February 2010 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles




Sky high gas prices along with sluggish economic conditions have severely impacted our tour business for over a year.

We have reluctantly decided to suspend our tour operations for the time being.

Our sincere thanks and appreciation to all who continue to support us.

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


Support Room 8's charitable legacy by donating to the Room 8 Memorial Cat Foundation or adopting one of their cats.

Click on Room 8's photo or phone

951-361-2205 for more information.

Mules can taste the difference--so can you



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:  echco@msn.com


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



Click on the bag to find out how.


Visit Michael Piatt's site, www.bodiehistory.com, 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 Mono Lake Committee.

Back to the past in California City--Wimpy's!

8209 California City Blvd.,
California City, 93505

Hey Brother,

Can 'Ya

Spare a Job?

The nation's economic downturn has severely affected the newspaper industry. My job of nearly 30 years was eliminated several months ago.

I'm actively looking for full or part time job opportunities within my diverse skill set.

If you have, or know of any openings, please contact me through this CONTACT  link.




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 Rowley’s of  Monte Vista Valley

Part II: Education and Opportunity In A Rugged Land

by Cecile Page Vargo

For nearly thirty years I have known of the historic Rowley House in my neighborhood of Sunland/Tujunga.  In the past ten years it finally dawned on me that the magnificent rock house I regularly passed on the backroads to the Sunland post office was the same one pictured in my local history books.  Somehow I missed the year it was offered on our historic house tour. In the last year, I have been given a personal glimpse into the past and present of this wonderful home, thanks to newfound friendships. This is the second in a series about the house and the hardy and often boisterous pioneers who called it theirs in the early days of what was then known as Monte Vista Valley.  

Life in Monte Vista Valley was crude at best. The few families that lived there traveled back and forth on wagon wheel rutted dirt roads that were famous for flooding when the rains came. Food would have been grown, raised, or hunted, or bartered with occasional trips several miles away to the big city for supplies. Mail was brought in by Loron T. Rowley, who would travel to Roscoe Station where steam trains delivered it.

Panoramic view of the Vale of Monte Vista looking east, 1912.

(Photo courtesy CSUN/ San Fernando Valley History Digital Library)

By 1885, Loron put his entrepreneurial skills together and contracted with land promoters to build a two story general store and mail distribution outlet.  The goods he provided and the mail he brought in primarily took care of the needs of the developers and their construction workers. Loron would take his wagon down to Los Angeles, buy the necessities to outfit his store, spend the night in the city, and then come back the next day.

Monte Vista pioneers took advantage of the school at the west end of the little Valley. The children often walked many miles to get there, in all manner of weather, through prickly shrub, kicking up dust or tramping through mud and floodwaters according to the season.  The boys sometimes carried guns, making sport of shooting jackrabbits along the way. The gun also came in handy to kill the rattlesnakes they encountered in warm weather. 

The school boys could be rough and full of antics. The school master, probably not much older than they were, made switches out of willow to discipline them. He kept these switches on his desk in front of the classroom to serve as warning. One of the boys surprised him by pulling out a knife and another pulled his gun, and mocked the teacher by placing their weapons on their own desks. That afternoon, as the teacher was on his way home from school, the sound of gun shots were heard; Bullets whistled by his ears. Although it was later claimed it was all in good clean fun, the schoolmaster couldn’t take the pressure, and quit. The one room schoolhouse was closed.

Loron Rowley was a prominent citizen of Monte Vista, always looking out for the needs of his rural community. When he realized that the school needed a new teacher, he sent word to his brother Quinton, a doctor in Downey. Quinton found twenty-one year old Virginia Florence Newcomb, a graduate of the Normal School in Los Angeles. As the daughter of a Civil War sergeant and the only girl in a family of all boys, Virginia had no fear, and presided over the one room school providing a well disciplined educational atmosphere that was much needed.

During the two years that Virginia taught, Loron, ten years older than she, courted her. By 1893 they were married and living on his homesteaded ranch further up the hills. The Monte Vista Valley had grown by this time, with large acreage ranches full of orchards, vineyards, and olive groves. Loron financed his growing family running the first valley freight line, and operating the store. Virginia tended to the home gardens, and household chores, and took care of their son Eustace. 

The land boom died down and the old Monte Vista Hotel fell into the hands of Loron’s brother Quintin. The little family moved into the hotel to keep an eye on it for him, and while living there two more children came along. Eustace had a brother at last in 1898, and their first sister, Dorothy, was born in 1902. The hotel was a fun place for the children, particularly the more adventurous Robert, who enjoyed climbing on the balconies, chasing bats out of the belfry and racing his bike around the huge wraparound porch. The roof of the hotel looked interesting as a slide, but nearly proved fatal to the young boy. In his memoirs later, Robert would write, “I grew up learning to determine what I wanted to do. I had chores, of course, but other than that I was turned loose, and nobody told me what I shouldn’t do. If it was there to do, you went ahead and did it. I could tackle anything.”

The Rowley family moved back to the ranch a year after Dorothy was born. Eustice and Robert walked the two miles to school, entertaining themselves along the way shooting jack rabbits with the family’s 12 gauge Winchester pump gun for target practice, like the rowdy boys that their mother had tamed in that early schoolhouse. The gun policy and discipline had changed at the school, so the boys would hide the gun before entering it to avoid having to relinquish it to the teacher. This teacher kept a stern hand on his students and was known to crack their fingers if they misbehaved. The students still enjoyed their pranks, however. During a field trip to a pasture to collect mistletoe, when the teacher got caught in the bog, the kids ignored his cries for a long while before actually coming to his rescue.

Undated photo of Rowley girls on horseback with Rowley house in background.

(Photo courtesy Rowley House Collection)

Families could not survive easily without guns and hunting in the early days of Monte Vista Valley.  Jackrabbits and quail were common family dinners. The bigger game, such as deer, was cause for celebration, with the entire town joining in on preparation and eating. When a young Robert Rowley insisted on hunting with his uncles, Virginia placed a shotgun in his hands herself. Once he could fire the gun without being knocked over, he was allowed to join the hunting parties. At the age of thirteen, the first deer he shot weighed in five pounds more than he was, and the men probably laughed at his attempts to lift it onto his shoulders and bring it back himself. Robert and Eustace were both quick to jump out of bed and grab their guns in the middle of the night when a coyote threatened Viriginia’s chicken coop. Non-hunting trips into the Big Tujunga wash for hiking, horseback riding, or swimming, guns were packed even by the women, in case they ran across a deadly rattlesnake.

A farm at the corner of Haines Canyon and Tujunga Canyon Boulevard, 1910. Men in suspenders and hats, some with holster and gun, stand beside a saddled horse and donkeys loaded with bags and hay.

(Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

Hunting helped to feed the Rowley family in other ways. Loron and young Robert provided guide service into the mountains for the city hunters that came by way of rail into Roscoe Station. After settling the men into a hotel in the little town, they would guide them the 8 miles up the big Tujunga Canyon, leave them there, then come back later and bring them back to the railroad station. On one particular day, Robert was asked to hitch up the two seated surrey with a one horse rig and bring the hunters back himself. The river was high, and the road was washed out in thirteen or fourteen places, making travel difficult. In the rush to meet the noon train, a bolt fell out of the front axle of the wagon. Robert was pulled over the front running board and dumped face first into the sand as the horse and shaft loosened. The men reconnected the bolt and shaft, but the rough road jiggled everything loose once again. A bruised Robert happily relinquished his driving job to one of the hunters. The older driver, confident in his driving skills, went along fine, until he whipped the horse and hit a bump and turned the wagon over also. Robert, more familiar with the area, took over the reins one again.

The roads up the local canyons flooded often, and Robert, at the age of ten or eleven made it his job to rescue those that got stuck or trapped. Carriage or wagons were often impractical, so Robert would saddle up his horse, leading one or two others into the mountains. Handling three horses tied together in three different positions in stream crossings was difficult at best. His horse, in the middle of the river, stumbled through the crossings. Robert was fearful the two tethered horses would pull back and pull him under. He finally learned that a longer rope would move him across safely with his mount, before the other horses hit the water. “Whether they wanted to or not, I’d pull them through.” Robert would later recall.

Birdseye view of Tujunga, 1920. Several wide, dirt roads from a grid on the floor of a valley at center. Most of the land between the streets is covered with dense bushes. The San Gabriel Mountains and Big Tujunga Canyon stretch across the image from left to right.

(Photo courtesy University of Southern California Libraries)

In 1909, Loron traded some of his land for a Cadillac to run the mail and the stage from Sunland to Roscoe. Breakdowns were often, and Loron himself wasn’t knowledgeable in repair. Robert brought his horse to be hitched in front and would pull the car while Loron steered behind the wheel. It was a ten mile pull to the garage in Burbank. On the way home, the horse was tied to the back of the Cadillac and trotted home. Eventually, Robert learned to repair the car himself, saving the family a great deal of money. Robert and his friends also used their knowledge to help others in similar plights. Dr. Speight's vehicle often refused to start after church, and he would give the boys 50 cents to start it for him. The boys learned to disconnect a part while the doctor was in church, just so they could earn their 50 cents.

1912 Auto Club strip map of Los Angeles up to Sunland via La Crescenta and La Cañada.                     

(Map courtesy University of Southern California Libraries)

As Monte Vista Valley began to grow, and the communities of Sunland Tujunga slowly built up in and around it, two old mules would be used to pull lumber from loaded wagons all the way from Glendale for the first subdivision homes. The Rowley family hauled out the cut wood to the city on sleds from the hills, and transferred the wood to a wagon. The customers brought in by train by hungry real estate people were entertained with big barbeques and beer busts, and the hunting trips into the mountains. The early pioneer families such as the Rowley’s paved the way as they enjoyed their own rural way of life and provided much needed services for each other, and those that would follow them.

The Rowley house today.



From Crackers to Coal Oil

by Mary Lee Tiernan

The Early History of Sunland, California, Voume IV

Snoops Desktop Publishing

Sunland, California 91040


Founding sisters - Life Stories of Tujunga’s Early Women Pioneers 1886-1926

by Mary Lou Pozzo

Zinnia Press

Tujunga, California 2005


Rancho Tujunga

A History of Sunland/Tujunga, California

Compiled by Sarah R. Lombard

Published by Sunland Woman’s Club

Produced by Bridge Publishing

Burbank, California


Sunland and Tujunga From Village To City

by Marlene A. Hitt

Little Landers Historical Society

Arcadia Press, 2002


Panoramic view of Monte Vista Valley photo courtesy San Fernando Valley History Digital Library Collection http://digital-library.csun.edu/SFV/

Tujunga farm photo photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library (Herald Examiner Collection) http://photos.lapl.org/carlweb/jsp/photosearch_pageADV.jsp

Birdseye view of Tujunga, 1920 photo and 1912 Auto Club map courtesy University of Southern California Libraries http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/search/controller/index.htm

Special thanks to the current residents of the Rowley House for graciously sharing their personal archives with us.

NOTE:  According to Sarah Lombard various old maps show “Tuhunga” on the Southern Pacific Railroad, near Little Tujunga Canyon. An early post office was located between the town of San Fernando and the confluence of Big and Little Tujunga Rivers. There was a post office established in “Tuhunga” on January 5, 1885 through March 3, 1894. 

The first post master was J. S. Florey. Mail was received from San Fernando by Rural Free Delivery after 1894. The actual town of Monte Vista (now Sunland) was platted in March 1885. Sherman Page and F. C. Howes were responsible for sales of lots and acreages for farms



Going Clampin'

Last month I accepted an invitation from friend Tim Gardner to attend the Society of 4x4 Vituscan Missionaries Winter Ice Event in Johnson Valley. The Vituscans, as they are called, are part of the E Clampus Vitus organization.

The "Clampers" are an all-male "historical drinking society" or "drinking historical society" that traces its history back to the days before the California Gold Rush. Many of the bronze roadside historical markers we see today were put in place through the efforts of modern Clampers.

The Winter Ice Event is an annual January occurrence and visits (descends upon) a different area each year. Last year's event was held in Ballarat (see The Clampers Visit Ballarat-EHC Febuary, 2009).

About 250 red-shirted Clampers and their guests set up camp near Coyote Buttes.  Three 4x4 tours offered-just like the Three Bears' porridge; easy, moderate and extreme. We elected the moderate tour (along with 46 other vehicles).  Others, like Don Hakes, elected to rock crawl.

To find out more about E Clampus Vitus, click the round "ECV" logo to the left.


Tim Gardner scouts the Clampsite from the high ground atop his mobile mansion.

Andy poses beneath the outline of Coyote Buttes' namesake.
Food and liquid refreshment are an important part of the Clamping experience.
So is the Skunky Pumper.
Everyone gets an early morning briefing on the trip rules and procedures.
Clampers gather at the Camp Rock (gold) Mine for a history talk.
The group embarks into the wilderness (right) to hunt for petrgolyphs (left).
A Clamper-filled Jeep arrives while other visitors inspect an abandoned silver mine site.
The Bessemer Mine yielded high quality iron ore. Unfortunately, its remoteness made it uneconomical.
Modified vehicles of several persuasions tackle boulders on the extreme tour.                (Don Hakes photos)


Weary (and thirsty) from a busy day of activities, our group poses at sunset.



Cerro Gordo Update

Cerro Gordo's tram trestle stands against a star-filled sky in this time exposure.

The ghost town of Cerro Gordo remains open to day visitors. Volunteer caretakers have assumed day-to-day visitor operations and are in town at all times. In spite of rumors to the contrary, Cerro Gordo has not been abandoned or closed after Mike Patterson's death.

Cerro Gordo's official website (www.cerrogrodo.us) is being updated. Please contact us through the email address below if you have questions about Cerro Gordo.

Town hours are from approximately 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. (PST), weather and road conditions permitting. Visitors should dress warmly, bring drinking water and haul out their own trash. Cerro Gordo shirts and souvenir silver-lead bullion bars are available for purchase in the American Hotel. Admission is $10 per person.





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