Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

Jan 6, 2014 | 10 comments

Walker Tompkins in front of Jail

Walker Tompkins in front of the old Oysterville Jail, c. 1930

I wish I had known Walker Allison Tompkins (1909 – 1988.).  Perhaps our paths actually did cross but, if so, I hadn’t reached the point in my own life to be interested or to ask the right questions or to realize that we might have had a thread of common interest, though a generation separated us in age,

Tompkins was born the same year as my father on a farm in Prosser, Washington.  He knew early on that farming was not for him and when his family moved to Turlock, California, he got a job with the local newspaper and paid a friend to do his farm chores.  He was fourteen.  Over the course of his long life, he was an author and a historian, writing both fiction and non-fiction and working for radio, television, newspapers and magazines.  He was the writer of 36 books and, because many of the early ones were westerns written for the pulp market, he acquired the nick-name “Two-Gun Tompkins.”

 Here at the beach, however, he was known as “Tommy.” He first came here when he was eight years old to vacation with his uncle Guy Allison who had built “The Wreckage” in Ocean Park.   Years later, he wrote of his arrival:

Wreckage 1992-38-171-517g

The Wreckage

 When I got off the little narrow gauge train shortly before my eighth birthday, it was to find a Cape Coddish village (Ocean Park) of weatherbeaten cottages and country stores, a village that had started out as a Methodist beach resort in the 1880s.  Its people were bucolic, its clamdiggers as colorful as any Maine lobsterman, its community social life clannish and aloof from `summer people…  

  My first impression was an audible one: the constant organ tone bass roar of the ocean surf, invisible behind a high western sand ridge. A cow was grazing in the middle of the main street . Ancient pine trees also grew in the middle of Bay Avenue. “Half a mile down the pair of sandy ruts which were to become the paved state highway down the peninsula, we came to Uncle Guy’s log cabin, The Wreckage…”

That was to be the first of many trips to the Peninsula, including a year or so in the thirties that he lived in Ocean Park at the Wreckage during the summer months and, in a ‘studio’ behind the post office during the cold, wet winter.  Dorothy Trondsen Williams remembers him from those days – charismatic, curious, and lots of fun.

It was the Peninsula of those years that is the setting for CQ Ghost Ship written in 1960. It is a mystery for young readers – the first of a series starring Amateur Radio teenager Tommy Rockford. (It is interesting to note that Walker Tompkins was K6ATX in real life and that the book I am reading was published by the American Radio Relay League.)


CQ Ghost Ship by Walker A. Tompkins

Though we carried the book when we had the Bookvendor, I’m reading it now for the first time.  I find it a little heavy on ham radio jargon, but that small drawback is greatly outweighed by the references to well-known places and people who show up as characters – the “Waygarts,”  Bill Winn (Senior, I presume), Lucille Wilson, Ava Slagle and many others.

My initial interest in the book was piqued by something I read referring to the Solano as the ‘ghost ship’ that inspired the story. In my childhood, the remains of the old ship was called simply “The Wreck,” but it did appear and disappear now and then in a ghostly manner.  Now it is totally buried in the accreting sands south of Oysterville.

I’m about halfway through the book.  So far, I haven’t met up with ‘The Wreck,’ but I am certainly enjoying the stroll down memory lane.   I’m sorry I missed meeting the author in the days when I might have had the opportunity.


  1. Marion

    Speaking of Guy Allison, did you ever hear of the ‘chatter club’ that was held at his home, the wreckage? I remember going to it once with my folks and it was kind of a discussion group. As I remember he set an alarm clock so exactly at a certain time the alarm rang and it was time for everyone to leave. Guy was certainly one of a kind. I remember his wife as a very sweet lady. I know my parents knew Walker Tompkins as I remember hearing his name.

    • sydney

      Marion, that’s so funny that you bring up the ‘Chatter Club.’ Although I knew about Guy Allison and the Wreckage and that he was a character, I had never heard of the Chatter Club until last Spring. When Greg had me do that book signing at the Oysterville Store, Guy Allison’s grandson came up and introduced himself to me. (He was visiting… from California, I think.) One of his fondest memories from childhood was being allowed to participate in the Chatter Club at one of its meetings when he was visiting his grandfather one vacation! It seems to me that he had just read one of his Uncle Walker Tompkins’ kids’ books and he thought that’s why he was allowed to take part in the conversation.

  2. Cate Gable

    Bring back the cows in the middle of the street and let’s plant more trees.

  3. Linda J

    Marion, that story is funny — what nerve it must take to set an alarm for your guests to leave! Not too subtle.

  4. Keith A. Cox

    Amen to this “I hadn’t reached the point in my own life to be interested or to ask the right questions or to realize that we might have had a thread of common interest” If I had a dollar for every time I say this to myself. Now I probably ask too many questions (smile), yet still have times I say that (quote from your blog) to myself. As usual, I continue to enjoy reading your blog posts.

    • sydney

      You are so far ahead of most of us in the question-asking department, it idoesn’t bear thinking about! But, even so, I’m sure you will continue to run into that ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ wall time and time again. We’ve got to get cracking on that Time Machine so we can go back and find out when we finally get to the need-to-know stage!

      • Keith A. Cox

        yes, I agree…a time machine. Let’s see where to begin. Hhhmmm. Not a single engineering bone in my body, I better just get back to asking questions for now (smile).

  5. Tim Gorin

    Hi…I came across your website while killing time and thought I’d drop a note. Tommy Tompkins lived near my grandfather in Santa Barbara, and they were fairly close. In fact, both my grandfather, John Gorin, and I appear in his books. My grandfather was “Black Jack Gorin” and I appear as a boy he meets on a barge. He doesn’t use my last name – being that I would then be related to the nefarious Black Jack, but he did use my call sign, KB6KSG. Anyway, I met him once or twice, and my grandfather talked quite fondly about him. Cheers!

    • sydney

      Great information, Tim! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Stasia Smith

    My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Alva Slagle Wilson, read the book to my class shortly after it was published. I remembered that we loved that our home town, Raymond was mentioned along with other places that were familiar to us. I also remembered her chuckling when she told us that the waitress in the book was her namesake. I loved the book then, but I tried to read it recently and I agree with you that it was heavy on the ham radio jargon.


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