DANVILLE -- He was a plucky, 11-year-old kid who made a forbidden ride up Mount Diablo on his Taco 22 minibike to see a historic event.
It was the ride of a childhood. But little did Rex Bothell know back then that he would be outed for his 1964 trip by a famous naval war hero with a knack for remembering faces. Memories of the ride flooded back to Bothell as he and other Save Mount Diablo volunteers recently began a restoration of the 1928 Mount Diablo beacon, which is lit each Dec. 7 to honor Pearl Harbor victims.
When he was 11 and living in San Ramon, Bothell asked his father to take him to a ceremony to see Adm. Chester Nimitz relight the beacon on Dec. 7, 1964, after years of darkness. Bothell's dad nixed the idea of attending a sunset ceremony on a work day. Bothell went anyway, on his own, setting out on a 45-mile-or-so round trip on a minibike propelled by a two-horsepower lawn mower motor. He duct-taped a gas can to his bike to refuel.
"Luck was on my side," Bothell recalled. He sneaked past the Mount Diablo State Park entrance gate and made it to the summit just in time to watch the event attended by spectators, veterans, military brass and the media. Bothell figured no one noticed him -- especially not the admiral known for reorganizing and commanding the Navy's war effort in the Pacific theater after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Bothell rode home in the cold and dark. He refused to confess his whereabouts to his parents. But three weeks later, Bothell's father, a Coast Guard officer, took the family to a military club for a holiday dinner. Bothell figured he still was in the clear until -- who else? -- but Admiral Chester Nimitz came to his family's table for a greeting.
"Oh," the admiral said, "You're the young man that rode the minibike up Mount Diablo for the beacon lighting."
Stunned and busted, Bothell confessed to the trip.
"My dad grounded me for a month. No minibike," recalled Bothell, now a Concord resident. "I was just a normal mechanically inclined overly ambitious boy out to tame the world."