Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cowboy Culture -- Recollections of 1950s Mountain Living

I was 15 years old in 1957, when my folks moved to the little High Sierra hamlet known as Oakhurst.  Oakhurst sits right at the junction of two California highway routes -- SR 41 (the primary access to the southern entrance of Yosemite National Park -- 13 miles north) and SR 49 (also known as the Gold Country Highway).  And, best of all it was just 4 miles from Bass Lake a popular vacation destination.

The industry for the area consisted of a box wood saw mill, a couple of small cattle ranches, and tourism.  Driving through Oakhurst in 1957, you could sneeze and never know you had been there.  The entire town -- scattered over a couple of miles -- consisted of a couple of motels, two mom & pop markets, two gas stations, a small lumber company, a plumbing & well pump business, Clementine's restaurant, a boat builder, a watch repair & jewelry shop, and a good general hardware store with a sporting goods department. 

Dad purchased several acres immediately north of the hamlet just beyond a welcome sign that announced your arrival and informed you the population was 357 people.  Before moving to the mountains we lived on a semi-rural edge of Los Angeles, so adjusting to the mountains took some doing.  

Dad was a building contractor and found immediate work in Oakhurst.  He had planned to eventually build a resort, but never did and we moved after just three years.

For a teenage boy with a horse the place has heaven -- hunting, fishing, trapping, and backcountry exploration began at my doorstep.  It was not uncommon to see me and my red-dun horse Sandy cruising along the edge of highway 41 -- me packing' my Iver Johnson revolver with a Savage over and under rifle in my saddle scabbard.

I wish every kid could have experienced the wonderful everyday events in my life during those all too few years.  This is a list of random memories of Oakhurst in the late 1950s…

Our mountain home -- a humble wood sided -- 1000 square foot -- 2 bedroom home without a furnace.  Our fuel system was "all electric," with the exception of the fireplace with a heatilator (a fireplace insert that recirculates the air).  That fireplace did an ample job of heating the little house, but it required many hours of hard work cutting wood to feed it.  Oak burns the longest, but pine is the best kindling.

Cutting firewood -- dad and I spent hundreds of hours in the nearby national forest felling and cutting dead oak and pine trees.  The work was just started when we got the wood home because it had to be cut to about two foot lengths, split and stacked.  

Food -- groceries were too expensive at local mom & pop markets, so we'd go to Fresno -- an hours drive (45 miles) -- about once a week.  The drive was worth it as we'd save a heap of dinero compared to mountain prices.

Trash disposal  -- the local town dump was about half way to Bass Lake.  We'd take the week's garbage there every Saturday.  I usually volunteered to help because the dump always had a few black bears prowling through the refuse.

Water -- before building the house the first order of business was drilling a good water well.  I don't remember the pump rate be we had all the water our small family and horses could ever need -- that is long as you kept the pump primed.

Gasoline -- mountain gas stations charge an 'arm and a leg', but dad found it was less expensive if you bought 600 gallons at time.  Dad put a tank on stilts and let gravity do her job.  I recall Seaside was the brand.  I wonder if they still exist?

Electricity -- because all power lines in those days were overhead we were almost guaranteed to lose power during rainstorms.  Mom learned to keep plenty of candles on hand.  It was kinda fun to sit in front of the fireplace listening to the rain while candle light flickered on the walls

Telephone -- did you ever hear of a party-line?  Several of our neighbors shared a single line, but you knew when the call was for you because of the rings.  Our ring was two longs, and a short.  Our phone number was Oakhurst 457.

About 1962 (two years after we moved away) the town is starting to grow.

Highway 41 -- The main access road into Yosemite from the south was at the bottom edge of our property.  That highway was not a good place for a boy and his horse between Friday afternoon and Sunday night because a steady stream of traffic crawled through Oakhurst (at a snail's pace) all weekend long.  It sure was fun to sit on the front porch and look at all the new fangled campers, and speedboats as they made their way toward Bass Lake and Yosemite.

Wildlife -- hunting for deer, quail, and varmints started right in our own backyard, but the best deer hunting was 8 miles away in nearby Ahwahnee.  The best bear hunting was about 10 miles north near Fishcamp.

Fishing -- I could catch trout 200 yards from our front door in the Fresno River, but for bass, bluegill and bigger trout we had to drive 4 miles to Bass Lake.

Swimming -- local kids had the best swimming hole ever on the Fresno River.  It was about 8 feet deep in the middle and had a slick bluff to dive from.

Our corral -- dad figured our horses didn't need a barn, so he had built a corral fence around a nice stand of live oak trees.  He figured the oaks would provide ample cover for two horses, but I'm pretty sure he felt guilty during the few days every winter when the horses had to stand out in the snow.

School -- Sierra Joint Union High School was in Tollhouse -- 60 miles away.

School bus -- my twice a day trip to school and back added up to 120 miles and three hours of daily travel.  In the winter I left for school when it was still dark, and didn't get home again until long after the sun set.  On a few occasions snow kept us home from school.

All the disadvantages of living in the mountains was sure off set by the beauty of the place.  I miss that simple life and those few difficulties.  

A few years before moving to Oakhurst I had a chance to experience life in rural Montana where my relatives had no electricity, and no indoor plumbing.  We are sure spoiled today.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reel Cowboys of the Santa Susanas -- Jimmy Wakely

Jimmy Wakely (1914-1982) was an American B-Western actor and country Western music singer.  He was one of the last silver screen singing cowboys.  His film career started as a musician performing first as "Jimmy Wakely and His Roughriders," then as the "Jimmy Wakely Trio," and still later as "Jimmy Wakely's Saddle Pals."

Jimmy Wakely's Santa Susana filming locations filmography:

Arrow in the Dust (1954) starring Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray and Keith Larsen (Burro Flats)(Iverson Ranch) Allied Artists (supporting role)

Marshal's Daughter, The (1953) starring Hoot Gibson, Johnny Mack Brown and Ken Murray (Iverson Ranch) United Artists (supporting role)

Partners of the Sunset (1948) starring Jimmy Wakely, Dub Taylor and Christine Larsen (Iverson Ranch) Monogram

Silver Trails (1948) starring Jimmy Wakely, Dub Taylor and Christine Larsen - Monogram

Ridin' Down the Trail (1947) starring Jimmy Wakely, Dub Taylor and Douglas Fowley (Iverson Ranch) Monogram

Six-Gun Serenade (1947) starring Jimmy Wakely, Lee 'Lasses' White and Kay Morley - Monogram

Rough Ridin' Justice (1945) starring Charles Starrett, Dub Taylor and Betty Jane Graham Columbia (Musician as Jimmy Wakely)

Saddle Leather Law (1944) starring Charles Starrett, Dub Taylor and Vi Athens - Columbia (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely's Saddle Pals)

Cyclone Prairie Rangers (1944) starring Charles Starrett, Dub Taylor and Constance Worth (Corriganville) Columbia (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely's Saddle Pals)

Sundown Valley (1944) starring Charles Starrett, Dub Taylor and Jeanne Bates - Columbia (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely's Saddle Pals)

Cowboy in the Clouds (1943) starring Charles Starrett, Dub Taylor and Julie Duncan (Iverson Ranch) Columbia (supporting role)

Lone Star Trail (1943) starring Johnny Mack Brown, Tex Ritter and Fuzzy Knight - Universal (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely Trio)

Raiders of San Joaquin (1943) starring Johnny Mack Brown, Tex Ritter and Fuzzy Knight (Corriganville) Universal (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely Trio)

Cheyenne Roundup (1943) starring Johnny Mack Brown, Tex Ritter and Fuzzy Knight - Universal (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely Trio)

Little Joe, the Wrangler (1942) starring Johnny Mack Brown, Tex Ritter and Fuzzy Knight - Universal (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely Trio)

Deep in the Heart of Texas (1942) starring Johnny Mack Brown, Tex Ritter and Fuzzy Knight (Corriganville) Universal (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely Trio)

Come on Danger! (1942) starring Tim Holt, Frances E. Neal and Ray Whitley (Iverson Ranch) RKO (Musician as Jimmy Wakely)

Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie (1941) starring Johnny Mack Brown, Fuzzy Knight and Nell O'Day (Iverson Ranch) Universal (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely and His 'Roughriders')

Tulsa Kid, The (1940) starring Don 'Red' Barry, Noah Beery, Luana Walters (Iverson Ranch) Republic (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely and His 'Roughriders')

Texas Terrors (1940) starring Don 'Red' Barry, Julie Duncan and Arthur Loft (Iverson Ranch) Republic (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely and His 'Roughriders')

Pony Post (1940) starring Johnny Mack Brown, Fuzzy Knight and Nell O'Day (Iverson Ranch) Universal (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely and His 'Roughriders')

Saga of Death Valley (1939) starring Roy Rogers, George 'Gabby' Hayes and Don 'Red' Barry (Iverson Ranch) Republic (Musicians as Jimmy Wakely and His 'Roughriders')

"Shotgun Slade" (1959) TV series

Friday, July 19, 2013

Layered Clothing Is Best For Canoeing

Back in the 1950s -- when I first began canoeing -- blue jeans, a tee shirt, and tennis shoes were my standard attire for all outdoor activities.  Since then I've learned -- the hard way -- there are better clothing options for outdoor activities.  I'm about to take my grandsons on their first canoe adventure, and I want them to be safe and protected from all things that can hurt them, so here's my clothing advice for them.

Sun, wind, rainy weather, and cold water can make you uncomfortable and may even be dangerous when things go wrong.

Most of my canoe trips are during the summer when the days are warm -- usually with temperatures that range from a low of 35˚ (early mornings) to a high of 85˚ degrees -- and I rarely canoe in water colder than 50˚ degrees.  

If you plan to canoe in colder weather and cold water (below 50˚) you should consider wet or dry suit options for better thermal protection.

Over the years I've discovered you are more comfortable canoeing when you dress in layers that can be added or removed as weather conditions change during the day.

Moisture Management Layer 

My first layer of clothing -- closest to my skin -- consists of a pair of nylon briefs, a long sleeve polypropylene tee shirt, and lightweight merino wool socks.  These are wicking fabrics designed to draw moisture away from my skin.  Cotton is a poor choice because it is very absorbent and too slow to dry, and can lead to hypothermia in cold conditions.

Insulation Layer

My next layer of clothing consists of wool whipcord pants, a nylon or wool shirt, a web belt, and pack boots or quick drying water shoes.  Wool is a great natural insulator, even when wet.  However, it's slow to dry and can be heavy when wet.  I've found that thinner whipcord pants are ideal even on fairly warm days, but if I think it's going to be warmer than mid 70s I often wear nylon pants.  Nylon is quick drying and offers some protection in windy conditions. 

My final insulation layer is a synthetic fleece jacket.  It stays warm even when wet and is lighter weight than a wool jacket.  Finally, always wear a PFD (personal flotation device).

Rain and Wind Protection Layer

On all paddling trips I carry a light gore-tex®‎ paddle jacket and a pair of gore-tex rain pants in my essentials bag (photo above).  They repel wind and light rain while providing excellent breathability.  When on longer wilderness trips I also carry a gore-tex®‎ mountain parka with a polar fleece lining.


Head Protection -- a good wide brim cowboy hat provides fair protection from both sun and rain.  It also helps keep my head warm on colder mornings.  In a pinch -- I've even baled a swamped canoe with mine.

Hand Protection -- I usually don't like to wear gloves for paddling and rely on a little sunscreen during the day and hand lotion at night.  However, I do carry a pair of polypropylene gloves for those frosty early mornings.  If you are prone to blisters you may want to buy a pair of NRS paddler's gloves.

Footwear -- Keeping your feet warm and dry is next to impossible on paddling trips (you will get wet during canoe entries and exits).  I like water shoes when I'm only going to be out for a few hours and don't have to do a lot of walking.  Hiking or portaging in wet, soggy shoes can lead to blisters, twisted ankles and falls, so I always pack an extra pair of comfortable lightweight boots (and socks) for onshore activities. 

Sunglasses -- I wear floating, polarized sunglasses on lanyard.

For more canoe adventure stories and other helpful suggestions see: http://a-drifting-cowboy.blogspot.com/2012/12/fishing-and-canoeing-tales.html

When you're 50 miles from the nearest outpost and it's raining you'll be glad you have the correct layered clothing.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Reel Cowboys of the Santa Susanas -- Reed Hadley

Reed Hadley (1911-1974) was an American radio, film and television actor.  He is best remembered for his deep 'authoritative' voice, as seen in the television series, "Racket Squad" (1950–1953).

Hadley was the voice of cowboy hero Red Ryder on the radio show during the 1940s.  His most memorable starring role was as the title character of Zorro in Republic Pictures' serial "Zorro's Fighting Legion" (1939).  His booming voice was the narrator on many Hollywood films.  Between 1938 and 1971, he appeared in 129 titles.

Reed Hadley's Santa Susana locations filmography:

Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939) starring Reed Hadley, Sheila Darcy, William Corson (Iverson Ranch)(Burro Flats) Republic

Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) starring Tom Tyler, Frank Coghlan Jr., William 'Billy' Benedict (Iverson Ranch) Republic

Road Agent (1941) starring Dick Foran, Leo Carrillo, Andy Devine (Iverson Ranch) Universal

Arizona Terrors (1942) starring Don 'Red' Barry, Lynn Merrick, Al St. John (Burro Flats) Republic

The Fabulous Texan (1947) starring Bill Elliott, John Carroll, Catherine McLeod (Iverson Ranch) Republic

I Shot Jesse James (1949) starring Preston Foster, Barbara Britton, John Ireland (Iverson Ranch) Lippert

Rimfire (1949) starring James Millican, Mary Beth Hughes, Reed Hadley (Iverson Ranch) Screen Guild 

Apache Chief (1949) [narrator] starring Alan Curtis, Tom Neal, Russell Hayden (Corriganville) Lippert

Red Desert (1949) [narrator] starring Don 'Red' Barry, Tom Neal, Jack Holt - Lippert

The Baron of Arizona (1950) starring Vincent Price, Ellen Drew, Vladimir Sokoloff (Corriganville) Deputy Corp

Little Big Horn (1951) starring Lloyd Bridges, John Ireland, Marie Windsor (Iverson Ranch) Bali Prod.

Kansas Pacific (1953) starring Sterling Hayden, Eve Miller, Barton MacLane (Iverson Ranch) Allied Artists 

"Wagon Train" (1958) TV series

"Bat Masterson" (1958) TV series

"Restless Gun" (1958-1959) TV series

"The Texan" (1959-1960) TV series

Gunfight at Comanche Creek (1963) [narrator] starring Audie Murphy, Ben Cooper, Colleen Miller (Iverson Ranch) Allied Artists

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cowboy Boots -- Plain and Fancy

Yesterday I came across two decks of cowboy boot trading cards I've had for about 20 years.  They were used as a catalog by the Rocketbuster Boot company in the pre-internet days.  

Back about 1991, I purchased a pair of flashy Rocketbuster "Ride 'em Cowboy" boots to wear to a cowboy design show.  Truthfully, I've only worn them a few times because they are just to gaudy for me, and I prefer more traditional cowboy gear.  However, finding those old cards got me to thinkin' about cowboy boots and how they came to be.  I've been trying to get my grandsons interested in horseback riding, and if they get serious I'll need to buy them some good boots before I take them out on any serious trail rides.

About Cowboy Boots

Some years back a fellow found a way to recycle old plastic chewing tobacco cans by filling them with steer manure, and neatly labeling them "cowboy boot polish."  

Maybe it was the same fellow -- who after discovering his brand new -- freshly polished -- cowboy boots were dusty and dirty after a short walk across a corral -- said, "real cowboys don't polish their boots 'cause it's a waste of time."  

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  Cowboy boots are an expensive and necessary part of everyday life, and real cowboys take good care of all leather goods including saddles, bridles, and cowboy boots which need regular cleaning and conditioning to protect them and make last.

The first pair of cowboy boots I ever wore belonged to my aunt Olive -- Montana 1950

Historically cowboy boots have: 

• high 2" heels (to minimize the risk of your foot sliding forward through the stirrup.  A boot caught in the stirrup could be life threatening if you became unseated and fall, but are hung-up in the stirrup.  Your horse could panic and run causing you to be dragged to death).

• rounded or pointed toe (a bit narrowed at the toe to make it easier to insert into the stirrup).

• slick soles (allow easy insertion and removal of the foot from the stirrup when mounting and dismounting).

• high shafts (help hold the boot in place and also protect the lower leg from rubbing on the stirrup leathers, as well as fending off brush and thorns.  When dismounted, they help protect your leg and foot from rocks, brush, thorns, and rattlesnakes.  In rainy weather or at creek crossings, high tops help prevent your boot from filling with mud and water).

I've always worn lace-up packer boots when working without my horse.

• traditionally no lacing (which could also can hang-up, however packer boots -- worn when you're likely to be walking a great deal -- are an exception). 

Flashy and Otherwise

High top buckaroo boots are popular in California and Nevada.

Cowboys are unlikely to ruin a good pair of dress boots while working, so most own a couple of pair of everyday work boots as well as some more decorative boots to wear in town.  Early boots were cowhide leather pieced together with single rows of top stitching, but as custom boots became more available, cowboys started asking for decorative stitching, cutouts in the high tops (such as Texas stars and steer heads), and different materials such as exotic skins like alligator, snake, ostrich, lizard, eel, elk and buffalo.

Stars Influenced Style

Tom Mix with fancy boots and spurs -- at a shindig -- in an early silent film.

Over time wild west show performers, country music artists, and B-Western movie stars greatly influenced styles of today's cowboy boots.

Fashion leaders in the movies included Roy Rogers -- seen here in Chatsworth -- carrying an extra pair of boots (photo courtesy of Bruce Hickey).

Gene Autry -- seen here playing a guitar -- in an early circa 1930s publicity still (photo courtesy of Bruce Hickey).

And, late comer Rex Allen with a colorful floral pattern while sidekick Slim Pickens has a more traditional pair of boots pulled on with long mule-ear straps (photo courtesy of Bruce Hickey).

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Reel Cowboys of the Santa Susanas -- Johnny Carpenter

Johnny Carpenter (above right) (1914-2003) was an American film actor, screenwriter and producer.  Between 1953 and 1956 he produced and starred in a handful of Westerns, three of which -- The Lawless Rider (1954), Outlaw Treasure (1955) and I Killed Wild Bill Hickok (1956) -- were lensed on the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth.

Besides being B-Western actor, Carpenter had a great love of horses and tried to share his enthusiasm with all who cared.   In the 1940s he created "Heaven on Earth" ranch, which eventually settled in Lake View Terrace, CA.  The ranch was available for handicapped children -- mostly from Los Angeles -- to come and spend a day enjoying horses and the mock western town that served as the ranch's backdrop. The ranch operated until the mid 1990s -- approximately fifty years.

Johnny Carpenter's Santa Susana locations filmography includes:

Santa Fe Saddlemates (1945)[supporting role] starring Sunset Carson, Linda Stirling, Olin Howland (Iverson Ranch) Republic

Trail of Kit Carson (1945)[supporting role] starring Allan Lane, Helen Talbot, Tom London (Iverson Ranch) Republic

Song of Old Wyoming (1945)[supporting role] starring Eddie Dean, Sarah Padden, Ian Keith (Corriganville) PRC

Romance of the West (1946)[supporting role] starring Eddie Dean, Emmett Lynn, Joan Barton (Iverson Ranch)(Corriganville) PRC

El Paso Kid, The (1946)[supporting role] starring Sunset Carson, Marie Harmon, Hank Patterson (Iverson Ranch) Republic

Colorado Serenade (1946)[supporting role] starring Eddie Dean, Roscoe Ates, David Sharpe (Corriganville) PRC

Stranger from Ponca City, The (1947)[supporting role] starring Charles Starrett, Virginia Hunter, The Lone Star Cowboys (Iverson Ranch) Columbia  

Badman's Gold (1951) starring Johnny Carpenter, Alyn Lockwood, Clarke Stevens (Iverson Ranch) Eagle-Lion

Cattle Queen (1951) starring Maria Hart, Drake Smith, William Fawcett, Johnny Carpenter (Iverson Ranch) Jack Schwarz

Cave of Outlaws (1951)[supporting role] starring Macdonald Carey, Alexis Smith, Edgar Buchanan (Iverson Ranch) Universal

"Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok" (1951) TV series

Duel at Silver Creek, The (1952)[supporting role] starring Audie Murphy, Faith Domergue, Stephen McNally (Iverson Ranch) Universal

Adventures of the Texas Kid: Border Ambush (1954)[supporting role] starring Hugh Hooker, John Laurenz, Pamela Blake (Corriganville)  John Jay Franklin Prod

Lawless Rider, The (1954) starring Johnny Carpenter, Rose Bascom, Frankie Darro (Iverson Ranch) Royal West

"The Cisco Kid" (1955) TV series

Outlaw Treasure (1955) Johnny Carpenter, Adele Jergens, Glenn Langan (Iverson Ranch) Wheeler Co

"Death Valley Days" (1959) TV series

I Killed Wild Bill Hickok (1956) starring Johnny Carpenter, Helen Westcott, Tom Brown (Iverson Ranch) Wheeler Co.

"26 Men" (1958) TV series

"Death Valley Days" (1959) TV series

"The Rifleman" (1960) TV series