Mom’s Boxes Part 5: The Old Man of the Mountains

George D. Hankins

READERS: This is the sort of story I intend to write more of over the next few years to share with my family. It’s also the sort of story I encourage you to write about your own family! It doesn’t have to be fancy, with footnotes and such. Just capture the memories for future generations.

This is a different kind of New Mexico family history in that no one in my family was born in New Mexico! My mom, her parents and two sisters, and my three brothers were all born in Indiana. My dad and I were both born in California. But most of us came to call Albuquerque home.

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A New Life in Post-WWII Albuquerque

George Dewey Hankins and Villa Mae Lawrence moved with their three girls, ages 10 and under, to Albuquerque in 1945. They came for the sake of Villa’s health, trading the humidity of Indiana for the dry air of the high desert.

My aunt George Ann moved away for many years and returned to stay, as do many who grow up in The Land of Entrap-, er…I mean, The Land of Enchantment. She remembers arriving in Albuquerque on a train, having travelled cross-country from Indiana in a car full of service men returning home just after WWII ended. The hotels were full, so they called a local pastor who put them up for the night and helped them find a place to live. While my grandparents are both gone now, the house they bought, on Griegos Rd., is the house my brother lives in today.

Villa worked as a teacher and a nurse. At one point, when her girls were still young, she taught in the Manzano Mountain village of Cedro. Later, I remember, as a child in the 60’s, going with my parents to pick her up after her nursing shift at the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital downtown, with its grand double outdoor stone staircase. It later became a mental hospital and is now the upscale Hotel Parq Central, which is rumored to be haunted.[1] I tell people not to worry, that the ghost of my no-nonsense grandmother will keep all the other ghosts in line! Not that she was strictly a hard person. She was short and round, had the best sense of humor, the softest lap, and made the most delicious biscochitos. She was gregarious, and kind, and taught Sunday School. In 1965 she helped fund, and break the ground for, the establishment of Community Christian Church in Rio Rancho.[2] The pastor was the same one who helped them out that first night in town.

Grandpa’s patent certificate.

An Inventor and a Mountain Man

Meanwhile, George was her opposite, a tall, lean introvert who loved to tinker with things in his workshop. He invented a number of things including a potato chip machine, a mechanical calculator, and a convertible, packable, rescue ladder/stretcher/raft that he patented but never sold. His style of parenting included rigging up an intercom so he could monitor the goings on inside the house from his shop.

Because of his height and long legs, he hated being cramped up in vehicles, so he tended to walk or take the bus. In May 1964, when he was in his late sixties, he decided to walk over to visit my family in Indiana. Yes, walk. To Indiana. From New Mexico. He set out, across the Sandia Mountains, with his backpack and my aunt Jo for company. Newspaper reporters tracked their progress. After Jo dropped out, in Rolla Kansas, he was sometimes treated as a vagrant and escorted to the city limits. He finally had to give up when a streak of bad weather made him too sick to continue.[3]

George was president of the New Mexico Mountain Club[4] (precursor to the Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council, which is still active today).[5] He was a senior member, known as The Old Man of the Mountains.

In addition to leading club outings and rescue missions he served as a guide during the filming of ‘Lonely are the Brave’, a 1962 film starring Kirk Douglas.[6]

The Crash of TWA Flight 260

My family and I contributed to this book.

On Saturday, February 19, 1955, TWA Flight 260 crashed into the Sandia Mountains.[7]

From The Crash of TWA Flight 260 by Charles M. Williams, who was part of the team:

At about ten o’clock George Hankins, the oldest member of the New Mexico Mountain Club, listening on the police band heard the official radio report to all search parties that the plane had been sighted high up above Bear Canyon in the Sandias. George promptly phoned the New Mexico State Police, the Civil Air Patrol, and Kirtland (Airforce Base) to offer our services, explaining that the club members knew the country well, were in good physical shape, and had climbing abilities. The police told him to stand by and get his men together.[8]

Sadly, there were no survivors. Williams’ book resolves some of the controversies surrounding the crash, including the Civil Aeronautics Board’s over-swift determination that the pilots were at fault.

As children, we played in the Civil Air Patrol bus parked in Grandpa’s driveway, full of radios and other instruments (which we dared not touch) that he used for search and rescue. The crash was before our time and we did not learn about it until we were adults. He was interested in all things engineering and used to take us, in the late 1960’s, to watch the North Diversion Channel[9] being built and scramble up and down its sloping sides.

He was keenly aware of the impact that the building of the Sandia Tramway[10] and increased tourism could have on nature, but he also figured that if this was a way for others to enjoy his precious mountains, then so be it. To this day, if you know where to look down, you can see part of the plane wreckage from the Tramway, as it “flies” overhead. Or, if you are a bit more adventuresome, you can hike to the spot.

NM mountain rescuer dies

After George’s death, at age 76, in 1974, the Albuquerque Tribune published the following notice:

NM mountain rescuer dies

A life member of the Albuquerque Mountain Climbing and Rescue Club who helped rescue many from New Mexico’s mountains died on Saturday. George D. Hankins died in an Albuquerque hospital after a long illness. He was 76.

Mr. Hankins began scaling New Mexico mountains in 1946 when he moved to Albuquerque from Indiana. He became very skilled and began volunteering his services when there was rescue work in the state’s many rugged areas. During a 1963 interview with the Associated Press, Hankins looked back over some 15 major rescue operations in which he had been involved and recalled that most of them ended with tragic discoveries.

One of the many tragic operations he recalled was the search and discovery in 1954 of the wreckage of a commercial plane that crashed in the Sandia Mountains and left 16 dead. This operation required great climbing skill since the climbers had to make several trips to the site 10 bring out the bodies with the help of ropes and other equipment. He was a ground rescue officer for the New Mexico Civil Air Patrol at that time.

The rest of the article gives his funeral details, surviving family, etc.

Note the mountain scene on his gravestone.

Every year, on Christmas Eve, we visit Sunset Memorial cemetery and set out luminarias [11] around our family’s graves, and have a hot buttered rum (or hot apple cider) toast to their memories, including Grandpa, whose headstone depicts a mountain scene.

Here’s to The Old Man of the Mountains!

READERS: Every family has stories. Are yours captured for future generations? Whose story would you like to tell? Please share with us in the comments below!

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Genealogical Summary:

1 George Dewey HANKINS, son of Andrew Johnson HANKINS and Elizabeth Belle REED, born 27 Jun 1898, Harrison Twp, Delaware, Indiana, died 19 Oct 1974, Albuquerque, Bernalillo, NM, married on 7 June 1931, at Muncie, Delaware, Indiana, Villa Mae LAWRENCE, daughter of Horace Warren LAWRENCE and Ethel Lee ROBBINS, born 21 June 1904, died Nov1986, Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona.

+  2  i  Ethel Ruth Hankins (1934-2001)

+  3  ii (living)

4  iii (living)

2  Ethel Ruth Hankins, born 10 Oct 1934, Muncie, Delaware, Indiana, died 23 May 2001, Albuquerque, Bernalillo, New Mexico m. (living)

5  i  (living)

6  ii  (living)

+ 7  iii  (living)

+ 8  ix  (living)



[2]Google search for “Community Christian Church” + “Rio Rancho” + Mills  + Hankins

[3] I have PDFs of several newspaper articles about this trip

[4] Google search for “New Mexico Mountain Club” + “George Hankins” = newspaper articles  and images





[9] Link broken; Google Albuquerque North Diversion Channel AMAFCA


[11] Luminarias at the Cemetery


Mom’s Boxes Part 1: The shed

Mom’s Boxes Part 2: Panning for gold

Mom’s Boxes Part 3: Trip down memory lane

Mom’s Boxes Part 4: Grandma’s Lawn Chairs

Mom’s Boxes Part 5: The Old Man of the Mountains

Mom’s Boxes Part 6: Sometimes Organizers Need Help Too!

Future Mom’s Boxes episodes: The Gangster Hideout, Saving the Photos, Sharing the Photos, ???

Copyright 2017 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
Social media links directly to this page are encouraged!
Please contact me for other types of reprint permission.



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  1. Janet Barclay on December 19, 2017 at 5:48 am

    This is really inspiring, Hazel. Much more interesting than a simple scrapbook!

    • Hazel Thornton on December 19, 2017 at 9:10 am

      Thanks, Janet! Who might you write a story about?

  2. Seana Turner on December 19, 2017 at 9:04 am

    So many tiny details that I feel that I know them now! I even looked up what “biscochitos” are:) How delightful to have this wonderful record.

    • Hazel Thornton on December 19, 2017 at 9:12 am

      Glad you enjoyed it! Did you already know what luminarias were?

  3. Carol Mills on January 18, 2018 at 11:42 am

    I was ticked to “life” to find your article and see the picture of your grandfather George. I would love to read the other stories and see pictures. Do you have one of Grandma Villa? Thanks so much for this beautiful effort!!

    • Hazel Thornton on January 23, 2018 at 5:45 am

      Hi Carol, glad you liked it! Yes, there will be more stories. For now, though, there is a photo album on my Facebook page called “Grandma Hankins” that you would enjoy.

  4. Jacqueline Montoya on March 27, 2018 at 8:21 am

    Wow! Once I started reading I didn’t want to stop! Your very good! Hey I wanted to ask. Is there a way to keep pictures looking new. Besides putting them in plastic wrap?

    • Hazel Thornton on April 2, 2018 at 7:32 pm

      Hi Jackie! I’m glad you liked my story. To answer your question — please DON’T put photos in plastic wrap! Plastic has a tendency to create and trap moisture and gasses from the photo chemicals and the plastic. You can protect your photos by using acid-free, lignin-free photo boxes, albums, and sleeves.

  5. sarah kelley on September 1, 2019 at 9:35 pm

    I love this. You’re a wonderful writer, Hazel! Keep going!

    • Hazel Thornton on September 1, 2019 at 9:47 pm

      Aw, thanks, Sarah!

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