Exiled To Mira Monte

The following article first appeared in the “Ojai Valley Guide” (VOLUME 37 NUMBER 2/SUMMER 2019) on pages 154 and 155. The “Ojai Valley Guide” was published by the “Ojai Valley News.” The article is reprinted here with their permission.

Exiled To Mira Monte
(LOOK BACK IN OJAI)

with
Drew Mashburn


My parents built their dream home in 1963 in Mira Monte on South Rice Road just at the crest of the steep hill. We moved into it that summer. I dug on having my own bedroom for the first time, but we were no longer in downtown Ojai where I had lived my entire life with all my neighborhood buddies. I had just turned 12 years old and was about to begin junior high school and would have to ride a school bus for the first time. I had always enjoyed the freedom of walking and riding my bicycle to school. Dang it! I had to figure out how to entertain myself now that I lived out in the sticks.

Long before any of the custom homes were built in this neighborhood, the area had been covered by really large commercial English walnut orchards. I mean acres and acres and acres of the trees with a big ol’ barn full of processing equipment. So, almost every home out there had English walnut trees. But, there were a lot of acres that had yet to have homes built on them. These undeveloped old orchards made for good fun. I hiked many miles through them. I got a bow with arrows and hunted in them. I got a mini-bike and rode many miles through them. They got even better when I made friends with a few neighborhood kids and we took them in together.

It must have rained fairly decently that year because Mirror Lake filled up. It was a natural pothole that ran sort of north to south next to the Southern Pacific Railroad bed and Highway 33. You’ll find it on old maps of the area. It was that spring or early summer I decided to build a raft. I hauled a bunch of wood, nails, and other raft materials down there and began construction. There was nobody there but me. As I was pounding away, I looked up and noticed two big guys pushing their bicycles on the path towards me. I was rather startled, hoped they were friendly but had a hammer to defend myself. They stopped and watched me for a bit. It was kinda like when dogs sniff each other out upon meeting for the first time. Finally, they asked me what I was doing. I told them. They dug the idea. Come to find out, these two soon-to-be fellow shipmates only lived about a block away from me. They were cousins that lived together with their grandparents, and their grandpa had just built a split-rail fence around the home into which they had very recently moved. Rick Askam and Doug Schmelz would become great friends of mine, especially after they offered up the leftover split-rail fencing of their grandpa’s for our use in raft building.

The three of us spent hours upon hours, poling (pushing the rafts with a long pole extended to the bottom of the pond) around Mirror Lake. Sometimes, the train would stop. It was usually just the engine with a couple of cars and sometimes a caboose. The engineer and his assistant would stand on one of the flatcars, fold back the waxed paper in which their sandwiches were wrapped, then chat with us while they took their lunch break. Man, those were good times!

The railroad is now the Ojai Valley Trail. Mirror Lake got cut in half with the extension of Woodland Avenue from South Rice Road to Highway 33. The larger portion of the lake got filled in and the Ojai Woodlands condominium complex and the Ojai Oaks Village mobile-home park were built on top of the fill.

But, let’s go back to one more story from back in the hood. Pretty much across the street from my parents’ home was the Ventura County Sheriff’s “Honor Farm.” That’s where Help of Ojai is located presently. But, when Doug, Rick, and I were young teenagers the farm for low-risk prisoners was in full operation and a barbed-wire fence ran alongside the farm property next to the road. From the fence down the hill to the agricultural fields in the farm, the hill was kept barren to make prisoner escapes about impossible. We figured out when the deputies were not looking toward that barren hillside, we’d clear that nasty barbed fence, then sprint down the hillside into the cornfield. We’d scatter amongst the tall corn stalks, then have hellacious corn fights.

We’d break off an ear and set it sailing towards one another. You could hear the ear crashing through the stalks as it torpedoed towards you. Let me tell you … when you get clobbered in the noggin by a heavy, green ear of corn, you’ve been clobbered! I got nailed several times. Explains a lot about me, I suppose.

I lived in that same Mira Monte home all the way through high school. I ended up loving the heck out of the neighborhood to which I had been exiled. I became friends, not only with Doug and Rick, but their entire family. All the neighborhood kids called their grandparents “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” Big Joe and Mary Silvestri lived next door to Grandma and Grandpa Schmelz. We played countless football games out front of their home. They treated all of us kids like we were their grandkids.

I could tell you about English walnut wars; running across Henderson Airfield as planes were about to take off; cows grazing where Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Circle K are located now; riding our skateboards and anything else with wheels down the steep South Rice Road hill; playing baseball at Grandma and Grandpa Schmelz’s and knocking the balls over the fence into grumpy Mr. Johnson’s yard (Grandma gave him a piece of her mind a few times); asking my first girlfriend to got steady with me while walking down Woodland Avenue; playing and exploring the Ventura River bed; chasing pigs at the Honor Farm; riding my 1961 Yamaha 80 motorcycle at “Devil’s Gulch”; placing pennies, nickels, and nails on the railroad rails to flatten them; watching Russell Glenn’s 4H Club sheep while he was on vacation and walking it on a leash; rototilling for countless hours at Mr. Peacock’s to make a few bucks, but feeling like I was still shaking for about two days after I was done. I think you get the idea.

Mirror Lake seems so long ago. Yet, in some ways, it was only yesterday. The smell of the warm still water permeating the air, the sound of the rustling cattails as the warm summer breeze gently blew through them, the melodic call of the red-winged blackbirds, the constant clicking of the American coots, the occasional croak of a big ol’ bullfrog, ducks rapidly rising from the water while quacking their hearts away, the train rumbling along the tracks and its occasional whistle blasting — it all lingers sweetly on my mind. I was never really exiled.

Bike lanes on Hwy. 33 presages future

The following article was first run in the Wednesday, February 15, 1978 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on Page B-16. It is reprinted here with their permission. Photo inserted by the “Ojai Valley Museum”.

Bike lanes on Hwy. 33 presages future

Editorial by Fred Volz


The fact that the shoulders of Highway 33 are torn up right now between Villanova Road and Tico Road in Mira Monte is good news. That’s because CALTRANS, of all people, is building bike lanes on both sides of the road, as was announced in this newspaper last month.

California’s highway bureaucracy has finally become aware and is doing something about the 75 million or so of us in America who use bicycles as an alternate means of transportation. In 1975, over 7.5 million foreign and domestic bicycles were sold in this country — twice as many as were sold 10 years ago.

THIS TREND is increasing, as is evident to people-watchers in Ojai Valley. As our area becomes increasingly congested with automobiles, and the benefits — to the rider and to the environment — become more and more evident, we expect bike-riding locally to outstrip by far the national trend.

The long-time baby of this writer, in gestation for a decade, is about to be born. Last week, supervisor Ken MacDonald reported that he is confident the county will be able to acquire the abandoned Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way, whether or not supervisors re-allocate the $300,000 currently earmarked for the project. That’s because the state is pushing the project.

Valleyites must be concerned that this marvelous strip of land which links the three major communities in the valley becomes “multiple use”: hiking, biking, riding. We’ve heard bureaucrats say that the three aren’t compatible. “You can’t have a horse trotting on an asphalt bike path,” has been cited. That’s true; so you pave one side for the bikers and roll dirt on the other half for the riders.

At least, this was the way it was done by the state and City of Sacramento in its marvelous hiking, biking, riding pathway we visited last year in the state capitol. The “trail” stretches along the American River from the suburbs to downtown along a spur line railroad right-of-way that’s still in daily use by freight cars. The pathway was built along the railroad right-of-way to one side of the tracks, which for the most miles run along an elevated embankment. Works fine.

THE MULTI-USE pathway has a 6-foot strip of asphalt down one side with a white center line divider down the middle to mark the opposing directions. Alongside is graded an ample dirt strip for horses.

One Sunday we trotted along the asphalt for 5-6 miles on our usual morning jaunt. Along the way we met other runners and were passed in both directions by hordes of bikers. Horses followed other paths along the river embankment. We all had a fine time waving and greeting each other. The morning proved sunny and clear; the air off the river and the fields was fresh and cool; the experience was such that we remember it vividly.

So, let’s get on with our own pathway on the abandoned railroad, so that someday we may experience the joy of riding/hiking/biking through our beautiful valley.


Fred Volz — Publisher and editor of the Ojai Valley News from 1962 to 1987. (Courtesy of Ojai Valley News)

THE ROAD TO OJAI

The following article first appeared in the Thursday, Sep. 11, 1958 (Vol. 1, No. 35) edition of THE SENTINEL. THE SENTINEL was purchased by the Ojai Valley News. The article is reprinted here with the permission of the Ojai Valley News. The author is Percy G. Watkins.

THE ROAD TO OJAI
by Percy G. Watkins

(continued from last week)

THE ROAD AT THE ARNAZ GRADE

As the road to Nordhoff (Ojai) in 1900 passed La Crosse, (near Casitas Springs), it followed the railroad tracks to pass the home of Ed Goodyear, son of the man who owned part of the Arnaz Ranch at that time.

Here the road split. The Nordhoff Road turned to cross the railroad to go up the San Antonio Creek Valley. The other road went straight up the Ventura River Valley.

After passing the Goodyear home (built like so many of the houses that were here at that time) the traveler passes a large barn which was across highway 399 from the present Rancho Arnaz Cider Mill. West of it, the road wound up to the top of the hill to the farm land of Ed Goodyear (which now belongs to Henry Olivas). Mr. Goodyear was killed on this grade a few years later after being run over by a wagon loaded with corn.

The road then proceed up the Creek past a house which belonged to a man named Amesbury. He was, I think, one of the members of the crew who was drilling the oil well Van Epps managed. This house, and the land which belonged to it was sometimes known as the Harmison Ranch. Alfalfa grew on this land. (It’s now known as the Littlefield Ranch).

The road again leads to Ranch No. 1, with its No. 1 well flowing sulphur water. Beyond the barn and shop stood the house Tom Bard built to house and feed the men associated with him in drilling California’s first drilled oil well.

Across the Creek was the Arnaz School (Oak View’s first school), which was built in 1883 and is still standing. (It is now occupied by the N. Amescua’s). Not far from this point, the road forked and the Creek Road continued on up the San Antonio Creek Valley. And the other one went up the old grade to what is now the central part of Oak View.

At this point was a row of mail boxes which marked the end of the Ventura Star Route. An old fashioned steel-perforated sign indicated the distance to Ventura and to Nordhoff by both routes. A U.S. Geodetic Survey marker stood at this point.    (to be continued)

The “iron horse” came to the valley in ’98

This article first appeared in the Ojai Valley News, but the date of the edition of the paper in which it appeared is unknown. It was written by Ed Wenig. Wenig wrote for the newspaper in the late 1960’s into the 1970’s.

The “iron horse” came to the valley in ’98
by
Ed Wenig

Two “iron horses” pulled four carloads of exscursionists into Nordhoff, as the band blared a welcome on a balmy spring morning of March 12, 1898. Ojai Valley residents, who had driven from far and near, in wagon, buggy and surrey, looked on with pride as official guests from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and neighboring Ventura County towns arrived on the first train ever to enter the Ojai Valley. Here indeed was concrete evidence of “progress” in its most up-to-date form.

On March 12, 1898, the train made its first trip to the Ojai Valley. The train was met with a "lively blare of trumpets" in Nordhoff. The Ojai Band and the Ventura Band each played for the welcoming crowd.
On March 12, 1898, the train made its first trip to the Ojai Valley. The train was met with a “lively blare of trumpets” in Nordhoff. The Ojai Band and the Ventura Band each played for the welcoming crowd.

The most important visitors were driven to the homes of prominent residents of the valley for luncheon, after which they were taken for brief scenic drives through the valley. But most of the passengers were loaded into surreys and wagons and taken to a picnic under the oaks in what is now the Civic Park [Libbey Park]. Then, the speeches began. Among them, one by W. C. Patterson, president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, expressed thanks to the people of the Ojai Valley for having given “the outside world a chance to see and admire the beauty of the magnificent amphitheater of mountains which enclose this ideal spot.”

Health resort

In the Midwinter Edition of the Los Angeles Times appeared this comment: “This railway will open tourists to one of the most charming valleys in the state . . . With the advent of the railway, Nordhoff will possess all the requirements of a pleasure and health resort.” Imagine the pride of the residents of the valley when they read in the Ventura County Directory, “The valley has been settled by a superior class of people, intelligent, refined, and very enterprising. Many of them have abundent means and have been men of standing and influence in other communities.”

There were four passenger pickup stations on the railroad between Ventura and Nordhoff. Starting from Ventura they were Weldon, Las Cross, Tico, Grant, and finally the Nordhoff Station. In the first few weeks after the opening there were two trains daily, after which a schedule of one train per day was established. In response to repeated requests from J. J. Burke, the Southern Pacific re-established a schedule of two daily trains for the winter months only. Trains left Nordhoff at 7:20 a.m. and 4 p.m. for Ventura. Returning trains arrived in Nordhoff at 1 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Passengers bound for Matilija Hot Springs disembarked at Grant Station located approximately at the present lumber yard at the “Y” [Rotary Park now]. From there they went by stagecoach, and, in later years, by Stanley Steamer to Matilija.

Forest Masburn in September of 2017 at Rotary Park at the "Y" intersection in Ojai. Rotary Park used to be the location of "Grant Station" back in the early days of the railroad that once ran where the Ojai Valley Trail is now located next to the park.
Forest Masburn in September of 2017 at Rotary Park at the “Y” intersection in Ojai. Rotary Park used to be the location of “Grant Station” back in the early days of the railroad that once ran where the Ojai Valley Trail is now located next to the park.

It took 10 years

The arrival of the first train was the culmination of ten years of hopes and planning. In 1891, under the headline “Railroad Coming” a writer for THE OJAI¬†observed, “Soon the invalid or tourist can recline in his upholstered seat within the observation car and be whirled over hill and vale to his destination, instead of a tedious ride in a stagecoach.” At first a Ventura company had been formed to build a narrow gauge railroad. But Captain John Cross proposed to build a standard gauge road, and with the enthusiastic cooperation of the businessmen of the Ojai Valley was successful in bringing the dream to reality.

When automobiles came into more general use the importance of the railway passenger service declined, and in later days the line was used entirely for shipments of freight.

Since the flood of 1969, which washed out portions of the road bed, the railroad has been abandoned. [Today it is the Ojai Valley Trail.]