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Anderson Valley’s Iconic Dump Attendants

Last week I reported on the recent history of Anderson Valley’s dump sites and the personalities of the County employees who presided over these social gathering spots important in the Valley’s day-to-day life. And as I observed in last week’s article about Navarro, whoever The County elevated to the Attendant post also became an important arbiter in the community’s anecdotal exchange and reflection on our personalities and daily affairs always part of our dump visits.  The first person appointed in Boonville, Homer Mannix, was perfect for managing the Boonville Dump operation’s responsibilities.

Like in Navarro, Boonville had always had a County-administered dumpsite where it is today, up Mountainview Road a mile.  And like Navarro’s site, it was simply a large dirt drive-in area  with a tractor-cut landfill space below it facing east across the Valley.  The dumping area had to accommodate the rest of the Valley’s  population between Philo north and Yorkville, and the scale and variety of waste that appeared at the Boonville landfill was dramatically more than what Navarro drew.

Boonville resident and local story-spinner, Michael Reeves, told me during the 49ers football game last week many factoids of great use to my reporting here.  Right after his settling in a small cottage on Lambert Lane half a century ago, Michael became a regular dump customer, not just to drop off his household waste; but also because he was an observant salvage artist with nominal annual income and a talent for using much of what appeared in the Boonville landfill worth reclaiming.  Things like construction boards, shake shingles, damaged 12-2 electric wire, window frames with broken glass, lawn mowers, bent posts and fencing, etc..  Michael spent hours each month on his salvage missions and was familiar with the whole landfill terrain including what potential materials he had already appraised and rejected.

Michael said it was astonishing the spectrum of waste that appeared at the dump over any year.  Not just household garbage or home and farm discards, but also animal slaughter leftovers,  yard and brush trimmings, tires from the local gas stations, etc.  Of  course the County’s provision of a tractor to shove the accrued waste further down the hill to make room for new customers was infrequent.  And so from time to time a concerned local citizen would touch off the waste piles, well fueled with the tires from Jeff Short’s or Harold Hulbert’s gas station.

Tires, as we know, burn for a long time and can smolder along under accumulating waste even in winter and indeed reignite the whole pile spontaneously from time to time.  One day, possibly in the early eighties, an elderly person was unloading her waste from the back of a pickup.  She slipped on the rim of the cutbank and fell into the smoldering waste and died.  Soon after the death the County posted a notice in the Boonville PO soliciting for the dump  attendant position, erected the fencing and gate system more or less what we see today, and installed dumpsters we are familiar with today.

Homer Mannix was newly retired from the AV Advertiser and the judgeship, and applied for the position.  Michael Reeves informs me he also applied for the job, and in his application proposed to establish a recycling site inside the now-fenced drive-in area organized for the benefit of the community.  The County didn’t like the idea.  And Homer got the attendant job.

Homer was the descendant of early Anderson Valley settlers.  Born in 1916, he early on had career ambitions that took him outside The Valley.  In the 1930s he enrolled in a San Francisco private college, Cogswell Poly, strong in introductory engineering and other technical skills.  The 1930s Great Depression ended his formal education, and he opened a retail radio store in San Francisco. Back in Boonville after World War II Homer’s ambitions continued to take him down entrepreneurial, political and cultural trails.   

Specifically, in 1950, he hired a local contractor to build the Mannix building, a two story wooden structure with an art deco façade on its front where currently the Boonville Firehouse stands, and opened a combination hardware/electrical equipment store that was also a Frigidaire dealership.  This business, in direct competition with Rossi Hardware down Highway 128, soon closed and migrated to being a Ford Motors dealership.  Mike Mannix, his nephew, remembers his family buying from Homer a brand new Ford sedan from Homer in 1950.  

The local AV car market back then, no more than a thousand families I am guessing, couldn’t support the business, and after a decade or so he closed the store, changed his career path, ran for local Judicial Court judge, and most important, in the late 1950s, converted the Mannix building to a print shop and local newspaper office where he began publishing the Anderson Valley Advertiser. Homer’s wife, Bea, ran a “beauty parlor” business in the right front of the building.

To my knowledge Homer’s judiciary career was, like Tindall’s, informed, considerate and uneventful.  And its duties provided him with a clear perspective on all the corners and human drama of our local community from Navarro to Yorkville.  And sometime in those years, he also decided to broaden his political career by running for the County Board of Supervisors against Point Arena’s Joe Scaramella, current news reporter Mark’s uncle.  Joe was a reputable and caring representative of our part of the county, and Homer was not elected. To round out his diverse public life Homer was also Chief of the all-volunteer AV Fire Department and on the Apple Fair Board.

The most important achievement and contribution to Anderson Valley I claim Homer made, was founding and publishing the Advertiser in the late 1950s.  Let me remind us all newspapers have been a binding communication medium at the heart of American life since colonial days.  And small town weeklies, there are only about 8,000 of them left in the country today, are momentary and permanent records of the texture of the local communities they serve.  Homer’s paper performed this task heroically from day one.  And with primitive printing technology dating back into the nineteenth century.

When my wife and I first arrived in Anderson Valley in the 1970s, we had the energy and self-importance to found a monthly alternative to the Advertiser, the Anderson Valley Advocate.  It was a good piece of journalism, thematically more diverse than the Advertiser, because we were an editorial coop of six amateur journalists and photographers with diverse interests in local land use politics, Valley “adult” sports, AV history and biography, pop music, recipes, the weather, etc.  I have copies of the paper in the home attic, and read through them last spring while packaging them in plastic against the mice colony up there and was pleased with the quality of our writing.  The Advocate survived for two years.

But my addiction to journalism encouraged me and my wife to write occasional letters to the Advertiser, and more exciting to stop by the office on some going-to-press evenings for the sheer pleasure of smelling the ink and actually doing some of the type setting.  When I call Homer’s technology “primitive,” what I meant was he had an ancient linotype machine run by the equally ancient Marie who lived alone upstairs on the second floor of the Mannix building.  Marie and the pre-war linotype device knocked out blocs of iron and lead type that took all day for several hands to assemble by  paragraph and column inside a steel frame for every page of the weekly paper.  All headlines were also set by hand one letter at a time, each piece extracted from a font similar to a pipe fittings storage bin at the hardware store.  The header type also had to be dissembled and returned to the storage bins after each edition went to press.

In the back of the Advertiser office was the printing press, whose operating details I only marginally remember, beyond carrying back there each steel framed lead type page and installing in the printer bed so the newsprint could run over it at press time. What I most remember though was the  shrill clatter of the electric press cramming sheets of newsprint through its bowels and the pervasive smell of the ink, some kind of bitter sweet aroma that promised great adventures to anyone opening to read the paper the next day.

Homer owned and edited the Advertiser until sometime in the late seventies when age and the stress of weekly deadlines likely encouraged him to sell the paper to a pair of experienced Sacramento Bee journalists, Ward and Nan Sharrer.  The couple cared about the paper and its mission, tried to improve the reporting, including news about Mendocino Coast goings on, but gave up their efforts after two years and sold the paper to someone with stronger roots in Anderson Valley, Bruce Anderson’s younger brother, Rob, and his wife Sharon.

The matter of roots in the community is an important ingredient for a successful local paper, as its editors must have relationships with friends and neighbors engendering confidence in their journalistic integrity.  This community/editor symbiosis in turn encourages a regular exchange of “news” about what’s cooking locally since the last pub date.  And Rob and Sharon, with the reporting support of older brother Bruce, were able to bring the Advertiser back to life by forgetting Coast news and focusing on the goings-on our small, but economically and socially complex Anderson Valley microcosm.  However, burn-out captured the couple, and after about two years as editor and publisher, they sold the paper to David Severn.  Severn was a good journalistic reporter without the managerial skills a weekly paper requires, and he sold out to Bruce Anderson within a year.

Since then Bruce Anderson, with the voluntary support of local amateur journalists and some of his old New Leftie friends from the San Francisco Bay Area, some informed and skilled, some not, has kept the paper alive and  motivated in the spirit of Homer Mannix for another forty years now  despite the declining population in this digital age of people incapable of sitting down to read  whole paragraphs of linear text.  Thank you, Homer; thank you, Bruce.

And when Homer qualified after selling the Advertiser, to become the Boonville dump attendant, his roots in the Valley, ambitions and career credentials made him the perfect person to undertake that iconic responsibility.  As much as I regretted the Navarro dump’s closing and the time and fuel wasted driving to Boonville, I had to admit those visits with Homer made each trip from Navarro a rich experience in exploring anecdotally the spirit and daily life of the Valley and our self-important relationship with the rest of the County and the world.  He had a informed view on who was doing what to whom from Navarro to Yorkville and all the way to the County Seat, Sacramento, and the White House.

Donna Ronne, Boonville Dump Attendant

Donna arrived in Anderson Valley a year or two before my wife and I, lived on the then in-development Holmes Ranch subdivision at the old Guntly main house as the live-in companion to the development’s owner, Sherman Whitmore.  In 1964 she had been Playboy magazine’s Playmate of the Year, honored with a full page mostly nude centerfold layout in the November issue.  The photo Deron Edmeades shared with me revealed a pneumatically athletic, big-breasted, narrow hipped, shiny blond/brown-haired  Hugh Hefner baby doll icon.  

Though she lived like landed aristocracy in the Guntly house, drove a sports car, Donna had a generous heart, was everyone’s friend around the Valley.  She exhibited that generosity in 1972, by organizing and hosting in the Guntly barn behind the house an all-afternoon and evening Halloween party complete with food, music and dancing til 2 AM.  Everyone in the Valley was there from Jack and Kay Clow to Rob, Skip and Mickey Bloyd, the latter making off with the remains of the buffet and beer kegs after everyone else had gone home.  Sherman didn’t make the party, as he was, as usual absent in Florida starting another huge second home subdivision development.

Unbeknownst to me Homer retired from the dump sometime in the nineteen eighties.  I still remember driving my pick-up up there one warm spring noontime looking forward to a social half hour with him catching up on The Valley’s Turnings.  Pulling into the payshack his old Ford pick-up was absent, replaced with a vehicle I didn’t recognize.  And out of the dump toll booth strode Donna dressed in work boots, Levis and a light blue workshirt, red bandana holding her radiant hair off her forehead.  “Donna, what are you doing here.”  (It was only on later visits that I noticed how gracefully Donna had aged from a pneumatic Hefner barbie doll into a handsome, strong-shouldered, slightly hippy Polish peasant.)

Well, she explained, it wasn’t so much that she needed the money.  Her developer ex-boyfriend, when he left town had kindly provided her with a Holmes Ranch lot down in Meyer Gulch.  She had designed and built a home there, and was sharing it with occasional homeless friends like Sharon Sullivan, while also sometimes living at his place with the new boyfriend, “Whacky” Wayne Ahrens, star centerfielder on our local softball team the Iteville “Clams.”  What Donna liked about her new job was that it was an excuse to get away from home and interact with and observe from the dumpsite vantage point what we were all up to in Anderson Valley.

And with her set of friends and acquaintances being complementarily different from Homer’s Donna brought a richly new world view of The Valley definitely exciting for someone like me who treated our community as a stage upon which we all were the actors: hippie and city people friends like Hayes Brennan, Buzz Barrett, vineyard people like Hans Kobler, and of course the “old-timer” uncle-figures my educators to life in The Valley I’ve written about previously.  And Donna knew all of these players too, and more of and often about them than I did.  So what a great news-gathering event I looked forward to each time I drove the pick-up up Manchester Road headed for the Boonville dump.

Mike Mannix, Genes and Nepotism

After Donna retired from the dump as her stressful life wound down in alcohol and reclusion, there were a couple of attendants whose need for the job trumped their time in and knowledge of the AV community, and I never got to know them.  Then one day almost six years ago I drove into the dump, and out of the tally shack strode Homer again, actually the most remarkable replica of Homer, his nephew Mike Mannix, son of Homer’s younger brother, Bill.  Not only did Mike look exactly like Homer, long and angular, but he walked the same somewhat pigeon-toed shuffle, and spoke in almost the same voice and with a more gentle laugh.

Mike Mannix had been born in Berkeley, his father a mechanical engineer with a diverse  extra-Valley career even more ambitious than Homer’s, in aeronautical engineering, government service in Germany, and teaching at universities.  Later in life Bill also returned to Anderson Valley to partner with Homer in a shake-milling business on their ranch up Mountainview Road (a story to come, I hope).

While Mike was acquiring an education as an undergraduate and later in law school at New College in Marin, he also was living with his family in Boonville behind the Advertiser building and working at Philo Lumber for local aristocrat and owner Mervyn Perkins.  Both Mike and I knew Mervyn’s son, Charlie, a/k/a Charlie Perky about whom he and I spent fifteen minutes at the dump yesterday gossiping over.  Charlie is still alive and retired from the bar he owned on Santa Rosa Avenue south of downtown back in the eighties.  Mike reported Charlie had no skill as a millworker, but I could recollect him as the most graceful and skilled round guy to play  short stop  or rover in our Anderson Valley “adult” softball league back then.

During the big timber boom in the 1950s Mike also worked summers in the woods for his father and uncle, also for local gyppos like the Hiatts, Willis Tucker and others.  At one point while in law school he also bought and operated a used Mack logging truck, no mean skill. After acquiring his law degree, Mike worked for eighteen years performing one of the most thankless jobs in the profession, Public Defender in Sonoma County’s District Attorney’s office.

With his cosmopolitan career experiences and deep appreciation for The Valley he had returned to in retirement, Mike was and still is the most generously informative dump attendant I’ve encountered in my half century living here.  Brad:  “Afternoon, Mike, what’s the news; who’s doing what to whom around The Valley?”  And rising to the bait, Mike would provide me with the latest from Yorkville to Navarro and up in the hills all around, but also go back and discuss the roots of the particular circumstance in events that had occurred last week, last year, or several generations ago.  Right up my alley. 

Homer stories galore, but more too.  How the Hiatts migrated over the hill from Hopland to Y ranch, then down to Boonville in the fifties during the timber boom back then, or the credentials of the Mervyn Perkins family.  Or what a ridiculous name Deer Meadows was for the subdivision up the hills east of the Highway 128 Freeway north of Boonville.  He’d then advise exactly who the owner of the Rickard Ranch, Rankin, was and how he managed the 1500 acre place before it was sold and subdivided back in the eighties.

Mike was also a reflective person, interested in the behavior the small town class system encourages in us all, something I think about all the time.  One day, when we were discussing Homer and his dump attendant career, Mike proposed to me: “You know, Brad, I wonder if it isn’t a hereditary or congenital trait in our family, that inspires us, at least for two generations, to apply for the position.”  I laughed but didn’t reply to his thought, choosing instead to reflect on his observation as meaning, yes, Homer, he and I too are gregarious, social people, thriving upon Boonville dump stories about who we, the “Players”  in a small community all are, and why we behave the way we do.  A year or two after hearing Mike’s thought I still think that’s what he was saying.

Again my thanks to Mike Mannix for inspiring my reporting on Anderson Valley’s iconic dump attendants.

(Next Week:  Bob “Chipmunk” Glover, a “first settler” descendant.)

2 Comments

  1. Laura Cooskey December 25, 2021

    What a rare delight! An account of people and places that figure so strongly in everyone’s lives that they are usually overlooked in print.
    Thank you for writing this, and for writing it well!
    In the Petrolia area, we’ve had our share of interesting characters to be seen on a monthly or annual basis at the transfer station. “Dump Ed” was one who earned a skit at our Community Center’s Cabaret, with Seth Zuckerman nailing his drawling, redneck-radio-infused delivery of defamations of every other resident of the Mattole Valley– especially the ones who just left a load– along with a rundown of their trash and Ed’s speculation as to what they’d been doing with that stuff.
    Every community needs an historian like you, Mr. Wiley.

  2. Diana Scott January 29, 2022

    Belatedly, meant to write:
    This is a terrific piece – great combination of story telling, history, and reporting – that gives those who visit but don’t live in the Valley (and from time to time read the AVA) a good picture and feeling of the texture of life there, and how it’s evolved/evolving. Will look for Brad’s sequel on “Chipmunk” Glover. (A compilation of these writings — as a booklet/pamphlet — might be made available at the market Boonville for the cost of reprinting, alongside local petitions!)

    Diana Scott, San Francisco

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