Looking Back: Life Before I Joined the LAPD

This has nothing to do with the LAPD but rather, my experiences prior to joining the force. I attended the University of New Mexico starting in 1971. I had never really been west of the Mississippi. Since I was a fanatic about surfing I chose to land-lock myself so as not to become a permanent surf bum. Hailing from the east coast, New Mexico was a real culture shock. I stepped off the airplane at Albuquerque International when they still rolled up the steps to the plane. The dry heat slammed into me like a blast furnace. Pickup trucks had rifles on racks in the back windows. Cowboys walked around with big hats and even bigger belt buckles. Navajo Indians sat about the terminal, which was about the size of a gymnasium back then. They had hand fashioned silver and turquoise jewelry laid out in front of them. Not having any money, purchasing any of their wares was simply out of the question for me back then. I asked one of the Indians in which direction I should travel to reach the University. This was to prove to be a rather bad call.

I had my dad’s Navy duffle bag from WWII and a battered suitcase. Between the two they held all of my worldly possessions. I headed off in the direction the Indian had pointed towards… West! About three hours later I had crossed the Rio Grande River on Central Avenue. With no University in sight I inquired about the location of my future studies and was oriented in the complete and total, opposite direction. Four hours later I had arrived. Lesson #1; disregard directions from monosyllabic Navajo’s. Especially, if you’re from the East Coast.

I had a NROTC Naval scholarship and soon had friends with similar predilections. We all had an interest in shooting. Back then you could drive for 20 minutes in a westerly direction from campus and literally be out in the middle of nowhere on the West Mesa. You could walk forever to the west and still come across nothing. We used to hunt rabbits with handguns. We were not very good at it but we had loads of fun. You could buy a Government Colt 1911 Series ‘70 .45 auto for about $115.00 new and in the box, tax included. Wow.

None of us had money for ammunition so we had two options open to us: One option was to re-load and the second was to buy WWII surplus ammo. The hand-loading we did was with a Lee hand held, re-loader. One round at a time. If you haven’t experienced this then you need to. You hold the round die and then hammer down on an expended casing which re-sizes the case and punches out the primer. Then you re-seat a new primer with a hand held re-priming tool. Then you flare the mouth of the case with the die again. Then you measure the powder and slooowly pour it in very carefully. Then you hand seat the bullet with bullet lube squeezed into the grooves of the full lead bullet with your fingers. (We could not afford full jacketed bullets.) Then you reposition the die and gently tap down on the bullet which seats it and simultaneously crimps the mouth of the case about the bullet. Too much pressure and the case crumpled and the round was tossed. Too little seating depth and the round would not feed. Too deep a seating depth and the round would also not feed. It took about 10 to 12 minutes per round. Suffice it to say that we did not shoot a ton of rounds on our forays into the field. The jackrabbits were more than safe.

The second option was to buy WWII Berdan primed, steel cased .45 rounds. Don’t know who made this stuff but we could buy 1,000 rounds for about $50.00. We all pitched in and bought a case. We came to call this Berdan surprise. Sometimes it fired and sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes the primer would fizzle and the round detonated several seconds later. Sometimes the bullets barely made it out of the barrel and simply fell at your feet. Sometimes the bullet stopped at the muzzle and protruded out the front as in a cartoon. Sometimes they really cooked off and you wondered if they hadn’t double charged it. You never knew what you were going to get with the next trigger press and it was great fun.

The West Mesa held plenty of surprises. We came across old Indian villages long ago abandoned and littered with colored pottery shards. We’d find old, iron implements and pieces from God knows, when and where, which sat motionless as they rusted into decay in the middle of the sand dunes. There was the occasional meteorite or arrowhead discovery as well. There were quail, coyotes, rattlesnakes and lots and lots of high speed jackrabbits in abundance. There was not a single sound out there other than the wind. The horizon stretched out in front of you forever. It held its own spectacular beauty and sadly now…all those days are long gone. We had great times simply roaming around for miles and miles and occasionally firing (rather unsuccessfully I might add) at jackrabbits which could exceed 100 mph. You could attend classes, drive to the Mesa, and spend about four or five hours out there and return and study. Try doing that in Los Angeles! It was a great bonding time and what I didn’t know about the effective use of the .45 would not arrive to me for many, many years down the road. But it was fun.

There, was a certain innocence back then which is lost to today’s high-speed techno world. Your word was who you were and it was not given lightly. We depended on one another. If you said you’d do something then you did it. If you said you’d be somewhere then you were. If you said you’d done something then you had. Life was much simpler then. There, was self-responsibility for your actions and you blamed no one else. As for myself, it was as if I had stepped back in time back then when I once crossed into the west.

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One Response to Looking Back: Life Before I Joined the LAPD

  1. bruce watson says:

    brought a smile to my face, I first started reloading with a lee loader for a .38 special. I even gave a speech, at a community college, on cleaning my Smith and Wesson Combat Masterpiece, while my buddy, after coaching by me the night before did one on reloading with the lee loader, try that one today in college for credit in Speech class. This was in 1978. I also used to buy surplus .45 ammo, at a gun shop for ten cents a round. They would count them out and put them in a small paper bag, like buying gumballs. Then the local Chief of Police, my older cousin, and myself would go on the edge of town by the railroad tracks and shoot our .45’s. Both the former Chief and my Cousin are gone now, but great memories, and believe it or not this all happened in Southern Illinois! Great article.

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