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Alice Rankin Beard: a Kern County girl is courted by a dashing Air Force pilot

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

Alice Rankin Beard was born at home in 1915 in the long-vanished town of Isabella in the Kern River Valley. The hamlet of Isabella lent its name to Isabella Lake (which most people refer to as Lake Isabella) and despite this courtesy, when the dam was completed in 1952 the waters of the lake covered up any trace that the town had ever existed. Alice and her sister Raechel were the two children of Walker and Mary Rankin.

Though she grew up on a family ranch in Walker Basin, Alice's father believed that she and her sister would get a better education in Bakersfield, so the family bought a house in Bakersfield and would stay there during the week while the girls were in school, and return to the Basin on weekends.

After the girls graduated from Kern Union High School (now known as Bakersfield High), Alice's mother moved back to Walker Basin and the decision was made to rent out the Bakersfield house. Alice and her sister were still living in the house while Alice taught P.E. at KUHS.

One day in June of 1941, a young Army Air Force flight instructor came to look at the house. He and four other flight instructors who worked at Minter Field in Shafter were living in the Padre Hotel in Bakersfield and were getting tired of eating out, so they decided to look for a house to rent. Alice had been teaching swimming outside in the sun and was tanned brown, which she regarded as unattractive at the time.

"Here was this young flight instructor looking at the house, and my sister Raechel was getting ready to work at Brock's Department Store. Every time she made a trip between the bathroom and bedroom, she looked prettier and more dressed up," Alice recalls. Five minutes after he left, the flight instructor called the house. "This is Bob Beard, do you remember me?" he jokingly asked Alice. "I said yes, I did," she replied, "And he said there was an officer's dance that weekend and he asked me to go with him, and I said that would be a good idea."

Bob Beard quickly became hooked on the pretty schoolteacher. "He used to fly up by the ranch with two other pilots, one flying alongside on either wing, and they'd strafe the Basin," Alice says. "Horses would bolt, cattle would run, chickens would fly... My Dad wasn't too impressed." The young couple decided to get married and were planning to go to Portland, Oregon, where Bob's dad was a minister.

"My father was the world's quietest man, he never said anything, and he asked my mother, 'Why doesn't she get married here?' so we decided we'd better get married at the ranch," Alice remembered. "So we got out the brooms and started sweeping down the cobwebs to have a wedding at the ranch. If you were an Air Force pilot at the time you needed a Ford convertible, and Bob had one, so he and I, my mother and father, two kids who were visiting from Los Angeles and two dogs all jumped in that convertible and we started driving around the Basin to invite our different neighbors to the wedding. Each place we went to, the dogs would jump out and start fighting with the dogs at the other ranches, and there would be dogs snarling and barking, the kids would be hollering and the adults would be trying to break up the dog fight. . . it's a wonder Bob went through with it."

Alice and Bob were married in August, 1941 in front of the same lilac bush (now a tree, really) where her grandparents were married in 1868, and it has since been the scene of at least 11 family weddings.

– Alice Rankin Beard

Alice Rankin Beard was a gracious, grand Kern County lady, and a talented watercolorist. She and John were married until he died, and she lived out the rest of her days on the Lightner Ranch in Walker Basin. She lived to be 97, and led an active life until her passing in 2013.