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Sample Pages - Three Rocks Research
The New Idria Story,
Told as it Happened
A Collection of Journal Clippings
presented by
Compiled by R. Iddings
Copyright © 2008 Three Rocks Research, All rights reserved.
Three Rocks Research
142 Iowa Drive
Santa Cruz, California. 95060
http://www.3rocks.org
November 10, 2008
A Collection of Journal Clippings
November 10, 1855, Monterey Sentinel, page 2.
January 27, 1858, Letter from Cirilo Basso to Daniel Gibb
Messrs. Daniel Gibb
I have just delivered to Leon six bottles of quicksilver
for you. Two hundred pounds remain here. On the 16th, I
arrived here and two days of afterwards it commenced to
rain and snow and this has caused us to remain idle.
Today the work commenced in La Idria, and in cutting
firewood. On the return of Leon I will give you particulars
of the diary of the woodcutters and miners. Just now we
cannot send down metals. The snow is too heavy and it is
very troublesome to get up here. Pancho promised to return
in eight days by which time the road should be dry, and if
not, some slight repairs should be made near the Hacienda,
which is the worst part of the road. The sawyers got
frightened at the snow and have left saying that they
would return in forty days, although I believe the wish to
make some alternation in the contract, as they say the
timber and trees are very much distributed. Pancho Leon,
they tell me, owns 14 donkeys and I believe therefore that
there will be no delay or want in the loading or carrying.
From Mr. Harris I ask in your name:
Mines.
We have heard rumors of a valuable
silver mine having been discovered in the
mountains lying to the eastward of the
Salinas Plains. At Alisal on Mrs. Hartnell’s
Rancho there is an old silver mine which
was worked very extensively in 1849 and
1850 by some of our resident, they
expended quite a large sum of money to
open the mine, but the cost of labor more
than exceeded the proceeds and it was
eventually abandoned, it is on private
property and doubtless will be worked some
day to the advantage of those interested.
There is also another lying farther north
in the range of mountains forming the
Pacheco Pass. This was discovered about
three years since and a company formed
called “The Aurora Mining Company”—A
capital of about eight to nine thousand
dollars was raised, and proceedings were
commenced on a larger scale, but no ore
was produced—and one fine morning the
Treasurer and discoverer left for Chile with
about four thousand dollars, being the
residual of the company’s capital yet
unexpended. This was a damper but in
exploring the country about, some of the
company discovered a mine of cinnabar, so
the plans were changed—the Aurora
company abandoned the idea of extracting
silver and turned their attention toward the
quicksilver, but is was not profitable and
further operations were suspended. They
have, however made arrangements with an
English company who have the means, and
preparations are being made to work the
mine on a large scale. The ore is said to be
in profusion and very rich.
In the San Antonio the miner have
abandoned the diggings for the want of
water, they are however many of them
busied in making explorations so as to be
ready as soon as the rains fall.
1000 lbs. Flour
3000 lbs. Beans
30 lbs. Coffee
100 lbs. sugar
100 lbs. Onions
200 lbs. Potatoes and
6 axe handles.
Cirilo Basso
9
The New Idria Story: Told as it happened
December 13, 1859, San Francisco Bulletin
Notes of a Trip from San Francisco to Fresno City.
Fresno City, Fresno County, Cal.,
December 11, 1859
To Gilroy—The Panoche Pass—
To the San Joaquin and Fresno City.
As morning approached I
found myself at the neat little
town of Gilroy, where I bade
“good bye” to my fellow-travelers
and secured a fresh conveyance,
to finish my journey by the new
“Pass,” which is now making
some noise.
After
leaving
Gilroy
we
proceeded along a fine level
country, covered with a luxuriant
growth of wild oats, to the San
Benito or San Juan river, at a
point 10 miles south of Gilroy
and 8 miles east from the town of
San Juan. I thence continued
along the San Benito, rising
almost imperceptibly through a
beautiful country, interspersed
with rich valleys and covered
with an abundance of fine
timber, till I reached the mouth
of Tres Pinos, or eastern branch
of the San Benito, a distance of
20 miles. I proceeded along the
Tres Pinos, whose course is
almost straight, ranging in an
eastern direction, at a very
gradual ascent for 14 miles, till I
reached a small flat at its head.
Here I was on the summit of the
pass. The fact I could hardly
realize; but by going a distance of
about one hundred yards, I was
shown the head-waters of the Big
Panoche creek, which flows down
the
eastern
slope
of
the
mountain and through the valley
to the San Joaquin river. Without
a doubt, there I stood upon the
divide which separates these
waters from those which flow
into the Bay of Monterey. A large
depression in the general line of
the mountains exists here, so
that although on the summit of
the pass, I was, comparatively
speaking, in a valley, as high
mountain ridges surrounded me
on the north as well as on the
south side.
At this point we entered upon
the fine road which is in course
of completion, owned by the
“Panoche Turnpike Company.”
For two or three miles the road is
over
slightly
rolling
land,
resembling low foot-hills, where
it descends into the Panoche
Valley, 8 miles in length. This is
a fine tract of land, covered with
splendid feed, and full of fine
springs of pure water. There is a
gradual descent from the western
or upper end of the valley to the
lower end, but so slight as not to
be perceptible while traveling
over it. The road here is level,
and the country very open, the
character of the hills being low,
and in some cases free from any
sign of stone. On leaving the
valley the road follows the course
of the Panoche Creek, which
flows almost level till it reaches
the San Joaquin Valley, 6 miles
below.
Advantages of this Route
for a Railroad.
The ascent of the road for the
entire 6 miles is calculated at
about 120 feet. To Fresno city,
the eastern end of the “turnpike,”
distance 20 miles, the road is on
an almost water level. The entire
distance from Gilroy to this point
is about 80 miles.
14
The course of this end of the
road is nearly east and west,
making a few slight variation in
some points. I was informed by
one of the Company that the
elevation of the highest point (on
the divide) on the road, was
about 550 feet about the San
Joaquin Valley. For a railroad
over this range of mountains to
San Francisco the grade is
admirable, and the course is
short and direct from Tejon Pass.
The difficulties presented by the
high elevation and heavy grading
in any of the feasible passes I
have seen, are here entirely
overcome
by
nature.
The
distance by this “pass” is 20
miles shorter than by Pacheco’s
Pass, and much nearer that by
Livermore’s. The saving in the
cost of the construction of a
railroad over this pass would be
reduced, at least, one-third,
compared with either of the
passes above mentioned, and the
road would go through some of
the
finest
and
richest
agricultural country in the State.
Passing along the Santa Clara
valley, and in an almost direct
line over the Panoche Pass, and
thence by Fresno City, at the
head of navigation on the south
branch of the San Joaquin,
(where
steamboats
run
to
Stockton—distance, 105 miles,)
and through the level valley of
Tulare southward, it would
traverse the richest portion of
California for farming purposes.
J.F.H.
The New Idria Story: Told as it happened
May 18, 1870, The Fresno Weekly Expositor.
May 25, 1870, The Fresno Weekly Expositor.
HORSE THIEVE SHOT.
HORSE THIEVE RENDEZVOUS.
We last week made mention of the
killing of two Mexican horse thieves on
Cantua Creek, near the New Idria mines.
From what we can learn the above vicinity
is a great rendezvous for these pest. They
steal stock from other counties and drive
them into the mountain fastness of that
vicinity, where they are comparatively safe
from the prying eyes of the curious. They
have been very discreet, however, not
touching any stock in this county. Of late
the retreat has been pretty well known
among stock men, and as soon as any
stealing is done the losers make search in
the vicinity we have mentioned. No less
than five Mexican horse thieves have been
in that section within a year. We hope that
the rest of the infamous crew may be
dispersed at an early day.
On Wednesday of last week a man from
Alameda county, who had had some horses
stolen from him, was riding along near the
New Idria mines in this county, in search of
his animals, and when at a place called
Cantua Creek, he met two Mexicans, who
stopped him and demanded to know of him
his destination. He told them he was
looking for his horses that had been stolen
from him. One of the Mexicans told him
that he had better turn back and gave him
to understand that if he did not he would
peril his life. The gentleman recognizing the
horses rode by the Mexicans, at once made
up his mind what to do. He was carrying in
front of him a Henry rifle, fully loaded, and
one of the Mexicans was directly in front of
the muzzle of it: so, without raising it to his
shoulder, he cocked it and fired it off,
killing one of the Mexicans instantly, and
then lifting it to his shoulder turned and
killed the other one. He then took the
horses and returned to his home.
September 9, 1870, San Francisco Bulletin
Killed at New Idria Mines.
Atkins Massey, of the firm of Massey & Young,
undertakers, received a telegram last evening,
informing him of the death of his son, Henry Massey,
at the New Idria Quicksilver Mines in Santa Clara
county. The deceased was eighteen years old, who had
lived and was educated in San Francisco, and was
temporarily absent from the city. Yesterday afternoon
he was thrown from a horse and instantly killed. The
remains will be brought to the city for interment.
38
A Collection of Journal Clippings
July 27, 1874, New York Time, page 4.
Robbery a la Chesterfield.
California rejoices in the
possession of some eccentric
highwaymen, who make stagetravel in the mountain regions of
that State far from monotonous
or dull. What distinguishes the
Pacific Turpin from his confreres
elsewhere is his affable and
accommodating spirit, and since
the capture of the renowned
Vasquez, this trait has been
displayed
nowhere
more
captivatingly than by the knights
of the road, whose huntingground lay in the neighborhood
of a place called Hollister. On the
10th of last month, these two
gentlemen took a fancy to
whatever portable property might
be concealed about the New Idria
stage. Presenting themselves and
a shot-gun, therefore, before Mr.
Burnett, the driver of the vehicle,
they requested him to halt and
hand over the express-bag. With
the first of these solicitations,
Mr. Burnett complied; to the
second he demurred, upon the
ground that he did not carry the
express. The gentlemen of the
shot-gun were, however, equally
curious and skeptical, and
required that the bag should be
thrown to them, at the same time
magnanimously rejecting a polite
offer of Mr. Burnett’s available
cash. This demand also the latter
gentleman declined to comply
with, but courteously descended,
walked up to his visitors, and
opened the bag to show them
there was nothing in it, “telling
the follow while doing this to
point his pistol in another
direction.” Then the fellow with
the pistol, who remained still
skeptical, climbed to the driver’s
seat to conduct a more searching
investigation, but being ordered
off by the punctilious driver,
“strange to say obeyed.” There
were five passengers in the
coach, some of them armed, who
not being themselves molested
appear to have thought it good
manners not to interfere.
Altogether this little interview
gives a very pleasing notion of
California good breeding. The
complaisance
of
the
highwaymen, who, having taken
possession of the casual stage
coach, leave when ordered off by
the driver, contrasts favorably
with the courteous neutrality of
the “five passengers, some of
them armed,” who only wanted,
like a certain distinguished
statesman, “to be let alone.” The
whole story has an irresistible
flavor of that hapless prisoner of
Artemus
Ward,
who,
after
languishing for twenty years in
on inaccessible dungeon, had
one day the happy inspiration of
opening the window and getting
out. Here have been a lot of
masqueraders
going
about
arrayed in black muslin and
shot-guns,
plundering
stage
coaches right and left until one
thoughtful
driver
has
the
felicitous idea of requesting them
to “go away,” and they go at
once. The sequel of the story is in
keeping
with
the
incidents
already related. On his return
trip Mr. Burnett took the
precaution to provide himself
with a revolver, thinking, with
the sagacity that might have
been expected from his previous
conduct “that he might have a
chance to use it.” Sure enough,
near the scene of the ambuscade
he encountered a man and
woman riding on horseback. To
an ordinary driver there would
have seemed nothing suspicious
in so usual an incident. But Mr.
Burnett is clearly not an ordinary
driver. He at once “stopped the
stage,” and with admirable and
characteristic caution “handed
the lines to a passenger, got
down and begged the man and
woman to throw up
63
their
hands.”
This
polite
invitation, backed by the sixshooter,
being
cheerfully
compiled with, the crafty Burnett
“called on a passenger to take
that Derringer from the man’s
pocket.” Wonderful to relate, it
proved to be the identical
Derringer which had been held in
such unpleasant proximity to Mr.
Burnett’s head the day before.
Nor was this the last of our
charioteer’s
triumphs.
The
woman wanted to leave, but was
promptly informed by the acute
Burnett that she was no more a
woman than he was, and so
under the mild persuasion of the
six-shooter he
brought
his
captives victoriously to town.
There the narrative abruptly
ends, and we are left in
unpleasant doubt as to tie
verification of Mr. Burnett’s bold
surmises. If they were correct, it
seems
incredible
that
the
captured robbers should not
have
adopted
his
own
remarkably easy and brilliant
tactics, by requesting him to turn
aside his pistol and go away. In
common courtesy he could
hardly have declined, and this
polite pair would have left in
peace to repeat for the benefit of
many
other
drivers
their
agreeable travesty of highway
robbery, conducted on strict
Chesterfieldian principles. The
danger is that having been
caught so promptly, others of
their associates will not be
enamored of their precedent, and
will
decline
in
a
similar
contingency to go away when
thereto
entreated
by
the
persuasive driver.
A Collection of Journal Clippings
January 5, 1875, San Francisco Evening Bulletin, page 4.
VASQUEZ.
The Career of a California Desperado
His Desperate and Dastardly Deeds.
Arraigned for Trial at San Jose.
This day was appointed for
the trial at San Jose of the
notorious
California
bandit
Tiburcio Vasquez, whose exploits
and final capture, together with
his brazen impudence in denying
charges, have made him subject
of discussion throughout the
United States. As about eight
months have elapsed since
Vasquez was taken and many of
the event in his life have passed
from memory, a sketch of the
bandit will prove timely and
interesting. Vasquez was born in
Monterey, and is now 36 years of
age. His parents are both dead.
He has several brothers living,
one residing near Monterey and
another in the vicinity of
Hernandez valley, in San Benito
county. Tiburcio was a smart boy
and he received a fair English
education. He had a good
command
of
the
English
language and his chirography
was remarkably artistic. He was
a reckless scamp during his early
youth, and is reported to have
committed
many
acts
of
scoundrelism, but until 1854 he
was not arrested for any crime.
The First Victim.
One night Tiburcio attended a
fandango. In those times scenes
of bloodshed at these gathering
were of frequent occurrence. A
difficulty
occurred
between
Vasquez and another Californian
about one of the pretty senoritas
in the rooms. The Constable of
the town, attracted by the noise,
entered the room and at once
endeavored
to
quell
the
disturbance,
when
Vasquez
turned upon him with a knife
and stabled him in the heart. He
fled and kept concealed for a
long time, but owing to the
efforts of his friends was at
length allowed to roam about
without
fear
of
official
molestation.
The
case
was
misrepresented to the courts, as
the
witnesses
were
all
countrymen of the murderer, and
the matter was merely worked at.
As a Horse-Thief
Twice in Our State Prison.
Shortly after this, Vasquez
associated himself with a band of
desperate character who were
then the terror of Monterey
county. Stealing horses was their
specialty. The Vigilantes at
length thinned out the gang but
young Tiburcio, who even then
looked out for number one,
managed to escape. He then
transferred his field of operations
to the country north and east of
Monterey county, and for two
years gave the large stock-raisers
a deal of trouble. In 1857 he took
a trip to Los Angeles county; and
for stealing horses was arrested,
tried, convicted, and sentence to
five years in the State Prison. He
arrived at San Quentin on
August
25,
1857.
Vasquez
escaped from prison in a break
made by the prisoners on the
25th of June, 1859, and for a few
weeks kept quiet at his mountain
retreat, near old Diablo. Chaffing
under the restraint of his selfimposed seclusion he burst the
shackles and started out on a
tour
of
inspection
through
Amador. He was unfortunate
enough to be arrested for
unlawfully appropriating a horse,
and after a speedy trial was
again taken to San Quentin,
arriving there on 17th of August
69
1859. Both terms expired on the
13th of August 1863, and on that
day the prison doors opened and
Tiburcio Vasquez waited forth a
free man. He had not been out
two months before he robbed a
fish-peddler on the San Joaquin.
He managed to escape, although
the officers were at one time
close upon him.
Another Murder.
In 1854 he vibrated between
the New Almaden, the Guadalupe
and the Enriquita quicksilver
mines. In the latter part of this
year a murder was committed at
Enriquita. An Italian butcher was
found in his shop one morning
with a bullet-hole in his head
and several knife-cuts in his
throat and breast. About $400,
known to have been in his shop,
was missing. A Corner’s inquest
was held, and Vasquez, who was
the only Californian who could
talk English with any degree of
fluency,
was
sworn
as
interpreter. He interpreted so
well that a verdict was returned
that the “deceased came to his
death from a pisto-bullet fired by
some
person
or
persons
unknown.” A few days afterward
Sheriff Adams, who at present
hold the same office, received
information which led him to
believe that the murder was
committed by Faustino Lorenzo
and Tiburcio Vasquez. Precisely
at
this
time
Faustino
and
Tiburcio
mysteriously
disappeared, and never showed
themselves to the officer again.
[Continued on next page.]
The New Idria Story: Told as it happened
February 5, 1880, San Francisco Evening Bulletin
June 10, 1881, San Francisco Evening Bulletin
A TUNNEL EXPLOSION AT NEW IDRIA.—On
Wednesday, January 31st, an explosion
occurred in a tunnel at the New Idria mine,
San Benito county. The Superintendent
first went in with a safety lamp to see if
there existed any danger of an explosion,
and on returning stated that gas was
escaping in small quantities, but not
sufficient to excite alarm. The shift went
into do some blasting. One of the men,
John Davy, had a candle in his hand, and
not thinking of danger, fastened it to a post
and made ready to proceed with his work,
but in a moment the gas was ignited and
an explosion took place. Five of the men
were horribly burned about the face and
body, but fortunately none received fatal
injuries.—San Jose Herald.
LATEST PACIFIC COAST DISPATCHES
New Idria Outlaws.
HOLLISTER. June 10th.—George Castro, a
Spaniard, was waylaid recently, about five
miles from the New Idria mine, by three
masked men. Two bullets were fired into his
body, and he rode back to the mine
dangerously wounded. A party went out in
search of the outlaws, and found one of
them named Garvino Balemuels. They all
fired on him giving him a terrible dose of
lead. He is still alive, but cannot recover.
Castro will probably live.
December 9, 1881, The Hollister Democrat
Mr. T.H. French, who resides in the
Picacho Mountain, was in town during the
week. He states that a heavy and general
rain fell there last week.
86
The New Idria Story: Told as it happened
August 2, 1893, Idaho Daily Statesman
Mail Stage Robbers.
HOLLISTER, Cal., Aug. 1.—The mail stage
running between San Benito and Hernandez
valley was held up and robbed yesterday
afternoon by three armed men. Leonard; the
driver, followed the robbers and overtook
them but was covered with revolvers and
forces to retreat. Sheriff Holbrook is now in
pursuit. The booty secured is not known.
Crawford, JJ, 1894, Report of the State Mineralogist, p. 356.
Valecitos Valley
San Carlos Oil Company’s Well
Nothing has been done here since our XIth Report was published. The oil
well of this company is situated in the center of what appears to be a
promising field. Oil-bearing shales and sandstones extend for nearly 10
miles along the southeast side of Valecitos Valley, and over the divide
toward Grizzly Canon. Seven wells have been sunk along this belt, but with
one exception they area very shallow, and though the indications are good,
nothing is being produced at present. Seepage of oil, it is said, were found in
all of them. The San Carlos well reached a depth of 160 ft., and from all that
can be learned a considerable amount of oil was found here, but for some
unknown reason the company is letting it lie idle. The formation is probably
Miocene, lying quite flat in the valley, where it consists of blue clay rich in
gypsum, while on the south and west and lower in the series there are
bituminous shales and soft, porous sandstones, dipping away from the
higher ridge of older rocks at a high angle or folded against it. Small tar
springs are to be found in several places. It is definitely known that oil of an
excellent quality exist here, and what is needed now are several test wells
which would demonstrate whether it is present in paying quantities.
Vallecitos District was described in our XIth Report, p. 372.
102
The New Idria Story: Told as it happened
July 6, 1909, Oakland Tribune, page 7.
MOTHER AND FOUR
BABES CINDERED
Five Perish in Burning House
Near New Idria Mine
Hollister, July 6—A mother and four children burned to death
while the husband and father, a wood chopper, was absent in the
forest, according to news which reached here last night from near
the New Idria mine.
Sheriff Croxon and Coroner Black have gone to the mine to
investigate. The five charred bodies were found yesterday in the
ashes of the building. The cause of the fire is unknown, but its
occurrence in a building in which was a saloon has led it to be
though that some drunken man may have fired the place in malice
or unheeding.
The husband, a Basque, who had worked for the mine only a
month, can speak little English. The mother and children, the
oldest of whom was under six and the youngest a babe in arms,
arrived at the mine only last week.
They were staying at Lerroy & Co.’s boarding house. According
to the details which have reached here, the fire started with a
sudden blazing up of the room in which the children were sleeping.
The mother is believed to have rushed to their rescue, been
overcome by the smoke and flames, and perished trying to save her
little one.
August 30, 1910, Albuquerque Morning Journal
January 22, 1911, Oakland Tribune, page 5.
Mine Foreman and
Family Die in Mine
CALIFORNIA QUICKSILVER
OUTPUT SHOWS INCREASE
by
noxious
HOLLISTER:—Asphyxiated
gases within 200 feet of the mouth of the
San Carlos tunnel in the New Idria
quicksilver mine was the fate on Sunday
night of Foreman John Williams, his three
daughters, Elvina aged 15, Marie aged 12
and Marjorie age 5 and a dog belonging to
the family. The bodies were discovered last
night.
The tunnel is situated six miles from the
mine proper and is twenty five hundred feet
long. Williams and his daughters were
returning from the face of the tunnel and
had nearly reached the open air when they
were overcome.
The output of California quicksilver in
1910 (17,410 flasks) shows an increase of
1832 flasks over that of 1909. This increase
is due chiefly to increased production by
the New Idria and Guadalupe mines, which
were the largest producers in the State in
1910. Fifteen mine in California were
producing quicksilver in 1910 as in 1909.
The production of the Napa Consolidated
mine was decreased, as had been expected.
This mine and the Great Western have been
closed and the final clean up has been in
progress at both mines. With the passing of
these important producers and without
notable increase in output of other
California mine the production for 1911
may be expected to show a falling off from
that of 1910.
122
A Collection of Journal Clippings
June 20, 1940, New York Times, page 41.
July 6. 1942, Coalinga Record, page 1.
GROUP HERE BUYS
BIG MERCURY MINE
Ord Soldiers
Called To Stop
New Idria Fire
—————
New Idria Quicksilver Co. in
California Sold to Van
Alstyne Noel & Co.
(Direct United Press Wire)
SAN FRANCISCO. July 6.—The Office of
War Information announced today 200
troops sent from Fort Ord by Secretary of
War Henry Stimson, checked a huge timber
and brush fire in southern San Benito
county after it had burned 20,000 acres
and threatened the New Idria mercury
mine, the largest quicksilver mine operation
in the world.
—————
PRICE IS NOT DISCLOSED
—————
Brother and Son of Hoover
among those Disposing of
Their Holdings
—————
HOLLISTER, Calif., June 19 (AP)—The
world’s largest mercury-producing concern,
the New Idria Quicksilver Mining Company of
San Benito County, has been purchased by
Van Alstyne Noel & Co. of New York.
Its properties embrace 4,500 acres and
include the New Idria and San Carlos mines
which employ 200 men. With mercury prices
up because of war demands, they are
expected to bring in a gross annual return of
more than $2,000,000.
H. W. Gould of San Francisco, a mining
engineer and one of the owners, announced
the sale yesterday but declined to disclose
the purchase price. He retains his interest
and becomes vice president and general
manager. E. L. Elliott becomes the new
president, succeeding L. W. Wickes of the
Mudd interests of Los Angeles.
For four years the enterprise has been
controlled by a group consisting of Mr.
Gould, Theodore Hoover, brother of former
President Herbert Hoover; Allan Hoover, the
ex-President’s son; Sanborn Young, R.A.
Hanan, J. Morrill and Mr. Wickes.
129
The New Idria Story: Told as it happened
February 26, 1969, Pacific Stars and Stripes, page 18.
They Run the Smallest
Phone Firms in California
By Charles Hillinger
The Los Angeles Times
Rex and Martha Bryan, owners of
the two smallest telephone companies
in California, check out lines leading
to idria, a community in a remote area
of North California.
(LA. Times Photo by K L Oliver)
Smallest Phone Firms
[Continued from above]
The Bryans live on a ranch 55
miles north of Idria. Trouble
shooting for them is no small
task.
Bryan-Butts phone subscribers
are
undoubtedly
the
most
pampered in the West.
Martha and Rex clean and
service every phone at least twice
a year. They’ve thrown barbecues
with all subscribers invited.
Rex runs up his telephone
poles “gaffing the timber” wearing
traditional climbers.
“Not me,” says Martha. “I can
check or repair a line just as
easy using a ladder. Anyway,
climbers are not lady-like.”
Even though the two phone
companies are in about as
remote a slice of California as
you will find, both are completely
automated.
Idria, Calif. —- When anyone
in this remote quicksilver mining
town spots Martha Bryan up the
pole, they’re not surprised.
Only strangers are.
Mrs. Bryan is one of the very
few women who climb telephone
poles in the United States. She
and her husband, Rex, 51, run
the two smallest telephone
companies in California.
Smallest is Bryan Telephone
Co., with 65 subscribers — 58 of
them mining families living here
in San Benito County’s Call
Mountains, 100 miles west of
Fresno.
Their other company, second
smallest in the state, the William
Butts Telephone Co., serves 68
ranch families spread over a 30mile radius north of here near
“Pretty
good,
considering
our
skinny,
weather-beaten
telephone poles were put up in
1905, and all our phones
connect by two lines with Pacific
Telephone’s main trunks,” says
Rex.
The Bryans, who ranch on the
side, bought their first phone
company — the one that carries
their name — 10 years ago.
It was then known as the Lily
Berg Telephone co., owned and
operated by two spinster sisters,
Lily arid Nina Berg, from a farm
house at Panoche.
The lily Berg Telephone Co.
was established by George Berg,
father of the two sisters, in 1905.
At a low point during the
depression the phone company
had only two subscribers, one of
them Lily, the other Nina.
“The company has really gone
places under Martha und Rex,”
136
Pinnacles National Monument.
“The Butts people are really
scattered,”
explains
Bryan.
“There’s not a village, gas station
or general store on the entire
hookup.”
“All our subscribers know us
on a first name basis,” said the
5-foot
3-inch
brown-haired,
blue-eyed Mrs. Bryan, “They’re
really pampered.
“We get calls in the middle of
the night from miners or
ranchers reporting a neighbor’s
phone out more often than not,
it’s an owl.”
Owls, explains Mrs. Bryan,
fly through the lines and are so
numerous, and such a nuisance
that Martha has headed in one
direction and Rex the other to
repair lines ripped by the birds.
[Continued Below.]
said Lily Berg, now 77. “My sister
and I ran the switchboard from
our farm house. We strung the
lines,
repaired
connections,
spliced wires — the works —
climbing up the poles as Martha
does now.”
When the Bryans took over in
1959 they automated the system,
doing away with the need for a
switchboard operator.
Third
smallest
phone
company in the state, the Ducor
Telephone Co., in Ducor, 40
miles north of Bakersfield, boasts
175 subscribers, a full-time
lineman
and
a
full
time
bookkeeper besides the owner.
Virgil Roome.
“Next to Martha and Rex,
we’re kind of like AT&T,” said
Roome.

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