First Trek North………………#16 (the 50’s)

Welcome to Scott Valley

Welcome to Scott Valley

It was after ten when they installed him on the bus, Mike situating himself in the seat as a bus station attendant came up the aisle with a handful of pillows, stopping, handing the young man one,  commenting about his comfort.    He determined that it had been arranged by his parents as it was Mike’s inaugural overnight bus journey and like most   “first”,   he had that alien feeling of uncertainty.    Settling in for the night noticing that he and all those aboard were not alone as the bus ventured north,  an unexpected guest had joined the travelers.   Even as sleep approached he would briefly open an eye to verify its presence through the bus window its wondrous gracing glow could be seen traversing the night sky accompanying the bus, the ever presence of the moon.

First overnight bus ride experience

A traveling companion

The morning and his Yreka destination both having arrived as he stepped off the bus that summer morning greeted by an awaiting Aunt Della.   He hadn’t slept very well,  spending a lot of time deciphering why the moon appeared to be moving with the bus,  but the thought of food was foremost in his mind at the present.  The young man almost feeling he was among strangers,  they were relatives,  but having only made their acquaintances sparingly in the past.  His cousins Johnny and Jenny were up and about as he ate a bowl of cereal while waiting for his Aunt Bernice to facilitate their trip to Scott Valley and Etna.  She arrived and they soon departed, but facilitating a stop at a  large grocery store, which the boy found later to be the customary thing for Scott Valley residence to do when in Yreka.

A two lane hi-way over Yreka Mountain

A two lane hi-way over Yreka Mountain

Approaching Etna on Sawyers' Bar Road

Approaching Etna on Sawyers’ Bar Road

His Aunt Bernice was a reserved looking lady, very correct and proper in her dress and mannerisms.    The car they were riding in was a pristine late-model Mercury two door sedan with twin exhaust pipes, Mike was impressed,  it didn’t seem to fit the demeanor or character of his Aunt.   The trip over Yreka Mountain was one of remembrance,  when traveling downhill on the two lane blacktop which snaked it way up and down the mountain, the Mercury would back off under compression, the mufflers emitting a resonant popping sound.  Even a twelve-year old knew that the sound was made by new mufflers called glass packs and later finding out that the car had belonged to his cousin Bobby, Bernice’s son who had tragically was killed the previous year when his Air Force plane crashed during a flight training exercise.   The Yreka Mountain road  had numerous switch-backs and accommodating turnouts so an automobile could pass a laboring slow crawling logging truck that would pull to the side of the road.   On the Scott Valley slope of the mountain was a natural spring area that in years past provided water for the radiators of overheated cars making the up-hill climb, people still  paused but only to fill their containers with the pristine water for personal use.   On the way down the  mountain his Aunt pointed out Robber’s Roost,  the rock formation  from which the legendary old west outlaw Black Bart hid behind waiting for an unsuspecting stage-coach to appear,  or so the tale is told.

Mike’s aunt & uncle

Main St. Etna - Population 500

Main St. Etna – Population 500

Sam & Bernice’s – and the Cortez house

Descending into Scott Valley they passed Fort Jones, the town having gone through four name changes until acquiring its present name in 1860, and was the birthplace of his Mother, the Mercury continuing on to the community of Etna.   The small town  situated below the beautiful majestic Marble Mountains and the Trinity Alps wilderness,  the mountains still wearing a crown of snow adding to their already regal appearance.  The young man settling in, his Aunt Bernice mentioning that he was to sleep in Bobby’s  bedroom, Mike noticing that all of Bobby’s youthful accumulations of stuff were still present, his aunt adding he was the first to stay in the room since Bobby’s death.   At lunch one afternoon the twelve-year-old was asked if he would like accompany his building contractor uncle back to work.  His uncle who was constructing an apartment unit, giving instructions on how to drive nails properly and the consequences when  you do it wrong, not hesitating to aptly pointed.   Mike soon discovered a neighbor next door, a girl a year younger than him,  making friends with Patricia Cortez  and quickly on the receiving end of an education concerning red peppers.   She wagered  that she could eat a whole pepper completely and  that he wouldn’t be able to and proceeded to promptly demonstrate by consuming the pepper.   A confident Mike with pepper in hand was ready to prove her wrong,  but with the first bite  discovering  she was correct, it was a hot pepper, immediately asking for a glass of water.  The younger Patricia  informing him that water wouldn’t relieve the burning,  handing him a slice of bread with a smile on her face, admitting that she had removed the seeds from her pepper which were the source of making it hot.

Mike’s cousin Jerry Facey husband Fess and family lived two doors down from his Aunt and Uncles, a pasture separating the Cortez’s house from there’s.  Mike getting acquainted for the first time with the Facey brude, his younger second cousins, Sammy, Dee Dee and Trudy, but finding their jovial Dad Fess more entertaining.  Fess inviting the youth to attend an evening meeting of the local volunteer fire department.   Mike and Fess arriving at the two-story Main St. Fire House, the gathering being held in a large upstairs conference room with several 8 foot folding tables placed end to end providing seating.  Fess introducing  Mike to the group, a fireman member asking the youth a question, “are you a Limburger man” ?  Mike with a quizzical look on his face replying in all honesty that he didn’t know what the question meant.  The explanation becoming self-explanatory with the immediate serving of a some snacks.   Soft drinks, luncheon meat,  cheese and crackers were provided during a pause in the meeting, there were two kinds of cheese provided, regular cheddar and Limburger.  The answer to  question became apparent by the seating arrangement,  those who took Limburger would sit at one end of the tables, the cheddar people sitting at the other end.  Mike deciding to forgo the Limburger.

The Edna Fire House

The Heavens aglow with embers

The sleeping youth  was aroused from his bed, his Aunt Bernice and Uncle Sam having been awaken by the sounding of the town’s fire siren, soon discovering that the sawmill less than a mile away on the east side of Etna has erupted in flames.  Mike standing on the front porch could see rising from the inferno an amazing sight, an enormous plume of glowing sawdust embers cascading thousands of  feet upward,  the heavens filled with bellowing embers, the effervescent sparkle twinkling like a thousand stars in the clear night-time sky.  Fess suddenly appearing saying he had been to Mill and there was nothing they could do about the fire but let it burn.  Mike was surprised when Fess asked if he would like to accompany him back to the scene of the  fire, the answer was a resounding yes.   The young man having never witnessed a major fire let alone a sawmill fire,  it was already an unbelievable sight.   Listening to conversations of the adults, he learned of the two components that fueled the spectacular Mill blaze.  The cuttings from the saw blades, better known as sawdust and the lubricating oil for the chains and sprockets that rotate the blades, the mixture presenting a most volatile combination.  The volunteer firemen were regiment, doing their best to control the flames when suddenly a very loud shrill  sound burst forth.   It was the mill whistle connected to the boiler that provided the steam to power the cutting blade drives.   For an instant everyone hesitated thinking that the boiler might explode, but gradually the whistle volume began to decrease  finally totally subsiding.  Mike finding a unique perch,  Fess having seated him atop one of Etna’s two fire trucks, the loft a safe distance from the flurry of activity,  the twelve-year old experiencing a once in a lifetime event.

Beware the cattle guards when on horseback

The visitor from Oakland was introduced to some  older boys,  Gene and Sam Branson,  who were nephews on Fess’s side of the family.  Gene was a horseback rider offering to take him riding,  but having to ride double, Mike seated behind the saddle.   It was during a riding occasion, Gene dismounted attempting to lead the horse around a cattle guard with Mike still on the horse seated behind the saddle.    The horse hesitated, Gene tugging on the reigns but the horse still refusing and then bucked,  Mike remembers the horse going up.  The next remembrance was waking up sitting at the dining room table in process of eating his supper with his Aunt and Uncle  having no recollection of what had transpired after apparently being bucked off the horse.  Still somewhat in a daze he excused himself from the table and retired to bedroom deciding to remaining silent about the event, later finding that he had landed on the metal cattle guard.  The fall must have also affected Gene,  it was the last time he offered to take Mike riding.

Mt. Shasta viewed from the Callahan road

Mike watched diligently as his uncle loaded the pickup with camping gear,  as curiosity would have it, he asked where they were going, not that finding out where would have meant anything to the city boy, but the name Cabin Meadow Creek sounded engrossing.  It was early afternoon the two family caravan leaving town, traversing east on Callahan Road, crossing Etna Creek and the Scott River, then south on the east side of the river towards Callahan.   Callahan was where the east and south fork of the Scott River converged, besides having a store, post office, and couple of old building and few residents it resembled an old movie stagecoach stop, but what was impressive was the view of Mt. Shasta 2o miles to the south, southeast.

Siskiyou Mountain meadows

The camping expedition proceeding up the south fork road, then venturing onto a once bulldozed steep logging drag trail.  It became apparent, the further they went up the more the greater the impasse, but unexpectedly the incline leveled into a large meadow adjacent to crystal clear, ice-cold creek. they had arrived at their destination.  What impressed Mike retiring in a sleeping bag after dark was the serenity that enveloped the mountain, the  sound of the nearby creek caressing the stillness of the night occasionally broken by the dialog from the unseen inhabitants.

Mike having never fished before was subject to a learning experience, his Uncle Sam taking time to demonstrate the stringing and use of the reel, the difference between fly and bait casting.  The youth catching his first trout,  not a large rainbow, but a small eastern brook, but excited as he was in catching his first fish, there was a problem, he couldn’t tell anyone how he came to catch it.  It started with a shoelace coming untied, setting his pole down to tie it, but laying it down with the baited hook in the water.   When he picked up his pole he found a fish on the line, deciding it might be best not mentioned the details of catching his first fish.

Gleaning from his visit,  found the small Etna logging community a remnant from another era.  Mike discerning the towns simplicity,  its residents bonding with the contemporary world by listening to the Richfield Reporter at 10:00 P.M. on the radio and a once a month pilgrimage out of their majestic valley to Yreka for groceries.  With the arrival of his parents,  his stay in Etna instilled an immense hope and desire to return to this marvelous place of enchantment.


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