Once the crew building Interstate 5 in the early 1960s went home for the day, the kids growing up in Del Mar Terrace had the time of their lives. The Terrace is the area immediately south of Del Mar, a small community nestled into the side of sandstone bluffs above the slough and west of I-5. First the kids scaled the six-foot, heavily treaded tires of the earthmovers, and then they put all their weight behind the enormous gearshifts, making rude engine noises as if driving in the demolition derby. The freeway workers couldn’t have liked their equipment being messed with, but they probably enjoyed working out in the boonies where they could breathe the fresh air. Anything north of Torrey Pines Golf Course was considered the boonies back then.
Carmel Valley was sleepy — only a few farms and ranches existed at the time. The pleasantly unpopulated area was blanketed with the dank, wild smell of the ocean and contained everything from Torrey pine trees and open fields of buckwheat and wildflowers and manzanita, to salt flats and the slough, bobcats and mudsuckers, sea lions and dolphins and sand dollars. A dozen or so of these boys growing up in the Terrace in the late ’50s and early ’60s called themselves the Terrace Rats for no other reason except it made them sound tough.
Roughly between the ages of 7 and 13, the Rats rarely congregated all at once unless there was a softball game or someone had a transistor and they could listen to the Pacific Coast League Padres, a Triple-A minor-league team at the time. “It wasn’t a formal group, just a nickname,” says Dick Goodman, an ex-Rat now 45 years old. Tall and youthful-looking, Goodman sits across from me in his comfortable Oceanside living room. Maybe his reddish brown hair is darker than it used to be and his freckles aren’t as bright, but there’s something mischievous underlying his quick responses that makes it easy to guess what a hellion he must have been.
What I soon learn is that, as Goodman says, the Rats may not have banded together in any kind of organized way at the beginning. But eventually they — like many others — had to voice an opinion about the Terrace. They had to stand up and fight for the place.
The Terrace was presumably named for the platforms carved into the enormous sandstone rocks in the area’s north side, resulting from the combination of the sea level rising and falling and geologic uplift. This is how the Torrey Pines Association defines similar formations in the nearby reserve in its booklet Torrey Pines State Reserve. Bob Wohl, supervising ranger for the reserve, agrees with the definition, adding, “But all this happened millions and millions of years ago. Each of those little bluffs is a former beach or bay formation that was uplifted to different altitudes 40 to 60 million years ago.”
The Rats could not have cared less about any of this, though. They might not even have consciously noted the area was ripe with lizards and grebes, foxes and skunk, coyote and egrets and horned toads, but they were glad the wildlife was there. Back then, the Terrace was mostly vacant lots where kids slid down hills in old refrigerator boxes, pushing tumbleweeds out of the way, and the valley was a pastoral Eden for people of all ages.
Of course, life wasn’t all play. Weekday mornings the Rats were out waiting with the rest of the kids for either the bus to public school or the car-pool ride to St. James Academy. “Everybody knew everybody else in the Terrace back then, even everybody else’s dogs,” Goodman recalls. “The neighborhood dogs always ran by to see the kids leaving in the morning and then took off in a pack for the day.” As he says this, the golden retriever snoozing at his feet, with all four legs straight up in the air, makes yelping noises in her sleep, until Goodman calms her with a pat on the head. Soon the retriever’s paws are twitching back and forth as if she’s running through the Terrace herself.
First the dogs swung by Soule’s Market to look over the morning’s garbage, and then they ran into the hills, their paws scooping dust from the dirt roads into the air behind them. Eventually they’d smell a squirrel or opossum and wouldn’t be seen for the rest of the day, until they somehow miraculously reappeared just as the kids were getting home from school.
Another common sight in the Terrace in the morning was Sam (not his real name). Sam had been hired to care for an elderly man who’d been injured in World War II and who was now an invalid and bedridden. Extremely obese, Sam was an alcoholic who’d been shellshocked during the same war and had trouble holding down a regular job.
Nearly every morning Sam walked his two Chihuahuas down to Soule’s Market for a couple of tail-boy six-packs of Busch Bavarian, which he’d spend the rest of the day drinking on his porch, sitting on an old metal rocking chair. “The Chihuahuas were yappy, mean little things,” Goodman says. “They snapped at us and everyone else. The only person in the world they loved was Sam.” Three or four pounds each, the Chihuahuas actually pulled Sam — who must have weighed 300 pounds — literally yanked him. The Rats as a gang of young boys weren’t always very nice to Sam. “We had a field day calling him names, teasing him for having a dog like a Chihuahua,” Goodman says, shaking his head.
And if the larger neighborhood dogs got too close to the Chihuahuas, Sam would start yelling and dragging his dogs away, according to Dick’s brother Pat Goodman, 43, who’s now over visiting briefly and who says he was something like a “Junior Rat” at the time. Pat is burly, has the same reddish brown hair and a beard that covers most of his face, though I can still see his forehead and some of the skin on his neck redden as he laughs with the memory. “Don’t you remember, man? That’s when Sam’d start turning in circles, and before you knew it he’d be spinning the Chihuahuas in the air over his head by their leashes, like he was twirling a lasso, so the big dogs couldn’t get them. Then he’d reel them in and they’d land with a thunk on his chest.”