October 2008 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 remainder of 2008.

We will evaluate the prospects of resuming tours for the 2009 season.

Our sincere thanks and appreciation to all who have supported 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




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



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.

Icy Abomination At Bottom Of Ajax Shaft

A Chilling Tale At The Champion Mine

Bodie February, 1882

by Cecile Page Vargo

The night watchman stepped out into the bitter Bodie cold and began the last rounds of his shift before heading to his cot in one of the dormitory style rooms of the local hotels. A patch of red near the Ajax shaft, a hundred feet east of the Champion Hoisting Works caught his eye against the winter white backdrop. He plodded through the snow, thankful that so far this year it had not quite been the kind that brought Bodieites to crawl out of second floor windows and balconies or dig tunnels to get out of the buildings.

 The closer the watchman got to the Ajax shaft, it became more and more obvious that the red patch was a sack of some insignificant sort, and he began wishing he had just ignored it and continued on his early daybreak circuit.  But he was almost there now, so he figured he could grab the sack and dispose of it while he was, and it never hurt to take a peak at the mouth of the vertical shaft itself to make sure it had not been disturbed. He took several more steps, quivering as a sudden blast of wind traveled down the bluff and worked against his efforts to move forward. When at last he got to the mine opening, he realized that there lying on the centerpiece across the hole,  was a standard gunny sack permanently dyed with red blood.

 The afternoon of the following day, the Ajax shaft at the Champion Mine was the scene of quiet anticipation and speculation, as two men stood above peering down it while waiting for the night watchman to come in from town and join them. When he did, he produced lumber, nails, reel and rope from the Champion Works and within ten minutes a worthy windlass was constructed. One of the men, a reporter from the Bodie Daily Free Press, prepared to descend. His companion, a workman from the Bodie Mine, broke the silence between them, “Remember, now, I saw two men toss a rather large wooden box down there two nights ago.”

 The reporter nodded and secured his footing in the loop of the rope. As he penetrated into the bowels of the mine, he noted the sturdiness of the timber along the way, and was grateful for that.  At the 120 foot level, he reached the snow and ice covered bottom. Immediately his eyes set sight on a big wooden box, minus it’s lid, with one of it’s ends frozen securely in the ice. Something appeared to be wedged between the box and the ice it was stuck in. He was a bit taken back when he realized it was a portion of a human arm and elbow, with white firm flesh. Bodie, being a man for breakfast for sort of town, the site was not totally unknown to the reporter, but he could never had prepared himself for what he would uncover next. 

 Scattered about the bottom of the Ajax shaft where the reporter stood, were several pieces of bed sheet. In the opposite compartment of the shaft, he found a rather large piece with something wrapped in it. As he carefully unraveled it, his stomach roiled at the site of several quantities of human flesh. Quickly he regained his composure and studied the frozen solid flesh.  He judged one piece of the flesh to weigh in at about two pounds, then called up for a pick and axe for further exploration.

Not far from the wooden box, deeply buried in both ice and water, the reporter dug out a badly bent and broken tobacco can. A glance inside revealed the remains of a human hand, the size of a woman’s.

 All manner of horrific emotion welled within the reporter as he picked and prodded carefully, and determined through the ice. One by one, in a preserved state, he discovered an upper portion of a leg, then a human trunk from neck to hips, both minus flesh and trunk minus internal organs. He stared at his find, now in numbness. After short pause and a perhaps a quick prayer, he took his grisly find to the wooden box and carefully placed it inside. He took a couple of long deep breathes, then gazed up the shaft and hollered for hoist.

 Slowly and cautiously the box was raised. As it reached the surface, the miner and the night watchman could barely believe their eyes at the abomination before them. The reporter was raised next, even more sickened at the contents, as the sun brought it all to brighter light.

 It’s hard to imagine in this modern day of all manner of instant communication, how fast the news traveled throughout 1882 Bodie on this now bleak February day. The entire town of Bodie, and the mining world on the hill above, burst with the news of the woman’s body that was found in the Champion Mine’s Ajax shaft. Coroner Deal was notified, of course, and the box complete with gruesome contents, was taken to him.

Hundreds of people flocked to Brown’s Undertaking Room for a look at the remains. Many weren’t satisfied with one look, but returned for a second and perhaps a third…standing for long moments in a frozen state of disbelief before the box, labeled "Reddington and Company," a wholesale druggist in San Francisco.

 Within two days the Bodie Daily Free Press had put together the pieces of the story:

 Who did the dirty work?  How matters stand at present.

After a lapse of three days, the mystery regarding the human remains found in an abandoned shaft by the Free Press reporter is partially explained, thanks to the work of an intelligent coroner's jury. A great mass of testimony has been given and the outcome, so far, is satisfactory in a measure. On December 8, 1881, Mary E. Turner, a married woman, age 19 years, died and was buried in the Bodie cemetery on the 9th. The finding of a human remains and a general description of the same, led Mr. Turner to the suspicion that they might be those of his wife. Wednesday morning he and a few friends went to the cemetery and opened his wife’s grave. Before reaching the proper depth, things did not look right. When the coffin was reached, it was found to be empty. The husband’s feelings can be better imagined than described. The coroner’s jury after prolonged and tedious examination of obstinate and unwilling witnesses traced the remains found to Dr. Blackwood, who it appeared, dug them himself or hired the disagreeable work done. He rented a vacant house on Fuller Street for the purpose it is believed of dissecting the body of the late Mrs. Turner whose skull found its way to Dr. Jones’ office. A competent lady witness testified that she recognized the same, as the skull of Mrs. Turner by the teeth which were remarkably even and handsome. One witness testified that he frequently accompanied Dr. Blackwood to the dissecting room and saw him use a knife on the remains, cutting away flesh and performing other work in that direction. The man who so testified was one of the unwilling witnesses, but the circumstances were such that he was forced to disgorge a portion of his knowledge regarding the affair. Dr. Blackwood testified that he knew nothing about the remains, and jumped the town and has not been overtaken.


Bodie Bonanza: The True Story of a Flamboyant Past

by Warren Loose

Chapter VIII, The Cruel Years

Exposition Press/ New York, 1971


Bodie Daily Free Press (newspaper)

February 1882


Mono Mills Kiosk Dedicated

photos by Roger W. Vargo

The Friends of Bodie Railroad, the Mono Basin Historical Society, the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association,  and the U.S. Forest Service dedicated a new interpretive kiosk at Mono Mills, Saturday, September 27.  The kiosk celebrates the history of the lumber mill and narrow gauge railroad that once connected the Mono Basin to Bodie from 1881 to 1918.

About 100 guests, according to Scenic Area visitor center supervisor Jon Kazmierski, attended the event. The project is located on the Inyo National Forest but was financed through community donations and built primarily by volunteers.

The historic Mono Mills site is located on Hwy 120 East, 8 miles east of Hwy 395. The location is in Eastern California, north of Mammoth Lakes and south of Lee Vining.

Long time Mono Basin residents Augie Hess (L) and Don Banta (R) share a Clamper story during the dedication of the Mono Mills kiosk, Saturday, September 27, 2008.


The interpretive kiosk overlooks the site of Mono Mills, which provided firewood and lumber for the town of Bodie, thirty two miles away by narrow gauge railroad. The wood was cut from the adjacent Jeffrey Pine forest and yielded 80,000 board feet of lumber daily.


Drawing of Mono Mills and Bodie RR trackage by Robert C. Likes.


READ MORE about the history of Mono Mills and the Bodie Railroad in our June, 2006 edition. Click the blue drawing to view.

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