Category: Sierra County History

From The Woods — Willie “Shot Gun” Nobles — #3

Last week, Willie ended episode 2 by telling us what he told people who asked him why he was a logger, “Because I’m having a whole lot of damn fun.” This week’s oral history begins with his follow-up to this comment.

I would ask them “What do you live in?” A lot of them would just shut up. I ask them, “Do you live in a wood house?” Anything—I don’t give a damn what kind of house it is—it has wood in it somewhere.

I had a huge snag up at Hope Valley and there is some big stuff up there. I had a three-log load there one day. You know, where Highway 88 and Highway 89 meet, Dick Hufford was running that job up there. It was on private property and we were logging it. He put two half-ass, two-and-a-half-foot logs on the bunks and he told me he wanted me to pull ahead, because, “I have to get ready for this.”

I thought, what the hell has he got here? He had the biggest 32 and he had to lift one end to
get it on my truck! He put it up and I had to back under it and he set it down. Then he went to the
back and pushed it on my truck. When I got to Loyalton, I was a little bit over. Ray Saari worked
at the mill and he said “Holy shit, Willie, where did you get that?” I said, just tell me how much this is. It took him about three minutes to figure it out, and there was 8,600 board feet on that load! That was a huge log. Usually that bigger stuff from up that area has all kind of cracks and wind check in it, but that log was nice and clean. Oh
God, yeah!

You know where Moscow Meadows is? It is on the Southeast end of Jackson Meadows Road, kind of up in
the Meadow Lakes area. We had some pine from up in that area that we could make logs out of the limbs of some of those trees, they were so big. When they are sitting on the ground you can see that they make a 16-foot
long log. What the hell is going on here? We were logging the limbs. You never see that.

People have no idea what it takes to get this stuff out of the woods and to their home. The snakes don’t like the noise, the vibrations. They usually get out of there when the fallers go in. Those timber fallers lose their
fat and they are all muscle—that’s all there is on them.

The worst for me was the people I had to deal with while driving on the roads. It was the worst! Years ago it really wasn’t too bad you know, but then when they started getting Datsuns and Toyotas and stuff like that, they had to get out there before you. They felt like we were going way too slow. You feel like asking them, “Did you learn anything yet, you dumb —?”

I have to admit, I never did get into any wrecks, but I had a lot of close calls. In fact the last load I hauled for Robinson I hit the bank. I got into some soft dirt. I was coming back up Highway 193 from Lincoln. I looked down to see what the hell was on the floor and I got off in some green grass there and it just sucked me right in
and I went sideways and I hit the bank. Not a soul came around the corner or nothing. I was

I was the luckiest guy on earth that day. I backed up and went back the way I was coming because something wasn’t right. When I got down to where the old highway comes into the new highway (that is all new high way), down by Machado’s it’s all nice and wide through there. When it came out to the wide spot and I could pull over,
I stopped. So here come my buddies Joe Honey and Stanley Stanton, coming out of the mill. I hollered at them and said, “Hey, you guys want to stop here a second?” They razzed me, but once they saw me coming back, they saw something wasn’t right. I couldn’t steer to the right very well and I can’t figure out why and it wasn’t enough to stop me from going around a corner, but it wasn’t right. I was okay on the highway there, but if I had to make a sharp turn, I never would have made it. My bumper was up against the frame rail and the wheel turned a little bit and it
went inside of the tire.

So I got an old wrapper out and tied it to a telephone pole and hooked it to the bumper and backed up. I kept telling those guys, “Tell me when—tell me when!” They were telling me back, “Yeah, you’re not doing a
bad job,” and laughing about it. I still couldn’t get the tranny into overdrive in the Brownie. Joe lifted the hood and said, “Come around here, I have to show you something.” I had busted the bell housing right in half, but I drove it all the way to the shop at Robinson’s.

That’s one thing I can say about a logger: he can get it there—he finds a way, you know. It has to be really bad before he can’t get it there. We are really survivors.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Where Two Rivers Meet: A Matter of the Mother Lode, Part 6

By H.A. Silliman

Now, you mustn’t take me for a gossip. Naturally, living in Two Rivers one enjoys hearing curious stories. This kind of “intelligence” makes navigating life easier—and more interesting in a small village. And really, what is Mack Boyd’s Two Rivers Ledger but gossip legitimized by being printed in 12-point Times Roman. As The Nugget movie house only shows features on Friday and Saturday nights, entertainment sources hereabouts are limited. One
doesn’t relish deriving vicarious enjoyment out of folks’ troubles.

Who doesn’t have troubles? Who amongst us could endure the scrutiny of lookiloos if the roof were yanked off the top of one’s home?

In fact, if you were to query anthropologists on the intrinsic value of “local knowledge,” I bet they agree that this type of talk keeps a social unit viable: Gossip is a survival skill!

All this is to say that I was secretly anticipating my adventure with Sally. Seeing Mack would be OK as a mission of mercy. I really wanted to know what Sally was up to by visiting the golf course. But wouldn’t you know it—the next morning Jake woke up with a bad cold and stayed home from school. I called Sally with regrets, and she promised a report that evening.

I spent the morning in our quarters in the Carriage House making Cornish pasties—a favorite meal long ago of hard rock miners. Rex stopped by, and hearing Jake was sick, went upstairs with me and gave him a hard hat to wear for the day.

“We might need help with running wire,” Rex said, winking at me. “So be sure to have this on and ready to go.” Jake soaked up the manly attention.

Out of earshot, Rex told me that at his card game the night before the subject of Don Wyder came up. “I don’t think the marriage was a happy one,” he confided. “There was a general impression that Barbara lorded over him the fact that she had money—a lot of it—from her daddy’s Buick dealership. That’s why they always have new cars. But it was his money that built the house—an inheritance from his parents. He did OK in the insurance business—but nothing big. His drinking started to get in the way.”

I chipped in that Sally thought Don’s wife was having an affair—thus her departure and absence.

“Could be true,” Rex said. “I’ll say this again: I don’t think Don popped the old gal off. She was moneybags. Apparently, it was an allowance she had from her parents. So, no wife, maybe no moola!”

After Rex got to work, I finished the pastry dough and the filling for the pasties. Looking into the courtyard just before noon, I saw Babe Giovanni opening the picket gate. He moved very deliberately and kept an eye out in front of his feet. Guess he didn’t want to trip. If I were in my ‘80s, I’d do the same.

The former Ledger publisher rapped at the door and peeked inside. “Mind if I come?”

“Not at all,” I said. “Set yourself down for some coffee and cookies.”

He settled in and commented sadly that he hadn’t been here since Renwick took ill. As I remember, he left that day with his head down and his eyes moist. The two men were the town’s elders. They harkened back to a time that folks longed for now: No internet, no smartphones or social media. Just the telephone and newspaper. No out-
of-towners buying up our homes for vacation getaways and jacking up the prices for us locals. No need for health insurance. The good ol’ days.

“How’s your boy?” he asked. “Heard he’s sick.”

“A bad cold, that’s all. Rex left him a hard hat. That cheered him up.”

He sipped the coffee, and I sensed he temporized, sought an opening for his visit. I asked how he was doing, stepping in to run the newspaper for Mack. He said it was fun again because he knew it was going to be temporary.

“My wife says you’ve taken in the Wyder boy,” Babe said. “That’s nice. He’s very conscientious about getting the papers out. What a tragedy!”

I figured the Wyder situation to be where he wanted to go, so I mentioned the puzzle of Barbara up and taking off, but Babe didn’t take the bait. He merely said what Rev. Steve had opined: Marriages are a tricky affair—and I’m not sure that he intended irony by using the word “affair.”

“How’s it going with Richie?” he asked. “Is he a burden?”

“Not at all. The kids love him. He’s folded into our household like he was always here. That’s reassuring.”

Glancing around, he said, “You’ve certainly got the room for him. Why, you’ve got a lot of room, as a matter of fact.”

This was true. The carriage house had two bedrooms downstairs and two upstairs. The main house was three stories. The third story, a rambling warren of rooms that I intended to remake into at least three bedrooms and a common bathroom as time went along. With luck, I’d have a decent seven- or eight-room bed-and-breakfast.

Finally Babe said, “Better get to why I’m here. You know who called me a little while ago?” He didn’t wait for me to answer.“—Sally, where she was visiting Mack in that Truckee convalescent home.”

This caught my attention. I expected bad news about Boyd. “Guess what! They released him today. Sally’s on her way with him right now!” He stared at me straight on—leaving no way to avert my gaze. “Mack needs a place to stay until he gets his feet on the ground. I made some quick calls around town after Sally hung up. Everyone agrees—he should come here, since you don’t have to work and also have the most room.”

King’s Sugar Pine

The Dethroning of a Sierra County Forest Monarch by Tom Gilfoy

The author’s friends Mitch Sgteffensoen and Wagon Train Bill Seely posing in from of the forest monarch in 1949

There used to be a big ole sugar pine sitting high up on a ridge overlooking the North Fork of the Yuba River. Although a real giant, it probably appeared even larger than it really was because it was so much bigger than all the other trees around it. The Forest Service must have thought this old forest monarch was something special too as it put up a sign designating it, “King’s Sugar Pine.”

It’s hard to tell someone exactly where the old tree was located as there is no well known landmark in the area that can be used as a starting point for directions. About the closest thing to it is the old shut-down Brandy City Cal-Ida mill on the hill above Indian Valley, but the old mill is still miles away.

It was clear back in 1949 that I and a couple of my friends first stumbled on this beautiful old tree. It was while we were exploring the area in an old Model A Ford and traveling along a logging road between the Brandy City mill and Saddleback Mountain. We were rattling along the bumpy road at the old A’s max speed, say about 25 mph, when we came around a bend and BANG, there it stood in all its magnificent glory. I mean, it really leaped out and caught your eye. That’s when I took the picture accompanying this story. If you look closely you can see the Forest Service sign in the lower left of the picture. The two characters wrapped part way around the tree are my partner Mitch Steffensen and Wagon Train Bill Seely.

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