Homesteading in Anderson Valley

by Briana Burns, March 23, 2016

The recent story about the Hollisters in Comptche and their history prompts me to want to share some of my experiences from the 1970s on Peachland Road, as well as what I know of the previous history of our property.

I transcribed the diary of Clem Heryford which the AV Historical Society has for sale. Somehow Larry Smith had acquired this diary from 1910, when Clem owned the property I now own with my brother-in-law and sister, Moe and Charity Hirsch. Larry was researching the history of Peachland Road being a public road, and where did the public road end. He knew I’d be interested in the diary, so I typed up an electronic copy which I gave to the Historical Society to publish. The main item of interest to me in the diary was that Clem’s major income came from a contract he had with the County to build Peachland Road. I guess up until 1910 it was only a trail you could do on horseback? I assume Clem and a crew were building a road you could drive a wagon on. If I remember correctly from the diary, they were using a horse-drawn grader to build a better road.

I know more about the history of Tony Delaqua, who made a living on the homestead in the Anderson Valley for more than thirty years, from 1917 to 1949, on 115 acres in Peachland. As far as I’ve ever heard, Tony, unlike George Hollister in Comptche and Clem Heryford in Peachland, worked no outside jobs, but made his living entirely on this homestead, until he and his wife retired to the Valley where they ran a snack shop right near the present-day elementary school. Eva Holcomb remembers having a piece of Mrs. Delaqua’s peach pie at their place after her day in high school back in the 50s.

The 115 acres Tony bought in 1917 were mostly forested acres, with maybe 30 acres of steep redwood canyon with some Doug Fir, plus another 40 wooded acres. The property had only about 20 acres of hilltop open grass land on which Tony had about 5 acres in grapes, about 5 acres in apples of several old varieties, and one acre of walnut orchard, plus pasture. Tony was twice married (I think I was told the first wife died) but never had any children. Some of the years he had a younger man from Italy, perhaps a nephew, living with him and helping him with the homestead. I am told that Tony had the reputation of being the hardest-working man in Anderson Valley. I can imagine that, having no children to raise, he and his wife were able to devote themselves full time to making a living on the homestead.

If you’ve read anything about Boontling, the Anderson Valley-invented language, as I had, you will know that for Boontling speakers, one of the challenges of inventing a new word was to have it immediately recognized as to meaning, based on your existing knowledge of Valley people and events. So when I came to Anderson Valley in 1973 and learned Tony’s reputation, you can see why I was flattered to be told, third hand, that someone had heard me referred to by some old kimmie codger in the Valley as “Mrs. Delaqua”. Who else could it mean, but me, living up Peachland Road, and trying to emulate the lifestyle of earlier homestaders! I took it as a great compliment!

Back to the Delaquas’ day: in addition to the acres in crops I’ve mentioned, Tony’s homestead included raising fowl for meat and eggs, as well as horses for labor, and goats for milk and cheese, and of course a kitchen garden. Emil Rossi, whose Italian father was good friends with Tony and his wife back in those days, remembers sitting in the hand-dug basement under the frame house on hot summer days, enjoying Mrs. Delaqua’s goat cheese and drinking their wine. Emil’s dad also visited with the Delaquas during the rainy winter weather when they sat indoors, spending their non-daylight hours cracking the season’s harvest of walnuts, because they could earn more income from cracked walnuts than the nuts in the shell. I, too, spent many hours of winter evenings cracking walnuts! This was of course after the hours spent in October and November picking walnuts up off the ground, hauling them to the apple drier, where I spread them on the trays meant for drying apple slices, to dry the nuts enough that they wouldn’t mold in the shell.

Eventually my sister, Charity Hirsch, who also lived on this ranch the 1972/73 school year when her husband, Moe, was on sabbatical from UC Berkeley, taught me an excellent method to store the walnuts once they were dry enough. We used the orange net bags that oranges are sold in which could then be hung from the rafters of outbuildings. Every once in a while we’d go squeeze the nuts in the bag, stirring them around, to keep any damp spots from molding, as well as helping scrape off mud and debris left from when they were picked up from the mud on the ground in the fall. Whatever dirt and debris was on the nuts sifted out through the bag and fell on the floor. By the time the nuts were cracked in the winter, the shells were pretty clean on the outside, though a far cry from the pristine shells of nuts you buy in the store. I don’t know why I never hosed them off when I first picked them up. I suppose I was more concerned with getting them dry as quickly as possible, which back when the rainy season might be wet for days on end, seemed the higher priority.

Tony’s Apple Dryer

Tony must have built his apple dryer maybe near the end of the decades when apple dryers were a viable business in Anderson Valley. My understanding was that apple drying existed for some years, with the best money-making years during WWII when they were even shipped to the armed forces in Europe, but after 1945 trucks came into the Valley and that was the end of apple drying here. Otilio Espinoza has told me that after 1945 apples were trucked to a big apple drying facility in Sebastopol, and after that most of the apple driers in Anderson Valley were no longer used. Some have been torn down or accidentally burned down, but Tony Delaqua’s on Peachland Road has been repaired and maintained and is still a very useful storage building. Tony’s was a 60-rack drier, and the trays are still there, though I’m sorry to report that, because I used them to dry walnuts, squirrels have gnawed holes through some of the trays. I also used those trays to dry apples just for home-use when Wendy and CT were kids. I put trays of apple slices out of the roof of the generator shed to dry during the hot summer months. Dried apples were the best kind of snack/car food for kids! They didn’t make crumbs in the car, they didn’t get stale, and they were perfectly healthy! I also made fruit leather from my strawberries and raspberries, which, rolled up in a piece of Saran wrap, also made good car food for kids.

Otilio tells me now there are only eight “appleders” (Boontling for apple dryers) left in the Valley since Goldeneye’s, which used to be Johnny Peterson’s apple dryer, burned down just recently.

George Gowan came and looked at all the heirloom apples in our orchard back in the 1970s when he did some logging for us. He identified many of the varieties but I hardly remember the names now, and most of the apple trees themselves have died in the past 46 years.

Later, maybe during the 80s, Patrick Schaeffer came and identified all the remaining heirloom apple varieties. Wendy entered apples in the Fair during the 90s, so she knew a lot of them but they’re since gone. She feels they ought to be saved before they’re all gone, so if any of the apple-grafting people want to come up and cut scions, they ought to talk to CT.

When Patrick came, he identified almost everything definitively: 20 ounce Pippin, Baldwin, Talpe Hawkins, and Gano. Two other trees elsewhere on the property but not in the orchard were Gloria Mundi. Wendy thinks 20 Ounce Pippin and Talpe Hawkins were varieties unique to Anderson Valley. Probably the large apples which the kids and I had been turning up our noses at, for lack of flavor, were the Talpe Hawkins, which Wendy tells me were prized for drying because they retained their white flesh, not turning brown, as most apples do. She thinks the Talpe Hawkins is probably close to extinct by now since it was specifically a drying apple.

Otilio Espinoza has told me that with around five acres of dry-farmed apple trees, Tony’s dryer probably turned out an annual cash crop of dried apples from maybe 2 to 10 tons of fresh apples, depending on the crop each year. I have no idea how many pounds of dried apples that would have produced, nor where Tony sold them, nor what percent of his annual income that might have provided. Someone told me that a 60-rack drier would have burned about a cord of wood per day when in operation. The furnace for our apple drier is, I was told, a former boiler for some sort of steam engine. It is an iron cylinder about a yard in diameter and 8 or 10 feet long, with a big door on the end where, in my younger adult days I could climb in. (Why I ever did this, I have no memory! Maybe somebody had thrown some trash in there, and I was cleaning it out! Who knows!)

Otilio described how the dryer would have been worked during the apple-drying season. He said a couple of people would be manning apple-peeler-corers and spreading the apple slices on the trays. Another person would have the job of carrying the trays to the drier, where you used a rope to haul up the sliding door and then slid the tray in on one of the 10 sets of side rails per bank. Another person’s job would be to keep the furnace below the banks of trays stoked. And if a dryer that size burned a cord of wood per day, there must have been a year’s worth of firewood already cut and dried and stacked somewhere nearby to feed that dryer for the season. You can see why Tony and his wife must have worked non-stop year round to eke out a living on a pre-WWII homestead.

And yet, if you read Clem Heryford’s diary among the AV Historical Society’s books for sale, you can see that any time any visitor showed up, they could and did stop work and visit for as long as the visitor stayed; for a meal for sure, and overnight if that was called for. When people up in Peachland lived spread out, and transportation was on foot or on horseback, visitors were not that frequent, and a welcome event.

Besides apples and walnuts and grapes for wine, Tony, and Clem Heryford before him, used the redwoods in the canyon for a cash crop also. When Wes Smoot worked on this property as a choker-setter in 1953 when the canyon on our property was clear-cut logged, he tells me that the redwoods were all gone and there was nothing but Doug Fir left. I don’t know quite what to make of this information. In 1995 I myself made an inventory of the timber on the property. I hiked all the redwood and Doug Fir-timbered acres, trying as best I could without actually marking trees, to delineate each area that I could eyeball as having a boundary, and then counting all the redwoods and Doug Fir in that area that were over 18 inches in diameter at breast height. I kept a sheet of paper to map the areas marked off and counted, and when I was done, I totaled up 117 Doug Fir and 769 redwoods. In 1995 this was 42 years after the clear-cut logging operation of 1953, but there were already some number, I totally forget how many, of redwoods that were over 36” in diameter at breast height. We had bought the property in 1970 and sometime after that, Mike Shapiro, who as I remember was trying to make a living as a custom miller with Peter Dobbins with a portable Alaskan mill in those days, came and hiked our redwood canyon and remarked what a nice stand of redwoods we had; how well they had regenerated after the 1953 clear-cut.

Later, hiking my property and the next property up-canyon from ours, further up Tony Creek, I saw that the redwoods had been able to recover on the north-east-facing slopes, and up a draw that ran more westerly, but that on the steep side of Lone Tree Ridge that faced south west, there were only stumps of redwoods; no recovered forest.

The logging had also caused some pretty severe erosion of Tony Creek. During the 1980s, when I was commuting from a job in the Bay Area, coming to Boonville every weekend, I connected with Clem Heryford’s daughter, Prudee Heryford, who was by then in her 80s, living in a mobile home in Santa Rosa. I would stop halfway home on a Friday night and visit with Prudee, just to break up my 2 ½ hour drive. She had been a girl living with her parents on this property from 1910 to 1917, I believe, when Tony Delaqua bought the property. She said when she was a girl that the creek in the valley (or canyon) ran at ground level. Nowadays the eroded creek bed is anywhere from 4 to 12 feet deep! We thought, when we bought the property in 1970, that if we simply left matters alone, things would heal. It hasn’t happened. She also remarked on her regret at seeing the valley in the canyon after the logging, so this would have been sometime between 1953 and 1970. She said it was nothing like the lovely place she remembered from her childhood. She said her dad harvested redwood. Maybe she is the one who gave me the idea that one big tree a year gave her dad and Tony Delaqua the work of splitting out rails and providing part of their annual income. But seeing the end result of her dad’s and Tony’s redwood harvesting, and then the clear-cut logging operation of 1953, she remarked sadly, “He didn’t know what he was doing!”

The Hirsches and the Rowes, coming in the early 70s, were motivated to repair some of the damage. We succeeded in replanting a naked hillside. Sometime after the 1953 clear-cut logging operation, a whole hillside had slipped down into the valley, leaving a scar maybe 50 feet wide and 100 feet of vertical height. (My logger neighbor, Willis Tucker, once described the logging of our property in 1953 by Ray Taylor as a “rape.” I was surprised that a logger himself would use such language, but it certainly made an indelible impression on my memory!) The hillside, from above the road to the canyon, clear to the valley floor, had slid down, leaving no road at all and nothing but this naked hillside. We four owners got 500 Douglas Fir seedlings from the state forestry and planted that whole hillside to restabilize the soil. Now, some 40 years later, we have a nice stand of Doug Fir and the scar of the landslide is long gone.

From prior to the 1953 logging operation, there is a huge redwood stump in that valley, 20 feet in diameter! Whether Clem Heryford or Tony Delaqua cut that tree, I have no idea, but I know from Clem’s diary and from Emil’s memory of Tony, that both men made redwood fence rails as well as sheep pickets for fencing, and also, I believe I was told, grape stakes to sell. Captain Rainbow, who learned redwood skills from Adrian Newton back in the 70s, tells me sheep pickets were usually 5 feet long, whereas grape stakes were 6 or 7 feet.

Our property still has the remains of over 4 miles of perimeter picket fencing, plus interior fencing as well. I imagine the pickets were probably pounded into the ground at least a few inches, but have since rotted off at ground level. Then two strands of wire are wound back and forth holding each stake right next to the adjoining one. These wires, two strands at the top and two near the bottom, made a very secure fence. The deer could hop over the top, but the wild pigs couldn’t or didn’t break through. It’s quite amazing how much of this fence still exists today, either still standing, or fallen down, or, on our property along Peachland Road, buried by the results of the annual road grading. When my daughter, Wendy Rowe, was for the better part of 20 years raising Scottish Highland ponies on the property, fence repair was a never-ending task, but where there was fencing from Clem or Tony’s day, she was making good use of it!

There were also, when we bought the property in 1970, a few sections of fencing with redwood rails, not the picket and wire fencing. George Gowan told me those rails had to have been virgin redwood, because the second growth was not dense enough to be splitable into long rails. Rainbow confirms this assessment. You’ve probably seen some redwood fence rails somewhere in the Valley, though I think nowadays they are maybe made less by hand and somehow more machine made. Rainbow tells me fence rails were usually 11 feet long, and the most elegant ones were squared, usually about 4 x 4 wide. To hand-split redwood rails and keep them not too thick and not too thin must have been quite an art.

Rainbow says he learned all about redwood splitting from Adrian Newton, who, he says, sort of adopted the hippies when they came in the 1970s. Adrian had been born in 1903 so was already an old man and was delighted to have a young man like Rainbow in his 20s to go into the woods with him and find downed and abandoned old growth redwood that was salvageable. Adrian would split the wood into something salable, and Rainbow could and would haul it out of canyons for him, as Adrian’s knees were too bad. When my sister and brother-in-law and I wanted our apple dryer saved, back in the 1970s, Hammond Hemble and Rainbow came up and jacked up the sagging structure, took off the old roof which had holes in it, put on a layer of plywood to add some rigidity to the wobbly building, and then Rainbow somewhere got some rounds of splittable redwood. Rainbow had learned from Adrian how to use a fro to split off the shakes. Rainbow tells me they were “bastard shakes” which meant something less than the ideal. I couldn’t understand from his verbal description exactly what he was telling me. But in any case I told him that roof is still in fine shape, more than 35 years later. As far as I know, not a single shake has blown off, and Rainbow thought that was pretty remarkable. But it’s his handiwork, and he was trained by Adrian, so that’s as good as you can get! Rainbow tells me that Adrian died in 1983, so that would have been at the age of 80. I knew of Adrian, but don’t think I ever met him.

So that gives you a general overview of the Valley homesteaders before WWII. Now we’ll come forwards to 1970, when the Hirsches and I and my ex-husband Guy Rowe bought the 115 acres. When we first bought it, the house was a disaster. For the previous 10 years it had been owned by a Bay Area family who only came up weekends, and for the last few years of that decade, the wife had been ill and no one had come at all! The roof on the house had leaked, the drywall in the ceiling had caved in in one place, and a family of packrats had a mound of sticks in one corner of the living room! The real estate dealer who showed us the property showed us the house last, and told us to regard it as a lost cause and start over. Instead we’d already been sold on the historic homestead aspects (as the dealer certainly hoped we would). Moe offered the asking price and then the dealer raised the price! We bought it anyway.

So then what to do. I think the dealer put Charity and Moe in touch with Bob and Gail Boettiger, young brother and sister, who had recently been hired as child care providers at Clearwater Ranch and had no place to live. Being young and optimistic, the Boetiggers agreed to move in and make the house habitable, which they did, over the next two years. They managed to figure out basic carpentry skills. Their main drawback was that they knew nothing about machines, and proceeded to run the old generator that was in a nearby shed without knowing to check the oil or to add oil. They ran it evenings for electric lights until it seized up. They had no idea why it had quit running.

The following year Moe had a sabbatical from UC Berkeley, so the Hirsches lived in the house for one year. Then they persuaded Guy and me to leave the Bay Area and take over. We hadn’t planned on moving to the country that soon, but it seemed like the thing to do, so we came, with Wendy, then 2 years old, in September of 1973, the same year the Colfaxes had come to the Valley. I promptly got pregnant and CT was born the following spring.

At that time, the only other resident on Peachland Road was George Wright, who lived in a minimal house, really more of a shack, up at the end of Peachland Road. (Other roads continued, up to Lone Tree Ridge, and down to Indian Creek, but the public county road ended somewhere around where George lived.) He was an old and peculiar guy who had had a family, had worked on the County Road crew, and by now lived alone, retired, and drove to town once a week. Sometimes he’d stop on his way home again and give CT, born in 1974, a penny! It was he who told me of the logging of our property in 1953: how Ray Taylor, who Willis Tucker told me owned a two-man sawmill up the Manchester Road, bought this 115 acres from someone named Anderson, who had owned it for 4 years since Tony Delaqua moved to the Valley. According to George, Taylor paid one price for the acreage, logged it and made X dollars on the timber, and then resold the property at more than he had paid for it! George clearly resented Mr. Taylor’s financial gain.

Only a month or two before CT was born in 1974, Peachland Road was buried in a mudslide for 10 days before the County could get to us! Guy had been in the Bay Area when the mudslide occurred, however, so he had a car below the slide and my father-in-law, Frank Rowe, and I had another car at the house. Concerned about George being cut off from town, I drove up to see if he needed anything. I found him, this was February or March, in an unheated house but using a kerosene lantern between his legs for warmth! He explained that his roof was somehow worrisome so he didn’t want to build a fire in his wood stove for fear of setting his roof on fire. He thanked me for coming, and allowed as how he could use a pound of ground beef from town, which I later delivered. He said he knew the road was out because there hadn’t been any traffic on the road in several days. Not that, with only us two residents, there was ever very much. An occasional County road crew truck, and Max Rawles maybe twice a week going up to do something with his sheep. Maybe an occasional hunter, or someone going up to work for Max? All I remember is that a vehicle going up Peachland Road past our house was a big event for CT when he was little. You could hear and then see the vehicle coming up the road for quite a ways, so there was always time for CT to run to the living room window and watch the big event of the day of a pickup going by!

The water for this property came from a spring on Max Rawles’s 6000-acre adjoining sheep ranch. When Tony Delaqua owned this property before WWII, Tony Creek then was a blue-line creek, meaning the USGS mapped it as running year-round. On the USGS map of some year prior to WWII that I looked up once, the blue line extended uphill to the next property above ours. There was enough running water to power a water ram that Tony used to pump water from the canyon up to a small redwood water storage tank on the hill across the road from the house. From there he had gravity feed to the house. But according to Juanita Maddux, secretary at the elementary school in the 1970s, at some point someone was burning slash on Max Rawles’ neighboring property, and the fire crossed onto Tony’s land and burned down his pump house that housed his water ram.

In recompense for the accident of destroying Tony’s water ram pump, Max Rawles gave Tony the right to a fairly good spring on the opposite side of the canyon, up on Lone Tree Ridge. The spring was above the level of the house, so Tony got free gravity-fed water, but he had the expense of buying pipe to cross the canyon, as well as presumably buying the concrete to construct a spring box up at that spring. Jaunita, who was also of Italian origin, felt it was a bit unfair that Rawles burned out Tony’s investment and compensated him in gravity-fed water only, without any compensation for the out-of-pocket expense Tony had to install this system. Back then there was no cheap plastic pipe, so Tony had bought metal pipe and installed it, plus the labor of hauling that heavy pipe down and then up the steep terrain.

When Max Rawles died and his 6000 acre ranch was split up and sold off, the developer, Thomas Blanchfield, who bought the 2000 acres of Lone Tree Ridge and cut it up into 160-acre parcels for resale, agreed that it would be a good idea to give us a deed to this spring that had been used by Tony’s property for maybe 40 years.

So by the time Guy and I came, with Wendy, in 1973, the water from the spring on Lone Tree Ridge ran into Tony’s little redwood tank across Peachland Road from the house. Guy and I planned to build a new house across the road and one of our first projects was to add a well. Guy wanted the well at the highest point of our property so that it could be pumped by a windmill. After drilling a $2000 dry hole (which in those days, and to us, seemed like a scary amount of money), at the high site, we had the driller move down to a saddle, where a geologist we had paid to advise on a well-site had said we were most likely to find crushed rock, which had a better chance of bearing water. So Weeks drilled again, and this time hit water at 180 feet, as I remember. He went another 20 feet, to 200 feet, and then stopped.

When we put a pump in this well and pumped it, we got “iron bacteria” water which, I’ve heard, is not uncommon in Anderson Valley. We had by this time added a 7000 gallon used redwood wine storage tank to the property and pumped the well water into this tank, reserving the small old redwood tank for the better spring water. At one point I put down a ladder and climbed down into that big water tank after it had been used for well water for a year or more and was appalled to find that there was 4 inches of orange sludge at the bottom of this tank! The stuff was like thick latex paint!

The same year we moved to the Valley I think, I had heard about Nick Alexander having bought land at the top of the Holmes Ranch and having drilled a well that produced fine water that first year but then went dry and never produced another drop. I was horrified at the thought that we might have the same luck with our new well. The very taste and smell and look of this iron-bacteria-laden water made me fear that we had hit a pocket of water that had been down there for millions of years in a self-contained pocket, and that our well, too, might go dry at any moment.

By this time Guy had given up on his construction project across the road and Rose and Roderick Wright and their two kids were living on the property to help me, living in what had been the construction shack for the new house project. The ultimate hippies, they were raising all the food they could and using the well water for garden irrigation.

As I remember, they could only pump the well for an hour at a time because it didn’t replenish faster than that. But when fall and the rainy season came, Rose no longer needed to water a garden, and the spring flow was gushing. Somehow the idea occurred to me that since there was pipe from the spring to the water tank, and pipe from the well to the water tank, why didn’t I simply run the spring water backwards from the tank to the well, and run my unneeded wintertime water backwards into the well! People told me this was a foolish effort, as the underground water was a moving source and I wasn’t accomplishing anything by putting water into my well. My response was, if they were right, I wasn’t hurting anything by putting my spring water into the ground on my side of the canyon, but if they were wrong, and the well water was indeed a contained pocket of water, then I was replenishing what had been pumped out all summer.

The greatest thing was, the very next month my issue of Scientific American magazine had an article titled “Aquifer Recharge”! I was thrilled! My brainstorm had a high-fallutin’ sounding scientific name, and I had thought it up all by myself! I was, and still am, incredibly proud of myself for this brainstorm.

So this is the point of this whole article – what with global warming, and climate change, and the ongoing drought in California, I suggest that any Anderson Valley residents who have any ability to do aquifer recharge do so as much as possible. Admittedly I now have to worry about giardia in my well water, since I know by experience that the spring water may sometimes be infected with giardia, but I figure water itself is the higher priority.

And here is my evidence, although not conclusive, that I am recharging a self-contained water source. After I began running spring water into the well every winter, when Rose and Roderick pumped the well extensively for their gardening operation, the water they got from the well would be relatively clear at the beginning of the summer, but as the summer went on, it would become more and more orange with the iron-bacteria. To me, visualizing the bed of crushed rock that the geologist had hypothesized bearing water at our well site, I could imagine a kitchen sponge wet with ink. If you squeezed (i.e. pumped) it, you got inky water. But, if you dripped clean water into this sponge, you could see a clear spot growing and growing in the middle of the sponge. And if you had somehow put a drinking straw into the middle of the sponge and started sucking water back out of the sponge, you would have gotten clear water to start, but which would gradually contain more and more of the dye of the ink. To me, it seemed this was exactly how my well was acting.

So, that’s my wish for the residents of Anderson Valley, that you all can use aquifer recharge to replenish your water supply as much as possible and survive the drought!

2 Responses to Homesteading in Anderson Valley

  1. Marshall Newman Reply

    March 28, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    An excellent look back. More, please.

  2. Riverrat Reply

    April 16, 2016 at 6:46 am

    Last apple dryer to operate was on the Art Gowan ranch in 1937,,Big flood year.. Apple dryer went down the Navarro River in the 1964 flood.

    Hello Marshall.. Give my regards to your sister

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