I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;
- Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
- Valley Times : Do You Remember?
- The Independent : Do You Remember?
The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.
They will also be found on this page each week as well.
If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.
Bicentennial memories of a wagon train trek
By Barry Schrader.................................March
Back in 1976 many of us got all pumped up about the nation's Bicentennial
and how we could take part in its observance. There were county commissions,
city celebrations, club activities and even pet rock shows tied to the 200th
anniversary of our country's birth.
In Alameda County the Board of Supervisors created a Bicentennial Commission
and appointed Marie Cronin of Dublin as its executive director. She set
up office in Old St. Raymond's Church and I was one of her commissioners.
Two things stand out in my memory from that year. The first was the Juan
Bautista de Anza re-enactment of that historic journey by the Spanish explorer
that crossed the eastern end of the Livermore Valley on April 4-5, 1776,
the first white men to explore this valley. We found horse enthusiasts to
re-enact that journey, had costumes made for the riders, and even dedicated
two monuments to the expedition-one 13 miles out Tesla Road before you reach
the Carnegie motorcycle park, and a second at the Civic Center park near
the now vacant Livermore library. The inscription on the marker tells about
the de Anza expedition and on the back of the stone wall is the William
Mendenhall plaque. At the foot of that slab is buried the city's Millennium
The other memory is even more unforgettable for me. Harold and Ruth Gabriel,
a young Livermore couple, were skilled at driving teams of horses pulling
wagons and even had a hayride business. They had made contact with a group
organizing a wagon train expedition from California to Pennsylvania as part
of the Bicentennial re-enactment (in reverse) of the westward movement of
settlers. The Gabriels were chosen to drive a wagon, first the Hawaii state
wagon, then later taking over the California wagon, as the wagon train wound
its way toward Valley Forge where it would be part of the nation's 200th
birthday celebration on July 4th.
Ruth and Harold gave up six months of their lives to make this pilgrimage
by covered wagon, enduring various hardships along the way, including the
death of a horse. Their finances ran low, because they weren't fully supported
by the sponsoring organization, and we had a fundraising drive to buy them
a replacement horse. The late Herb Hagemann from a pioneer valley family,
Attorney Burke Critchfield, and I teamed up to head the campaign. It was
successful and a few thousand dollars provided them with a new horse and
covered some other trip expenses.
But my reward came when I decided to join the wagon train on the last two
days of its journey in Pennsylvania. I flew back there, then got on board
and had the thrill of riding the wagon train into the final encampment at
Valley Forge and bedding down in a sleeping bag under the wagon. The grand
finale was President Gerald Ford visiting the wagons on July 4th. Being
a local newsman at the time, I sent dispatches back to Livermore so they
could be published during my trip. Later, I assisted Ruth Gabriel in publishing
her journal of the experience in a booklet entitled "Trails and Tribulations",
which should be in your local library.
Harold and Ruth later had the experience of handling the team of Clydesdales
that pulled one of the Budweiser wagons. They also had their white carriage
in the Rose Parade 13 years ago. They now reside near Phelan, CA. Ruth is
a special education teacher in Barstow and Harold still works with horses
(they own five draft horses). And his mother Nadine still lives in Livermore.
I hope you have some Bicentennial memories you can share with your grandchildren
* * *
The history mystery question for next week: Atop the highest hill in
Livermore, Oak Knoll (also known as Boot Hill to the inhabitants of Granada
High School next door) , there once was an historic plaque dedicated to
the pioneers of that town. The plaque was stolen some two or more decades
ago, but what did it say? And, as an afterthought, why hasn't the Livermore
Heritage Guild replaced it in all these years?
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551