Friday, March 17, 2017


A St. Patrick’s Day therapy session

In the forty days and forty nights since they worked on my debrided right knee, Northern California had experienced rainfall that would cause Noah pause.  Because I couldn’t heft the big Triumph, the fact that the weather was marginal for riding didn’t cause similar pause for me.

But then, the weather turned nice.  Highs reaching the 70s.  Skies purely blue or only dotted with fluffy, white clouds.  Sonoma County’s network of curving roads cresting verdant rises, dry and ice free.  The California poppies would be blooming.  And the doc said I should “spend time on a bike” to rebuild strength in my knee.

In the garage, then, I straddled the Triumph and pushed the starter button.  If the thing fired up – it had been six weeks since last I’d ridden it – I’d give some thought into taking a short spin to test out my repaired joint.  That “some thought” took about a second and a half.

Dang!  The ‘Bird looked good when I pushed it out to the street.

I headed south on Dutcher Creek Road toward the Dry Creek Valley, Lake Sonoma and beyond, stopping many times for photos, as, I figure, getting on and off the cruiser would be good therapy for my knee.

The paper reported that just last week, the growers in the Dry Creek area were enjoying bud break.  In the parlance of viticulture, the term “bud break” has nothing to do with half time during the Super Bowl.  No, it means that the growth cycle has been renewed and we sure as hell hope there won’t be a late season hard freeze.

Dry Creek is dammed at the west end of the valley.  Lake Sonoma provides irrigation and domestic water as well as miles of hiking trails and a little used 14-mile dead end called Rockpile Road, a route that crosses the reservoir on a massive bridge.

Rockpile Road threads the ridge that separates the two arms of Lake Sonoma, passing through the Army Corps of Engineers administered recreation area and into a viticulture area identified as – surprise – Rockpile.

The road is little used – it is gated about twenty minutes in – so traffic is generally limited to the ranchers and farmers who work out that way.  

The pavement is grand with sweeping curves and sections that arc over one summit, then the next, reminding me a bit of Montana’s Beartooth Pass, only more temperate, less traffic, and with better wine locally available.

But, with ample warning, it ends.


I pedal the Big Blue backwards on the pavement, arranging for myself enough space to hoist the thing around.  This is when I discover that one knee works and the other knee works not so well.

Using the guardrail to flex and relax said knee, I view the green hills – St. Patrick’s Day green hills – that lie beyond the pavement’s end.  Credited to Luther Burbank is the statement, "I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned."  

Today’s ride out and back on Rockpile Road supports his contention.

It’s been an hour and a half on and off the Thunderbird and the bum knee feels not so bum.  I’m torn between making a longer day of it, risking fatigue, and just heading back to the barn.

What could I do to enhance this already glorious day?  Then, at US 101 and Lytton Springs Road, a solution presents itself.

Tacos al pastor and a beverage perched on the seat of the bike. Just like lunch on a real road trip.  What could be better?

A Modelo Especial sounded particularly good; if only I’d not been on the bike.

Catching the freeway north, I settle in for a ten-minute blast toward home. I’d been out of the saddle too long, but the big Triumph remains as comfortable and forgiving as I’d remembered it.  I was glad for today’s glorious weather and thankful that the Biblical rains we received happened while I was under in-house confinement orders. 


Note:  Upon returning home, I reviewed notes from the doc who worked over my knee and discovered that when he said “bike,” he meant:



Today’s Route:  Exit US 101 at South Cloverdale Blvd, head west.  At the first intersection (landmark Starbucks, Sinclair Gas, liquor store, abandoned antique store across S Cloverdale) turn left heading away from town.  Somewhere along in here, the road becomes Dutcher Creek. Pass the Fritz Winery two miles southwest (stop in if you have a moment) and continue for a total of about six to Dry Creek Road.  Right on Dry Creek to the end of the valley.  At the spillway, turn left – your only choice – on Stewart’s Point Skaggs Springs passing Lake Sonoma the Visitor Center (stop in if you have a moment).  Continue up the hill about three miles.  Stewart’s Point Skaggs Springs will exit left, but you’ll want to continue on what is now Rockpile Road, over the big bridge and west for another dozen miles or so.  Return?  Retrace.  Consider following Dry Creek Road six or seven miles east into Healdsburg where you can hang out at the town’s square like the area glitterati.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


A journey into early aviation, art
and a little-known grandfather

Minor knee repair and poor weather has me off the motorcycle for a few weeks, and boxes of Mom’s memories have been stacked in the corner of my den for too long.  No time like the present, I suppose…

Sifting through her stuff, I find an ancient box designed to once hold a ream of typing paper.  Scrawled on the end of the rapidly deteriorating lid are the words: “Hap’s Clippings + pix.” 

E W Bagnell was my mother’s father.  Known as Hap to me, but others referred to him as Cap or Bobby, I knew very little about him other than that he was designated an Early Bird, wrenched on Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis, and later took up oil painting.  And he smoked Lucky Strikes.  We moved to Chico in 1957, he followed, lived with us for a year and then departed for Oakland’s Veteran’s Hospital where he died at about age 68.

Opening that ragged box of “clippings and pix” revealed some hidden history…

This from the Glendale Independent, Sunday, August 2, 1953:


Works of prominent Glendale artists will be exhibited beginning tomorrow in the city’s newest gallery, the large modern office of the Glendale Independent, 122 S. Maryland Avenue…

…Chosen to be the first exhibiting artist is E W Bagnell of 510 California Avenue, an artist member of the Art Association and a member of the Business Men’s Art Club of Los Angeles…

…The Bagnell exhibit, hung for the month of August, includes 18 oil paintings, the featured canvas being a portrait of the artist’s mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Bagnell, 93 [which currently hangs in Mom’s bedroom in Chico, CA]; and “Kings Ranch Rodeo,” from the private collection of Mr. and Mrs. M O Johnson, and loaned for the opening of the gallery…

…he had professional studios in Houston, Tex. And in Pasadena…

[Bagnell] is a pioneer in aviation and is among the early flyers that enjoy the distinction of the title “Early Birds.”* He was a captain in the Army engineers during World War I.

In his pioneering he helped build one of the earliest airplanes, sponsored by the Nebraska National Guard, and laid out Kelly Field, now Kelly Air Force Base in a cotton and mesquite field on the old Frio City Road just outside San Antonio, Tex.

Other early air ventures were test piloting for Curtis Airplane Co., and commercial flying in Mexico.  Then he and Capt. Ralph Taylor were sent by the Aero Club of America to Washington DC, with an airplane, which was set up on the Polo Field behind the White House to stimulate interest of Congressmen in airplanes, then a novelty.

Through those early years in aviation and in the Army he had little time for painting.  But he is now making up for lost time and his paintings on display in the Independent gallery are evidence of his talent and accomplishment…

Other clippings tell more of his story…

Among the other artifacts uncovered searching through Mom’s memorabilia is a model of and the patent application for a devise that when dropped into the steel pipe casing of a spent oil well, with a mechanical twist the unit can expand to press against the casing’s interior so the pipe can be craned out of the well for re-use.  Early recycler?

Also discovered: two prototype electric toothbrushes – he didn’t get the patent application on these – the works of which were encased in Bakelite.**

I pour through this trove and think of the man I barely knew.  His Army adventures began a century ago this year. 

His work in the aviation industry saw him piloting an exotic Italian tri-motor…

…and flying folks hither and yon.

Clearly, he had other adventures, however…

…and a bit of a reputation…

Hanging over the piano in my den is one of his oils called “Splitting Headache…”

…the last oil he created before he went to Oakland.


*Early Birds Membership was limited to those who piloted a glider, gas balloon, or airplane, prior to December 17, 1916. The cutoff date was set at December 17 to correspond to the first flights of Wilbur and Orville Wright. 1916 was chosen as a cutoff because a large number of people were trained in 1917 as pilots for World War I.[2] Twelve of the aviators were women.

Hap’s name is embossed on a plaque in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum along with the Wrights, de Havilland, Sikorsky, Glenn Curtis and others.

** Bakelite is one of the first plastics made from synthetic components.  Bakelite was used for its electrical nonconductivity and heat-resistant properties in electrical insulators, radio and telephone casings and such diverse products as kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, children's toys, and firearms.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, March 4, 2017

“On the Road with Janis Joplin” – a review

by John Byrne Cooke
Berkeley Press (division of Random House/Penguin)
© 2014 - $17.00

Rock music leapfrogged over me.  Mom wouldn’t let it in the house and I was loath to defy Mom.  So all the great groups, the Stones, the Dead, Jefferson Airplane – you know ‘em, I don’t – I missed out on, although I could give you most any lyric from “Oklahoma” or “Guys and Dolls” and know Sinatra’s songbook pretty well.

Fast forward to about 1992 and I’m attending the Jackson Hole Western Writers Conference in hopes of becoming a something I didn’t have the tenacity to become.  It’s Fourth of July Weekend and I find myself sitting on a hillside at the Snow King resort, drinking a beer, eating a burger, watching fireworks and hearing them boom and echo off the darkened mountainsides; and chatting one-on-one with one of the presenters:  John Byrne Cooke.

John is a talkative guy – perhaps a bit more so than other authors – but with good reason.  He researches and writes on interesting topics.  His trilogy “Snowblind Moon” (Tor 1986) tells the remarkable saga of Native American life on the plains during the time between the Fetterman Massacre and the events at Little Big Horn.  “South of the Border (Bantam, 1989) posits Butch Cassidy’s return from Bolivia.  “The Committee of Vigilance” (Bantam, 1994) is a novel centered on the raucous quest for law and order in gold rush San Francisco.  In 2007, Cooke published, “Reporting the War” (Palgrave MacMillan) a treatise on press freedom during American conflicts from the Revolution to our current War on Terror.  All interesting stuff.

The only concert I believe my wife ever attended, as a teen growing up in “the City,” was one featuring, perhaps, Big Brother and the Holding Company fronted by Janis Joplin.  Oh Lord!  Come to find out, John Byrne Cooke served as a roadie for that group.  He didn’t mention this to me at the Snow King.

Rather, I had to wait until I found his memoir, a loving tribute to an immense talent, that I realized his interests were even more varied – his life much more interesting – than simply researching the west and the press.  Reading through his work, I find myself transported back to the 60s, enjoying those bands that I’d never heard, traveling roads decades before I actually traveled them, and witnessing the love, the weed, the passion and the camaraderie of those young people whose generation I was both a part and not a part of.

John is a fine storyteller and Janis’s life was a fascinating, if tragic story.  I’m thankful that Cooke was there to see it and has decided to share it in his fast-paced, page-turning, readable style.  I now feel as if a little piece that had been missing as been put into place.

See your local, independent bookseller.