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)

For Tony Thacher, ranching exhibit is the real deal

The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014 edition of the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on page B1. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Original organizers of Ojai Pixie Growers Association (from left): Bob Davis, Tony Thacher, Mike Shore and Jim Churchill. (Photo courtesy of Thacher Family Archive)
“Historic Ranching Families of the Ojai Valley” at the Ojai Valley Museum exhibits heirloom furnishing, family photos, ranch equipment and more. (Photo by Roger Conrad)


For Tony Thacher, ranching exhibit is the real deal
by
Leticia Grimes
OVN contributor

The Ojai Valley Museum is continuing its popular exhibit, “Historic Ranching Families of the Ojai Valley,” for an additional two weeks. The groundbreaking exhibit will now be open through Jan. 12, giving visitors a rare look at six of the pioneering ranching families who created the iconic landscape of the Ojai Valley.

This exhibit began, appropriately with a member of one of Ojai’s oldest ranching families, Tony Thacher, who is on the museum board. Like a true farmer, he started with a seed of an idea for the exhibit and grew it carefully. Planted in the rich soil of the Ojai Valley Museum’s resources, it flourished under the curating expertise of Ojai Valley Museum Director Michele Ellis Pracy.

During visits to each ranch, she selected heirloom furnishings, family photographs and historic ranch equipment for the exhibition. In the museum, she designed a space for each family, where these treasures could speak in visual language about the realities of ranch life.

Growing beyond the museum walls, the exhibit branched out into sold-out events at the ranches, involving the community in a celebration of Ojai’s agricultural heritage.

Thacher brought the idea for the events to the museum, and with the individual ranch owners, organized picnics, barbecues, wine tasting, as well as a 100-year anniversary party at the Haley Ranch. Finally, thanks to Thacher’s suggestion and to the pro bono work of local videographer Chris Ritke, there is now a feature-length documentary of interviews with the ranching families playing in the gallery for visitors.

Taking a break before unloading a truck at his ranch, Thacher sat down in the library of the Ojai Valley Musuem and talked about how the exhibit came into being.

With a heritage from a family that defined Ojai’s unique combination of education and ranching, Thacher is well qualified both to speak about the past and the dynamic changes of the present.

Edward Thacher, his great-uncle, came to Ojai in 1887 and worked as a manager for the Topa Topa Ranch. Sherman Day Thacher, his grandfather, followed soon after and eventually founded Thacher School. His wife, Anne, is the daughter of another pioneering Ojai family, and with husband Tony, rebuilt the family citrus business after the disastrous flood of 1969.

Tony and Anne Thacher and family members at Friends Packing House on Maricopa Highway. (Photo courtesy of Thacher Family Archive)
Oliver Ayala and grandfather, Tony Thacher, at the Pixie Growers Picnic in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Thacher Family Archive)

Leticia Grimes: How did you get the idea for the exhibit?

Tony Thacher: I think the reason I wanted to have a rancher exhibit was that, as a member of the Chamber of Commerce, I’ve tried to instill in them that it’s not all just about tourism, and that there are really three main industrial engines in this valley, the oldest being agriculture. Tourism was started way back in the 1870s, 1880s, when people came out here for their health; and the other leg of the three-legged stool is education. Those three industries make Ojai what I think it is. So I wanted to emphasize agriculture, coming from an agricultural background, both my wife’s family and my own.

I want people to realize how tough it is to be in this business. It’s a seven-day-a-week job. We do hope it rains someday, so we can take a day off — although what we usually do is fix things indoors when it rains. I wanted to emphasize to the valley the value, the history. It’s not a static thing; it’s changed during my lifetime. This is a multimillion dollar business. If I had to guess, counting the cattle guys, it’s probably in the range of 10 to 15 million. This money comes in from actual manufacturing of something, so the money really does come into the valley.

So in talking with Michele, I said that since ranching is family-based, we have to pick some historic families. She said that we could have only six, maximum, because of the limitations of space. So I thought about that, and gathered some ranchers together, which isn’t easy to do, because they rarely agree on anything except water and citrus prices. We came up with a list of about 40 who’ve been around for more than a generation, then narrowed it down to six: the Clark family, who’ve been here forever countywide; the Haley/Hoffman family, they’re also an old Ventura County family; the Lucking family — sadly, Bill Lucking passed away, but his daughter, Carly Ford, is running that ranch; Bob Davis I grew up with, so it was easy for me to twist his arm; another one that’s near and dear to my heart is Dewayne Boccali; then there’s the Munzig/Anderson family — their ranch is where my grandfather first arrived in 1887.

LG: What are some of the challenges of ranching here?

TT: Farmers are scrambling to figure out what they can grow with the high prices of inputs in Ojai. Land’s ridiculous; we couldn’t possibly expand. The cost of water has accelerated so much that, as a part of your budget, it’s getting desperate. People have adapted. If you watch the video, you can see that Roger Haley has tried a dozen different kinds of domestic livestock to make a living. He also makes saddles. We could grow raspberries, but they need hoop houses like they have in Camarillo and Oxnard, I think people would be very upset. People do understand — we are their viewshed; we are what they see.

LG: Would you say that ranching here is in jeopardy or just passing through another challenge?

TT: You know, farmers are great complainers — it’s not raining, it’s raining too much! There’s a reason for that. We have almost no control over our inputs, like water, and very little control over what we can sell our products for. I worry for my kids and grandkids. When they came back from college, both our daughter and our son wanted to continue the tradition, so we’ll keep fighting. But you do worry about Ojai turning into San Fernando.

After the interview, Thacher returned to his seven-day-a-week job, with no day off in sight yet because of the long dry spell. But despite all the challenges and hardships, he and the six ranching families gathered a rich harvest this fall for the community, opening their histories, their homes and their hearts, giving us nourishment to last a lifetime.

The exhibit has been made possible by a grant received from the Heritage Fund through the Ventura County Community Foundation, as well as general donations and income from the companion special events.

The Ojai Valley Museum, established in 1967, is supported in part by museum members, private donors, business sponsors and underwriters, the Smith-Hobson Foundation, Wood-Claeyssens Foundation, the city of Ojai, Ojai Community Bank, Rotary Club of Ojai and Ojai Civic Association.

The museum is at 130 W. Ojai Ave. Admission is free for current 2013 members; non-member adults are $5, children 6 to 18 are admitted for $1 and children 5 and under are admitted free. Gallery hours are Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours are available by appointment. Free parking is available off Blanche Street at the back of the museum.

For more information, call 640-1390, ext. 203, visit www.ojaivalleymuseum.org or e-mail ojaimuseum@sbcglobal.net. The museum also has a Facebook page.

East end houses “just a big mess”

The following article first appeared in the Sunday, February 12, 1978 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on Page A-2. It is reprinted here with their permission.

East end houses “just a big mess”
by
Fred Volz


The East End of the valley took on a familiar look Friday morning. 1969 all over again.

As usual, the disaster area stretched along the infamous Thacher Creek barranca from “the dip” on Grand Avenue (500 yards west of McAndrew Road) all the way to Reeves Road. Thursday night a torrent of water poured out of Horn Canyon and gaining speed on a downhill slope ripped out the walls of the barranca and poured into houses and acreage along the way.

THE R. HARGETT FAMILY at 4370 Grand Avenue had moved into their new house two days ago. Thursday night they moved out. That was just before the barranca broke on its east side and re-routed itself in a torrent of water 5 feet wide on either side of the house leaving it sitting on an island. Hargett, a plumber from Redondo Beach, has been building the home himself for the past year and one-half. The fast-moving water undermined the foundation and part of the house caved in. It appeared that no water reached its inside.

“I’m going to jack her up, fix the framing, and move back in next week,” Hargett said Friday morning while watching the flood roar by. “Soon as the water’s down and I can get a bulldozer in here. This is not going to discourage me.”

TO THE FRED WACHTER family at 4184 Grand Avenue on the other side of the barranca the mess WAS discouraging. A branch of the barranca about 6 feet deep and 40 feet wide had ripped right straight through his home, demolishing his carport, carrying part of the deck away, and running into the house. The bedrooms were a sea of mud and the living room rug soaked. Thousands of dollars of landscaping were on their way to the ocean.

Next door at this writer’s house was a similar scene. This time the flood didn’t reach the inside of the house, coming to within one inch of the front door. The house is about 5 feet off the ground at that point.

Next door at the Russell residence a fire truck full of sandbags stood in what was once the front yard. It was buried up to its door handles. When the barranca broke loose, a wall of water surged around the house and fire personnel standing by ran for high ground. The Russell’s car was buried and their acre of landscaping buried under boulders and mud.

On down the barranca were houses belonging to two other families — the Ditchfields and the Ghormleys. Ditchfields fared well. Although their front yard and driveway are now a 12 foot wide, 10 foot deep channel, no water poured into their home.

Ghormleys have a sadder story to tell. Wall-to-wall mud fills the house and their garage is completely totaled. Thanks to a neighbor, Del Garst, however, much was saved. Garst went into the home before flood waters swept through, piled furniture high and blocked doorways.

Gary Hachadourian took builder Chuck Thomas with him Friday morning to check his East End acreage near Thacher Creek where he planned to start construction next week. No lot existed.







Feds doing council’s job

The following article first appeared in the Sunday, February 12, 1978 edition of the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on Page 4. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Feds doing council’s job
by
John E. Nelson, M.D.

___________________
Our
environment
___________________


“Clean Air — Or No Growth, City Told,” a recent OVN headline proclaimed.

Thanks for the choice. But we’ll take both.

Here’s the situation as it now stands. Because Ojai’s City Council and the county board of supervisors have proved themselves shamefully unwilling to halt rampant growth and air pollution in our valley, the big-brother federal bureaucracy is going to do it for us.

The means they’ll use is through our outmoded sewage treatment plant which has long been fouling the Ventura River in violation of federal health standards. If the plant is not upgraded soon, we could be fined $15,000 a day. In order to get the job done, a large federal grant must be approved.

BUT THE FEDS seem to be more concerned about the quality of our air than our own elected officials have been. They know that an upgraded sewer plant opens the gates to new development and overpopulation with inevitably increased air pollution.

Because we have failed to meet the standards set forth in the federal Clean Air Act, our valley has been designated as a “non-attainment area” — bureaucratic jargon which means that our air is unsafe to breathe during 98% of summer days. So the federal government is saying that it’s not about to give us money to make our air even more unhealthy.

Their hand so forced, the Ojai city council responded by postponing the final decision on the all-important general plan which will set the limits of future growth. They had hoped to push through their version of the plan before March 7 when the people will have a chance to elect a more environmentally aware council. This change again underscores the importance of this crucial election in determining the future of the entire valley.

MEANWHILE, the city planning commission and the county Air Pollution Control District are pointing their fingers at each other in a pointless dispute over where the air pollution comes from. APCD officials, who live outside the valley, say we make our own. Commissioners, who live inside the valley, say it blows in from elsewhere. Both sides seem to be clouding the issue and protecting their own interests.

The APCD, which is responsible for controlling air pollution on a countywide basis, has inexplicably been playing a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t game with Petrochem’s nitrogen oxide emissions. One wonders about their motivations for so compromising the health of the citizenry it is enjoined to protect. Perhaps they are covering the incredible mistakes of the board of supervisors in allowing Petrochem and oil drilling to exist in the first place.

The city planning commission, which now faces a mandate to halt new sources of air pollution within the valley, prefers to believe that there are no polluting industries here (ignoring the oil-drilling industry), and that “all we have is traffic and homes” (as if traffic were not the single major source of smog).

The truth is that there is too much pollution coming from both inside and outside the valley. Each side in the dispute seems to be engineering a monumental cop-out designed to relieve themselves from responsibility in dealing with the problem. Such thinking hardly seems worthy of the great challenge created by our ever-mounting smog hazard.

The solution to this problem lies in a vigorous effort from both agencies not just to keep our air from getting worse, but to clean up the already unacceptable levels of disease-producing smog. This column calls upon the APCD to increase its monitoring of Petrochem and oil-drilling sites, and to publish weekly reports on its activities. The Ojai Planning Commission must likewise do their part by halting all population growth now. The recent public outcry which resulted in the denial of an ill-conceived tract development clearly indicates that this is the will of the people.

FORTUNATELY, the voters of the City of Ojai will on March 7 have an opportunity to seat a majority of environmentally committed councilpersons who will do more than wait for Washington to tell them how to preserve our valley. The candidates have been crystallizing their stands, and our choices are becoming clear. Look for an update on this crucial election in a future column.



DR. JOHN NELSON

Meet Milton Charles, organist of silent movies

The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, February 15, 1978 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on Page A-9. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Meet Milton Charles, organist of silent movies
by
Brenda Loree


“Critics consider him one of the greatest organists in America,” says Arthur Eddy of his friend Milton Charles, who is now retired in Ojai.

Charles was born in San Jose “a long time ago,” and reminisced recently about what it was like playing the organ in the silent movie days of the 20’s among other things.

Milton was taking piano lessons by the time he was seven — he was part of a musical family — and considers that his first lucky break was when well-known San Francisco teacher Benjamin Moore accepted him as an organ student at no fee.

His first paid job was at age 13, when he “got my first church” at $25 a month. He continued with his lessons, too, until he heard that they were using organists in movie theaters. At age 15 he was earning $50 a week playing San Francisco movie theaters, very big money at that time. And no longer took lessons because his teacher highly disapproved of his new job.

MILTON SAYS the musical accompaniment he provided for the silents was strictly improvisation. He never played the same thing twice, although he would occasionally keep using the same musical theme if he hit on one he liked.

He was still a teenager when he got his first “big time” break. “I got a call from Sid Grauman (of Grauman’s Chinese Theater) one night. He offered me a job at the Million Dollar Theater in L.A. at $85 a week.”

Milton took the job and began a friendship with Grauman which ended up spanning decades, many hirings, firings and hirings again, and Milton’s introduction to such Hollywood notables as Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin, both of whom became big fans of his music.

Milton told of being second organist at the Million Dollar Theater, taking turns playing with the lead organist, C Sharp Minor, from 11 in the morning until midnight.

MR. MINOR would occasionally just disappear,” smiles Milton, “and I’d be left playing straight through from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. We always did a concert in those days before the silent movie started. They’d send out to the Owl Drugstore nearby for sandwiches and milk for me. Afterwards, I’d often get a call from Sid Grauman to come over to his house and play for a few of his friends out from New York. Gloria Swanson would sit on the bench with me a lot and sing along. She had a beautiful voice.

“Sid was an eccentric guy,” remembers Milton. Often Grauman would have all of those people wanting to break into show business come to his house to audition in the evening, with Milton accompanying. Some of them were good, says Milton, but he remembers some nights being so bad as to remind him of today’s Gong Show.

As one of only three or four professional organists in the country in the 20’s, Milton came to be in big demand, playing the Tivoli Theater in Chicago — by this time jus solo numbers — and back to the Metropolitan and then Paramount Theaters in L.A. again.

MILTON remembers when the Paramount Theater was about to go up at 6th and Hill in L.A. “They’d just started excavating, and it was just one big hole in the ground. Sid Grauman came around for me and took me to the site. ‘Okay, Milton, you stand here and yell at me when I get to the other side,’ instructed Grauman. ‘Hello, Mr. Grauman,’ I yelled. ‘Okay, kid, I just wanted to check the acoustics,’ Grauman yelled back.”

Milton was, to his knowledge, the first performer to use a microphone (carbon mike) in his act. He came up with the idea accidentally, while trying to solve an acoustics problem in a theater, and just stayed with it.

By this time Milton was touring Europe and the Eastern United States, playing the Mastbaum Theater in Philadelphia with a 200 orchestra. Milton remembers going to Paris to begin an engagement at a theater and having such a good time he never showed up at the theater.

By 1930, sound movies were in, and Milton appeared, playing and singing, in the movies for a while. He then began a long stint playing background music and lead-in music for CBS Radio in Chicago, finally rising to Music Director of CBS. But before he was named director he remembers mad days of playing for five soap operas a day.

THERE WOULD be a sound stage for every show, and I would race — I had 20 seconds — from one studio and organ across the hall to another studio, organ, and another soap,” he said. Milton adds that he would usually get a copy of the story line an hour before going on the air, and he would score the shows as much as he could in that time. Ma Perkins, Road of Life and Amos and Andy Shows were some of the ones he did.

Missing California, he signed on with CBS Radio in L.A. as a staff musician and played the background music for both the Roy Rogers an Gene Autry radio shows, besides playing with the CBS Orchestra for many years, when he lived in Toluca Lake.

As he approached retirement age, he took on another career. He began playing at a plush new restaurant in L.A., the Kings Arms, as a sideline career, and ended up staying there almost 20 years.

“I really loved doing that, and you have to, since most of the people around you in a lounge like that are feeling their oats,” Milton smiles.

MILTON STARTED coming to the Ojai Valley Inn occasionally in the early 70’s and fell in love with the valley.

He moved to Ojai permanently some five years ago and thinks he has the best of all worlds — 1 1/2 hours from Los Angeles, 45 minutes from Santa Barbara, while living in one of the “most beautiful places in the world.”


MILTON CHARLES scores the wedding march he’s writing for his granddaughter’s upcoming marriage. (Seba photo)

Laugh!!!

The following article first appeared in the Winter 2019 (VOLUME 37 NUMBER 4) issue of the “Ojai Valley Guide” magazine on pages 146 & 147. The magazine was published by the “Ojai Valley News”. The article is reprinted here with their permission.

LOOK BACK IN OJAI
with Drew Mashburn
Contributed on behalf of the
Ojai Valley Museum

LAUGH!!!
Go ahead and laugh! I would have laughed too.

DURING MY 1960’S HIGH SCHOOL DAYS, THERE WERE FEW JOB OPPORTUNITIES FOR TEENS. I TOOK A VARIETY OF JOBS TO MAKE A FEW BUCKS TO KEEP FUEL IN MY LITTLE YAMAHA 80 cc MOTORCYCLE, OCCASIONALLY BUY A NEW PAIR OF LEVIS, SEE A MOVIE, ATTEND A HIGH SCHOOL DANCE, BUY A CONTAINER OF FISHING WORMS, AND SO ON. I’D ALWAYS HEARD THAT THE VALLEY TEENAGE BOYS SMUDGED CITRUS DURING WINTER MONTHS AND MADE SOME DECENT COIN. NOW, IT WAS MY TURN TO DO IT!

Smudging entails lighting smudge pots that emit heat to prevent the citrus from freezing and ruination. A smudge pot has a 2-foot-diameter metal pot with a smokestack that sticks vertically out of it. The stack is about 4 feet high and 6 inches in diameter. A removable stack lid prevents rain from getting inside when not in use. A hinged regulator on the pot’s top sets the temperature. The pot is filled with diesel fuel and a drip-torch is inserted to light the pot.

Hangin’ with the guys was fun, and funny things happened. Both ranches we worked for sent us to local restaurants for breakfast, allowing us to order as much as desired. I could down a ton of grub in those days. Food equaled money to this boy!

The first season, we ate at the Topa Topa Restaurant, which is now the little deli between the theater and library. The second season, we went to the Boots ‘N’ Saddles Restaurant on the corner of Park Road and Ojai Avenue.

In 1967, school chum Richard May and I smudged at a ranch bordering the south side of Ojai Avenue not far from what is now Boccali’s Restaurant. I borrowed my parents’ 1958 Ford station wagon to get there. Had to because riding my motorcycle in near-freezing temperatures would have turned me into a popsicle!

Richard and I were the only teenagers on the crew. We gathered in an equipment storage building. The foreman instructed us how to light the pots, how he wanted the regulators to be adjusted, and what orchard areas to cover. He sent Richard and me out on the east side of the orchard. The foreman instructed us to light every pot down the row until we got to a narrow dirt road, then flip a “U,” come back down the next aisle and continue.

I took the aisle running parallel to Ojai Avenue and Richard took the next. I lit pots until I realized I was near the foot of the Dennison Grade, having overshot the dirt road. It’s dark out there and the dirt roads look quite similar to the dirt aisles. I quickly hoofed it back, located Richard, and informed him of my goof-up. Being behind time, we left the pots burning, hoping the neighboring rancher was happy for the free labor!

We kept lighting all the pots and moving toward the low mountains on the southern side of the orchard. At the mountain’s foot were several avocado trees. Richard and I linked up there, noticing a huge avocado tree with limbs so high we could easily walk under it. There was a pot 2 feet away from the tree’s trunk. I don’t recall which one of us lit that pot, but we both agreed it needed to be lit. The foreman drilled into us to “light every pot.”

Soon, Richard and I plunked down on a filthy old couch in the storage building. The entire crew was there when in charged the foreman. He was livid! He shouted something like, “Which one of you boneheads burned down my avocado tree?” Richard and I hunkered down even lower into that broken-down old couch as if it could offer us refuge and feigned being asleep. We fretted losing our jobs. Nobody copped to it, but I’m sure the foreman knew it involved the two youngest guys.

In 1968, the second season I smudged, I should have known better, but accidents happen, and it happened like this: About 1 a.m. on a 28-degree night, I was in the orchard. I got hot in my heavy jacket from all the exercise. I removed it and set it in a place I would remember. I was down to a T-shirt.

I moved down the rows lighting pots. Eventually, I lit a pot, but it didn’t seem like it was lit. So, I bent way down low to the base. I flipped open the regulator to see if the pot was burning. Flames leapt out of the hole into my face. It was quite dark outside. Those bright flames blinded me! I started to panic in my blindness. Had I damaged my eyes? As I stood there blinded, I began to get cold without a jacket. I feared going hypothermic. I knew nobody was anywhere around me and I was not familiar with the rugged terrain. I calmed myself.

After a few shivering minutes, my sight returned. I felt my face. I was okay! I finished lighting pots … unknowingly without eyebrows and eyelashes, and a lot less hair drooping down over my forehead. I was the last of the crew to return to our warm little shack at the ranch at the corner of Carne Road and East Ojai Avenue. Thankfully, I didn’t have any upcoming dates!

Meet the Mansons

The following article was first printed in the Summer 2020 “Ojai Valley Guide” magazine. The magazine was published by the “Ojai Valley News.” The article is reprinted here with their permission. The photo of Mitch Mashburn eating a potato was added by the Ojai Valley Museum.

DREW’S ENCOUNTER WITH THE MANSON CLAN

Meet the Mansons

“X” marks the spot!
I’ll explain this in a bit.

LOOK BACK IN OJAI
with Drew Mashburn
Contributed on behalf of the
Ojai Valley Museum

I’m unable to recall the exact dates of this adventure because it was over 49 years ago, but it was definitely in March of 1971. That’s when the five of us, Mike Payton, Mitch Mashburn, Jimmy Mitchell, Genemarie McDaniel, Heidi Sommers, and myself took a trip back into the remote Sespe Hot Springs in Los Padres National Forest. I drove my 1964 Chevy pickup with my motorcycle in the bed. Genemarie and Heidi rode in the cab with me. Mitch and Jimmy rode in the bed. Mike rode his motorcycle.

We left Saturday morning from Ojai. We drove up Highway 33 to the Rose Valley Recreation Area. Sespe Creek Road was dirt and wound for about 16 miles back to the hot springs so we crossed the Sespe Creek many times. The first crossing was at Lion Campground. We had zigzagged many times when we came upon a Volkswagen van and a Ford Mustang stuck in the middle of the wide, deep, creek. There must have been at least a dozen vehicles waiting to cross, but their drivers were leery about it. All of the vehicles lacked four-wheel drive, including my pickup.

4WD problems were not going to stop us; we figured we had enough able bodies to push the pickup to the opposite bank should the high water flood the engine. We pushed the van and sedan out of the creek, then offloaded my motorcycle. Mike and I rode our motorcycles across the creek in a shallower spot than the main crossing. Then, we waded back across the creek. We loaded into my pickup and I attempted to drive across it. No luck! The wet engine stalled about midpoint in the creek and I was unable to get it started again. We wound up pushing the pickup onto the far bank.

As we were hoopin, hollerin’, generally congratulating one another and wringing out our wet socks, I happened to look back towards the high flowing creek. There was a short, young lady and a fairly tall, young man wading across with heavy backpacks. The water was about chest deep on the gal, and I was fearful that, should she fall over with the pack on, she’d be swept under the water. I hurriedly headed in her direction, and as I extended my hand to her, I noticed an “X” engraved into her forehead directly above her nose. The gent had an engraved “X” too. I was only 19 years old and was more interested in camping, chasing girls, riding motorcycles, and the like than following the news; but, I immediately knew what those X’s meant. These two were, without a doubt, part of the Manson Clan. Now, I didn’t know much about Manson and his clan, but I’d certainly heard about them and the horrific deeds they had committed.

I assisted the young lady to safety. The gal did all the talking. I swear the dude had an I.Q. of a turnip. I suspected he might have blown his mind with drugs, but he didn’t seem under the influence at the time. The gal told me that she and her partner were in search of attorney Ronald Hughes. Hughes had been Charles Manson’s defense attorney in the Manson Clan trials but went missing after he switched to co-defendant Leslie Van Houten’s attorney. I knew that Hughes was considered missing in the Sespe Wilderness. The gal asked if she and her buddy could ride with us. I had her sit next to me in the cab. The turnip-brained friend of hers rode in the bed, and we put my motorcycle back in the bed too. None of my friends asked them about the X’s. Everybody loaded up and off we went with Mike leading the way on his motorcycle.

Ronald Hughes, Manson defense attorney.

The gal and I chatted. I decided that she was a pleasant, but odd chick. She told me she was Hughes’ “girlfriend.” That seemed odd to me at the time. We didn’t have any more difficulties crossing the creek on the rest of the journey. About a mile or two away from the hot springs, I stopped and told the gal this was as far as I intended on giving them a ride. She told me that she wanted to “camp” and “party” with us. I knew enough about the Manson Clan that I didn’t want these two hanging out with us, so I told her that I didn’t want her and her friend showing up at our camp. They got out of the pickup and that was the last we saw of them.

We traveled on to the hot springs, enjoyed them and spent the night. At some point the next day, we decided to head partially out of the Sespe Wilderness. We spent one more night at a campground. It was dang cold the following morning; I was extremely happy to have my down-filled sleeping bag. After a nice breakfast that included potatoes that Mike had boiled before the trip we decided to head for home.

Mitch Mashburn downing a boiled potato for breakfast.

My heavy motorcycle sliding around the pickup’s bed made it unsafe for Mitch and Jimmy riding with it. We offloaded the motorcycle and I rode it. Jimmy began driving my pickup. We had trouble crossing the one deep crossing again, but got the pickup unstuck and kept going.

“The wet engine stalled about midpoint in the creek and I was unable to get it started again.”

Mike and I were quite a ways in front of the pickup. Mike was ahead of me and we were crankin’ and enjoying the bumpy, curvy road. Mike rounded a curve, and a few seconds later, I rounded it with dust a-flyin’! There was a long straightaway after the curve. Mike should have been on that straightaway, but he wasn’t. I quickly braked and flipped a U-turn. Back to the curve I went. I found motorcycle tracks that led over the edge of the cliff at the curve’s midpoint; I feared the worst. I got off my bike and called for Mike before I looked over the edge. I didn’t want to look over and see my lifetime bud laying dead. I called a second time and Mike answered. I quickly moved to the edge and saw Mike about 40 feet below me. There was only one large bush at the base of the cliff and it was next to the extremely rocky riverbed. Mike and his bike had landed in the bush. It broke their fall. One LUCKY dawg! Mike was not injured and he’d only broken the bike’s mirror.

The rest of our group soon caught up with us. We were stumped as to how we were going to get the motorcycle up to the road. Soon, another pickup stopped. The guy driving it asked if he and his passengers might assist us. This guy was in his late 30s or early 40s. He told us he had a rope and suggested we tie it to the motorcycle, then everybody grab the rope and pull it up the steep cliff that was made of very loose shale. Mike and I kept the bike upright and pushed while all the others pulled on the rope. We were successful!

The gent informed us that the lady in his party was a “psychic.” He told us they were looking for Hughes using the lady’s mental powers, but had been unsuccessful. Now, it was necessary to return to their New York residences.

This gent told us they intended to return in the near future to continue their search. He asked me if I’d be willing to rent camping equipment, buy food and organize whatever else would be needed for a second attempt to locate the missing attorney with the psychic. I jumped at the opportunity. He asked me to immediately start locating what would be needed and that he’d send me the money to buy the supplies. We exchanged phone numbers. My group again thanked his party for their assistance and off they went. Soon, we were back in civilization with a sense of having a terrific adventure.

The next week, I searched stores selling camping and expedition equipment. The gent called me. He asked if I had acquired everything and I told him I had compiled a list with the places to get everything. He asked me to buy it all with my own money. I told him I didn’t have that kind of money. He told me he’d arrange to get me the money and call again. I never heard from him.

Undoubtedly that was because on March 27 two fishermen stumbled across Hughes’ dead body in the middle of the creek. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department conducted the investigation. It’s never been determined if Hughes’ death was accident or murder. Some speculate Manson had placed a hit on Hughes because Manson didn’t like Huges’ trial strategy. In fact, some people suspected the reason Hughes was in the Sespe was to hide from Manson and his clan.

I’ve wondered all these years … did the couple we gave a ride to with the X’s knock off Hughes?

Spreading Grounds Receive Surplus Matilija Water

The following article first appeared in the Thursday, January 24, 1952 edition of “THE OJAI” on the front page. “THE OJAI” is now the “OJAI VALLEY NEWS”. The article is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown.

Spreading Grounds Receive Surplus Matilija Water

Water from Matilija dam was again being dumped into Ojai Valley spreading grounds this week as county officials gave their go-ahead to the opening of the conduit leading from the dam to land near the junction of Carne and Thacher roads.

Supervisor R. E. (Sam) Barrett said Tuesday that the water is surplus flood water which has been flowing over the spillway of the dam at an estimated rate of 900 million gallons per day. The cascade over the dam has somewhat lessened in the days since last week’s storm, but Barrett stated that the conduit would remain open until there is no longer surplus water in the dam. He added that the supervisors hope to continue to send water to the spreading grounds for several months.

Some doubt was expressed earlier in the week as to whether or not the water would be free enough from debris and siltation to allow its passage through the pipeline to the east end of the Valley. An inspection of the spreading grounds Wednesday noon revealed a good flow of water, only slightly discolored.

The conduit was first opened early in May last year when the county dumped some 300 acre feet of water on the spreading grounds. It was reported that some well levels in the area rose during the period the water was released.


WATER OVER THE SPILLWAY OF MATILIJA DAM, filled last week for the first time since its construction in 1947, has drawn crowds of eager sightseers to the structure following last week’s deluge. Surplus flood waters are now being released from the dam through a conduit to spreading grounds in the east end of the Ojai Valley. —Photo by Ron Reich

New firebreak shields valley

The following article first appeared on the front page of the Wednesday, May 1, 1963 edition of “THE OJAI VALLEY NEWS”. It is reprinted here with their permission. The author is unknown.

TO PREVENT DISASTER

New firebreak shields valley

Ojai was partially swept by a brush fire in the 30’s and again in 1948. A project aimed at preventing repetition of such disasters is now underway in the mountains along the city’s northern boundary.

The project is a firebreak—or fuelbreak, as it is called by the U.S. forest service—to check any fires which might threaten the city.

When completed, the fuelbreak will extend all the way across the county from the Santa Barbara to the Los Angeles county lines. A 16-mile section of the break from Santa Ana canyon, across highway 399 to the Topa Topa bluffs already has been completed. This includes the portion directly north of the city of Ojai.

A second four-mile section from San Cayetano to the Sespe along the southern border of the Sespe wildlife area also has been completed.

Portions from Santa Ana canyon to the Santa Barbara line, from Topa Topa bluffs to San Cayetano and from the Sespe crossing to the Los Angeles county line are still incomplete but work is proceeding on these sections. When the project is complete, it will form a continuous fuelbreak about 60 miles long.

The break consists of a strip of land cleared of brush for a maximum width of 500 feet where the terrain permits and a minimum width of 200 feet. Once cleared of the heavy brush the strip is seeded to rye grass and blando brome grass, hardy and fast growing varieties which require a minimum of moisture.

The object is to have the grass take over, providing a good cover and a minimum of fuel for a fire crossing the strip. The project provides for a continuous program of maintenance of the break, which includes keeping down the brush after it is removed.

The work has been done by tractors and bulldozers in areas where these machines can work; in other areas such as canyons and gullies, the grubbing out has been done by men with hand tools.

The job has involved the gathering of large piles of brush. Some of this has been burned on favorable days. In other cases the brush has been shredded by tractors and worked into the soil of the fuelbreak.

The total area cleared is about 24 acres to a mile, but the brush has been cleared from about 384 acres in the 16 miles of fuelbreak already constructed.

North and east of Ojai many fingers and rectangles of privately owned land extend into Los Padres national forest, and in most cases north of the city the fuelbreak has been constructed across these lands. Forest service officials reported good cooperation from owners in getting their consent to build the break across their property. “We had to do some talking to get their consent in a few cases,” said Fred Bennett, Ojai district fire control officer, “but once they understood why we were doing it, and that it was for their own protection they were cooperative.”

The break has been constructed above the homes on these private lands to afford them the greatest protection. Another reason for crossing the private land was that the terrain becomes too steep to the north of these private holdings.

Chemical sprays and hand cutting will be the means used to keep down undesirable growth and permit the grass to take hold.

Deer have been of assistance in “maintaining” the break because they frequent the cleared area in considerable numbers and feed on the young shoots.

As part of the fire control program, water supplies in Gridley, Cozy Dell, Senior, Horn, Stewart and other canyons will be considered as available in case of need. It is also planned to develop other water storage together with access roads.

As an additional control factor, the fuelbreak has been planned to run as straight as possible considering the sometimes very rough terrain. Object of this is to allow borate bombers as straight runs as possible to spill their fire quenching chemical.

The project is a cooperative venture between the U.S. forest service and the county, with the county supplying the funds.

The break north of Ojai has been carefully planned to avoid a scar on the mountain which would be visible from the valley. The break in this area lies behind the geologic overturn—the row of small rounded hills which are such a conspicuous element of the northern view. The fuelbreak follows a swale or valley behind the hills and it cannot be seen from the valley except for a short distance at Gridley canyon and at highway 399.

FOREST SERVICE officials view portion of fuelbreak. This view is looking east from the head of Thacher canyon.
FUELBREAK to protect Ojai from forest fire is shown on this map. Solid line shows the portion of the 200 to 500-foot wide break which has been completed. Dotted line indicates the uncompleted portion. Map was drawn by Dean Price of U.S. forest service.


Man who knows everyone in Ojai

The following article was first seen in the Monday, May 21, 1962 edition of “THE OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on the front page in the “Who’s Who” section. The article is reprinted here with the permission of “THE OJAI VALLEY NEWS”. The author is unknown.

Man who knows everyone in Ojai

Here is a man who really needs no introduction . . .

He seems to know every body in Ojai and everybody seems to know him.

He’ll shout a greeting to you from across the street or from a car in which he happens to be driving by.

You mark him by that butch haircut, sprinkled with gray, those heavy dark-framed glasses, his penchant for knit ties, his flair for natty combinations in sports coats and slacks.

And a penchant also for kidding and a practical joke . . .

But police work for Jim Alcorn is no joke.

Here is a man with nearly 30 years of police work behind him. A cop (he doesn’t mind the word if it’s used in a friendly way) who has dealt with just about everything there is in the way of crime and criminals. A product of a tough, hard school who knows the value of discipline.

And he exacts it from his force . . .

But still he retains his sense of humor.

Jim came to Ojai from Beverly Hills to take over the job of Ojai’s chief of police May 1, 1952.

Years on the Beverly Hills department, one of them as a uniformed patrolman, three as a detective, five as a detective sergeant and the rest of the time as detective lieutenant, winding up as chief of detectives, Jim decided he’d had enough of a big town.

“I was born right in the middle of Los Angeles,” he said, “I decided I’d like to try life in a small town.”

They were giving an examination for police chief here. Jim came up an took it — along with 50 other aspirants. He came out second in the written test but ended up in first place after the oral exam.

So Ojai got the man at the top of the heap for its chief of police.

When Jim took over there was no bureau of records. There were four men on the force. Jim applied his experience to a reorganization of the department. He started a record department. The first new man he hired was A.A. Quijada — known to the whole valley as Chumo — who is still on the department and its specialist in juvenile delinquency.

The new men coming on tended to be younger. Alcorn now heads a police force of seven men whose average age is 31. In addition the force has two policewomen.

In the accent on youth Ojai’s department is following a national trend. It is also in step with national trend in another respect — scientific police training. All members of the force, including the policewomen, hold certificates from Ventura college in police administration. One, Tom Marshall, has his from Citrus College. A number of the officers have taken several courses. Policewoman Lou Reitzel took an advanced course in traffic safety. Said the chief: “We had to buy her a slide rule so she could figure the problems.”

Belonging to both the earlier era of policework: “when all you had to be was big and be able to push people around” and to the new scientific era, Jim says the modern police methods are far superior, attract better men and are much more effective.

He himself has attended law enforcement schools and is a graduate of a course in police administration and science at UCLA.

As far as crimes go, Ojai isn’t a Beverly Hills. Here, Jim says, the whole police operation is different, more personal. The city boundaries mean little. People from all over the valley think of the Ojai police department as “theirs” and call in with their troubles. And many, many a time Jim has played the role of mediator in domestic disputes — almost that of a father confessor at times.

On emergency calls from outside the city limits Jim has one strict rule: Send what personnel are needed to handle the situation. Call the sheriff or the state highway patrol and wait until they arrive. But NEVER leave Ojai unprotected.

Looking back over his years in police work, Jim thinks there’s little difference between the amount of juvenile crime then and now.

But as to juvenile delinquency — by which he means acts not serious enough to be classed as crimes — he thinks there’s a lot more nowadays. He blames two things — the easy availability of cars and liquor.

And note this, citizens. Your chief of police thinks that as motorists you are a bit careless of the rights of pedestrians in crosswalks. Also, the time is drawing near, he feels, when we are going to need traffic signals to control traffic.

Alcorn has a scrapbook fat with clippings of cases in which he played a part while on the Beverly Hills force. He was the first detective on the scene after Benny (Bugsy) Siegal, underworld overlord, was shot gangland style in a Beverly Hills mansion. He participated in the capture of one Gerald Graham Dennis, one of the most notorious burglars in modern criminal annals who stripped homes of movie stars and other famous persons of a million in jewels and furs. Acting alone, he ran to earth a bandit who held up the California bank using a child as a shield. Alcorn traced the bandit and his girl friend through a license number jotted down by the child’s mother. As he burst into a hotel room the bandit reached for his gun but Jim made a flying leap for the bed on which the bandit was lying and overpowered him.

He’s had his picture in Life magazine. He’s known many a famous person in connection with his police activities — John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, Jimmy Durante (“a wonderful guy”), the late Jerry Geisler, the lawyer, Howard Huges . . .

But policework isn’t quite as glamorous as on TV. “It’s wearing out shoe leather, asking questions — just plain hard work,” Jim says, who ought to know.

He thinks “Dragnet” was the most realistic police drama on TV. “It was so realistic it wasn’t even interesting.”

Perry Mason? “He must be God. In real life you never, never can get anyone to confess like that” says Jim, rubbing his chin. (He needed a shave).


CHIEF ALCORN