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Barry Schrader


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.

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Local history can be fun in P-town

By Barry Schrader.................................September 22, 2005

This weekend is the Pleasanton Heritage Festival and I will be there doing my favorite thing—printing on an old wooden Common Press.

This hand operated press was used from the early days of printing soon after Gutenberg up until the mid-19 Century when the more powerful iron presses came into use. The owner of the press, Sharon Sullivan of Hayward, will be demonstrating it both days at Rose and Main Street in the Pioneers of Pleasanton exhibit. I will serve as her “Printer’s Devil” and we will be handing out free handbills printed on the spot.

The history behind this reproduction of the centuries’ old press is of interest. It was ordered built by Sharon’s father Gordon Sullivan who also owns the only authentic Ben Franklin replica press outside the Smithsonian. Gordon expects to drive down from Willits to help his daughter operate this press known as the “Roaring Dragon.” It was hand built by a master craftsman named Richard Hicks of Albuquerque, New Mexico in the early 1980s. Some of his early days press replicas can be found in corporate lobbies and museums around the country.

Of course the real attractions at this exhibit will be two pioneer families dating back to the 1800s in the Amador Valley.

The Spotorno family has a rich ranching history covering three generations. Today the ranch is operated by Alex and LaVerne Spotorno. Al is the grandson of Gaston Pierre Sportono who was born is 1851. Their ranching and farming has produced olives and grapes, pigs and cattle over the past century. Gaston was one of the founders of the Pleasanton Township Water District and helped build the Pleasanton Elementary School in 1906. Today his grandson Al continues to be involved in community efforts such as presenting awards to the FFA and 4-H winners at the county fair. In 2003 the family was recognized by the California Chamber of Commerce for 125 years of continuous operation of the same ranch.

The other pioneers being recognized are the Appersons. The current patriarch of the family, Bill Apperson, is the grand nephew of Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Bill’s grandfather, brother of Phoebe, came west after she met and married George Hearst, father of William Randolph, who built San Simeon as well as a national newspaper empire.

Listening to an oral history done by Ed Kinney with Bill back in 2000, I was fascinated by his childhood which included living on the Hearst Ranch at San Simeon where he went to grade school. But then the family determined that he should go to a military school and he went through the rest of elementary and high school at the San Rafael Military Academy. That was followed by a stint in the Navy, after which his aunt asked him to go into the family publishing business in New York. He gave it a try—selling advertising for one of the Hearst chain’s magazines, Motorboating, then decided to go to art school in New York. But his family beckoned him back to California and he ended up in the family home on St. Mary’s Street, working the family ranch near Sunol and dabbling in the retail world as well. He even opened the first modern laundromat in Pleasanton.

On the oral history tape Bill recalled that his father bought the Pleasanton house in 1922 and used to have the train stop nearby to give him a ride down to Sunol each morning where he ran the ranch, returning home the same way each evening. The biggest controversy in Bill’s life came in the 1960s when he proposed establishing an exclusive dude guest ranch on his property. The idea came from his father’s friend John Wayne who always envisioned a getaway where the rich and famous could come and play cowboy for a week or two. But Bill ran into a hornet’s nest when he sought a package sewer plant before the Pleasanton City Council. The Sierra Club sued him all the way to the Supreme Court, costing Bill a fortune and delaying the project so long that interest rates meanwhile had skyrocketed to 22 percent and his project was shelved.

Despite his failing health I have hopes that Bill and/or his son will show up at the Pioneers exhibit to meet the public and share some life stories. At least there will be displays and heirlooms from the two families for people to peruse.

And of course you can also walk away with a “wanted poster” printed on an old press, but the ink will still be wet so handle it gingerly! I suspect that Pleasanton Hotel proprietor Bill Lobby will particularly want one for his wall.


Oldest correction in newspaper history? The Herald’s Randy Hashagen received a call from an old cowboy last week whose photo appeared in the paper in 1974. His family apparently didn’t believe the yellowed newspaper clipping showing him astride a notorious rodeo bull named “Little Oly” because his name was badly misspelled. So since I am the person responsible as editor of the Herald in 1974, I want to officially correct the spelling of his name to Mike Bills, now a Tracy resident, and apologize on behalf of the reporter or photographer who made that mistake 31 years ago. Now that has got to be a contestant for the Guinness Book of World Records….


Last week’s history mystery question was answered first by Bill Hankins of P-town who correctly guessed there are 36 state historical landmarks in Alameda County and the latest one to be dedicated was the USS Hornet which is Historical Landmark #1029. I bet Tommie Simpson also knew that answer since she is a docent on the Hornet as well as at Camp Parks’ museum


This week’s question: What article mentioned Hearst Ranch which appeared on the front page of the Pleasanton Times on January 11, 1902? It will be easy to answer as this historic issue will be on display along with a number of other newspapers at the Pioneers of Pleasanton exhibit at the Heritage Festival which runs Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m..


The columnist can be reached via email at :


or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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