Saddle Up for Love: Ranch Romances, Sep 21, 1956

Ranch Romances was Harold Hersey’s biggest success, started in 1924. A title so profitable it lasted nearly fifty years. The issue I;m reviewing is from September 21 1956.

But before we take a look inside this issue, let’s look around. 1956 is a bad time in the pulp market. From 65 issues a month just 5 years back, the market had shrunk down to ten to twelve issues a month. You’d have to look around real hard to find them.

A dozen western titles, two western/romance (Real Western Romances was the other one), three romance pulps, two detective, Short Stories (revived after a two year break, in digest size) and Ray Palmer’s Other Worlds which strangely reverted to the pulp format before shutting down.

Half would be gone in another year. Everything else fell by the wayside by April-May 1960, when Martin Goodman killed the last 5 pulps he had.

Meanwhile, there were four new fiction books published every day in the United States that year (source: Publisher’s Weekly). More than a hundred titles every month.

Comics? Nearly 3,000 issues in 1956, per the Grand Comics Database. More than seven every day. You would be overwhelmed just looking for the pulps. Not a happy time to be a pulpster.

This is what the pulp section of a newsstand might have looked like at the time this issue came out.

And of course the subject of review:

Ranch Romances, Sep 21, 1956

Smoking hot cover, well the gun’s smoking and the girl’s hot. And angry. Unsigned as far as I can see.

The inside cover is an ad for Miracle Ear, a hearing aid brand which still exists today. Then there’s an ad for Screenland, another Ned Pines magazine. Helen Tono was the editor, following Helen Davidge, who held the post for less than a year. Fanny Ellsworth had been editor from 1929 to 1953. Had anything changed since her time?

The cover designs look similar.

The content mix – short stories, serials and novelettes, features and regular columns are about the same – is about the same.

Before we get to the stories, let’s look at the regular columns. Trail Dust is a compilation of colorful happenings of today’s West. Nice.

Go West, Young Man

IN HIS essay about his plans for the future, a sixth grader in a San Diego, Calif., school said he would like to go to the moon. “And after that,” he concluded, “I would like to travel.”

The punishment fits the crime

AWAKENING the other night, a Dallas, Tex., man found a would-be burglar by his bed. The man gave chase, but the thief got away. A short time later he returned and asked for the green hat and plaid jacket he had left behind. The man gave chase again, but the burglar got away a second time.

No quarter given

IN PORT HURON, Mich., a youngster has been making a pitch to various storekeepers about doing odd jobs for a quarter. He usually gets a quarter, even though there’s no work for him. Now juvenile authorities would like a chat with the lad about the $15 to $20 a week he is reported to be making on his rounds.

Ranch Flicker talk, conducted by actor Bob Cummings reviews western movies and shares gossip. It’s fun.

It was Barbara Hale’s first trip south of the Border, and she loved it. She discovered she has a passion for Mexican food.“At first you think the top of your head is going up in flames,” she explained, “but then your mouth cools down a bit, and everything tastes marvelous.”

Now to the trail tales.

Border Breed by Ray G. Ellis starts interestingly. Two partners in a ranch fight over money in a bar. The next day, one of them is dead. The natural suspect has to find the real killer to absolve himself. A standard plot with no surprises, I rate it average at best. Man gets girl in the end.

The Easy Way by Alice Axtell is more romance than western. A farmhand, unsure of himself, is being dragged along by his mate, who’s trying to get his wages paid from the cash poor owner. The girl on the ranch builds up the farmhand’s confidence to the point where he can solve all his problems. Low on action.

Ambush Canyon by Jack Barton, a pseudonym of the prolific Joseph L Chadwick, is the first instalment of a serial.

Walt Kincaid, recently released from prison after serving seven years of a ten years sentence, gets employed as a stage station manager. It’s a low position for a man who once owned his own ranch, but it’s all he can get in the county where a powerful rancher, Ben Drumgold, is his enemy.

Ben Drumgold coveted Kincaid’s wife and might have framed Kincaid on charges of horse rustling to get his ranch and his wife, Nora. Nora becomes Drumgold’s mistress shortly after Kincaid goes to prison. After some time he drops her and she sinks lower and lower…Kincaid’s ranch and stock are gone to pay his bills.

Kincaid is nursing a grudge, understandably, and wants to be near Drumgold to settle accounts with him whenever the chance presents itself. While he’s waiting, he gets a visit from three men who offer to cut him on a heist. They’re also men hurt by Drumgold, and they plan to ambush him and take the money he’s bringing home for a business transaction. Kincaid refuses, and the men leave, warning him against any attempt to notify Drumgold.

The stagecoach carrying Drumgold, Drumgold’s fiance, a second lady who’s a prostitute with a heart and two or three bit players, turns up. An old Ute man and his grandson approach the stage, looking for the old man’s regular handout of tobacco. One of the bit players, feeling threatened, shoots and kills the old man. Drawing the vengeance of the tribe upon everyone at the stage station. The three ambushers from earlier ride into the station, just ahead of the Utes.

Who arrive and offer a deal. Hand over the shooter and the others live…

Recommended. Action with a little attraction. I enjoyed it so much I went and bought the novel in e-book form. About which more at the end of the article.

Teddy Keller’s The Fugitive inverts the normal course of things. A lawman is a murderer and thief, his prisoner someone who he has framed. But he reckons without the wronged woman in the case. The ending is very unusual for the pulps. Teddy Keller was “born in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, and grew up in several of the state’s towns on tales of sodbusters and circuit riders”.

Woman on her own has an interesting setup but devolves into a mushy romance at the end. Skip it. Comanchero’s daughter is a standard western plot with no surprises. I’d skip it.

My description for the stories would be standard westerns with a touch of romance.

The frontier doctor is a fact article. Interesting, and makes me wonder if there’s any pulp/paperback series about a frontier doctor. Anyone?

I’ve never been impressed by Philip Ketchum’s work. Whatever I’ve read was readable but didn’t really kick into high gear at any point. That’s my excuse for skipping Five Graves West, whose concluding part appeared in this issue. If you really want to read it, get the paperback version, Dead Man’s Trail.

The formula for Ranch Romances turns out to be standard westerns with a dash of romance. A formula that worked into the 1970s.

So am I a convert? Will I now be hunting Ranch Romances out? It’s a standard western title with a dash of romance, which I think makes things more realistic, except when the romance is forced at the ending.

Probably not, it had some good stories and authors but not a majority in every issue, unlike for example, Adventure in the early 1920s. When I come across them, I’ll read them, but I won’t be going out of my way to get them.

My best discovery in this issue was Joseph L. Chadwick, whose Ambush Canyon was published in paperback as Day of the .44.

It’s available in ebook form at the cheap price of $3. Don’t buy that version, though. For just a little more money, $10, you can buy it along with 23 other vintage western novels.

The Big Bold West Super Pack 2: 24 Epic Western Novels

Contains (Some of the pictures have links to book reviews, click on them to see)


Trouble at Moon Pass by Burt Arthur
Bloody Kansas by Chuck Martin
Rear Guard by James Warner Bellah
The Valiant Virginians by James Warner Bellah
Ordeal at Blood River by James Warner Bellah
Slow Burgess by Charles Alden Seltzer
Lead Hungry Lobos by Burt Arthur
The Desert Killers by Bradford Scott
Valley of Death by Burt Arthur
The Buckaroo by Burt Arthur
Brand of Fury by Jack Barton
Flaming Guns by Burt Arthur
Vulture Valley by Tom West
War Bonnet Pass by Logan Stewart
Gunman’s Spawn by Ben Thompson
Treasure of the Black Hills by John B. Prescott
The Trail Boss by Walter Gann
The Black Rider by Burt Arthur

Another volume, The Big Bold West Super Pack: 24 Epic Western Novels (The Big Bold West Super Packs Book 1), contains another 24 books. Some good ones (again, some of the pictures have links to book reviews, click on them to see):


THE LONG WAY NORTH by Jim Bosworth
DEADLINE AT DURANGO by Allan Vaughan Elston
THE WILD OHIO by Bart Spicer
RIDE THE WILD WIND by C. William Harrison
WILD BLOOD by A.C. Abbott
THE COLD TRAIL by Paul Evan Lehman
THE SHERIFF OF SAN MIGUEL by Allan Vaughan Elston
THE VALLEY BEYOND by William Byron Mowery
THE DEVIL’S DOORSTEP by Paul Evan Lehman
WILD JUSTICE by Robert McCaig
HOT TRIGGERS by Paul Evan Lehman
OUTLAW TRAIL by E.E. Halleran
MONTANA MAN by Paul Evan Lehman
THE GOLD BRICK RANGE by Allan Vaughan Elston



  1. Sai,

    Thanks for the writeup in Ranch Romances. Hearing that pulp’s name reminded me of a pulp western author that James Reasoner’s blog introduced me to and who I’ve been enjoying so far. He said:

    “I’ve started reading L.P. Holmes’ work only in the past couple of years, but he’s quickly become one of my favorite Western authors. His plots are very traditional, but he had a great command of pace and his style is one of the smoothest and most readable I’ve encountered. Several of his novels and pulp stories have been reprinted in paperback by Leisure Books, as well as in large print editions, and they’re not difficult to find. For me, Holmes’ Westerns are pure pleasure reading.
    Holmes wrote westerns under his own name and the pseudonyms Matt Stuart, Dave Hardin and Perry Westwood.”

    Elsewhere he said:

    “I really like L.P. Holmes’ writing. There’s nothing fancy about it. It’s the same sort of straightforward, no-nonsense prose you’ll find in the work of Luke Short, Peter Dawson, and T.T. Flynn, to name three favorites of mine.”

    So I read Somewhere They Die (Blue Book October 1955) and Destiny Range (Five-Novels Monthly May 1932). Both very enjoyable stories. Somewhere They Die won the Spur Award and was a great read, James said best Holmes story he’s read so far.

    So I say all that to say that Holmes had 89 stories in Ranch Romances. I suspect that pulp was the biggest publisher for his work. I know they had a good writer in Holmes, so I suspect they had many more good writers than just Holmes. A few of his stories from Ranch Romances are available online, I look forward to finding more.


    1. Thanks for the many story links, Danny.

      I’ve read a few novels by Holmes but I can’t recall much of them. Les Savage had hard men fighting brutally, Gordon Shirreffs’ Southwest settings were vivid and shaped his heroes, Luke Short’s men were hardboiled and so were his plots. What is it about Holmes that appeals to you?

  2. Here are several, with IA links for borrowing if anyone is interested.

    Thirsty Acres, (na) Ranch Romances 1st September 1938

    Flame of Sunset, (na) Ranch Romances 2nd February 1945, etc. 4 serial

    Desert Steel, (sl) Ranch Romances 3rd October 1945, etc., 7 part serial

    River Range, (na) Ranch Romances 2nd May 1946

    Dusty Wagons, (sl) Ranch Romances 1st December 1946, etc.

    Bonanza Gulch, (sl) Ranch Romances 2nd April 1949, etc.

    Wire in the Wind, (sl) Ranch Romances 2nd December 1950, etc. 4 serial renamed Singing Wires

    Redwood Country, (sl) Ranch Romances 2nd November 1951, etc. 4 serial


  3. Sorry, they ran together. Here are several, with IA links for borrowing if anyone is interested.

    Thirsty Acres, (na) Ranch Romances 1st September 1938

    Flame of Sunset, (na) Ranch Romances 2nd February 1945, etc. 4 serial

    Desert Steel, (sl) Ranch Romances 3rd October 1945, etc., 7 part serial

    River Range, (na) Ranch Romances 2nd May 1946

    Dusty Wagons, (sl) Ranch Romances 1st December 1946, etc.

    Bonanza Gulch, (sl) Ranch Romances 2nd April 1949, etc.

    Wire in the Wind, (sl) Ranch Romances 2nd December 1950, etc. 4 serial renamed Singing Wires

    Redwood Country, (sl) Ranch Romances 2nd November 1951, etc. 4 serial


  4. Seemed like just well-balanced, engaging stories that held my attention and I wanted to see what happened to the characters. I’ve tried several of James’ suggested western authors and the only one so far that I couldn’t finish was Hangin’ Pards by Gordon Shirreffs, there didn’t seem to be any good guys in the story, so I didn’t care what happened to them. I guess for me to like a story there has to be a character I can identify with on some level. I haven’t given up on Shirreffs yet though. I know Walker likes him. I read a great interview with Shirreffs somewhere,, he said how well researched From Where the Sun Now Stands by Will Henry is, so I want to try that one. I suspect a “romance” pulp would require stories with characters that women think are basically decent? Maybe that’s why Holmes had so many stories there. I don’t know though, you know what they say about the bad boy always gets the girl.

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