In the years after the Marines moved their operations from what is now the Mojave Air & Spaceport to Yuma, Arizona, Mojave community leaders worked very hard to attract business to what was then Kern County Airport No. 7, one of the original airports in Kern County’s efforts to create America’s first county-owned airport system.

The Marines left in 1959 and the county took back operation of the airport.

Those years were dark ones for Mojave — the Southern Pacific Railroad had replaced their maintenance-intense steam locomotives with much more efficient diesels and moved their locomotive maintenance operations to Bakersfield.

They also cut yard operations.

The Marines and the railroads were major employers in Mojave at that time and the loss of all these jobs at once was a blow.

Desperation development

Desperation is not the best economic development strategy, as many communities have learned over the years, usually blaming politicians for changes in technology over which they have little or no control.

An amusing book and film could be created from some of the proposals and people who floated in and out of town with stars in their eyes and nothing in their pockets in those days.

We had lunch with many of them, most of whom planned to finance their dream with our non-existent funds.

Years ago the principals in a now-defunct aerospace venture called me to their hangar, showed me their plans, and asked if I could get the folks at the borax mine in Boron to finance their dream, having failed to lure the requisite billionaire, which they never did.

At one point California City wanted to annex the airport, a suggestion that lasted about 15 minutes.

District formed

Most of that sort of thing went away after voters in Mojave and California City cast their ballots to create the Mojave Air & Spaceport, a brand with worldwide recognition in aerospace circles.

Dan Sabovich, an Arvin farmer and pilot played a key role in forming the district and was named its first general manager.

He laid the groundwork for today’s Mojave Air & Spaceport by welcoming a young engineer named Burt Rutan with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

‘Back to the

Future’ arrives

A former General Motors official named John Z. DeLorean manufactured a new car bearing his name, which became famous when one was featured in the 1985 film “Back to the Future.”

Like most people who try to enter the auto industry, DeLorean created a unique vehicle that had everything except the millions required to stay in business long enough to become established.

Preston Tucker is another figure from that era, whose car featured a center-mounted headlight which turned with the steering wheel and must have driven vehicle safety officials nuts.

Elon Musk is the current DeLorean whose greatest success seems to be in convincing the often sluggish auto industry that the time has come for electric motor vehicles.

I hope Musk can hang in there, and if I were about 10 years younger, I would buy a Tesla because I have wanted to own an electric car ever since Burt Rutan let me drive his General Motors EV-1 east out of Mojave on 58 one evening.

Morgan Hetrick

 “Driven” is a new movie about DeLorean and his efforts to raise money to keep building his eponymous cars, and the man he turned to for financing.

Morgan Hetrick was that man whose wealth, unknown to DeLorean, came from selling and transporting drugs.

I’m not going into all the gory details about this guy and his helper Stephen Arrington, but Hetrick arrived in Mojave in June, 1982, to open an aircraft business.

He fixed up one of the old flight line hangars and began throwing money around, flying Dan and his wife Jerry to the Caribbean for a cruise on his boat.

Hetrick installed a computerized accounting system in the building and offered to share it with the airport district.

As Dan said several times after the deal went in the toilet, “I am really glad I turned him down on that idea.”

Dan’s instincts that all of this was too good to be true proved to be correct.

When the deal blew up in October 1982, I was at  the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington, when I opened the Washington Post to read that DeLorean had been arrested along with co-defendants Arrington and Hetrick on federal charges of conspiring to distribute $24 million worth of cocaine in a scheme allegedly designed to bail out his bankrupt automobile plant in Northern Ireland.

DeLorean was also charged with mismanagement and other crimes involving alleged personal misuse of company funds.

I called Dan, whose voice when he answered made it obvious that he knew why I was on the phone.

Before he said anything I said, “Well, Dan, we’ve always wanted the Mojave airport to be on the front pages of the Washington Post and New York Times and now it’s happened.”

We both laughed and he said he was glad he had turned Hetrick down on the accounting system and some other offers.

Airport unscathed

The airport came out of this unscathed because of Dan’s perspicacity, great business sense, and a well-developed BS detector.

DeLorean was also charged with mismanagement and other crimes involving alleged personal misuse of company funds.

Ironically he learned right before he was arrested that a legitimate loan had been approved.

DeLorean was eventually acquitted of all charges.

Hetrick was not so fortunate. He was sentenced to a total of 39 years on six different charges, the longest being 10 years for conspiracy, and served five of them. He died in a plane crash in Arkansas in 2004.

Arrington served a five year sentence, most of it at the Boron Federal Prison on Highway 395 north of Kramer Junction, where he was the inmate fire chief. He says DeLorean was conned by Hetrick and a man named Hoffman.

Arrington has devoted his life to helping people in a number of ways and was pardoned by President Barack Obama on his last day in office.

I don’t think I’ll watch that new movie.

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