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The Sulphur Mines – Devils Punch Bowl..#8 (the 50’s)

June 17, 2017

Trail above Leona Creek

It was  Saturday morning Mike having left his Greenly Drive home riding  his bike to Rogers Monroe’s on Kuhnle St,  Roger having agreed to show Mike the sulphur mines and Devils Punch Bowl.  The two walking  to  Mountainview Ave  circling back west, heading NE up the hillside to find Leona Creek, Roger assuring Mike he knew where they were going. Before long coming upon the creek, the boys following a  scrub-lined trail that varied  ten to twenty feet above the forage shrouded creek bed.  It was narrow at times and one had to careful not to slip and apparently Roger wasn’t vigilant, he stumbled and slid down coming to rest almost in the creek.  Mikes dreaded fears coming to fruition with the rumors about Rogers medical condition, his friend being exempt from P.E because of a heart  from rheumatic-fever, then immediately a humorous thoughts  prevailed “Roger’s the one with the bad heart and I almost had a heart attack watching him fall.   Asking if he needed any help, Roger assuring Mike that he was fine and that they were almost there.

The bright sun enhancing the yellow glow of sulphur

Shafts and Tunnels underground

The creek veering away from the trail, a clearing the size of a football field appearing before the two and immediately they were struck with the pungent smell of sulphur.   Mike was struck with the yellow mounds of tailings, the center of the excavation site still had the remains of a building, iron and wooden beams protruded skyward, and remnants of what looked like an old elevator shaft still standing. The remains of old rusted mining machinery was spewed about as if still waiting to be transported for another long past due assignment.  Located further northeast were the tunnel entryways to mines that once were boarded up,  their  warning sign worn and tattered, no longer sending a clear message of the danger.  Mike wanting to spend time experiencing,  touch the walls from within, close his eyes in the darkness of the mine and inhale the zephyr of  history from days gone by, but his classmate and guide had other plans, apparently having seen all this before, wanting to move on.   Mike made himself a promise, he would return and it would be soon.  The journey began again,  the boys continuing their up hill trek heading back to the NE.

   There was no path or trail to follow unlike the canyon of Leona Creek,  just the incline in a treeless but shrub filled grass expansion.  Traveling what seemed a 1/2 mile the terrain plateaued, the remnants of  an immense horseshoe excavation encased in what appeared to be solid rock,  a large opening and at the bottom of this abyss were  broken rocks and boulders spewed as if thrust from their walled cloistered sanctuary.  and the remains of twisted rusting metal.  From the  downhill-side , walking to the edge,  the two boys were able to transverse to the floor of the old quarry amongst the remains of twisted rusting metal,  the rocky path once an entrance.  Mike reasoned that this was the side that workers used to remove the  magnitude of rocks for the crusher below.  The quarry floor was over 50 yards across and the unshakable rock walls towered to heighten apex reaching skyward.  Cave like fissures dotted the rock walls, could it be that this was where workers positioned the charges of dynamite, thus bringing down the promontory.

Giant concrete chutes used in Leona Heights quarry

The boys didn’t spend an abundance of time in the realm of this rock abyss,  this was a searching expedition, Steve’s classroom narrative wasn’t exaggerating when telling of what lay hidden within the confines of Leona Heights section of Laundry Farm Canyon.   Mike realizing that today’s adventure exposed a visual page of history and for him it was leaving bookmark for him to explore.   The return back finding the two walking  northwest from the quarry  reaching a fire trail in what was called Horseshoe Creek Canyon located south of Redwood Road, the serpentine road to Skyline Blvd.  On the way down they came upon one of the old concrete chutes used by the quarry workers and miners before both operations ceased.  Continuing on they found themselves adjacent to Horseshoe Creek which merged with Leona before traversing under Mountain Blvd into Lake Aliso on the campus of Mills College. On the return to Rogers house, where it all began, Mike questioned himself why he hadn’t heard about the sulphur mines, devils punch bowl and this part of Oakland, making a mental note to ask his Dad since he grew up in Oakland.

Mike’s Acknowledgement…….#9 (the 50’s)

June 15, 2017

Viewing Opportunity

   Young Mike would always remember the exhilarating feeling of acknowledgement.  At last a Sanctuary,  a place to collect his Thoughts, formulate and Expand.   Mike was about to get a room of his own. The youth watching as his Dad and Uncle Charlie stripped the old boards from the upper level floor joist,  removing the uneven flooring,  from the one time storage and pantry room adjoining the kitchen.    The room from all appearances,  having been in disrepair long before Mike’s family had moved in,  and It wasn’t long before they discovered that they would have to replace more than anticipated.    This small room attached to the kitchen on the main floor in this hillside house would provide Mike with his first family ascendancy of recognition. 

    After several weekends and the consumption of a quantity of beer, his Dad and Uncle Charlie completed the room.   His parents somewhat concerned about the rooms size,  the room less than 6 by  9 feet.,  and not quite wide enough to accommodate the length of a  twin bed on the desired wall,  but with a little ingenuity  his mother was able to shorten it,  and with an end table and a small dresser the room was an overwhelming first room accomplishment.  the room size was of  no consequence to Mike,  having finally acquired his space, a room of his own.    

   The twin pane window faced southeast,  opening outward,  providing a protracted view of Mountain Blvd. below the cresting hills stretching towards Oak Knoll Naval Hospital and a majestic vista of the fenced in wheat field beginning a block and a half away at the end of Greenly Drive extending towards the horizon.   Lying in bed at night with the windows open,  the nocturnal air would deliver the damp fragrance of the new cut wheat into the room.   In the silent tranquility of darkness, a full moon would bask the room with its effervescent glow, bestowing a feeling of  purpose and serenity.  It was during these moments of transcendent solitude that the young man’s mind would be filled with thoughts of those who journeyed before him, their exploits and adventure, sometimes fantasizing but more often conjuring his own tour de force.

   Mike’s room off the kitchen provided a pleasurable aromatic experience,  most morning the youth waking to the pungent odor and sound of bacon frying, the radio news  broadcasting the morning public enlightenment welcoming the start of a new day,  his mother busy preparing Dads breakfast.  His sisters gathering in the living room to finish dressing, the living room floor furnace the only source of household heat besides the kitchen stove.   The youth raising from his newly procured  domain, greeting the each day with a new outlook and embodiment, ready to meet the youthful challenges that await.

Aboard the “A” Train……………#10 (the 50’s)

June 14, 2017



Mike Willson’s Mother saw to it that the 11 year old would safely board the train on East 14th Street.  It wasn’t steam or diesel powered, it was a Key System Transbay commuter electric train that transported passengers from Oakland to san Francisco via the bay bridge.  The boy having been on the train before,  always referring to this electric conveyance as the A Train, because of the  large letter A,    displaying its route designation on the front.  It was the  beginning of another journey to visit his aunt Alice in San Francisco,  but this trip was to be different, his Aunt would not be waiting for him at the Transbay terminal when he disembarked.  He would be on his own to board the K car, for the street car journey through the Twin Peaks Tunnel to ocean boulevard.


There was a slight aura of ambiguity as he boarded the front car of the train, but immediately giving way to a wave of euphoria.    Mike couldn’t believe his eyes, an answer to prayers,  a dream come true,  the unbelievable had happened.  The very front seat of the train,  the one on the left side across from the operators compartment was empty, and he would be able to gaze at an unobstructed view of the tracks.   Mike had been hoping for this to happen ever since his first ride on a electric train, the young lad hurrying to sit down,  gazing at the remarkable window view now in front of him.


The journey beginning,  the train smoothly moving forward, he was in the driver’s seat, keeping notice of the traffic signals and watchful eye on the traffic negotiating around him as he mentally navigated his transport down the tracks.   Approaching a loading area,  stopping so the waiting passengers could board, then continuing  on.  As he journeyed thru Oakland  towards the bay,  a recognizable structure appeared,  raising up as a testament to an engineering marvel,  the Oakland, San Francisco Bay Bridge,  the train gliding onto left side of the lower deck.  The boy was  hoping  for an encounter,  to  pass an oncoming train would be impressive, but to no avail


The next stop would be TI,   Treasure Island Naval Station, the train coming to a halt at the lighted station tunneled beneath Yerba Buena Island.  The excursion vehicle motionless  waiting for the Navy  personnel to disembark or board, its mission fulfilled,  the train pushed onward leaving the station to emerge  from the tunnel into the daylight on the San Francisco side of the Island.   Continuing  towards the city,  listening to the clicky-click sound of the wheels on the tracks,  the breath-taking unobstructed driver’s view  was an experience that Mike would never forget.  The “A” train began crossing the Embarcadero on the elevated tracks heading southwest, soon making a sweeping  “S”  turn between Folsom and Mission Streets,  arriving  at  the upper level of the Transbay Terminal.   Mike looked over to his right at the uniformed man sitting at the levers in the driver’s compartment,  the operator turned looking at him smiling,  extending a thumbs up.

Mike knew his way,  he had traversed this many times with his Aunt.  He descended from the upper level and continued his way down to the outside turnaround.  It was here where the Muni electric street cars from various divergence would renew their destination and once  again  set out on their route to deliver their occupants.   The most impressionable attribute besides stepping   into the cool San Francisco air was the congregation of  well fed pigeons assembled.  They fluttered among the steady stream of electric street cars  and passengers coming and going.


The young traveler waited for the  K car that would provide the way to his destination.    Boarding the arrival, leaving the terminal area ,  the street car crossing Mission Street, then turning onto the tracks going up Market towards the Twins Peak Tunnel.   Crossing Castro Street,  the  K  car entering the abyss,  the  2 and a quarter mile journey having two station stops,   Eureka and  Forest Hill.    Mike enjoyed traveling into the unknown,  and as a young lad on a street car,  entering a darken tunnel was a sense of adventure,  there was always a possibility that something exciting would happen, but as usual,  it didn’t.

The K car exiting the twin peaks tunnel at the west portal, onto appropriately named,  west portal avenue.  The ocean avenue turnoff but a mile, the familiar El Rey theatre coming into view.  Young Mike getting off, walking four blocks up Victoria Avenue, then to a house at five thirty eight Garfield Street..  a smiling Aunt Alice greeting him, asking how his trip was?   The eleven-year old still teeming with excitement paused… then briefly summed it up with one word,  “Fun”

A Friday Night Ritual…………#11 (the 50’s)

June 12, 2017

Home Delivery

Monday mornings were pretty much routine in the Willson household, Mike’s Mother having prepared his Dad’s breakfast by seven,   his Dad’s workday morning meal normally consisted of toast,  eggs,  bacon or sausage,   sometimes potatoes or pancakes or french toast, the  youth never having seen his dad eat a bowl of cereal.   No sooner had his dad finished and was headed out the door,  his mom would holler for the kids to get a move on, sometimes he and his sister would have french toast or pancakes,  if that’s what she had fixed for dad.  Normally it was hot oatmeal, cornmeal mush or a popular brand cold cereal,  if they had it.

Mike preferring Nabisco Shredded Wheat, mainly because of the Straight Arrow activity cards they used as spacer between the rows of the large shredded wheat biscuits. Straight arrow being one of mike’s favor radio programs.  His sisters complaining about Mike getting to the milk first for his cereal, retrieving the bottles  delivered earlier on the front porch and being pasteurized milk,  the cream would raise to the top which.   The first pouring out of the bottle would be all  cream, what was left was what his sister referred to as blue milk,  commonly known as skim milk.  Mike was an early riser and  lover of cream, the early bird gets the cream.

Supper was at 6:00 P.M.,  it was never called dinner except on weekends when a late afternoon meal sometimes was served.   Mike considered his Mother a good cook,  she was always able to provide a good menu considering her limited budget and what she had to work with.   The family always had plenty,  not always  his favorite, but he never left the table hungry.    The Willson’s  didn’t eat out very often, but when they did it was someplace inexpensive, but enjoyable like Italian, or Chinese food.  As a family they didn’t participate as part of the everyday world,  going places and doing things together, it was partly due to the fact his dad drove all day for a living and considered having to drive any distance on weekends was driving on  “a busman’s holiday”.   It didn’t really matter to the young man , eating in public as a family wasn’t high on his list of priorities.

There were four strict rules at supper.   Rule #1  You will not be late or miss supper.   Rule #2  The television will be turned off.  Rule#3  You will eat everything on your plate.  (if you didn’t,  it would be served to you for breakfast or so threatened), #4 Ask to be excuse when finished.    His Father set the rules, although never the disciplinarian in the family, these were his rules,  but mom enforced them.

The rules didn’t concern Mike very much as He was never late for supper.  If he was out of the house,  his Mother would take a lid from a stainless steel pan and go out onto the side porch,  striking the lid with the handles of a knife.  It would sound like a bell and you could literally hear it for miles.  Turning off the TV was fine, finding his interest waning in television more each day, discovering there  was more adventure outside or even between the pages of a book.    Eating everything never did present to much of a problem for the growing boy, the only foods he had a distaste for were peas and Spanish tripe.   His mother remedied the pea problem by buying Early June Peas, their smaller size were more palatable and the she refrained from saying anything when he left the tripe eating only the tomatoes and peppers in the sauce.

His Father always  arrived home from work shortly after 5:00 P.M.,  a partially filled quart container of now warm milk left over from lunch in one hand and a cold quart of Lucky Lager  beer in the other, the beer would be consumed before  supper.    This Monday thru Friday protocol was set in stone, but one day a crack developed.  It began on a Friday night,  his dads payday,  Friday Night Fights on TV,  and his parents making an unexpected trip to Koplos Market.   Once back from the store what they had purchased would establish the  beginning of a Friday night ritual.  Mike and his sisters  couldn’t believe what was transpiring,  Rule#1 was out,  supper was when they returned from the store.   Rule #2 was out,  you could watch TV and eat in the living room,   Rule#3 was out. it no longer had any meaning as they couldn’t help but like everything that was for supper. Rule #4 didn’t come into play.

Dinner for Friday night and many other Friday nights to follow  became special and on most occasions consisted Fish Sticks,  IXL  Ravioli,  Cottage Cheese,  Sliced Pineapple  and 1/2 gallon of Big Dip Marble Fudge Ice Milk,  the 1/2 gallon of Marble Fudge to be finished completely,  as the refrigerator didn’t have a frozen food compartment.  Added were other amenities, his mother didn’t have to spend any length of time over the stove and there was no rush to finish supper in order to watch the Friday Night Fights.

Mike recognized it wasn’t just the food that seem to make Friday nights special, it endowed a non-regulative  family time together,  unlike the evening supper,  where there seemed to be a rush to finish the formal setting and each to his own and go their own way.  Mike having come to the conclusion it  was an amazing phenomenon, the family bonding power that fish sticks, ravioli and a 1/2 gallon of Big Dip Marble Fudge Ice Milk possessed in unifying a family

The One-Eyed Monster……….#12 (the 50’s)

June 10, 2017

A large ten 1/2 inch screen

It’s arrival was unannounced, not a clue from his parents that it would suddenly appear,  the elder Willson consulting no one including  Mike’s mother of his decision to purchase the appliance.  Mike finding out that his Dad having bought it at the Eastmont Wisemans Store.  Mr. Wiseman saying he would take $20 off the payments for every customer his Dad sent him who bought one.  The family having  just acquired the 1937 De Soto, the old 29 Chevy relegated to history and now this,  a television,  spontaneous elation erupting from Mike and his Sisters, an aire of ascendancy beginning to prevail,  almost approaching a sense of superiority.   He believed he was the only person in his elementary school  class that had a television,  in fact he knew of only one other person in the school that had one,  but then again he didn’t know many outside of his class.  He had on a prior occasion to experience this new diverting entertainment device at Larry Smoot’s house, Mike having got acquainted with Larry at the playground after school.  Larry a year older was noted for two things, his kickball ability and that his parents owned an Ice Cream Fountain Shop on Foothill Blvd.    Mike always conjured that the latter was the reason for Larry’s popularity.

The Test Pattern - first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.

The Test Pattern – first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.

His sisters Kay and Nancy were overjoyed and he too was excited with the Magnavox, it wasn’t a six or eight, but a large ten 1/2 inch screen.   The television’s place of confinement  would be in the living room beside the front door entrance directly across from  the piano.   The inside antenna having an extra long cord, every time you changed channels you would have to move the antenna to another position in the room and for some  reason the best reception  was across the room on the piano,   therefore the extended cord ended up blocking the front door entrance.  The captive television bringing a change to everyone’s  evening,  after supper Mike and his sisters  who normally  found out-of-doors or downstairs  activities, now discovering themselves captivated and held prisoner by a television.  For a time  the Willson’s set  was the talk of the neighborhood  but soon television expansion  blossomed and  became commonplace.

Kukla, Fran and Ollie

Kukla, Fran and Ollie

The Howdy Doody Show

The Howdy Doody Show

Mike soon discovering television didn’t offer the suspense and drama that you could implant in your mind reading a book or listening to an adventure on radio.   He reasoned that you were nothing more than an observer to the small screen program, but with radio you became  part of the program, virtually able to place yourself in the program,  listening to the conversations, the  emitting sound effects,  the background music setting the ambiance of merging with the event, a feeling of presence, a conscious means to leave reality.   For now his radio program’s were still accessible,  but he had this feeling they wouldn’t be for long,  the likes of Kukla Fran and Olive, Howdy Doody, the music of Harry Owens and the Royal Hawaiians and the continuous old Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard westerns didn’t spark his interest.   TV wasn’t that impressionable, Mike knowing that another adventure lay ahead,   it was called life.

Earthquake…………………#13 (the 50’s)

June 9, 2017

The Hayward and the San Andreas Faults

The Willson’s neighborhood experiencing a change,  with several new houses under construction up the hill on Shone Avenue,  and a more formidable commercial building down the hill, replacing the diminutive wooden structured grocery store on Mountain Boulevard.  The store operated by two  elderly ladies, whose appearance and personalities seemed  homogeneous with their surroundings.  Their modest enterprise,  not only a small grocery store, but endeavored as rural post office annex.  On several occasions Mike’s Mother would dispatch him the four blocks down Shone Ave to this oasis of a small store for a forgotten grocery or postal money orders to pay various household expenses.   Mike hated to see it go as he would always remember it as the store he bought his first Pepsi after hearing the jingle on the radio, “Pepsi Cola hits the spot / twelve full ounces, that’s a lot / twice as much for a nickel, too / Pepsi cola is the drink for you!”  whereas Coke came in 7 ounce and  several others in 10 ounce bottles.   With the advent of the Koplos Brothers Market, it being a new large all-inclusive grocery store, with a butcher and meat counter, fresh vegetables, fruit and  full service liquor department,  a premonition of  change having come to this sequestered area of Oakland.

The new store was a blessing to the neighborhood, the Koplos brothers, Jim and John, soon becoming like family to the community, it wasn’t unusual for their elderly father Ted to make deliveries.  Mike having gotten to know Jim who managed the liquor store aspect of the enterprise,  one Saturday afternoon,  he  happened to wander in the rear delivery area of the store,  discovering Jim sorting the empty returned for deposit beverage bottles into their designated cartons.  The Cola and Beer companies requiring a 2 cent deposit on the 12 ounce or less size bottles,  and a 5 cent deposit on the quart size for their product,  it was up to the store to sort the bottles by distributorship for pickup.  Mike seizing the moment, asking Jim if he might need someone to sort bottle on the  weekends,  as weekends was the time most people redeemed their accumulated bottles.  John hesitating, giving him the once over, Mike could tell John was mulling over what he had said,  and may have been somewhat concerned about Mike’s age, but finally agreeing to give him a try.  The ten year old starting his first paying job at a dollar per hour.

It began with the sound of the piano in the living room,  but only no one was playing,  it wasn’t exactly musical notes,  but an eerie sound that reverberated.  Glancing up,  Mike noticing the ceiling light fixture,  a chandelier fasten with a chain,  beginning to swing slowly at first, increasing its motion, performing an unheeded dance.   Then  came an unforgettable sound, at first a murmur then an echoing rumble, the sound of the house’s wooden studs and joist moaning in protest.  Mike raising off the divan, opening the front door looking outside, hoping,  just maybe he would see some movement of the ground,  but just as suddenly as it  begun,  the quake ended with a deafening silence.  Mother earth having presented another earthquake performance.

Living in the Bay Area, with three parallel faults line, the Calaveras, Hayward and the mighty  San Andreas, Mike’s family having experienced quakes before,  but not the sharpened jolt presented by this one.    Observing the reaction of his family, his sister Kay went into in her usual panic mode trying to hide, searching for  a safe haven, which she was prone to  after an earthquake.    His Younger sister, Nancy, showing no outward reaction and his Mom  already in a discussion with his Dad about the patched cracks in the living room wall plaster  once again returning.  The young man’s thoughts immediately registering a possible monetary opportunity called cop-los Market.  Briefly mentioning to his parents what he was up to, hurrying outside, mounting his bike, sailing down Shone Ave to Mountain Blvd.   Disembarking he approached the store,  finding the owners,  Jim and John Koplos  surveying the situation.  Groceries and sundry items having tumbled from the shelves into the aisles, but the biggest damage was the array of broken bottles, especially the wine and hard liquor bottles in the liquor department.  Looking about, it was evident from appearances the store had not  receive any structural damage, just a good shaking and displacement of its contents.

Mike couldn’t help but notice that John and Jim were disquieted with what they saw, having a major cleanup project ahead of them.  Young Mike was determined to proceed with his strategy, approaching the two owners,  volunteering to assist in the cleanup.    At first,  the two brothers seemed reluctant, especially considering broken glass spewed about,  and possibly Mike’s age.   That seemed to change  when  they apparently realized the aspect and perplexity of the situation,  giving Mike the go ahead to get started.  He was soon joined by two other store employee, apparently called by the brothers.  The project initiated, the crew spending the better part of the late evening expediting the cleanup, and replacing merchandise to its rightful place.

The most memorable aspect of the garnering operation was the odor that permeated the store.  Countless bottles of various  alcoholic beverage having been dislodge from their abode and sent crashing to the floor, discharging their content as well as a very identifiable aroma.  Returning home, he felt rewarded for his endeavor,  not only richer monetarily but richer for the memorable experience and a sense of accomplishment.

An Explicable Journey……….#14 (the 50’s)

June 6, 2017


Mike’s Dad was never one to share his plans with anyone, and for the most part this even included the boy’s mother.    On many occasions like this one,  the family would pile into the car after supper on a Friday Night,  and  would soon realize  they were on their way out of town,  and only then,  would  be notified of where they were traveling to.  It might be San Francisco,  San Jose,  Walnut Creek,  or even Sebastopol.


 Dads weekend excursions were all what the family referred to as one beer stop destinations,   meaning that they were less than a two hour drive from home and Dads propensity for a bottle of  beer could be filled before arriving at his objective.  Mike soon realized where they were going as they headed north on  the East-Shore Highway, recognizing the large oil tanks as they headed past Point Potrero in Richmond.   Soon the smell of the refineries gave way to that of the bay.   It was finally said aloud, Sebastopol, that meant Grandma and Grandpa Marvin’s house,  the journey now having purpose and destination.


He wasn’t troubled with the essence of the bay, there was a consensus about its odor that  most people didn’t like  because of the runoff from the factories, canneries, and even sewage.   To him it was a smell, not an odor, just the forming of the word odor conjured up something bad.    He could see the water now and his Dad maneuvered onto the access road approaching the toll hut for the Richmond  San Rafael Ferry.  The  access road to the ferry slip was wide enough for cars to park on  while waiting for the arrival of the boat.  On the San Rafael side of the bay, cars waiting at Point San Quentin to embark for Richmond had to wait until those aboard had disembarked before traveling almost down a 1/2 mile of pier. The pier with its ferry slip extending out into the bay because of the shallowness of the shoreline water.


The  large white boat arriving was the Klamath,  having crossed on the Eureka and the Sausalito, but it was not the first time that they had crossed the bay on this ferry.  Mike always thought it strange that sailing vessels were called ships, but submarines and ferries were called boats.  He knew that ferry boats unlike ships, had not bow or stern, they were much like a streetcar, having a pilot houses at both ends, never having to turn around.  The Klamath gently pulled into the slip,  brushing her cushion of tires mounted on the pylons as she came to berth.  The docking crew anchoring her  mooring lines, while the deck crew began to lower the automobile ramp.  Mike never had counted the cars , but looked on  as at least fifty departed the boat.


As soon as the cars had disembarked, the old De Soto boarded the vessel with its five passengers.    Leaving the car, Mike and his family went to the stairway and up to the lounge that was in an area amidships.   Inside, benches were lined beneath the windows in rows for passenger seating, and the center enclosures provided public restrooms,   a snack bar area offering beer as well as soft drinks, and food items.


Mike spending the bay crossing, outside on the deck,  the clasp of the bay breeze buffeting his face with the ever present salt air, and the rise and fall of the boat with the swells.    The awareness making his enterprising young mind soar, wondering what attainment would be ahead to facilitate this esoteric sense of purpose.  The expanse of the water, motion of the boat, the conversation of a journeying sea breeze.  the youth very much aware of his surroundings,  and with it, envisioning the high adventure of the maritime past.  Then the sound of the Eureka’s horn breaking Mike’s brief spectral journey,  it was time to return to the car and onto Sebastopol.


A Sebastopol Episode………..#15 (the 50’s)

June 4, 2017

Grandma doing her thing

The journey to Grandma and Grandpa Marvin’s in Sebastopol was more than fun, it most often was an adventure in itself,  partly because of the boat trip across the bay on the Richmond – San Rafael Ferry.   Mike’s Dad deciding on a late overnight visit to Grandpa and Grandma’s, the family settling back in the 37 DeSoto, the trip beginning.  The Ferry Boat ride across San Francisco Bay  fulfilled, the Willson’s continuing up Highway 101,  the Elder Willson halting their progression at Navato as was the norm,  the boy’s Dad stopping to buy a bottle of beer.  The DeSoto turning onto Highway #116 towards Sebastopol when Mike first noticed the visibility was beginning to subside.   At first just patchy fog, but the closer they got to Sebastopol the heavier the fog became.   As they approached the town, the car slowed, the normally bright lit streets now dimmed, shrouded in a dense fog.  The fog density having increased to a point that from the car that the darken stores on either side of the street were no longer distinguishable.  Mike’s dad telling the family that everything was fine as he could still see the railroad tracks that ran down the center of the road thru town.  All was well following the tracks until a sudden lurching, the car coming to a stop.  His Dad having followed the tracks to where they left the road, realizing the situation, having to back the car back onto the pavement.   Once  on the road, progressing very slowly, the atmospheric malaise beginning to thin,  the fog event another adventure fulfilled.

Where the tracks leave the road

There is always something  for a ten-year old to do when visiting Grandma and Grandpa at their rural country house on Molina Rd.,  three  miles north of  downtown Sebastopol.    The house was well off the road, down  a long drive with a wooden gate on the barbwire fenced in expanse.  The rural property encompassing several acres of land, Mike hearing the adults talking about the two acres of grapes that Grandpa  harvested on the land located on the backside of the house.  It never failed to amaze Mike that every time they came for a visit,  Grandma she was canning fruits or vegetables.  On occasion he and his sisters would volunteer to pick strawberries from the long rows in their giant vegetable garden situated in front of the house.   The actual residence  was a small two bedroom  home,  family and visitors were always welcome and if there was not enough sleeping room inside,  there was always the outside,  either in the tent like hut beside the house or  under the stars in WWII folding cots that for some reason were always in abundance and set up in a row beneath the long clothesline.   Mike was never concerned about the sleeping arrangements, if not outside on a cot, he would lay claim to the couch.  It was known to all there was an ongoing  problems with the small sleeping hut as it was also used to store seeds, grains and gardening supplies.  It seems the raccoons made a bonanza discovery with its contents, deciding to take possession and the start of  an ongoing battle to keep them out.   On one occasion  Mikes parents were spending the night in the hut hearing a visitor.    His Dad being waken by the noise wasn’t to concerned thinking it was a raccoon, reaching for a flashlight, assured that the light would scare the uninvited guest away.  Shining the  flashlight on the visitor,  its eyes staring back and then the pungent aroma giving notice that it was not a raccoon, but a skunk.  The nocturnal visitor realizing he wasn’t welcome, leaving the premises.  The next morning his Dad his thankful that the skunk didn’t have an issue with the light.

Acres of cattail

The dairy cows owned by a rancher across the way were pastured across from the drive and house and  in a separate pasture fenced off from the milking herd was the home of a very mean looking bull.   A good portion of the bull’s pasture was marshland and growing in one well dampen section were stalks of cattail,  the six-foot high stalks packed solid for what seemed at least an acre.   Mike and his sisters  would venture into the cattail pasture,  the three having a great time mashing down the cattail making paths and hidden rooms, their own secret hideaway,  but always being mindful that there might be a sudden appearance of a bull.  It was only later that Mike gave thought to the destruction of the marshland cattail, his realization,  a lesson learned.

Not a ladder but a spike








During a summer weeks stay  Mike had made friends with a boy name Sonny Iverson who live up the road on a nearby  farm.   The Iverson’s had an apple orchard and were also in the egg producing business.   The ten-year old spending time helping on the farm,  picking apples from a spike,   storing them in a shoulder sack and placing them in the wooden crates.    It was at this young age he learned that nothing on a farm goes to waste.   Another chore was to pick up all the fallen and rotten apples placing them in separate crates.  Once accumulated, the crates  containing  the bad apples were then loaded on the truck.  He accompanied the Iverson’s in the truck, watching as they dumped the apples into the receiving chute at the Apple Processing Facility in town.    Mike had to ask the inevitable question,  “what do they make with rotten apples?”   The answer came.  “apple cider vinegar”, another learning experience.

Guinea Hens – A watchdog in disguise.

The Iverson’s poultry endeavor included a couple of turkeys and  a pair of guinea hens allowed to forage for themselves.  The guinea hens were useful addition to the farm, subsiding on ticks, lice, worms, ants, spiders, an array of insects and weed seeds.  The hens were very aggressive and territorial,  the Iverson Farm belonging to them, their wandering freedom  serving a purpose.  Mike discovering that they were better than a watchdog,  soon learning to be careful when around them as they were very astute standing their ground not hesitating to initiate a charge  sounding a very loud vocal alarm.   The family’s interest other than their apple crop was laying hens, having  dozens of stacked nesting coops, the eggs being plucked from the unsuspected twice a day.    Mike inheriting a new chore, removing the gathered eggs from the collecting pails, placing them on the cleansing roller.    The mechanical appliance,  a machine that rotated the eggs on roller,  passing them under a sprayer so the water could remove any residue that had accumulated on the shells.  The eggs being removed and place in large container cartons, stored for shipment.

Grandma's ever lasting Gift...

Grandma’s everlasting Gift…

Grandma was a radio person,  Mike and her shared this common interest, maybe that’s one of the reason he enjoyed being with her.    She would listen to her soap operas during the day and in the early evening would tune in many of the  same programs that he enjoyed.    She subscribed to the book of the month club, the books mailed in sturdy folded cardboard boxes, Mike for some reason deciding they  were special, Grandma presenting him with a large selection, their purpose unknown, but to be explored.   He always admired the calendar with it’s picture hanging on her kitchen wall.  It was of a bear and her cubs going thru a fisherman’s  campsite foraging for food.  He never remembered saying anything to anybody about his admiration, but that Christmas Mike received a gift from Grandma, it was the calendar picture in a homemade frame, he decided Grandmas must be a mind readers.

Grandpa Marvin

Grandpa had two abilities that the young man had never witnessed in another person.   The first was, he could take hold of an electric fence, lifting the hot wire so you could pass under and not get shocked and do the same with spark plug wires on a car.   The second was clapping his hands catching yellow jackets or hornets between them and never getting stung.  The boy reasoned it was more of a mental determination rather that a physical attribute, but then again Grandpa’s are special.  Mike found that the effulgence of love resided in his Grandparents, something he would always remember.

First Trek North………………#16 (the 50’s)

June 2, 2017

Welcome to Scott Valley

Welcome to Scott Valley

It was after ten when they installed him on the bus, Mike Willson having situated 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, but realizing they were relatives, 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 hers and his Uncle Sams Etna, Scott Valley home.  With his Aunts arrival Mike was reintroduced to a memory, the reserved looking lady, very correct and proper in her dress and mannerisms the  lady was familiar.  Her stay was brief, they soon departed making a stop at a  large grocery store, which the boy later found to be the customary for Scott Valley residence 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

    Leaving Yreka Mike couldn’t help but realized they were riding in a pristine late-model Mercury Monterey two door sedan with twin exhaust pipes and was impressed, but what was puzzling was 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 its way up and down the mountain, the Mercury would back off under compression, the mufflers emitting a resonant popping sound.  Even Mike 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 of less than 500 situated below the beautiful majestic Marble Mountains and the Trinity Alps wilderness, even in the summertime,  the mountains still wore a crown of snow adding to their already regal appearance.  The young man getting settled in his aunt and uncles Diggles St. home, his aunt directing him to Bobby’s bedroom, Mike noticing that all of Bobby’s youthful accumulations of stuff was still present, his aunt mentioning he was the first to stay in the room since Bobby’s death.  Mike questioned when he had last seen his Aunt and Uncle, cousins Bobby and his sister Jerry but couldn’t recall them ever visiting his family in Oakland, it had to have been when he lived in Yreka during the war while his dad was overseas.

The first couple of day found Mike curious about the the old wooden house northwest of his aunt and uncles, to him it looked like a renovated barn from the turn of the century and he soon introduced himself to a girl about his age and her younger brother.  Soon was making friends with Patricia Cortez  and quickly was 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 scraped the wall of the inner portion and also removed the seeds from her pepper which were the source of making it hot.  The two Sharing a mutual interest, Mike having discovered a pair of well used key adjustable roller skates that may have belonged to Bobby and Patricia also having skates, the two entertaining the sidewalk on the other side of Diggles Street.

      Young Mike soon discovering a side of his aunt and uncle that they kept somewhat hidden, they really cared about him.  At lunch one afternoon Mike was asked if he would like accompany his uncle back to work.  His uncle,  who was a contractor and  also an  architect, was working on a recent new apartment, instructed the young man how to drive nails properly and the consequences when  you do it wrong, Mike not hesitating, found that his error was aptly pointed out.  His aunt on several occasions not asking outright, but inviting him to joining her in a brief visit into town and of course he was rewarded with an ice cream cone, but that wasn’t the reason he accepted, it was an inner feeling that she wanted the company.  His aunt also was rightly corrective after noticing him engraving his name on a tree with a knife, amiably saying “fools names like fools faces are often seen in public places”.  Something that he knew would be ingrained forever.

The Heavens Aglow……..#16[a] (50’s)

May 31, 2017

The Heavens Aglow

Mike’s cousin Jerry Facey, husband Fess and family lived on the same block as his Aunt and Uncles in Etna, the Cortez’s house and two acres of pasture land  extending to the behind their house made the separation.  Mike getting acquainted for the first time with the Facey brude, his five year younger second cousins, Sammy, his younger sisters 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.  Cousin Fess when introducing  young Mike at the meeting of the Etna volunteer firemen, a 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 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, somewhat confused, 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 out from Gene 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, having found out that his cousins would be joining them.  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 and  besides having a store, post office, a 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 flowing 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.