Korbel Champagne Cellars

Image of Korbel_Champagne bottleImage of T.V. series poster-Combat!Korbel Champagne Cellars was bought in 1954 by Adolf Heck.  The previous four years he had been president of Italian Swiss Colony Winery. Under Heck’s leadership, Swiss Colony developed one of the most successful marketing campaigns in the history of spirits, using “the little old winemaker, me” tagline for its advertisements. After four years at the helm, Heck had transformed Swiss Colony into the largest American winery before moving over to Korbel.  There he continued his winning ways, thinking of creative promotional stunts for the bubbly. One such venture served dual purposes when he hooked up with the producers of the 1962 T.V. series, Combat!, starring Vic Marrow. (more…)

Korbel Champagne Cellars

Image of Korbel_Champagne bottleImage of Korbel_Champagne_CellarsKorbel Champagne Cellars started off with a bang–literally.  According to family lore, Francis Korbel was in Prague in 1848 and fired the shot that started a revolution against the monarch of the Austrian Empire. The young Korbel landed in Daliborka Prison. He managed to escape, however, reportedly with the help of his grandmother who provided civilian clothes that allowed him to stroll out an unlocked gate to freedom, casually smoking a cigar. He soon fled to New York City and then to San Francisco. (more…)

Freight Trains from Occidental to S.F., 1915

Image of 1915 freight trainFreight trains in 1915 would normally leave Occidental in rural Sonoma County around 7:30 a.m. for the ferry terminal at Sausalito and return late afternoon.  While timber had been the main cargo for the previous three decades, greed reduced the redwoods to 5% of their original growth.  The final knockout was the Russian River fire of September 17, 1923, which burnt everything from Guerneville to the Pacific Ocean.  With this calamity, there was a shift in merchandise.  (more…)

Railroad Misadventures along the Russian River of Old

Image of railroad at Monte RioThere 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 the Northwestern Pacific R.R.

image of Northwestern Pacific RR posterImage of Northwestern Pacific R.R. train“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…)

Jerry Garcia at the Russian River

Image of Grateful Dead at Rio Nido Image of Grateful DeadJerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead played at Rio Nido along the Russian River on September 3, 1967.  At the time that was not a long commute for the boys as they owned an eighteen acre commune in Forestville’s Pocket Canyon off of Giovanetti Road.  The only glitch was that one of their trailers hit the old road sign upon entering the hamlet and knocked it down, but it has been resurrected for all to admire once again. (more…)

Dick Crest at the Russian River

Image of Dick CrestDick Crest was the pied piper along the banks of the Russian River for 10 summers.  Not only did he conduct the Bohemian Club’s Jinx Band, but he also was the resident musician at Rio Nido.  During the school year, he taught at James Lick High School in San Jose and later at the College of San Mateo.  In addition, he hosted two teen TV shows–“Pepsi Party” on KNTV in San Jose followed by “Rock ‘n’ Rally” on KPIX in San Francisco.

He will best be remembered by all you River Rats for those sweet, pure sounds of yesteryear.  I know that the “Sheik of Araby” was covered by the Beatles in 1962, but the tune for many belongs in the dance hall at Rio Nido.  You could make the same case for “Show Me the Way to Go Home” and other songs that trumpeted a care-free attitude long gone.

Some River Rats are still in possession of their membership cards with Rivasimacale printed at the top.  Of course, you were required not only to carry this I.D. with you twenty-four-seven, but you had to show your large green toenail as well. (more…)

Big Bands at the River

Image of Ozzie Nelson Image of Rio Nido-winking moonThere were Big Bands galore up at the Russian River back in the day.  The first was Art Hickman of the Ziegfeld Follies who played at the Palomar Dance Hall on Fitch Mountain in Healdsburg in 1913.  But you had other venue choices including the beach ballroom at Mirabel (where Burke’s Canoes is presently), Rio Nido, the Grove in Guerneville, Guernewood Park and Monte Rio.  You could listen to the sweet sounds of Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Phil Harris, Buddy Rogers, Ted FioRito, Kay Kayser or perhaps Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiians. The last musical group of this era to play in Rio Nido was Tex Benecke’s Glenn Miller Band in summer of ’53.  One of the more popular Big Bands was the Ozzie Nelson Orchestra. (more…)

Rio Nido & the Big Bands

Image of Rio Nido amphitheaterImage of Harry James recordImage of Harry James









Rio Nido and the Big Bands of the thirties had a beautiful relationship along the Russian River in west Sonoma County.  In a conversation with Claire Harris in 2007 while drafting my first novel, Memories That Linger, he shared with me his excitement as such greats as Harry James (upper right photo) visited the small hamlet.  After watching a preview of the band at the amphitheater (upper left photo), you could buy a ticket (75 cents on weekends, 50 cents on a weeknight, or $1.25 for the entire week) and go next door to the dance hall. (more…)

Rio Nido Lodge along the Russian River:


Image of Rio Nido Tudor Lodge in 1920'sImage of Rio Nido Lodge in 1940's

The Rio Nido Lodge along the Russian River in rural Sonoma County is over one hundred years old and has been with us since the railroad days.  One way to get to Rio Nido was by flatboat from San Francisco’s Embarcadero and up the Petaluma River.  The S.F. & North Coast Line would take you from the train depot at Donahue’s Landing (known today as Gilardi’s Marina near the old Papa’s Taverna restaurant on Lakeville Highway) to the junction at Fulton and River Roads.  From there the Northwestern Pacific Railroad would deliver you to your vacation hideaway along the Russian River.  

Claire Harris (who operated Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville for 48 years until 2015) remembers that the Friday night trains were crammed with tourists.  Those who came by car traveled by way of Forestville and Pocket Canyon, across the Guerneville Bridge and headed east on a narrow dirt road beside the tracks. (more…)