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.
Summertime at Crane Ridge Lookout
By Barry Schrader.................................July
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 Stockmens 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, Herbs 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
In Herbs 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 couldnt 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 Devils 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 arent many kids now who can boast about a summer in a fire lookout,
unless they have a relative in the US Forest Service!
* * *
This weeks 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 :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551