Thursday, May 31, 2012


As a public service to all the “Church of the Open Road” sacrificed the spanking cleanliness of the GSA to investigate conditions on California State Route 49 over Yuba Pass this on May 30.

Owing to the fact that there were road construction signs west of Downieville, I elected not to hang around and stretch my legs in town thinking there’d be enough stoppages ahead.  I was nearly wrong.  Nearly.  The first five or six miles east, the road had one of those new asphalt surfaces that most of us only dream about.  Smooth.  Superbly engineered. 

Delays east of D'Ville
However, six miles east, we were stopped for nigh onto 20 minutes for the pilot car (which is always a big pickup truck) to lead us through the zone.   After a time, the fellow in the Ford Explorer behind me got out of his car and the conversation ensued:  “Nice day for a ride.”  “What kind of bike is that?”  “Where ya goin’?”   I found out the gentleman had eschewed I-80 construction on his way to an annual golf tournament in the Graeagle area, involving Nevada Union’s class of ’60 or thereabout.  I immediately regretted losing track of Chico High’s Class of ’70.  He regretted not having taken I-80.

Initial pavement along this section was fresh with the eastbound lane having its second layer of asphalt, the westbound lane waiting its second.   
Along Cal-Ida Road a half mile up from CA 49
There’s a short stretch free of delays then, four miles west of Sierra City, another wait.  Here, I learned from the gentleman in the Explorer about the history of the Cal-Ida Lumber Company who’d logged the area and transported timber to Auburn for milling back in the day.

At this point, route 49’s old surface is being heated and removed.  From here into Sierra City, expect to drive on deteriorated road base not suitable for your Sunday-go-to-meetin’ bike.  The water truck did a fine job keeping the surface muddy enough for those later to ask how long it’d had been since I returned from Alaska on the Beemer.

Stop in for the pie and the latest...
By Bassett’s Station, the work had concluded, however, my sources there (the young man who served me a wonderful hunk of warmed peach pie with ice cream and said, “Yes, if you want to call it lunch, you can call it lunch”) reported that the section from Downieville to Sierra City should be completed in the next couple of weeks, but that they were still slated to tear up and resurface the rest of the route to Yuba Pass with completion being around the first of July.

He added that CA 89 from Sattley to Truckee was slated for similar work beginning the first of July.

Sierra City prior to road resurfacing
Use caution or select alternate routes like the Lakes Basin Highway from Bassett’s Station to CA 89 below Blairsden or CA 70 through Oroville, Quincy and beyond.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Robinson Flat Road – Placer County, CA

...Or so said the man piloting a county dump truck laden with gravel up the hill.  Just above Robinson Flat, I’d pulled over to the side of the road giving him ample berth to pass. 

“You okay?” he’d asked.

“How could anyone not be okay up here?” I responded.  Then I added, “Unless you gotta work.”

“Yeah,” he said looking down from the cab of his International 2½ ton, checking out my abnormally clean GSA, “but I getta work up here.”

“Today is perfect,” I said as he waved and shoved the rig into gear.

Robinson Flat is a favored destination.  About 70 minutes from home we frequently find ourselves with a better bottle of Tokay, a couple of chicken sandwiches, folding chairs and a free, languid afternoon. Whatever book has been resting unfinished on the bedside table will be finished while the dogs freely gambol in the meadow.

Today’s mission was simple reconnaissance: take the bike up there to assess the condition of the road and the meadow and parse out how soon one of those lazy afternoons might safely be added to the summer schedule. 

Although a storm had blown through on Saturday prompting the local TV station to be agog about snowfall in the mountains, the intervening 80+ degree-days wiped out any accumulation.  The 29 miles of paved route from Foresthill were clear and dry, and the tiny bit of gravel I traveled was being filled and graded by a county crew that included the young man. 

The guardhouse near the meadow looked as if it has struggled through a winter that was not yet fully finished.  Refurbished about three years back, its brown painted sides looked in need of another coat and the green painted shingles on the roof made it appear that painting roof shingles green was not such a practical plan.  A mitten of snowfield wrapped about half the base of the cabin.

Likewise, the meadow had yet to see spring.  Water stood atop the saturated glade with no place to run off and nowhere to sink.  I was reminded that this spot, long before man, was a tiny subalpine lake – probably home to the ancestors of today’s black bear and whitetail deer.  Whatever wildflowers I might expect to see in a month or so were probably still encased waiting for a longer spell of warm weather to break out of their shells and splash their color on the landscape.

Hiking around the grounds, the litter of the prior season had been either picked up or scrubbed away by an icy, departing winter.  I did find a derelict poster warning of bear encounters tattered and tossed on the moist duff.  I wondered whether the vandals responsible for the defacement of this government notice were named Bubba and Jim-Bob or Yogi and Boo-Boo.  I hoped it was the latter.

Opting not to traipse through the county’s construction zone this day, I retraced my steps back toward Foresthill.  While riding on gravel and dirt is pleasurable on the big GSA, having time to simply ride and enjoy the nectar of the first breaths of spring is as well.  I could take the long way home next time.  I figured I’d be back up this way in about three weeks with a good book.

Today’s Route:  I-80 west to Auburn; exit Foresthill Road.  East on Foresthill Road 17 miles to the community; continue 29 miles further to Robinson Flat.  Alternate return:  South, over the ridge on graded gravel Robinson Flat Road, passing the road/trail to Duncan Peak LO (Hike this!); right on Mosquito Ridge Road (paved) back to Foresthill.

Related Posts:  Having been to Robinson Flat numerous times, here find a couple of Church of the Open Road posts about rides and hikes hubbed from that point.

Also, click on the “Foresthill Road” label and see if something else shows up.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Friday, May 25, 2012


Recently, NPR aired a story about an Indiana third grader who was at risk of being retained if he didn’t retake and pass a statewide reading assessment this summer.  The child was compellingly sad.  His summer was shot and it hadn’t even started.  The mother, however, was not so compellingly angry at the system.  Quote: “It breaks my heart that my nine-year-old thinks he’s stupid.  It isn’t fair…” 

The agonized mom’s comment forces a question or two:  Did the she spend time reading with her child?  Or is she just concerned that he thinks himself stupid?

But larger questions arise as well:

·      Do annual state assessments give educators enough data about students and programs to make fully informed decisions?
·      When parents of failing schools are offered choices do they take them?
·      Are Alternative Schools like Charters (Charters being publicly funded institutions given a mulligan on certain public school requirements) proven to provide better results than their public brethren?  If so, what are Charter Schools allowed to do that traditional schools cannot?
·      What evidence exists that large-scale privatization of schools will achieve better results?  We know privatization of prisons hasn’t proven overwhelmingly successful.
·      As funding falls, class sizes rise, materials tatter and facilities crumble, is it logical to expect today’s students to do as well as yesterday’s?

And Saturday Night Live's "Church Lady" is always more than willing to ask this one:

·      Somebody benefits when we don’t provide support for our schools.  Who might that somebody be?

Arguments about how to reform schools are generally specious in nature, politically or selfishly motivated and espoused by people who may not have much experience actually doing the good work of educators.  Too frequently they are folks who, because they attended for twelve or thirteen years, think they possess some magic wellspring tonic that will fix our schools. 

Sadly, the solution to improving our schools is easy to state but grindingly difficult to implement.  Here are nine needs to consider:

1.     Parents need to take an active role in supporting their kids' education.  That means turning off the TV and video games, prioritizing school with Little League and soccer and actually spending daily time on schoolwork with the kids.  This is more than wafting parental pixie dust over the homework.  It involves checking for their understanding of the math page, listening to them read, and spending time each day reading to them.
2.     Teachers need to respect those practices that have proven successful while seeking innovative ways of doing things.  Technology can be wonderful for reinforcing new learning or exploring wider concepts, but it does not replace the teacher going face to face with the student who is struggling – or the student who is not. 
3.     Universities need to provide the system with inquisitive teachers who have demonstrated the ability to think critically and solve problems - not just credential individuals for having put in seat time in a graduate program.  A university dean responded a question of mine with another question of his own: “How would the parent of a college kid feel if, after five years of university, we told him he wasn’t qualified to teach school?”  “I don’t know,” I didn’t say because I was just a young punk myself, “perhaps like someone wasn’t doing his job?”
4.     Curriculum needs to reflect learning that goes beyond knowledge to include critical thinking and problem solving - things that cannot be assessed on an annual fill-in-the-bubble assessment.  In general, the only time a citizen has to fill in a bubble after finishing school is when he or she takes the written driver’s exam.  All other questions that confront us involve greater than yes or no answers.  Take, for instance, climate change, Middle East peace, or what to have for dinner tonight.
5.     Administrators need to work with staff to constantly improve instructional practices; they need to more easily be able to release ineffective teachers for cause; and they need to know that "cause" is not strictly defined by student performance on yearly exams.  Students who struggle can be led to improvement; likewise with teachers who struggle.  Administrators unwilling to do this should be led to the door.
6.     Localities need to hold superintendents accountable; superintendents need to hold principals accountable; principals need to hold staff accountable - but PARENTS need to hold kids accountable. If that isn't happening, it ain't gonna work.  Parents: It’s part of the bargain you signed on for when you decided to have offspring.
7.     Politicians need to cut the crap with retention.  Study after study proves retention doesn't work.  Talking tough doesn't help.  Rather: Politicians need to ensure schools have the revenues necessary to provide a free and appropriate education to all kids.  For some kids, that means more individualized attention and support - with or without a Special Education Plan.  Politicians:  If this conflicts with some pledge you’ve ascribed to other than to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic, decide which one is more important to you.  Your response may cause you to have to resign your elected office.
8.     The nation needs to simply get past the idea that the measure of a good education is how much wealth one amasses over the course of his or her life.  “Job-ready” is a fundamentally low bar for schools.  Literacy teaches perspective.  Algebra teaches reason.  History teaches a sense of place.  Science allows us to wonder.  The Arts release our spirit.  All are essential.  None are typically addressed on a job application.  Each makes us more human, more able to connect and, most would contend, more content.
9.     Finally, we all need to support our school system with our time, our money and an understanding that the democratic foundations of this country rest on the bedrock of a sound education – one that is available to all kids regardless of wealth or disability.

If all stakeholders: kids, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, trustees, communities, politicians and the nation pull together to show we value schools by our words and actions, we will see an upward sweep in student performance.   

If however, we succumb to stakeholder subgroups or talking heads who sidetrack us by spurning the system and pointing baseless fingers of blame, we’ll continue to get what we have now: Children – like that little guy in Indiana – left behind.


The clip from NPR may be accessed at:

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


The American River Inn
Living in the Sacramento area, one is spoiled by the year-round nature of and the sheer number of miles of excellent roadways to explore.  We get up in the morning, down a cup or two of coffee, then saddle up for a four to six to eight hour mini-vacation.  The Pacific Coast is two hours away; Tahoe, two hours; the Gold Country, walking distance.  Alas, not every rider is so fortunate.  For those from further afield, the American River Inn offers the perfect home base for exploration.

The American River Inn is an historic hotel located in old Growlersberg – now known as Georgetown – California.  Proprietress Betty greeted me warmly, as if I were some wayward relative away too long.  She introduced me to Dolly, an ample but spunky black Cocker and only then asked if she might be able to help me with something.  “Folks are coming from throughout the west coast for a little celebration,” I explained, “and we need a place to house up.” 

The American River Inn
“Look around,” she suggested with a confidant smile, encouraging me to trundle up the stairs.  The innkeepers have carefully transformed this fourteen-room hostelry with period antique furnishings and fixtures.  The American River offers suites, as well as rooms with private and shared bath accommodations.  A pull-chain John Douglass invited my scrutiny.

American River Inn
A full, hearty and delectable breakfast – apple pancakes one day, ham and delightful egg puffs the next – is served in a quaint parlor. 

Wine is sipped on the veranda evenings around 5:30.  And a late evening nightcap including a bring-your-own cigar is not discouraged.

Georgetown, CA
Just out the front door, the main street boasts two or three watering holes, a very nice cooperative art gallery, a couple of antique outlets and a friendly and comprehensive general store.  The family owned Mexican Restaurant down the street and around the corner is nicely down home.  Clampers have placed plaques in front of each historic building to remind us of their heritage.

Walking distance from the hostelry is a cooperatively maintained nature preserve, well positioned for a morning stroll before saddling up for motorized adventure.

Georgetown is situated on the divide between the north and south forks of the American.  About eight miles down the hill, James Marshall changed the course of history.  Thirty miles east puts one in the Granite Basin Recreation Area home to dozens of lakes and miles of nicely maintained Forest Service Routes. 

Entering Granite Basin
Sixteen miles south to Placerville and US 50, Echo Summit and the Tahoe Basin is only 90 minutes off.   Nineteen miles north, Auburn straddles I-80.  In between, the area is webbed with paved and graveled roads leading from the depths of the American to the crest of the Sierra.

Stumpy Meadows
Wentworth Springs Road heads east from Georgetown past Stumpy Meadows Reservoir, a nice fishing lake with accessible picnic spots…

… skirting Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a place I’ve yet to experience, lacking a big V-Twin Cruiser…

… and up to Ice House Road.

Loon Lake
Left on Ice House takes us to Loon Lake where the construction superintendent’s cabin is available for rent…

Wentworth Springs
… or through a cluster of privately held historic cabins (no trespassing please) at Wentworth Springs…

Rubicon Trail
… and up to the Rubicon Jeep Trail which crosses just above the Desolation Wilderness area before descending into the Tahoe Basin.

There is plenty of still and cascading water, glaciated high mountains, fragrant pine forest, exquisite pavement and peaceful footpaths.

American River Inn
Easily, one could off-load the panniers and spend several days enjoying glorious loops exploring some of the California’s most historic sites and some of its grandest scenery.  If so doing, the American River Inn is an ideal home base.

Routes not to miss in this area:

State Route 49 from Auburn to Placerville though Coloma, the site of Marshall’s gold discovery.

State Route 193 from Cool to Georgetown to Placerville – check out the historic schoolhouse and cemetery at Greenwood.

Marshall Road from Lotus to Georgetown through Garden Valley – a ride with nice elevation gain, that tunnels through woodlands and breaks into panoramic views.

Wentworth Springs
Wentworth Springs Road sweeping upward to the Granite Basin Recreation Area – use caution – three times – three times! – in our two-night stay emergency personnel were dispatched to scrape up some poor hot-rodder who thought he could outsmart a decreasing radius turn.  Medi-vac isn’t cheap.

Loon Lake
Ice House Road – pack a picnic and stop at all the reservoirs: Loon Lake, Union Valley, Ice House; then enjoy the descent into the South Fork and Highway 50.  Better yet, start at highway 50 and ascend into the Granite Basin.



The Historic American River Inn:

DeLorme’s California Atlas and Gazetteer (2008 or newer) pages 58, 59, 60, 65 and 66.  Comprehensive collection of topo maps for the entire state.  I carry a copy on board anywhere I go.

Gudde’s California Place Names – always a good place to find out why something might be named what it is.  Additionally, this book can help you appear to be smarter than your fourth grader.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, May 21, 2012


When I’m worried and cannot sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep…
 Irving Berlin

Click on any picture to expand for detail.
I will readily admit that I have a rather comfortable relationship with John Barleycorn.  By sixty, one either coexists with moderation or one does not.  Sadly, those who don’t, may not see sixty: think decreasing radius turns. Still, I was a bit surprised when my affinity for moderate amounts of the hard stuff made itself known to the mother of the wife of my best friend and riding buddy.  [We’ll pause here for a moment allowing the reader to sketch the necessary branch of a rather extended family tree.] 

On the occasion of my 60th, said friend treated me to a baseball game at AT&T Park followed by a night’s respite at his beloved mother-in-law’s house before returning home.  She prepared ribs.  Between the rib course and the lemon meringue pie course, a box was placed in front of me.  Attached to it was a note, which I will transcribe in its entirety:

This is a story for the “Story Man”

When a gentleman holding the rank of Captain of the Hillsborough Police Department was recovering from pneumonia in December 1982, Cathy Crosby, wife of the famous crooner Bing Crosby, brought her favorite cop a present.  It was a bottle of Bing’s favorite Bourbon.  Bing, she said, would always have a sip before he “crooned.”  But this was a special bottle, made before prohibition but not legally sold until after, according to the stickers on the bottle.  Bing just kept it in his booze collection and never opened it.  It was 53 years old and starting to evaporate when she gave it to the Captain.  Not being a bourbon drinker himself, the bottle rested, never to be opened.

Years after Bing died, everybody told the Captain he should have the bottle sealed to prevent it from evaporating completely.  That is how it got waxed and sealed.  When the officer died in 1992, he was toasted with his favorite alcoholic beverage, champagne.  For the next 20 years, Bing’s bottle of Bourbon got shoved further and further to the back of the liquor cabinet.  Occasionally the story of the old bottle in the torn box would be told and some smart youngster would say, “Hey Mom!  I bet you could get a bundle for that on E-bay!”  Bing – and the Captain – would roll over.

So here we are today, getting ready to celebrate a storyteller’s 60th birthday.  Who better to carry on the famous “Bottle of Bourbon” story?

Love always,
“Mom” and Captain Ernie

The neck of the bottle peeked above the tattered edge of a box opened and closed many times as the story was told and retold.  The front of the box carried the hooch’s brand “Old Charter,” as well as the name of the distributor “Wright and Taylor.”

Along one side read the words “Fully matured in wood;” along the other: “For medicinal purposes only.”  This was a product of a thirteen-year Constitutional fiasco called Prohibition.  Clear wax covered a foil wrapping further sealing the mouth and a cork that had slightly imploded into the bottle. 

Carefully slipping the package from the package a curious amount of empty space topped the four/fifths full vessel, though the cork had never been pulled.  Original paper labels were still affixed to the bottle as well as the paper tape that banded the wax on its neck.  There were two dates.  One here, “made spring 1917,” one there, “bottled fall 1929.”  Originally, the contents had been aged 12 years.

I set the bottle in front of me and looked at “Mom.”  Crosby had handled this.  It was his brand.  It helped him croon.  Are you sure?  Her eighty-three-year old eyes expressed nothing but delight.  I found myself running through my limited catalog of Crosby songs and settled on lyrics from a tune which had debuted in the 1954 musical “White Christmas.”

The vintage bottle rests in the back of my liquor cabinet, behind the Knob Creek, the Basil Hayden, the Lagavulen and some 18-year-old Macallan.  In five years it will be a hundred.

Between now and then, my riding buddy and I will debate long and hard whether to, if, and if so, how to dispatch its contents.  I lean toward simply parking it in a dark corner of the cabinet and, when the time is right, passing it on to some next generation.

However, I have this comfortable relationship with John Barleycorn – one that, sometimes, nudges me toward less than the most appropriate end.

Resources:  Crosby sings “Counting Your Blessings”:

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

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


at Relief Hill
There are plenty of reminders from our state’s gold mining heritage out there just waiting to be stumbled across.  It had been a while since I’d engaged the BMW GSA in a backcountry tour involving a non-surfaced road and I needed a refreshing break from pounding on the keyboard.  The Great American Novel could wait.

East of Nevada City on State Route 20 a lovely strip of pavement coils into the depths of the South Yuba River at Washington.  The trip to the bottom is a dangerous combination of nicely banked tarmac and views.  Conveniently, there is a place to stop for views up and down the canyon.   

Washington (Nevada Co.)
Once to the bottom, with the exception of the pavement through town, a fluorescent Budweiser sign in the general store window and scattered vehicles not drafted by horseflesh, the town looks as it might have a century and a half ago when it was founded.

We are warned that there will be kids and dogs in the roadway and that they get dibs on the lane you may be in.

A kind gentleman runs the little store, a Giants fan.  He’ll be a happier individual once the boys in orange and black turn up the offense, he reports.  Won’t we all?

Washington (Nevada Co.)
Across the way, someone has arrested the deterioration of and early example of the mechanized age.  There’s a little museum in town and a place called a hotel, but I stopped for neither. 

South Yuba River at Washington
Just as I like to practice riding in the rain in the winter, it was time to reacquaint myself with gravel and a bit of dirt for the riding season.  A well-engineered bridge crosses the Yuba, but shortly beyond that I strike my own Mother Lode.

Gaston Road
The Forest Service applies gravel on Route 21 – the road up the hill to Graniteville and Bowman Lake.  An inviting sign tells me it’ll be about twelve miles.  Although early in the season, the road is nicely maintained and a thirty mile-per-hour clip doesn’t seem too risky once I get my sea legs back under me.

But this is crazy, I think.  I am passing too many things that deserve my attention and much too quickly.  Parched and 92 at home, spring has just arrived to the 3500-foot elevation.  A dogwood tells me this.

The black oaks are just shaking off winter as well.

Gaston Road - Graniteville Road

Two miles shy of Graniteville, Route 21 tees into Graniteville Road.  To the right is Bowman Lake.  That section of road would lead me past a high country reservoir, thence to Henness pass, the olde tyme route of frustrated gold miners to the silver fields of Nevada.  (I wonder, again, what this innocent sign did to deserve being shot to hell.  I see this too many times in the woods.  If you are a gun owner, please don’t do this.  It makes you look boorish, and I – along with everybody else – end up having to pay for the damned sign.  Thank you.)

Graniteville, CA
Left takes me to old “Eureka South.”  Eureka north being up in Plumas County; a “Eureka” the mine is down in South Placer.  Eureka the city is up on the Humboldt.  The road in this neck of the woods lacks gravel.  It is rutted and the last vestiges of snow melt run across the path.  My pace slows greatly as I realize the Metzeler Tourances cake with this slippery goo pretty readily.  As far as I can tell, it is their only deficit.

Graniteville, CA
In town, ancient pavement keeps the dust down.  Several years ago, I met a gent who has a board and bat cabin he’d built by hand in the community.  He’d invited me in for a look-see and a beer (which I declined).  An old claw-footed bathtub stood in at the edge of the forest, fed by a pipe from the nearby stream and heated with a wood fire.  From inside the rustic structure, through cracks in the wall, you could see the outside.  He hoisted a Miller Lite and said, “Oh, we really weren’t looking for a place in the woods.  But is so beautiful, the idea came to me and I just couldn’t shake it.” 

Graniteville Cottage
Original hundred-plus-year-old homes line the road.  Many are trim and restored summer residences, but it is said that there are four year-round residents.  Wear woolens.

Formerly a Graniteville Cottage
Some of the old homes fare the winter better than others.  I wonder how many places were here at one time; how many have been crushed by the elements.  And what other bits of history are no longer history because there’s nothing left to remind us.

The run from Graniteville down to North Bloomfield is a sixteen mile unpaved boulevard running through pines and clearings and panoramic views from the Sierran crest to the Sacramento Valley.  It is wide and flat requiring only the occasional stand on the pegs to absorb potentially bum-bruising bumps.

North Bloomfield
North Bloomfield (Old Humbug Town) is a place I frequent as often as possible.  The pictures here are from a previous trip.  I’ve been known to putter up to the state park there, simply to put an entry fee in an envelope and then putter out again.  Least I can do: it’s on the closure list.

GSA vs Monitor
Old mining tools are displayed along the side of the road the monitor here seen facing off with the BMW.

Malakoff Diggins
The monitors focused water on the soft hillsides, washing them away to expose veins of ore for relatively easy pickin’s.  The environmental damage was horrific and the practice was suspended when the town of Marysville, some forty miles downstream, was shut down knee deep in slimy slurry from the operations.

Relief Hill Road
There are several enticing options from this point.  After depositing my ten bucks, I chose the route south back into the Yuba River rather than the route west toward Nevada City or northeast to North San Juan.  (One gets the impression that the old timers had a hard time coming up with place names so they simply tacked north or some other direction on the name of some place they’d been before.  The early Post Office had a say in this type of intervention, I am told.)  The road out of town is, perhaps, the worst maintained of the loop, but it is a delight to carve along the canyon wall, in and out of forests, watching the landscape evolve.

Relief Hill
It’ll be twelve miles back to Washington.  Half way down, the derelict site of Relief Hill is to be found.  There’s a connection here to the rescue of the Donner Party, but there’s no one around to ask.  Plenty of “No Trespassing” signs are tacked here and there. 

Relief Hill
As a result of a deal between the Federal Government and the Central Pacific Railroad, the company obtained alternating square mile sections of land that could be harvested for ties and, perhaps ballast.  The “Big Four” were less than completely honest about where the railroad was to go and as a result, the Tahoe National Forest is a checkerboard of public and private square miles.  Relief Hill is private.

Diversion Dam
Closer to Washington, the elevation is lower, the bottom of the canyon distant, but the road a bit better maintained.  Gravel aligns itself at the edges and in the middle.  One of those edges drops precipitously toward the Yuba.  Losing it in the berm on the canyonside would be a bad idea.  My bones would likely not be found for months.  I tiptoe the big Beemer down, glancing, occasionally as the full running streams that, a month from now will be gone.  At one point, a small dam diverts water to I don’t know where and for I don’t know how long.

South Yuba River at Washington
Fifty-plus miles of dirt and gravel are wearing.  I think of those guys that drove from Scotland to the tip of Africa on bikes similar to mine and think better them than me.  Still, the little four-hour tour was a welcome respite and it was with mixed emotions that I found myself on the bridge crossing the South Yuba, revisiting old Washington, then heading up the hill toward home.


Downwind from the old schoolhouse in Graniteville
Today’s Route:  I-80 to Auburn; North on SR 49 to Grass Valley/Nevada City where 49 joins SR 20.  Continue east on SR 20; left on Washington Road just past the scenic overlook.  Stop there first for an overview.  Through town, cross the Yuba, veer right onto Gaston Road (USFS Rd 21).  Ten miles.  Left on Graniteville Road.  West toward North Bloomfield.  Follow signs to Malakoff Diggins State Park.  Drop a ten-spot.  Just past the museum, left on Relief Hill Road.  Return to Washington.


This route is accessible in a carefully driven two-wheel drive car with appropriate ground clearance; but probably not a good idea on a cruiser or a sport bike.

Bring a snack, water, a camera and notebook, and a signaling mirror.  Your cell phone likely won’t work.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press