High Desert Memories - A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
60's & 70's
In the 1960s, the Navy hired hundreds of engineers, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, and technical people directly out of school....many were attracted to NOTS/NWC (Naval Ordnance Test Station/Naval Weapons Center) by a Navy training program which was called a "Junior Professional" program.
There was a build up of technical capability at the NWC in that decade and the early invention/development of the guidance systems which fathered the sophisticated guided missiles and guided bombs currently (and unfortunately) in use today.
Dr. McLean, who invented the concept for the IR seeker (InfraRed heat seeking guidance) was the technical director while I was there. Visual (TV) guidance and the ARM (Anti-Radiation Missile) RF/microwave seekers were also first seen on NWC aircraft and tested on CL ranges. Many of us would gather to watch some of those early tests whether it was a system we personally were working on or not.
There are (were) two rocket sleds that offered the opportunity to witness some very interesting high speed simulation tests; one was a conventional sled on a two rail track and the second was a supersonic mono-rail. The mono-rail sled was so fast it was about like watching a gun firing!
I had a number of friends that went to a Naval Postgraduate school in Monterey, California. The "JP" program of the 60s resulted in a high level of technical competence of civil servants at China Lake. Most were not military personnel or had any commitment or requirement to the Navy. A number of these folks did take advantages of education programs offered by the Government, but most all of them remained in Civil Service as Navy employees and were not in Military service.
Those of us that came to work at China Lake via the Junior Professional program were referred to as "JPs". We came from all over the country and from many schools to the small town of Ridgecrest. We had many varied interests and made our own fun....we had the best ski club in California with a cabin at Mammoth, a great flying club with a Navy acrobatic trainer, a glider club with a trainer, mountain climbing, hunting, water skiing, sky diving, motorcycle and car clubs, motorcycle racing, auto racing and rallying, etc., etc. What ever your interests were, you would probably find it there!
As a young man in my early 20s, China Lake was the best place on earth. The girls in LA found out that there were a bunch of educated, eligible bachelors at CL (China Lake) and would come to Ridgecrest on week-ends looking for fun (and employment). Wild and fun parties were a common place. And, it was one of the best places to start a technical or managerial career! If I knew what I know now, I would have finished my career there and retired early. That is not what I did, but I had a lot of friends (most were JPs) that did exactly that. Many of us considered our experience a very special time in our lives and formed extremely close and loving relationships.
Again, thanks for putting the Ridgecrest/CL web site together. I am hoping that you will gather a lot of pictures and information about the interesting characters that lived and worked there and especially more about what it was like in the sixties, when most of us lived in Navy housing, before Ridgecrest grew into the larger city that it became in later decades and Navy housing was minimized.
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I do remember the tire shop on Inyokern Road, somewhere between the main gate and the drive-in as I recall. We all bought recap tires there and proceeded to drive around at high speed and had the occasional tread separation. He never asked us how fast we were going, just gave us another one. I was probably the record holder for the Inyokern to China Lake run, once I made the S turn onto Inyokern Road from 395 and was on the straightaway it was 6 minutes to the main gate. Usually 3-4 a.m. and minimal law enforcement when I was there.
Most of our off duty time in town was at the various bars. The Hot Spot was somewhere around the tire shop, the Pitcher Club was down by the 4-way stop (I think), the China Lake tavern was on China Lake Blvd. a few blocks So. of Inyokern Road and the Inyokern Inn was in Inyokern Road west of 395 in Inyokern. The Go-Go club was on Ridgecrest Blvd. a few blocks west of the 4-way stop. Afraid we didn't pick up much culture when we were there other than the drive-in. Went every time they changed movies which was about 3 times a week. Everyone had painted the interior car lights red (doesn't affect your night vision) so you could keep all of the car doors open and catch whatever breeze there was. Also used to take two spots at the drive-in, one for the car and another for a blanket, or lawn chairs, to watch the flik from. We also spent off-duty time at 9 mile canyon, the Whitney portals etc.
We used to eat Chinese at a place near the Hot Spot and there was a place on China Lake Blvd (somewhere around the China Lake Tavern) where you could get breakfast after the bars closed. Also an A&W in the same area where you could get a hot pastrami & onions.
I went back to China Lake with my son in Sep 2001 and pretty much didn't recognize Ridgecrest. There may have been green grass and parks in the early 60's, but I sure don't remember it being that way. Most of what I knew at China Lake was gone, the barracks and chow hall were gone as was all of the housing south of Halsey. The shopping plaza was about all that I recognized and it took me awhile to find that.
Don't recall ever using the indoor pool at the shopping plaza, we (enlisted) usually used the pool and rec. area at the airfield.
The Marine detachment left China Lake the year I got there (1963) and were replaced by the Seamen Guard which was made up of regular Navy just out of boot, i.e. Seaman, that were attached to NOTS. Think they set the record for being court martialed the first few years they were there. Off the record it was more like the "Semen" guard, they demolished two pick-up trucks and populated the hospital after a game of chicken out on one of the ranges.
My school teacher friends and I ran with the JPs. More as buddies and less as dates. Sure had a good time. I signed on with DOD after four years at China Lake (to see the world you know); and was assigned to Okinawa. Taught at Kubasaki Jr. High for 2 years then returned to the states where I married one of those US Marines that was floating loose on the Pacific.
Our daily routine at China Lake included talk about the testing of the
new Sidewinder Missile and Laser. (of course we weren't supposed to know
anything about them). Sonic booms were common place. We even had a few shake
ups from earthquakes. Most of us lived on base.
The Navy provided us with the school facility and Kern County provided the books, teachers and curriculum. I was born in Colorado and educated at Colorado State University (Aggies). I taught outside of Denver one year and nearly quit teaching. Not a good situation. My old college roommate called and told me to interview with her Superintendent, who was coming to Denver on a specific date. I did and was hired on the spot. Had no thought of going to Calif. before that time.
Burroughs High was building new buildings and all sorts of things and they needed a PE teacher who could teach full time PE including Dance. Thats me and where the heck was this forsaken, high desert I was reporting to? guys and gals that were in China Lake/Ridgecrest when I was there and have asked them to check out your website.
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In the spring semester of 1968 I took classes in Ridgecrest at the Desert Division of Bakersfield College, and was part of the staff of the school newspaper the Desert Knight. Mary Higbee was the journalism instructor. The Desert Knight was printed at the Valley Independent, the local weekly newspaper.
Years later, 1979 to be exact, I served a dual role as sports editor (beginning in 1978) at the Daily Independent (formerly the Valley Independent) in Ridgecrest and journalism instructor at Cerro Coso Community College. After not having a newspaper at the college for a while, I was appointed to launch a new one. I called it the Coyote Courier.
I had met the new publisher of the Independent in the late 1960s, Cliff Urseth. He told me at the time he was planning to convert the weekly to a daily publication. He did and it was a successful venture. I worked for Cliff and he was an extremely adept and gifted newspaper man, one of the best I’d say.