High Desert Memories - A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
A Story of 40's & 50's Ridgecrest
One mans' perspective . . .
In the early to mid 1940's Ridgecrest offered fairly primitive lifestyles to all who came to work there. There were effectively no amenities like those we have come to expect everywhere today. The outhouse was the order of the day. Hauling water to your quarters whatever they happened to be was not the exception but the rule. Tent camps and primitive conditions were very common and accepted without question. People were looking for work and the US Navy provided what looked like long lasting jobs with a future and benefits for those who could get them. This was the time of the development of Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake.
All the roads which led to Ridgecrest were dirt roads. The major portion of the trip to San Bernardino was on dirt roads and it was a very arduous journey. Mohave was a half day trip and it was only 40 miles away. The people who came were a hearty breed of the same nature as the pioneers who settled our country.
My family was no exception. My father and mother came out to California from Louisiana and carved thier own life in spite of the difficulty of finding two nickels to rub together.
My name is Pat Jones, I am presenting this brief chronicle in order to relive those moments which shaped my life and to return some of what I was given as a result of having been raised in Ridgecrest.
My father worked at the Long Beach Naval shipyards during the first years off world war II and life was good for us. We lived in El Monte, CA and had fruit trees, a large garden full of vegetables, a large pen filled with hundreds of chickens which meant eggs, (eggs were rationed thus very valuable) and large walnut trees all around the house. It was an idyllic life that was punctuated with small periods of prosperity. We never wanted for anything and were quite happy.
There began to be whispers that the Naval Shipyard was going to be laying people off as the war was drawing to a close and it looked like the idyllic life might come to an end. My father felt that he had enough contacts and capabilities to start a business of his own and therefore we moved from our idyllic existence to Torrance and lived in an apartment. He took on a partner and their little welding and design business took off after landing several contracts with furniture building firms which really helped. It looked really good for the Jones family for a few months but then I became seriously ill with Rheumatic fever and scarlet fever and the measles, several other maladies noone could explain. This was compounded by deer hunting trip my father's partner went on during which he shot a man in the knee. The partners had to liquidate the business to settle the lawsuit.
Because of my father's contacts with the Navy at Long Beach he heard of an opportunity to get in on the ground floor at a new base the Navy was going to build at a place called China Lake, California. The doctors told my father if I wasn't removed from the smog and crud around the LA area that I might not make it, so he took off in his old 29 Packard touring car and went to find Ridgecrest. After a couple of weeks he came back and though I didn't know it he described a rather dismal picture for my mother to digest. After much "discussion" they decided there was no choice and we packed everything into our old 29 Packard and the 1938 Lincoln Zephyr that dad had come by as a pay off for some money someone owed him when the partnership dissolved.
That was May of 1943 and a red letter day in all of our lives. We had embarked on an adventure which was to last for the rest of our lives in one way or another. The trip took a day and a half to complete. The dirt roads caused problems in our automobiles we had no way of expecting. Tires were blown, radiators blew, and oil leaks developed. After overcoming each of these obstacles we arrived in Ridgecrest on the afternoon of the second day. I was appalled at the barrenness of the desert and the heat was just stifling. The sun was like a very hot lamp placed in just the right place to always be in your eyes and the discomfort was almost intolerable. Water was at a premium and you often had to pay for a drink or to fill your containers. We were green-
horns in every sense of the word. We had to ask for assistance with everything.
Thankfully there were some kind people and store clerks who assisted us in getting the necessities for living in the conditions then prevalent in the area.
Dad had prepared a place for us to live about 2 miles outside of Ridgecrest beyond where the college is located now. We lived up next to an open mine shaft that was no longer being worked. The "house" was a tarpaper shack with a tent setup attached to it thru one wall as a bedroom. Every bit of the water had to be hauled so baths or showers were out of the question. We bathed by using a bowl or pan of water, a washcloth, and soap. We had an outhouse of sorts fashioned out of 2x4 posts with canvas stretched around them on three sides. Of course the old Sears catalog had found a use here as never before. Not exactly the Ritz you might observe and right you would be.
At first I was a little timid about getting out away from home because of all the stories my Dad had been telling about the hazards of the desert as we drove out. But after a day or two passed I became more and more bored with the confines of the 2 x 4 shack. I began to wander about and take a fairly detailed look at my surroundings. I kept finding all these interesting things just a few steps further away from the shack and soon was climbing the hills and looking thru the rock outcrops and other physical features of the land. I found a whole lot of those little imprints of ferns and other plants on some of the rocks. I brought a few of these home and my mom took heart too. She came with me and we soon overcame all fear of moving about and investigating every feature of our environment.
My mother was no different then other women I have known when it came to being kind of finicky about their surroundings. After a couple of months of that tarpaper shack and a tent for a bedroom she began to have some misgivings about our living situation. Now all of us who are or have been married know what that means. It means that there were some rather vigorous discussions about what was DAD going to do about this!!! So he found work over in Atolia working for the mining company that was reprocessing some of the older placer tailings to recover tungsten and gold that the previous processors hadn't taken out. Apparently the methodology had so improved that this paid the mining company pretty well. Anyway Dad was a welder and a heavy duty equipment mechanic and they gladly took him on. I am sure noone was more pleased then my Dad. We moved to Johannesburg and lived in the old green house with the screen porch right next to the old St. Charles Hotel and directly across the street from the ball field. We had two bedrooms a living room a kitchen and an OUTHOUSE!!! My mother wasn't exactly thrilled about it but she let that go. It also had an old dirt floored garage with a storeroom on one side. So now I was in a real honest to goodness house in a town and they had a school!! (Darn it all anyway) So I was enrolled in class at a one room school which covered from the 1st grade to 4th grade. The BIG kids went to Randsburg for school. Our teacher was a grand old lady called Mrs. Kelso. She was a rather stern, authoritarian, all business kind of teacher. Thanks to her guidance I truly began to learn how to read, spell, and become an avid reader. She was very insistent about this to the point of pain if necessary. I am really very glad about this to this day.
That's me right there. Teacher's Pet and next to the best
lookin' girl in class. She was the preachers daughter!!!
Our adventures took us to a place called "The Churchill house" located about 14 or 15 miles outside of Ridgecrest. It had a garden spot that had grapevines and other fruit bearing plants growing full time. This garden was watered constantly by a small spring and was one of the most beautiful sights I had seen since we left Torrance. Everything was green and lush and the birds and rabbits came and fed there and drank the water.
I guess they also liked the cool of the shade cast by the grapevines on an arbor there. My mom and dad fell in love with the place and began to talk to some people called Jacob's at the bottom of the hill. Apparently the house and property belonged to a mining company in Los Angeles and Mr. Jacobs felt that they might be willing to rent it.
Dad called the mining company in LA and made arrangements to meet one of the owners the following week to discuss renting the house and garden area. The change from Johannesburg to this new place was not much of a transition except that we would now have the isolation and privacy that my parents apparently craved We moved in the following weekend and began our new life in the relative luxury of a home with a flush toilet inside. It still wasn't much and it was old but it was a quantum leap above the other place we had lived.
We had one water tap fed by the spring about 500 yards away. The mining company had routed a pipe down the hill and split it so that part of the water was available to the house all the time and the other was fed to the garden via a little spring house with a tank in it. We still had to heat water and there wasn't any bathtub but we did have the flush toilet and a sink in the bathroom.
Dad was working for an outfit called Lewis Construction at the time and they were busily spreading asphalt on roads all around Ridgecrest and China Lake. As a matter of fact I believe that Lewis Construction did most of that kind of work in the entire area. I know that they also had the contract to lay asphalt on Highway 6 in those years. It wasn't a high paying job but it was good enough for us to subsist. We frequently went out with dad's .22 rifle and shot cottontail rabbits and doves and quail to add meat to our meals. It wasn't fancy living but it was adequate and we were pretty happy.
Johannesburg Elementary School, 1946, first four grades.
I am not sure of the spelling of some of the names.
Back row L to R; Patty Dobbs, Chiquita Drew, Janet Faulkner, Pat Jones, Mrs. Kelso, Robert Martin
Front Row L to R; Joyce Faulkner, Nancy Winttermuit, Jack Ralston, John Turner, Ralph (Bud) Ralston, Dog and ??????
Patty Dobbs, Robert Martin and Ralph Ralston are all my cousins. Robert is not related to Patty or Ralph.
My dad and mother came to Johannesburg in the mid 1930s. There are no Ralstons living there now. My dad and his brother are buryed in the Rand cemetary. My brother and I still own property in Joburg.
I have often wondered what happened to the Faulkner and the Winttermuit girls. They all left at about the same time around 1949-50.
I am not often surprised at how small our world is getting. Yesterday 2/11/2005, a classmate of mine from the picture below sent me an email and said he could provide all the names of the people in it. I had forgotten all of them but myself and Mrs. Kelso. Jack Ralston has provided them all save one. What a coincidenc and what a find!!
Jack Ralston who wrote the caption below