By Chuck Woodbury
The little boy in the black and white photo below is me — 4-year-old me along with my mother, grandmother and little sister. The photo was taken in Pioneertown in the Southern California desert about a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs.
The adult in the color photo below, taken recently, is also me, except instead of a kid I have now reached the “glad I am still alive” age of 76. The older me is standing very close to the same spot as the “little kid” me. Notice the shape of the building to the right with the exhaust chimney poking up from the roof. Yup, same place.
Pioneertown was a very popular Hollywood Western movie set for a decade beginning in 1946. Roy Rogers filmed there. Many Gene Autry TV Westerns were filmed there. Ditto the Cisco Kid and Annie Oakley TV shows, and many movies. It’s still used for commercials and music videos.
THIS PHOTO OF MY FAMILY AND ME was taken in March 1952. I must have been in heaven because like all little boys my age, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the other Western TV cowboys and cowgirls were my heroes. If you are somewhere in my age range, you may recall that Roy, Gene and Hoppy never shot a bad guy to kill him. They surely were among the best shots in history, firing their revolvers at bad guys from their hips without aiming, with the bullet knocking the bad guy’s revolver right out of his hand without so much as scratching him.
The town today is popular with visitors to nearby Joshua Tree National Park. In town, the Red Dog Saloon and Pappy and Harriet’s draw big crowds for meals and entertainment. The latter brings in big-time music acts. The evening I visited, the Pretenders rock group was performing. The no-hookup Pioneertown Corrals RV Park is right off pedestrian-only Mane Street next to the very quaint (but pricey) Pioneer Motel.
Visiting Pioneertown recently with several old photos in hand, I tracked down the exact spots I had posed 72 years earlier. I spent a little time pausing, trying to comprehend how fast all the years had gone, and feeling sad thinking about the loss of most of my family.
If you are one of our young readers, say in your 30s, then you may be thinking, “Man that guy is old!” Yeah … I would have thought the same thing when I was that age. But wait, you young whippersnappers. If you’re lucky enough to live as long as me, then maybe one day you’ll end up at a place where you were as a child and you’ll wonder, just like me, “Where the heck did all the time go?”
Oh, I know what you are thinking: “Oh, that’s so far in the future it’s almost like ‘forever.'” Hah! Just wait!
All right, a special treat for you. Here’s Gene Autry singing his signature song “Back in the Saddle Again.”