March 2012 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

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Cerro Gordo is again open to day visitors, road and weather conditions permitting.

Please phone (760-876-5030) for current conditions before venturing out!

A caretaker is living on on the site and visitors must check in before venturing around the ghost town.

No supplies or accommodations are available at Cerro Gordo and visitors should bring plenty of drinking water and haul out their own trash. The dirt road from Keeler to Cerro Gordo is a steep, eight mile ascent. Four wheel drive is not usually required, but vehicles should have adequate ground clearance.

Phone 760-876-5030 for current information or contact us through email at:


Cerro Gordo

A Ghost Town

Caught Between


Cecile Page Vargo's collection of Cerro Gordo stories, true, farce and somewhere in between, is being published in a new book, Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries.

The book gives glimpses of Cerro Gordo from the silver and lead mining days through the early twentieth century zinc era to its modern place as, according to author Phil Varney, "Southern California's best, true, ghost town." There's even a possible solution to the location of the fabled "Lost Gunsight Mine" that former Cerro Gordo owner Mike Patterson once suggested.

We are proud to team with the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert (HSUMD) in Ridgecrest, Calif., to bring Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries to print. This is their first major publishing venture. The book is  available for sale directly from HSUMD or through selected book sellers.

Contact HSUMD directly to order:

P.O. Box 2001, Ridgecrest, CA. 93556-2001.

Phone: 760 375-8456


Mules can taste the difference--so can you

LOGO T Shirts Available


Explore Historic California with our  logo depicting the California backcountry and its rich history both true and farce.

We now offer shirts, sweats, jerseys and cups with our logo.

Click the shirt for details!


Friends of Last Chance Canyon is a new organization interested in sustaining and protecting areas within the El Paso Mountains, near Ridgecrest, California. The main focus is preserving and protecting historic sites like Burro Schmidt's tunnel and the Walt Bickel Camp.

Please click on either logo to visit the FLCC site.

We support

Bodie Foundation
"Protecting Bodie's Future by Preserving Its Past


Click on Room 8's photo or phone

951-361-2205 for more information.


The Panamint Breeze is a newsletter for people who love the rough and rugged deserts and mountains of California and beyond.

Published by Ruth and Emmett Harder, it is for people who are interested in the history of mining in the western states; and the people who had the fortitude to withstand the harsh elements.

It contains stories of the past and the present; stories of mining towns and the colorful residents who lived in them; and of present day adventurers.

Subscriptions are $20 per year (published quarterly March, June, September & December) Subscriptions outside the USA are $25 per year. All previous issues are available. Gift certificates are available also.

To subscribe mail check (made payable to Real Adventure Publishing) along with name, address, phone number & e-mail address to:  Real Adventure Publishing, 18201 Muriel Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92407.

For more information about the Panamint Breeze e-mail Ruth at:

It's always FIRE SEASON! Click the NIFC logo above to see what's burning.

Visit Michael Piatt's site,, for the truth behind some of Bodie's myths.

Terri Geissinger is a Bodie area Historian, Guide and Chautauquan. A long time resident who lives in Bodie and Smith Valley, she is dedicated to preserving stories of the pioneer families, miners, ranchers and teamsters. Click the photo for information on her tours with the Bodie Foundation.

Credo Quia Absurdum




Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway.

     Click your mouse through the website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them.



The Randsburg Railroad

It never went to Randsburg, but served the needs

of the Rand Mining District

by Cecile Page Vargo

This story originally appeared on our old Tripod site.

The discovery of gold in Goler Canyon in 1893  brought large groups of prospectors to the isolated  desert area to try their luck.  Within two years the Yellow Aster mine was producing at the mining camp of Randsburg nine miles to the southeast, in the Rand Mountains.  Water was in  short supply at the higher elevation, so  the stamp mills were located next to Goler, in the wash along the valley floor, at Garlock.  The ore had to be hauled from the mine down  the steep grade to the mill by mule team. The nearest railroads were the A & P (the Santa Fe) which was 30 miles to the south, and the Carson and Colorado narrow gauge which terminated 75 miles to the north as the crows flies, at the shores of Owens Lake.  

As the Rand Mining District expanded to include Johannesburg and Red Mountain the need for a railroad became more important.  In May of 1897,  J.M. Beckley of Rochester New York, Albert Smith of New York City, and A. A. Daughter of Los Angeles  incorporated the Randsburg Railway Company.  The engineers recommended that the line start at the  A& P junction known as Kramer, south of  the Randsburg mining district.  There would be 29 miles of route with an elevation gain of 1,150 feet.  Construction contracts were awarded to Ramish and Marsh of Los Angeles.  The work would begin on October 2, 1897.   A train full of laborers came from Los Angeles, and  ten carloads of steel rails were shipped to Kramer.  In San Bernardino, the Santa Fe workshops went to work reconditioning an engine for hauling supplies. 


The railroad was set to be completed by December 5th 1897.  Early November,  23 miles of line were graded and 16 miles of track were in operation.  A delay in shipments of supplies, and a shortage of ties postponed the opening date.  However by the end of November 1897, passengers were riding the construction train over 22.5 miles to St. Elmo.  A six mile stage ride completed the journey to Johannesburg from there.

This 1915 USGS map shows the most of the route of the Randsburg Railroad (then part of the AT&SF) from north of Kramer Junction to Johannesburg. By the end of 1933, the railroad was out of business. The tracks were taken up the following year.

As the railroad route began to actually go over the mining area, surveys showed the track would be laid directly over a prospect shaft belonging to partners Webb and Wrem.   Unfortunately no one had informed Webb and Wrem of the route over their claim.   Contractors, Ramesh and Marsh did not let this stop their railroad, however.  They waited until the darkness of night to lay the track right over the disputed property and directly across the entrance of the shaft.  Once Webb and Wrem became aware of the dilemma, they organized a gang to tear up the track.  The contractors found out about the plan and met the miners with 12 armed men.   Guards were hired  to protect the railroad property, and trouble ceased.  Christmas of 1897 all but track surfacing and ballasting were done. 

Rumors & Speculations

An oil burning locomotive was brought in to replace the little construction locomotive.  Newspapers claimed the new locomotive came from the Los Angeles Terminal Railway.   Rumors spread that Randsburg Railway would be linked with the Los Angeles Terminal Railway through a route to Salt Lake City.  The general manager of Randsburg, Albert Smith, contributed more to rumors by announcing that his railroad was completely independent with only a 25 year traffic agreement with the Santa Fe.  Smith declared that the route would ultimately extend 60 miles into Armagosa Valley and tap into the Death Valley region.  Others speculated that the builders would continue north to the borax mines at Searles Lake, and on to the Carson and Colorado at Keeler.

A principal stockholder, Daughtery, found himself being sued by a promoter named James Campbell.  Campbell claimed he was to receive shares in the stock for services he had rendered in arranging financing and contracts for the Randsburg Railway.  Although history does not tell us how this incident was resolved, the full 28 miles of railroad from Kramer to Johannesburg was completed.  Difficult grades and other considerations prevented the line from reaching around the hill to Randsburg.  Regular trains did begin operating to Johannesburg, however, by January 5, 1898.   The round trip of the Randsburg Railway did not properly connect with the Santa Fe trains at Kramer the first two weeks.  January 17, 1898, two daily round trips were provided, with a train to service Barstow to Los Angeles.

Ore Hauling

The town of Barstow boomed when Beckley and associates built a 50  stamp mill on a hillside west of town under the name Randsburg-Santa Fe Reduction Company.   A two thousand foot spur connected this property with the main Santa Fe line.  As the milling operations began in June of 1898, ore was to be routed by the railroad directly to the ore bins of the new mill.  This lasted only until February of 1899 when the 130 stamp Yellow Aster Mill  opened not far from  the mine at Randsburg.

Passenger Tales

Marcia Rittenhouse Wynn tells stories of the early days of the Randsburg Railroad in her book Desert Bonanza, which was published in 1963 by the Arthur H. Clark Company of Glendale.  She writes of the  pranksters who boarded the passenger train in Johannesburg on Halloween night, without tickets or particular destination in mind.  Both conductor and engineer played  along, carrying the young crowd a mile or more out on the desert before stopping the train.  All concerned had to walk back along the tracks of the railroad; even the ladies with  their high heels and holding their skirts up.    She also tells of the small pox epidemic of the winter of 1901-02 which hit  Randsburg at Christmas time.  Rather than face quarantine, some patients with light cases tried to head for Los Angeles or elsewhere on the train.  A notice was  posted by town Doctor MacDonald that no one could leave town by railroad or stage without a signed health certificate.  Each evening the doctor had to drive by horse to Johannesburg, board the train and walk down the aisle of the single coach checking for any signs of the small pox.  Ladies tried to cover their faces with veils to avoid detection, but this only caused the doctor to pay even closer  attention to anyone wearing any type of face covering.  Persons  with  even the slightest indication of the smallpox were taken back to Randsburg by a light delivery wagon known as the Black Maria, and placed under quarantine after all.

On May 1, 1903, the Randsburg Railway was acquired by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe as part of their Arizona Division.  Ore, supplies, and passengers continued  over the rails until the economic depression of December 30, 1933 finally halted the train.  By 1934 the tracks were removed.  Randsburg Railways investments in road and equipment during the Santa Fe take over was close to $850,000.  The little railroad didn't have to worry about operating in the red, yet its net operating profits under original company ownership were proved inadequate income for the investment. 


Desert Bonanza The Story of Early Randsburg Mojave Desert Mining Camp
by Marcia Rittenhouse Wynn
The Arthur H. Clark Company (out of print)

Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California, Volume II: The Southern Roads
by David F. Myrick
University of Nevada Press


The Lone Pine Earthquake of 1872

March 26 marks the 140th anniversary of the Lone Pine earthquake. It was one of the largest earthquakes to occur during historic times in California. Below is the headline from the Inyo Independent newspaper of March 30, 1872.

Read more about the quake from our story in November, 2009 . Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by