The following article was written by Howard Bald and appeared in the March 14, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. The photo was added by the Ojai Valley Museum. Bald titled his many articles with the same title. So, this article has “(No. 6)” added by the Ojai Valley Museum.
Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 6)
Clark, Thompson and Bracken were the Upper Ojai winery people. All were Irish immigrants. Nick Walnut was an Italian immigrant who cleared the land and planted his vineyard near what is now east Reeves road. Nick dug his own grave in his dooryard and was buried there at about the turn of the century. Now I am amused at rumors that a fortune was buried with him. He had left a family in the old country, but he willed the property to Will Thompson, then a boy of about ten years.
The wine mostly was hauled to the depot, either to Santa Paula or Nordhoff, in fifty gallon barrels with team and wagon and shipped to Los Angeles.
The last of the product was shipped to L.A. as vinegar and brought 15 cents a gallon. People used to quip that it was so strong it would burn a hole in the table cloth if a drop fell on it. We had linen table cloths in those days.
I mentioned the Italians who came to the winery to purchase wine. They mostly were wood choppers from off of Sulphur Mountain, for at that time cutting and shipping firewood to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara was quite an industry, and several fortunes, to my knowledge, were made. One of them was Huero Obioles, an old Spanish family. There are still descendants in Ventura county.
For a short period about that time Tom Clark and John Hobson, uncle of Mr. Fred Smith, had a wood camp where Perls Nursery stood and Clapp’s now is. Their operation extended from Villanova school to beyond the present Gourmet restaurant and over through Mira Monte to Rice road. [The Gourmet restaurant was located at 11432 Ventura. Boarded up now, it’s located between McDonald’s and Subway.] Fortunately, Meiners Oaks was never touched and neither was the arbolada, though Austin Pierpont recently told me that certain interests were negotiating for the wood rights to the Arbolada. He said that J.J. Burke, uncle of Bill Burke, learned of it and persuaded Foster and Hubby to buy the property. They were among builders of the Foothills hotel. They later sold it to Mr. Libbey. I believe they donated the land for Nordhoff high school that was built in 1911.
Practically all of the oaks in the area from Villanova to the Gourmet restaurant is second growth, as well as all of the north side of Sulphur mountain.
The heavy wagons that transported wood from Sulphur mountain to Nordhoff for shipment to L.A. and the loads of grain played havoc with the grade from the upper to the lower valleys. It was a shorter and steeper grade than the present Dennison grade.
As a great deal of braking was necessary, the brake shoe quickly wore thin and became ineffective. So the teamsters would run one rear wagon wheel onto an iron shoe that was attached to the bed of the wagon. The wheel was rendered immobile as the shoe slid on the rocky dirt road. It, of course, was a very effective brake, but it gouged a deep rut in the dirt road, and the dust was almost intolerable.
In addition to that, the heat generated by the friction could cause sparks to start a fire should one land in the dry grass. Naturally those teamsters were not popular with the ordinary horse and buggy people.
I have in recent years hunted unsuccessfully through the scrap heaps of Upper Ojai farms in quest of one of those “brake shoes.” It would make a real addition to our historical museum. I doubt that there are many today who have ever seen one. The last one that I saw was at the Knott’s Berry Farm Historical Museum.