Thursday, October 27, 2005

History of Magalia, Stirling City, Ridge ghost towns fitting tribute to Lois McDonald


Bob Colby is editor of Tales of the Paradise Ridge and co-author, with Lois McDonald, of the just-published "Magalia To Stirling City" ($19.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing).

In a telephone interview he expressed his admiration for McDonald, the premiere Ridge historian and former longtime editor of Tales, and his sadness at her passing.

McDonald died earlier this month at the age of 85, just as the book was being released. Her legacy includes "This Paradise We Call Home" and "Annie Bidwell: An Intimate History," a wonderful biography which deserved all the acclaim (and there was much) that came to its author.

In publicity materials for "Magalia To Stirling City," Colby says this "history through photographs" (gathered from back issues of Tales and from private collections, some never before published) is the ideal book to give to someone who wants to know the story of the upper Ridge.

With more than 200 black and white photographs - beautifully reproduced - the book (as Colby puts it) "pulls together ... information on the Butte County Railroad, the Gold Rush town of Magalia (Dogtown), Diamond Match logging operations, the mill town, Stirling City, and Ridge ghost towns."

The book is part of Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series. According to a news release, "Arcadia - founded in 1993 - become the largest publisher of regional history books in North America."

Each of the seven chapters of "Magalia To Stirling City" begins with a brief narrative and is followed by historic photographs (mostly from the first half of the 20th century), with detailed captions that add to the reader's appreciation. For example, the chapter on the Diamond Match Co. notes that it bought "over 69,000 acres of timber in Butte, Plumas and Tehama counties" (containing over two billion board feet) in 1901 and completed a sawmill in Stirling City (named after the Stirling Consolidated steam boilers that powered the plant) two years later. Logging began on nearby Bald Mountain in 1904 and a rare photograph shows "four Big Wheel log haulers, called 'Katydids'" pulled by horses. Diamond set up camps using "bunkhouses on skids" which were loaded onto railroad flatcars and a picture, from 1915, says that "logging camp buildings were moved this way ... well into the 1930s."

There's a 1906 picture "taken at the intersection of Laurel and Granite streets" in Stirling City, complete with a wagon drawn by four horses. In the background a sign advertises Simmens and Suggett's Clothing Store and their line of Can't Bust 'Em work clothes.

In Magalia it was mining. "The first gold seekers came in 1849 up the canyon of the west branch of the Feather River, or they followed Butte Creek and its several branches. Climbing up from the canyons, they came together in a small saddle between the streams. Here a tented trading post was erected by one man as an easier way to make money - taking it from the hungry, ill-clad miners rather than from the cold wet streams. Flour, sugar, coffee, and tobacco were hauled by mules and wagons from Marysville or farther. A sawmill or two followed. Saloons appeared, and so did more stores. ... Few women came in the early 1850s, but one miner's wife, who had insisted on coming herself and bringing a dog or two on the trip across the plains from Iowa, did not miss the glint of joy in the eye of every lonesome miner who spotted her mongrel puppies cavorting among the tent houses. Sales were brisk for Susan Bassett. As the reputation of the town grew, the name Dogtown naturally came to the miners' lips, and the name of the town was set."

No doubt Bassett was hounded. You just can't make up stories like this.

For me, the emotional center of the book was the chapter on "ghost towns and memories." Here are Nimshew, Hupp (a mill there "supplied the lumber from which the first houses in Chico were built"), Coutolenc-Lovelock, Toadtown (originally called "Towtown," say the authors, for a family's blond-headed children), Powellton, Inskip, Philbrook, and the landmark Chaparral House (constructed in 1857 "as a hotel and way station on the Oroville-Susanville Road" just up the road from Inskip).

"Magalia To Stirling City" is an evocative journey and an indispensable guide to local history.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Award-winning science-fiction author to speak in Chico on global warming


Kim Stanley Robinson has written a series of novels of the near future, meshing hard science with ecological speculation, and has won a shelf full of Hugo and Nebula awards for his efforts.

His Mars trilogy is a multi-generational saga of the colonizing -- and terraforming -- of the red planet; "Antarctica" is an exploration of the political and environmental future of the South Pole.

Now, with "Forty Signs of Rain" ($7.99 in paperback from Bantam), Robinson begins a new trilogy in which political inaction and scientific cowardice reap the whirlwind. Washington, D.C., is flooded and then (in the second volume, "Fifty Degrees Below," to be published next month) frozen. With descriptions eerily reminiscent of the inundation of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities, "Forty Signs of Rain" reads more like recent history than science fiction.

Robinson will discuss his work, and his views on global warming, in a free presentation at Chico State University's Laxson Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Sponsored by Chico State Office of the Provost, Robinson's lecture is open to the public but a ticket is required from the University Box Office, located on the corner of Second and Normal streets.

The driving force of "Forty Signs" is the claim that there is an ecological "tipping point" in which cumulative changes in the oceans and the atmosphere can alter the earth's climate -- in as little as three years.

Robinson's novel is purposely prosaic, with long stretches recounting the happy home life of National Science Foundation statistician Anna Quibler (an appropriate name for someone in her line of work) and her husband Charlie, an environmental advisor to Democratic Senator Phil Chase. Charlie is a telecommuter who cares for young sons Nick and Joe while Anna works at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Va., vetting grant applications from researchers.

Her co-worker, Frank Vanderwal, single, on loan from UC San Diego, had helped found a biotech startup in that city. Frank's interest in Torrey Pines Generique was now in a blind trust, but there are hints that a hotshot biomathematician employed by Torrey Pines has developed a statistical way to increase the likelihood that bioengineered proteins might be more readily accepted by the body. Frank realizes that a patent on such a method might mean a windfall for the company, and part of the novel deals with Frank's efforts to deny NSF funding for the mathematician's proposal (which would have meant public access to his findings).

For the longest time I couldn't figure out how the medical research conducted by Torrey Pines connected with global warming, but there are hints in the book (maybe this is a spoiler) that the technique might be applied to plant materials to enable them to better absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus lessening the impact of greenhouse gasses.

All of this is more than theoretical. The story focuses on the political fortunes of a group of pizza-loving Buddhists representing the small island nation Khembalung, which is flooded more and more often. Befriended by Anna and Charlie, they attempt to persuade Senator Chase to push harder on environmental legislation.

Frank, the cynical worshiper of reason, is changed by the Buddhist emphasis on compassion (as well as by an encounter with a mysterious and desirable woman in a stuck elevator). "The truth is," he tells his colleagues near the end of the first volume, "we have enough data already. The world's climate has already changed. The Arctic Ocean ice pack breakup has flooded the surface of the North Atlantic with fresh water, and the most recent data indicate that that has stopped the surface water from sinking, and stalled the circulation of the big Atlantic current. ... Scientists should take a stand and become part of the political decision-making process."

That may not happen; the Republican president's science adviser is, thinks Charlie, "a pompous ex-academic of the worst kind, hauled out of the depths of a second-rate conservative think tank when the administration's first science advisor had been sent packing for saying that global warming might be real and not only that, amenable to human mitigations. ... Easier to destroy the world than to change capitalism even one little bit."

Then it rains, with flooding, rescue boats, hints of looters. D.C. survives. But, says Robinson, the tide has most definitely turned.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Redding novelist serves up tale of bank robbery, stupid crooks and cagey seniors


Vince Doman was a serial bank robber. Eventually caught, he did his time in Soledad but couldn't stand his parole officer. So he disappeared with his wife, Maria, a prison nurse he had met while in the stir. Vince, now 72, settles down to a life of retirement near Old Shasta, not far from Redding.

He promised Maria he would go straight. And, writes Redding novelist Steve Brewer in "Bank Job" ($24 in hardcover from Intrigue Press), "he'd stuck to his word for more than 5 years now. Never so much as a parking ticket. But the system never forgot. ... Vince Doman had violated his parole, which meant he was supposed to go back to prison for the rest of his original sentence. Fifteen more years, which would be a life sentence for a man his age. Vince would do anything to prevent that."

Enter a trio of ne'er-do-wells, Leon Daggett and his brother Junior, and Roy Wade, a violent time-bomb of a man who, we're told, "was terminally stupid, but he projected absolute certainty about absolutely everything." They were on a crime spree, "roaring around rural California in Leon's sleek black car, knocking over gas stations and convenience stories for small change. Swilling Buds and smoking Marlboros and whistling at passing women." As Junior observes, "it was like a typical redneck Saturday night in Bakersfield."

Zooming north in his Trans Am to unfamiliar territory, Leon and company decide to make a beer run at Shasta Liquors. And why pay when you can send in Junior, the shaky-legged amateur, for some easy pickin's? But Junior didn't figure on the owners, the Bingham sisters, who brain Junior with a fifth of whiskey when he bobbles his stick-up announcement in a hilarious but unprintable spoonerism.

Managing to escape, Junior and the other two hightail it up the road between Old Shasta and Redding, and, as luck would have it, pull into a certain driveway and take the old couple there hostage. Maria volunteers (at gunpoint) to pick the glass out of Junior's head and bandage him up. Vince, meantime, sizes up the intruders, Roy especially. "The sides and back of his head were shaved and tanned. The dark strip of hair on top was short and slicked straight back. The hairstyle was like a billboard saying, 'Moron.' But Vince recognized something in the hard glitter of the man's eyes and amended the assessment: 'Dangerous moron'."

Hoping to get some traction, Vince brags about his past, laying it on pretty thick. The trio's little brains begin to formulate a plan for the big time -- meaning banks instead of liquor stores. And guess who, under threat Maria's death, gets to do the dirty work? And guess who still has his bank robbing equipment stowed away?

Meantime, Shasta County Sheriff's Deputy Debra Kemp tends to Shasta Liquors. She finds the Bingham sisters a handful (they play the tape of Junior over and over and talk of stardom) and dreams of how she can make a name for herself and get promoted to detective. She tries to track down the getaway vehicle and, relying on instinct and a few clues (like blood all over the walkway from Junior's wound), rolls into Vince and Maria's driveway. Oh, oh: What's a reformed bank robber who is about to do it again to do? Kemp gets a cock-and-bull story from the kindly couple and Kemp leaves almost satisfied. But not quite.

Brewer puts the plot into motion and 50 short chapters and a truckload of expletives later the book comes to a satisfying conclusion. "Bank Job" (it might have been called "Nose Job" given what happens to the trio) is a made-for-TV shoot-'em-up with the north state an integral backdrop. As Kemp wonders where the injured liquor store crook might have landed, she muses: "No place to hide in the village of Shasta. More a tourist stop for history buffs than a real town, it was called 'Old Shasta' by the locals to distinguish it from all the other Shastas in the area -- Lake Shasta, Shasta Dam, Shasta County, Shasta College, Shasta Lake City, the village of Mount Shasta and the daddy of 'em all, Mount Shasta itself, a snow-covered, 14,000-foot peak, which on clear days floated above the northern mountains like an iceberg."

Buy the book. You'll enjoy the withdrawal pains.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Book signing scheduled for Willows columnist


In 1996 Willows resident Shari Edwards, after a 40-year absence, returned to her hometown to care for her ailing father. Her column of reminiscences began a year later, running in the Tri-County Newspapers until budget cutbacks ended it in 2001. Those columns were collected as "As I Remember" ($22.95 in paperback from iUniverse), which I reviewed favorably last July.

Heartbroken at being a writer without a home, Edwards found a new champion in the form of Sacramento Valley Mirror publisher Tim Crews, who allowed her to continue "As I Remember" until August 27, 2003, when "my column abruptly disappeared from the pages of yet another newspaper because of economics, cutting short my column writing life. I was saddened that I had not been able to write a farewell to all my wonderful readers."

That has now been rectified with the publication of a second collection, "Still Remembering ..." ($16.95 in paper, also from iUniverse). In it, Edwards is able to publish not only all the columns from her days with the Mirror, but to add four more, tributes to her husband, Ted, who died of cancer in December 2002, and to her father, Alan Fisk, who died a month later. "My father," she writes, "was born in a small cabin in a little area above Redding, now known as Lamoine. It was 1908. He was the first child of a Wintu woman and a train engineer."

In her evocative reflection on her late husband, Edwards writes that "now, it has been two years since my sweet Ted passed on to a more comfortable place, leaving me to find my way out of the wilderness. The road has been long, dark and full of detours. For a time, I wrote furiously believing that words would lead me to safety and comfort. They did not! I roamed empty rooms only to find the ghosts of residence past, all assuring me that being alone would be O.K. It was not! ... It had taken two years for those grief monsters to climb from the depth of the prison I banished them to ... and still I thought, I'll cry tomorrow. It has taken a family and many friends to put this humpty-dumpty girl back together again. ... Now I have to learn how to reach for the hand of God."

And then this: "My vision of Ted is starting to fade. Sometimes he stands only in shadow. Sometimes I cannot see him at all. I'm losing him. He appears to me far away, tall and mysterious as the first time I saw him across that room long ago." During that time, Shari was given a Cabbage Patch doll by her daughter and granddaughter, one with Ted's birthday. "When that doll was placed in my arms, my heart suddenly burst into flames. An uncontrollable wildfire raged. Only a huge flood of tears could put it out."

Edwards will be doing several book signings in Willows this weekend during the Willows school reunion of the 10 classes from 1950-1959. Books will be available Friday night at the Elks Lodge, 150 S. Shasta in Willows, and at a dinner Saturday night at St. Monica's Parish Hall, 1129 Wood Street. The "official" signing event will take place from 10 a.m.-noon Saturday at the Willows Christian Church Fellowship Hall, 200 S. Plumas Street, featuring a '50s "Jeopardy" game which comes complete, she says, with "set and all."

Among the dozens of columns included in "Still Remembering..." are pieces about local schools and businesses as well as remembrances of the Red Hat Society and a Fourth of July celebration in Orland. Edwards interviews locals but also ties the oral history together with diligent library research. There's the story of the old Beacon Cafe, where Shirley Shumin explains that "when her grandfather, Les Sims, arrived in Willows in 1946" he purchased the little restaurant that "served breakfast, lunch and dinner and coffee was a dime. Shirley mentioned it was later raised to a quarter with all the refills you wanted. She laughed when she said, 'We never made any money on coffee'."

By turns moving, wistful and humorous, Edwards' columns invite the reader to pour their own cup of coffee and set a spell. The conversation is not to be missed.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.