Jeff Hillier sat in Cove Coffee at Arena Cove Pier when in walked Jim Murphy of Mountain View Ranch. A fixture at the coffee shop since 1989, Murphy’s an old logger. Jim offered to buy our coffee, as he told us about recent developments in his life with wife, Cathy, a retired postal clerk who worked in the Manchester post office for 25 years. With Jim, there is always some fine and funny story telling involved, so I grabbed the biggest mug I could find on the cup rack and prepared to listen. Our meeting was in April of 2016, when he had three months to move out of the ranch without-buildings, which means, he had a lot of stuff he'd collected over thirty years of living on Mountain View Ranch.
An avid Anderson Valley Advertiser reader even when fishing in Alaska, Jim is excited about his move north, and showed us his new “hand-held device” which he explained his wife had encouraged him to buy. “She keeps me current! ...She made me get it and it's opened worlds for me. I made contact on Facebook and found my son, who I haven't seen in 19 years... He's on the East Coast. I found my old runnin' buddy from the time I was 7 to 11 years old... We were thick as thieves in Vegas, where we grew up. It's been a trip, man! I'm glad I got it!”
How old did Jim say he was now? 63? 68? 72? Gonna have to leave it to the mystery, but he's lookin' pretty good in his retirement years, apparently un-maimed by nature or a fallen (on him) tree after livin' the life of a hard working strong-man logger and Alaskan fisherman, all those years. 'Still got all his fingers and limbs after a lifetime working with saws, blades, hooks and massively heavy objects moving unpredictably fast and furious, while slippin' around on everything from salt-water slick boat decks to forest floor slash. Only his wife can vouch for the remaining number of toes on his feet.
I saw Jim one day leaving Mountain View Ranch for his new Oregon home, his truck-load full of nothing more than their generator with several empty, but sizably symbiotic gas cans (to be filled in Oregon where gas is cheaper) all of which ran energy into the Murphys remote home for nearly thirty years. The Murphys both enjoyed and endured the off-grid 100-year-old redwood cabin where Grandma Piper was born, just down the hill from the main Piper Ranch and further still downhill from the old infamous kidnap hide-out of pedophile Kenneth Parnell at old “Sheep Ranch”.
Jim Murphy's Vegas stories abound, as Vegas was his hometown. Murph went into the story of his uncle Joe Augusto, whose step-son, Lester, is still a good buddy. Joe Augusto used to own the Tropicana in the old Las Vegas mob and rat-pack days. Augusto was posthumously featured in the movie, “Casino.” Jim Murphy lran a lot of errands and did some work for his Uncle Joe. Now that Murph's history with his childhood running pal has been revived via his new cell phone; memories come flooding back. Jim could write a book and make the movie.
For months while working in Boonville, I'd run into Jim coming and going from Mountain View Ranch, his truck or trailer loaded down with “stuff” from life on the mountain since '89. Quite often he'd leave green eggs from his chickens on the door step of our mutual 93-year-old friend in Point Arena. I asked him for a taped interview, but it never came together. Most of all, I wanted a picture, but without a mug shot to be found.
When I first met Murph in 1989 he was in the process of getting his teeth pulled after a hard life living in logging and/or fishing camps from California to Alaska. Unfortunately, because he looked so rough, I initially kept my distance. My loss. I grew to appreciate most the way Jim thinks “outside the box”. Can't teach an old logger new tricks? Don't fence him in: After living three decades on remote Mountain View Ranch, he's not afraid of change. Murph embraces it: information incoming. The new cell phone, the vehicle for such a smooth organic transformation into retirement? Maybe so.
Jim refills his cup and returns to the table, divulging the real secret behind his move: “I promised my wife that I'd give her electricity after all these years. She wants...”
I finish his sentence as he pauses. “Facilities?”, I interrupt.
He nods. “So we're moving to where I got some relatives up near Gold Hill, Oregon. We bought a place with a few acres. She likes fixing up the yard into a garden.”
The Murphys have moved first to Brookings, Oregon, where the fishing is good. Joe, and a local contractor and fisherman, stopped by Cove Coffee, and sat down to talk about the springer fishing there in Brookings. They explain to me that springer are similar to salmon (14-24” and maybe a bit tastier. Joe and Jim, both hardy men, raise their collective eyebrows as they recall a place called “Gold Beach Bar.” Women and children in the room; neither said more. So the subject, as it does like that, reverted with a shrug to fishing.
Jim explained that he went plunkin' and caught a few steelhead — a name for fish nearly no longer hunted around these parts of Northern California. He reneged on the fishing pole he was going to give Joe, since Jim has been using it and has grown to like it. That deal's off.
I asked if Jim's wife liked to fish.
“She likes to fish, but doesn't like to kill 'em, so she stopped.”
She's fixing up their 3.5 acres. Jim's excited about their 3-car garage in Gold Hill where he’ll have room for working. without a generator and gasoline. Electricity at last.
“Brookings is 6,000 people: Big enough for a Chinese Restaurant!”, he boasted.
For many years, Jim worked with Hale (& Ellis) Logging. I first met Murph in Point Arena at Point Arena General Store. My daughter liked to walk down to the store from the Abalone Arms apartments where we lived for a few years around the mid-'90s. I'd watch her from our apartment window — letting her have the independence she craved, keeping watch, keeping her safe at the same time. I'd catch up with her the minute I saw her duck into the door to “Tor's”. This day when I caught up with her at “Tor's store”, as she called it, she was scratching off a Lotto ticket. I don't throw money at gambling, so I was curious, and asked her if she could show me how to do it. She said, already with that distant, ether-like gambler's glare in her young eyes, “Shhh-ush! I could win somethin' here!”
Ruby liked going to Tor's, as much as the dice throwers who show up at the Sign of the Whale Bar like it. (After 215 Main was sold to a retired DEA agent, and the dice game got kicked out, slamming the door shut on the game like slamming the dice cup too hard on the bar like they'd been doing since the game got moved to 215 after Lonny Stornetta's retirement from the Whale Bar quite a few years earlier.
Thank Gawd Lonny returned to work at the Whale Bar: Dice Hour lasts the length of Lonny's afternoon shift at the Whale Bar. His retired job.) Pirate gambling is a tradition in Point Arena, Tor always made “bets” with Ruby, who had a bug for the action, I must say, even at ten. She was the original “50-Cent” — and liked to bet with 50-cent pieces, coin dollars, ...two dollar bills had just been printed around then, and she found a creative gimmick for those, too. She was a lucky girl. So, I didn't ask where the ticket came from, or who bought it, but $12.00 sticks in my mind for some reason. I do know that I won't say who bought my ten-year-old the ticket, because buying such tickets for minors is illegal and cannot be recommended here. Let's just say that Jim Murphy was in the room, and I am grateful that it was one of the more memorable, luckier, humorous high points of Ruby's short-lived life: her first Lotto ticket, and Jim was in the room to share the fun, in the spirit of Vegas gambling.
Murph wore hob-nail boots after a full day of logging, rising at 4 or 5 a.m. He clomped around on Tor's concrete store floor sounding like a cleated horse. He had long hair tied back in a ponytail, with redwood needles trapped here and there in it, a red farmer's bandana tied in a sweat band around his forehead holding back escaped stray hairs, and the hair pulled free of his pony tail from a hard day's work pushed back over his ears. Typical of logger’s uniform, he wore Ben Davis's zippered neck pull over blue and white pin-striped shirt with heavy duty 8-ply jeans smothered in fuel oil. I remember him as the first actual logger I'd ever seen up close out of his logging truck. He was intelligent, had a big heart, knew fun, and was nobody's fool.
Sophisticated, in one of our chatty sessions long since then, he introduced me to the history of the famous educator and black philanthropist Ida Louise Jackson, whose life Spike Lee could make a powerful film.
Ida's brother, Emmet, bought for her the old Hamilton Ranch of over 1200 acres at the summit of Mountain View Road, halfway between Point Arena and Boonville. Half the old Jackson property known as Lookout Ranch is now owned by Mariah Vineyards' Dan Dooling family — the other side of the road, owned by the Billy Piper family.
Single and independent her lifelong, Ida dedicated her life to her black culture starting with a mobile medical unit in Mississippi in the 1920's or '30's with the help of her older brother, Emmet, who remained her business partner for life. She was the first black teacher in Oakland, help found the first black sorority at UC Berkeley, and before her death, with the money from Lookout Ranch, she made sure there was housing for black students at UCB by funding, building and dedicating a dorm.
When Ida first showed Lookout Ranch to Dan Dooling, he said she had forgotten the lock combo/key to enter her gate, so she shot off the lock with a hand-gun she retrieved from her brief case(!). In old days, she'd carry two .22 lady killer pistols (fit in the palm of the hand, they're so small) — one in each pocket of her flowing skirts on her trips into Manchester and Boonville. It was way rough back then, and I'm sure she may have had to use them at one time or another. Ida got her friend Ethel Waters to sing at the dedication to Hendy Woods, and had many famous dignitaries visit her ranch as hunting guests, including a few of the Tuskegee Airmen. I've been researching Ida Jackson ever since Jim Murphy told me about her, and have been able to find quite a few elders who knew her.
Jim Murphy talked about the “pencils” harvested now with the 20-year harvest, instead of 50-year harvests, in logging. “If they can get one 2” x 4” out of a log, the hog trimmings will pay for the harvest of that one tree.” That's the truth of logging and the “un-quality” of redwood harvesting these days.
“They harvest trees that have been planted, and they aren't hybrids,” added Joe. “Produces shitty redwood.”
Jim says, “Oregon is boomin' these days. People are working! South Coast Trucking in Brookings is working all day long.” Fishing is good, so Jim instead, concentrates on his fishin' line staying in the water.
With a future full of retirement possibilities, Jim plans on going with a buddy to a Formula One race in Austin this October.
When we could hold no more coffee and Jim was just about ready to leave, he looked at us and said, “There's somethin' else I've changed.”
“Do tell,” I said.
“I quit using the word ‘fuck.’ Did ya notice? I didn't say ‘fuck’ once when talking to you today. Time for a change.”
Fuck if he didn't!
New tricks for the old logger dog, befitting the kind, well-read, clever, gentleman that is the multi-faceted, very amusing Jim Murphy, formerly of Mountain View Road; just about halfway between Boonville and Point Arena.
Good luck in Oregon, dear Murphys!