High Desert Memories - A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
A Story of 40's & 50's Ridgecrest
One mans' perspective . . .
We were still driving that old '29 Packard but it had been modified to a pick up now. Dad just chopped the back off and welded the rear section of the body on just aft of the front seat. He added the necessary metal and wood to make what amounted to a 3/4 ton pickup. He had rebuilt the engine a couple of times but the old thing just wouldn't give up the ghost. We drove that old truck places that many 4 wheel drive vehicles would have had a problem. We never tired of investigating every dirt road, or wash that would support a vehicle. Dad and I must have dug up half the desert freeing that old Packard from being stuck so many times. We had a lot of equipment that he had made custom racks for so we could do just that. We also carried around about 10 to 20 gallons of water in 3 - 2gallon water bags and several cans and assorted containers. You wouldn't want to be caught out without it. I believe we saw every mountain and rill and wash and mine for an area of about 50 miles around our place. Further, we went on several trips to Balarat and Death Valley and all points in between. We took several trips up Jawbone Canyon, and Red Rock Canyon, Randsburg, Johannesburg, Atolia, Gholer Gulch, and all points worth looking at in between.
Once we had that under our belts we started on the Sierra's and went up every canyon that had a road just to see what was there. One of my favorites was Nine Mile Canyon. There was an old Motel up there and they had a cafe of sorts. We would stop there every trip we made and trade lies with the folks who ran it. I went on many a great fishing trip up there hiking back to the North Fork of the Kern River and fishing until I was so tired I had to sleep or fall off the rocks.
My parents must have had a lot of the pioneer spirit in them because they were soon looking over the desert for a place to build a house for our permanent residence. Dad and Mom began to get acquainted with all the other people who lived out in this area. Through them we began to narrow our search down to a canyon which was just to the east of Laurel Mountain and the Laurel mountain mine. It was not too far from the Churchill place and only about a 1/4 mile from Rinaldi's well that we found the ideal location for a house off to one side of the wash which led out from the canyon's mouth. There were two old mine shafts which were full of water and dad felt he could make some sort of a system that would bring the water up to ground level and then he could pipe it the mile or so down to the site they had selected to establish our new home. We further discovered in our expeditions out around the general area that there was a large deposit of adobe about two miles away from our building site. Further there were large groves of bunch grass at the top of the canyon to use as a binder for the adobe. The mold was cast so to speak.
It took us the better part of 8 months to haul the adobe, gather the bunch grass, build the molds, and mold the bricks necessary to build a sizable three room house. We learned a lot about making bricks and lost a lot to a snap freeze during the winter. We molded bricks for what seemed like forever. They were 16" x 16" x 4" and it took a lot of them to build a house. We poured a slab with all the footings in one pour. Somehow the guy who drove the cement truck got up there and I am not sure to this day how he did it with that top heavy rig. After the concrete cured we started laying in bricks and it wasn't long until we had the walls up the windows framed in and were ready to lay up a flat roof. So then after the best part of a year we had a home almost completed.
We spent a lot of time working on the water system which turned out to be quite an engineering feat. Thanks to some help from the Orozco's a few miles away we purchased some pipe they had removed from railroad property some time before due to an upgrade to their water system. We got about 3/4 of a mile of 2 1/2 inch pipe and it was enough for our purposes. Dad somehow came up with a sand head for the standpipe and drove it through several feet of a cave in on the first mine shaft into the pool of water fed by an underground stream. From that we layed the pipe down the canyon floor for about 200 yards and inserted a small 5 gallon tank and thence on down to the building site. Dad welded each joint with an oxyacetylene torch we had to pull all over up and down hillsides, across washes, and out on the flat. The purpose of the 5 gallon tank was to provide a way to prime the well when it lost its prime as we used a syphoning system. Remember now we had no electricity or any way to generate it. So we had to depend on the laws of nature to provide our water pressure. Dad used the vacuum off our automobile's manifold to provide the suction to remove air from the pipe, from the tank to the well head, to start the water flowing again whenever the pipeline lost its prime.
There are some special things to consider when you are laying a 2 1/2 inch galvanized steel pipe in the desert. First it must be buried deep if it is to be placed in a road bed. You must also make arrangements for expansion and contraction caused by the large changes in temperature between day and night, let alone the changes of the seasons. What happens is that when it gets hot the pipe expands and humps up a considerable distance. This means that if it is not buried deep it will emerge from the ground and cause problems.
Dad bought a fair amount of old ties from the Orozco's from a railroad tunnel they had just relined with new ties. We used those ties for fence posts and field fence for fencing material. We used that kind of fencing because it is made up of smaller rectangles on the bottom graduating to larger ones at the top of the 5 foot material and he thought it would keep rabbits out of our planned garden. Unfortunately it didn't and we had to put up a single run of 3 foot chicken wire buried 1 foot in the ground That did indeed slow the rabbits down but the ground squirrels and chipmonks found it an aid in that they didn't have to compete with rabbits anymore..
We terraced about 1 acre of the land and set up a garden spot. We planted all kinds of stuff out there thinking we could really enjoy the fresh vegetables. We managed to keep the well primed enough to water those plants and trees but the rabbits, chipmonks, ground squirrels, quail, doves and chukkar partridges made short work of any green shoots that came up or seeds we put in. We had to wrap the fruit trees with tarpaper and chicken wire in order to keep the animals from stripping the bark off of them. We made tents of small mesh chicken wire to cover up the seeded areas and keep the smaller animals and birds away. Success!!!! We started to grow things. This is what my Dad and Mom came to call our ARMORED garden.
The water system was always a problem because it needed to be primed so frequently. There were always leaks developing in the pipe because of the expansion and shrinkage problem I mentioned earlier. Under this constant pressure the pipe would crack at the welds and leak and then the well would lose its prime. We had to keep after the pipe constantly. We finally replaced the entire thing with a 1" galvanized pipe which used common sleeves and was placed piece by piece with expansion joints and everything under the sun we could think of to relieve the problem. Although we never completely conquered the expansion/contraction problem the new pipeline did minimize the repair problems as it broke a lot less frequently. (If BLM didn't remove the pipe, you still may be able to go up the canyon in the summer and see evidence of the pipe coming up in the road when its hot.)
In this time Ridgecrest had continued to grow at a furious pace. Long gone were the tent camps, and temporary quarters. To replace them a township had been laid out of quite a lot larger proportions and new houses were springing up all over the place. New businesses were born and old ones died but the constant influx of people needing jobs brought more and more development. By now the base had lots of housing and there were all kinds of activities working on the base. Some of the ranges had opened up and the new airfield had opened so the one at Inyokern kind of became a municipal field but flights in and out were very limited. Michelson Lab was either built or being finished and some of the base facilities were open and working full time.
This is not the original house but a guest house they had built after I left. In 1968 the big house burnt down. At least the roof and everything that was lumber within. Dad just didn't have the heart to rebuild so they moved into the guest house and he added on to it enough that they could be comfortable. You can just see some framework and a little bit of the structure of the big house to the right of this photo
My Dad and Mom came to visit us in Washington when I was still working for the Navy. They loved the trees and the water but after a few days they wanted their desert back. It was always that way with them. I almost had to force them off the desert in 1987 when Dad was sick and Mom couldn't help him anymore.
My Mom liked stacked rocks and my Dad liked to stack them so they made a perfect couple.
Photo by Anthony Pate 2004
This picture was taken this year and though the house and anything which was left behind has been buried by BLM they left the trees my parents planted and a few fence posts as seen below. This picture is here to show you what kind of a view we had from the old home place and although, Rinaldi's well and corrals are missing there are still some visible effects of the existence of same. From this point it was 4 miles to Highway 395. As a kid I used to ride my bicycle down to the highway and catch the school bus and then return every day. Looking down into the IWV you could see Inyokern, Hwy 14 and the road up to Walkers Pass. On Friday nights we used to sit outside and watch the folks from LA driving up north on Hwy 14 and 395 headed for Mammoth Mountain or some other place to play for the weekends. We could see the trail of lites up the highway to Walkers Pass. Then on Sunday evenings the reverse direction was evidenced by everyone returning home to start the week again.
Some Fence posts that BLM has left standing for one reason or another. I am surprised.
This is the site of the old home place as seen in a similar view in black and white above. As you can see BLM only left the trees.
This is whats left of a fairly sizable set of corrals and a well which pumped water into two concrete tanks as shown on the left above to provide water for open range cattle that Rinaldi ran for years in this part of the desert. The well head has been capped and safetied with concrete but there used to be a large wooden tower and windmill over this and it provided the pumping power for water to fill the tanks.
Photo by Anthony Pate (2004)
Photo by Anthony Pate (2004)
Photo by Anthony Pate (2004)
Photo by Anthony Pate (2004)