Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Reader Responds...

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of this crazy blog is when a reader responds because something I've shared or learned sparked an idea or a memory.  Today, I received the following from Pashnit (motorcycle forum) reader "Papa Ken."

Ken substantiates my long-held belief that we all have some little history within our fascinating lives.  Others learn from it only when we share.

Ken, in advance, thanks for letting me pass your memories forward.

- Dave

Recently I was looking thru some old year books of my wife who graduated high school in 1955 and discovered an old newspaper dated in 1956 and it had several pictures and articles of sawmills in and around Grass Valley, Nevada City and others in Nevada County. One that stands out very large to me was Jerry Dodge's mill located up on Tyler Foote road and it was in between Bakers sawmill and Del Schiffners Grizzly Creek sawmill. All these mills I have had some interaction with especially the owners of two...........Jerry Dodge and Del Schiffner.

I have a few memories related to Washington and some of the inhabitants mostly past residents. There was a time when I was younger that I would drop down there to swim in the south fork of the Yuba, have a picnic or maybe visit the Washington hotel and bar for a visit with Harold and Emma Moneyhon who also owned the Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley.

My brother Neal drove truck for George Dunlap for a few years and they had a contract to haul lumber from the Tahoe Sugerpine sawmill at the far end of town. I also hauled a few loads of lumber out myself in a truck that Elmer Harvey bought from Ed Garvey at Garveys truck dealership in Stockton. It was a red Kenworth with a white stripe and I was mighty proud to get that truck after driving the old GI 270 GMC WW II surplus gas rig. It was only a 150 Cummins with a C Brownie but it got the job done until I moved on to bigger and better trucks.

I brought it into Car Earls welding shop on the outskirts of Grass Valley where he set it up for hauling lumber with a new set of rolls on truck and trailer. At times, we would put on logging bunks to haul logs and I did that one year up in Graniteville where Speck Fuller had a logging show east of Graniteville where we would bring the logs back down to Jerry Dodges mill down by Als corner on Tyler Foote Road.

While I was logging there we had to stay in Graniteville during the week to get more loads to the mill and then come home on weekends. Monday morning early I would head out to the logging show VIA going thru Washington up Gaston Rd, so Washington and Graniteville both are small little dots on the map but have a special place in my memories. I have written about both of them before, so I won't elaborate again but one of these days I am going to get the dirt bike out and go back on a ride to the past.

Washington is an unincorporated community located in Nevada County, California. Washington is located on the banks of the South Fork of The Yuba River and has a population of approximately two hundred people. There is a hotel/bar and restaurant, grocery store, a one room schoolhouse that has educated students continuously for one hundred years, and two trailer park campgrounds

The population fluctuates seasonally and the town businesses rely on the tourist trade as the population increases in the summer. It was settled during the California Gold Rush in 1849 and produced a large amount of placer gold. Hard rock mines were established soon afterward and were very productive. Washington is the only settlement in the vicinity to have survived to this day. There remains today much evidence of placer gold mining, hydraulic mining, and hard rock mining. During the mining period there were a large number of Chinese living there. The river and streams are usually beautiful, relaxing and full of native trout, swimming is great along the river and the hills are fantastic to hike over.

During my years of driving truck I have been witness to the annual occurrence of cattle drives. In the spring when some were herded up into the high sierras on government land to graze and then back down to the lower elevations in the fall just prior to the snow fall, especially when I was driving a logging truck. In the spring, summer, and fall of 1950 I was hauling logs from high in the Sierra Nevada Mts. down to Jerry Dodges' sawmill in North Columbia, California. This particular logging show was located very far back in the woods, and in order to keep the men there so they would haul more logs, the logging contractor set up a base camp in Graniteville. This was a town that was built during the gold rush era, and was in dire need of restoring. Most of the men didn't like staying there, but they needed the work.

The place our camp was located, was in a burnt out hotel that was constructed during the 1800 hundreds. The fire had destroyed the upper stories of the hotel, leaving the second story floor to be used as a ceiling over our heads. We had cots to sleep on, a portable propane shower, and a great cook to prepare our meals. This was the only way they could keep the drivers out of the bars in town, and hauling logs in the woods.

They had great difficulty in waking me in the early morning hours, as someone would usually have to physically shake my cot in order to bring me to life. The cook was the first person to arise and after he had breakfast almost prepared, he would shake this cowbell that would wake the dead, but it didn't faze old Ken.

It was in the fall of the year that the cowboy's were driving the cattle down to the low country, and they would put in some long day's and nights working well into the night and starting long before day break. It was on just such an occasion, that they were driving their cattle down the dirt roads of town early in the morning and many of the cows had bells around their necks ringing loudly that the loggers began to arise ready for a hearty breakfast. They were a pretty ugly bunch when they discovered it was a false alarm, but it didn't bother me because I slept thru the whole episode.

In this small town there were a few summer homes that belonged to people, mainly from the city (Sacramento, San Francisco, etc.) and the owners would come up to spend the summers. These buildings were void of running water and electricity on the most part. Some had a well and portable generator, but most relied on kerosene lamps, spring water, and outhouses.

Now they were a pretty fussy bunch of mostly senior citizens, that were constantly complaining about the dust we generated while we were driving thru town on the dirt roads. The logging contractor kept a water truck in town and watered down the road twice a day, but that was not enough for them. Some of these folks would come over to our modest abode in the evenings to gripe about the dusty situation, and at times get down right obnoxious.

One of the drivers by the name of Smokey got really perturbed at them and he said" I will make them wish they had left well enough alone." We didn't know what old Smokey had in mind, until the next day when we found out that he had stopped a short distance from town, cut some large branches from the trees, and tied them on to the back of his logging dolly with a long rope. Well let me tell you fellers when Smokey cranked up a full head of steam in that Kenworth, steered back and forth whipsawing those branches behind him, those townsfolk's didn't know what dust looked like before Smokey put on his show.

They sent over a peace patrol that night, apologized, and begged us to practice our old policy once again. Those people should have known what kind of person they were dealing with if they had taken the time to analyze his clothing. Smokey dressed like something from the Beverly Hillbilly's. His old hat looked like a cow patty left on a rock, and the sun hatched it, and his pants hadn't had the oil changed in a decade. His boots didn't contain enough leather to make a pair of shoe strings, but his best clothing feature was his vest. Old Smokey had this vest that he claimed was made from unborn calfskin, well the hair on that vest was so long I would swear that calf lived at least two years before it was slaughtered. Anyone in their right mind could size this man, and realize he ain't playing with a full deck.

So it was that I left one morning about 4:00 AM from Grass Valley to head back up to Speck Fullers logging show thru Washington and beyond Graniteville when I passed the Miners hospital in Nevada City and decided to go back and see how a good friend Bob Douglass was doing.

Bob, George and Mom Douglass took my brother Neal, sister in-law Dolly and me under their protective wings in the late 40ts and taught us about logging, hunting, fishing and just the joy of living and working in the mountains. They made us a part of their family and took us all over to their lot in Tahoe, on their Chris Craft, boat on the lake at Tahoe, horse back riding, deer hunting at Uncle Charlie's etc.

One day Bob had ridden up to Chalk Bluff with Bill Moranville to get a load of lumber and they dropped the trailer close to the top of the ridge and got their trailer load off the jacks to transfer to the trailer before going back to get the truck load. Just as Bill was starting to back his truck towards the trailers tail apron, for some reason Bob stepped in between the truck and trailer to move some cables when he got pinned in between the trucks apron and the trailers apron with the lumber bending him over in an awkward position. Normally when the driver is transferring a load he will do it fast in order to shoot the load from truck to trailer; but in the instance Bill Moranville had a strange feeling and stopped before driving the load home, got out and saw Bob pinned and rapidly jumped back into the truck and pulled forward. Bob slumped to the ground, still conscious, no broken skin or bleeding just short of breath and weak.

He pleaded with Bill to finish his transfer and get his truck load that he was OK but Bill tied his load down and took Bob back to Nevada City to the hospital where they checked him out and didn't find anything wrong. They did want to keep him overnight for observation and he seemed to be doing pretty good when I visited him the night before. When I got back to the hospital and went in to check on Bob, his brother George and a good friend from Sacramento (Bob Partraich) were in the hall and I ask them how Bob was doing? They said he was still there but doing as good as could be expected when the doctor came out and told us Bob had just passed away.

Bob just plain went crazy for a few minutes and we finally got him calmed down a bit when we all had a cup of coffee and I said I had better get up to the woods when Bob told me no Ken don't do it you have had quite a shock yourself and it is better if you take the day off and recuperate. So I did.........Now is where the story turns to chit.....yeah I know I misspelled it.

Jerry Dodge got on the phone to Elmer Harvey the truck owner and ask him where the logging truck was? Elmer told him about Bob dying and my being there and needed the day off when Jerry Dodge exploded and told Elmer he didn't care who died he wanted that truck back in the woods right now. Elmer tried to reason with him to no avail and I told him where he could shove it and never went back into the woods for anymore loads to Jerry Dodges sawmill.

Now we jump ahead past my time with Balmain and Schulz, the army and March 1954 when I come home from the army with a truck driving job waiting for me with Bill Pendola being my sponsor. Bill told me when I went in the army I had a job waiting when I came home and when I went to Penn Valley to visit him he assured me there was a truck for me to haul lumber. While I was gone Yuba River Lumber and Grizzly Creek Sawmill formed a company called Ostrem Lumber named after the small hamlet a few miles south of Marysville. Most of the lumber sawn at Grizzly Creek was hauled to the sawmill, planer, kiln dryer etc. at Ostrem and then we would haul some of the finished lumber all over the western US.

Now is where the next crazy sawmill owner came to haunt me. It was Del Schiffner and he had some ideas that I should be married, belong to the Elks and have a telephone in my apartment. I complied with his last two requests but
I joined the Elks, paid six months dues, went to my initiation and never went back. I also worked there about a year and hadn't cashed many of my payroll checks. I honestly never thought about it messing up his books with those uncashed checks. He told me more than once that I made more money than his Millwright Snowball Harris and wasn't nearly as important as him. I didn't disagree with him I just told him if Snowball put in the hours at the mill as I did in his truck, he would make more money than me. Another thing he said is you don't stay at your apartment much when you are in town do you? I said yes I do. He replied you don't answer the phone why? This answer really got him when I told him, you said I had to have a phone you didn't say anything about answering it. So I guess it is understandable that when I got the end of my finger pinched off in a sideshift forklift and was off work for 6 weeks he replaced me with a married man who needed the money more than me a single man.

When I came back to work, he told me if I wanted to haul lumber I would have to get married and I politely told him I would go back in the army before I would get married to drive his lumber truck. So when we parted our ways I stopped by Eddie's bar in Nevada City and Eddie ask what I was doing there so early when I told him my story he couldn't believe it. I still have a hard time believing it but every word is true. Eddie ask me if I needed any money and what was I going to do when I told him I had several thousand dollars worth of uncashed payroll checks that he told me I must be nuts. I said Eddie the reason I have those checks is cause I am single, no one to come home to, so I spend time doing what I love driving truck.

About this time my dad came down with cancer of a kidney and needed surgery so I didn't know how the folks were money wise and I gathered up all these checks, took them to the Bank Of America in Nevada City up to Jim Abraham the teller and old friend and when he saw all those checks he said I can't cash them until I call the book-keeper at the mill. I ask how come? He said Ken if it were anyone else that came in with this many payroll checks, I would be calling the police thinking that someone broke into the mills office and used their check writing machine to print out bogus checks. When he got hold of the book-keeper and ask him if he should cash the checks.........his answering was a resounding YES now maybe I can close my books.

When I got back to my apartment in Nevada City after making sure my dad was OK and they were supplied with some money, I started packing a few things thinking I was going to have to move to Sacramento and try to get a job driver tanker for Cal-Liquid up and down the valley. I wasn't there very long when I got a knock on my door and it was Jim Maloney who drove lumber truck for Jerry Dodge. I let him in, gave him a cold one and ask what was on his mind? He said I was by Eddie's bar the other day when he told me your situation and I think I have a solution to keep you up here in the hills. I ask what is it? He said we can double shift this truck, 12 on 12 off and share your apartment. I said two things wrong with that.........I would rather eat a skunk than work for Jerry Dodge and I'm not real sure about sharing my apartment. To solve your first problem, Jerry Dodge is just a name now as Harry Fondiller runs the mill and he won't give you any problems and as to the apartment, when I am on the truck you will be here and when you are on the truck I will be here and any time we have off at the same time we will both be out partying and that solved our problems. Worked that way for a few months when the opening to drive truck for Hedlund Lumber sales and a brand new Kenworth turbo that I jumped at the offer. I worked for Hedlund for about a year when Janey and I got married and after the bachelor party about 3:30 AM I went over to Del Schiffners house next to the Miners hospital and rang his doorbell. He answered the door not very happy and wanted to know what I wanted? I said Del all the time I worked for your company you expressed the importance of marriage and I am getting married tomorrow and thought you might want to hold the reception here in your big home. That was when he slammed the door shut.

I think I have just about covered where all the bones are buried..........Ken

1 comment:

  1. What a life you have had and continue to have...Thank you for sharing it with us.