This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan, with an excellent Kirk Wilson cover. I wasn’t familiar with Wilson’s work until the past few years, but I really like his covers, especially the ones he did for RANCH ROMANCES.
Walker A. Tompkins wrote some of the Jim Hatfield novels in TEXAS RANGERS that
were reprinted in paperback by Popular Library during the Sixties. At that
point, I had no idea who was behind the house name Jackson Cole or even that it
was a house name, but as it turns out, some of the books I liked the most back
then were actually written by Tompkins. So I’ve been reading and enjoying his
work for close to 60 years now. He leads off this issue of RANCH ROMANCES with
the novella “Land-Grabber Law”. Val Shannon, a troubleshooter for a large land
and cattle combine, is sent to Arizona to arrest a ranch foreman who’s been
rustling from the spread he works for. (Like Steve Reese in RANGE RIDERS,
Shannon is also a deputy U.S. marshal, so he can go where he wants to and
arrest people.) When he gets there, though, he interrupts some wedding plans
and discovers that the situation isn’t as straightforward as he thought. It
also involves a romantic triangle and a land grab, hence the title, and Shannon
winds up riding deep into Mexico on the trail of a runaway groom and his new
bride. There are only a few action scenes in this one, but they’re well-done
and the story has a nice, complex plot. Tompkins wrote quite a few of the Steve
Reese novels, and I have to wonder if this story is based on an unused outline
he wrote for that series. Impossible to know at this late date, and it doesn’t
really matter. What’s important is that in “Land-Grabber Law”, Tompkins
delivers another well-written, entertaining traditional Western yarn.
Kenneth L. Sinclair is a familiar name from Western pulps. I don’t recall if I’ve read any of his work before. His story “Badman From Funnybone” is lightweight, as you’d expect from the title, but it’s not really an out-and-out comedy. A practical-joking cowboy accused of a bank robbery he didn’t commit runs into a beautiful female peddler on a one-way trail and winds up getting caught by the law because of it. The woman sets out to clear his name. As you’d expect, everything works out in the end, but the story flows along at a nice pace and the romance angle is well-handled.
Theodore J. Roemer wrote a couple of hundred Western and sports stories for various pulps from the mid-Thirties through the late Fifties. Despite him being fairly prolific, I don’t think I’ve read anything by him until now. His novelette in this issue, “Three Loves to Oregon” has a sappy title but is an excellent story. It’s about a saloon singer who wants to escape her past and does so by joining a wagon train bound for Oregon. The gambler who got her into that life comes after her, but by the time he catches up, the girl is already in a low-key romantic triangle with the wagonmaster and one of the farmers bound for a new life. With all that romance going on, there’s barely time to worry about the Pawnee war party that attacks the wagon train . . . Roemer does a great job with this setup and keeps things from bogging down in angst, which they easily could have. And not everything plays out the way I expected, which is always a bonus.
It's always nice to run into a story in a pulp by an author I’ve met. Jeanne Williams was still writing highly regarded historical novels in the Eighties and Nineties and I met her at several Western Writers of America conventions. Her story in this issue, “Rails Into Santos”, is about the clash between the construction boss and a female doctor during the construction of a railroad line in South Texas. There’s no real action, but the emotional stakes are high and the story is very well-written and satisfying.
“The Lonely Dusk” is by Donald Bayne Hobart, a long-time stalwart of the Western pulps, especially those in the Thrilling Group. He’s probably best remembered for his Masked Rider novels, a number of which were reprinted in paperback during the Sixties and Seventies. This short tale about a ranch widow and a former suitor who rides back to see her is another one that doesn’t have any real action, but again it’s well-written and the emotions of the characters are handled very well. It’s a little unusual for Hobart, but he does a good job of it.
“Galahad in Levis” is by Will Cotton, who published a couple of dozen Western and detective yarns during the Fifties. That seems to be the extent of his work. This one starts out as a lightweight tale about a hapless cowboy and a mail-order bride mix-up, but then it turns a lot darker and winds up with a surprising and very effective twist.
There’s also an installment of “Longhorn Stampede” by Philip Ketchum, which I didn’t read. This was published as a novel under the same title by Popular Library in 1956 with a cover by A. Leslie Ross. I don’t know if I have this one on my shelves or not, but Ketchum is always worth reading.
Then there are the usual features on pen pals, astrology, and movies, plus a poem and cartoon or two. Also as usual, I just glanced at those.
This issue is heavier on the romance than is common during this era of the magazine's run. Despite the title, many of the stories in RANCH ROMANCES during the Fifties were just traditional Western yarns with little or no romantic element. But romance plays a major part in every story in this issue. It’s also a really top-notch issue with the stories ranging from very good to excellent. This is one of the best pulps I’ve read in a while, and if you happen to own a copy, it’s well worth reading.