Dave Ekins | Take A Shot | Emeritus

In the days before computers and e-mail, back when we typed on a “wiggly ball” machine, we drove the “editorial package” to LAX in an effort to get it on a midnight flight to the printer thousands of miles east. The package would arrive the next morning in time to fit into a “slot” pre-arranged long before we even thought about the magazine business. Now, 40 years later, it is all done electronically.

Several years ago, I did a story about the 1952-’58 Catalina Grand Prix races. The photographer, the editor and I took a water taxi 26 miles to Avalon, where we spent the day walking around and taking photos. The photographer sent the digital photos by wire that evening and they were published a few days later—unlike the drill of yesteryear.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the non-stop motorcycle trip Bill Robertson and I took from Tijuana to LaPaz, Mexico, racing against the clock. It was my brother Bud’s idea. He approached Triumph with the idea and was turned down; then Honda thought it was a grand idea! That one event morphed into the Mexican 1000, Baja 500, etc., which grew into the Paris-Dakar Rally, now the grandest off-road motorcycle/car/truck/etc. race of all time. Why do I submit you, the reader, to all this? Because that first ride is what propelled me into the editorial offices of Petersen Publishing. A real magazine editor who didn’t know a damn thing about writing, publishing or even the brutal realization of deadlines!

I learned the Petersen method of operating a publishing business was to “romance the advertisers.” My first job was to escort about 20 industry people on a couple-hundred-mile ride in the rugged (and dangerous) country of the Upper Baja Peninsula. Some of the guys were great off-road riders, and former professional racers, but most were not. Dick Day, Petersen’s Vice President of Automotive Magazines, hired me to be the supposed “leader.” You could drive a bus on 95 percent of the route we took, so I doubt if anyone even got tired. But everyone had fun, and that would turn into revenue for the publishing company.

Later that year, the editorial staff of Motorcyclist was invited to the famous Petersen Ranch—a gorgeous place in the foothills near the Mojave Desert that sucked up about 100 acres and had several natural lakes surrounded by waist-high reeds. Actually they were more like ponds, but the migrating ducks and geese thought it was dandy to stop and float around on their trip north or south. And I am sure this is why Robert E. Petersen purchased the ranch: He was a hunter. I was in his office just once, and there stood a stuffed 14-foot-tall Polar Bear with an inscription on the base: “This Polar Bear was taken by Bob Petersen with a .357 Magnum hand gun (pistol).” Also in the foyer was a Remington Bronze western statue—priceless.

“Pete,” as everyone called Bob, invited the staff into his ranch house, handed us shotguns and instructed us on shooting. This is what he did during World War II, as an arms instructor. Outdoors, we stood on an overlook a few feet above two clay pigeon-launchers, which we could not see. “Here,” Pete said, “let’s find out which is your dominant eye...”

That done, and with a little more help, I was able to hit those damned things now and then. The rest of the staff did better. Then, Pete got out his .357 Magnum pistol and started shooting at his targets with that thing—using buckshot, I’m sure. It was a good show, and as we were walking around on the spent shell casings, I thought about all the money this had cost. Yes, it was good to be a successful publisher!  MC

Tour guide, delivery boy, sharp shooter... Riding and writing about motorcycles was just one small part of the job back when Dave Ekins sat in the editor's chair.