The end of 1978 and the onset of 1979 was a strange time of change for me. We had moved away from the Southdown farm and onto Dad's ranch in the Mojave. Dad had mostly retired, having only one trencher, its trailer, and a flatbed truck to pull it. His construction company was all but gone, but he was sitting on a nice pile of cash. Money wasn't a problem for him. I took a job at a gas station located between the towns of California City and Mojave, near the intersection of California City Boulevard and California's highway 14. It was a full service station, meaning when a customer pulled in, we ran to their window to greet them, we pumped their gas, we washed their front and back windows, and we offered to check their oil.
1950s service station image from Wikipedia. Not that old-fashioned!
I had never had one-on-one exposure to people like this before. Changing schools sixteen times means I never really had any long term friends and I had learned to mostly ignore people. They were like background noise at a football game or a concert. But the full service gas station taught me to talk to strangers and ask them what they wanted and what they needed.
It was more than just a full service gas station, though. There was a little store with a beer cooler that chilled the beer to almost freezing temperature. We sold and repaired tires, we changed oil, and we were a full service motorcycle repair shop, which was one of the reasons I was hired. I had a lot of experience and knowledge when it came to motorcycle repair.
Dirt bike riding was a growing fad at the time, and on Friday nights, the freeway that connected the Mojave with the LA Basin, would pour headlights in a steady stream down Soledad Canyon in the Sierra Pelona Mountains until the early hours of Saturday morning. Lots of people coming into the Mojave from the Los Angeles basin would make our service station a regular stop before camping and biking, or attending the many desert races that happened every weekend.
The most common motorcycle repair we handled was cable failure. Either a brake cable end or a clutch cable end would pull off or break. Often the people would take their broken bikes home to Los Angles and shove them in their garage for a week, never even thinking about fixing them. Then, on Friday they would pack their campers and load their broken dirt bikes on their trailers and head to "Steve's Gas Station". Steve, the owner of the station where I worked, was a kind of legend in the desert dirt bike community, going back to the 1960s when he was one of the most prominent proponents of dirt bike riding. People would stop at our gas station just to look at Steve's old desert sled sitting in our #1 repair bay. People would take turns snapping pictures of each other sitting on the old bike.
On an average Friday night, I would repair anywhere from one to twenty motorcycle cable ends. We carried every size of motorcycle cable and every variety of cable ends used in the industry, and we kept a lead solder pot hot at all times so we could fix any motorcycle cable quickly. If one of our cable ends ever failed, we would fix it for free.
One day, Steve introduced me to a special customer. He was a somewhat famous local attorney, big game hunter, and all around fan of the Mojave. Every year, he would drop off his weird 1960s trail bike to be serviced. Sorry, I don't remember the brand of bike, it was some obscure thing I never saw before or since. But I went over it from top to bottom to make sure it was in perfect shape before returning it to him. Steve told me to replace every cable, whether it looked good or bad. This attorney had cable failures in the past and was particularly worried about the issue.
I removed every cable on the bike, sized each replacement perfectly, and made sure every end was solid. Steve had emphasized how important it was that this job be done with the greatest of care, so I paid extra attention to every detail.
As I held one of the old cables from the bike, an idea came into my head. The cable was exactly the length of my waist, which was twenty nine inches at the time. I held the old cable in my hand and thought of what a splendid whip it would be in a fight. I laced it through the belt loops of my pants under my belt, then pulled it out quickly. It was perfect.
On one end, I soldered a section about an inch long, nice and smooth, then sharpened it to a point. On the other end I soldered a key ring loop so that I could grab it with one finger and whip it out from under my belt in a single motion. I laced it into my belt loops so I could draw it out with my left hand, then I practiced over and over until it became a serious weapon for my left hand. Now with my wrist pin on my right hip and my whip for my left hand, I was fully prepared to face any aggressor.
I finished the trail bike and offered to deliver it to the attorney using my dad's truck and trailer, if Steve thought it appropriate. He agreed that would be a great idea and called the lawyer to set up a time. When the day came, I hauled the bike to the lawyer's house, expecting to just drop it off and leave, but the attorney insisted I come in and see his collection.
From the outside, the attorney's house looked like every other ranch-style house in California City. Upon entering, the first thing that strikes your attention is the fact that there are five heads mounted in the living room: a gazelle, a Cape buffalo, an antelope, a wildebeest, and a mule deer, all looking right at you. Very creepy. Then I noticed the coffee table. It was a sheet of glass sitting on two elephant feet. Also on the walls were various African spears and shields, along with several objects I didn't recognize. On the wall going down his hallway towards the bathroom and the bedrooms, was the skin of a green anaconda. I thought to myself, he definitely didn't eat these animals. Clearly he didn't share my ethical codes.
On the dining room wall, visible from the entry area of the living room, was a large map of the Mojave. This drew my attention more than anything else. I asked if I could have a close look and he walked to it with great excitement. I told him about my love of the Mojave and how I liked to roam whenever I had the chance, and he almost burst with glee, explaining how much he loved to wander for days with nothing more than some jugs of water and some jerky. We talked for hours.
As it turned out, he was the executor of the Pancho Barnes estate. I had never heard of Pancho Barnes, so he told me all about her. What an amazing lady! She was a contemporary of Amelia Earhart, but not as reporter friendly and media acceptable as Earhart. She was more likely to spit tobacco juice in the face of a reporter who pushed her too hard for a story, whereas Earhart was more likely to have her press secretary present the reporter with a prepared statement. In other words, Amelia Earhart was a media darling, whereas Pancho Barnes was a hardcore pilot who did her own navigation, her own airplane maintenance, and changed her own oil. She was also the granddaughter of Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, who had pioneered American aviation with the establishment of the nation's first military air unit.
It's often said that in her later years, Pancho Barnes ran a "bar and restaurant" called The Happy Bottom Riding Club, which was a favorite of aviators and test pilots including Chuck Yeager, Jimmy Doolittle, and Buzz Aldrin, among others. That is known as "white washing history". It's not my job to besmirch aviators, but these men should have the integrity to be honest about the antics of their youth. They didn't frequent The Happy Bottom Riding Club for the free steak dinners. It was Pancho's female employees that drew in the customers. I mean, really, just read the name of the establishment, for Pete's sake.
Anyway, that's all a dispute for historians to figure out. All I know about Pancho Barnes was what the lawyer told me, and he was clearly on the eccentric side of the scale. I wish I could remember his name. He ended up being a great help to some of my friends that appear later in this story, but I can't really give any details on that, as it would be too easy to trace back those events and reveal names that I don't have the right to reveal. So, let's leave this topic on the note that, in meeting this attorney, I found a friend and an important ally who, regardless of his oddities, loved the Mojave at least as much as I did, and maybe even more.
If you would like to read the book in its entirety, you can purchase it with cryptocurrency at Liberty Under Attack Publications or find it on Amazon. We also invite you to visit BadQuaker.com, and, as always, thank you for reading.