"Your home work for your first day of English class, due tomorrow is one on your summer vacation," said Miss Bales. This should be interesting I thought, should I tell the truth or make up the usual crap, like we went to the beach on Lake Erie or to Columbus to the zoo.
I guess I should explain why I am even thinking of making something up. I have proof of what happened but I don't know if I want all the nonsense that will go with it when it comes out. But it will come out anyway after that last bit in Philadelphia so I might as well go for it.
It all started late May of last year, I had just finished 8th grade, and my dad Jack Jackson and I were discussing what I would do for the summer. Dad was a child during the great depression and had been in the Civilian Conservation Corp, as a youth out in Idaho, killing coyotes. He was in the Army during World War II, where he met my English mother. I think I was the reason they got married but this was not discussed but I could do arithmetic.
My name is Richard Edward Jackson, known as Rick or Ricky; I am large for my age at five foot ten inches and one hundred seventy pounds. From my Father, Cousins and Uncles sizes I still had a lot of growth left. I am fourteen years old, turning fifteen in October. I am known as Ricky to friends and family.
Anyway Dad said, "By the time I was your age I was all around the country. Hell when I was twelve I ran away with the carnival, but your grandmother had the Sheriff chase me down. Later she swore she should have just let me go."
"You wouldn't mind if I traveled around a bit?"
"Not at all but your Mother might care."
"But if I mention it to her would you say it is okay?"
"That would be better than running your paper route and sitting around reading all the time." Now Dad was happy that I worked and had been doing so since the fifth grade. He did not mind that I read all the time, which was easy because the library was a stop on my paper route. What he minded was me sitting on the porch swing for hours at a time reading and getting a little pudgy.
Taking my life in my hands I broached the subject at dinner that night. My two younger brothers and sister had not acted up, and Dad had not gone on a toot (what he called a drinking spree) for a while so there was no tension at the table. Also money must have been okay because Dad had moved up from the extra board as a switchman on the railroad to become a conductor.
This was not like a conductor on a passenger train; this was like a supervisor putting the cars in place for a freight train. The switchmen and brakemen had to take orders from him. This irked two of my Uncles who did those jobs.
Anyway I said, "Mum would you care if I saw a little of the country on this vacation?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well I only go up to Indian Lake, about ten miles, with you and Dad. Would you care if I rode my bike or even hitchhiked up there?" In those days hitchhiking was quite common and not considered a bad thing.
"I might even get to Cincinnati to see a ball game!"
"That sounds ambitious; I doubt that you would have the nerve for that, it is one hundred miles there."
"I won't know if I don't try."
Mum looked at Dad and asked, "What do you think?"
"Well I sort of put it in his mind, so I am okay with it."
Mum then gave me a look and said, "You can do it, now tell me what you really have in mind?" I should have known I would not get anything past her."
"I would like to hitchhike out west and see as much country as I can during the summer."
"I thought it was something like that. Actually I do not see anything wrong with it; you have the size, seem to have common sense. I certainly did more adventuresome things when I was your age."
"Like what I asked?"
"Well you know we lived in Grays, a small town on the Thames River between Dover and London. We used to make rafts to cross the river. You don't know fear until an Ocean Liner is blowing its horn for you to get out of the way when you are on a raft. So I do understand. You will just be careful of who you take rides with."
And so my summer vacation started. I had saved forty dollars from my paper route which I no longer had. This was almost a grown man's week's wages in those days. I had a thin sleeping bag, ground cloth, shaving kit and an old army rucksack to carry several changes of clothes. I had the required Barlow pocketknife of all boys my age and a comb.
What I did have that was unusual was my passport. Since Dad was a GI and Mum British, I had dual citizenship. My parents thought we could afford a trip to England several years ago but it didn't work out, but I did end up with the American Passport. It was very handy for impressing the girls.
It was the only ID that I had on me other than my library card. Mum gave me five dollars to be only used in an emergency and told me I had to send a post card every few days so they knew about where I was at.
I had already learned in life that what parents approved one day might change the next. So I was up early on May 31, the next day. The school calendar was easy to follow those years. School ended the day before Memorial Day and took up again the day after Labor Day. The dinner conversation was on Thursday night May 30, and school was over for the year. I had passed eighth grade going on to the ninth.
I was up at day break and packed but Mum was up and had breakfast waiting, my favorite bowl of cereal, Quaker Oaks puffed rice. While I ate she made me two baloney sandwiches for lunch. She also gave me an Army surplus canteen that Dad had left for me. He was at work but both figured I wouldn't waste time once I had permission.
After a hug from Mum, I walked the five blocks to Main Street which was also US 68 in Bellefontaine, Ohio. From there I started walking south. It did not take long before Ernie Nevers slowed down. He was an older paperboy who could drive. He offered me a lift. He thought I was heading out to fair grounds south of town.
When I told him I was heading towards Springfield he really questioned me. I explained my summer mission, seeing the West. He scoffed, "You will be home tomorrow, but since I am heading for Urbana I will take you that far."
We spent the half hour drive going west; the truth was neither of us knew much. If I went to Springfield and followed US 40 to the Ocean then turned left I would get to LA. In those days the Interstate system was just being built and US 40 still went all the way to San Francisco.
Anyway Ernie dropped me off in the center of Urbana at the roundabout and I started walking south. It took me about half an hour to get to the edge of town and stick my thumb out. Of course the first person to stop was a county sheriff's deputy.
He was polite and wanted to know who I was, where I was going and the usual things a cop might ask, like had I run away from home. I in return politely gave my story.
He laughed and said, "Not many people do that anymore. I tried it just before the war. I got clear to Indianapolis before I got homesick. Good luck and have fun." Things were different in those days.
At about that time an old farm truck slowed down and the Deputy flagged him over. "Hey Bill we got a young man on his way west, He needs to get to Springfield to pick up 40."
"Well hop in youngster! I remember those days; I used to ride the rail when I was your age. We would jump a box car to Dayton; then go south to Cincinnati to watch a ball game at Crosley Field. We were thirteen and would drink Hudephol Beer. The kid that sold it to us probably was ten. It was a dime a bottle.
The old farmer regaled me with fun stuff he did as a kid half way to Springfield. He let me out at his turnoff and wished me luck.
My next ride took forty minutes and was an insurance man going to his office in Springfield. He wanted to know where I was from and did my parents need insurance. I could not really answer him so it was a quite ride. He let me off downtown Springfield on the main drag which was route 40.
Since it was Memorial Day a parade was lined up on 40 getting ready to head west. The floats were lined up along street. One float, the Future Farmers of America had boys and girls my age. One of the girls a cute brunet said, "Hi," as her float was slowly going by.
Of course being nobody's fool I said, "Hi" back.
She got a funny look and said, "Oh I am sorry I thought you were someone else."
This gave me the opening to ask, "Who did you mistake me for?" I continued to walk along besides the float.
After that a more general conversation ensued with me telling her and the other kids on the float of my big trip. This resulted in getting an invitation to ride the float out to the edge of town. All the kids thought it was neat that my parents would let me do that. We weren't cool in those days, just neat.
I felt like I was King of the World on that ride. Then reality caught up with me as we reached the cemetery at the edge of town for the Memorial Day ceremonies. I went my way and they went theirs.
I stood by the road with my thumb out for half an hour according to my glow in the dark Timex watch. This became boring so I started walking, putting my thumb out whenever a car would come by.
It took me the rest of the day to reach Dayton. As it was getting dark I left the road and camped in a small wood's. My food was long gone, I was tired hungry, lonely and a little scared of being out alone. I was jumping at every little sound.
I managed to get through the night and if there were any tears you will never know. Day light comes like it usually does, so I did my morning duty and headed out. Being fourteen I did not think what my hair would look like so for some reason no one wanted to pick me up.
Later at a small gas station after looking in the mirror I wouldn't have picked me up either. After cleaning up as best as I could, I bought a couple of candy bars and a Coke to hold me till I got to real food. The station also sold outdoor goods and I was able to find a small metal mirror. This way I could use my comb and avoid looking like some deranged killer.
Not too far down the road was a small dinner. I paid seventy five cents for a couple of eggs, bacon and hash browns along with my first cup of coffee ever. Everything but the coffee was good. I had to kill the taste with so much sugar and cream that the waitress was laughing at me.
I made fifty miles that day. At this rate it would take me two months to get to California. I kept trudging along. I did learn that those Burma Shave signs were further apart than I had thought; also the Mail Pouch Tobacco advertisements painted on the side of barns weren't really that good of a paint job. The fancy work from a distance was pretty sloppy hand painting up close.
I realized I was far from home when I had to reset my watch when I was west of Indianapolis. I dialed my watch back one hour from Eastern Daylight Savings Time to Eastern Standard Time.
A week later I was leaving Indiana for Illinois when I saw a farm truck with a flat tire. The driver was an elderly lady (at least forty); she was just sitting in her truck.
I asked her if she needed help and she told me that she could not handle the spare. I changed the tire for her and she gave me a lift down the road as far as her farm, she then invited me in for lunch after I told her my story.
Her husband came out of the field to eat with us. He laughed at my story and said, "I bet you would like nothing better than a bath right now."
I told him he was correct.
"I thought that would be the case, I was all over Europe with Patton and a bath was the goal of every soldier. Home and girls were the dream, but a good soak was the goal."
While I cleaned up, Mrs. Whaley washed my clothes. They had some old things I could wear while mine were on the clothes line. By then it was getting late and they invited me for dinner and the night. I wasn't shy; it was so good to be under a roof.
During dinner Mr. Whaley asked if I would mind staying for a couple of days to help with some chores. He had some fencing to replace and it was a two man job. He would pay me five dollars for the two days plus meals and a bed. I immediately took him up on it.
The next day I was asked if I had let my parents know how I was doing. Of course I was in the middle of my second week and had not done so. Mrs. Whaley gave me a post card and one of the new four cent stamps. Postage had actually gone up since my trip had started.
On June first it went from three cents to four cents. The way prices were raising we would all starve, at least according to Mrs. Whaley. I wrote several lines saying I had just got into Illinois and that I was fine. I put it in the mailbox and raised the flag for the mailman.
After two days of fencing I was ready to move on. Mr. Whaley paid me my five dollars and we shook hands and I was off again. Mrs. Whaley had packed me a little something for the road. If I was careful it might last for three days.
By this time I was getting my road legs. I choose to walk with my thumb out rather than stand and wait. Walking became easier and that pudginess was going away. This got me feeling all virtuous so I decide to do pushups and sit ups every morning. In the back of my mind I probably thought it would last several days as I had tried this before but it actually took and it became part of my morning ritual every day.
I hate St. Louis. It took me an entire day to walk across town. It was side walk all the way so my feet were killing me by the time I hit the western city limits. By this time several problems were becoming apparent. I was half way through my money and my shoes were wearing out.
I had put cardboard in the bottom of the shoe but the hole in the sole was getting too large. I stopped at a farm store and bought a stout pair of Mason work shoes. They should last. They did but were really hard to break in. By the time I had hitched and walked to the Kansas border I had blisters.
I was ready to stop for a while so bought a loaf of bread, boloney and mustard and band aids at a local IGA. I then found a secluded dell and took two days off. On the third morning I woke up feeling like a new person so I hit the road again after performing my new morning ritual.
I was dropped off just over the Kansas state line in Colorado by a Mr. Serling. He had to say, "Toto we aren't in Kansas anymore." I laughed and wished him well in his writing. His delivery of that line was sort of spooky.
I got lucky and caught a ride with a long distance hauler who took me to Craig, Colorado. In those days Craig was a small town that was little more than a crossroads.
When Chet the truck driver let me off he joked that I should be careful, not get lost in town. With a grin and a wave he took off like all the other people in life I had met recently.
My first goal was to change my last and only money in the form of a twenty dollar bill to smaller bills and change.
The First Bank of Colorado was right there so I went in. I was fifth in line and the tellers were real friendly, as a matter of fact they were so friendly that I was only third in line about fifteen minutes later. I was last in line and when the door opened I turned to look.
It was two men and they had guns out! "Stick'em up this is a robbery", one yelled. He pushed his way to the front of the line and handed the Teller a pillow case and said, "Fill it up!" The other came up beside me and said, "We are taking it all, give me your money."
I probably did the wrong thing. He had thrust his handgun close to me. I grabbed his hand and turned the barrel away from me. His finger was in the trigger guard, I about ripped his finger off as I turned the gun away from me to his right. He let go of the gun and I had it. I never thought; it was all happening so fast, I just pointed it at his chest and pulled the trigger. A loud Bang and he went down.
The other guy was turning towards me, but I was facing him so the gun I held was already aimed in his direction, so I pointed at his chest and pulled the trigger. Another Bang, and the robbery attempt was over and I had just killed two men in about three seconds. It all happened so fast the other people in line had not time to move.
I stood there feeling numb. At that time all heck broke loose as the Burglary Alarm was set off by a teller. The bank guard came out of the back room where he had been using the bathroom and immediately got the drop on me. This was easy since I was just standing there with the gun hanging down trying to process what had just happened. The tellers got him straightened out as the Police came charging in and got the drop on me again.
Again the tellers got it all straightened out. I surrendered the handgun to the police, which I learned later was a M1911A 45 caliber semi-automatic. The cops found the robbers getaway car with engine running around the corner. They closed the bank and set me in a conference room. A male teller brought me a glass of water and closed the door behind him. I promptly got the shakes.
I had pretty well settled down when the FBI showed up two hours later. The agents were very nice to me and I appreciated that they did not get the drop on me, like everyone else had. It was more like a conversation than the grilling I expected.
They wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there. I gave them the short version of my road trip and let them look at my American passport. For some reason I thought it was better not to show my United Kingdom one and open a can of worms.
After getting my version of events they told me that it agreed with what all the others had told them. They then proceeded to tell me that the two guys, brothers by the name of John and Ernest Johnson were wanted for bank robbery and murder in three states.
They had robbed nine banks and killed six people, wounding four others. These were bad people. I was eligible for the reward because it was, dead or alive, and there was no doubt about the dead part.
The rewards totaled twenty five thousand dollars! The agents had the paperwork and helped me fill it out, and attested to the facts. The bank was kind enough to let me use their phone to call home. Boy was Mum surprised and relieved to hear from me. I assured her all was okay, so then she started to get mad because I had only sent one postcard.
So I dropped the bank robbery on her and she got all shook up and even madder that I had almost got killed. Then I told her of the reward. She got very quiet. I ask for Dads checking account numbers so the money could be deposited there.
"Mum when you get the money lets pay off all our debts, buy a new house and a new car."
"It is your money!"
"I know but what do I need all that for, let's do some good for our family. And I only mean our family, don't let Uncle Wally get his hands on it and drink it away. Maybe you can let Dad go on one big toot, but that is all."
"Jack does not need to go on a toot; he will be too busy house hunting and buying new furniture."
"Your call Mum, I just want to help the family."
"It is appreciated; now don't wait so long till you let us know how you are doing."
"I won't Mum, talk to you later.
When I got off the phone the Bank President wanted to talk to me. "Ricky, our Board of Directors has authorized five hundred dollars on top of the reward you have earned. Do you want it sent with the other money?"
I thought for a moment, and replied, "Could I have it in cash?"
"Do you think that will be safe," he started; then coughed, "I remember what happened to the last person who tried to take your money. Of course you can have the cash. I will be right back."
After he got back with my money said, "The FBI has asked that you stay in town for several days in case something else comes up."
"I guess I have no choice, is there anywhere I can stay?"
"I checked and there aren't any hotel rooms available. I did make a phone call and a member of the local school board, Clint Easterly is willing to put you up. He's here in town and will be stopping by in a few minutes."
It was a very short few minutes because just then Mr. Easterly walked into the room.
"I hear there is a young man that needs a place to stay."
The Bank President Mr. Weber introduced me. I told him I would be very pleased to have a room as I was getting tired of sleeping out. I was willing to pay for it, but he would have none of that. In short order he had me in his pickup and headed out to his ranch.
I met his wife Sally who treated me like a long lost son. I had a bath before dinner and put on my last clean clothes, at dinner I mentioned that I had to find a laundry mat in town. She laughed and asked if I had looked in a mirror recently.
Of course I hadn't. Well it appeared that I was now six foot and one half inches tall. My pants and shirt sleeves were both too short. I needed all new clothes! Fortunately I now had the money.
The next day Mr. and Mrs. Easterly took me into town; our first stop was at the local newspaper. They wanted my description of what happened during the bank robbery. The reporter, a Mr. James Olsen, asked so many questions about me, where I was from and my family that I felt more intimidated by him than the FBI.
When the reporter introduced himself he chuckled when he made a point of telling me he wasn't a photographer. I laughed and said, "You must be asked about Superman a lot."
"You have no idea, but I have learned to live with it." The laugh we shared got us off to a good start but I still felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of his questions.
Mr. Easterly let me fend for myself during the interview but later told me I did okay. Not much praise but I had the impression that an "Okay" from him was actually a lot. He also promised to mail a copy of the article to my parents.
The next stop was at a newly opened Sheplers. They specialized in western gear so I ended up with cowboy boots, several pairs of jeans along with western shirts, a belt with a large buckle and a straw cowboy hat.
Other than the fact I had only ridden on the fairgrounds pony ride when I was real young I was a rough riding cowboy. I mentioned that to Clint and he told me he had the cure for that.
I thought he was going to put me on horseback.
Well he did that but what he meant was that he raised and provided Brahma bulls for the rodeo. He gave me the basic's and loaded me on back of one. I think he thought I would go flying. I was as surprised as he was when I stayed on.
Seems I had the natural reflexes and balance required. He gave me some pointers on waving my hat and showing off on the ride by waving my arms and hat during the ten second ride, which I did with no problem. After riding two more bulls that morning he said he had never seen such a natural as I had turned out to be.
He had me up on a horse and also taught me how to saddle and care for one. It all came easy and was fun. After three days of this, word came from the FBI that I wasn't needed anymore and could move on.
Clint asked if I wanted to join him as a helper on the rodeo circuit and several other projects as a wrangler (fancy word for helper and dung shoveler.) Those bulls needed a lot of wrangling!
Since he was headed towards California it made sense. He was giving me a ride and paying me. The pay was for spit, but since he helped me, I would have done it for free. Our first stop was outside of Denver to provide riding bulls for a rodeo. The rodeo was a lot bigger than I thought it would be.
It was more like the Ohio State fair than our local Logan County fair. He had talked me into joining the American National Bull Riding Association Junior Division so I was able to enter and ride.
I thought it would be neat to tell my friends in school about entering. When I won the Junior Division at the rodeo it was more than neat. The prize was one hundred dollars and they gave me the neatest big silver buckle for my belt, a trophy and a blue ribbon with the rodeo name and date on it.
We boxed the trophy and ribbons up and shipped them to my parents. They would be surprised! We then headed up to a rodeo in Cheyenne Wyoming. Wouldn't you know I won first place and another one hundred dollars? So it was pack the trophy up and mail it and head down to Fort Collins Colorado for the third rodeo. It was almost anti-climactic when I won that one, but their first prize was two hundred dollars.
I now had more money than I ever had dreamed of. I started talking about becoming a professional rodeo rider. Clint told me not to get too big for my britches.
I had enough points in the Junior Circuit to enter the Grand National Junior in Dallas at the end of August. Again he helped me with the forms but let me know that I would now be going against the real riders and that I would have to step up my game. Heck I was happy to hang on, how could I step that up?
We went out to a dude ranch in Nevada near Reno. They were filming a show which was part of the Mickey Mouse Club. It was the Adventures of Spin and Marty. There was to be a segment about rodeo. We were providing the bulls.
When the child actor who was supposed to be the bull rider refused to get on one they were lost until Clint pointed out that I rode and even won some rodeo contests. They had me join the Screen Actors Guild and made me an extra. It turned out a little more than that because the writers heard Annette say I was cute. That gave them the idea to have me in several episodes.
In the first episode I won the rodeo and Annette swooned over me, much to Spin and Marty's dismay. The next one I made headway with her and they were getting more frustrated. In the third one the writers had me over stepping my bounds and trying to kiss Annette (Gasp!). They catch me in the act and toss me in a horse trough. That was the end of my Disney career.
I did not get a chance to know any of the actors. They had their own trailers; as soon as a scene was finished they would disappear with their chaperons. That ended one boyhood fantasy. They shoot scenes out of sequence so my work was done in two days. They had me in a black hat which I thought was neat but they wouldn't let me keep it.
From Reno we headed down to Yuma Arizona, Clint was providing the bulls for a movie down there starring John Wayne, Elvis Presley and Tab Hunter with a working title of, "It Never Happened." My job was to clean up after the bulls, feed and water them.
I was doing that the second morning when John Wayne came out all hot and bothered. "Where the hell is everybody, we got a scene to shoot," he bellowed as only John Wayne could. He saw me and told me, "Get your butt over to costuming now, you are not being paid to stand around." Well actually I was being paid to stand around with the bulls but when you're fourteen and John Wayne yells at you, you move!
It was just around the corner of the set and since my dress met the requirements they strapped a prop gunfighters rig on me, mounted me on a horse and gave me my direction. Now if I could ride it would have ended up differently.
My job was to be in the back of the pack of bad guys and when I hit a mark in the sand I was supposed to slide off my horse away from the camera. Well it worked until I slid off the horse, my boot caught in the stirrup and the horse started to drag me.
My weight was enough the horse tried to turn away. In doing so he dragged me right in front of the camera. He went about a hundred feet down the road and figured out I was too much to drag and stopped. I was able to work myself free.
When I stood up there was Wayne and the Director followed by the rest of the cast and crew. Wayne wanted to know if I was okay, the Director wanted to know if I could do a retake if they did not get the shot. I guess my mouth hung open because they all started laughing at me. Elvis accused me of being a scene stealer, he was laughing so it was okay.
Clint showed up about then and it came out that I was not even an extra, but a bull wrangler. When I confessed that Wayne's yelling got me in the scene they all thought it was a hoot.
Since I had acquired a Screen Actors Guild card for being on the Mickey Mouse set they decided to use the shot as it was to dramatic to pass up. This was during the time when they had to do the stunts instead of using computer aided backgrounds.
The next few days I bummed around with Elvis and we both were taught Western gun handling with real Colt 45's and how to quick draw. We even got to go out in the desert and plink at tin cans. Elvis was a little upset that I could hit them repeatedly and make them 'walk' and he couldn't. We got along anyway.
The shooting ended for the week, Elvis and Tab Hunter asked me to go to Tijuana with them. Since Clint was heading home I told them yes. Clint reminded me that I was entered in the National Junior Bull Riding Championship and not to forget to go to Dallas. I promised him I would go. We parted company on a good note.
We arrived in Tijuana early on a Saturday night. We walked around eating food from the street vendors. I stayed with corn on a cob as the most likely not to give me stomach problems. It worked, but then neither of the others had problems, at least of that sort.
What I really remember of Tijuana was the buses; the stop signs and the shoe shine boy. I had never seen so many people on a bus. When I say on the bus, they were old school buses which ran up and down the main road. Those who couldn't afford or too cheap to pay would hang from the windows on the outside of the bus. Some would climb and sit on the roof. It lent a new meaning to being full.
The Stop signs were something else, of course they said, "Alto" Spanish for "Stop", what was different was the bottom of the sign's they said, "Drink Seven Up", apparently the Seven Up bottler sponsored the Stop signs!
We were followed by street urchins our whole trip. One finally through persistence got to shine my boots. They gleamed when he was done. I gave him a US Dollar, a gross over payment. I really regretted it two days later when all the stitches on my boots had dissolved.
I had to walk over a mile to buy a new pair while the soles flapped with every step. I have no idea what was in his polish but it was potent. But that was several days in the future; we were in Tijuana tonight to have fun.
I found Elvis's and Tab's idea of fun was to go to a cantina and drink too much, flirt with the pretty girls (at least they were pretty to them after drinking, I didn't care to drink and I didn't think the girls were that pretty), then get in a fight with their boyfriends. It was one heck of a brawl. It was the three of us against about eight of them.
We were holding our own until we heard the police whistles. Everyone headed for the backdoor. I was the only one of our three that made it out. The others got jammed up in the doorway and hauled away by the police.
When I got out the backdoor I followed the guys I had been fighting. They jumped up on the roof of a low standing shed. We all hunkered down low. It is a wonder the cops did not hear the giggling above them. Anyway the cops moved on.
The boy next to me said, "That was a good fight gringo."
"Yeah," I replied, "It was fun."
"It is a shame we can't bail our friends out, they will have to spend the night in jail."
"If you will show me where the police station is I will bail everyone out."
I was led to the police station. Everyone had been booked into the drunk tank. For Elvis, Tab and three Mexican boys it cost me fifty dollars. The Police took group pictures of Elvis, Tab and me with them in various poses. They had recognized Elvis when they saw his ID. Tab was a little put out that he had to tell them who he was.
I was nobody but they included me in the pictures anyway. When it was done everyone shook hands and declared it a wonderful night. I loaded my friends in an International cab and headed back to the US. Fortunately we had all managed to hang onto our ID so we made it back across the border okay.
We had a suite at the Coronado Del Rey a fancy hotel in San Diego. The next day was a bad one for Tab and Elvis. I worked on my tan. They both swore eternal friendship to me for bailing them out of trouble.
Well they did avoid a night in jail but the cops sold the pictures to Variety magazine, the trade journal for the movie industry. Wayne mailed a copy to my home and signed it to me with a note saying, "Wish I were there."
This was all in the future. Early Monday Tab and Elvis headed back to the movie set, I stuck my thumb out and headed North on Highway 101. It turned out to be an easy trip and I found myself out by Long Beach midafternoon. One of my rides told me that if I were looking for work he knew the oil rigs were always looking for roughnecks.
This was a high paying dirty hard job that required a strong back and a fairly weak mind. I met those qualifications. All the walking and daily exercising I had been doing certainly had me in better shape.
I got a hotel room for the night as sleeping on the ground in Long Beach was out of the question. I could not resist the name, Hotel California. It showed I was really there. Years later when the song came out I wished I had sent some of their post cards.
However the next day after breakfast I did check out and leave the Hotel California. My first stop was to buy a new pair of boots, seems the stitches had all dissolved, from my Mexican shoe shine. After that I found my way to the Union hiring haul.
My SAG card and ten dollars got me into the International Oil Rig and Drillers Union. I asked the guy who took my money if he thought I would have a hard time getting on. He just pointed to all the derelict drunks sleeping on benches in the hall.
It turned out one oil rig was hiring roughnecks at sixty dollars a week for a two week stint. They had some extra stuff going on and thought they would need the help.
Well I was hired. I had to buy a hard hat, safety glasses and steel toed work shoes. I was taken by water taxi to the rig which wasn't that far from shore. I spent the next week dirty, tired, sore and absolutely certain that I would never want to do this on a regular basis.
They had so many men on board, that we had to hot bunk, when one guy would get up, another would take his place in the bed, it was an around the clock operation. Talk about a stinking mess of unwashed farting men. The food was a horrid greasy mess and showers were salt water. Not what a small town Ohio boy was ready for.
I toughed it out but knew I would never come back. All my clothes but one set were ruined the first two days. I saved one set after I realized I would have to buy new ones when the job was done. They gave us coveralls but they did not help.
That all said the guys working the rig were a hard lot, but they did not seem to resent me in anyway and would give me pointers on how to do things. I quickly became known as Kid. "Hey Kid do this", "Hey Kid wake up", "Hey Kid get your head out of your butt." All yelled but never in a mean way.
I mentioned that to one of the supervisor types one day, he told me, "Kid these are real hard cases; they have learned to be polite to each other and the world in general. They have nothing to prove and if a fight would break out here, there would be dead men. You do not want to see a dead man."
I did not tell him I had already killed two men at my young age. As a matter of fact no one had asked my age and I didn't volunteer.
Events took a sudden turn on the second week when I heard a big voice yell, "Hey pilgrim what are you doing here?" I turned and there was John Wayne. It turned out he was doing some location shots for a movie called 'Hell Fighters', a take on Red Adair the oil rig fire fighter. That was why the extra crew had been added on.
Since I already had a SAG card I was hired to be an extra in the movie. I was being paid twice, once to do the job and the second time so they could take pictures of me doing the job. When the finished movie came out you had to look quick to see my face.
My stock certainly went up with the other roughnecks when Wayne told a group at lunch one day how I had got in a fight down in Mexico and had to bail my buddies Elvis Presley and Tab Hunter out of jail. That is when I found out there were pictures in Variety magazine.
After my second week the job and the movie deal were done so I hitched a ride back to shore with John Wayne. He had his own boat which we took directly to his house on the water in Newport Beach. His wife made me clean up at once and throw all my old clothes away. I had no problem with either.
After dinner that night we went to the new Del Webb hotel and listened to a new group that the Wayne's knew 'The Beach Boys'. During one of their breaks John let Brian Wilson know that I was a bull rider and would be appearing in his next western. Brian asked, "Rick can you sing?"
"Enough to scare the cattle."
"Seriously we are hunting for a cowboy type to sing a song. It doesn't meet the image we are establishing but it is too fun not to do. We would be the backup band and our studio would handle all the distribution."
In a moment of weakness I agreed to an audition the next day. The first thing I did was replace my destroyed wardrobe. I learned all the fancy terms like wardrobe hanging around the movie sets. The wardrobe on the oil rig was funny. Instead of grey coveralls we wore red. That was the extent of the difference; I even used my own hard hat.
After buying several sets of jeans and western shirts, a pair of boots and a new belt for my largest buckle I splurged on a real black Stetson. It cost sixty dollars but looked sharp. I had wanted one ever since the Disney show. Everyone knew the bad guys wore black hats and that the look I was going for. Hey I was fourteen!
It was amazing that I had grown again. I was now six foot two inches and weighed one hundred and eighty pounds. I was tall and thin, and hard as all get out from work and exercise I was doing. No longer the trending towards pudgy kid that left Bellefontaine!
My audition went well enough that we did a cut of the record. After several false starts due to me we did a complete cut and, "Rock and Roll Cowboy" was born. The band carried me because my voice wasn't that strong or even pleasant sounding. Brian gave me his business card and a copy of my contract.