February 2015 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










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Friends of

Cerro Gordo

The Friends of Cerro Gordo is a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation established to assist in the preservation, interpretation and public enjoyment of Cerro Gordo.

Help support these efforts by becoming a member.

Click on the FOCG logo (above) for additional information and to join or make a donation.

Membership is only $10.

Now Available

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.

ISBN: 978-0970025869

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

Email: hsumd@ridgenet.net

Announcing our Arcadia Publishing Book:



Cerro Gordo

by Cecile Page Vargo and Roger W. Vargo

ISBN: 9780738595207

Arcadia Publishing Images of America series

Price: $21.99

128 pages/ softcover

Available now!

(Click the cover image for ordering information)

Available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and online retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at (888)-313-2665 or online.

Mules can taste the difference--so can you

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:  echco@msn.com

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

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.



Atolia - The Spud Patch of the Desert

By Cecile Page Vargo

Placer miners in the Stringer District a mile from Randsburg and Joburg and south east of Rand Mountain, were only interested in gold dust and nuggets and ignored the annoying creamy white heavy substance that weighed to the bottom of their riffle boards and pans, interfering with gold recovery. The rock shaped and colored much like a potato earned the ground where it was found the name "spud patch" In reality, this rock was high-grade scheelite tungsten.

By April 8, 1905, those unusual potatoes were sparking interest instead of being tossed aside. The Randsburg Miner reports:

"Great finds of tungsten…many claims are being located and some very good ore is being taken out…Tungsten is worth $6. per unit.. It reminds one of old times to see men getting up early in the morning and rushing out with all sorts of rigs to locate tungsten claims, just as they used to do with gold claims."

Charley Churchill, Charley Taylor, W.A. Wickard and A.D. Day owned primary properties near the old Baltic Mine in the old Spud Patch, and began the search for tungsten. In spite of the "heavy spar" that interfered with the gold recovery in dry washers and gathered in mill batteries, tungsten was easily recovered in the dry washer and sluice box.

In a history of Randsburg written by C.H. Fry for the Pacific Mining News in August 1922, Charley Taylor was reported as coining the name Atolia from the combination of the names of two prominent tungsten miners, Atkins and De Golia, the first to put up a tungsten mill some time in 1907.

Tungsten helped to stimulate the Randsburg economy, but it did not really hit the limelight of the mining world, until World War I when it was valuable for use in armaments. The demand then rose to an all time high of around a hundred dollars per unit. Scouts for tungsten over ran the country, meeting in back doorways on dark nights with high graders, willing to pay cash. The free lance agent took high grade where ever he could find it without question to where it came from. Scheelite was exceptionally profitable in the Ranch because of its high grade and it’s placer accessibility.

By October 25, 1915 The Los Angeles Times was reporting:

"A year ago, or a few weeks before the war broke out, Atolia had a population of about sixty souls. At this writing there is a small city, mostly tents and over 300 inhabitants…Storekeepers of Johannesburg and Randsburg are paying as high as $1.25 per pound for high-grade float, which is derived in placer form…New outfits are coming in every day and the desert is alive with campers who are prospecting in this vicinity…"

By April 30, 1916 the Times reported:

"And today storekeepers are trading "grubstakes" for 60 per cent ore at $3.50 per pound…"They’ve gone crazy over tungsten," said a mine superintendent recently when discussing his difficulty in getting miners…"

Al G. Waddel reported for the Los Angeles Times April 30th best tells the story of Atolia and tungsten:

"A few months ago Atolia was a sleepy desert mining town. Tungsten was worth something like $6 per unit and the Atolia Mining Company was supplying all the tungsten needed with a small crew at work in the mill and mine. The war produced a great demand for the minerals which harden steel. Tungsten ore jumped to $90 per unit. Then it was that the population of Atolia jumped to 300 souls…When tungsten first jumped there were two automobiles in Randsburg. Today there are 200 to be to be seen on the main street most any evening…

There are stages running between Atolia and Randsburg. There are auto stages running over to Barstow. Others make regular runs to Mojave. The miners working on the leases for wages, ride out to work and come into town in the evening in machines. These desert "jitneys" go anywhere at any time and passengers can pay fares in coin or tungsten.

Illingsworth and Dunnel take tungsten ore in exchange for groceries and general merchandise or buy it outright. The firm has taken in $200,000 worth of tungsten since the first of the year. There are other tungsten buyers in the district also. Eastern manufacturers have buyers on the ground who bid for the tungsten just as wheat buyers or cotton buyers bid for crops.

Tait and Baker refused $21,000 for a pile of ore that could be carried away in the tonneau of a seven passenger touring car. S. E. Vermilyea, a well known mining man of this city, purchased a lease for $2,000 and thought he would be lucky to get his money out of it. Three days later he struck "high grade." The next morning a man visited the lease and asked him if he would take $25,000 for the property and it was refused…

This tungsten is so valuable that the miners are watched like the laborers in the South African diamond mines.

The Atolia Mining Company will not allow the miners to bring up their own dinner buckets. As soon as the men are through eating, a guard takes the buckets and sends them to the top of the 900-foot shaft. They are inspected and given to the men when they come up. The miners are even made to change their clothes before and after coming off shift.

Before tungsten went up, a man could have high-graded a fortune in a month by bringing up a few "spuds" in his pockets each day. But when the mineral jumped in value the owners got wise. One "bear dancer," champion "high grader," stepped out of the skip when coming off shift and tripped over the cable, falling to the ground. He had so much high-grade on his person that he could not get up. Another "high-grader" limped around for days claiming to have the rheumatism. He was taken to the doctor to be examined and it was found that his rheumatism was just about fifty pounds of ore in his pants leg, worth $5 per pound…

A young stage driver stopped to change a tire. In scraping a place in the sand to place the jack, he chipped off a piece of scheelite. He put it in his pocket and as soon as he delivered his passengers, filed his location papers. He uses his auto to haul his ore to the vaults now…

Around tungsten properties the desert roads are in excellent condition now. Louis Nikrent drove Cactus Cate across the desert from Mojave at forty-five miles an hour, slowing down but for two washes and three sharp turns. Between Saugus and Mojave the road is in perfect condition at this time. Thirty miles was averaged to Willow Springs…"

During the wild tungsten boom, it was not unusual for an old timer to wake up in the morning to find families with a half a dozen children, several dogs and a large wagon loaded down with camping equipment on his property hoping to make big money on the Spud Patch.

The end of World War I lowered the demand for the potato like ore and prices fell. With most of the cream picked off of the top, tungsten production declined around Atolia. Tungsten ore mined and shipped from China was less expensive than the ore mined in the from the deserts of California.

Today dirt bikers and modern 4-wheel drive vehicles pass through the spud patch, with little thought. The once prominent headframe of the Union Mine was burned by a vandal in October, 2014 (see Atolia Union Mine Headframe Burns, EHC November 2014).





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