November 2014 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

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 * Please contact owner Sean Patterson for information about visiting Cerro Gordo *


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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.

First year 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


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:

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.

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.



Farewell to an Old Friend


By Cecile Page Vargo and Roger W. Vargo

TOP-New shaft (left) and old shaft (right) of the Union Mine near Atolia are shown in this 1925 photo from the California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 95. The Union Mine headframe was a desert landmark that rose above the Atolia landscape about one mile west of Highway 395 until it was destroyed by a suspected arsonist, Monday, October 27, 2014.

BOTTOM-Charred timbers surround an arson suspect's pick up truck at the site of the Union Mine #1 in Atolia, October 27, 2014.                                                        (Photo courtesy San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department)

The landmark Atolia Union Mine #1 headframe was destroyed in a suspected arson fire Monday, October 27, 2014. The blaze was reported about 3:30 p.m. Responding fire units found the headframe collapsed and on fire and worked tirelessly for several hours to extinguish the flames.  During the course of fighting the fire, fire personnel discovered the wreckage of a pickup truck under the debris.

Brian Russell, 30, of Woodland Hills (Calif.) was taken into custody Tuesday, October 28, by San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputies near the site of the fire. According to deputies, Russell's pickup was found under the collapsed and burned headframe. Russell is described as a frequent hiker and gold prospector in the area and had been reported missing by his family.

Russell was located by the sheriff’s helicopter walking northeast of the Union Mine #1 site.  He was contacted by deputies and was detained without incident for investigation of the fire. Russell was in possession of a .45 caliber handgun when he was contacted.  The actual cause of the fire is still under investigation although arson is suspected..  The completed investigation will be sent to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office for review.

TOP-Members of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Campus Vitus (aka Clampers) visit the Union Mine headframe during the 6017 Winter Vituscan trip (2012).

LEFT-The Union Headframe supported a two-compartment mine shaft that was more than 1000 deep.

The incline shaft is located to the left of the headframe near where the women are standing. The hoist works were located to the right of the headframe.



1915 USGS map of northwestern edge of San Bernardino county showing Rand Mining District towns and route of the Randsburg Railroad (acquired by the Santa Fe in 1903). The town of Red Mountain is not shown on the map as it did not exist in 1915. The old 20 Mule Team Borax road is shown crossing diagonally from Blackwater Well (top right) to just above the "M" in Mohave. The Atolia Union Mine was located slightly east of the Kern Co. / San Bernardino Co. line.

Atolia — Tungsten and the Union Mine

Nine years after the initial gold discoveries in Randsburg (circa 1904), the area had settled into a period of consistent mining production. No new major gold discoveries had been made and the easy finds had be thoroughly exploited. Big mining companies ran the large lode mines such as the Yellow Aster and miners worked for hourly wages ($3-$4 per day).

For years, miners and prospectors at the St. Elmo and other mines in the Stringer district to the southeast had cursed a heavy, creamy white substance that hindered their gold recovery. They nicknamed this material "heavy spar" and left it at that.

What these miners had stumbled across was actually scheelite, a tungsten ore. Tungsten is used to harden steel and as filaments in incandescent light bulbs.

George Gaylord and Pat Burns recognized scheelite for what it was in 1904. They traced the placer (streambed) deposits northward but overlooked what would later be the Atolia veins. They located scheelite lenses in the Stringer district, several miles north of the where the Union mine would later be located. The Papoose vein was discovered in an outcrop near the present town of Atolia, and within a few months the Union deposits at the west end of the field were discovered. The Papoose was the leading scheelite mine in the world, 1908-1911.

Tungsten ore is sold and priced by the unit. A unit is 20 pounds of ore containing 60 percent or more of tungsten trioxide. The early strikes weren’t considered a big deal as tungsten was selling for only about $6-$6.50 per unit.

The word, "Atolia" was derived from the contraction of names of two area mining operators: Atkins and Degolia.

The Atolia Mining Co. was organized in 1905, and most of the productive part of the district came under its control.

Depressed prices lead to a temporary shut down in 1911. The following year, things were looking better. The Randsburg Miner reported ( July 27, 1912) " The Atolia Miming Co., owners of the

Atolia tungsten mines, has enjoyed one of the most prosperous periods in its history since the temporary shut-down about a year ago. The tungsten market is good and the present market price profitable for the producers.

Close to 100 men are now on the pay roll, and the crushing and concentrating plant are kept in full operation running three shifts.

The tungsten mines of the Atolia Mining company are the largest individual tungsten producers in the United States, considering the fact that the tungsten mines of Boulder county Colorado, are operated by different companies."

By 1913 the district had produced more than $1-million worth of ore.

World War I (1914-1918) caused tungsten prices to rise. Tungsten was used to harden artillery shells, rifle barrels and armor. Wartime prices brought thousands of miners into the district to work the placer deposits of the "Spud Patch," so named because the pieces of scheelite resembled potatoes. As many as 4000 people lived in the area, 1916-1918.

The major mine was the Union Mine, the deepest in the district at about 1050-feet on the incline. The Union had six shafts and several miles of underground workings.

The richness of the ore led to high-grading and to theft of concentrates, and scheelite "spuds" were an acceptable medium of exchange in the bars and stores of the region.

In 1916 the town of Atolia boasted four restaurants, three general stores, a drug store, two stationary stores, two shoemakers, one hotel, three rooming houses and several lodging tents, four pool rooms, four barber shops, an ice cream parlor, picture show, garage, three butcher shops, a newspaper, and new school house for 60 pupils.

The Atolia Mining Co. produced more than 224,846 units, worth slightly less than $6-million. Prices dropped in 1919 with the end of the war and it became cheaper to import scheelite from China than to mine it in Atolia.

Silver discoveries a few miles to the north in Red Mountain sealed Atolia’s fate. The area was worked off and on through WWII and Vietnam War. Atolia was, for many years, the No. 1 or No. 2 U.S. tungsten producer with total production in excess of $15-million.




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