Saturday, September 15, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, First January Number, 1957

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. It’s in really good shape, too. The scan is from my copy, and that nice cover is by Sam Cherry, who painted nearly all of the RANCH ROMANCES covers from the Fifties.

The issue gets underway with the featured novella “Woman at Wagonwheel” (despite what the cover says, there’s no “The” in the title on the actual story) by Ray Gaulden, a fairly prolific Western pulpster and novelist who had at least one book made into a movie (FIVE CARD STUD). This is a pretty good hardboiled yarn with a standard save-the-ranch plot that’s elevated by Gaulden’s smooth prose, some interesting characters, and a well-handled romantic rectangle. I’ve read and enjoyed several of Gaulden’s pulp stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one of his novels. I really ought to.

Todhunter Ballard is best remembered today as mystery writer W.T. Ballard, but he was a very prolific and well-regarded Western writer, too. His short story in this issue, “To Know the Truth”, is a mining boomtown yarn involving an attempted swindle, a two-fisted miner, and the beautiful female editor of the local newspaper. It’s minor Ballard but still well-written and entertaining.

Seven Anderton was a fairly prolific pulp author for three decades, from the late Twenties until his death in 1958. He wrote in nearly every genre but was probably best known for his Westerns and detective stories. As far as I know, he never published a novel or published outside of the pulps. He’s mostly forgotten today, but there are still fans of his work around, including me. His novelette in this issue, “Queen of Jacob’s Kingdom”, appears to have been his last Western story. It’s a good one. The protagonist is a young man who has gone west to make his fortune in the ranching business, but he runs afoul of the local cattle baron and makes things worse for himself by falling for the man’s beautiful daughter. There’s actually more romance than action in this one, something of a rarity during the Fifties despite the magazine’s name, but the writing is top-notch and the story works well.

J.L. Bouma wrote quite a few Western novels, but during the late Forties and on through the Fifties, he was busy writing dozens of pulp stories, first in the detective pulps and then the Westerns, becoming a regular contributor to RANCH ROMANCES. His story in this issue, “Canyon Crossing”, is also heavy on the romance angle, as a young woman who’s about to get married has to deal with the return of an old beau who deserted her. There’s also some horse rustling and a twist ending that very predictable, leaving us with a story that’s readable but maybe a little too much on the mild side.

T.V. Olsen had a long, successful career as a Western novelist and is still highly regarded by many Western readers. He was never very prolific as a short story writer, turning out only a couple dozen of them, and most of those appeared in RANCH ROMANCES. “Stampede!” is, not surprisingly, a trail drive story with some good action and characters that are more complex than you usually find in a story of this length. I’ve read a few of Olsen’s novels and am not much of a fan of them, but I liked this story quite a bit.

The least well-known author in this issue is probably Robert E. Trevathan, and long-time Western readers might even recognize that one, since he wrote a number of novels for Avalon Books, the library market publisher. I’ve even read a few of ’em, but I don’t remember anything about them. He wrote a few stories for the Western pulps during the Fifties, including “Prairie Wind” in this issue. It’s about a young wife who has a hard time coping with the hardships of life on the frontier, and having the local cattle baron causing trouble for the homesteaders in the area just makes things worse. Trevathan writes fairly well, but the ending of this story is a little abrupt and not really believable.

There’s also a serial installment by Joseph Wayne (probably Wayne D. Overholser) that I didn’t read since I don’t have the whole thing, and the usual assortment of features like Western movie news, horoscope stuff, and requests for pen pals. Overall, this is probably the mildest issue of RANCH ROMANCES from the Fifties that I’ve read. All the stories are well-written and reasonably entertaining, with the stories by Gaulden, Olsen, and Anderton taking top honors, but several of them are really lacking in action and drama. It’s worth reading if you have it close to hand, but I wouldn’t go digging for it in your collection.

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