High Desert Memories - A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
40's and 50's
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I don't have much in the way of pictures of the highway coming from Inyokern to Ridgecrest. Here you see the American Legion in the 40's and then below in the 60's. Changes were already very noticeable by then. The third picture shows the old Masonic lodge and businesses east of it toward Ridgecrest. There were some other businesses closer to Inyokern. Like the Atomic Bar, Andersens Cafe, Jim's tire shop was out there somewhere. Thats about all I can bring up from memory. Over the years businesses came and went and things changed. Yet there is still a reminiscence of the 50's if you look for it..
Going on up the road to the Naval Station we find the main gate. Here depicted in the early 50's with Marines still on the gate. I forget when they started the civilian security on the gates but I really missed seeing those Marines. Maybe thats why I joined up in 1957.
Rocket town as it was in the 50's is still not what the developers dreamed of or advertised. There was a big scandal over this area.
I have received some emails from folks who have visited the website and say that they will send pictures to fill in the holes of this area. I sure hope so as I would like to see this history available for others to see. So I leave you here awaiting pictures and textual data to make this as accurate as possible.
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The RR Spur from Inyokern is under construction along side the Inyokern Road in l944. There is no housing, just a few buildings at the Main Gate of NOTS. Armitage Field wasn't completed in mid-1945.
China Lake and Ridgecrest are in full view in l964 showng many improvements of the past twenty years. Wherry Housing has trees, NOTS has a golf course and the Lone Butte has a B.
Photo submitted by Doug Huse
Photo submitted by Doug Huse
I watched the expansion of Inyokern and it's Airport (Harvey Field) in the summer of 1942. My father, Jess, was one of the first civilians hired; as a mechanic. The rest of our family camped out on Kern River, at Hobo Hot Springs; during the summers of 1942 and 1943. Dad slept in a quanset hut, at Harvey Field, during the week; he drove up Walker Pass to visit us on weekends.
Steak dinners at Walker Pass Lodge, once a month (the whole family) were a major event. They gave everyone full length bibs when you ordered dinner. We sometimes drove up another canyon, to John McNally's for steak dinners. He was a Deputy Sheriff for Tolare County. In case of mergency, you could use his radio phone. At times, that was a godsend.
As the navy was expanding throughout the Indian Wells Valley, dirt roads were everywhere. The first paved road they built was Inyokern Highway. It connected Harvey Field to US-NOTS (the first sentry shack). The blacktopped road was not built by the State of California or the County
as some believe.
Some contractors who parked their car on the shoulder in the morning, came back at quitting
time to find their tires melted into the macaddam. It was a real mess. That gave way to the sarcasm; "120 degrees in the shade, but no shade". It was real hot.
An old western bar and dancehall "Anderson's" became quite popular in those days. It sat on the southside of the highway; a good place to get a cold drink. The Dust Devil's Car Club, of which I was a member, later held their club meetings there. But, sadly, it burned down in the 50's. It was said that "booze bottles in the fire sounded like the fourth of July." Anderson's was a great honky-tonk.
The first sentry shack had a 10' section of chain-link fense on either side to the north and south. "THAT WAS THE SECURITY GATE". It was easy to drive around and many did; usually drunk.
The Indian, White, and Chinese contractors got paid, in cash, on friday; most got drunk, over the weekend; losing their wages to booze, hookers, and gambling. After Sobering up, they usually came back to work. Thefts, various abuses, and even a killing or two on occasion.
I remember one time when an old truck got stuck in the sand, trying to drive around the sentry;
the driver fled on foot; leaving his passenger in the vehicle. The passenger had previously been shot and was in bad shape. There was hell to pay .... because the guard had fired his 45 over their heads of those in the vehicle. The navy had to prove that the sentry had not shot the passenger in the truck. It was not so easy at the time. The so-called scandle hit the LA papers.
Some of my grade schooling was spent in the quanset hut school at China Lake. I remember one of my teachers was small of stature but deadly with erasers. She could hit me in the back of the head from accross the room.
Our family moved into a duplex at the corner of Nimitz Avenue and Richmond Road; just north of the first Bank of America. It was a wonderful home with steam heat. We lived there for many years; accross the street from the St. George family. Frank was a school-mate and is still a dear friend.
I graduated from the original "Burroughs" H/S in 1951. I spent almost all of my working career at China Lake; retiring in 1972. I met my wife, Roxie, at burros. She gave birth to my
first two children at Drummond Hospital,in Ridgecrest. Rhonda lives in Southern California and Rita Jean is buried in the old Wolford Heights(Kernville) cemetery.
The old western town of Kernville, where I spent some of my youth; was a great place to beat the heat while the base was being built. It was inundated by Isabella Lake and I miss it. If anyone has old pictures of the town (before Isabella), I would sure like copies.
The people I met as acquaintances, co-workers, and friends throughout the desert area will never be forgotten. My memories of each of you are grand, indeed. I realize that the early years probably don't appeal to those who came later; but for me, they were the best ever.
To those who helped to build and work a NOTS, the "SECRET CITY"; bless you, each and everyone.
Did you know that there was an atomic blast set off at China Lake, even before those at Vegas (Yucca Flats)? Yep. It was much smaller than those that came later.
I now reside in the great State of Montana; some call it "the last best place". It is beautiful and cool; the early days and people of NOTS, however, were even better. The stories above are merely a portion of those I can offer to interested parties. I have so many others. Thank you for your time and interest.
Roy J. Gerard
Here's a story which covers the beginnings in the the early Years.
It is very comprehensive and adds some depth to what went on in the 40's and 50's
The Earthquake of 1952
It was July 21, 1952. The quake was a 7.3. Here's the information on it.
This earthquake was the largest in the conterminous United States since the San Francisco shock of 1906. It claimed 12 lives and caused property damage estimated at $60 million. MM intensity XI was assigned to a small area on the Southern Pacific Railroad southeast of Bealville. There, the earthquake cracked reinforced-concrete tunnels having walls 46 centimeters thick; it shortened the distance between portals of two tunnels about 2.5 meters and bent the rails into S-shaped curves. At Owens Lake (about 160 kilometers from the epicenter), salt beds shifted, and brine lines were bent into S-shapes.
Many surface ruptures were observed along the lower slopes of Bear Mountain, in the White Wolf fault zone. The somewhat flat, poorly consolidated alluvium in the valley was erratically cracked and recontoured. The cracking along Bear Mountain indicated that the mountain itself moved upward and to the north. Southwest of Arvin, on the San Joaquin Valley floor, ground cracks traversed and spilt the concrete foundation on one house, causing partial collapse. The ground slumped; cotton rows were offset more than 30 centimeters; and pavement on one highway was crumpled for more than 300 meters. East of Caliente, one large crack, about 1.5 meter at its widest point and more than 60 centimeters deep, was observed. Fill areas in the mountainous regions along U.S. Highway 466 (now State Highway 58) settled from a few centimeters to more that 30 centimeters in places, and a large part of the highway was cracked and wrinkled. Northeast of that highway, the ground was displaced vertically about 60 centimeters and horizontally about 45 centimeters.
Maximum MM intensities in nearby cities did not exceed VIII. At Tehachapi, Bakersfield, and Arvin, old and poorly built masonry and adobe buildings were cracked, and some collapsed.
Property damage was heavy in Tehachapi, where both brick and adobe buildings were hit hard, and 9 people were killed. Three people were killed in other towns. Although damage was severe, the total extent of damage to property did not exceed that in Long Beach in 1933. Only a few wood-frame structures were damaged seriously in this earthquake, compared to the 1933 shock in which many such structures were thrown off foundations.
The generally moderate damage in Bakersfield was confined mainly to isolated parapet failure. Cracks formed in many brick buildings, and older school buildings were damaged somewhat. In contrast, however, the Kern General Hospital was damaged heavily. Multistory steel and concrete structures sustained minor damage, which commonly was confined to the first story. Similar kinds of damage also occurred at Arvin, which lies southeast of Bakersfield and west of Tehachapi.
Reports of long-period wave effects from the earthquake were widespread. Water splashed from swimming pools as far distant as the Los Angeles area, where damage to tall buildings was nonstructural but extensive. Water also splashed in pressure tanks on tops of buildings in San Francisco. At least one building was damaged in San Diego, and in Las Vegas, Nevada, a building under construction required realignment of the structural steel.
The main shock was felt over most of California and in parts of western Arizona and western Nevada. It was observed at such distant points as Stirling City, California, Phoenix, Arizona, and Gerlach, Nevada. The California Institute of Technology at Pasadena recorded 188 aftershocks of magnitude 4.0 and higher through September 26, 1952; six aftershocks on July 21 were of magnitude 5.0 and higher.
My uncle often talks about this quake. He was driving back from Tehachapi with my grandfather and the road was buckling and breaking up, as well as the power poles that were swaying. It was a tremendous shock for all those Texas boys. I am sure my grandfather considered the immediate return to Texas at the time. At least in a tornado, you can drop down into the storm cellar!
When I was a toddler, maybe 1952 or 53 we lived in a trailer park on the base, just across from Viewig school. I am not sure if the school had been built yet or not. But later I went to pre-school there. Anyway, my mom had taken me and my sister Billie who was a baby in a stroller, (so I am now thinking it was 52) down to the "wash house". That is where there were washing machines. It was a huge concrete building which echoed so wonderfully when I sang my opera solos...hahaha! Any way, after washing some clothes we headed back to the small trailer we lived in.
A quake hit and the asphalt began to roll. I mean just rolling up and down. I hung on to my mother's shirt tail and just swung, nearly choking her to death I would imagine. The trailers were rocking back and forth and the water pipes were bursting. You could hear dishes breaking and people yelling.
When the quake stopped and we got back to our trailer the door was wide open and every dish in the house was broken and the refrigerator door was open with food everywhere from that and the cupboards. I laughed so hard. I loved all of it. My mom sat down and started to cry but then when she saw how much fun I was having she laughed too. She went in and cleaned up the glass and I helped put food away.
Years later we talked about this many times and always had a good laugh about me swinging on her shirt tail. She told me that it had to be a 7 or 8 pointer...who knows....I just know that I have never seen black top roll like that ever again and hope I never do. But it was like an amusement park ride to me, being only about three years old.