras during the middle of the night waiting with my uncle and the pilot to transport a mysterious woman from Reno to Las Vegas. When she showed up the pilot had the vehicle that brought her swing around behind the plane and shine the headlights down the strip. Then, just before he got in the plane, fired up the engine and we took off, he walked the landing strip one more time kicking rocks out of the way he didn't like. Like the pilot I kick rocks out of the way so the path can be made clear making it easier --- for those who may be so interested --- to soar."(see)

Who knew that reading anything about riding in a 6000 horsepower 4-8-8-2 cab forward would have anything to do with Enlightenment? You can find it in the darnest places --- or is it that it finds YOU?

Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.



There has been no end to the speculation as to who the mysterious woman was that had the need to be transported covertly and without fanfare under the cover of darkness from Reno to Las Vegas. To me, although I was personally never able to see her clearly she carried a certain ambience about her that reeked of being a movie star. In those days, since I was still a kid, except for possibly western movie star Dale Evens --- and maybe Veronica Lake for reasons unknown --- my knowledge of female movie stars ran kind of thin. However, while I may not have known female movie stars per se' I did know comic book characters, and one of the ones I remembered was Lana Lang, the female lead in Superboy comics and the protagonist to Lois Lane in Superman comics.

Why is it important? Because I can still remember overhearing the response my uncle gave the pilot when the pilot asked him who the mysterious all wrapped up in dark clothes wearing sunglasses in the middle of the night woman was. He told the pilot she looked like a Hollywood movie star of the era by the name of June Lang. Now I didn't know who June Lang was, but I knew who Lana Lang was, so putting the two together was enough for me to remember his answer right into adulthood. See:


First of all, the whole June Lang thing rests on the accuracy of my uncle's perception regarding any resemblances he may garnered between the woman being transported and June Lang herself. Neither I nor the pilot ever saw the woman other than being basically covered tip to toe, and then only in the middle of the night out in the darkened windswept desert or possibly a little more from the glow of the muted lights of the cockpit dials. My uncle though, was the one that arranged for the actual transportation to occur, so somewhere in Reno when all of that was being set up he may have seen the woman up close and more clearly, maybe even introduced.

The thing is, looking like June Lang and being June Lang are two different things. So said, I have no proof one way or the other who the mysterious woman was except overhearing my uncle's response. He may have been under a gag order not to reveal who she was, so he could have just shrugged his shoulders when asked and let it go at that. Instead, out of respect to the pilot he gave a verbal answer, albeit ambiguous, saying she 'looked like' June Lang --- although he could have easily said Rochelle Hudson --- a movie actress he DID know. By putting together the dots since then there is some circumstantial evidence that leans in the direction of his reply possibly being on target, however weak in solid proof it may seem.

Years later in my initial research I thought if the woman was Lang she may have been in Reno for a quickie divorce. In 1944 she married an Army lieutenant using her real name Winifred June Vlasek and it was weeks before it was discovered by the press. So I thought there was a chance she may have been in Reno incognito. However, although she did divorce the lieutenant eventually, it wasn't until several years after the events we are talking about here.

Then there is the Johnny Roselli connection. If you remember my stepmother contacted Roselli to put muscle on the railroad bull to ensure neither my brother or cousin was harmed in any way. As it happened Roselli had been married to Lang. They were married in April 1939 and divorced in March 1943. On December 4, 1942, just three days short of one full year following the attack on Pearl Harbor --- and while still married to Lang --- at age 37, for reasons not clear, Roselli either joined or was inducted into the U.S. Army. On March 18, 1943, while still serving in the Army, he was arrested on federal labor racketeering charges. The trial began on October 5, 1943 and on December 22, 1943 he was found guilty of conspiracy of extortion against the motion picture industry. Roselli received a prison term of 10 years and a $10,000 fine. After serving roughly three and a half years he was paroled.

Almost down to the day of his arrest he was divorced from Lang and almost down to the day of the start of his sentencing Lang remarried. It was not long after Roselli's release from prison than all this Reno stuff went down. It could be on my stepmother's request Roselli decided to intervene personally, so he may have gone to Sacramento OR he may just happened to have been in Reno in some sort of secret post divorce rendezvous with Lang. In that the mob often had ties to unions in those days Roselli may have requested the cab forward engineer to come forward and ask my uncle for the person to be flown to Las Vegas on the QT, totally leaving Roselli out of the picture or having any connections to or with the mysterious traveler. I personally think the transportation of the woman from Reno to Las Vegas under the cover of darkness was a deal made between Roselli and my stepmother in exchange for his assist dealing with my brother and cousin. I have also speculated that the pick up spot occurred in Minden-Gardnerville rather than Reno because the mysterious lady was at Lake Tahoe, most likely coming down Highway 50 through Carson City.

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(photo courtesy Arizona Republic)

After the death of my mother, as a very young boy, following a series of events that for me were both fortunate and unfortunate and of which are fully articulated in M.V. Tulagi and elsewhere, I was left off alone and totally unannounced at my grandmother's on my father's side in Pennsylvania --- a grandmother I had never met nor ever even heard of.

I am not sure how long I was there, but from her place I was eventually returned to the west coast to be with my grandmother on my mother's side. It was during the return trip to my grandmother's in California that another interesting aspect in my young life unfolded.

Sometime around the very last day of June or so 1944, 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 couple described in The Last American Darshan who took me to India without approval of my family and then just left me in Pennsylvania has never been determined.

In Chicago I boarded the Number 19 Santa Fe Chief westbound to Los Angeles. 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 derailing and sliding in the dirt on it's side off the tracks for well over 500 feet 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.

(photo from Chris Baird Collection)

Although I was unhurt, the person or people I was traveling with was among the injured and taken, with me along with them, to either Williams or Flagstaff. Because of the nature of their injuries, whoever I was traveling with was held-up under doctors care for several days, leaving me without direct adult supervision. My grandmother, who had been contacted by the railroad, called my uncle in Santa Fe. He inturn contacted a nearby tribal spiritual elder to oversee me until he could catch up with me.

The events found in this footnote has also been presented by me in virtually the same manner and same form in any number of my other works. What I have not included in the above account or have not revealed previously is a part of the crash event that circulates around the somewhat mysterious tribal spiritual elder my uncle arranged for me to be watched by until he, my uncle, could catch up with me. As you may recall, after the wreck, because the adult or adults I was traveling with had been hospitalized, I was left without adult supervision. I write about sitting in the waiting room of some train station in Arizona with the tribal spiritual elder late at night until my uncle was personally able to intercede and safely get me to Los Angeles Union Station and thus then, to my grandmother's home in California.

What I don't write about is that I recognized the spiritual elder the moment he walked into the hospital waiting area looking for me as found in the following quote:

"Mid-evening on the night of the-unknown-to-anybody at the time up-coming crash I had gone to bed in the bunk in my compartment and as far as I knew had fallen fast asleep. Sometime during that period between the time I fell asleep and the crash occurred I found myself neither asleep nor in my bunk but outside of the train standing barefoot on the desert floor in the middle of the night in my PJs some distance off from a set of railroad tracks, my hand being held by an elderly Native American man."


Three years later, within a day or two of the third year anniversary of the train wreck, July 3, 1947, found me with my uncle traveling in the desert southwest having passed through Williams, Arizona on our way to Fort Sumner, New Mexico to visit the gravesite of Billy the Kid. We stopped at the crash site to pay reverence to those that died and my survival. While my uncle sat in the truck I walked the tracks where the wreck occurred. In the three short years since the derailment barely a sign of anything having happened remained, the wind along with the heavy downfall of summer monsoons nearly erasing the 500 foot groove and other marks caused by the huge Baldwin locomotive and passenger cars. If a person was unfamiliar with what happened it would have been unobservable.

Just as my visit at the train wreck site ended and my uncle and I headed toward Fort Sumner the Fourth of July weekend of 1947 was upon us. Any deep reverence or importance by me being at the train site was quickly overshadowed by a much larger event of earthshaking and monumental proportions when in the middle of the night of that weekend an unidentified airborne object of unknown origin began disintegrating, spreading debris and foil in a long swath out over the New Mexico flatlands only to eventually slam into the northern face boulders and rocks of the lower upslope of the Capitan Mountains --- an event that soon became known worldwide as the Roswell UFO.




Lana Lang, Superboy's friend from childhood into adolescence and then into adult life was the first person to suspect Clark Kent and Superboy was one and the same person. Her first appearance was in the September-October 1950 issue of SUPERBOY NO.10 in "The Girl in Superboy's Life." Afterwards in SUPERMAN 78/3 from September-October 1952, as an adult woman, she moves to Metropolis and works at the Daily Planet with Clark Kent, and even for a few days, lives in Lois Lane's apartment. Lana Lang as adult, is Lois Lane's chief rival for Superman's love in several adventures. In 1965 she becomes a TV reporter (SUPERMAN 177/2). In the post-Crisis version by John Byrne, Lana Lang is Clark Kent's close friend, being the first person who knows his secret identity as Superman.(see)

As can be determined from the above history of Lana Lang, you can see, as a comic book character in Superman and Superboy comics, she did not show up for the first time until Superboy No. 10 with a cover date of September-October 1950, some two years AFTER the event with the cab-forwards and the flight out of the dirt airstrip south of Reno. As I have written it, it seems as though I put the two Langs together at that moment at that same time. It was after I became aware of Lana Lang that I was able to recall backwards that the woman was June Lang. The fact the woman may have been June Lang on the plane was brought up to my grandmother by my uncle early on, he knowing my mother and June Lang had danced together as children professionally.(see) Between my grandmother, uncle and I, the whole June Lang thing was kept alive on-and-off long enough for me to make the connection with Lana Lang on my own sometime in the 1950s, the 12 year old boy or so I was, and from there I extrapolated it clear up to the point I felt I knew about the connection my whole life. For everything anybody would want to know about Lana Lang please click the THE LOWDOWN ON LANA LANG link:


The Superboy comic page graphic below is the first page to the story where Superboy meets Lana Lang for the very first time. By clicking the page the complete, unabridged "The Girl In Superboy's Life" comic book story comes up, totally free, no sign ups or ads:

(for complete "The Girl In Superboy's Life" comic book story click image)



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Below is a shot of a cab forward back in the days of steam traversing the infamous Tehachapi Loop, graphically showing the intricacies of the loop as the locomotive passes over it's own caboose. Remember, the locomotive is a cab forward. The direction the train is being pulled is to your right:

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"My stepmother, who you may recall was quite wealthy, in her new found motherhood role, 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, capguns, 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."

THE WANDERLING AND HIS UNCLE: Their Life and Times Together

The ranch my stepmother bought, located in the high desert of the Mojave, was a whole section of land in size, that is, one square mile, with ten acres set aside on one corner for the ranch house, barn, horse corrals, you name it. Then off we went to ride real horses and shoot real guns, of which the ranch house had a number of them --- 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 genuine antique 1847 Colt Walker handgun in a case. Every once in awhile I would take the 4.5 pound Colt out of 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. In my later teenage 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.

No sooner had we moved onto the ranch than my dad started to look around at tractors and such. Instead he decided on a four wheel drive World War II jeep to tool around in. Even though none of us kids were old enough to drive 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 all over the place.

My dad actually bought the Jeep after answering an ad similar to the one below. The ad offered surplus Jeeps for $278.00. After 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 still remember as a boy showing up with my dad and brothers. The whole place turned out to be a huge labyrinth of buildings, cranes, railroad tracks, and narrow between the structures roadways. On the docks were literally hundreds and hundreds of jeeps lined up row after row along 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.

Other than learning a new word and having it added to my vocabulary, i.e., cosmoline, except for one thing, I don't recall anything specifically about the logistics of how or what my dad had to do to get the jeep, 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 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. The thing is, my dad 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.

During the heat of the summer my dad didn't want to drive down California's central valley on Highway 99 or cross over the Sierras to use the 395, although once to either highway it would have been the most direct 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 for 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.

Living on the ranch in the high desert of the Mojave in those days were heady times. With the war finally over almost everything was doing nothing but going upward. All kinds of things were happening, especially in the aircraft and automotive fields and happening in the desert besides. The ranch was located not far from Muroc Dry Lake the same place Edwards Air Force Base was located. So too, the ranch wasn't far from Mirage Dry Lake either. On the ground at Mirage were nothing but numberless hot rods and belly tank lakesters. My uncle would take us out there to watch some of the hopped-up Ford flatheads hitting 150 mph. In the air, flying right over the ranch, were B-36s and flying wings. Higher up they were testing the Bell X-1 and breaking the sound barrier.

For us, we went from a bunch of kids tooling around the ranch to chasing locomotives out across the raw desert land at 90 miles per hour all the while watching B-36s and flying wings and hearing and sometimes feeling the sonic booms from the X-1.




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"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."

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P-47C-5-4E (41-6326), HAROLD E. COMSTOCK, 56th FG, 8TH AF, USAAF

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)

The P-47C-1-RE production block differed from previous production line P-47's 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.


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"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."


A former World War II P-40 fighter pilot turned civilian test pilot named George S. Welch flew two possible supersonic flights in a jet-powered XP-86 before the Bell X-1 officially broke the sound barrier. The first time was on October 1, 1947 and the second on October 14th, a half an hour or so before Chuck Yeager achieved Mach 1.06.

At the time of Welch's attempt his aircraft was not equipped with instruments to determine his speed. It wasn't until November 13th, one month after Yeager's attempt, that ground stations were able to measure the speed of the XP-86 in a dive. The first attempt clocked out at Mach 1.02, the second at 1.04. Because everything in the measured attempts were exactly the same as those on his earlier flights, and the aircraft had not undergone any modifications, because it was not politically expedient to do so, most experts agreed off the record that George Welch was not only the first to fly at supersonic in a jet-powered aircraft, but also the first to break the sound barrier.


On the record, George S. Welch just happened to be one of three P-40 pilots that got off the ground during the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the other two being 2/Lt Kenneth M. Taylor and 2/Lt Harry W. Brown. Between the three of them on the morning of the attack they took out six to eight Japanese planes as reported in the following link, as well as linked previously in the above main text:



The above photograph of the 4-8-8-2 cab forward with the Southern Pacific Identification #4285 was taken at Palmdale/Lancaster, California in 1947. The #4285 is the exact same cab forward my brothers, cousin, and I rode back on during our trip from the Mojave railyard to the Palmdale siding water stop.