High Desert Memories - A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
China Lake
Page 1
 
  NOTS MAP - NOTS' 1,000 square miles area is located in Indian Wells Valley.  The Valley is hemmed in by the Sierra Nevadas on the west, rising from 6,000 to 14,000 ft.; the Slate and Panamint Ranges to the east, which are above 11,000 ft.; and the El Paso Range to the south, above 5,000 ft.  NOTS enjoys 300 days of flying weather per year.
  The first Naval Officers looking over
the
future site of NOTS China Lake
 
  Barren ground in 1943 soon to be The Naval Station at China Lake
Newpaper views donated by Ben Yeakey
he still has copies of these
In the views above the desolation of this site can be easily seen.  There was to be a whole city and industrial complex to spring up out in the middle of nowhere.  This was a very large undertaking but it was needed.  It has proven to be a very well planned and executed undertaking.
It all began at the Inyokern Airport.  As seen above in the aerial photo.  Things were a little rough and without much in the way of amenities at first.  as seen below.  Soon though progress was made and a new Naval Station was born
  Headquarters 1944
  Temporary Offices and Quarters for Workers
  Admin Building Under Construction
Gym, Swimming pool, and Theater 1945
  Pouring the foundation for Michelson  lab
  Burroughs High School 1944
Construction of Michelson Lab
  Chapel 1947
  Powder plant 1945
  Housing Construction
Kodiak Hangar under construction 1944
Admin Building is up1945
  Snob Hill housing, shopping area, High school
Photo by John Culp
Photo by John Culp
Housing Construction 1948
 
   The following photos show the contrast in the development of the China Lake/Ridgecrest between 1948 and 1964.  It is quite a striking comparison.
   The first phase of housing development at China Lake is complete in April l948.  Located in the distant South portion of NOTS are the Prefabs, Hawthorns and  Duplexes. The Prefabs were gone by Summer l963. The New Duplexes weren't completed for another four years.  Left to Right Center is the Officers Club, Bank, Library, Commissary, Navy X, Theater, Enlisted Men's club and Station Pool. Burroughs High was located one block South. Good shade trees were a few years away.
   Development was fairly complete at NOTS by l964 with the new Burroughs High School adjacent to Wherry Housing (top L), the New Duplexes and the All Faith Chapel (lower center). Ridgecrest and China Lake Blvds and the Midway can be located the distance.  A noticeable increase in cars  and parking lots can be found.
Photo submitted by Doug Huse
Photo submitted by Doug Huse
This official Navy photograph is dated June l944. These Quonset Huts were literally at the end of the road and are the first buildings at China Lake.  A good aerial shot of where these huts are located, Pg. 5   40's & 50's .
Select a page number above
to move from page to page
Select a page number above
to move from page to page
. 1 & 2  -  In the beginning
   3        -  Naval Air Facility
   4        -  The Ranges
   5   -        Doc the B-29
   6   -        NAWC Museum
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. 1 & 2  -  In the beginning
   3        -  Naval Air Facility
   4        -  The Ranges
   5   -        Doc the B-29
   6   -        NAWC Museum
    7   -        The Sidewinder
    8    -      
Weather
  
9    -      60 Year FED service
   10  -       China Lake named
                  National Historic site
|_1_|_2_|_3_|_4_|_5_|_6_|_7_|_8_|_9_|_10_|
    7   -        The Sidewinder
    8    -       Weather 

  
9    -      60 Year FED service
   10  -      
China Lake named
                  National Historic site
  
Why the name "China" Lake?
 
   The lore is that during the late 1880s - during the mining boom in the local area, a camp of Chinese laborers popped up on the shore of the lakebed, probably for the purpose of  harvesting borax from the lakebed - giving rise, no doubt, to the original Chinese Laundry in the area.  Many Chinese laborers were used in the local mining operations:  cutting wood and making charcoal for smelting the ores, mucking about, and finally owning and operating the numerous Chinese restaurants we have in the town of Ridgecrest.
  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 Tulare 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