Muleshoe’s Lamb triumphed over alcoholism

By Don McAlavy

If you tuned into KMUL radio in Muleshoe 25 to 45 years ago, you’d be certain to hear the “Muletrain News” six days a week. You’d hear the gravel-voice, gray-haired station manager Gil Lamb energetically begin his praises of Muleshoe country.

Lamb would declare Muleshoe to be a good place to raise one’s children, with more churches than service stations, located only 18 miles from Earth and 29 miles from Bula Land.

Here is Lamb’s story, with a lot of input from his daughter, Magann Rennels:

Gil Lamb was a shoulder to lean on when an individual needed help or when a worthwhile community project was fighting for survival, but this was not always so. Lamb was sitting at the top of the heap then, but his climb had been tedious every step of the way.

As a 16-year-old in Roswell, he dropped out of high school to go on the road with the Harley Sadler tent shows. He also worked as one of the Brunk’s Comedians and as a trumpet player in the band and orchestra. But early in his career he developed a need for a depressant drug: alcohol. Later, Lamb said he believed he was an alcoholic at a very early age.

In 1946, at age 39, Gil was on rock bottom as he was locked up in a state institution. At this time in the Texas State Hospital, there was no treatment, no counseling and no rehabilitation for the disease of alcoholism.

“That was my darkest hour,” Lamb said, “but I found it to be God’s finest hour.” The love of Gil’s life, wife Olabelle, found help in an article in Reader’s Digest, which offered help for alcoholics. Her letter requesting help for her husband brought a doctor, who visited Gil in the state hospital. “I understand,” were the most comforting words he shared with Lamb. He told him how to cope with his problem, keeping one’s life stable, one day at a time, and to ask God to direct his thinking — not his life, but his thinking.

Seven years later, in a Joplin, Mo., jail, Gil said, “God help me.” And this time he meant it. The seed that the doctor planted sprang forth to direct Gil’s thinking and actions.

Lamb was 45 by then, a bit too late to begin a career. In 1954, he began selling advertising for radio station KICA in Clovis. This job led him to Muleshoe and an opportunity to broadcast a unique news program, which he named the “Muletrain.” For the next 36 years he was called the Muleskinner and closed each show with the 1950 hit “Mule Train” by Frankie Lane.

The Lamb family moved from Tahoka to Muleshoe in September 1954 and the “Muletrain” was broadcast by remote on KICA from the living room of the family home.

Two years later, John Burroughs, former governor of New Mexico, and Leola Randolph acquired a permit to build a radio station in Muleshoe. Gil accepted the position of station manager with a small interest in the business.

The “Muletrain” moved to Radio Station KMUL where it was heard for the next 24 years until Gil and his daughter Magann started broadcasting on Channel 6 cable television from the Rennels home.

Now, after 51 years, Gil Lamb’s “Muletrain” is still on the air twice daily with the third generation of the family Gil’s namesake — grandson Gil Rennels, 30 — assisting his mother.

Gil Lamb shared strength with people handicapped by dependence on alcohol. Many of them were amazed at their success. He continued helping those in need. He was named outstanding man of the year in 1957, citizen of the decade in 1980 and received other awards for outstanding community service. He raised $70,000 to help save the hospital in Muleshoe. He headed a cancer drive. He was instrumental in the erection of the national memorial to the mule, “Old Pete,” which still stands in the city.

On his early morning show he’d say “If you are a stranger in Muleshoe and you don’t have a smile, drop by the radio station and we’ll give you one of ours.”

Gil Lamb died at age 83 on Nov. 2, 1990.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:
dmcalavy@telescopelab.com