In this episode, we visit Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site, a California Historical Landmark. The museum is also listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
We first tried to visit Laws Railroad Museum on a day the wind was blowing so hard it picked up dust and dirt and flung it all around. The day after the windstorm, all the bad air had disappeared, leaving only blue skies behind and clear views of the mountains.
The C & C Railroad rolled into the town of Laws for the first time in April 1883. Three years earlier William Sharon, Henry Yerington, and Darius Mills formed the Carson and Colorado Railroad Company and began construction.
While crews laid the narrow-gauge tracks between Mound House, Nevada, and Laws, California, people arrived in town, drawn by the opportunities a new railroad would bring to the region.
They built a depot, an agent’s house, and various amenities to support the railroad and the trains. Homes, barns, corrals, general stores, boarding houses, hotels, and warehouses sprang up around the depot.
By July 1883, the railroad completed its last 60 miles of the 300-miles, and in August trains rumbled down the tracks to the last stop in Hawley (known as Keeler today).
For nearly 50 years, the railroad provided passenger service and hauled freight. It supported the mining industry and local ranchers and farmers. The conversion from narrow gauge to standard gauge railroads was but one contributing factor in the demise of the C & C. Improved roadways, trucks, and automobiles allowed passengers and freight to travel farther, faster, and sometimes cheaper than the train so there was a steady decline in their use.
In March 1900, Southern Pacific (S.P.) purchased and operated the railroad. S.P. discontinued passenger service in 1932, and the freight trains made their last run in 1943. The tracks north of Laws were removed, leaving only the 60-mile run to Keeler.
On April 30, 1960, Locomotive No. 9 pulled a string of cars into Laws Station for the last time. The City of Bishop and the County of Inyo became the owners of the property under a gift deed by S.P. and on July 6, 1964, they also transferred the land.
On April 1, 1966, eighty-three years from the day the train arrived, Laws Railroad Museum opened the doors to the public. It amazed us how much the museum had grown since our first visit in the early 1980s.
The engine and train cars are original, as are the depot, agent’s house, oil and water tanks, and a turntable. The rest of the town was torn down for salvage by 1959. The other buildings occupying the museum’s eleven acres were local structures saved from destruction and moved to the site.
One of the prized possessions of the museum is a restored circa 1900 local ranch house with period furnishings. The Shipley and Conway family tree hangs inside the home and shows the three generations that lived in it before it was moved to its new location at the museum.
Besides the ranch house, visitors will find the Library and Arts Building housed in Bishop’s first Catholic church, a gazebo, a 20 Mule Team Borax Wagon exhibit, gas station, farm and mining equipment, and train restoration shop. The following pictures are just a sample of some of these exhibits.
This isn’t the first actual, or replicated, western town we have visited, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. We find it fascinating to walk the streets, peek inside buildings, and imagine what life was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I can almost hear the clomp of horses’ feet, the jingle of their bridles, and a whistle in the distance announcing the train’s arrival.
Next up, we finish up our time in Bishop, California.
We left Alamo, Nevada, on October 21, 2020, with Bishop California as our destination. Welcome to the smoky Eastern Sierras. When I made the reservations, the dirty air had not yet filled the Owens Valley with ash and smoke that obliterated the mountains from sight.
The only spot I could find in Bishop was at the Inyo County Fairgrounds. The best part about the campground was the high-speed Wi-Fi connection, which allowed us to stream Netflix. We treated ourselves to dinner out on the patio of Whiskey Creek Restaurant, a place we sometimes visited when passing through town on our way to or from Mammoth Lakes decades ago.
The next morning, the air quality was worse, reducing visibility to about a quarter mile. Lone Pine’s air quality wasn’t as bad, so we headed south to see Manzanar National Historic Site. We had driven by the property for years when all we could see was a gate, fence, and a sign listing it as a historic landmark. We were eager to find out what was behind the fence.
A driving tour took us around the camp where there were places to park and explore different sites with information panels to tell us what we were looking at. Only a few buildings had doors open that we could peek into but not enter.
In reaction to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942. The order authorized the Secretary of War to remove individuals deemed a threat to the war effort for relocation at one of 10 centers in seven states around the country.
It turned out the threatening individuals were 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry living in the United States. Whether they were American citizens by birth or lived in the country for decades, they entered the camps with only a small amount of what they had owned.
Manzanar was not one of those fancy summer camps near a lake. Military police manned eight guard towers with searchlights and patrolled a barbed wire fence that enclosed a 500-acre housing section comprising 504 barracks arrayed into 36 blocks. The remaining 5,500 acres outside of the fence included housing for military police, a reservoir, a sewage treatment plant, and agricultural fields.
Several Japanese American men and women arrived in Manzanar in March 1942 as volunteers to help the Army build the camp. It was the first camp to open. The War Relocation Authority (WRA) took over operations on June 1.
Around 10,000 Japanese American internees occupied the camp by September 1942. Imagine the disappointment on their faces as they descended the bus steps and encountered 110-degree weather. Carrying their meager belongings, they walked along paths, sand filling their shoes.
When they reached their assigned barrack, they found it divided into four 20-by-25-foot rooms to be shared by eight individuals. The only furnishings included an oil stove, a single hanging light bulb, cots, blankets, and straw-filled mattresses. Families shared a laundry room and mess hall and endured communal toilets and showers lacking any kind of privacy.
As if the hot temperatures weren’t enough, the weather dropped below freezing during the winter months. During the year, the internees dealt with strong winds blowing dust and sand through the camp and into the barracks and up through the floorboards.
I admire the way the Japanese Americans managed during their incarceration. With ingenuity and cooperation, they established boys and girls clubs, churches, and temples. They built gardens and ponds, developed recreational activities, sports, music, and dance, and even published the Manzanar Free Press, a newspaper, even though the people were not free. Growing vegetables and raising chickens, hogs, and cattle were among their enterprises. Through the pooling of resources they operated a general store, beauty parlor, barbershop, and a bank.
The way the Japanese Americans prospered under such an oppressive situation impressed on me how we humans are a resilient lot able to overcome adversity.
World War II ended with Japan’s surrender on August 14, 1945. Manzanar War Relocation Center closed on November 21, 1945. In 1972, California established Manzanar as a California Registered Historical Landmark. It became a National Historic Site on March 3, 1992, and the interpretive center opened on April 24, 2004.
I’m embarrassed when I learn how our country has mistreated groups of people during our history. Places like Manzanar National Historic Site tell the stories of what happened there, what people endured, and how they survived and thrived. They bring light to the darkness of those days to future generations who hopefully avoid a repeat of our misguided actions.
Stay tuned for more Bishop, California, fun coming up next.
We counted the trip to the California coast a success, so it was time to map out our next adventure. Initially, we planned on a week or two in San Diego to visit our son, Kevin, and his better half, Bailey. They had other ideas in store for us. When they mentioned Zion and Bryce, we said, “Sure. Let’s go.”
With the trailer loaded with food and clothes, we made our first leg of the trip to Barstow, California, on October 3, 2020. Smoke from the California fires filled the skies until we reached the Tehachapi Summit. I switched the AC from recycle to fresh air and we took big deep breaths as we descended into the Mojave Desert.
The next morning we left Barstow at sunrise, which wasn’t all that early, only 6:50 a.m. It sure looked like smoke or dust or something had shaded the sky with orange and yellow hues. The iPhone 8 captured a surreal image.
In Las Vegas, Nevada, we caught our first glimpse of the new Raider’s Allegiant Stadium from the freeway. Bitterness that the team left Oakland, again, still exists in the Bay Area, although I’m sure fans in Las Vegas are happy about the move. The stadium should be a boom to the City of Las Vegas once we come out of the pandemic, and fans are let back into the sports arenas.
The quick breakfast we ate that morning had long worn off when we hit Las Vegas, which would have been a good place to stop and have a bite to eat. We try to avoid the big cities for our stops because it’s too difficult to maneuver through traffic and find a place to park with the rig. So, we sucked it up and drove the next two hours to St. George. That Cracker Barrel sign never looked so good by the time we arrived.
In the Bay Area, dining options were limited to takeout and outdoor seating. In Southwestern Utah, they offered inside dining or takeout. Since we hadn’t been inside a restaurant for seven months, we chose the takeout. Cracker Barrel isn’t usually my first choice for a restaurant. I much prefer to buy food from an independent store or a local chain. Jon, on the other hand, loves their pecan pancakes. We put on our masks, locked up the trailer, and set out to order our meals.
We were leery about all the people waiting outside, rocking in the chairs on the porch or standing next to the railing and ignoring the six feet of distance we had practiced since March. Only half of them wore masks. At the time, wearing face coverings was only a suggestion, not a state mandate. The state now requires masks in all state-owned buildings and individual counties may have their own requirements.
We kept our distance the best we could, stepped up to the podium, and ordered our meals. A few minutes later, we were inside the trailer, chowing down on the best Cracker Barrel breakfast and cup of coffee I had ever had. Either the cooks do a better job at the Cracker Barrel in St. George, or I was so hungry, a dog bone would have tasted good to me.
With our bellies filled, we drove the remaining thirty minutes to WillowWind RV Park in Hurricane, Utah, where we had booked three nights. Kevin and Bailey arrived a few hours later.
On our first day in Zion National Park, we checked out the situation for catching the shuttle (we couldn’t get tickets for the park shuttle, so paid for a private one) and renting equipment Kevin and Bailey would need for their river walk the next day. Then we drove to the east end to see other sections of the park and find a place to eat our lunch.
We passed the Canyon Overlook Trail on our way to the tunnel, and there were no parking spots. So we kept driving and found a place with a bit of fall color to eat our lunch and take a break.
Checkerboard Mesa is a good place to stop for views. There is plenty of parking, information signs, and plenty of sites to see. Unfortunately, the position of the sun made it difficult to capture the checkerboard feature on the mesa. Earlier in the day would have been better.
The sun was coming from a better angle, so the colors pop in the photo of East Temple.
And here are two more views along the road.
Outside of the park on the east side is The Get and across the street is an RV and tent campground and cabins to rent.
On our way back to the west side of the park, we scouted around for a parking space at the Canyon Overlook and ended up having to stop and wait for one-way traffic to clear. When the west-bound vehicles started flowing, a car just ahead of us pulled out, and we slipped right in as if it was all planned perfectly.
At first we thought the overlook was close by. It turned out further than we thought. I brought my water bottle with me, but no one else did. We hoofed it most of the way, at least to the section where the cave was and we could peek down into the canyon. So, word of caution: come prepared for a hike, not a short walk.
Heading west through the tunnel gives a person a good view out the windows. Luckily, no one was behind us, so Jon stopped the truck for a couple of seconds so we could capture the view with our cameras.
After the tunnel there are a few places to stop and take in the views and spot the windows in the rock walls.
Next up we have another day of more fun and games in Zion.
Before we continue our exploration of the California Coast and our visit to Año Nuevo Point and Island, Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, and the Town of Pescadero, a brief update about our absence from WordPress.
As I write this, it is November 4, 2020, the day after the quadrennial presidential election, and the results of the election are still up in the air. Are we all biting our fingernails? We spent the past month in Utah, Arizona, on the eastern side of the California Sierras, and Nevada. Often we lacked reliable cell and WiFi service that hampered our ability to publish posts. The lack of connectivity was not always a bad thing. It kept us unaware of the pandemic marching across the nation and away from the bickering political campaigns for large chunks of time. We’re back in the real world now, and will publish future articles on our October 2020 COVID-19 Adventure.
Until then, here’s a look at what else we encountered along the California Coast in September. To see the first article, click here.
Año Nuevo Point and Island
We had visited Año Nuevo State Park several years ago and were excited about seeing this unique location again. The park includes the Año Nuevo Coast Natural Preserve, which protects the breeding colonies of northern elephant seals. The seals are year-round residents that peepers like me can normally view by permit or guided walk.
We took the trail to the preserve, walking through walls of poison oak trimmed back from the trail. Little blue daisies dotted the path along the way.
At the end of the trail, a ranger told us that guided walks were canceled because of COVID-19. The sound from the other side of the hill made me think the seals were having a party and enjoying their secluded cove without the prying eyes of tourists. I so wanted to watch them in action. I’ll be keeping tabs on the website for when the viewing area reopens. These eyes want to pry.
We walked around the short trail while fog hung close to the shoreline, partially obscuring the view of the nearby hills and pelican colonies that breed on the little islands.
Along the way, several species of birds enjoyed splashing in a freshwater wetland, cleaning their feathers.
Other features at Año Nuevo are the historic buildings of the Cypress Dairy. Edwin and Effie Dickerman built the farm in 1881 to make butter and cream. In the 1930s, the family switched to growing artichokes and Brussels sprouts, crops which still grow in the area today.
The State of California added the farm to Año Nuevo State Park in 1968 when they purchased the ranch. We enjoyed being the only ones walking around the buildings and taking photos. Had the buildings been open and docents nearby, I’m sure we would have heard interesting stories about the Dickerman family.
Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park
A short distance from where we stayed at Costanoa stands Pigeon Point Lighthouse, one of the tallest lighthouses in America at 115 feet. The lighthouse began service on November 15, 1872, when the five-wick oil lamp was first lit. An automated LED beacon replaced the original Fresnel lens and is still an active U.S. Coast Guard navigation aid.
The lighthouse has been closed for repairs since December 2001 when the iron belt course fell off of the exterior. In August 2019, California State Parks announced funding for the stabilization and restoration project to begin the spring of 2020. In mid-2020 a request for proposals was to be released for the $9 million projects. Maybe next year they can start the project.
We missed out on seeing the elephant seals at Año Nuevo, but the harbor seals sunbathing on the little island near the lighthouse did not escape our notice.
Next to the lighthouse are three rental houses for up to 10 people at a nightly rate of $350 to $500, depending on the time of year.
Twelve ships wrecked along the shore between Año Nuevo and Pigeon Point, between 1853 and 1953. The Point Arena, a steam schooner built in 1887, carrying cargo along California’s central coast, was one of the twelve ships that succumbed to the power of the sea.
While loading tanbark at Pigeon Point, rough seas forced her on the rocks and tore a hole in the hull. The sailors watched in horror as the waves ripped her apart. They burned the remains to prevent danger to other ships, and everyone thought there was nothing left. Eighty years later in 1983, a five-ton section of the hull washed ashore at Año Nuevo as a testament to the power of storms and oceans. They hid from view a five-ton hunk of a hull for eighty years and then spit it out one day.
I had the pleasure of working near Pescadero a few times during my accounting days and was introduced to Duarte’s Tavern, where I remember having one of the best pieces of pie.
We drove there expecting to buy a slice to take home. Unfortunately, they were closed. A couple walking by told us the restaurant hadn’t kept regular hours since the county enacted pandemic health restrictions. I hope they survive the restrictions and the economic downturn. I’d sure love to taste the best pie I ever ate again. Will it taste as good as I remember?
A plaque on the building dated September 29, 1990, states the Duarte’s Tavern is run by the third and fourth generations of the Duarte Family. The plague also states that Frank Duarte started it all when he brought a barrel of whiskey from Santa Cruz in the 1890s and set up his bar.
Closed during prohibition, Duartes reopened and expanded with the restaurant in 1937. The original building burned in 1926, but the bar was saved and is still in use today.
I recently learned there’s a name for people like me who like to wander around cemeteries. I’m a taphophile, a person who is interested in cemeteries, funerals, and gravestones. I’m not so enamored with funerals, but cemeteries and gravestones pique my interest. And the more historic, the better. Pescadero has two cemeteries side-by-side on a hill at the end of the downtown area.
Mt. Hope Cemetery and St. Anthony’s Catholic Cemetery are not your typical modern-day cemeteries. No manicured grounds there. One must walk carefully around the plots to avoid tripping over a molehill or twisting an ankle in a gopher hole.
Family plots, containing generations of ancestors and relatives, are sectioned off. Some plots are well maintained while others appear abandoned. New headstones, small and large, mix in with the faded and eroded markings from historic eras.
Why do I like cemeteries? I’m intrigued by the people buried there. Each grave represents a person who lived on this earth, who was loved, who was special in their own right. There are so many stories buried in graveyards, and I yearn to know them all.
What kind of life did they lead? What were their goals and achievements? What were their hardships and struggles? Who did they love? Did they have big families or small families? What were their views on politics, religion, and faith? Did they suffer, or did they lead happy lives?
And when I see a grave that holds the remains of a child, my heart breaks to think about the pain suffered by the parents, or the life that never grew and matured and loved.
Maybe it’s the emotions that attract me to cemeteries, the happiness I feel for the person who lived a long life, the sadness for the person who did not, combined with the stories I imagine in my head from reading the names, the dates, and epitaphs. Whatever it is, I’m sure I’ll continue to turn my head whenever I pass a cemetery and want to stop the car, get out, and walk through the graves.
Well, that concludes our brief visit to the California Coast. Next up we’ll start our October 2020 COVID-19 Adventure.