“Seeing Red in Ludlow”
By: Debbie Miller Marschke
We all have had experiences that become a measuring bar for all other experiences: the hottest trip, the coldest trip, etc. This story is about one of the most frightening experiences we have had in our travels. It scared both of us. Friday October 16, 2009 Steve and I had traveled to Ludlow, CA and intended to spend the night near Ludlow because we needed to meet up with leader Joe DeKehoe for his DE trip at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday. It was dark around 9 p.m. As we were nearing Ludlow, we realized that we had forgotten our Thermarest air mattresses – this promised to be a miserable evening. We thought that maybe we could luck out and find an inflatable floatation mattress to improvise with at the Ludlow gas stations, after all we are on the route leading to The River. Neither gas station had any inflatables, but we did score some cheap Mexican blankets we could roll our clothes up in “burrito-style” and create some sort of crude buffer for the hard ground. We unintentionally had lingered on both sides of the highway in this tiny town. As we were set to leave the 76 gas station we spotted a suspicious looking older pickup truck. The side panels were not painted the same colors, and it had a broken tail light. It was driving slowly behind the gas station and the driver had some kind of spotlight which he was beaming around. Something seemed odd. We pulled outta there quickly and were commenting to each other about what we thought we had seen. At that point the pickup truck pulled onto the road behind us and appeared to be following us.
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Steve hit the gas, drove under the freeway overpass, and headed into the parking lot for the Chevron gas station on the opposite side. We pulled our Jeep quickly in-between two parked semi- trucks and killed the headlights. The pickup truck ambled slowly past in front of us, the spot light beam wavering purposely – that guy was definitely looking for someone. He did not see us parked in the dark. We weren’t entirely sure he was after us, but he was up to something for sure. Maybe we had seen too many movies, like “Duel” with Dennis Weaver? We watched him continue down the road, and in the distance we could see that he had parked and was now out of his vehicle with a flashlight, scanning about. We feared for our safety and the safety of whoever this guy was closing in on. Then we spotted a Search and Rescue vehicle at the gas pumps, filling up. We hurried over to report the suspicious person, and the officers listened to us skeptically. Then we pointed down the road at the truck, parked and running, with the tell tale flashlight beam wavering about. After observing for a short time, the officers agreed that something was amiss. They would call the San Bernardino Sheriff, and urged us to leave the station. Steve and I drove off down Route 66 the opposite direction, glad to have reported the problem to someone who could actually do something. We didn’t know where the Sheriff would be coming from: Barstow? That’s at least an hour away. We did not see the truck following behind us so all seemed ok. We intended to cross over the railroad tracks and camp in the backcountry near the location of the Chase-Bagdad Mine. We were rolling along, parallel to the railroad tracks and destined to a point where we knew there was a pass-under. Shortly before we went under the tracks, Steve saw a pair of headlights far away in the distance behind us. He declared, “ Someone else is back here, but it’s probably not the truck.” However, after we had passed under the tracks and were traveling on the right-of-way back the opposite direction, we passed the vehicle driving on the other side - and it WAS the truck! This guy was definitely pursuing us. Now we were on high alert, and realized that there was only one way to exit from this side of the tracks --the way we had just came in. We had to get the heck outta there! Steve made a quick U-turn, knowing that we had to beat the truck to the underpass or risk being trapped there in the dark. It was a mad scramble in the dark and dust. We passed under and were headed back on the opposite side when we passed the oncoming truck. The truck made an immediate U-turn and was again pursuing us. We were both pretty freaked out now. Steve was focused on driving this gravel road in the dark, saying “What do you think we should do next?” I exclaimed, “ Head right back to the gas station! There are people there!” As we neared the gas station, the truck was gaining on our tail. We pulled in under the lights at the pump, and the truck pulled into the station and parked behind us. Out strutted a stocky man, clad in jeans and a buttoned down short sleeve shirt, the top three buttons were open. He had a gold chain necklace dangling on his hairy chest, and bad teeth. He was making a beeline for us. He was going to approach on my side of the Jeep. I needed an advantage. The only thing I could think of now was trying not to act like a victim. Do something unpredictable. Make a scene and attract attention. I hopped out of the Jeep, stood my ground, and exclaimed loudly, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?!” The guy stopped in his tracks suddenly, a little surprised. Then he ranted back, “What do YOU want?” I remained confrontational, asking him why he was following us. I told him we were not looking for trouble and wanted to be left alone. The Truck Guy roared back that he was a “security guard” (RIGHT!) and that he was on patrol. Steve asked him why his truck did not have any logos, and asked him for identification. Truck Guy then appeared offended, declaring, “My name is Red. I work here. Everyone knows me here.” I said sarcastically, “Well, I don’t know you!” We still pressed him for ID, which he never produced. “Red” explained to us that the town of Ludlow had hired him to watch for folks who might vandalize their water lines, which he claimed were not buried. A plausible story, but Red looked more like a scrapper than a security guard. Somehow we all calmed down, and Red decided we were not vandals. He told us we could not camp near Ludlow (like we needed this nugget of info!). When we pulled out of the gas station, Red was out of his truck, not following us anymore, and we were like a bullet on the highway. We traveled many miles before making a covert camp. And as I was trying to get comfortable upon the home-brew burrito of clothes, I started laughing. “What?” said Steve, not opening his eyes. “I think right about now, the San Bernardino Sheriff is pulling in to Ludlow, looking for the beat up truck with one broken tail light and the suspicious male! I wonder how Red’s story about being a security guard will hold up? I think we got the best of him after all….”
Epilogue: Later we found out that DE members Daniel Dick and Bobbi Sanchez had a similar encounter with Red earlier that same evening. We checked into Red’s credentials and verified that he was, indeed, an employee of Ludlow; he was a maintenance man who apparently “misunderstood” his job duties. Red has since moved on and is no longer an employee at Ludlow.