TALES: Ace Liquor Store

February 14, 2002

"The public defender claims the guy isn't mentally competent to stand trial," Chuck Kilgore said as he took the loose change from the wino and counted it.

Wrapping a bottle of Thunderbird in a paper bag, he handed it to the drunk and thanked him for his business. As the man left the store, clutching his new friend in the bag, Chuck continued, "The public defender is probably right, I can't argue that point, but what galls me is that he sure as hell was competent when he came in the store and tried to rob me."

Chuck was referring to an incident the previous year when a known thug had been found in the trash can behind the Ace Liquor Store on East Main in El Centro after Chuck reported an attempted robbery. It had taken a year for the broken limbs to mend and the grafted skin to cover the metal plate in the hoodlum's head. Now he was ready to stand trial but the public defender felt the guy wasn't mentally competent.


I'd come to Ace Liquor Store looking for a can of Alcan 8 gunpowder, the preferred choice of reloaders who shoot the big double-barrel 10-gauge, 3 1/2-inch magnum. But, like many of those entering his shop, I had been snared by Chuck's stories while he held court. Newspaper reporters, who frequented his shop during his reign as an Imperial County supervisor, sometimes found it impossible to leave, even with looming deadlines.

Chuck's liquor store was a front to pay expenses so he could do what he really enjoyed — selling reloading supplies, ammunition, guns and dog-training supplies. A raised platform at the rear of his store was a work area complete with the tools of a master machinist and gunsmith. It also was his soapbox where anyone entering his store did so at their own risk, knowing they may be held captive for hours listening to and arguing with Chuck's views. With only an arch of his eyebrow, you were under Chuck's spell and remained there until released.

Chuck's hand-crafted guns, built to customer's specifications, were a work of art. Each gunstock was meticulously hand-carved, checkered and finished by dozens of hand-rubbed coats of boiled linseed oil until the beautiful grain of the wood glowed from deep inside. Match grade barrels were carefully mated to actions and trigger assemblies, hand-tuned by Chuck for outstanding accuracy.

At home, Chuck boarded dogs in addition to training hunting and guard dogs. There were usually two or three dogs in his store and all behaved perfectly, like you knew they would if you'd been around Chuck very long. His hunting dogs were always friendly and well-mannered, lying on the floor next to his desk in the shop.

His guard dogs, trained to conceal themselves behind the counter, were something to fear. A command from Chuck would launch a snarling 125-pound German shepherd or vicious Doberman over the counter.

During World War II he was stationed at a secret base on Kodiak Island where he and other commandos would stage covert reconnaissance raids on Japan. Chuck never said exactly what his specific job was while stationed on Kodiak Island but numerous trophies gathering dust in the rear of his shop alluded to his shooting skills.

The Sierra Marksman Award certificate was the only award that hung in his shop. It looked more like a graduation diploma than an award. Few marksmen had received this coveted award that required the marksman to place 10 consecutive shots in a one-inch circle from 200 yards away.

Although not a large man, one look in his eyes and Chuck had your respect. It was rumored that during the lettuce strike in the '70s, a well-known farm union organizer had planned a march down Main Street past Chuck's liquor store, but the route was changed after Chuck stepped out the front door of his shop with a semi-auto shotgun and pulverized four grapefruit thrown up in the air at the same time by two friends. It's hard to envision an Imperial County supervisor getting away with a stunt like that today, but that was Chuck.

Everything Chuck did, he did well and his prowess as a dog trainer was unrivaled. During one field trial, as the story goes, Chuck proved his skill as a trainer when he showed up with a pig he had trained to find and point pheasants. The porker performed flawlessly as it responded to his master's commands to "sit," "heel," "fetch," as well as point pheasants; but some said the pig had a problem keeping his tail straight while pointing.

Chuck passed away many years ago but bring his name up in a crowd today and you'll get many smiles followed by hours of stories as each person tries to tell a better story about their personal experiences with Chuck. While reading the I.V. Press a few weeks ago I had to smile. It was obvious PROBE knew him well.

>> Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the Internet at

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