Stories of the Fairview School

We still don’t know exactly when the first schoolhouse was built at Fairview, Nevada. But it had to be sometime before 1875 — because that’s the year teacher Ella S. Lane became known as the “Heroine of Fairview School District”! And a well-deserved honor it was. Here’s the tale:

Like most buildings of the day, the Fairview School featured a handy woodstove to help ward off winter’s chill. Teachers’ duties would often include arriving early to light the stove before students arrived.

All was well until one chilly day when, in the midst of her lesson, Miss Lane happened to glance up. Quickly altering her plans, she seated herself at the school organ and commenced a rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” This was the students’ cue to march outside for a recess. No one (except the teacher) realized that the woodstove chimney had caught the loft on fire until the children had all made it safely outside the burning building. A heroine she was, indeed!

We’ve never seen an image of the very first Fairview School. This is the second school building at Fairview, ca. 1908, at the southeast corner of Fairview and Fredericksburg Roads. The earlier building stood at the head of the canyon a mile or so north. (Photo courtesy of Scossa family).
A pot-bellied stove was a common central feature in early schoolhouses. (c) K. Dustman

A few more tidbits about the early days of the Fairview School have been handed down to us courtesy of old-timer Owen E. Jones, who set pen to paper in 1925 to record his recollections. Fairview was the “first schoolhouse built in [this end of] Carson Valley,” Jones assures us. Its very first teacher? A Mr. Spencer. And the school itself moved around a bit; the first building initially sat at the mouth of the canyon, about a mile “west” [probably really northwest] of the spot where the second incarnation of the school later materialized.

A public building like a school was, after all, a public building; so the community embraced the Fairview schoolhouse for other needs as well. Following its week-day service as a one-room schoolhouse, the building wore a new role on Sundays as a place to hold church. Separation of church and state? No one evidently bothered their heads about such things, back in the day.

And there’s a hilarious story about one of those religious gatherings in the Fairview School, again preserved for us courtesy of Owen E. Jones. It seems that Abednego Johns, a pioneer Jacks Valley rancher, had arranged for two distinguished LDS ministers to come and preach at the schoolhouse one Sunday in late October during the 1880s. Mr. Johns, his wife, and the two visiting ministers — all “heavy-weighted persons” — clambered aboard Abednego’s wagon and rode south for the event. The Fairview school building was filled with neighbors, eagerly awaiting the out-of-town preachers. And then Mr. Johns stood up to introduce his guests.

Now, Mr. Johns was a “very splendid old gentleman,” Owen Jones tells us, whose “only fault was that, when he got to talking religion, he never knew when to stop.” So after beginning his introduction of the two visiting Mormon ministers, Mr. Johns just kept on talking! By the time he finally ceded the floor, most of the assembled crowd had given up and left the building. The two preachers were forced to simply bid the stragglers good-bye and call it a night.

Farm wagon.

And that wasn’t entirely the end of Mr. Johns’ rather unfortunate evening, either. While his “fillibuster” droned on, some wag had played a Halloween joke. Slipping outside, the prankster swapped the front and back wheels of Johns’ wagon, then added a heavy sack of wet sand beneath the driver’s seat and tied another to the rear axle. When the non-preaching event finally was over, Johns and his guests boarded their wagon, only to endure an excruciatingly slow journey home in the dark. They were mystified about why the team was so exhausted — until, hours later, they finally made it home to Jacks Valley and discovered the prank.

But wait! There’s more! Tune in next time for “Part 2” of this story — including who planted the trees around the old Fairview School, and where (more than a hundred years later) you can see them!

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Unsung Heroes: Mary Shaw Shorb and Vitamin B12

She’s probably one of the most interesting women you never read about. And long after her death, she may have just solved a friend’s puzzling health problem.

Her name was Mary Shaw Shorb, and she was born in the wilds of North Dakota on a blustery winter day, January 7, 1907. Women weren’t allowed to vote at the time. And although that, at least, had changed by the time Mary reached her twenties, job opportunities for women were pretty slim. You could be a teacher, a seamstress, a cook, a nurse, or a mom. Women in any other occupations were rare indeed.

Mary Shaw (Shorb), about the time she graduated from college (courtesy of the family).

But Mary Shaw wanted wider horizons than that. A family friend had taught her to recognize wildflowers and edible mushrooms as a child, and Mary was fascinated by botany. And as luck would have it, this same family friend had been one of the founders of the College of Idaho. Mary enrolled there in 1924, graduating four years later with a B.S. degree in Biology — and, just in case, a minor in Home Ec.

Mary’s older brother was studying to be a doctor at Johns Hopkins University and before long Mary enrolled there as well, earning her Doctor of Science degree (Sc.D.) in immunology in 1933. For her dissertation she developed an antigen that proved so successful it became one of the front-line treatments for pneumonia until sulfa drugs came along.

By now Mary was married to fellow grad student Doys Shorb, whom she’d known since kindergarten. Their first child arrived in 1936, followed by two additional children in 1938 and 1942. For a time, Mary stayed home with the kids.

But during the War years, determined to do what she could to help, Mary accepted a technical job with the Bureau of Dairy Industries: culturing a bacillus known as “LLD” used to make yogurt and other milk products. It was a mundane, routine kind of job. But Mary became fascinated when she heard about a well-known quirk in the industry: For some strange reason, in order to properly culture LLD the growth medium had to include a special extract made from liver.

Why was that? What did liver have to do with making these organisms grow? No one could tell her. Then in 1946, even that mundane job evaporated — the employee who’d previously held the position was now back from the war.

But Mary’s curiosity had been piqued. There was something in that liver extract– and it didn’t just help LLD to grow properly. Liver was also the only known remedy at the time for treating pernicious anemia, an often-fatal ailment that had already killed Mary’s father-in-law.

Unappetizing as it sounds, raw liver had indeed proven beneficial for anemia victims. But the treatment required taking nearly a pound of raw liver a day. And so far, the mysterious “active ingredient” in liver had never been isolated and standardized.

Fresh out of a job, Mary was able to wangle lab space at the University of Maryland as an unpaid “research position.” A Merck Company researcher came through with a $400 company grant to fund the upstart young scientist’s efforts. Her brilliantly simple approach: if LLD only grew in the presence of this unknown liver factor, then measuring its growth rate should help pinpoint this mysterious X-factor.

Mary Shaw Shorb

Mary developed a “bio-assay” protocol — and it worked. In just three months, the Merck scientific team was able to isolate the first red crystals of this special active ingredient from liver extract– now known as Vitamin B12. It was a stunning breakthrough, and produced astonishing results for victims of pernicious anemia.

Asked about this breakthrough in a 1954 Idaho newspaper, Mary was her  usual humble, retiring self. “It was such a gradual discovery it’s hard to express my feeling when it was proved the vitamin did cure anemia,” she confessed. “But I will admit that it was a thrill and quite a wonderful experience.”

A tiny dynamo standing just four feet eleven inches tall, Mary was granted a full research professorship at the University of Maryland. Over her lengthy scientific career, she authored or co-authored 58 papers for scientific journals before finally retiring in 1972. Ironically, she passed away at the age of 83 in 1990 from complications of pneumonia, the same illness she’d helped treat with her dissertation.

And how did Mary Shaw Shorb manage to help rectify my friend’s health problem, long after Mary’s own death? Actually, it was her discovery of B12 that did it.

It all started out with a wonky blood result. My friend, a long-time vegetarian, had had chronically low white blood counts for well over a decade. Recently, though,  her WBC number dipped into the “what’s going on” crazy-zone. Her doctor was ready to send her to an oncologist. That’s right: they thought it might be cancer.

My friend thought otherwise. She’d read that vegetarians tend to have lower WBC numbers anyhow. And there were a few hints that B12 might be helpful for improving both red and white blood counts. For three weeks, she took a daily B12 supplement and added nutritional yeast (a B-vitamin source) to her coffee.

And that crazy-low WBC number? It jumped by two full points. She’s back in the “normal” range for the first time in ten years. And she credits it all to Mary Shaw Shorb and her amazing B12.

______________

(Caution/Caveat/Disclaimer: This anecdotal health story is shared just for reading interest; it’s not intended as medical advice of any kind. Please talk to your own doctor before trying any home remedies or self-treatment!)

 

 

 

 

Yank’s Station

Old Yank’s Station has a cool anniversary coming up on Sunday, April 28th  — 159 years, to be exact!

On April 28th, 1860, exactly 159 years ago, a young Pony Express rider named Warren Upson came flying in to change ponies, stopping for the very first time for his mount change at Yank’s.

The new road over Kingsbury Grade had just opened, you see, which offered a shorter route for the mail heading east to Genoa than on Upson’s previous rides. (On earlier rides, Upson had taken a longer route through Hope Valley and Woodfords.) Now, with the new Pony Express stop at Yank’s, Upson would only need to ride as far as Friday’s Station (today’s Stateline) before handing the mochila over to the next Pony Express rider.

Pony Express plaque at the former Yank’s Station, at Meyers.

Today, of course, they don’t call it “Yank’s Station” anymore. The site is now home to Holiday Market (formerly Lira’s), at the southwest corner of Highway 50 and Apache Avenue in Meyers. The Pony Express only stopped at Yank’s for a year and a half — until October 26, 1861. But Yank and his station had a fascinating and much longer history!

Ephraim “Yank” Clement had been the owner for less than a year when Upson arrived that April. The previous owner, Martin Smith, had  settled there in 1851, rebuilding the trading station once after an early fire. By the time Yank Clement came along and bought it from Smith and a partner in 1859, the station was already a well-known trading post and stage stop. A telegraph relay station had just been added in 1858.

And Yank Clement brought his own bigger and grander ideas. After he purchased the station in 1859, he kept adding and expanding. Eventually his station was three stories tall, featuring 14 rooms, a general store, a blacksmith shop, and last but not least — twosaloons! It’s said that those quickly became popular with travelers not only for drinks, food and card games, but also a handful of ladies of dubious virtue who could be found there. Across the road, Clement added large corrals, and the station featured a large barn with stables for travelers’ animals.

Sketch of Yanks’ three-story station about 1861. As the building on the right suggests, the earliest buildings here were likely log structures.

Yank was a larger-than-life character who quickly became a local celebrity. He was a true Yankee indeed, claiming to have moved west from his native New Hampshire at the age of 40 and acquiring the station “at the instance of Chorpenning.” Yank would regale visitors with tales of his early adventures, which (supposedly) included a brief sojourn as a cooper in Cuba and service as a chaplain at the Battle of Bunker Hill — this last an amusing but thoroughly impossible tale for a someone born about 1817. Planned future improvements, he assured guests, would include a tree-house lookout for better views of the lake; a fish pond with water-spouting Cupid; and a brand new piano (pronounced “peeyan-er”) for his house. The warm and effusive host was said to accompany his narratives with “many amusing peculiarities of phrase and gesture.”

In the outpost’s early days, at least, the location was still a remote slice of the Old West. A California teamster named Grace got held up at gunpoint near Yank’s Station in November, 1865, while on his way home after delivering a load of goods to Dayton, Nevada. Five “foot-pads” with shotguns accosted Grace’s wagon near Yank’s Station, and the poor teamster was forced to hand over the entire $450 proceeds he’d earned for his trip.

Wedding announcement in the San Francisco Examiner, July 6, 1868. The new Mrs. Clement was evidently already living at Yank’s Station at the time of their marriage.

After almost a decade in business Yank acquired a bride, marrying Mrs. Lydia D. Mark in Genoa on June 30, 1868. The new Mrs. Clement became a strong partner in the hotel business, with visitors commenting on her excellent cooking and housework skills.

Tragedy struck the pair just a few short years later, however, when Yank’s hotel was consumed by fire in December, 1872. Among those who barely escaped with their lives were Yank, his wife Lydia, and a Mrs. Cleveland, the wife of a senator. Mrs. Cleveland suffered burns on her face and hands as she rushed out of the burning building, and Lydia Clement was said to have had her hair “singed to the roots.”

Perhaps as a result of this catastrophe, “Yank” sold his station to George D.H. Meyers in 1873. Meyers would later expand the holdings, purchasing nearby land, and began raising cattle there. The property would stay in the Meyers family for the next 30 years, and later was acquired by the Celio family.

Despite the sale of his original station, Yank wouldn’t abandon the hotel business, however. He soon built another hotel near Camp Richardson known as Tallac House, memorialized by famed photographer Carleton Watkins in 1876. This hotel was grander than ever, featuring a spring floor for dancing called an “emotional floor.” And naturally, given Yank’s personality, it was still commonly known as “Yank’s.”

A visitor in August, 1875 described the accommodations, which included a bed “at least four feet from the floor” and a single shared toothbrush “in a large pressed-glass tumbler,” thoughtfully provided for the comfort of Yank’s visitors. Clements and his wife set a good table, the writer confirmed (“I mean it — a real good table is theirs”), and described them as “bustling around as usual and doing all in their power for their guests.” Another guest remarked cryptically that he and his friends had managed to procure an early breakfast by “ventur[ing] to brave the small explosive dangers of Yank’s dining hall” — possibly a reference to being cornered by Yank with a story.

Yank was described as “the most obliging old coon in the world, [who] flies off here, there, and everywhere all day in the interest and comfort of his guests.” Mrs. Clement was a “first-class housekeeper,” keeping the hotel running smoothly along with help from her niece, a Mrs. Rogers. And Yank was said to out-do himself for guests: “If you want his house, team and wagon, it comes marvelously at your order; and if you order saddle horses or boats he makes a spring and a whiz and you are equipped.”

For a time, Yank Clement also served as local justice of the peace, much to the amusement of those in his courtroom. During the trial of one case, Yank fell sound asleep and “began snoring like a house afire.” When roused from his slumbers so the evidence could continue, Yank responded tartly: ‘That’s all right. I knew all about the darned case [before] it came into the court [and] made up my mind about the merits long ago.” In another instance, one man was trying to sue another for an unpaid debt. “Well,” Yank inquired, “Did you have a talk with him about the matter? And he wouldn’t give you no satisfaction?” No, Yank was assured, the debtor had refused to pay. “By jingo!” he erupted. “If you couldn’t do nothin’ with him, how in blazes can you expect me to do it?”

Clement’s Tallac House was sold about 1880 to Elias “Lucky” Baldwin, who would later build an even grander Tallac Hotel there. As for the original Yank’s Station in Meyers, it was finally “done in” for a third time by fire in 1938  — along with much of the surrounding community of Meyers.

Visit the plaque for old Yank’s Station in the parking lot of today’s Holiday Market at Meyers.

So this April 28, it’s only fitting to consider a pilgrimage to the site of old Yank’s Station in honor of this 159th anniversary. Imagine young Warren Upson, tired and cold, making his hurried change of ponies and dreaming of a quick stop at Al Tahoe and the warm fire ahead at Friday’s Station. And imagine Ephraim “Yank” Clement standing in the door of his original Yank’s Station, waving good-bye and wishing Upson god-speed on the road ahead.

 

Do You Believe in Dowsers?

Minor miracle or self-delusion? Lost art or pure malarkey?

Whether dowsers really have a special ability to locate underground water with a forked willow stick (or an iron bar, or welding rods, or half-a-dozen other purported tools of the trade), people have believed in their uncanny abilities for generations.

“I can’t explain it any more than I can explain the sense of direction possessed by migrating birds,” dowser Roy Newman shrugged back in 1961. “I do say I have never yet located a dry well while using the divining rod.”

Newman, a Frazier Park, CA resident at the time, amassed a healthy track record to back up his water-finding bonafides. He successfully picked a spot for a new well in Cuddy Valley in 1926. And over the years, he went on to locate five or six more good water wells in the vicinity — including one that successfully turned up water after more scientific methods to locate a drill site turned up bone dry.

Preferring ‘water diviner’ or ‘dowser’ to the old-fashioned term, ‘water witcher,’ Newman’s tools of the trade included a forked willow branch, a  thin metal wire or, on occasion, a crowbar. But the willow switch was apparently his favorite. Holding a freshly-cut forked willow with down-facing hands, Newman would walk forward over the ground until the willow tip dipped. That was his signal, he said, that water would be found below.

One of six wells in the Frazier Park area discovered by a trio with divining rods. This one produced 350 gallons per minute.

Even walking wasn’t always necessary; sometimes, to cover larger areas, Newman would simply perch on the hood of a car, willow rod in hand. To strengthen the signal, he’d sometimes place one hand over his heart. And once a promising water site was located, Newman would simply hold his willow stick over the spot and count “vibrations” to read the water’s depth.

And Roy Newman wasn’t the only dowser helping find wells near Frazier Park back in the 1960s. M. Pickner of Gorman reportedly chose several successful well sites using an iron bar as his dowsing rod, including finding water at one spot after professional well-locators had failed. Dowser Frank Thorpe also successfully helped choose sites for producing local wells. His preferred dowser’s tool: a wishbone-shaped piece of wire.

Hokum or an as-yet-unexplained gift? It’s hard to say. But it’s fun to watch a dowser in action. We were privileged, once, to watch as a local dowser named Percy Pimley searched for a well site here on the Eastern Slope of the Sierra. According to Percy — then 83 years old — a fresh, forked willow stick was the ticket.  But those with the “gift” need to be extra-careful when using willow, Percy warned. “It can tear the skin right off your palms when it bends if the signal is real strong.”