With a Little Help
Autobiography of Rick Wagner
Chapter 3: Junior High School
Having completed the sixth grade at Monterey Park School, I had turned 12 over the summer of 1961, and was ready
for junior high, sometimes called "middle school" in other communities. Junior high in Salinas at that time was
comprised of grades seven through nine. I think that because of the crowding due to the post-war baby boom, the ninth
grade that what was normally the high school freshman year was retained in junior high at that time. All of my childhood
education was at Salinas public schools.
John had been going to York School, a private school for boys in Monterey, and wasn't doing very
well. I was enrolled there too, but at the last minute (to "save money") it was decided I would go to
Washington Junior High in Salinas, instead. It was in bike riding range and I had a three-speed
Raleigh from Anderson's Cycle and Key on Monterey Street. John Anderson was a survivor of the Bataan
death march and both my father and mother made it a point to patronize his bicycle shop. The junior high school was
in double session due to the baby boom. John Humphries and I had afternoon session and didn't start for home in the
winter until after dark at 5:00 PM. We would meet at lunch time and then ride our bikes to
school together. In math class, taught by Mr. Head, we learned about base seven arithmetic
and prime numbers.
Year of family photo uncertain, possibly the fall of 1961. Dad had gone on a hunting trip to Kodiak, Alaska, where he had
bagged a Kodiak bear, and made a 16 mm film about the trip. That's the bear skin rug in the foreground.
It was in the school library that I discovered science fiction. In a short time I had
read every novel there by Robert A. Heinlein. I read other science ficiton too, but
Heinlein's books were my favorites. I also read adventure stories about jet fighters
and helicopters. I learned how to fly from the descriptions of the controls and practiced
controlling airplanes and helicopters in my mind. Later when I took actual flying lessons
after high school the instructor told me I had a good feel for it.
I was twelve years old in the winter of 1962 and was due to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church. John Humphries and I
attended classes at Saint Paul's Episcopal Church on the corner of San Miguel and Pajaro Avenues to prepare us for
Bishop Pike was to ask us questions to verify our readiness for church membership at a ceremony later
in the year. Not wanting to fail in public, we applied ourselves diligently to learning our lessons about the Bible
and church doctrine, such as the Holy Trinity. I hadn't realized at the time how controversial Bishop Pike was. In the 1970s
I came across and read Bishop Pike's book
The Other Side
about attempts to contact his dead son.
Walter had been in the choir of the church. I had tried out for it while in elementary school and failed. I still don't
sing well. Walter was also an altar boy and got to help light the candles at the start of the services and things like that.
We had gone to church on Sundays with the family. It was just a walk around the corner for us. We sang along with the
congregation and sat, stood, and kneeled on cue. After the main service, the children were dismissed for Sunday School in
the back rooms with volunteer teachers, while the adults remained for a sermon.
The big confirmation day arrived and it was a bit anti-climactic. Bishop Pike gave us just softball questions, which we
handled easily. Bishop Pike and his wife would later be found dead from exposure in the desert
of Israel where their car broke down in the wilderness. Questions concerning the existence of the supernatural became central
to my early philosophical quest, fully answered, of course, in the negative. That is, there is no supernatural. The implication
of this, which I didn't grasp until many years later, was that
if it exists, must be natural, part of nature,
which is essentially the argument of
the father of
I never did read the Bible in its entirety. My godmother, Jan Wyman, had given me a King James version of the bible, and that
was what the Episopal Church used. I have since read enough of the Gospels to understand what Jesus was getting at ("you
saw me hungry and you didn't feed me"), and enough of the Old Testament to know where the Fundamentalists are coming from,
but I long ago concluded that I wasn't getting enough useful information from it to read it cover to cover.
My grandfather died of pneumonia that year, 1962. Grandmother was devastated. Grandfather had been in the hospital for
pneumonia and then was discharged. He went out in the rain to do some necessary work with the tractor and had a relapse.
He had collapsed and my father carried him upstairs. He went back to the hospital and died a day or two later.
He was the first person I knew who died. I was sad and missed him, but even worse was the effect his death had on Grandmother.
She had to sell the ranch and moved into an apartment in Salinas. Things were never the same again. This might have been
the beginning of the coming marital difficulties with my parents.
Seattle World's Fair
During the winter, the family made plans to travel to see the Seattle World's Fair in the summer of 1962. Life magazine
had a photo-spread on the building of the Space Needle and we were all excited to see it. Mom and Dad had bought a
travel trailer and planned a driving route that had us stopping at trailer parks for overnight stops (ONS in the travel
trailer guide book). It took several days driving through California, Oregon, and Washington to get there. Sometimes
one or more of the boys would ride in the trailer, and sometimes we all six rode in the '62 Buick Electra.
We all had a great time at the fair. We saw most of the exhibits, and naturally, I liked the science exhibits the best.
There was a young Princeton professor who would give daily lectures on popular science, and always very dramatic, such as
running up and down the aisle activating a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher, or making explosive "joy bubbles" by bubbling
hydrogen through soapy water made with Joy diswashing detergent.
One time the professor was doing a demonstration on gryroscopes. He had a rotating platform he would stand on and holding
a spinning bicycle wheel as a gyroscope, show how he could rotate his position by turning the axis of the gyroscope. He then
asked for a volunteer from the audience and John was chosen. He had John stand on the platform, gave him a pop gun, spun
him around, and then asked him to shoot a target. The object of this exercise was to illustrate how difficult it would be to
hit a target from a spinning platform, such as a rocket from earth hitting the moon. The the professor's consternation, John
hit the target on the first try.
I joined a science fiction "book club" and read books of short stories and novels by A. E. Van Vogt,
Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and others. I read Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (now a classic) in
hard cover. One day my history teacher, Mr. Nichols, caught me reading in class when I
should have been paying attention to his lecture. I was acutely embarrassed because I
was at the part of the story where Smith, being from Mars and having never seen a woman before, touches
his nurse's breasts in wonder. Mr. Nichols asked me what I was reading and I replied "The book is
Stranger in a Strange Land." Naturally, he had never heard of it. I didn't know
any adults who read science fiction. I also read Asimov's I Robot (now a classic) in hardcover.
Because school didn't start until noon, I got in the habit of keeping the light on in my room and reading
until midnight. My parents went to bed at 9:00 PM and sometimes insisted I get up when they did.
Just for the heck of it I built a control-line airplane with a wing made out of a 1/8 inch thick slab of
balsa wood. The wing had square ends and square leading and trailing edges Nobody would believe it would
fly. It was a small airplane with a 0.049 cubic inch displacement reed valve glow plug single cylinder
engine with an integral fuel tank that used methanol and nitromethane fuel. John Humphries was really
surprised when he saw how well it flew. I used a square stick of balsa for the fuselage and made
it rather long so it would be easy for a beginner to control. John flew it without crashing and as a
result he got hooked on model airplanes. After that we built bigger and better models and flew them
together. Sometimes Walter would come along with us and help launch them.
I was in Mr. Killian's biology class when he got the news (and informed the class) that President
Kennedy was shot. Later I saw the tape of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald on the TV news. It was
around that time that a TV production of On the Beach was shown. I was an adult by the time
I finally read the book that the movie was based on. After a nuclear war, the entire planet is slowly
dying from radiation poisoning. The northern hemisphere died off first. Only Australia is left with people alive
and they knew the end was coming to them too. Very depressing, but it helped stimulate the anti-war movement.
I liked woodshop. I made the traditional napkin holder and finished it with raw linseed oil. I made a
walnut jewelry box for my Dad and got an "A" on it. Dad was proud of it and kept his cuff links and
tie clips in it. I also took metal shop at junior high school.
I started hanging out more at "hobbies and toys," what we called Toys Galore on Main Street.
Harvey Kitamura, who worked there, helped us boys with our model airplanes and even took
John Humphries and me flying a couple of times. He was a wizard with the models and a master of
control line, free flying, and radio controlled airplanes.
I had read a magazine article on bonsai, the primarily Japanese art of growing trees in pots, most likely
in Sunset magazine, which my parents subscribed to. By the way, in spite of some popular opinion being
against it, and I was misled for many years as well, a preposition is something it's alright to end a sentence with.
Bonsai looked interesting so I dug up one of my Mom's junipers in the front yard, pruned it, and put it in
a terra cotta flower pot on my window sill and watched it die over the next month or so. I gave it another try
before giving up. W. C. Fields once said "if at first you don't succeed, try again. Then quit. Don't be a damned fool
about it." Twenty years later I would try bonsai again with more success.
Mom and Dad subscribed to several other magazines, besides Sunset, including Time, Life and Scientific
American. I read Scientifc American, at least those articles that interested me. I would be 20 and in the Air Force before
I began reading Time regularly. Our Aunt Frieda had given magazine subscriptions to us three boys. John got Popular Mechanics,
Walter got Popular Electronics, and I got Popular Science, which, naturally, I thought was the best.
I liked Life magazine because of the great color pictures. I was fascinated by an article on computers that used color
illustrations of a railroad switching yard to show how data was moved around in a computer. I'm not sure how accurate
or relevant it was, but I wanted to learn more. Life also had a sensationalizing article on LSD, and another one on
I joined the school track team as a high jumper and competed in a couple of track meets. I didn't do well.
I was growing so fast I lost my timing and couldn't equal jumps I'd made earlier.
January 20, 2013, Aina Haina, Oahu, Hawaii.
Note to other Rick Wagners about the use of our name: I am Richard J. Wagner, and I know there are lots of us Richard Wagners
who go by "Rick." I use our name, "Rick Wagner," in the title of this autobiography because that's the name I go by. I established
my personal home page under that name back in 1995, long before many people even knew the Internet (much less the Web) existed.
So I consider I have a kind of Web presence precedence, and therefore am entitled to use my nickname in the title of my work. I
know and/or hope you will understand.
Hand crafted HTML code copyright 2002-2017, by
all rights reserved.
Email comments to Richard dot J dot Wagner at gmail dot com.
This page created April 9, 2002.
Updated April 19, 2002.
Updated May 6, 2004.
Updated May 10, 2004.
Updated July 26, 2006.
Updated August 5, 2009.
Updated June 9, 2010.
Updated October 31, 2016.
Updated November 21, 2016.
Updated December 12, 2016.
Updated January 21, 2017.
Last updated April 30, 2017.