Many So Cal
cities can lay claim to at least some connection with aviator Pancho Barnes; she was not a person to stay in any one place too long, earth included.
Born Florence Lowe, 1901, in Pasadena and bred in San Marino, derring-do and dreaming big were in her blood. Her grandfather Thaddeus Lowe built the Mt. Lowe Railroad. And her connection to So Pas? That’s the result of an arranged marriage; the first of her four husbands was the Reverand C. Rankin Barnes, of South Pasadena.
Among Pancho Barnes’s many accomplishments, flights of fancy, and adventures that demonstrated a super-human intestinal fortitude, you can include:
- Spent several months running guns and ammunition to revolutionaries in Mexico
- Soloed in first plane after only six hours of instruction
- Performed as a barnstormer
- Broke Amelia Earhart’s air speed record
- Worked as a Hollywood stunt pilot
- Started the first union for Hollywood stunt fliers
And that's the short list.
After losing most of her money in the Great Depression, Barnes collected what little cash remained and bought acreage in the Mojave Desert. There she opened the soon-to-be-infamous, perhaps scandalous, Happy Bottom Riding Club. At Happy Bottom, her friends included a young Chuck Yeager and Buzz Aldrin.
Oh, and the name “Pancho:” Barnes adopted that during her Mexican adventures. She and her compadres were captured by government guards and only Barnes and one other friend escaped. They rode out of Mexico on burros. Depending on which account you read, either her friend said she looked like Don Quixote’s squat sidekick Sancho Panza, or the ordeal had given her great respect for Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.
Either way, like the rest of Barnes’s life, it's a good story.