Category Archives: History

Pancho Barnes

Pancho BarnesIf you ever saw “The Right Stuff,” then you are familiar with this person, one of those obscure movie characters who turned out to be a real person – Pancho Barnes. She was the owner of the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a remote bar and grill situated in the Southern California high desert along the edges of Edwards Air Force base.

She was quite the character.

Born Florence L. Lowe on July 22, 1901, in Pasadena. Her Grandfather was a pioneer of American Aviation. Thaddeus Lowe established the Union Army Balloon Corps in the Civil War.

In 1928 she took flying lessons on a whim and immediately displayed a natural skill for stick and rudder. After only six hours of instruction Barnes made her first solo.

Within the year she was competing in air races and running her own barnstorming show. She picked up Union Oil as a sponsor in 1929 and broke Amelia Earhart’s womens speed record of 196.19 mph.

After completing her contract with Union, it was off to Hollywood where Barnes went to work as a stunt pilot. She founded the Associated Motion Picture Pilots, a union of film industry stunt fliers who promoted flying safety and standardized pay for aerial stunt work. She flew in several air-adventure movies of the 1930s, including Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels.

Like many others Barnes lost her money during the Great Depression. The only thing remaining was her Hollywood apartment. She sold that and purchased 180 acres of land in the Mojave Desert.

Her Happy Bottom Riding Club, a dude ranch/restaurant, catered to airmen at the nearby airfield and her friends from Hollywood. Barnes became very close friends with many of the early test pilots, including Chuck Yeager, General Jimmy Doolittle, and Buzz Aldrin. Pancho’s ranch became famous for the parties and high-flying lifestyle of all the guests.

Pancho BarnesA misunderstanding with the Air Force in the early fifties ended with her place designated off-limits to military personnel. The whole affair played out in court during a high-profile lawsuit, Pancho Barnes vs. the U.S. Air Force. Sometime during the trial the Happy Bottom Riding Ranch burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. She won her suit and was awarded $375,000 for her business and property.

Pancho Barnes was played by actress Kim Stanley in The Right Stuff, and by Valerie Bertinelli in the 1988 TV movie, Pancho Barnes.

Pancho Barnes died in her Boron, Calif., home on March 30, 1975. Her son dropped her ashes from an airplane flying over the desert remains of the old Happy Bottom Riding Club. She was 73.

I tell you, we got two categories of pilots around here. We got your prime pilots that get all the hot planes, and we got your pud-knockers who dream about getting the hot planes. Now what are you two pud-knockers gonna have?

– Kim Stanley as Pancho Barnes – The Right Stuff[/box]


Remembering June 5, 1968

Not quite five years after his brother, President John F. Kennedy was killed by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Robert Kennedy, democratic candidate for President, was shot in the head and back by gunman Sirhan Sirhan. Kennedy died the next day.

When I think back to the kind of man Robert Kennedy was and the turmoil of the times, I wonder what kind of difference he would have made as president. His death likely cemented Nixon’s journey to the White House.

Oh, the good they die young.

Valentine’s Day

February 14 – Valentines Day; the annual love-fest brought to you by the good folks at Hallmark. Seriously, I thought Valentines day was dreamed up by the chocolate candy and greeting card folks for the sole purpose of extracting dollars from your wallet at the speed of cherubs.

In the internet age research has become as easy as tapping out a word in a search bar and information pops up like a bagel from your toaster. Try it – search for “Valentine’s Day” and see what you get.

The day is named after one or more early Christian martyrs, Saint Valentine, and was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD.  Wow, that makes Valentines Day almost as old as Christmas and certainly older than Halloween and Thanksgiving. Who woulda thought?

The more interesting legends of V-Day are found at the next stop on the Google train –

One story goes that Valentine was a priest during the reign of Claudius II. Legend has it that the Emperor decided single men made better soldiers than their married counterparts so he outlawed marriage for young men. Priest Valentine believed the dictate to be unjust and began performing weddings on the down-low for young lovers. The Emperor discovered Valentine’s secret ceremonies and had him put to death. Everyone loves a martyr.

For you guys (me included) that failed to pickup a V-Day card for your sweetheart, fear not, for you are in good masculine company. It is estimated that 85% of all Valentine Cards purchased in the United States are bought by women.

Of all the commercial celebrations V-Day has usually been my least favorite. Over the years it seemed like February 14th was holding a gun to my head saying, by God you will love someone today! The fact of the matter is, I don’t need a date on the calendar to profess my love. The love is the same on May 17th or October 6th.  The only difference is the cards are much better. To my sweetheart I would say your Valentine is locked away in the depths of my heart and I share it with you every day.

I don’t understand why Cupid was chosen to represent Valentine’s Day.  When I think about romance, the last thing on my mind is a short, chubby toddler coming at me with a weapon. ~Author Unknown

It’s about the Tea Party

Not this tea party…

Or this…TeaParty

Or this…TeaSet

I’m talking about this Tea Party

December 16, 1773, in Boston, Massachusetts, a small group of colonists, (perhaps America’s first revolutionists) dressed as Mohawk Indians, boarded three ships anchored in the Boston harbor and over the course of three hours, dumped their tea cargo overboard. Those darned insurrectionist colonists!

What was that all about? Honestly, it’s not a lot different than some of the same things we face today – Taxation without Representation. Oh sure, we have elected officials in high office, but between you and me. I don’t feel very represented.

The original tea party was nothing more than a Tax Revolt lead by colonist Sam Adams. It was about the Tea Tax, which had been enacted by Parliament and signed off on by King George in May of 1773.  The point of the Tax was literally to save the financially troubled East India Trading Company – possibly the first government bailout. Funny thing about the Tea Tax – it didn’t raise the price of tea. To the contrary, it actually saved the colonists about a shilling per pound over the Dutch tea being smuggled into the colonies.  The point was this taxation without representation thing. It was about moving towards independence from British rule.

There’s enough history about the Boston Tea Party that I’m not going to fill this blog with information readily available with a quick Google.  I just wanted to commemorate the event that pushed us closer to the American Revolution.  The freedoms we know today were born on 342 crates of tea dumped into the Boston Harbor that December 16th, some 237 years ago.

The Tea Party of today took it’s name from this historic event.  Although many of the principles and goals of the group differ from the original colonists, the fundamental concept of freedom from a tyrannical government is at the foundation of today’s movement.

Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. ~John Adams in a letter to John Taylor, April 15, 1814