Branding at Sea: Lone Ranger Aboard the USS Ranger

This story about the beginning of the USS Ranger’s “Lone Ranger and Silver” theme appeared April 7, 1969 as U.S. Navy News Release 101-69 (USS Ranger) and subsequently in the May, 1969 issue of the ship’s magazine “Shield.” The Ranger, a Forrestal Class aircraft carrier, was in service between April 10, 1957 and July 10, 1993. Decommissioned after Desert Storm, the ship is currently docked in Bremerton, Washington. The USS Ranger Museum Foundation is working to save the former TOP GUN of the Pacific Fleet and preserve it for use as a museum and educational facility at Fairview, Oregon.

Flight Ops

USS RANGER (CVA-61) April 7, 1969–Early this year, Ranger was informed by the sheriff and stockmen of Freemont County, Wyoming, that the ship was violating the state’s range laws. The problem was not that the carrier was steaming wildly up and down Wyoming’s North Platte or Big Horn Rivers. The violation was the fact that the Lone Ranger’s horse Silver was running wild on Ranger without a brand.

Sheriff C.A. “Pee Wee” McDougall directed that the horse be branded as soon as possible. A copy of the brand should, then be sent to him for forwarding to the Registrar of Brands, State of Wyoming.

Even though the fiberglass, life-sized model horse was foaled at the Alkire Fiberglass Company of Billings, Montana, the people of Lander, Wyoming, located the stallion and feel responsible for its welfare.

Lander, Wyoming Connection

Captain Livingston wrote to the people of Lander and expressed concern that his command was in violation of their range laws.

He wrote, “The desirability of the brand was brought most forcibly and near tragically to the attention of all hands during Ranger’s last in-port period at Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines.

“While grazing on authorized liberty, the great white stallion was rustled by a band of shifty eyed varmints professing to be United States Marines. Only the exceptional alertness of the ‘Top Gun’ crew prevented the scoundrels from carrying Silver to Vietnam.”

Finding the TOP GUN BAR NONE Brand for Silver

Captain Livingston assured them, however, that the horse was recovered unharmed and that a contest was being started to allow the crew to design a suitable brand. The prize for the best brand submitted would be $50, money that would be handy in Yokosuka, Japan, when the ship pulled in there in late March.

In the “Plan of the. Day,” Executive Officer CDR H. Edward Graham told the crew; “Help keep varmints from rustling Silver and the sheriff from capturing the Captain.”

And the crew responded. Over 200 entries were turned in to CDR R.J. Brunskill (AIMD), Ranger’s Horse Control Officer. On March 24, during a bingo game in the hangar bay, Captain Livingston announced the winner, AEI Charles 0. Brill from Mobile, Alabama. Petty Officer Brill is the shop supervisor of AIMD’s Shop.

Brill, who reported a-board Ranger in August 1966, submitted the brand “Top Gun Bar None.” Brill, who has had experience on an Alabama dairy farm and has done some branding, said that a brand should be simple, original and must say something.

The brands were judged by a panel of three Ranger cowboys, all of whom have worked on ranches. The men were CDR Louis Page (CAG), from Cushing, Oklahoma; LT Richard “Cowboy” Neifert, (VA-I54), from Townsend, Montana; and DC3 Bob Creech (DC Division), from Waco, Texas.

CDR Page said that of all the brands, about 40 were real brands. He said that a brand is somewhat like a sentence that conveys a thought or expression. Petty Officer Brill’s “Top Gun Bar None” brand was appropriate for Ranger. “A real cowboy, knowing of Ranger’s nickname, could read the brand in a snap,” Page said.

LT Neifert said the panel of judges looked for a brand that stood out and was registerable. Brill’s entry was just that, as well as being subtle. Petty Officer Creech said hat the “Top Gun Bar None” brand was catchy and was a normal looking brand that could be made into an iron. The judges all mentioned that they were looking for a realistic brand that had a special significance for Ranger.

Brand Officially Registered

Horse Control Officer, CDR Brunskill made arrangements to have a copy of the brand send to the Wyoming State Registrar of brands. CDR Brunskill had Silver shipped to Ranger from Billings, Montana, and has been responsible for the horse’s feeding and stabling. (NOTE: Ranger’s brand was dropped in 1975 when it was not renewed.)

One thing is certain, and that is the greater feeling of security aboard Ranger not that Silver has been properly branded. The Ranger ranch encompasses the largest grazing area in the world, from California to Japan. And if the horse were missing out there somewhere in the seaweed sagebrush, the Lone Ranger would have no horse to ride across the flight deck when the ship pulls in and out of port. As it is, he can brandish his six-guns and yell “Hi, Yo Silver, Away” from a properly squared away horse.

Ensign Jim Block as the Lone Ranger

Article and news release by Malcolm R. Campbell who, in 1969, was a Navy Journalist in the Ranger Public Affairs Office. While public affairs officer Ensign Jim Block sat the horse (firing his six guns) as Silver “trotted” along the flight deck at the end of underway replenishments, the enlisted men in the office pushed the cart on which the fiberglass horse was positioned.

thesailorcoverMy days aboard the USS Ranger were the inspiration behind my 2013 novel, “The Sailor.” Unfortunately, the Ranger is being, or already has been, scrapped in 2014.

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Author: Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of "Sarabande," "The Sun Singer," "At Sea," "Conjure Woman's Cat," "Eulalie and Washerwoman," and "Lena."

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