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Don Dukes, AV’s First ‘City Person’?

Donald Dukes, current Board member of the Anderson Valley Historical Society, is also one of the first “City People” to migrate to The Valley right after World War II. Don was born in Central City, a town in the western Kentucky coal belt south of Paducah on the Ohio River few of us in California even know about. His mother Ava, later Bob Glover’s wife, was a local, his grandfather, a mining supervisor employed by the today famous Peabody Coal Company. Don tells me he was born prematurely and in that early1940s medical resources-starved community, his mother adroitly turned the open oven and blankets into an incubator. Eighty years later he is doing the Christine Woods Glover home renovation with the vigor of a sixty year old.

During World War II Ava divorced her husband and with two brothers joined the southern migration to the northern Big Cities and employment. She initially worked in a munitions manufacturing plant, then moved to a plastics manufacturer, General American, where she met and married the plant’s chief electrician, Bob Glover. Ava and Bob moved to Hammond, Indiana, the totally industrialized city along the major transcontinental rail lines south of Lake Michigan and east of Chicago. I believe the Gary/Hammond, Indiana area was the densest heavy industry, all oil refining and steel milling, urban area in the United States. Remember Standard Oil of Indiana and US Steel?

Don doesn’t recollect the intensity of sulfurous pollution and hazy two mile visibility I saw when in 1965 I drove through ten miles of these towns on the new Interstate Highway and in visual, sensory shock. My eyes watered, throat stung from the dense smog. What he remembers is growing up in the blue collar Oak Street neighborhood in a two story brick building rental apartment over a retail store, the building owned by its Jewish landlord. The landlord was also a small grocery wholesaler, and Don’s first employment at the age of seven was with his best school friend riding on top of the delivery truck and handing down to their boss the vegetables dropped off at each of the neighborhood stores around the Gary-Hammond community. After Bob and Ava found their new city home, Don left his Kentucky grandmother’s care, migrated up to Hammond and began school at the nearby Washington Irving grammar school.

What Don remembers most vividly about Hammond is his extra-curricular life and the boyhood friendships and adventures with his neighborhood school pals, sometimes with their whole families. Informal recreational activities included “target” practice with his Daisy bb gun, kick the can and “war” games, freezing his tongue to a chain link fence in winters. More formally there was early Little League baseball, or those Saturday matinees at the local movie house, a cartoon, newsreel, westerns and Flash Gordon were the typical programs, all for maybe fifty cents, popcorn and a coke included. Even more fun were dinners and sleep-overs with schoolfriends’ families.

Then one day in 1954, Don, age ten, found himself in another, totally different world, now living with family on step-dad Bob’s grandfather Ed Guntly’s 1800 acre sheep ranch. In typical rural self-taught engineering style Bob manufactured from Hammond junkyard parts a two axle trailer including a steel bed and wooden side racks. The family loaded up its worldly possessions, hooked the trailer to the back of their 1951 Ford convertible and joined the post-War migration to California. As a returnee Bob’s route wasn’t to the San Joaquin wheat fields and orchards or Los Angeles and jobs in defense industry or the movies, but back home to Bob’s roots in Anderson Valley. Ed had died in 1952, and Bob’s mother, Irene, married to Karl Schmidt, lived in the elegant four hip-roofed house with the wrap-around veranda you can see from Highway 128 just before Handley Cellars winery. The house was built by great-grandfather Andrew Guntly in 1903 from old growth redwoods milled on the ranch. (It also inspired the design of the home I built here at my Navarro place back in 1980.) After selling the ranch in the late 1950s Irene and Bob moved across Highway 128 into a two story wooden house on Clark Road, the “old” highway, where Marvin Shenk lives today. 

Recently Don recited to me some of his first Guntly Ranch memories. “When I first saw the ranch house and the adjoining property I was filled with wonder and excitement. A whole new world of adventures and possibilities lay before me. There were cattle, sheep and horses and amazing farming equipment to play on and learn to operate. The vast expanse of the ranch was both wonderful and overwhelming at the same time. Used to a small lot and city street to play on, the open space was a sight to behold and relish. I spent many days roaming the property from Mill Creek to the top of the hills. Through the 100 acre orchard and down in the Meyer gulch. Chasing mythical bad guys and watching the occasional squirrel or racoon I encountered along the way. The ranch house was somewhat smaller than it is today, 4 bedrooms and a wrap-around porch and plain pine wood floors. What people today would characterize as somewhat shabby-chic. We had a two-party phone line and an old wall mounted wooden telephone that had a crank used to ring an actual operator to place a call.” 

Don described to me ranch life for this City Kid as… “challenging and wonderful. Hard work helped shape a work ethic that has served me well throughout the years.” As Don recounts above, he also spent hours and days all year wandering by himself around the geographically complex ranch exploring its complex topography from highway to ridgetops. To keep it simple I’ll describe Guntly Ranch, now Holmes Ranch subdivision, as a vertical rectangle with three quarters of a mile of highway frontage. The south boundary is along Mill Creek and it rises for about two miles from about three hundred feet of elevation to the ridge top at fifteen hundred feet. This east ridgetop boundary, looking down onto the highway and in the other direction into Little Mill Creek, runs another 3/4ths of a mile north to its northeast corner adjoining the old Ingram ranch, now Rhys vineyard, across the street from my place. From the top one used to be able to see cars on 128, a lot of Gschwend Ranch, much of the Navarro’s course from Hendy Woods to Floodgate Creek, and the whole east half of Greenwood Ridge. Then turning around and looking east Ukiah direction, before the trees grew back after 1950s heavy logging, you could see the course of Little Mill Creek north from the Nash family home and mill site.

Don described Bob’s mother, Irene, as “stern and stand-offish…it took months for her to warm up to me and “accept me into the family.” On the other hand his step-grandfather, Carl Schmidt, once an engineer on the local logging railroad, and a retired state highway (now Cal-Trans) employee, “took me under his wing and taught me the essentials of ranching- milking the cow, corralling sheep, slaughtering beef, collecting eggs, churning butter and many other related skills. We worked long hours and usually six days a week.”

In 1958, Grandmother Irene sold the ranch, including the second growth redwoods not logged since 1903, to John Ornbaun and a logging partner. John died soon after in an auto accident, and the property passed to land speculator Orvid Holmes, hence the name of the current 58 home and vineyard subdivision. Holmes leased the ranchland to a Manchester farming family named McCauley who ran about five hundred sheep on Guntly. Don continued to do part-time ranch work, managing sheep, packing wool during shearing season, pruning and picking the fruit in the neighboring apple orchards owned by Johnny Williams. When this reporter arrived in Anderson Valley, 1971, McCauley had installed a bachelor sheep herder, Bob Coy, in the Guntly main house, and the reclusive Bob and his hard-working sheep dogs still daily tended the band wherever it was on the ranch. I was quite familiar with the ranch’s terrain because by 1971 Holmes had sold the property to a Florida land developer, Sherman Whitmore, and the local realtor and subdivision development supervisor, T.J. Nelson, toured me all over the ranch in his pick-up truck as he oversaw the lot surveying and road building, and I got to know, at least from a passenger seat perspective, most of the Guntly terrain I described earlier.

Meanwhile Bob, Ava and Don had moved to Bob’s Christine Woods home Don is now rebuilding, where Bob also installed a TV and electrical appliance retail store, stock room, and family home, all in one building. At sixteen, along with his farm work, Don was also employed by Bob on weekends helping with TV and appliances installation and repair. While Bob had moved back from Indiana to help manage the ranch with his mother, it was immediately apparent the job was not to his liking. Bob was a night-owl, and usually got up after 9 Am and often worked until 11 or 12 PM. That schedule was not very conducive to ranch life. He quickly lost interest and worked at outside jobs until starting the TV and appliance business. He was instrumental in bringing the AVTV UFH re-broadcast system to the valley and established a business installing UFH antennas and UHF Converters to the residents. In the 60's TV's were only equipped with channels up to 13. The re-broadcast system used higher frequencies and required the additional converter to provide signal to the TV. Bob's first store was a partnership with Tom Reddick, and was located in the building that originally stood on the property above Indian Creek that is now the Madrones. Bob dissolved the partnership in 1965 and moved the business to his home at Gschwend Road.

Don also reminisced about his first Anderson Valley school days, describing them as “very different from Indiana. In Anderson Valley the teachers were more open and friendly. Smaller classes meant more individual attention, and the change was a sort of catalyst that transformed me into an eager student who finally developed…I immediately developed a keen interest in learning and reading. The environment changed me from a lack-luster, disinterested student into a classic over-achiever.” Don started school in the fifth grade in the consolidated elementary school on the Old Highway across from the old Con Creek schoolhouse, now the Anderson Valley Historical Society headquarters and museum. He said the classrooms were a mix of ranchers’, millworkers’, loggers’ and the children of the elite lumbermill owners. Don passed successfully through the whole Anderson Valley system and graduated high school in 1963. Close school friends included Dwight Compton and Jimmy Triplett, James Holcomb, Ronnie Vaughn, Condy Mathias, and Mike Robbins. He also remembered “as usual I had crushes on several girls at school, most notably Gail Baxter, Anna Avery, Floodgate’s Sam and Marguerite’s daughter, and Kathleen Lampert, Homer Mannix’s niece, now Kephart, all of whom had the good judgment to choose more suitable partners.”

After graduating from Anderson Valley High School Don left the Valley to attend Santa Rosa Junior College, a typical route out of local farm life for many Valley kids including Sam Prather, Kenny Hurst, John Burroughs, and many more. From SRJC Don moved on to San Francisco State, majoring in business and law, and then on to University of California, Berkeley, for post-graduate certifications courses in accounting.

Since 1607 and the first Virginia colonists, we Americans have been on the move looking for a better life further west. Historians continue to argue about when our Frontier actually closed. Pioneer academic western US historian F.J. Turner said 1890, a depression year. I claim that here in Anderson Valley it was only with the end of the timber boom in 1957-9. Don Duke’s odyssey from Central City to Hammond to Guntly Ranch is part of the proof. Moreover his journey is socially more complex than most: from the rural industrial American south to the heart of a heavy industry city, and on to the last frontier in semi-subsistence farm life in steep, poor soil, ag water-deficient sheep and orchard farming north Anderson Valley, where even the “rich” farmers weren’t all that wealthy. More later on that topic and on Don’s post-university relationship with Guntlyville and Anderson Valley.

Next Chapter: Don’s Post-university relationship with The Valley.

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