All We Need’s More Rain
Where does my time go? Column time rolls around like a clock that I can’t seem to catch up with. We were in Anaheim, Cali., a few weeks ago. Sixteen and half million folks live in a hundred square miles in the Los Angeles basin. That’s an area like a quarter or so of Arkansas. Say from the Missouri border to I-40 and a line drawn from Harrison to Little Rock back the Oklahoma line.
Across the street from our hotel was a 20-acre strawberry patch in full operation. At one time it belonged to a Japanese farmer who ignored Disney’s land invasion to the area and would never sell. When he died his children sold it to Disney for I guess lots of money, but they kept the rights to farm it until Disney needed it for development. So far they say there are no plans and everyone kinda takes pride in the year round ever-bearing strawberries you probably buy in your local grocery.
At one time, Anaheim was Sunkist’s, an orange growers co-op, land of Valencia oranges. I didn’t see a single orange tree in the city, not even the ones we called “sour oranges," they used to bud the good varieties. Like I found in the Phoenix area a few years ago where I grew up—the citrus groves have been bulldozed aside for development.
Traffic is impossible. Freeways are so congested it takes an hour and a half to go 40 miles in non-rush hours. Motorcycles go scorching up between lines of traffic and I saw many sports cars, brands that cost a blue fortune, zoom in and out like bumble bees.
In Griffin Park is the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum. The singing cowboy born in Texas, discovered singing by Will Rogers while working as a telegraph operator over at Chelsea, Okla. Star of the WGN Radio Barn Dance in Chicago who went to Hollywood with his wife and pal Smiley Burnette in a car. On that trip going down Oak Creek Canyon south of Flagstaff to Sedona, Ariz., Smiley wrote the famous song, “Riding Down the Canyon.”
Upon which Gene paid him five dollars for that song like he did so many others Smiley wrote for him.
Gene not only had great success making “B” Westerns but before World War II he bought a ranch and set up a place to make movies in the Arbuckle Mountains in southern Oklahoma. There is a town down there named Gene Autry. It has a small museum and has a festival there as well each year for his fans. But after WWII, when he served in the Air Force, Gene came back to work and instead his business and movies kept him in Hollywood.
Gene and his wife were fantastic business people. They owned the large Adams hotel in Phoenix – once the fanciest one there – and lots of radio and TV stations. Several ranches and even a rodeo company at one time that put on the major rodeos. I guess his Angel’s baseball team was a dream come true for him in later life.
But Gene also had lots of western things. Art, historical things, movie artifacts all stored in warehouses. Several of his friends asked him to sponsor a western museum in Griffin Park, Los Angeles, near two other museums. Gene’s second wife encouraged him, saying it would be leaving a great legacy to all his fans.
Don’t go there for a casual walk through. The western art is as great as the Cowboy Hall in Okie City—Russell and Remington are just a few and set after set of historical west from the real life to the movie set. It will not only take you back but if you were a Saturday matinee idol of the western it will remind you of those days too. Don’t leave out the TV western series either.
It has guns that I never saw in Cody, Wyoming’s great museum of the west. Be prepared to spend four to five hours to see most of it. Admission is eight dollars for grownups, seniors five. Kids was about that too. Closed on Monday.
Gene’s "Rudolph," which his wife coaxed him into recording, is the second highest selling song ever written and is only behind Big Crosby’s "White Christmas." But if you’re ever in Los Angles drop in and see Gene – his heritage center any way.
Western novelist Dusty Richards and his wife Pat live on Beaver Lake in northwest Arkansas. For more information about his books, call 1-866-532-1960 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.