There were plenty of railroad misadventures along the banks of the Russian River of old. The first wreck of the Fulton and Guerneville Line (an offshoot of the SF & NP R.R.) was in 1898. While a locomotive was switching over to the turntable in Guerneville, it gave a nudge to a string of flats. The brakes bled and the cars started off on the slight downgrade to Guernewood Park. At the same moment, the Bully Boy was coming from Mission Gulch (present day Old Cazadero Rd.) with six loads of logs. On the curve (where Old Caz Rd & Hwy. 116 meet), a head-on crash sent Bully Boy airborne. (more…)
“All Aboard for the Russian River” was a familiar call back in the day. It must have been a thrilling sight when the Northwestern Pacific R.R. pulled into Guerneville along the Russian River. The route began in 1876 and reached its peek in 1926 with 14,000 passengers on a summer weekend (30,000 on 4th of July). After paying your round-trip fare of $1.25, you would board a ferry at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco for Sausalito. From there you might do the “Triangle Trip”. (more…)
The Russian River in rural Sonoma County was THE vacation spot for us City kids. Only seventy miles from San Francisco, the area provided a sunny haven from those fog-bitten summers. It felt like the entire world was a cookie jar, and you never got caught. One adventure after another waited for us. Trolling for chicks along the banks was a favorite hobby. God forbid that one of the girls should test our bravado and say hello. What then? But for the unseasoned “cruiser”, the Russian River was the perfect place to hone your skills. Trial by fire (the fire being the unrelenting punishment by God in the form of eternal guilt).
During the summer of 1953, I remember Harry James and His Music Makers were playing for the last time at Rio Nido. The Big Band sound was not my thing. Even as an eight-year-old, singers like Roy Orbison and Bill Haley rocked my world with their sinful music. But Harry James’s jazzy style would provide the background music for my first kiss. It was behind the four-lane outdoor bowling alley. Of course, I had to bring witnesses. I brought three for insurance. Francis was her name. It was a delightful kiss done with the utmost propriety. Damn. Years later, my friends would tease me, saying I had kissed Francis the Talking Mule (named after an old-time movie). Poor Francis. She deserved better. (more…)
Charles Manson was born in 1934 and enjoyed a brief career as a song writer, which had been influenced by a chance association with Dennis Wilson, drummer and co-founder of the Beach Boys. But the devil soon took hold and he became the master of the creepy and the macabre. By the time he strolled into the Haight Ashbury District of San Francisco during the Summer of Love, he was already a seasoned criminal.
One day in 1967, I drifted down from my apartment on the corner of Hayes and Stanyon to investigate the latest goings-on. Standing on an orange crate in the Panhandle was this scruffy, wired dude preaching and singing on the merits of an all-white society. Four wide-eyed girls gazed at him with this far away look as if he was the next coming. But for the rest of us, the name Charles Manson meant little. He was nothing unusual at the time. After all, the Haight was full of castaways, leftovers, and drifters of every species. And then there was the summer along the banks of the Russian River where everything started to get twisted for Mr. Manson. (more…)
The Russian River flood of 1986 devastated the rural sector of Sonoma County. This year marks its thirtieth anniversary. As a visiting tourist in eighty-six and later as a full-time resident, I have never forgotten the pure power and intimidation of such a force. Vietnam-era vessels with their square bows struggled against the current as they churned upstream looking for stranded residents and dangerous debris. Runaway propane tanks exploded, sending a ball of fire downriver. Mighty redwoods became lodged under the Monte Rio Bridge. Abandoned canoes, patio furniture, vehicles and bits of homes found the backyards of complete strangers. Leroy Robinson, a local businessman, says that the current tore out the bolts to the concrete foundation of his office. The structure plus two of his trucks drifted past Joe Bacci’s century-old lumber yard (just east of the new bridge) where over 20,000 board feet floated away, making navigation hazardous for boats trying to rescue residents from low-lying areas. (more…)
Meet the author of Stumptown Daze this coming Friday, March 4th. John McCarty will be at the Russian River Art Gallery on Main Street between 4p.m. and 6p.m. as part of the First Friday Art Walk in Guerneville, a unique little town adjacent to the Russian River.
The community is spicing up its already zesty local flavor with a monthly celebration. Art, food, wine and music is the theme of the Art Walk where dozens of art galleries, studios and businesses all within a three-block radius host receptions with art exhibits.
The event, free and open to the public, also includes complimentary wine and snacks. On the street, vendors sell arts and crafts, and musicians and performance artists entertain.
“With Guerneville being more eclectic and funky, we have opened studios and the traditional galleries, but we have also invited street artists and musicians,” said Otto Willis, one of the organizers of Art Walk.
Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville, California, is the site for a scene in the 1960 novel, Stumptown Daze, where our devilish dementia patient, Walt, and his caregiver, Lani, are taking in all the fun. A lumpy kid with a penchant for chocolate and death harass the older gent with questions about the hereafter, forcing Walt and Lani to board the River Queen and seek solace upstream.
As a fourth generation City kid, this is where my parents took my sisters and me to escape the bitter July fog atop Market Street. Mark Twain’s quote still applies today: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” What a relief it was back in the sixties to know that the sun did indeed appear beyond the rainbow of Marin County’s Waldo Tunnel. (more…)
The River Queen ferried passengers between Johnson’s Beach and Rio Nido, a distance of more than one mile. I have used this scene in a couple of my historical fiction novels–Memories That Linger and Stumptown Daze–remembering those childhood adventures that often got us into a lot of trouble. But in reality, the banks of the lower reaches of the Russian River near Guerneville in rural Sonoma County were relatively safe in those days, at least in the fifties.
My father would drop my mother, two sisters and myself off for the entire summer while he visited on the weekends from his job in San Francisco. Relatives and friends would join us for the wholesome fun that this vacation wonderland had to offer. The feeling of freedom was welcomed with open arms by kids of all ages. We rode our bicycles through the redwood canyons until supper time after which we would listen to a live band at one of the five local dance halls. The times began to change with the introduction of 1960 and the radical changes of the protest movement. Charles Manson, LSD, cabin squatters, and rage invaded the area, leaving a legacy of torment and confusion. But we always had the River Queen.