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My Travels With Wes, Part IV

Wes and my Navarro road trip recounted in last week's Advertiser continued south, stopping next at the Floodgate shopping mall Rock Stop store.  The house across the street on the east side of the highway’s origins have been a mystery to me since my first days in Anderson Valley back in 1971.  Wes provided me with facts enough to fill in that particular gap in my knowledge of our local history.

Stearns Lumber Company worker house: Circa 1907.

This structure was back then on a sizeable land parcel, maybe eighteen acres, Wes believes, situated between the railroad above it and the Valley wagon road north about where the current highway 128 is.  It’s a one story, four-hipped roof building on wooden pillars about three feet off the ground with a covered porch across half its front entrance-way.  The building is about thirty-six across its front by thirty feet deep.  The distance from this millworker “dorm” to the mill is almost two miles.  Did the employees walk to work each day, or was there a train or occasional wagon that came along around dawn to convey them to their jobs?  Wes and I can only speculate.

As I have recounted in previous articles, the Albion Branch of the Northwest Pacific Railroad went from the Albion mill flat over Kean Summit and down Flynn Creek to where it meets the Navarro North Fork.  From there the single track more or less paralleled today’s 128 through the Wendling/Navarro mill town before terminating at Guntly Ranch, Christine.  Today one can still see the embankment for the Albion Branch right-of-way just north of my highway fence and ranch gate.  And also a cut in the sidehill blackberries a quarter of a mile south on 128’s east side where the line began its gentle rise to span Floodgate Creek at Bacchi Ranch, now Goldeneye Vineyard. 

I have been on the vineyard property just to the south of the Stearns Lumber worker house lot.  The back line of both these pieces is a dramatic cut about six feet by ten wide, to assist the line keep the 2 or 3% grade needed to maintain steam engine traction on its rails.  I have also walked to the north side of the astonishing trestle that spanned Floodgate Creek and could still locate the cement footing that anchored the bridge to the north side of the Creek gulch called Peat Pasture.  Photos of the trestle in the local history books let me guestimate it to have been almost one hundred fifty feet long by perhaps fifty feet high.  A work of mass manual  labor, art and engineering genius.

Back on the worker house property, there is also a small hay barn at the back of the lot, wood framed and with shake siding and roof, not in good repair, its use and by whom Wes doesn’t know.  And also scattered on the south side of the house are some apple trees, three of which  look to be a hundred years old or more.  Behind the north garage is an equally ancient walnut tree.  We don’t know who planted these trees and when.

I have known all the residents living there since I arrived in The Valley.  And Wes could fill me in about one long term renter before my time.  Dave Boyd was the bus driver for the Anderson Valley School District after Wes’ dad and uncle retired back in the 1930s.  He drove bus during and after World War II, and stored the vehicle after each school day in the old rickety barn along the highway just north of the house.  Must have been a small bus.

When I arrived the lessees were Fritz and Wanda Kuny and their large family, Billy, Danny and Judy and an adopted daughter, a Clearwater Ranch ward of the court where Wanda was the cook. Fritz worked in the woods as a faller.  The Kunys were good neighbors to me. 

The longest living resident in my time bought the house as a retirement home back around 1990.  They too were wonderful neighbors with deep rural roots in the Owens Valley way down in southern California.  Doug was a trained meteorologist employed by the National Weather Service, Bev, his wife, a registered nurse with extensive experience in rural healthcare.  In retirement they had the time to do important restoration work on the house, even while having a miniature subsistence farm on the place.  The key restoration tasks involved foundation work on the dry-rotted pillars, roof leaks, and here and there in the building larger windows for more wintertime sunlight.

I got to know Doug and Bev well because of our common interest in rainfall records and in sheep farming.  Like I Doug kept annual records for each year of his time in The Valley, and he and I used to compare the relative difference in major storm accumulations between his place and mine a mile away.  Usually about .05 inch. 

And their farm operation included planting a few more fruit trees among the older orchard apples, having a flock of chickens and a few ewes too, and a small family garden.  I assisted Bev’s sheep operation by hauling her ewes up to my place for their spring shearing.  And I gave them my one wild, disruptive Karakul ewe who always fought valiantly every herding and corral activity I undertook, the most obstreperous 90 pound sheep I ever owned.  Bev took my present gratefully and with patience over a year turned that Karakul into a docile, well behaved member of the farm.

After Doug and Bev passed on their daughter lived too far away from Floodgate to take care of the place and sold it.  I met the current owners once, city people looking for a country retreat.  And they are putting a lot of effort into another necessary round of structural repair of this old residential roadside attraction.

Day Ranch Apple Dryer

All of the Day Ranch has been the best maintained and continuously farmed property I know of in The Valley save the Floyd Johnson Ranch (a later story).  I have been fortunate to have worked on most of the 560 acres since I first moved here.  I apprenticed in sheep farming there helping Sammy Prather run about three hundred fifty ewes on the place back in the nineteenth seventies and eighties (a previous story). 

I spent hours in the barn helping with the medication, shearing and lamb docking back in those days.  And as an admirer of owner-built farm buildings and their design I was familiar with the whole interior of the barn.  Every inch of it was in perfect repair, no roof leaks, no worn out hinges to leave doors skidding on the ground or flapping in the wind.  The shearing area was perfectly laid out to support four shearers, all holding pens and gates were in complete repair.  The outhouse in the front of the barn was still maintained clean and serviceable I knew, having used it a time or two on those fourteen hour work days during the late May shearing season.

I also spent time in the Day Ranch house north of the barn, a one story building rented by Edmeades winemaker Jed Steele back in the seventies.  We of course had numerous long dinner parties at the Steele home, including his daughter’s Mendocina’s elegant post-baptism luncheon at the house, complete with the president priest as guest of honor.  Jed’s mother Francie was a firm practicing Catholic and she insisted on a baptism at the Philo Catholic Church with dinner to follow, much to Jed’s disapproval.  But what Francie expected of her children, she got.  And she was a great cook.

And the house was, inside and out, beginning with the white wooden picket fence across the front yard, in  perfect maintenance and repair.  Elegantly land-scaped too.  The city people Oswald family, owners of Husch Winery, bought the Day Ranch in the mid-1970s, and have been responsible since then for its impeccable upkeep and  carefully laid out and maintained vineyards.

The ranch gate is always open, the gravel roads well-maintained.  I recommend  driving in and looking at all the buildings on the place, front and back.  I don’t know what the current use of the small elevated wooden building on the north side of the barn is, but when I did my sheep apprenticeship there, it was an unused corncrib still in perfect repair.  Instead of today’s wood siding, to enable the livestock feed corn to dry after harvest, there was split redwood paling, one by two inches with an inch space between each on all four sides of the building.

Day Ranch Apple Dryer.  Date unknown.

Currently the apple dryer is a tasting room for Phillips Hill Winery, so during open hours one can park a vehicle in its parking area and survey the building outside and in.  To my eye it’s the most beautiful of these multi-story structures I have visited all over The Valley and written about in detail in these pages.  Today, except for some cement foundation footing material at ground level, there is no evidence of where the boiler for the dryer was located, probably somewhere on the south side of the little creek  about six feet wide flowing west toward Lazy Creek and the Navarro River.

And perhaps more interesting, it’s also the only dryer in The Valley I know about which also straddles a stream, thus enabling its operation to throw the waste material, apple cores, sulfur and ashes from the boiler into a facility for flushing it away from the factory.  And all of this material is healthy compost for the surrounding habitat.  It’s generally not known, for example, that much of Anderson Valley’s farming soil is sulfur-deficient.  I once experimented with an aerial application of sulfur dust on about two acres of pastureland where I ran my sheep.  The next spring the grass there was taller, denser and greener than the surrounding acreage nearby.

The Day ranch dryer, due to the absence of the boiler, is also the only one in The Valley where one can walk around and underneath the main drying area part of the building and study its structural framing, as complex a design as one could imagine for a rural barn.  And when the tasting room is open, it’s on both the boiler and dryer levels of the building.  There is so much fascinating construction to observe, it’s easy to get distracted from sampling the Phillips Hill Pinots.

The Day Ranch buildings provide the best opportunity in The Valley to visit in in hands-on detail all of the elements of Anderson Valley’s ranch life history, its homes, barns and manufacturing facilities.

(Next Week: Another Travel with Wes, Olsen Ranch to one more building in Boonville.)

One Comment

  1. Casey Hartlip February 13, 2023

    Day Ranch

    I’m happy to say I managed the Day Ranch property from 2010 until 2021. It IS one of the jewels of the valley. The apple dryer is a very unique building and the Philips Hill folks have worked very hard at making the place a great destination.
    I would just caution: although all the other buildings have been well maintained, and are quite visible from the apple dryer, the rest of the property is a private commercial vineyard operation and not generally open to the public without permission. I would often find people wandering around the farm yard and politely ask them who they were and why they were there.
    I would just ask the public to respect private property.

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