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Last Remnants

As I noted in my last article the Long Highway through six generations of The Town wound further than I imagined. This one, however, is definitely the End of the Road for me.

Constable Reilly's Gunny Sack

So today let's make one more visit to milltown Navarro in its heyday and explore the police protection system in this frontier American industrial town. Boonville historian Jeff Burroughs knowledge of the town's past has contributed significantly to what I recount here.

First, Jeff noted the approximately 800 population community was geographically divided into the American citizen segment up the hill east of the mill and "Dagotown" across Soda Creek and south of The Store where the Italian and Finn new immigrant families lived. The seven hotels along the old wagon road here were owned and operated by Italians and principally provided housing for bachelor immigrants recently arrived from the old country.

Navarro at that time also had a two room jail, office and cell, somewhere across from the mill and up the hill to the east, and an appointed Constable, George Reilly of Christine, presumably an antecedent of the Clark family of Reilly Heights. Weekends were or course Reilly's toughest duty days, as the bachelor male population worked hard, then played hard during their free time in the bars and whorehouses around town.

Reilly was a tough cop, and served as law enforcement, judge and jury too. Saturdays he would ride his horse down from Christine armed with a pistol and a gunny sack full of handcuffs, and as he encountered a trouble-making drunk disturbing the peace, he would simply cuff him to the nearest available mooring, tree, wagon or outbuilding, let him serve an overnight sentence, and come back in the morning to release him with the admonition "get back to the woods where your work is."

More Wildfires

Keeping the wildfires narrative in chronological order I am doubling back a few years to about 1975 to recount a story told me by heavy equipment contractor Marty Moyer. Marty lived over in Redwood Valley next to the Jimmy Jones' religious lunatics commune, was an incredibly efficient road and dam builder, also a story-teller of Nobel class accomplishment.

His recollection of being a sixteen year old Marine participating in the first wave of the famous Korean War Inchon Beach Landing directed by General MacArthur in June, 1950 was Hollywood combat drama at its best. He said it was dawn; his unit knew there were numerous North Korean brigades stacked along the beach and sand dunes behind the Inchon breakwater, but not an ounce of fear, the war gods watching over them, he and his platoon disembarked from World War II landing craft on the harbor breakwater, trotted watchfully stone by stone toward the beach, rifle alert, wanting to engage the North Korean enemy eyeball to eyeball. "You know, Brad, at sixteen I knew I was immortal." My spine still tingles when I remember that story.

Anyway, that one and this next were stories Marty told me while building the earthen dam catching winter run off from the vineyard to irrigate the vines during the summer. In 1976 not exactly a project I could afford, but in a week's work with a D 6 crawler, scraper, sheep's foot and water wagon, Marty built a flawless structure that still has no blemishes, never mind erosion forty four years later. And it cost me $7,000.00.

The year before Marty was doing road construction work down at the Rancho Navarro subdivision (Raunchy Nirvana) then under development between the Masonite and Flynn Creek roads. It was early May, but out of nowhere a mid-summer heat wave enveloped the Valley and most of northern California. I remember because Deron Edmeades and I decided to make a one day trip to Sacramento to nag State legislators and regulators about enforcing the new Environment Quality Law in opposition to Masonite's plan to develop an 800 lot subdivision along the River between Hendy Woods and Lazy Creek.

Remember that local political episode? A bunch of “city people,” newly resident in the Valley, had formed a lobbying organization, begun tuning into the County bureaucracy, and dispatched Deron and me to Sacramento to engage the state government. We left Philo around 7 AM and by the time we reached Johnson Ranch on the other side of Yorkville the temperature was already 85 degrees. We knew it was going to be a scorcher in Sacramento.

As it was back here in the Valley too. Somewhere along Flynn Creek south of the back entrance to the subdivision a spot fire had started somewhere east of the road, probably a cigarette butt. As the morning progressed the fire built itself as the temperature rose. By noon it was running a ridge in the middle of the subdivision with no CDF in sight. Marty was working with his brand new D 6 building a road down in a seasonal creek gulch. He looked up from his work, noticed the wall of grey smoke climbing the sky above him. He made a quick study of the terrain above his worksite, decided he could effectively build a fire lane up the lee side of the ridge, where a blade wide path could stop the fire's declining rage as it crossed the ridge top.

In the last hundred yards from the ridge top Marty realized the fire was going to reach that peak before he could and would come straight down the hill and over him and his equipment. Evacuation time. He turns the Cat uphill, drops the blade, does a cab recon, grabs the upholstered seat cushion instead of his water jug and thrashes his way through the brush, manzanita and poison oak, back down to the sheltered creek below.

The whole time he is on the run and in shelter he is thinking about losing so quickly his brand new D-6, just bought on time from Berglund Tractor Supply in Willits a month ago with no insurance, of the monthly payments he'd also bought. A mournful morning. After half an hour or so he thinks it's cool enough on the fire's backside to go back up the hill to see the damage. But...miracle of miracles, as the fire crowned the hill, it smelled more forest fuel on the next ridge than the backside could provide, had leapt over a hundred yards to the next ridge and rambled on south. Not a scratch or burn on the beloved brand new D-6.

September (2002?)

Early in our century on a September morning I knew was going to be a scorcher all over The Valley, I couldn't put off that horrible shopping trip over the hill to Ukiah I had been avoiding for weeks. Over there I got it done as quickly as possible and was headed back up 253 by noon. Coming down the grade on Johnson Ranch around MM 2.50 I looked over the edge of the road to see if every one in The Valley was being good. Way down the far end near the ocean I could see a broad column of grey-white smoke between the ridges northwest of Greenwood Road. My heart sped up and so did the truck.

As I cleared Boonville heading north I still couldn't locate where the fire was, but it was clearly well past Philo and the column was getting taller and broader. Finally around George Ayers place north of Philo I got enough line of site to believe the towering grey-brown smoke wall was clearly not coming out of Perry Gulch or on my vineyard hill, though the amount of fire apparatus accompanying me down 128 indicated this was no small event, where ever it was.

Once I got home and did a quick recon around the vineyard, it turned out the best observation post was on its west edge just above the draw down into Perry Gulch. The fire center was somewhere northwest of me about two miles away, and I guessed near Mal Pass on my side of the Navarro River.

The temperature in Navarro that afternoon was about 100 degrees F, but fortunately there was virtually no wind, except that created by the fire's heat. As I sat in my pick-up, I guestimated the fire line was moving west to east at about a third of a mile in an hour. The curious part was the little explosions of white smoke puffs popping up ahead of the fire every five minutes or so. When I talked later with local CDF staff afterwards, Bob Groves told me these puffs were blow-ups caused by exploding Douglas fir tops sailing through the air for as much as two hundred yards and starting spot blazes behind the working fire line crews. Not fun always watching your back.

Along about five o'clock that afternoon there was again one of those dramatic weather changes that ends a multi-day heat wave here on the North Coast. The temperature dropped about ten degrees in an hour and the humidity rose accordingly- both damping down the fire storm along The River. From my recon post I was guessing it was now moving at a crawl, and by seven it appeared to have stopped advancing entirely. After dark I returned to my post one more time. The small red glow over a mile away and the smoky yellow light it created were completely stationary.

CDF's state wide fire command, I learned later on, was so concerned about the dynamics between weather, terrain and this fire's trajectory along The River that it dispatched from all over Northern California to the fire site seven hundred personnel and all the ground and aerial equipment it could muster. I don't know where they were all positioned, some probably entering Louisiana Pacific property at Highway 128 MP 10.26, then up the Tramway Gulch truck road to Mal Pass. I heard half the crews actually went down to Dimmick Park on the Main Stem and crossed over to the truck road on the other side of The River to get to work. Fire strategy's biggest concern was that the inferno would jump The River and run aggressively up Greenwood Ridge threatening all property and houses from Rocky Bluff west. The crews' basic defense tactic was building fire lanes all along truck roads on both sides of The River.

According to CDF cause of the most intimidating fire in my Navarro life was interesting. There had been a lightning strike along The River below Mal Pass the previous May, igniting an old growth stump which smoldered away all summer. I was told you could see its smoke from a turnout on Greenwood Ridge Road west of Valenti. And you know how those overweight Company foresters in their new white GMC pick-up trucks are, too lazy to hike down the hill to determine its source.

Summer Solstice, 2008

It's hard to forget the last wildfire episode I will report. The Summer Solstice dry lightning event wasn't just a Navarro story, nor a Valley one. It was a dramatic encounter with nature all of northern California from Mount Shasta to south of San Francisco witnessed. California Forestry recorded some 615 active fires from oceanside to Sierra foothills and high desert it was also responsible for managing Here in the County I believe there may have been 75 "incidents" and suppression strategy east of Highway 101 required we all, ranchers, loggers, volunteer firemen, ordinary citizens, use our available equipment to contain and control "our" fires as best we could with no support from CDF, our climate being relatively benign compared to, say, the mountains east of Ukiah or the Sierra foothills.

Unhappily I was not here at home that night, only returning to Navarro from working full time back east to enjoy summer vacation here in The Valley a week later. But I can still feel, smell and taste the acrid aromas and flavor of Doug fir and poison oak I encountered as my wife and I drove into a solid wall of smoke on 128 at Maple Creek, Yorkville, a sensation our eyes, noses and throats lived with for weeks.

And the stories. I remember sitting in the Boonville Hotel bar one July night, talking with a handful of National Guard soldiers from the Central Valley. They were stationed camped out along Mountainview Road on the north edge of Ward Haynes' ranch and had come to town to celebrate a Fourth of July Friday night in Boonville. They were still in fatigues and boots and you could smell the smoke on them.

The Guardspersons had been up on Mountainview for over a week and their fire-fighting strategy was to sit all day in their vehicles along the road waiting for the fire, burning for days in the basin between Signal Ridge to the north and Mountain View at Piper Ranch, to send an occasional, fortunately no wind for weeks, flare-up their way. In the event, they'd turn off their truck radios, put their magazines, books and coffee cups down, and spot-log and spray-soak both sides of the road at the fire head to keep it from jumping and heading south into the Garcia River's headwaters on Haynes Ranch. Pretty boring work, and I think they ended up spending almost a month before the fire and mop-up work was completed.

Later I thought about this astonishing meteorological event, visited a couple of small burn sites like the three acre one in chopped over timber and brush on the Point Arena side of Mountainview just three miles from the ocean. Could this have been an unprecedented act of nature in the history of American settlement of California? I had heard many Oldtimer stories about encounters with nature here in The Valley, the 1906 earthquake, hail in May, snow on the Fourth of July, etc., the 1936,, 1955, 1964 floods on The Navarro. No one had ever recalled or recounted a story even modestly similar to that Summer Solstice Night dry lightning event in 2008. And the fire gods must have been smiling on The Valley; the afternoon wind never rose once during the monthlong battle.

Another ’Hippie’ Story

This one is more about The Valley, sheep farming and hippie encounters than about Navarro. Beginning in my first year in The Valley and through friendship with Sam Prather I learned sheep husbandry firsthand, gradually built up a band that eventually got to ninety ewes or so, and made money annually despite declining lamb prices. I was fascinated by the husbandry, learned the craft thoroughly under the tutelage of Sammy and Arthur Korpela from Y Ranch, and had sheep grazing on all 235 acres of my place, including winter grazing in the vineyard, and bands in winter at Edmeades Vineyards and the forty acre parcel across the street from me on the south end of Navarro where the old Brereton stage stop hotel used to be. I also learned the business by working for a year at the Ukiah livestock auction managing the team organizing ewes and lambs into saleable lots (another story for another time) for the weekly Saturday Sale.

Anyway, the lamb raising season begins with birth in late fall and first rains, goes on into early and late spring and ends with shearing of ewes and sale of lambs in early June. Sheep ranchers in Anderson Valley belonged to a marketing Coop, National Farm Organization, that dated back to the Grange Movement in the early 20th century.

Operationally the NFO worked like this: during the winter a paid professional agent representing each woolgrowing region around California and the rest of the US negotiated a contract with a buyer, typically a feedlot or slaughter house in the Sacramento Valley, to deliver a given number of lambs at an agreed-upon price and date to these customers. Then on a day during the early June shearing season all Valley and Coast sheepmen brought their sale-able lambs To Floyd Johnson's corrals, where each rancher's stock was tallied by head, weighed and loaded onto the NFO's livestock truck for delivery six hours away. A month later a check for the crop was delivered to our mailboxes.

Typically we sheepmen brought our sale stock to Johnson's corrals the evening before, gave them a drink, gossiped a bit with one another, and then returned the next morning to help move stock around and do the weigh-out and tallying for each farmer's flock. I was the only "Hippie" stockman participating, that is, fairly long hair and a red bandanna to keep hair, sweat and dust out of my eyes, so I didn't really have much to contribute to the gossip swapped among friends going back several generations.

That growing year I was particularly proud of the lamb band I brought in to ship. Everything had gone well rain-wise, I had carefully understocked my pastures and fed all ewes a half pound of alfalfa pellets every day between birthing and weaning. Most of the eighty or so lambs I hauled to Johnson's were "fats," no bones showing along their spines and ready for the slaughter house, not the feedlots.

The NFO agent doing the book keeping and driving the Coop's eighteen wheel livestock truck to the harvest's destination noticed my band too. Sark Baronian was a short, stocky Fresno Armenian, black hair, square jaw and forehead, dressed in a tan silk suit and a matching fedora. Fresno Sark probably thought it was a freezing day in June's Boonville. He also had a bad ankle and walked with a pronounced limp assisted with a short shepherd's crook. When the total weight of my band came up on Johnson's scale, both of us were surprised when we did the arithmetic, each lamb averaged over eighty-five pounds a head including the fleece, while the lamb weight for the rest of the shipment was less than seventy pounds a head.

Sark casually limped a few steps over to me and out of hearing of the other farmers growled, "Hey, Hippie, did you water these sheep last night?" The accusation described a standard practice among a few rogue livestock farmers at sale time. Deprive the band of water for a couple of days, then load them up one by one with as much as their stomachs would hold the night before. Might gain you five more pounds of weight for each head.

Well in all my years in The Valley I had never encountered this kind in-your-face small town hostility from local friends and neighbors, and was always gratified at the lack of anxiety my obvious "difference," city kid, long hair, college education, created in the local community. No, Sark, this Hippie wasn't the grifter you hoped you'd found, didn't water his stock.

Millworker Comrades at Play, Buster Hollifields, 1955

My Navarro friend and mentor Bill Witherell told me this story about working at Buster Hollifield's stud mill across the street from Jack Clow's Blue Chip Palace during the post World War II timber boom. Buster was a remarkable self-taught entrepreneur, some say the first Arkie immigrant to arrive in The Valley in the thirties with a couple of dollars in his pocket. When the logging boom collapsed in the late fifties, Buster was wealthy enough to sell all his Anderson Valley assets, vehicles, airplane, lumber, home, cut up the mill into small pieces, and retire, it was said, a millionaire shipping the mill stored in jerry-built pallet boxes back to his roots in Mount Ida, Arkansas. Buster claimed in the early seventies, when friend and local journalist Kenny Hurst visited him back in Mount Ida, that he wanted the mill handy so that if he survived the biblical Flood, he could go back to work to support his family.

In the mid-fifties Bill, his Navarro-born friend Leith Johnson and Rob Bloyd were among forty or so employees making Hollifield's mill run. Leith was a quiet, shy hunting pal of Bill's who was actually born at the family home and one-time stage stop hotel his grandparents ran at the North Fork bridge two miles west of Navarro. In the seventies the demolished buildings' foundations created a lovely blackberry patch at the old homesite several Navarro families used to harvest regularly, and I can still find the septic tank brick walls among the brambles.

Anyway, the three Navarro-ites were buddies since school days and pranks were regularly a part of mill life then as now. Rob found enough time on his job to have a drink of beer or Tokay now and then during the day, and was usually pretty drunk by the time the mill's closing whistle blew at 4 PM. One day during break Bill and Leith sneaked over to the mill parking lot, carefully and surreptitiously jacked up Rob's pick-up and put blocks under the rear axle near the tires, virtually invisible.

At that day's end all employees ambled over to their cars and drove off leaving Rob, Bill and Leith, by coincidence of course, still parked. Rob dropped his pick-up into first gear and nothing happened, tried reverse and second, the same. Bill and Leith idled over offering solace and a bit of shade tree mechanic advice, as we all still do around The Valley. Five or more minutes of this with no positive results, and Bill and Leith offered condolences for Rob's misfortune, jumped into their pick-ups and headed north on 128.

After ten minutes loitering around Gowans' Oak Tree the boys drove back to Hollifields, parked and sauntered over to drag Rob carefully out of his pick-up, lest he fall flat, and with pride showed him their hand-made jacks craftsmanship suspending his rear axle off the gravel a quarter of an inch. All enjoyed the laughter and departed Busters' for the day still friends.

The End of the Road — for Now

So that's the end of the Navarro story as I know it - for the moment anyway. I've noticed, if you, kind reader have not, that more and more of the Navarro stories are about events outside The Town.

My original plan for this series was three articles covering Navarro's history and my reminiscences based on almost fifty years living here. This article is number eleven, which I think powerfully indicates what a rich experience it's been for me to have been a resident of and witness to that life. The Bard Shakespeare said "the world is a stage and we are the players," and here in The Valley, yes, we all are, or most of us anyway. You may remember from one of my earlier articles the open experiment the old Nash Mill Road sheepman, Lyle Luckert, conducted forty years ago, an eighteen month tour around The US in an RV. Lyle and his wife Grace visited over two summers as many small rural pockets of America and reported back that they never found a community quite like Anderson Valley anywhere else.

It took me a few years living here to appreciate how lucky I was to turn left at Cloverdale in 1971 with only enough money to buy the piece of Ingram Ranch still my home and farm. What a stage The Valley, what a cast of characters in its ensemble. So many people, so many memories, so much have they taught me about the nature of small town human nature, the great, the good, the bad, the unfortunate, and how to live together in relative harmony and respect. And how to enjoy the fruits of life here in simplicity and dignity - most of the time.

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