News Paper Article
Posted by Dezdan on September 24, 2002 at 01:51:36:
In Reply to: In Memory - Bob Powers posted by JKB on September 18, 2002 at 23:25:06:
An article about Bob, and his life that appeared in the Ridgecrest News Review.
By BILL BLANC
Ridge Writers, East Sierra Chapter
California Writers Club
When beloved Kernville historian Bob Powers died Wednesday, Sept. 11, he left many friends in Ridgecrest, as well as disappointed admirers who had been looking forward to two upcoming dates Powers had made to appear here. He was slated to speak at the Maturango Museum Oct. 9. And following his successful appearance at a Ridge Writers meeting Aug. 7, he and his wife Marj had agreed to sell his books at the club’s booth at the upcoming Community Dinner.
In memory of this bard of East Kern County, the News Review is pleased to present the following report of Powers’ last public appearance in Ridgecrest. — ed.
Curiosity Power is probably an appropriate name for the energy that drives Bob Powers’ literary output. “Write about what you’re curious about,” our August meeting speaker urged us. “Write about what interests you!”
“All my life,” the fifth-generation resident of the Kern River Valley told his listeners, “I’ve had this intense interest in the people around me — my family, friends, folks I knew personally or heard about — as well as a fascination with this part of the country where I grew up and where we live.”
He then outlined how converting that interest/fascination into words and pictures has steered him through the research, writing, publication, and distribution of nine unique, illustrated volumes on the history of central California’s Sierra Nevada highlands and the desert floor that lies in the shadow of their eastern slope.
Bob’s 37-year writing and publishing career got off to a “back-door start” in the mid-1960s, thanks to an itinerant entrepreneur who “was traipsing all over Kern County, collecting your input and a $250-dollar fee to have your family history included in a book he said he was putting together for publication.” Subscribers were supposed to receive two leather-bound copies. An additional $200 would “guarantee publication of a family photo if you supplied one.”
Eight months later, having collected $180,000 from the county’s inhabitants but “without publishing one word or picture,” the man absconded to Arizona, declared bankruptcy and vanished “without refunding a cent.” Bob’s concern for his own and his fellow residents’ disappointment compelled him to pick up the ball the crook had dropped.
Re-collecting the biographical/historical information the duped subscribers in his area had supplied, Bob began writing up the histories for his own self-publication. His only previous writing experience had been submissions he composed for a creative writing class he’d attended in Bakersfield.
He located a publisher and ordered the required minimum 1,000-copy run, thinking he’d “be lucky to sell a few hundred copies.” As of today, he’s printed a total of 7,000 copies of that volume, South Fork Country, because over the years he’s had to keep ordering reprints to meet the demand.
Bob told us he never really turns a profit on any of his books because as soon as he sells out a run, he orders up another printing “to make more copies available to more interested parties.” He feels an “obligation to tell the story, to set the record down on paper,” and make it available to people who care about their history. In recent years, his efforts to keep his books in print have generally called for runs of 3,000.
When one of our members asked Bob which book is his own favorite, the answer was Cowboy Country. In that one Bob drew not only on the recollections of his family members and other regional inhabitants, but also on his personal experience. As a youth he’d worked as a cowboy, and in his young manhood he ran a ranch of his own.
Desert Country is another favorite. Covering a region that includes our own Indian Wells Valley, Bob again had occasion to draw on his own reminiscences. These included happy memories of his year as a second-grader in a one-room schoolhouse on Inyokern’s Brown Road, under the tutelage of Ethel Mary “Tiny” Standard.
The most difficult volume, he said, was one on the history of high-country Indians. His insistence on accuracy was hard to fulfill in this case because documentation was so sparse. His break came in the form of a government-published monograph written in the early part of the 20th century. Tracking down the monograph’s aged author (in Hawaii, of all places!) and securing permission to use the information enabled Bob to structure his material around the annual cycle of tribal life.
The ring of truth is a major factor in the success of all Bob’s books. His wife Marj, in attendance at our meeting, confirmed that “Bob checks and cross-checks every detail.” She told us she typed the first five books on a nonelectric typewriter, from her husband’s handwritten originals.
She dreaded “even short corrections or additions” — these necessitated retyping “not just one page, but usually several following pages I’d already typed.” Marj said she’d given “an enthusiastic welcome to the computer age,” with the massive relief it brought to editing chores.
One of Bob’s major rewards is “seeing my books used by the schools.” Since 1975, fifth-graders in the classrooms around Bob’s home territory have based annual field trips on his documentation. The author routinely takes part in these camp-outs, cooking stew and beans chuck wagon-style for the participants.
Bob sees a beneficial parallel between the wholesomeness of his cook-out menu and the wholesomeness of his writing vocabulary. The “complete absence of swear words in every one of my books must make it easy for the teachers and the people on the school board to okay them.”
Bob credits “the talent and perseverance the Lord gave me” for seeing him through the vicissitudes of nearly four decades of writing and self-publishing. He has no record of the number of people he’s talked to, but he’s amassed some 120 hours of taped interviews, which surely constitute a unique oral-history treasure in themselves. His collected works — some boasting well over 100 maps, photos and other illustrations — occupy a place of honor on the shelves of school and community libraries throughout this region of our state.
“Will there be another book?” a Ridge Writer asked him.
“I’ve said it before,” he replied, “but this time I think I mean it. No.”