Favorite Authors: Louis L'Amour

In the fall of 1974 I was working as a truck mechanic. I had gotten a summer job working in the warehouse of Cathcart-Allied Moving and Storage in Chamblee, Georgia. On occasion the guys working in the warehouse went out with packers and helped pack up a customer’s belongings. Other times we went with a driver and helped load the boxes and furniture in the truck. Many of the drivers were owner-operators, contracted to the moving company; they owned the truck, but the company supplied the trailer. Other drivers were employees and drove trucks owned by the company.

Some of the company trucks had seen better days, and they were prone to mechanical issues. I grew up helping my father work on cars. By 1974 I had rebuilt three engines, one with Dad’s help, the other two on my own. So I had a fair amount of knowledge and experience with vehicle problems. This knowledge and experience proved handy a few times when I was able to diagnose minor problems and get a truck running, thus saving a trip for the company mechanic whose shop was in downtown Atlanta.

So, towards the end of the summer when most of the warehouse help left to return to school or something else, the company asked if I would stay on a while and work downtown. The mechanic, Bobby Scott, had had an accident and mashed his thumb badly, which prevented him from doing a lot of his work. He needed someone who could help with the routine maintenance, like oil changes, tune-ups, and so on.

I wasn’t planning on returning to school, so I was happy to have the work.

The shop was in a seven story building on Houston Street (pronounced “how-stun”). The building was about 100 feet wide along the street, and maybe 250 deep. There was an alley running alongside the building, wide enough for two trucks, and the mechanic’s shop was in the rear of the building. The second through seventh floors were warehouse space, with an elevator big enough to lift a car.

In addition to working on cars and trucks, and helping my Dad work on planes, I had done a little welding, mostly oxy-acetylene. If you’ve ever used an oxy-acetylene rig, you probably used a two-bottle cart that can hold two large gas cylinders and has a tray that holds the various accessories needed while welding.

We had one of those carts at the shop. One day as I was poking around I noticed a coverless paperback book rolled up and stuffed next to the tools in the tray on the welding cart. I asked Bobby if it was his. He said no, and said I could have it if I wanted it.

I’ve been an avid reader since I was 6 years old, so he didn’t have to tell me twice.

The book was “The Broken Gun” by Louis L’Amour. I had never been enthusiastic about western novels, and I had never heard of Louis L’Amour. Nevertheless, I dove into the book. I laughed when I read early on in the book that the mystery began with the protagonist finding pages of a diary rolled up and stuffed in the barrel of an old Colt six-shooter. Just like I had found the book rolled up and stuffed in the tool tray of that welding cart.

It was a great read. I enjoyed it so much I went looking for more Louis L’Amour books. It wasn’t hard to find them. In those days most bookstores had a separate carousel that held only Louis L’Amour books. In a few years I had read everything of his I could find and was forced to wait for the new books to come out, which they did about three times a year.

One of the reasons I enjoyed his books so much is that they are so grounded in fact. As L’Amour said himself, “I’ve ridden and hunted the country. When I write about a spring, that spring is there, and the water is good to drink.” He was old enough to have personally known some people who lived “the Old West” life, and his research resulted in bios of hundreds if not thousands of Wild West “gunslingers”.

I have about 103 of his books. Most have been read more than once. The early books are definitely quick reads. In some ways they are predictable, but they are still always enjoyable. His later books tended to get longer, have more time for character exploration and development, and yet were still very readable.

His stories of the Old West, while not as “romanticized” as Hollywood films tended to be, are still a romantic view of the west, however grounded in extensive research they may be. And I mean “romantic” in the literary sense, not in reference to the content. My Dad who was also an avid reader told me one time that he liked other western authors better than Louis L’Amour because L’Amour didn’t put any sex in his stories!

If you are looking for a good read, seasoned with historical facts and steeped in Old West mystique, go find a Louis L’Amour book or two.

I’m sure you will enjoy it.