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I suppose I’ve seen a few hundred Penny Dreadful novels during the course of my life, but didn’t know them as such. In my shallow literary world they were called Pulp Readers. The name was probably derived from the quality of paper they were printed on. I was no paper inspector by any stretch, but even I could tell it was carted off to the press before the paper maker was finished. That was why they cost a nickel. From those pages I learned about Tom Mix, Tom Horn, Buffalo Bill, and a host of others who, in my world became larger than life. One day while I wasn’t looking they vanished from the magazine rack and I forgot about them for some thirty years.
About 1982 I replaced my Sears portable with a Commodore 64 and a dot matrix printer. Spinning yarns was never so easy. I wrote stories for paying markets – columns and articles that paid anywhere from five cents per word to $50 per story. It was money, but the day job was what kept the whole bunch of us eating three squares. But my favorite targets, in spite of the money, were the small, backroom presses and regional rags. Barb and I were cyclists during those years and I became a voice for middle-aged tandem bicycle cyclists.
That was about the time I met Leo.
Leo was a writer bent on reviving the Penny Dreadful Reader. He had placed an ad In what we called compte Newsgroups – kind of a redheaded stepchild to today’s Yahoo Groups – searching for writers for his Penny Dreadful venture. I responded and since he was local I drove by to see him. Leo and his wife Tweedy were living in what resembled a fabled gingerbread house where in exchange for rent he watched over a building contractor’s supply yard.
We soon learned that we both licensed amateur radio operators – another story – and had also attended air force electronic school during the same years. He became a maintainer of an early warning radar site on a Nevada mountaintop while I went to South Carolina to maintain airborne navigation equipment.
The fact that our paths crossed once again after 45 years is mind-boggling.
Funds kept Penny Dreadful from becoming a reality. But we had a lot of fun with projects we shared.
Our friendship continued into 2001 when he passed away.