Early Ojai Stories, Part VI (More on Ojai Train) by Howard Bald
Howard Bald describes life in turn-of-the-century Ojai in these articles from 1972.
There were other incidents in connection with the “Ojai Flier” or”The Cannon Ball” that might be worth mentioning. One of the train crew lived with his family on Signal Street, the old two-story house now occupied by a masseur [Inn Harmony]. His daughters in the evening would hitch the old white mare to the buggy and park them near the side door. When they heard the train whistle in the distance, one or all three daughters would jump in the buggy and dash off to meet their daddy.
One evening a daughter went out, and finding no horse and buggy waiting, decided that one of the other sisters had gone alone and thought nothing of it. When father checked out from his “run”, he found the horse and buggy in the customary place. After looking around and finding no daughters, he drove home alone. Later it was revealed that the old white mare was seen jogging down Signal, up Main Street to Fox, and down to the depot on her own.
A few years later my young sister decided to make Peggy, our two year old colt, acquainted with the train. Margaret was riding bareback with only a hackamore. Peggy took a pretty dim view of the hissing monster, putting on quite a scene, and at one time was in the middle of someone’s buggy. But through it all, Margaret stayed astride her.
One time I was sent from the livery stable with a horse and buggy to meet a domestic of the Edward Thachers on Topa Topa Ranch coming in on the train. It was winter and, of course, dark when the train came in. We soon had the old gal and her belongings loaded and were off up Ojai Avenue. By the time we turned off onto Reeves Road (it wasn’t much more than a narrow, winding, rocky trail then and I don’t believe it had a name) the poor old Scandinavian was having some misgivings as to the reliability of her escort. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t drive faster.
I did my best to reassure her, pointing out that the road was rocky and narrow. When we turned up McAndrew road and the horse travelled even slower, she was really convinced that I was lost. There was nothing, though, that she could do, for it was pitch dark and I don’t suppose she even ha a pair of reins in her hands. It probably wasn’t eight o’clock when we drove into Topa Topa yard, and Mr. and Mrs. Thacher appeared with coal oil lanterns. But that lady, I guess, considered it a harrowing experience.
It was wintertime when once my mother, my sister and I were going someplace by train. As we groped our way on foot from Signal to Fox Street in the dim dawn, we heard the locomotive give some sharp whistles, but we sauntered along until we discovered the train was at the Fox Street crossing. Mr. Spence, the engineer, knew we were no aboard and was waiting there for us.
Another time most of Nordhoff went to Santa Barbara to a circus. We arrived via train in Ventura at 7 a.m. and had quite a wait there for another train, but were in Santa Barbara in time for the parade, saw the afternoon performance, then took a southbound train back to Ventura, arriving in time to catch the Ojai Flier home. I am not sure but what it had to wait for us in Ventura.
Mr. Spence, the engineer, was a kindly old gentleman, and once he took me with him on the locomotive, a cod burner, to Los Angeles and back, a two-day trip with 24 hours of travel. It was one of the events of my young life (I was probably 10 then), but alas it was somewhat marred by my introduction to indoor plumbing. I had never seen or heard of anything of the kind, and the whole thing was too embarrassing for words. No one knew how I suffered. Mr. Spence doubtless thought me a very unresponsive and unappreciative youngster. It was my first experience with electric lights, too. In the center of each room a cord hung from the fixture in the ceiling.
Well, so much for railroading. We will next dwell on the village of Nordhoff.