Inspiration For Your Memoir: One Dream-Come-True Story!

GUEST BLOG:  Q&A With New Memoir Author Jane Sweeney

Jane Sweeney’s book has been umpteen years in the making. This year she finally did it — her memoir is published and out!

I asked her to share her how-did-you-do-it story with our readers. Hope you’ll find inspiration in Jane’s story, and encouragement to keep pursuing your own writing and publishing dreams!

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Author Jane Sweeney

A Quick Introduction:
Jane Sweeney grew up in the Sixties in a suburb of L.A. That meant quirky opportunities like getting to ride Zorro’s horse, and being hired to be an “Indian Maiden” at Disneyland. Plus a great college education for just $54 per semester.

Then, when Jane was just 34, her mother died. That opened a whole new world, eventually leading her to a career as a hospice director during the AIDS pandemic of the Eighties. And as only Jane could do, she’s got the funniest stories about that!

Really?! Hospice and humor?! You bet. Jane’s learned to leaven everything with humor, she says, because people will listen if what you’re saying is funny.

And funny she is. (I keep telling her she should try stand-up comedy.) Her acknowedgments page includes all the usual suspects . . . and coffee. Her early favorite song: “My Country Tisathee.” And you gotta love the image of motorhome trips spent reading to the kids, while husband Tom yelled, “Look out the window for God’s sake, it’s the Grand Canyon!”

Jane has wanted to tell her stories for years. They’re filled with the love of all the things Jane herself loves:  family, animals, and navigating life’s hurdles with hope and humor.

More than ten years in the making, Jane’s book is now out. And here’s Jane to tell how she did it!

Jane’s book, “Living Out Loud: My LIfe in Stories.”

Q&A With Jane Sweeney:
       Q: What made you MOST want to write your book? Is it just for your own family, or who else do you hope will read it?
A:  Two things made me want to write my book. The first was to tell my stories. I wanted people to hear what I had to say! The second thing was to tell about my experience with Hospice. I wanted to tell people how it started, and what it can provide.

       Q:  What was the biggest hurdle for you in writing your book? And how did you overcome it?
A:  I’ve been writing this book off and on for about ten years or more. Something funny or unusual would happen, and I would say, “That’s going in the book!” Because I though a record should be kept. Then as I got older I began to think people might be able to learn something from my experiences. I love to tell my stories, and sometimes people laughed, which just encouraged me. As you will see in the book, I think all of us just want to be heard.
My biggest hurdle was just inertia. There are always so many other things that need doing. I had to make the book a priority.

Q:  What kept you going with this project when the “going” got tough?
A:  I like to think that when I say I’m going to do something, I do it. I had notebooks with “My Story” and “Memoir” on them for YEARS. I got tired of looking at them. Once I passed the age my mother was, when she died, I felt even more pressure. What if I didn’t live any longer? The stories would all be lost. And part of what kept me going was your book, From Stuck to Finished, and your wonderful words of encouragement: “Don’t give up, you’re almost there.”

       Q:  What’s the biggest take-away that you hope readers will get from your memoir?
A:  The biggest take-away I hope readers get is that life is full of amazing moments. Share them. Also I want people to know they are good enough. After all, I thought I was good enough to write my story!

       Q: Do you have any advice for other people working on their memoir?
A:  My advice is, don’t give up! We all want to be heard, and your story may help or inspire someone. If you don’t write it down, it will be gone when you are gone.

       Q:  Where can readers buy your book, Living Out Loud
A:  It’s available on Amazon.com (AmazonAssociates link) and Bookshop.org. They can also get a signed copy from me for $15.00 postage paid. Email me at janes5127@gmail.com. Right now the Kindle version is available for $3.99. Amazon is supposed to have the paperback available, too, but I don’t know when.

     Thank you, Jane, for sharing your story with our newsletter folks and with the world! 

Find Jane’s book here at Amazon.com! (AmazonAssociates link)

 

A Photo Visit to the Sutro Tunnel

It’s been well over a century since the last mining car filled with ore from the Comstock rolled out of Sutro Tunnel. By the time the Tunnel was completed in 1878, the Big Bonanza was winding down, and the best guess is that the last batch of Comstock ore came through about 1880. But just three years ago, workers began converging at the old Sutro site once more.

The Sutro Tunnel entrance as it looks today, with the brick candle house on the right. Just visible on the hillside between the two upright posts is a survey marker, used as the tunnel was built to make sure it ran straight. Work commenced October 19, 1869 and the tunnel was completed July 8, 1878. What looks like “1888” in the arch above the tunnel is actually “1869”. (Rick Dustman photo).

The Sutro Tunnel entrance before restoration. (Photo courtesy of Dan Webster). 

No, they’re not miners. In 2017, a determined group of volunteers began working to preserve and restore the old buildings and artifacts that still remain here from the Sutro’s hey-day. It’s now privately owned. But thanks to restoration volunteer Dan Webster, we were fortunate enough to be invited to visit the site!

The tunnel mouth remains the most prominent feature of the site. Volunteers have re-plastered the brick entry wings and repainted the markings, restoring it to the way it looked when the tunnel was new. Water still flows out of the tunnel, thanks to its gently sloping design.

Back in Sutro’s day, the tunnel stretched 3-1/2 miles underground to connect first with the Savage Mine at Virginia City. From there, additional tunnels branched out to connect with other Comstock mines.

Interior of the tunnel, viewed through the bars. (Rick Dustman photo)

The original theodolite base is still visible, where surveyors set up their transit equipment to ensure the tunnel ran straight to its intended destination. Survey markers are still in place on the hillside above (see first photo, above).

Fixed metal base for anchoring the theodolite (survey transit). (Rick Dustman photo)

Sutro himself once had a mansion on the hillside to the right of the tunnel entrance. Completed and occupied in late 1872, the house was a mansion indeed, featuring gas lighting and indoor plumbing. Sutro’s wife and children lived here until – well, as the story goes, until Sutro was caught with another woman, after which the wife departed for San Francisco. Sutro, too, eventually moved to San Francisco as his tunnel prospects faded. Sadly, the mansion was destroyed in a fire in 1941, thought to be arson committed by a disgruntled former employee.

The Sutro Mansion (now gone). Photo courtesy of Dan Webster.

To the right side of the tunnel entrance stands the brick candle house. One side has been caved in by falling rocks from the hillside, but its original bricks have been saved to allow it to be rebuilt eventually.

The candle house, which held candles to provide the tunnel workers with light. (Rick Dustman photo).

Next door, the old machine shop has been cleaned and its floors oiled. Photographs and artifacts are being assembled inside, and it’s hoped this will one day become a museum, helping to acquaint visitors with the history of the site. Still visible in the floor are tracks that once allowed mining equipment to be rolled into the building for repair.

The inside of the machine shop at the mouth of the Sutro Tunnel in days gone by. (Photo courtesy of Dan Webster)

Outside, a cluster of iron ore cars that once rattled along the tracks of the tunnel still stand a silent vigil. Markings on some of the wheels show they were cast at the V&T foundry in Carson City. (Fun fact: the V&T foundry provided not only machinery for the railroad, but also for mines and mills all over Nevada.) The car bodies themselves were built on site here at the machine shop. Each ore car could haul 2-1/2 tons of material.

Ore cars, built using wheels cast at the V&T foundry in Carson City, on a restored section of rail in front of the machine shop. (photo courtesy of Julie Michler).

Next door is the mule barn, where mules for the tunnel work were stabled. And there’s even tack still hanging inside (see photos, below).

Mule barn including interior stalls, with tack still hanging, and its well-used wooden floors. (Karen Dustman photos)

This is thought to be a second mule barn, built in the early 1900s; the first was said to have burned in a fire. The roof of this mule barn had begun to sag sadly before renovations began in 2017. It was stabilized and additional roof support added by volunteers just last year (2019).

Once the warehouse for Sutro’s Tunnel, this became a bar and dance hall in the 1960-1970s. (Rick Dustman photo)

To the left of the tunnel mouth, a large warehouse (below) once held supplies during Sutro’s day. In the 1960s and ‘70s, hippies turned the former warehouse into a bar and dance hall.

A small red house off to one side has its own fascinating history. Not original to the site, it was moved here from Carson City in the 1960s from the area that’s now the Nugget parking lot. According to local lore, this humble cabin used to be the home of famous prostitute Rosa May!

Okay, it’s anecdotal. But what a fun anecdote! According to local lore, the small red house at the rear of this photo used to be Rosa May’s in Carson City! (Rick Dustman photo)
This old Victorian home was also moved from Carson City to the property near the Sutro Tunnel. (Karen Dustman photo)

A two-story Victorian home is also on site – and it, too, was moved. This once was the home of John and Helen Schulz in Carson City. Here at the Sutro site it was occupied by tenants until very recently, but now is vacant.

Just over the hill below the tunnel mouth, a ten-stamp cyanide-process mill was erected in 1900 by Mr. Leonard, then president of the Sutro Tunnel Company, and is thought to have run sporadically through the early 1940s. It was originally water-powered, using pelton wheels. That power source was replaced by two diesel engines, probably in the 1930s. Ore from various Comstock mines was initially trucked to the mill. Later, a tailings pile west of the mill was worked,  using a steam shovel to load dump trucks, and the tailings material was then gravity-fed to the stamps.

The old wooden mill building itself burned in 1967. But much of the large metal mill equipment can still be seen, some pieces still showing signs of distortion from the fire.

Metal parts from the mill are collected on site. Some show bends from the heat of the fire that destroyed the mill. (Rick Dustman photo)
Remnants of a large old wagon. (Rick Dustman photo)
An old saw. (Rick Dustman photo)

Below the mill once sat the Town of Sutro, a neatly-laid-out company town where workers and their families once lived. Crops were grown there using water from the mine for irrigation. Sutro himself brought in German Cottonwood trees, and had them planted in nice, straight rows to line the streets.

The former Town of Sutro, complete with a grid of tree-lined streets, once sat on this plain below the tunnel. (Rick Dustman photo)

Volunteers are continuing to work hard to restore the buildings and preserve the extensive artifacts at the Sutro Tunnel site. Eventually, they hope public tours may help raise money to assist with restoration efforts — and share the amazing story of Sutro himself and his famous tunnel!

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Story copyright Karen Dustman 2020. Unlawful to use without prior written permission.

Memoir Writing Quiz: All About YOU

This memoir how-to post is all about youYour memoir goals. Your writing journey. Those chasms-without-a-bridge and 600-pound-gorillas standing in your way.

It’s a quick and simple quiz, designed to give you added insight into where you want to go, and a few ideas about what might help you get there.

I’d love to hear about your insights, your progress – and your hurdles! I hope you’ll share your experience, thoughts, and questions on our “just for memoir writers” Facebook page (@WriteYourMemoir), and connect up with other memoir folks going through the same things!

1.         What made you want to write a memoir?

2.         Are there one or two stories you most want to tell, or a lifetime of stories?

3.         How much have you written on your memoir so far?

4.         What’s been your biggest writing hurdle? Where have you gotten stuck?

5.         If your fairy godmother tapped you on the shoulder and gave you three wishes, what things would you wish for that would help you write your memoir?

6.         What do you do right now to encourage yourself to write?

7.         Would the accountability and regular feedback of a writer’s group be helpful to you? If so, have you checked for an online class or a group near you?

8.         Have you read any how-to-write-a-memoir books for help or encouragement? If so, what tips or ideas did you take away that were most helpful?

9.         What is your end-result hope for your memoir? Who do you want to read it, and what do you hope it will mean to your family or the world?

10.       If you had to name one thing that would help you the most to finish your memoir, what would it be?

That’s your memoir post for this month! Love to hear your feedback.

Now available from Amazon.com!

The Story of Dr. Ernest Hand

Physician. Surgeon. Obstetrician. First responder. Ambulance driver. Back in the day, Dr. Ernest Hand did it all.

Baby arriving? He’d come to your home for the delivery. Had a hunting accident out in the wilderness? He’d fight his way through the roughest territory to get to your side and render aid. Need an ambulance? He’d tote you piggyback out to his own Lincoln automobile, and then race for the hospital at Carson or Reno – with no regard for posted speed limits. “Not to worry,” he’d say. “I used to be a race car driver.”

Dr. Hand and his wife, Eleanor, arrived in Gardnerville in December, 1934, the year they were married. And for the next 23 years Dr. Hand would render expert, compassionate care to everyone in town, regardless of race, creed, color, or ability to pay.

Dr. Hand’s two-story residence on Douglas Avenue. It’s said the good doctor helped build it with his own hands.

Born in Pennsylvania June 8, 1886, Dr. Hand put himself through Baltimore Medical College by working as a linotype operator for the Baltimore Sun newspaper. He began his medical career in New York in 1909, alternating private practice with a stint as an in-house physician for a company with 75,000 employees. He honed his medical skills in both urology and dermatology. Perhaps more important for his future career, he also delivered some 5,000 babies – experience that would later prove invaluable when he arrived in Carson Valley.

The good doctor not only loved medicine, he loved carpentry too. An excellent cabinet-maker, he helped build his own house on Douglas Avenue and crafted cabinets for his medical office. He also loved animals and gardening. In his off-hours (few as those were) he lovingly tended a garden and fruit trees by his home. He’d can and preserve the fruits and vegetable he grew, too.

And oh, his work ethic! From 7 to 8 a.m. every morning Dr. Hand’s waiting room would be jammed with drop-in patients – no appointments needed. His office was right on Main Street, just north of the Overland, where “Restyle” stands today. He’d treat everything from sniffles to gunshot wounds right there in his office. He made the drive nearly every day to Carson City and Reno to check on his patients in the hospital. And he also served as county health officer for both Douglas and Alpine Counties.

Many Carson Valley residents still remember Dr. Hand fondly. “He was a happy ol’ guy — he looked like Santa Claus,” remembers one long-time local boy. “He had a belly, and white hair and glasses. He was very kind. And he would talk to you. One time as a kid I had pains every morning and my mom thought I just didn’t want to go to school. But there really was something wrong, and he figured it out.”

Dr. Hand, circa 1950, with a pocket full of pens. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).

“He was kinda like a miracle worker; it was like he had 48 hours in the day, not 24,” recalls another former patient. “Even after normal office hours, he’d go out and make house calls. And he’d still have just as much interest in you. It didn’t matter how late he’d been up the night before.”

Medical care would often be simple but effective. “I fell once as a boy and broke my arm,” one local still remembers. “Dr. Hand came up to the house and he just pulled on it to set it. You didn’t get pain shots for every little thing back then.”

Newspaper reports provide a snapshot of the wide variety of ailments Dr. Hand was called upon to attend. He cared for the victim of a logging accident with major spinal injuries. He trekked six miles into the hills outside Markleeville to render aid to a teenager whose leg bone was shattered in a hunting accident. He administered polio shots to local school children, and treated a road worker with severe burns after his oil-stained clothes had caught on fire. And when floods closed local roads and prevented a pregnant military wife from reaching the base hospital in Hawthorne, Dr. Hand came to her home for the delivery – despite getting the call just hours before the baby arrived.

Dr. Hand was credited with delivering more than 500 children during his 23 years of practice in and around Gardnerville. (Image courtesy of TheGraphicsFairy.com).

Those who knew the good doctor still shrug and smile about his lead-footed driving. “I rode with him once for a trip to the hospital – he said he’d used to be a race car driver, but he was still a race car driver!” grins one former patient. “He would blow the wheels off that car!” confirms another.

As luck would have it, it was the doctor’s own speedy driving that once led to a special kind of cure. A young child had gotten a small whistle stuck in his throat and Dr. Hand was, as usual, putting pedal to the metal to get the boy to the hospital for an operation. Suddenly another car cut in front of them. Dr. Hand slammed on his brakes and threw out his arm protectively to keep the young boy from falling forward. Lo and behold, that sudden jolt was just what the doctor ordered. The whistle was dislodged – and no operation was required!

In 1950, Dr. Hand was lauded for his years of work by a grateful community. Donations totaling $1,000 had been taken up – enough to pay for a new incubator and a hospital room at Carson-Tahoe Hospital in honor of Dr. Hand. The doctor’s wife, too, received special thanks from the community for her “untiring assistance” to her husband – and no doubt her patience with years of middle-of-the-night emergency phone calls. The community’s tribute came as a complete surprise to Dr. Hand. He was, as he put it, “too full for words.”

Dr. Hand passed away on December 27, 1957 of a sudden heart attack, at the age of 71. He’d tended patients here in Carson Valley for 23 years. More than 800 mourners turned out to pay their respects at his funeral at Carson City’s civic auditorium. He was laid to rest at first in Lone Mountain Cemetery – but it wasn’t for long. In the summer of 1960, Dr. Hand’s family had his body moved and reburied at the Garden Cemetery in Gardnerville, the town he had lived in and served for so many years.

If you visit, you can read his epitaph:

       “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Dr. Hand’s memorial plaque at the Garden Cemetery in Gardnerville.

Free Resources for Memoir Writers

Struggling with your memoir? Feeling stuck in the mud?

Here’s a quick list of FREE resources to help float your writing boat again!

 

Writing Tips for Memoir Writers:
Finding Time to Write:
Fear of Criticism:
Encouragement to Keep Writing:
Helpful Prompts for Memoir Writers:
Think of all the places you’ve been!
Writing through the Coronavirus Blues:
(Image courtesy of TheGraphicsFairly.com)
Short Videos – Tips for Memoir Writers:

“Finding Your Next Story”

“Putting the Story in a Family History”

“Tips for Writing a Memoir”

“The Three Biggest Mistakes a Memoir Writer Can Make”

Free Scheduling Tool:

Keep organized with this Free Scheduling Tool (a thank-you gift for signing up for our free newsletter just for Memoir writers)

Like more help and tips? Check out our book!
Available in paperback or Kindle!
“Writing a Memoir: From Stuck to Finished!”

 

Writing Your Way Through Coronavirus

There are certainly plenty of ways to describe the Great Coronavirus Experience. “Unprecedented” springs to mind. There’s also Stressful. Lonely. Depressing. Ugh.

But flip that “half-empty” glass around and the times we’re living through are also pretty darn exciting: Medical advances at super-nova speed. Heart-warming fits, too – neighbors looking out for neighbors, strangers helping strangers. And how about inspiring – legions of doctors, nurses, truck drivers, cashiers and cops, working around the clock to keep us safe, fed, and healthy.

I don’t know about you, but thinking that way makes my glass feel pretty darn full.

Music lifts the spirit and soothes the soul — even during social distancing. (Image courtesy of TheGraphicsFairy)

It’s certainly a time in our lives we’ll never forget. We truly are “living through history.”

Unexpected as this has been, it’s a teach-able moment for all of us. It’s also a teach-able moment for those who’ll come after us. That means your memoir is a great vehicle to share not only experiences, but lessons, too.

From card games to knitting, pinochle to bread-baking, we’ve rediscovered the enjoyment in long-forgotten things. (Image courtesy of TheGraphicsFairy).

What can you share to help the next generation – and the next – understand what living through this unprecedented time has been like? What have you learned? And even more important, what advice can you give them about how to cope?

Here are three Writing Prompts to get you started:

1.         What little thing that you can’t enjoy right now do you miss the most? Maybe it’s going out to breakfast with your spouse. Maybe it’s telling jokes with the guys at work, now that everyone’s not working. Or perhaps it’s hugging a grandchild (okay, that’s a big thing, actually!)

What a big thing a hug can be! (Image courtesy of TheGraphicsFairy)

2.         What have you learned from not having those things? Maybe you’ve realized it wasn’t actually going out to breakfast that you miss; it’s sitting there holding hands. Maybe it’s not the jokes at work that were so important, it was the sense of camaraderie. Did you discover anything surprising by having those simple things disappear?

Do you miss those crazy guys at work?

3.         And now the million-dollar question: What’s helping you to cope, and might help others someday? Do you remind yourself “this too shall pass”? Does it help to turn off the TV and immerse yourself in a silly novel? What work-arounds and substitutes have you found? (Scrambling an egg at home and putting a flower on the dining table to recreate “breakfast out”? Skyping with a grandchild? Emailing jokes to the guys at work?)
What’s been the greatest source of help and support for you in these trying times? And who’s helped “fill your glass” and brought a smile to your face?

There you go — your Memoir Tips for the month!
Here’s to lifting spirits and sharing YOUR wisdom!
Stay in touch! Drop us a line on Facebook  and let us know how your memoir is going, or ask your memoir questions! And feel free to SHARE this newsletter.

The Adams House in Carson City

Even from the street, this little bungalow at 990 N. Minnesota St. in Carson City looks like it was built with love. It’s called the Adams House. And today, it is the home of KNVC Radio. But just who was Adams? And what’s the house’s story?

Thanks to Sandie LaNae, I got to visit the Adams House and hear the story. Turns out whole lot of life has passed through these doors. And a little bit of death, too.  Here’s the tale!

Period styling includes the square, leaded glass lights in the front door, and dark-stained wooden door trim and paneling.

Turns out this century-old home wasn’t the first house on this property. Mining engineer John S. Phillips once had a farm house here. (Just imagine this residential section of Carson City, dotted with small farms!)

Phillips died after a tragic mining accident in 1909. By 1915, his widow had become so destitute she was forced to put their young children in the Orphan’s Home. She arranged to have the farmhouse itself moved to Mina, Nevada. And in May, 1922, she sold the now-empty town lot to DeWitt Adams, for a bit more than the back taxes.

Born in South Carolina in 1885, DeWitt had worked his way west when he was 13. About 1916, he married Carson City native Meta Anderson. At the time he purchased the property in 1922, DeWitt was working in a local hardware store. He and Meta would eventually have a total of six children: Jasper, Maurice, Margaret, Walter, Arthur (who died as an infant), and Robert.

With five kids and a wife, Adams wasted no time creating a home. Between 1922 and 1923, he built the present bungalow, largely with his own hands. Plans for the house may have been ordered from a catalog, or perhaps they were taken from a magazine of the day. Either way, it’s true Craftsman-era styling through and through, with features including built-in cabinets lovingly made by Adams himself. The family was in a hurry to enjoy their new home; they moved in even  before it was totally finished. The house would remain in the Adams family for the next 75 years.

The Depression years were soon upon them. For extra spending money, DeWitt grew an extensive fruit and vegetable garden out back, and the family raised fryer chickens and sold eggs. “Seed money” from the sales was carefully tucked away in a small tin box, hidden in the warming-oven of the old kitchen woodstove. City water hadn’t yet arrived, so water for household use and the garden came from seven artesian wells right there on the property.

Meta passed away in June, 1930 at just 38 years old, from complications of childbirth. DeWitt finished raising their children alone, and never remarried. In later life, he left his job at the hardware store and worked for the state buildings and grounds department, retiring in 1956. He passed away in 1969, at the age of 84.

Even today, traces of the family’s life are still visible. The small front entryway once doubled as Meta’s sewing room. To the left is their living room, separated from the dining room by built-in bookshelves crafted by DeWitt himself. The old stained-wood wainscoting and rough plaster still remain, and the original milk glass light fixtures are suspended from the ceiling.

The living room features the original hanging light fixture and dark-stained trim.

The dining room features a built-in china cabinet, also crafted by DeWitt himself. Although the old potbelly stove is gone, now, it was a central feature when the house was new, keeping the family warm as they sat around the dinner table.

The built-in china cabinet was lovingly crafted by DeWitt Adams himself. Note the typical Craftsman styling of the glass-fronted doors.

Wood floors are featured throughout much the house, though Mrs. Adams likely accented them with colorful rugs. One warm example of a well-worn old rug remains in today’s radio studio (originally DeWitt and Meta’s bedroom). Old-fashioned linoleum in the kitchen and two children’s bedrooms gave those wood floors a durable, practical finish. The four boys shared a single bedroom adjacent to their parents. Daughter Margaret – the only girl – got her own bedroom at the back of the house.

Painted wainscoting and hardwood floors in the kitchen.

The kitchen once featured a large wood-burning stove (the same one where the “seed money” got stashed), and a big freestanding sink. The home’s single bathroom – though included in the original plans – wasn’t functional until the late 1920s when an artesian well was dug to supply it with water.

At the rear of the house, a cold storage room was added in the 1930s, constructed of thick stone blocks originally hewn at the Nevada prison quarry. It features a sawdust-filled ceiling for insulation, and vents at floor level that could be opened or closed to regulate the inside temperature. A rear entryway and breakfast room were added about the same time.

The thick stone walls of the cold storage room provided refrigeration without electricity.

Daughter Margaret never married. She stayed home and cared for her father in his waning years, and continued to live in the house until her own death in 1997.

The Adams house was purchased after Margaret’s death by Carson-Tahoe Hospital, which initially planned to raze it for additional parking. Thanks to efforts by preservation-minded community members, however, the Hospital Board was convinced to save the building.

Today it’s a living reminder of life in Carson City just a century ago – and the beauty that loving hands can build.

Many thanks to Sandie LaNae for the kind visit to the Adams House and the information for this story! Connect with her through her website, www.sandiespsychicstones.com.

Gardening the High Sierra: Here’s A Planting Guide

So many folks are thinking of starting a garden this year, I thought our planting guide might be helpful. As you’ll see, these dates are ranges rather than hard-and-fast. But it’ll give you a rough idea of when to plant what if you’re here in our part of the Sierra!

Rick couldn’t wait to get started this year, so he planted our tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse a day or so earlier than our “April 1 to 15” window — but you’ll be right on time if you’re thinking of starting things now!

Here’s what the inside of our greenhouse looks like. Yeah, that’s a lot of tomatoes and peppers! And this isn’t all. There’s more pots on the opposite side of the greenhouse.

Tomatoes and peppers galore.
Love those craft sticks aka tongue depressors. This is a batch of San Marzano seeds, plus pansies waiting to go in the ground.
Some things get started all on their own. This is Miner’s Lettuce, luxuriating in its pot on the back porch. That’s a blueberry bush in the center because — well, “intensive gardening.” No space goes to waste.
The other side of the greenhouse.

 

 

We’re at 5,500 feet on the Eastern Slope of the Sierra, so these dates are for our Zone 6 climate. That means we can expect our last frost between June 1-10 — the legendary “Mother’s Day Snow” is alive and well, here! But wherever you are, I hope this list will give you some ideas for your own garden this year.

Rick’s Garden Calendar:

Spring: (Mar/Apr/May)
Mar. 14 – 31 – Plant onions in the garden.
Mar. 15 – 21 – The “week when everything changes”! Makes total sense, as March 21st is the Spring Equinox. Pansies can be planted any time between now and mid-May.
Mar. 25 – First leaves typically appear on our aspen trees.
Mar. 15 – 31 – Time to clean out flower beds. Lawns will be mostly green by now, and ornamental willow trees will have a “green haze” at the top.
Mar. 22 – 30 – Start flower seeds in the greenhouse: bachelor button, coreopsis; snapdragon; marigolds; Chinese forget-me-nots; bluebells; larkspur.
Mar. 20 – April 20 – Keep an eye on the asparagus! You’ll be able to harvest fresh shoots now.
End of March – Expect lots of wind, even some snow flurries.
April 1 – Lilacs have nearly-open buds and the first green leaves will begin to appear on the aspens. The entire month of April tends to be cold, windy, rainy, cloudy, and it may even snow 2-3 times. In between those episodes, however, it will be sunnier (if still cold). Trees are starting to come out.
April 1 – 15 – Plant tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse.
April 21 – 26 – The weather is gorgeous, but unpredictable! End-of-April snowstorms are still possible.
May runs 40 to 70 degrees. Lawns will be green!
May 7 – 14 – Leaves start appearing on the grapevines.
May 25 – The “perfect flower week,” when our columbine and other flowers are at their showy peak.
May 31 – Count on our annual “Memorial Day Snow” sometime near the end of May.

Summer: (June/July/Aug)
June 21 – Summer Solstice.
July 8 – 23 – Time to begin saving columbine, lupine, and other flower seeds for next year.
July 8 – Freeze basil and cilantro.
July 12 – Aug 15 – Pick currants.
July 27 – Aug 18 – First tomatoes are ready for eating! And pick the peaches!
Aug. 6 – Trim dead blooms from columbine and giant lupine, leaving only the still-green leaves.
Aug. 15 – Nights are getting cooler.
Aug. 15 – 31 – Time to put up tomatoes. Save seeds from dried snow pea pods.

Fall: (Sept/Oct/Nov)
Late Aug – Sept 10 – Pick grapes; finish up last of the tomatoes. Apples will be looking tempting but it’s still too early for Jonathan and Gala varieties to be fully ripe.
Sept 9 – Aspens are beginning to turn; the sun is just starting to come up at 6:30 a.m.
Sept 21 – Fall Equinox.
Sept 23 – It’s getting cold enough to start a fire. Time to finish gathering the last of the seeds and begin thinking about next year’s garden.

From Rick’s book, “Gardening the High Sierra“:

Gardening the High Sierra by Rick Dustman, available on Amazon.

A Treat From Me To You: These Muffins Rock!

I’m not normally a baker. But ohhh, these muffins! Something really good did come out of being stuck at home, trying to use up what’s in our freezer!

This recipe started out using canned pumpkin as the base. Then a light bulb went off. We’ve got all this frozen fruit put away! How about using up some of that great fruit from our garden?!

There’s no oil and no white sugar, just dates and stevia for sweetness. And instead of white flour (which is in sort supply these days), it uses whole wheat flour, almond flour and oats. Luckily, we already had all these alternatives on hand.

Here’s a video showing how they came out, fresh from the oven!

And here’s the Recipe:

Preheat oven to 360 degrees. Grease two muffin tins and set them aside.

Measure 3/4 cup of uncooked dry oats into blender and whirr on high until it becomes a fine flour. Add the oat flour to a large metal bowl.

To your now-empty blender, add:

  • 1 c. almond milk
  • 1 Tb. chia seed
  • 12 dates (I always cut them in half just to check for any overlooked pits!)

Blend well, the add the milk/date mix to the metal bowl. Also add:

  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 c. almond flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tb. stevia
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3/4 c. walnut pieces

Final step: add approx. 2 cups of pureed fruit. (Measure the fruit before puree-ing in the blender). This is a great use for frozen peaches! Just defrost slightly and then pop them in the blender. If you don’t have frozen fruit, you can substitute one (1) 15-oz can of plain pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling). Or use 1-3/4 c. unsweetened applesauce.

Tip: I add a handful of frozen blackberries to the batter, straight from the freezer. That lets them retain a bit of their shape and taste.

Muffin batter (K. Dustman photo)

Mix well, and spoon into muffin tins. Bake for 35 minutes, until top edges are browned.

Muffins, fresh from the oven.

Enjoy!!

 

The Story of the Ridge Route (Part 1)

First, of course, came early game trails and Indian footpaths. When the Spaniards arrived, their carreta roads made use of those same rough tracks. They’d follow the route of today’s Temple Street north through what we now call Hollywood to reach Cahuenga Pass. Then it was onward to San Fernando, crossing the foothills at Newhall and up San Francisquito Canyon before veering east to Elizabeth Lake. Eventually the rude track emerged from the mountains at Quail Lake and Gormon Station, then dropped down Canada de Las Uvas (Grapevine Canyon) to reach the plains of San Joaquin Valley.

For Episcopal bishop William L. Kip, who undertook that journey to tend souls at Fort Tejon in 1855, it was a four-day ordeal by mule-drawn wagon. By 1858 the speedy Butterfield Overland stage reportedly was able to cut the time from L.A. to Tejon to a speedy 32-1/2 hours, though passengers would have arrived considerably jostled by the experience.

Auto Club of So. Calif map from 1912, showing the early route to Bakersfield winding east through Lake Elizabeth.

The road itself remained a twisty dirt path well past 1900. Early Gorman settler Mary Ralphs described the trip by horse-drawn buggy from Gorman to Bakersfield as a day-and-a-half journey. In the opposite direction, to L.A., the trip took two days plus, broken up by layovers at Lake Elizabeth and Newhall. And the difficulties weren’t limited to just the hours and the dirt and the bumping. No, that old road also required fording a creek close to sixty times, according to Bakersfield historian Lawrence Weill.

But that was the old wagon days. And then came the automobile!

One of the earliest motorized journeys along the old wagon road – gleefully reported by the Bakersfield Californian in April, 1903 – was that of adventurers T.E. Baker and F. Hughes, who accomplished their 150-mile drive from L.A. to “Kern City” in 31 hours’ driving time – miraculously, “without one single breakdown.” A heavier-footed motorist with the inauspicious name of Jackson Graves ventured over the same primitive dirt road in the summer of 1911, spanning the distance from Saugus to Bakersfield in a mere 12 hours.

By then, the motoring public had become a large enough lobbying group that even the government began to take notice. When a three-person California Highway Commission was formed in 1911 (a branch of the  Department of Engineering), one of their primary missions was creation of an auto-worthy road between Los Angeles and the fertile, oil-rich San Joaquin Valley — preferably by a more direct route than the long, leisurely, easterly jog of the old wagon road.

Surveys for just such a new highway were ordered on January 25, 1912 and actual surveying began the following September, led by engineer W. Lewis Clark. For the next eighteen months, with mules carrying their equipment, the survey party hacked and chopped their way through some of the most survey-inhospitable landscape imaginable.

“[C]linging to the precipitate walls of canyons where no pack mule could keep his feet, across ravines and along the crests of the mountains, the surveyors fixed their stakes, and, link by link, laid the lines along which this mighty highway should run,” as a 1916 California Highway Bulletin later enthused.

Surveyor W.L. Clark on the left.

Once that preliminary survey was completed, a few months of wrangling followed over the best route. And, of course, real money was needed to actually build the new road.

Luckily, series of state road bonds had already been issued, beginning in 1909 with enabling legislation for an $18 million bond issue (which became effective on December 31, 1910 after voters approved). Despite bearing favorable interest rates of four and five percent, those bonds found few at first. They “have not been readily salable,” a newspaper column confessed in February, 1913.

That hurdle was finally surmounted by assuring bond purchasers that road construction would begin in the county with the most bond purchases. Voila! L.A. financiers quickly snapped up some $270,000 worth of bonds. Work on the new Tejon route was finally ready to begin!

A second bond measure, passed by the Legislature in 1915 and quickly ratified by the voters, kicked in December 31, 1916, adding another $15 million to the state’s road-building coffers. And a third bond issue was approved at a special election July 1, 1919 – authorizing a whopping $40 million more. Yes, the new automobile-owning public was all for better roads!

Grading for what was initially termed the Tejon Route (soon more popularly dubbed the “Ridge Route”) began on Sept 22, 1914. A second stage of the grading contract was let that December. And just a year later, once the fills had been given a few weeks to settle, the new roadway was finally “thrown open to travel” in October, 1915.

Where once there had been only mountains and sage, depressions and gullies, a neatly-graded, freshly-oiled roadway now opened its arms to eager travelers. The brand new road became “instantly popular with the motoring public.” Total length: 30 miles. Total width: 24-feet of graded road bed. Cost for grading: $450,000.

In place of grades once as monumental as 20 percent, the new Ridge Route touted much gentle slopes said to be no greater than six percent. That benign figure, however, may have been measured only by the eye of a friendly beholder rather than by instrument. In real life, a few grades still reached a fairly steep seven percent. But even those were a big improvement over the old wagon route.

The new oil-graded Ridge Route was indeed an engineering marvel. And the feat was accomplished almost exclusively by manpower and mule-drawn Fresno scrapers. A steam-shovel and dynamite were used only on a single especially difficult cut (known as the “Big Cut” or “Culebra Cut”). And that particular undertaking moved an astonishing million cubic yards of earth and rock.

Postcard of the “Big Cut” (also known as Culebra Cut or Swede’s Cut) circa 1920. (Dustman collection)
The Culebra Cut as it looked in September, 1992. (Dustman photo)
A steam shovel being used in highway construction (1916 Calif Hwy publication).

As the road left the mountains on the north, engineers nixed the notion of simply paving over the original old wagon track down Grapevine Canyon. For one thing, that early wagon road included onerous 20% grades. Simple observation also convinced them that leaving the roadway in the belly of the canyon would mean constant erosion from spring rains and snow runoff.

Instead, the road-builders decided to loop the new roadway across the hillsides in a series of gentle bends that moderated the drop and weren’t as prone to erosion. The result was a series of sweeping, swooping curves across the foothills of Grapevine Canyon. They made for many accidents. But also for many dramatic photos.

The Grapevine Grade, circa 1923. On the back of this postcard was the handwritten notation: “1200 turns in 20 miles; 30 miles on straight-away into Bakersfield.”

With its much-welcomed opening in 1915, the newly-graded Ridge Route now cut 24 miles off the distance between LA and Bakersfield compared to the old Bouquet Canyon route – and saved more than twice that versus the Tehachapi road.

“Winding to the Summit” was the caption of this early postcard. There’s one small wooden guard rail barely visible just left of the third car.

The Ridge Route was, they said, southern California’s magnum opus in mountain highway construction. And the scenery was magnificent. As the S.F. Chronicle enthused in 1916, the new road traverses “the wildest of southern California mountain country, a section previously known to only a few ranchers and oil companies.”

A contemporary California Highway Bulletin offered a similarly glowing description:

Enraptured by the panoramic beauty of the scenery at every dip and turn of the road, the traveler is lulled into happy forgetfulness of the fact that but a few brief seasons since where he now rides in cushioned and upholstered luxury, mountain goats and coyotes monopolized the solitudes of these perpendicular canyon walls and mountain ledges.”

Magnificent views there might have been. But a driver’s attention really needed to be glued to the roadway. Estimates varied of the number of twists and turns in the new route. One viewer counted a total 697 turns, which taken together represented a dizzying 110 complete circles. Written on the back of the an early postcard was another motorist’s own computation: “1200 turns in 20 miles”!

Many were the stomachs that didn’t appreciate all that twisting and turning.

Something had to give. And within a very few years, it did.

(Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Story of the Ridge Route!)

Looking toward Black Mountain from the Ridge Route. (Dustman collection).