"We have news for you!" Steve LaVigne and his cohorts called out as they hopped down from their vehicle. They had pulled up in front of Prescott's Daily Courier with what they considered a big story.
LaVigne had called up a construction company and asked for their help in towing a payload to his property in east Prescott. When they found out his cargo consisted of one 35-foot-long rocket ship, they offered to do it for free — so long as they could take it on a quick joyride.
"We might as well have a little quickie parade downtown. Freak out the people on Whiskey Row," LaVigne recalled with a snicker. "So we did just that." Plus, they figured they would drop by the offices of the local newspaper and garner a little publicity while they were at it.
Oddly, the Courier wasn't interested. A Jetsons-era spacecraft rolling through town and they didn't even bother to take a picture. So, the crew jumped back in their truck and pulled away. When their odd, little, one-float pageant was over, they tugged the ship up to LaVigne's place and dropped it off. And that's where it sat for more than 20 years.
There, the rocket became just another brick in a wall of oxidizing automobilia. Nose-to-tail with aging school buses and pick-up trucks, it lingered in a motionless parade of entropy. It had certainly known better days — days when rockets in a variety of designs toured the main streets and supermarkets of an optimistic U.S.A., when kids dreamed of donning fishbowl space helmets and defending the galaxy with their pointy-shouldered, jumpsuit-wearing television heroes. It was an era of robots and death rays, a time when men like Rocky Jones, Tom Corbett and Captain Video toured the cosmos to protect the innocent.
It was also an age when brand-name foods bankrolled heroism. Science-fiction serials were big business in the fifties and proved to be an effective vehicle for promoting marshmallows and sliced bread. One of the most popular space operas of the time was Space Patrol, starring Commander Buzz Corry, and sponsors like Ralston Purina made the most of the show's popularity by finding inventive ways to tie the program in with its line of cereals.
The most creative promotion, involving what is possibly the most exciting giveaway in history, was Ralston's "Name the Planet" contest. Cadets were to submit, along with the correct number of coins found in Ralston cereals, a name for the new planet that had materialized on Space Patrol. The viewer to submit the best name would win a clubhouse in the form of a life-size rocket ship. Billed as Commander Buzz Corry's very own Terra IV, the grand prize was a 35-foot, 10,000-pound, trailer-mounted spaceship, complete with bunk beds, cooking apparatus and equipment lockers. It even came with a truck to haul it.
The Ralston Rocket, as it was nicknamed, had been one of two ships that toured the country, visiting fairs and strip malls in promotion of Space Patrol and Ralston Purina. Think Weinermobile, but with a nose cone and fins. When Ralston was finally done driving it from state to state, they stripped out all the space gadgetry, refitted it as an RV and offered it as their contest's coveted award. ... Continued on Page 2