23 May 2007

Yeager Weighs In: Happy Times at the Happy Bottom

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Chuck Yeager is an intense, serious person, but he also has a famous gleam in his eye...a certain little spark that tells you he knows how to have more than just a little fun, in the air or on the ground. When he talks about Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club, he's animated and that gleam in his eye is sharp. "Pete Everest and I were taking F-86's up to China Lake for Navy Day," he begins a story, recounting one of his better moments, " and we took off at about six in the morning. It just so happened that Runway 4, well that runway went right across the lake over Pancho's house. We were up to about 500 (feet) by the time we got to the house and Pete rattled the roof. And when we got back, General Boyd's aide met us and he said, "General Boyd's in the office and he wants to talk to you and Evers. You guys buzzed Pancho's and just about raised the shingles off this morning." Realizing that the incident might cost him a bit in pay, Yeager put in a phone call to his friend Pancho, who informed him that the reason General Boyd knew about the incident, was for unexpected reasons. "Pancho told me, 'He was sort of romancing his favorite girl over here, and he was over here this morning when you buzzed the place.'"

Photo: Pancho Barnes and Chuck Yeager are reunited in the early 1970's

A solution to the situation began to form in Yeager's mind. When he arrived at General Boyd's office, Boyd said, "I understand you violated my direct orders and buzzed Pancho's this morning." Yeager takes it from here:I just sorta looked at him, and with my little grin I said, "General Boyd, how do you know we buzzed Pancho's this morning?" And he sat there for about two minutes — beady eyes, looking at us — and then all he said was, "GET OUT!"

Of course, most of the fun Chuck Yeager had at Pancho's place occured on the ground, not in the air. But he bristles at the suggestion that Pancho was running anything other than just a guest ranch. "She knows honey attracts flies," Yeager told us during his interview. "But they just sat, served drinks and talked. The only time Pancho paid a gal paid for a favor, was when a friend named Don Forker who owned a hundred thousand acre ranch was flying in. Pancho said, 'How do you want it?' and he said, 'On toast.' So she brought this hard little blonde, took a big silver tray, put toast, stripped her down naked, and when she took him up to his room she opened the door and said, 'There it is on toast!"

Photo: Chuck Yeager with Pancho (background), her fourth husband Mac (right in leather jacket) and Dallas Morely (left), head hostess at the HBRC