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Craigslist watch offer blends roller derby, Scott Carpenter, good dad in tale rich with SoCal local history




Browsing Craigslist for an entirely different thing (not that!), I came across the following entry. I don't know if the story is true, but I don't care. In any case, it makes me want the watch.

-- John Rabe

For Trade Only: old Wittnauer men's watch from 1973 (Ventura)

My sources confirm the original owner purchased the watch in the summer of 1973. He was at the Sears store in Topanga Plaza on a Saturday afternoon waiting for his new Die Hard battery to be installed in the family wagon. Happened by the jewelry counter, saw this watch and fell in love, paid cash and wore it home. The family lived in Canoga Park, California just minutes away from the mall.

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He arrived just in time to join the family at the dinner table. As they wolfed down their Hungry Man TV dinners, his oldest son marveled at the impressive piece of machinery on his father's wrist. Someday, he silently vowed to himself, he too would own such a timepiece.

But that could wait until later, because a special television event was due to begin shortly. Sports television history would be made, as Channel 5 KTLA would broadcast live the LA T-Birds Roller Derby game with the hated New York Bombers. In Los Angeles, the Nielsen rating for this telecast would equal that of the original "Night Stalker" and "Night Strangler" TV movie events and rival the rating of the "Duel" broadcast directed by Steven Spielberg a year or so earlier. The event was held at the Olympic Auditorium, and tickets had been sold out for months.

(Ronnie Rains, #5. Credit: Scott Stephens' blog)

During half-time the boy's favorite T-Bird Ronnie "Psycho" Rains would engage the Bombers John "Porky" Parker in a much anticipated ten lap "Anything Goes" match race. Parker and Rains had once been teammates in New York but Ronnie was traded to the T-Birds after losing a controversial "Loser Leave Town" match race to Parker some months earlier. Rains was bitter after the loss, alleging interference from T-Bird lady star Shirley Hardman. This particular match race was unique, as special rules had been adopted for that evening. Previously, the winner of a match race was the first skater to finish the designated laps ahead of his or her opponent. But for this match, due to the constraints of live television, a ten minute time limit was also adopted, so a skater could also win simply by being ahead of the opponent after ten minutes.

To make a long story short, I will tell you the boy's hero, Ronnie "Psycho" Rains did in fact win that night. He did so despite dirty tricks from Parker's Bomber teammates, and the fact that "Porky" Parker outweighed him by about 100 pounds. After being tripped by a baseball bat and falling to the track, Rains was sat on by Parker as time was running down. With about 30 seconds remaining Ronnie escaped and "ran out the clock" while skating away from the enraged and winded Parker. Rains was declared the winner since he was ahead as time expired.

The father's new Wittnauer served important duty that night. It seems the old Philco television was having trouble receiving Channel 5 that evening. The audio portion muted in and out, so viewers couldn't hear fabled announcer Dick Lane's commentary.

(Not this Dick Lane. Credit: LAPL/Herald-Examiner Collection)

Then as fate would have it, the video began experiencing catastrophic problems with about one minute to go! There was an elapsed time counter superimposed in the upper portion of the screen, but the numbers became blurry and then blacked out entirely. When the time became unreadable, the father simply took his new watch off his wrist and calmly handed it to his son. The boy excitedly grabbed it and, while glancing back and forth between the Wittnauer and the TV screen, verbally counted down the final seconds, much like he had heard on the NASA broadcasts from Cape Canaveral. Time ran out and the family erupted in joyous celebration. Had it not been for the Wittnauer, they wouldn't have known the exact time remaining during those frantic final seconds.

You might wonder where some of the principal players of this story now are...

The Father. Declined a move to Georgia when Lockheed, his employer, closed their Burbank operations in 1992 ...

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(Lockheed plant, c.1940s. Credit: Barnstormers.com)

... Took the early retirement package and opened a Subway franchise in Simi Valley. Still very active with many interests and hobbies, including vintage watches, antique cameras and 60s muscle cars. Although he has many valuable watches, his favorite watch is a Wakmann Tri-Compax chrono from the early 70s, the case is yellow gold plate. By the way, his wife wears a modern Omega Ladies Constellation, which she purchased after seeing Cindy Crawford wearing one at a UFC event.

The Son. After earning a baseball scholarship at Pepperdine, he completed his four years of study resulting in a degree in communications. Despite his subsequent marriage and birth of a daughter, he completed a second degree, this time in astrophysics. Went to work for NASA. and is now in line to become a Senior Flight Controller. Favorite and daily wear watch is a Breitling Cosmonaute. Same model worn by Scott Carpenter on his Mercury flight.

(May 24, 1962. Credit: NASA)

Ronnie "Psycho" Rains. Had a featured role in the roller derby movie "Kansas City Bomber" starring Raquel Welch. Now retired and living in Oregon, possibly married to a former Roller Derby female skater.

John "Porky" Parker. Unfortunately, no information on him.

("Porky," #54. c. 1960. Credit: Roller Derby Chronicles.com)

Shirley Hardman. Became manger of the T-Birds, and opened a successful bar in Reseda, appropriately calling it the "Penalty Box". Died tragically and unexpectedly later in 1973 the victim of an accidental drowning.