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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

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.

Archive Page

Summertime at Crane Ridge Lookout

By Barry Schrader.................................July 21, 2005

Summertime in the valley can be hot and monotonous, especially if you were a farm youth back in the 1930s. The late Herb Hagemann of Livermore wrote about some excitement one such summer during his boyhood and published the booklet in 1976.

He told of an invitation he received as a 10-year-old boy to go up and spend a few weeks at a fire lookout station with the Mendenhall family atop Crane Ridge, a 2,675 foot high ridge southeast of Livermore about nine or ten miles out Mines Road, then up a steep and winding dirt road to the top.

The fire lookout post had been financed by the Stockmen’s Protective Association of Livermore about 1916, in conjunction with Alameda County whose Fire Patrol protected the grasslands and tree-topped ridges around the Livermore-Amador Valley. The lookout was a ramshackle “mountain shack” consisting of three rooms--a kitchen with a sink and cast iron stove plus a long table with benches (reminds me of the Waltons TV series), a small bedroom, and a screened porch that doubled as a storeroom. Later a second story room was added with windows on all four sides to make it easier for scanning the valley and nearby mountains, such as the 3,675 foot high Cedar Mountain, for signs of smoke. It was anchored to the mountain-top with cables attached to stakes driven deep into the ground, necessitated by the high winds that swept across those elevations and the infrequent lightning storms that started many of the fires.

There was no electricity or running water, hence no indoor toilet, but a privy nearby, and the only connection with civilization was a country party line that had been strung from town from tree to tree by the McGlinchey brothers (John and Jim). Jack Mendenhall, Herb’s playmate at the lookout, now 85 and living in Livermore yet, told me the phone was on a party line of 12 to 14 residences back in town along Tesla and East Avenue, making it difficult for his mother to get through to the fire patrol when she needed to report smoke in the surrounding hills. But when she interrupted to clear the line the folks were always cooperative, Jack recalls.

They had a jackass named Jennie that was used to carry water from a nearby Spring for all their needs--cooking, bathing and drinking. They got grocery supplies and mail once a week when the rural mail carrier would fill their order and leave the goods at a nearby ranch down the hill where they took Jennie to bring everything back to the lookout.

Jack said he was pretty good at hunting with his 30 callibre Remington and provided venison and rabbit some of the time from the plentiful game in the surrounding hills. They also raised chickens up there which provided eggs, and the roosters a good meal when caught, properly plucked and fried. There was also a wandering cow from a nearby ranch which always seemed to show up for some feed they kept, and she got milked regularly to provide fresh “moo-juice.” His family (and in later years his mother after his father died) filled the lookout job from 1926 to 1940 and spent from mid-May to early October (when rains ended the fire danger) on top of that ridge. The boys got some home schooling from their mother until they were able to rejoin their classmates at Fifth Street School later in the fall each year.

In Herb’s booklet he tells about passing the time playing card games like Old Maid and Go Fish at the kitchen table, then sometimes hooking up tin cans with a line of string outside to make their own pretend phone calls. They couldn’t play catch much, because once you missed it, the wayward ball would roll all the way down the mountainside to Corral Hollow! Their other entertainment came from occasional visits by nearby ranchers, townsfolk who would take a Sunday drive up the mountain, or the state trapper who made regular stops for coffee and company at their place, as well as members of the county fire patrol who checked out the phone line as a part of their job.

Tilli Calhoun, whose father Warner “Dick” Holm and uncle Les owned the Circle H Holm Brothers Ranch, a 1,400 acre spread which included the fire lookout, remembers visiting the lookout as early as the 1940s up until the post was closed in 1969. Her twin brother Frank used to ride horseback with his father up there as a boy and remembers Mrs. Mendenhall being a gracious hostess and serving them apple pie. On a clear day one could see the waters of the San Francisco Bay, the flatlands of the San Joaquin Valley and all the way to the Sierras. Tilli even remarked that they could “look way down to Corral Hollow, imagining the route used by Grizzly Adams back in the 1880s along the Arroyo Mocho into Devil’s Hole behind Cedar Mountain when he took his bears from there to San Francisco.”

In the 1970s vandals tipped the building over and burned it, so there is nothing but the foundation and some cable ties remaining today. I imagine there aren’t many kids now who can boast about a summer in a fire lookout, unless they have a relative in the US Forest Service!

* * *

This week’s history quiz: Who was the first person hired to man the Crane Ridge Fire Lookout and what relation was he to Carol Jean Famarris?

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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