One of those who made Ojai, Ojai, passes away

The following article first appeared in the April 11, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.  The photo of Major Dron was added to this article by the Ojai Valley Museum.  

One of those who made Ojai, Ojai, passes away

(Editor’s note: Major John Anderson Dron of Ojai died April 5. The following memorial was written by his longtime friend, D. Ric Johnson.)

Another part of the old Ojai of 15 plus years ago and much larger bit of my life is gone. Major John Dron has left us.

Ours was an almost instant rapport, but that was pretty average for him. He made friends easily and enemies not so easily. He had many of the former and proportionately few of the latter. You couldn’t be neutral about him, though I’ve never known a person who was more tolerant in everything except for public chicanery and avarice. Crooked politicians, corporate greed, and Babbits were his avowed, unremitting, unrelenting and implacable enemies.

The county Board of Supervisors adjourned early Tuesday
in memory of the
late John Dron, Sr.

He was classic Scot with their passion for learning; an abstract thinker with a great pendulum swing from effervescence to melancholy. When being a dour Scot “sipped his sorrer wi a long spoon,” as he was wont to say.

He opened the door to, or sent me down, many roads whose names end in “ology” — archaeology, anthropology, geology — whetting my already active curiosity in ancient engineering techniques and avenues of the literary arts never before considered. How many times have I arrived at his door with face and spirits dragging 20 feet behind to leave later willing to try again the struggle out of my personal morass.

We adventured together on short jaunts up the mountains in that jeep that was to John as was the yellow horse to D’Artagnan. Long trips — as the one when we misjudged the weather, and his ancient down sleeping bag burst in the night and mine was inadequate. The long dreary hours of the night tolled away by his sepulchral, plaintive voice querying “and what is the hour now?”

Never was I happier to see a dawn, and we did as mad a dance as his years and my infirmities would permit, ’til the sun and our little fire thawed us to merriment over our just-passed misery.

The delightful evenings spent in front of the inevitable fireplace, the night raw outside, and John reeling off vastnesses of poetry or reading philosophy, Plutarch, Henry Adams, his own letters to the great personages and their replies.

His pixie look when contemplating the deflation of some over-blown ego. The pipe with one side of the bowl burned away that took at least a box of matches per filling and the finger burned black from tamping it. His depressions, when his voice would trail off into nothingness to be followed with sighs and great groans of Scottish spiritual torment, he brought to us for surcease and went away having received it, as I did so often with him.

He gave to me that which my own father could not. A camaraderie that asked nothing but gave, expected and received all. Oh, how exasperating he could be!

Anecdotes? Our whole 15 year association was one long, loving anecdote.

The valley is less warm and less home now.

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Major Dron was born in Ayr, Scotland, September 13, 1893, coming to Big Oak Flat, California in 1900 and spending his boyhood there. He attended Berkeley High School and classes at the University of California, Berkeley.

During World War I he served as a machine gun officer. In World War II he was a Captain and Major in the Corps of Engineers. During the 1920’s he became a civil engineer, working with the Nevada and California division of highways.

A resident of Ojai since 1929, he pursued a career as engineer and surveyor, serving as ex-officio engineer of the city of Ojai for many years. In 1938 he was WPA administrator for the county of Ventura.

Well known for his many and varied interests, he was active throughout his lifetime in civic affairs, serving as trustee to the Ojai Community Art Center and Ojai Civic Association. He was an expert on architecture of the Parthenon, and was often consulted for his intimate and detailed knowledge of the backcountry of the county. He will be remembered by many as the man who kept the Edison Company from putting giant electric poles across the valley mountains.

“The Major” is survived by his three children: John A. Dron, Jr., Mrs. Robert (Dorothy) Rail, and Boyd S. Dron, all of Ojai; a sister, Miss Gladys Dron of Berkeley; and six grandchildren.

Memorial services will be held Sunday, April 15 at 2 p.m. at the Ojai Community Art Center on S. Montgomery St. The family has requested that donations in memory be sent to the Art Center.

Major Dron in the Arcade

Ojai’s Gold Rush!

Ojai Succumbs To Its Own Gold Rush by Ed Wenig

Miners Rush to the Hills

Nordhoff and vicinity is in a ferment of excitement over the hiding place of an immense ledge of gold-bearing quartz which runs from the Coyote and Matilija canyons to the Sisar Canyon. Old miners say they believe it to be an extension of the Piru district strike, and are trying to locate the leads on the ledge, while the greenhorns are generally staking out claims at random.

The Ojai on March 13, 1897.

The gold fever had started the previous Wednesday afternoon when some old prospectors from the Wilsie ranch in the east valley appeared with some likely looking rock, the main street of Nordhoff was literally crowded with men, hot with the gold fever. The editor of THE OJAI announced to the crowd on the street that he would print some location blanks for use in posting possible claims. By 10 p.m. they were off the presses and were sold to the waiting crowd which had gathered in his shop during the evening. The editor was wakened at frequent intervals during the night to make further sales, and by 7:30 a.m. on Thursday he had disposed of 163 location blanks. (By noon the following Saturday he had sold over 380.)

A Mining Camp

In describing what took place on Thursday, the editor wrote:

The usually quiet little village of Nordhoff has suddenly become an excited mining camp. Fully seven-eights of the male population of the village were scouring the Chaparral. Many struck out in the middle of the night to get ahead of the “other fellow.” And in the early morning they dotted the hills like a flock of blackbirds in a cornfield.

Some came back early from the hills discouraged, but when some one came into town with some bits of gold, all would rush off again to the hills. Sometimes they seem to go stark, raving mad, –plumb crazy, reported the newspaper. Rumors added to the confusion. One such indicated that the Southern Pacific was getting ready to sell through tickets to the Ojai mines. Already men from Ventura, Santa Paula and Santa Barbara had arrived. That evening at a mass meeting in the office of George Stewart, plans were laid to form the Ojai Mining District. The boundary of the district was to include the territory of all the school districts in the valley, including Sisar, Upper Ojai, and Santa Ana. The United States Mining Laws were to govern the district. The following prominent men were among those who signed the resolution: W. E. Wilsie, George R. Coe, Earl Soule, W. F. Parrish, B. Ward Blumberg, John J. Burke, J. F. Dennison, S. B. Rose, and D. J. Raddick. Unfortunately for Mr. Stewart, by the close of the meeting, someone had made off with a little nugget he had placed in a showcase.

Shot full of Holes

The Ojai Gold Rush had both its dramatic and humorous sides. A miner from Santa Paula put up this notice on his claim site: Anybody who attempts to jump this claim will be shot full of holes. Commented E. S. Thacher, “How can a free silver man expect a hearing when he undertakes to suppress the new-kindled desire of our community for gold? Wee may vote for silver, some of us, but when it comes to posting notices and digging, and pounding, we all want gold, and we are determined to have it.” Dan Smith startled a crowd on the street by saying he had a claim that went $30 a ton at one foot below the surface. When asked for proof, he pulled a big potato from his pocket! For the next three weeks, except for an item about the Ojai Mining District assay of $11.30 to the ton, the newspaper was strangely silent about gold mining activities. Then in the issue of June 12 appeared the statement:

The gold miners of the Ojai Valley have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. It develops that apparently gold is not present in sufficient quantity to pay for the working, and as a consequence the mines have petered out.

Within weeks, Ojai pioneers were back to normal, listening to the gramophone at George Mallory’s store, planning a concert of the Ojai band, and participating in community dances. Years after the gold boom John Dron Sr. reported uncovering in the foothills a can containing a mining location blank which had been filled out by some disappointed miner. So far as is known, all mining stakes have disappeared from the Ojai Valley.

Source: Ed Wenig, “Ojai succumbs to its own gold rush”, The Ojai Valley News, March 11, 1970