Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Emmy™Award-Winning Documentary Film

"Broadcast" version now airing on most public television stations.

"Uncensored" version now on DVD and in film festivals.

Synopsis: A charismatic figure featured in Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff, Florence "Pancho" Barnes was one of the most important women in 20th Century aviation. A tough and fearless aviatrix, Pancho was a rival of Amelia Earhart's who made a name for herself as Hollywood's first female stunt pilot. Just before WWII she opened a ranch near Edwards Air Force Base that became a famous -- some would say notorious -- hangout for test pilots and movie stars. Known as the "Happy Bottom Riding Club", it became the epicenter of the aviation world during the early jet age. Chuck Yeager celebrated breaking the sound barrier there in 1947, and Howard Hughes and Jimmy Doolittle caroused in the bar. The Club's destruction by fire in 1953 is seen by many to mark the end of a Golden Era in post-WWII aviation. In the same fashion Pancho herself has become something of a legend, a fascinating yet enigmatic icon whose swagger is often celebrated, but whose story has been largely unknown. Until now.

A documentary film produced and written by Nick Spark and directed by Amanda Pope. Featuring interviews with test pilots Bob Cardenas, Bob Hoover and Chuck Yeager, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and biographers Barbara Schultz and Lauren Kessler. Narrated by Tom Skerritt with Kathy Bates as the voice of Pancho Barnes.

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Women in Aviation
"Read Nick Spark's article about Pancho
from Women in Aviation magazine (.pdf)"
02 December 2006

A Journey to Mount Lowe Part 2

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Once a year a group of volunteers from the Scenic Mount Lowe Railway Historical Committee,, invite a group of 75 people to accompany them to the site of the Alpine Lodge. The Historical Committee, led by Brian Marcroft, is dedicated to preserving the memory of the Mt. Lowe railway and the integrity of what remains. Today, I had the opportunity to visit Mt. Lowe with them. It was a wonderful experience, a journey in many respects back in time. The journey from Pasadena up to the site of the Alpine Lodge takes about 20 minutes by car, although normally the public isn't allowed to traverse the fire road, so you either have to walk or ride a bike up the steep grade. Once at the Lodge site, I found a group of extremely enthusiastic people, all of them volunteers, and all of them interested in the history of the Mountain Railway. The Historical Committee had set up a camp in what used to be the lobby of the Alpine Lodge — now a tiny meadow — and set up a series of interpretive displays and photos. Eating a hotdog cooked on a grill salvaged from the remnants of the Lodge kitchen, and admiring the scenery, it wasn't hard to see why Lowe felt this place was special. Although just a short ways from Pasadena, it is quiet, cool, and shaded by trees.

The trip to the Alpine Lodge also included a brief excursion to Inspiration Point, a short walk from the lodge site. The ramada was rebuilt by volunteers several years ago, and wow was it worth it! From here you get a panoramic view of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, including the Rose Bowl and Catalina Island. It is tremenous! Accompanying me on this jaunt was Lance Ferm, a direct blood descendent of Professor Lowe who mantains a neat website about the railway and the Lowe family, which you can see at: From our perch above the city of Pasadena the Rose Bowl was clearly visible; unfortunately for Lance and I the USC Trojans were upset by the UCLA Bruins that afternoon, spoiling what otherwise was obviously a perfect day!

Visible here are a few remnants of the mountain railway which have survived, including a snowplow front intended to be fitted on a trolley car, a metal frame suspected to be from the kitchen of the lodge, and one of two safe doors recently retrieved by the volunteer group. Although most of the railway and the building complex were destroyed, dynamited, or scrapped prior to 1960, a few concrete abutments, railroad ties and electrical harnesses still dot the landscape of Mt. Lowe.

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The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club ©2008-2010 Nick Spark Productions, LLC.