Chapter 13 – West Texas or Bust (1965)

Just when Dan and I were starting to feel like hickory smoked Missouri natives, we got word that Dad, Mom and our sisters were returning to the States ahead of schedule.

Recent border skirmishes and the killing of a Pakistani Air Force pilot heralded cause for concern.

Due to engine trouble during a reconnaissance mission, a Pakistani pilot ejected from his aircraft. He made it safely to the ground only to be captured by farmers in the tribal area of the Northwest Frontier Province. Unfortunately, the pilot spoke only Urdu (the official language of Pakistan), and the tribesmen spoke only Pashto. When his survival kit was searched, his captors discovered Indian rupees. The pilot was summarily executed by his Pakistani countrymen. Propaganda on both sides of the border fuelled the flames. Intelligence sources were predicting war between Pakistan and India.

As a consequence, it was deemed prudent that US personnel accompanied by families exit the country. The timing was right, because the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 was soon a reality.

Dad’s new orders were to proceed to Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, Texas. The first thing he did when they arrived at Charleston AFB in South Carolina was horse-trade for a well worn 1956 Ford Fairlane sedan complete with signature tail fins. The old car handled fine for the 800 mile journey across country to Doe Run.

Even though it was a tight squeeze accommodating us all in the one bedroom farmhouse we enjoyed being reunited as a family. But, that old highway was “a-callin'”. After a couple of days we said goodbye to Ma and Grandpa Archie. Dad, Mom, Debby, Becky, Dan and I all piled into the Fairlane for the 900 mile trip to West Texas. Six passengers and our luggage were almost too much for that old Ford and it protested loudly each time we went over a bump by grinding it’s drive shaft against the undercarriage. We blew a gasket somewhere in central Oklahoma and spent a day in the sweltering heat while repairs were carried out.

Soon after we arrived in San Angelo Dad managed to rent a spacious 5 bedroom split level house in the suburbs. Spacious was important because not long after we moved in David Peek the newest member of the family was born!

Since the school year was already in progress I was immediately enrolled in San Angelo Central High School. Talk about a shock to my system, SACHS was about as far from Doe Run High School as was possible. Whereas Doe Run had less than 100 students, San Angelo Central High School had a student body of over 3,000. The school was laid out around a campus with all of the latest innovations and facilities. The school was so well equipped that it was used as a showcase and was proudly featured in tours for dignitaries like Nikita Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union.

The first day would have been overwhelming for me but for a charming girl named Beverly Lucas. Beverly, a student in my grade, was given the task of showing me around the campus. Her warm hospitality allayed my nervousness, and also introduced me to what I soon discovered to be natural Texan friendliness.

A fly in the ointment was the fact that the high school was located in central San Angelo and we lived way out in the suburbs. Maybe it was part of the free-wheeling Texas attitude, or maybe all the money was spent on the school’s fabulous facilities, but for whatever reason, there were no school buses. There was a giant parking lot for students, but that was no good to me since I didn’t have a car, or a licence for that matter. Dad was able to drop me off at school on his way to work, but I had to make my own way home on foot; a two and a half hour walk. Suddenly, I started to miss Coach Thomas!

Desperate for a solution to my transportation problem, I discovered that you didn’t need a license to operate a motorbike powered with less than a 50cc engine. A local dealer had the conveniently miss-named Honda 50 moped on sale. The convenient part was that the engine was only 49cc’s. I had a little money saved up from past music gigs and Dad and Mom agreed to subsidize the purchase.

It wasn’t long before I was the proud owner of a brand new Honda 50. On the first outing, I picked Dan up at the Junior High School and we headed for home. As we rounded a tight corner on Sherwood Way, we both ended up rolling head over heels down the central median. Thankfully, neither of us or the Honda was permanently damaged, but Dan made up his mind to cultivate some school friends whose parents didn’t mind an extra passenger.

Not only did that little Honda provide a way to get to school, it provided a great way to explore our little piece of West Texas at a top speed of 42.5 miles per hour. I remember the top speed due to an incident when Dan was riding behind me out near the small town of Sterling City. A pick-up truck full of young cowboys pulled up behind us. In a moment of misguided bravado, Dan decided to “flip them the bird”. A passenger grabbed a rifle from the rear-window-rack and was pointing it straight at Dan’s back. I recall wondering if the bullet would pass cleanly through him and kill two bird flippers with one stone. I had that moped at full throttle and sure enough, the speedometer read 42.5 mph! It turned out that one of the cowboys was in my class at school and after some wild hooting and a warning shot in the air the pick-up accelerated and left us in a cloud of dust.

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