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Vic Horton and the YF-12: From Seattle to Bishop in 20 minutes

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

Although both Louise and Nellie Fickert, who owned the sprawling 25,000-acre Fickert Ranch that later became Bear Valley Springs, were mentally sharp until they died, other infirmities of age caught up with them in their last years. Dr. Vincent Troy was the Fickerts' doctor for many years. He was always there to help Louise and Nellie, especially after they became confined. Mary Farrell felt that the sisters looked upon Dr. Troy as the son they never had.

For one reason or another – perhaps because they could be a little cantankerous – the Fickerts had to hire one nurse after another. The sisters fired a young nurse because they said that she was in love with "their Henry," meaning Henry Plato, the hired man who had been with them for 50-some years. On a day when Nell was being particularly difficult, Dr. Troy went to the ranch and was confronted by their elderly nurse. She told him "You've got to make these two old women stop drinking, or I'm going to leave." The doctor replied, "In that case I don't know what to tell you, but you can go ahead and leave because at their age, I'm not going to tell them to stop drinking."

Nellie died on Dec. 9, 1959. She was 90. Louise was in Tehachapi Hospital at the time, and no one told her that Nell had died. But when Ben Sasia visited her on the day of the funeral, she said, "Is something wrong with Nell? I've had a lot of visitors today." Ben managed to evade the question, but Louise must have suspected. She had always said she didn't want to live without Nell.

Louise died two weeks later on Dec. 23, 1959, at the age of 93. The family had rosaries for both sisters said at the ranch house. On the day Nell was buried, Pete Vukich waited at the ranch gate in his Jeep to help the priest get through the snow that had fallen. Along with the rest of their family, the sisters were buried in the little cemetery on the knoll behind the ranch house. Pete dug the graves for both of his longtime friends. After they were buried he went up on the mountain, gathered pine boughs, and covered their last resting place with greenery.

Their younger sister, Clara Fickert Bianchi, could then finally bury her deceased husband Adolphus Bianchi in the family cemetery as well. Clara and her husband had separated periodically because of an affair he had with his secretary. Bianchi wanted a divorce so he could marry the other woman, but Clara would never agree. Bianchi and his "significant other" lived together for a time.

When he died and her sisters would not allow him to be buried in the family plot in Bear Valley, Clara had him buried in the Veteran's Cemetery at South San Francisco. After Nellie and Louise passed on, Clara had his body disinterred and moved to Bear Valley. When she died in 1967 at the age of 92, Clara was finally reunited with her errant husband in the family cemetery on the hill.

– Vic Horton

Vic Horton was a longtime Tehachapi resident who served as mayor of the City of Tehachapi. He was a very intelligent, unassuming but highly capable and universally respected man. It is his voice that could be heard guiding the pilot down in the NASA lifting body crash footage used in the introduction to the old "Six Million Dollar Man" television series. According to his daughter, Kathleen Horton Bennett, Vic said that his wildest ride was just above the treetops in Kern River Canyon in the backseat of a T-38 supersonic jet trainer with Chuck Yeager at the controls. Vic passed away in 1991.