WESTWARD HO

“Mom said she had several glass figurines destroyed after they committed suicide by diving off a high shelf.”

Disneyland 1957 – That’s me on the left. Jim on the right.

I’ve been working on a book about my life for several years. It’s close to being finished. When I told a friend he remarked,

You’ll be lucky to sell 100!”

Of course the man was trying to be sarcastic and funny all in one. I took it in stride. Regardless, I intend to prove him wrong. My goal is 101.

This conversation all came about when I mentioned my family first coming to Lake Havasu City in 1981. He stepped up to the imaginary microphone proclaiming that he did the same in 1977, as if it were a contest on who got here first.

Wow!”, I said, not mentioning that me, my brother, and parents first headed out this direction in 1956. Lake Havasu City developer Robert McCulloch had yet to even dream about his oasis in the desert. My friend was not even born when we rolled past the Site 6 turnoff, so I win.

Because I’m feeling lazy this morning, I’ll simply copy and paste a section out of my manuscript that talks about such.

***********************************************

“My family left Alabama in 1956 for California. Dad pulled a 30-foot house trailer down Route 66 for most of the trip with his 1949 Mercury. Several photos show this. It’s amazing to me that this low-power vehicle made the trip, especially through the heat of Arizona. Photographs show our black automobile loaded to the gills on roof and trunk with personal belongings.

Dad said somewhere near Holbrook my brother and I became deathly ill. It was 120 degrees outside and our car had no air-conditioner. A man at a gas station sold us blocks of ice and a tin baking pan. My brother and I took turns hovering over them until we hit cooler weather. That ice probably saved our lives.”

Dad’s new assignment was George Air Force Base in Victorville, California. General Chuck Yeager was 413th Fighter Group Wing Commander at this time. Photographs show us on Armed Forces Day ogling over glistening planes and helicopters. One black & white picture is identified as General Yeager’s F-100 Super Sabre fighter that he called, “City of Barstow.” The sleek craft was named for nearby Barstow, California.

Images show this jet with a mob of people milling around it. He was a celebrated individual up until his death. Chuck Yeager wrote a book about his exploits which I have a signed copy. It is dedicated to “Roy” with no last name. General Yeager’s wife and children placed their John Henry’s on it as well which is significant. I believe they gave it to Roy Rogers who was a family friend. Roy isn’t around much these days or I’d ask him.

Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans lived in the Victorville area along with Chuck and Glennis Yeager. Roy and Chuck were avid hunters and gun aficionados. They once competed as team members in a grouse hunting competition. Both were exceptional shots.

General Yeager and I share four traits. We were born, have a love of fast cars, respect the second amendment, and his kids were military brats like me. Other than that we’re world’s apart.

General Chuck Yeager is up there where my childhood idols are concerned. His life was as adventurous as they come. Unfortunately, after his spouse of 45 years, Glennis, passed away, General Yeager incurred a total family meltdown with his four children. That often happens when a new and much younger wife enters the picture. A lawsuit was eventually filed by Yeager against one of his daughters, accusing her of mishandling his estate.

Chuck Yeager passed away on December 7, 2020. Ironically, that’s the same month and day Pearl Harbor was attacked.

MOVING ON UP

For reasons that I don’t remember, dad sold our trailer after only a short time of living in it. We moved into the top floor of the Beaman Apartments on the outskirts of Victorville. Amazingly, that structure is still there. Jim told me that he remembers sun-bleached cow skulls in the desert not far from the place. I’m surprised he didn’t drag one home. Dad eventually purchased a slightly bigger mobile home than our old one. I guess my folks were tired of climbing stairs. We relocated to a place called, Pott Trailer Park. Such a catchy name!

Sonic booms from jet aircraft breaking the sound barrier were an everyday occurrence. They’d rattle dishes and break windows. Mom said she had several glass figurines destroyed after they committed suicide by diving off a high shelf. The explosions appeared without warning, often times late at night. After a while we got used to them. Evidently the figurines didn’t. Today, some folks would call sonic booms the sound of freedom. I’m one of them.

I barely recall dad being in a serious accident in a friend’s 1957 Corvette. This happened on Route 66 before the popular television series, Route 66 ever came out. I have photos of the mangled car. A friend told me these images would now be collector items for Corvette enthusiasts. I’ve shared them online but the originals will always remain with family. I often wonder if the ‘vette was fixed back then, and if so, who owns it now?

Dad miraculously survived this crash by being flung out of the vehicle into a pile of sand. His right leg was severely mangled. Doctors inserted a stainless-steel metal rod into one bone to strengthen it. He walked with a limp the rest of his life. Only close friends could get away calling him, “Chester.” In later years, the extreme cold of living in Alaska made his pain excruciating. I recall dad using Stanback powder to help relieve it.

The thing I remember most about living in California was the time our family visited Disney Land. This was right before dad’s accident. Disneyland first opened in 1954. Things seemed huge in my mind back then, especially the castle. When Joleen and I took our kids in 1984, those mental images suddenly vanished. The castle had mysteriously shrunk to the size of a Piggly Wiggly. For those not recognizing this unusual name, it’s a grocery store chain down south. My kids weren’t disappointed in Disneyland, but I was.

Riding the Teacups was my favorite. I say that because of a huge smile I have on my face in a photograph. Jim went for the more exciting rides which I no longer remember names to. There were some replica antique cars on a track moving slower than Grandma Moses. Those are my mom’s exact words. A photo shows us sitting in one with Jim turning the steering wheel on a curve. My father said my brother actually thought he was controlling the thing.

We also visited Knott’s Berry Farm and Calico Ghost Town while living in Victorville. I believe that’s where mom started buying Knott’s Berry Farm blackberry jelly. She never purchased any other brand. In one of the pictures at Calico, Jim and I are riding a train with Disneyland hats on. An actor hired to be a train outlaw demanded that we give our souvenirs to him. Jim obliged, but I started crying. Mom said the guy tried to calm me by returning Jim’s hat. Evidently it made things worse. He eventually gave us soda’s which did the trick. This train robber might’ve been the fellow getting me hooked on pop. I have to blame it on someone.

I don’t recall much else about Victorville other than it getting blazing hot during summer. Jim and I had a babysitter because of mom having to work. This lady took care of several more military kids besides us. On some days she’d take us outside to sit under a large tree. The woman used a garden hose in an effort to cool our bodies down which helped. Her little trailer had a contraption on the roof called a “swamp cooler.” Evidently it didn’t work because I remember being miserable at times waiting for mom to pick us up. She couldn’t get there fast enough.

As I mentioned earlier, television cowboy stars, Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans lived outside Victorville on a ranch. Jim and I watched their television show religiously each Saturday. Mom said someone told her Dale Evans shopped at a local grocery store on occasion, and that the celebrity generally had a basket full. Mom had a logical explanation for that,

Those people have to eat too!

The only time I saw Roy was during a parade, and I was told that much by my brother. I don’t remember any parades other than one at Christmas when Santa tossed candy to me. Perhaps this was the same event? Jim claims I was there and I believe him. Roy Rogers was evidently the grand marshal because he was leading things. Basically, the only other thing I remember about parades besides Santa Claus, were the piles of poop that horses left behind. Why the marching bands always end up walking behind livestock puzzles me to this day?

I doubt 9 out of 10 people reading my book will even know who Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are. To Jim and I, they were our childhood heroes back in the day. Unfortunately, this couple faded off into the sunset like so many western stars did. Happy trails to them!

When we left California in 1958, dad once again towed a mobile home. This time it was behind a snazzy 1957 Galaxie 500. Our new car was also black and hard to keep cool like the Merc. One of my father’s favorite movies back then was Thunder Road starring Robert Mitchum. Although the movie didn’t come out until 1958, I believe that sealed the old man’s passion for black Ford automobiles. In this movie, Lucas Doolin (Robert Mitchum) transported moonshine in his trunk, delivering it to select bars and taverns across the south. The police were always chasing him. My father didn’t go that far, although illegal whiskey did enter our lives soon after…”

Excerpt from: ORDINARY AVERAGE GUY – uncensored memoirs of a trailer park refugee.

1957 Corvette

Author: michaeldexterhankins

ordinary average guy

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