We sat there every Saturday from one till four. There were four of us, Tom, Ed, Bill and I, and we had the best seats in the house, the front row. We could look up, and see the frontier horizon, from top to bottom, and east to west; we liked it that way. When Roy Rogers flashed across the screen, we all saw him in living tones, and more than life size! When Gene Autry roared on, he was larger than life!! You name the cowboy, we saw them on Saturdays. We saw the G-Men, Rex Allen, Lash Larue, Hopalong Cassidy, The Three Mesquiteers, Dick Tracy, Batman, Superman, The Green Hornet, and WE LOVED THEM ALL!
For 6 years we spent our Saturdays watching our celluloid heroes get into and out of trouble; we watched blazing 6 Guns and heroines in distress; towns were reborn after the villains were routed and the streets became safe for women and children when the hero rode off with the girl or became Marshall. No matter how often we’d seen the plot we sat transfixed from the opening credits to the closing sunset.
But today was special, it was a triple feature: Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and the Lone Ranger. We came especially early this time-I was dressed as Roy Rogers-white felt hat, Roy Rogers bandanna, Roy Rogers patent leather gun belt and ivory handled pistol set, Roy Rogers vest and chaps and my boots WITH SPURS! I was ready for action, and I’d find it!
Ed was decked to the hilt too. He had his Gene Autry look down pat, from his head to his sparkling tipped cowboy boots, he too was ready for action. I asked him where Champ was.
“Champ, he’s at the stable. I gave him a rest today. Twenty miles on the prairie is enough for any horse, even Champ! Where’s Trigger?” Eddie asked.
“Trigger, in the back alley, ready for a quick get away” and I giggled.
We were playing, I was Roy, the King, and he was just Gene Autry.
We looked at Tom and Bill, they were the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Tom was the ultimate Lone Ranger fan-he had all the comics, all the books, all the erasers, toyboxes, guns and was the president of the local fan club. Bill was Tonto because he had met Tonto once at a fair, and because Tom had a bigger collection of toys.
“Well Tonto” Bill said in his best Earl Graeser voice “five minutes until the movie starts, you scout out the candy stand.”
“Kemo Sabe-me get big bowl of popcorn for Scout, and little drink for you.” he replied.
We all waited outside the theatre for the doors to open. As we talked excitedly, kids hurried from their parents vehicles and joined the line.
“There’s Andy” I yelled!
“Hi Gordon” he yelled back. “Where’s Trigger?”
“Out in the back alley” I answered defiantly.
I faced the door again. The coming attractions posters teased me-Roy Rogers in the “Bells of San Angelo”, Gene Autry in “Navajo Trail”, and the Lone Ranger in “The Lone Ranger Rides Again”. The pictures stared back at me saying-come, see me, BE LIKE ME! The actors names rolled easily off my lips, Rooooy Rogerssss, Ssssmiley Buuuurnet, Chief Thhhundercloud, Dale Evvvvans, yep, like old friends, their names brought a smile to my lips. I could hear the six guns firing and the horses galloping. I could see the bad guys giving up already.
I crouched down like Roy and drew my pistols quickly.
“Bang” I exclaimed as I squeezed the trigger of my Colt 45 replica.
“Got me, ya varmint” croaked Johnny as he lay play dying on the sidewalk in from of the Roxy.
“Ha ha ha ha” we all laughed.
“That’ll teach you, you nasty polecat” I added for good measure.
Ed poked me in the ribs with his finger and pointed at the Gene Autry poster.
“It’s Navajo Trail-catch that action shot-Gene Autry in battle against the lawless west. Sounds Great! Bet Gene could outshoot Roy any day of the week” Eddie said confidently.
“How much?” I asked.
Eddie thought a little.
“Two comics and a pack of bubblegum” he responded.
“You’re on” I said.
Bill and Tom stood there quietly. The Lone Ranger and Tonto spoke little but acted mightily.
“Come on Bill, Lone Ranger, who’s the greatest-Gene Autry or Roy Rogers?” I asked.
Bill regarded us thoughtfully.
We both drew as quickly as we could. My gun cleared my holster as Eddies flew out of his hands and fell to the sidewalk.
“Got ya Gene!” I exclaimed excitedly.
“Ya got the drop on me this time Roy, but Champ is still faster than Trigger!”
The theatre door opened, and we were soon in another world, where right and wrong were black and white, and the good guy always won…
We emerged three hours later into the late afternoon sun. I was Royed out, Eddie was Gened out, and Bill and Tom were Kemo Sabed out., but we were happy. Our heroes had faced adversity and come out on top with little or no bloodshed. Gene rode away, Roy got married(again) and the Lone Ranger and Tonto rode off into the sunset leaving behind a silver bullet.
“Some afternoon” Eddie offered.
“Yeah” Bill agreed. “Let’s go over to Tom’s playhouse, it’s only 4:00 PM, and suppers not for an hour yet.”
It was only a ten minute walk to the playhouse, but we ran. Every minute saved meant one more minute of Western Action. We made quite a scene, running down the Saskatoon streets to 225 Avenue D South. My silver and tin sparkled in the sun and clanked and rang I ran, holding my hat in one hand and my pistols in the other. Eddie sped alongside me and Bill and Tom took the short cut through the back alley and hopped the fence to the clubhouse. Tom sped up and ran to the door.
“Beat y’all” he yelled breathlessly.
Tom’s mother poked her head out of the backdoor.
“Supper will be ready at 5:00 PM Tom” she said.
“Yes mom, I’ll be in for supper” he replied “Let’s go in guys.”
Tom’s playhouse was our refuge. It was built by his dad in the summer of 1944 as a birthday present. It was small, square and had two windows, sort of like an old wooden cabin. Sometimes it doubled as one when we were lost in a blizzard, and mangy old coyotes or an Indian raiding party were threatening us. The outside was painted brown, and the door was decorated with a sign that said:
Evil Doers Beware!!
The sign was Eddies idea, but we all helped make it. Inside it was all ours. Pinups of Roy and Trigger, Gene and Champ, The Lone Ranger and Silver, Tonto and Scout, Rex Allen and Koko, and other cowboys too good to mention were plastered all over the walls from top to bottom, and left to right on the North wall. The South wall held our dart board, the east was our wall for villains. We’d put pictures of the bad guys up and throw darts at them. There was a table in the corner with four chairs beside it. On the table lay a stack of comics-our required weekly reading.
We had a good system, I read one, then passed it on to Eddie, who read it and passed it onto Tom, and then Bill got the last crack at the comic, who returned it to the stack.
Bill was the last one in this week, so he closed the door. We took our places, and then looked at each other. He started to speak.
“Guys, every week we argue over who is the greatest hero. Last week Gene was, the week before, the Lone Ranger was, this week it’s Roy.”
“Of course” I said “that’s cause I’m faster, smarter, have a faster horse, and dress better than Gene Autry!”
Eddie piped in.
“Hold it there Roy. I’m a better rider and rancher than you are.”
“And the Lone Ranger and Tonto take no credit for their heroic deeds” Tom added.
“Silvers faster!” Tom said
“Triggers faster!” I said.
“Silvers better trained!” Tom exclaimed.
“Trigger’s the smartest horse in the movies!” I countered
“Champ is the smartest!”
“Roy is a better shot with his Peacemaker” I anted.
“Gene’s the deadliest rifle shot west of the pecos!” Eddie defiantly said.
“The Lone Ranger only shoots the guns out of the villains hands.”
“So does Roy!”
“So does Gene!”
Tom stood up.
“Stop it guys-every week we do this. And no one ever really wins. Today, I was the Lone Ranger, and you Eddie were Gene, and you Gordon, were Roy. But you know what-they’re all heroes.”
We shook our heads in agreement.
“Gene is a pretty good shot” I admitted.
“And the Lone Ranger sure does a good job of cleaning up varmints and no good for nothing owlhoots.” Eddie admitted.
“Have you ever seen anyone of them do anything dishonest?” Bill asked.
We shook our heads.
“So they’re all heroes, right?”
“Yeah” I said.
“I guess so,” Eddie nodded.
“Instead of fighting about who’s the best why not let them work together” suggested Bill.
“You mean-Roy, Gene, the Ranger and Tonto, as a team?” Eddie said cautiously.
“Yeah-villains beware!! You don’t have a chance.” I said excitedly.
And so our tale began……
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