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Side Trail Article
Western Pulps and Such Magazines
Tom Sheehan

Side Trail Article

In my early years, in the ‘30s, the Depression in full swing, my adventurous spirit and thirst for new things at a full gallop, pulp magazines stuffed much of the void. They filled the empty spaces and often the empty stomachs waiting on a late meal of canned salmon, peas and a white sauce I remember to this day, or a meal of a quart of real oven-baked beans and a loaf of brown bread from a converted garage building just down the street on Charlestown’s Bunker Hill Ave, and all the lamb kidneys I could buy at a corner market with change from a dollar used to buy those first portions of the meal.

Often it fed the early five of us.

I particularly loved G-8 and His Battle Aces, Nippy and Bull, Doc Savage and his crew, Lamont Cranston as The Shadow and any pulp westerns I could get my hands on, barter for, even those with the covers torn off, or had the title stripped so they could not be put back on another shelf, to be sold as new.

There was therefore a gastronomical and a literary connection for me where I lived less than 200 yards from history itself, Old Ironsides in Charlestown, MA Navy Yard, my father in the Marine Corps across the street from our cold water flat in a three-decker building on Bunker Hill Ave, and uphill from us stood the Bunker Hill Monument. Often he served as charge of quarters aboard that floating piece of history still making the rounds for us in their yearly turn-abouts. And many of those times were spent in my carriage when he baby-sat me while my mother shopped or completed other errands.

I was hungry much of the time those days, for those late meals, and for the accompanying adventures that reading pulp magazines brought to me, my mind exploding for the next few years, until girls intruded in their special way, a football felt comfortable in my hands, a line drive into left field could be hauled in with a sprint and a sure glove.

Often when I select a name for a character in one of my stories, I feel some unique but unknown connection persuading me in a choice of names from a distant past aboard a fictional horse at a lope, trot or gallop across a pulpy page of print, or some character from Doc Savage or The Shadow, in a deliberate manner, making his name or the names of cohorts echo in the back of my head.

I always welcome such intrusions.

For a time they were real for me, and I try to make such characters real again, weaving them to do their new thing in late stories I write, westerns, thrillers, or folk tales breaking out of the mind.

With over 400 cowboy stories published at one time on one Internet site alone, characters come to me looking to be named: I have uncovered Caleb Bonner, Mexico George, Lakota Betty, Otto Pilsner, Tobin Rally, Yardley Doyle McKee, Big Jack Tuppence (Coin of the Realm), Clay Hartung, Bad-Boy Goode, Bruce Danby (Pony Express rider), Doc Hannah, Falcon Eddie, Gregory Tolliver, Tascosa Gunsmith, Mrs. Binnie Minn of Shangri-La, No-Hugs Calhoun, Plumbeck the Fiddler, Will Halfloaf, Bumbler, and Crackbak Mellon-Mellon. You know there is an adventure coming up with a character’s name. Came also dozens of stories and memoirs such as "The Great God Shove" directly from those Charlestown impacts.

I call it romance of the language, the demand of phonetics playing at my ear.

Memory knows yet the reading niches I had; to be alone, on a rooftop with the pigeon coops, in a cellar with the dust of coal in the air from a recent delivery, or in a portion of a hallway where the tenants were off working, all of them.

In those delicious hours, the cowboys came and went, G-8 flew in and out, Doc Savage and Lamont Cranston did their things, and I reaped all the rewards of their good deeds.

Those characters and their good deeds are still with me.

It’s like pay-back time.


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