In the late spring of 1955 I was 21 years old, self employed and single. With few responsibilities and a great business, I could be quite independent about my free time. I knew that the good life would not last forever, but it would certainly be nice for a while. I manufactured Geiger counters and scintillators for less than one fifth of the amount I could sell them for. My best model scintillator, which sold for three hundred dollars, required only two hours and thirty minutes for assembly and test.
The US Government was in the business of buying and stockpiling uranium ore and would pay a minimum ten thousand dollars reward for a significant find of radio active ore. This had been going on for a few years. The number of people looking for the ore had increased to the point where just about everybody either had an ore detector or was thinking about getting one. Radioactive ore finds were happening every few days. The government had notified the manufacturers of radioactive sensing devices that the stock pile was huge and the bonus might be suspended anytime.
I got in on the business a bit late. The original design took quite sometime. Already, large manufacturers had made millions selling different models of sensing devices. For my part, I could only sell Geiger counters and scintillators at a reduced price. That was all right because I would build them myself and the cost was very low. One simple Geiger counter sale made more money than a week’s work if I were captively employed. I sold directly to mining engineers in the taverns in Moab, Utah. I would give a small percentage off to any engineer who got me some sales. Moab, Utah was a hot spot for radioactive ore. The competition between mining engineers was indeed fierce. When I started my one-man production, I made more money than ever before in my life.
Business slowed and I decided that it was time for a vacation. Friends of mine, Frank and his wife, Marilyn, were planning to go to the desert and spend several months. They invited me to go along. Frank decided to buy a 27 foot trailer. When Frank made up his mind that it was time for a vacation, well, shortly he and his wife were on their way. We were all anxious to get out of the Los Angeles smog and into the nice clean desert air. Frank and his father had selected a spot in the Chocolate Mountain range a short distance from Yuma, Arizona.
Frank departed in the early afternoon pulling the trailer with his father and mother bringing up the rear in their own car. Marilyn and I had to shop for several items that would be needed for the long stay. I had to get a sleeping bag and some other equipment. Before leaving, I dropped my wallet behind the couch for safe-keeping. I did, however, take along more than an adequate amount of spending money. Since I was not driving my own car, I had no particular use for carrying my driver’s license or other identification.
I had gone off and left my apartment, shop and automobile in the care of my landlady. It was only after Marilyn had driven as far as the Salton Sea that I realized I’d failed to lock my front door. After considering the fact that I used an iron key in the old fashioned lock beneath the door knob, I thought, why bother with going back? We stopped the car and I called my landlady. She said that she would lock the door and I should not worry.
On arrival, we leveled the trailer and set up camp. I had my choice of sleeping in the trailer or my sleeping bag. About a quarter mile from our location was the Gold Rock Ranch. You can find it on a California map. An old couple lived on the Ranch and provided us with the necessary water along with stories of the old timers they had known during the past fifty years. The two of them had spent their entire married life at that location.
Twice during my stay, I saw what was known as a “Desert Rat” arrive at the ranch to tie up his mules, and spend a couple of days socializing with the old couple. After that the bearded man and mule would trek off into the desert carrying a new supply of jerky and other (what I considered undesirable) supplies. I asked one how he managed to wash his skillet before cooking. He replied that, “Well, it don’t get real dirty I reckon, but I put it on the fire and get it real hot, so hot that I can bang it on a rock and all the vittles I don’t want fall out.”
In the weeks to come, we spent most of our time prospecting for uranium with the instruments I had built in my shop. Other times we enjoyed climbing small mountains, exploring mining tunnels dug back in the 1880s and having lots of fun. Finally, the adventure had to end. It had been a great vacation. Now it was time for me to return to my home in Los Angeles. Frank and Marilyn were staying on for another three months. On a Tuesday morning Frank and Marilyn drove me to Yuma, Arizona. In those days we felt it was necessary to look good in public. I got a haircut at the local barber shop and said good-bye at the Greyhound Bus station. I purchased a ticket and settled into my seat for the ride back to Los Angeles. For the return trip on the bus I had prepared myself so as to be quite presentable.
Shortly, the Greyhound Bus departed Yuma and cruised down the highway en route to Los Angeles. The bus went right by the turnoff point where I had camped during my vacation. After being in the desert for three months my sense of smell was inundated with the sensational smells of the various fragrances people were wearing. It was like coming in out of the wild and back into civilization. A great feeling. I thought how happy I was and what a great experience to be with all those people on board the bus. About twenty miles out of Yuma, on a lonely stretch of highway about three miles from the Mexican border, an INS officer hailed the bus to pull over.
The bus driver announced to the passengers that they should have their driver’s licenses ready for the officer to inspect. I really wasn’t concerned at that point because, after all, I was obviously a 21 year old Anglo. The officer asked me for my drivers license. I explained that I had left it at home because I didn’t expect to need it while in the desert. At that point the INS officer acted like I was purposely causing him a special problem. The other riders sat staring at the officer and me without any obvious regard. He began to bawl me out for not having my personal identification with me. There was no doubt that the officer knew I was indeed an American citizen, he began to make remarks that were obviously out of place.
After getting a few giggles from the other riders he became a showman. He was a big fat middle aged guy with a beer belly that would rival any mid-western sheriff for size. The “Real-Good-Ole-Boy” officer put me on stage because he felt the desire for an official performance.
He searched through my brief case full of dirty clothes and made several supposedly funny remarks about whether I was indeed an American citizen or not. His best pot shot was that I might be telling the truth because all the clothes in my suitcase were dirty, adding that all the Mexicans he catches at least have clean clothes in a bag. By this time the other passengers were all conspicuously enjoying the performance adding laughter and giggling to each of his comments. When he found my scintillator he held it up and pointed it up toward a lady passenger. It was a pistol shaped device designed in that particular shape for ease of using. I think that he knew what it was from the start, but the lady passenger didn’t. She had a look of fear on her face. He asked me where the trigger was located. I just looked at him in disgust.
He indicated that I was either a smuggler or a wet-back! He wanted to know if I was part of the Dillinger gang. The passengers began to give him increased complimentary laughs. He removed my sleeping bag from the upper rack and unrolled it in the isle for a search. As he untied the bag, he asked me if I had any hidden contraband or machine guns inside.
His final performance was to take me to his car and chastise me loudly for not carrying a driver’s license while being in close proximity to the Mexican border. He waved the bus driver to go on without me. Suddenly I began to realize that this was a performance that he and the bus driver had pulled off before. The bus began to slowly move forward and past where me the INS officer and I were standing. As the bus rolled by, I could hear the roaring of laughter. After he had carried his “joke” as far as possible, he told me that he was going to let me go this time, but I’d better have my ID papers on me next time. Meanwhile, the bus had stopped about one hundred yards beyond the patrol car.
It seemed to me that maybe Hitler had won the war after all. I got on the bus and looked at the 1950’s boot kissing scum suckers, then sat down. Suddenly, I was not appreciative of their perfumed smells. The fragrance had turned into outhouse odors propagated by a bus load of conforming puppets. Just pull their strings and they would perform. I stared at different people from time to time and they felt compelled to explain that, “The INS officer was just having a joke.” I told them that the “joke” was stupid and at my expense. To this day I feel that somebody owes me something for what happened.
When I returned home I found my apartment still unlocked. The landlady said that she had forgotten to lock the door after I called. Everything was in place and apparently, nobody had entered the area since I left three months before! My workshop in the garage was just as I had left it. My 1949 Cadillac sparkled brightly in the sunlight!
A foot note to this event! We all respected law enforcement in those days even though there were many gross abuses. But it got worse. There was a time when law enforcement could get away with just about anything. What is that famous quote? Something about, absolute power corrupts absolutely! Eventually, there was a flip in citizen behavior. This was followed by a flip in law enforcement. Then crime became so bad that there was a flop back toward law enforcement again. Now the police have the chance to once again gain the respect of the people. Can they do it?
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