During Easter vacation in 1938, Tom, Dad, Alan and I made a trip to San Quintin Bay. We had a pickup truck and trailer behind. Dad had made the boat, and the trailer had been put together in the blacksmith shop from on old truck frame and axle. It looked very strong, but it failed the "Baja" test.
At that time the road between Santo Tomas and San Vicente went through Arroyo San Jacinto, about a mile east of the present highway. Al and I were riding in the back as we bounced along this canyon bottom. Suddenly, the front of the trailer broke off Ė leaving the boat and the rest of the trailer behind. I was very depressed. Surely this would end our fishing trip before it even started. I should have known better. Dad had spent his life dealing with such emergencies. He spent a few minutes surveying the situation and then said that he could fix it.
It was already late afternoon, so we started making camp. Soon a man came into camp. It seems that we had broken down almost in front of his ranch. He had heard the commotion and came to see if we needed help. He and Dad promptly set off to find just the right cottonwood tree for the trailer repair. When he found the tree he wanted, Dad arranged with the rancher to cut and trim it. By the time this was done we were out of daylight so the repair was put on hold until morning. At least I went to bed with hope that our trip would be successful.
Morning always came early in camp. I think the term "first light" says it all. The aim was to be up, fed, packed and on the road before the sun peeked over the horizon. On this day we had breakfast and then set to work to fix the trailer, under Dadís supervision.
Fortunately Dad had brought along a goodly length of one-half inch rope to be used to anchor the boat for fishing. With this we proceeded to lash the 5" diameter tree trunk underneath the two sections of the trailer frame, making it whole again. This repair job was so effective that we completed our trip without further incident. I believe we used the trailer again that summer without making any more repairs. I had learned another lesson in "making do" with the tools and materials at hand.
The man at the ranch wouldnít take any money for his help, so Tom worked out a satisfactory "barter" with him, we got a jar of wild honey in exchange for several cans of fruit.
Two things happened here that are so typical of Tom that they should be expanded upon just a bit.
First, Tom always carried more food than we could possibly use. He had long ago learned that "goods" are more valuable than money in some situations. The people in the remote areas had to travel a long way to reach a store that may not have been very well stocked.
The other item he usually carried for barter was 30-30 rifle ammunition. The almost universal rifle on the ranches was the 30-30 Winchester. The problem was that the Federal law prohibited the sale of ammunition, so it was much in demand. A half-dozen rounds would get you most anything that a rancher might have. Of course we had to smuggle it across the border, and use some discretion about whom it was given to.
The other thing that Tom always did was to engage in lengthy conversations with the people we encountered. He had a way of drawing people out, so that before long he knew where they had come from, their family backgrounds, the particular problems of survival they faced and their particular interest. I canít tell you how many times we came across people who had roots in Los Mochis, some even with mutual friends. Many of these seemingly casual encounters turned into friendships enduring for years and years. Our stop at San Jacinto was no exception. On succeeding trips we always stopped to visit and exchange gifts of canned fruit and wild honey with this gentleman and his wife, who was nearly blind. Tom and Dorothy were still detouring through San Jacinto to visit when we lived in San Telmo. Another interesting note is that Tomís traveling companion in later years, Jose Cesena, told me that he had owned that ranch for a while before arriving in El Sauzal and San Miguel.
If I were truly my Fatherís son I would remember the names of these people. I really believe that at the end of his life he could recall the names of everyone he ever met. It was a rare gift, a gift obviously not passed on to me.
I donít remember much about the rest of the trip. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I canít sort out the events of that trip from the one we took in the summer of the same year. The one thing that was definitely on the first trip was a hike that Tom, Alan and I took. We had made camp at the same spot that we would use on the next trip. We set off to the west, crossing the dunes to the pacific shore. After turning south we came to a rocky shoreline. There we found the wreckage of what was probably a commercial fishing boat. It must have been driven ashore by a storm. On the shore were three grave markers, inscribed in Japanese. As we made our way south we passed several little sandy coves, separated by rocky points. In one of these coves we spotted a colony of seals (sea lions?) sunning themselves on the sand. We approached slowly, until several of the seals started to get alarmed. Alan and I looked at each other, not a word was spoken, then we took off running as fast as we could, until we were in the midst of all the seals that were dashing for the water. Suddenly we realized that a bull seal, up on its flippers, dashing toward the water, is a rather imposing figure. We made certain not to get between the bulls and the water!
The entire family went on the second trip, including Dad. We must have taken a car, as well as the pickup with boat and trailer, to carry that many people. Also, Joe Jones, with his new bride, Edris, drove the ranch truck with an eighteen-foot boat on the back. So you could say that this trip had the proportions of an expedition!
Our first stop after leaving Ensenada was at a little store on the bluff, just before dropping into Maneadero Valley. The main purpose of this stop was that it was the northern terminus of the single wire, party telephone line that ran from Maneadero to El Rosario, about two hundred miles south. After many attempts, the lady in the store was able to get through to the Hamilton Ranch to let them know that we would be there the next day. We also bought a goodly supply of Gallettas Nic Nac, which would be our only "junk food" for the next three or four weeks. I also remember my sisters being somewhat offended at the chickens that wandered in and out of the little store, leaving "calling cards" here and there. Since this was my third trip, and third stop at this store, I had seen it all before! I was already an "Old Baja Hand." We could see this line next to the road for nearly itís entire length. Sometimes it was suspended from poles, sometimes from a cactus or tall brush.
The next stop was in Santo Tomas, at a house near what is now El Palomar. There we picked up Grampa Uttís two shotguns. He had arranged to leave them with a nice old gentleman, so that he would not have to hassle them across the border every time he went to Baja.
The first night out we camped at the very top of the Santo Tomas grade, which at that time was very steep, very narrow, and very winding. There were places where the truck could barely make the turns by backing up and then going forward again. In the morning the Santo Tomas Valley was filled with fog. It was like looking out over the ocean to the hills on the other side. I guess I had never observed anything like that before, because the picture is still vivid in my mind.
The next night we stayed at the Hamilton Ranch, near present day Colonia Guerrero. Directly east of the ranch was a prominent, red colored mountain. This was a landmark that could be seen from many miles away. All us kids were very excited when we could first see that red mountain. It meant that the dayís journey was nearly over. By this time, Miss Hattie Hamilton had retired to Los Angeles, and a young couple named Logan was in charge. I believe that Mrs. Logan was a niece of Miss Hattie. The Loganís made us feel right at home. Tom arranged for them to come to our camp at San Quintin a week or so after we settled in there.
The next day we drove on down to San Quintin Bay, at the site of the old Flour Mill, built by the International Company that colonized northern Baja in the late 1800ís. We spent the afternoon getting our boats in the water, and generally preparing for the boat trip to our more permanent campsite the following day. There was a Mexican Customs Inspector living in a small house near the mill. He had absolutely nothing to do, as there was no traffic in or out of the Bay. His job was a holdover from the days before the port of Ensenada was developed, and San Quintin was an important Port of Entry. Tom, of course, had become quite friendly with him on our first visit, so he was very helpful to us on this later trip. The Inspector brought us a Sea Turtle, so we dined on turtle soup that night.
At that time the steel framework and brick walls of the mill were still pretty much in place, as was some of the old milling equipment. The mill was situated at a narrow channel leading to a large inner bay. There was a stone levy extending from the far shore, leaving only a narrow opening in front of the mill. The plan was to harness the power of the tides to power the mill. The stone for the levy was quarried several miles away. Rails were laid and a small steam locomotive used to bring the stone from the quarry to the levy. Plans were drawn, and grading started on a rail line from Ensenada to San Quintin. From my earliest trips to Baja I remember traveling on an elevated road through the Maneadero Valley, which had been intended for a railroad. Todayís highway still uses this road, but of course it is wider now. There was also some elevated roadbed leading to the Mill from the area of Colonia Guerrero, but I think that has all disappeared. This very ambitious project was abandoned when northern Baja experienced one of itís prolonged dry spells. During the time that we lived in San Telmo the bricks from the old mill were salvaged and used to build a small motel. Surprise, surprise! This motel is named The Old Mill. It has grown over the years, and has some very noteworthy clients, such as Gerry Robertson, and other assorted Robertson Family members.
In the morning we packed all our gear into the two boats. We had tents, bedrolls, food and many water containers; as we would be "dry camping". I canít be certain of this, but I think that we only had one outboard motor, so it was installed on the larger boat, which towed the smaller one. When all was ready we said goodbye to Joe and Edris, who started on the return trip to Simi. The journey to our camp was about ten miles, and our "flotilla" was not very fast. The beach in front of camp was very shallow, so the heavily laden boats could not get close to shore. I should mention that the smaller boat that Dad had built had a flat bottom, so it could get in fairly shallow water. The larger boat was definitely not a "Dad" boat. It was a boat that had drifted ashore at Point Mugu, and after no one claimed it, Dad exercised "Salvage Rights", and took the boat as his. This boat reminded me of the lifeboats you see on Ocean Liners. It had a "V" bottom, and was pointed at bow and stern. Naturally, this boat grounded itself quite a distance from shore. We had to pack all our gear on our backs, wading in knee-deep water. Finally all the gear was on shore and our camp set up.
I donít remember all the details of our camp. What I do remember is that Tom had bought a new tent, maybe eight by twelve, with a "Fly" that extended another twelve feet in front. This tent served as storage for all our supplies, and the folks slept there, and probably Tommy. Cooking and eating were under the "Fly". Alan and I must have had a tent, and my sisters must have had a tent. Dad always set up his camp a little apart from the rest of us. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if all the older kids just slept out in the open. That was not too unusual in those days.
Our camp was on the bay side of a long, wide peninsula that separated the bay from the Pacific Ocean. We were nearly at the southern extreme of the inner bay, not more than a mile from the channel leading to the ocean. This long peninsula was mostly sand dunes, with some rocky coastline at the southern tip. Directly across the bay was another long, sandy point that separated the Ocean from the Bay.
Dad bought lots of things pertaining to boats and fishing from the C.J. Hendry Marine Supply Co, in San Pedro, CA. Such things as oars, oarlocks, rope, blocks (pullies), fishing line, hooks, sinkers, you name it. When preparing for a trip, he also bought a good supply of hardtack, or "sea biscuit". For the un-initiated, hardtack is a very dry, dense biscuit that tastes sort of like a soda cracker. It contains no fat of any kind, so it will keep forever, or maybe longer! For this trip Dorothy also bought canned butter, which I have never seen, before or since. She also brought several cans of bacon strips. That was a special treat in camp. The hardtack was nearly impossible to eat dry. She made it more palatable for us by dipping it in seawater for I bit, then frying it in a little butter. Hardtack was about the only bread we had for the entire trip.
As we were carrying our supplies to shore, we observed some small sharks in the shallow water. So, one of the first things that Alan and I did was to rig up the fish spears, to spear sharks. We waded out into knee-deep water, and moved slowly, parallel to shore. We speared lots of sharks and dragged them to shore. There were three varieties, as I remember, ranging in size from two to four feet. Soon my sisters, or at least some of them, were also engaged in this activity. I know that this sort of thing would not pass muster today, but we grew up thinking that anything that ate fish was bad, not only for the fisherman, but for the fish. This was also a time when larger sharks were being harvested for nothing more than their livers, for oil, to augment the dwindling supply of Cod Liver Oil. Alan and I started making plans to spend the following summer in San Quintin, in the shark liver oil business! That never happened!
I should explain why we had fish spears in the first place. For us, camping always involved our grandfather, Dad. Therefore, camping always involved the ocean. Camping at the ocean always involved a boat. A boat, at the ocean, always involved a Coleman Lantern for the front of the boat, and spears for spearing at night. That all seems perfectly logical to me!
In the evenings, as soon as it was dark, we would set out in the boat. The lantern was suspended from a pole on the front of the boat, with a large dishpan as a reflector, to keep the light out of our eyes. Two spearpersons stood toward the front, one on each side. Tom always had us put the spears into the water, at more or less the angle that they would be when thrown or pushed. We could see that the spear appeared to bend upward at the water line. I think that phenomenon is called deflection. Anyway it showed us that we had to aim the spear below the target. Our prey was mainly mullet, to be used as bait for bottom fishing the next day, and halibut, or any other fish suitable for eating. We left the sharks alone at night. Spearing them caused too much commotion. We always speared in fairly shallow water. The boat was propelled by a long pole, so as to minimize the noise. One evening, as we were returning to camp, we came across a whole bunch of lobsters. It was very surprising to me to find lobsters in water that was no more than four or five feet deep. Iím afraid that we bagged a few more than we could eat. We did dine royally the next day!
Some of our activities were dictated by the tides. We planned a hike across the dunes, to arrive at the coast at low tide, to gather abalones. At that time they were abundant, although they were the small black variety, not the most sought-after for eating. They tasted good to us!
On the first Sunday that we were in camp the Logan family drove out on the point directly opposite our camp. We brought them to camp in the boat. They brought an abundance of fresh vegetables from their extensive garden, or ranch, actually. They may have brought some water containers as well. We had a pleasant day, feasting on seafood and fresh vegetables, including green corn.
Around the northern end of the bay there were seven volcanic cinder-cones. Alan and I determined to climb the closest one. It was at the north end of the long sandy shoreline across the dunes from camp. We took four uncooked ears of corn for our lunch, left over from the Loganís visit. Across the dunes we went, then started up the beach, thinking we would be to our destination in no time. After walking for about an hour, we realized that we were not even half way to the cinder cone. I guess the very gradual curve of the beach, with no other landmarks, was deceptive. We walked some more, and then decided to build a fire to roast the corn for lunch. Thus fortified, we set off again, and in due time we stood at the top of the cone, looking down into the small crater. The trip back to camp seemed somehow shorter. How do you explain that?
Rae, Dad and I made a trip back to the Old Mill in the sailboat. The reason for the trip was to get fresh water. Dad let Rae and me sail the boat all of the way. The last mile was rather tough. We were tacking into the wind, and fighting an outgoing tide. Dad was patient, and we finally made it to the Mill. There our friend took us to a ranch nearby, where we filled all the containers. I think this little chore took all day.
The seventh cinder cone mentioned above was an offshore island, San Martin. Tom, Dad, Alan, Jean, and Rae made an overnight trip to the island in the larger boat. At this stage of my life I had realized that getting seasick was too high a price to pay for that adventure. I stayed in camp with Dorothy, Merilie, and Tommy.
One of our little diversions was a game that Tom had learned from his Indian friends at San Ignacio. It was called "Tejas", or tiles. It was sort of like horseshoes, except that it was played with flat stones. Each of us selected two of our own stones. These stones could only be found on certain beaches. They were about three to four inches in diameter, as round as possible, and as thin as possible. The game was played on a hard sand beach. The object was to throw the stones in such a way as to make them slide along the hard sand as near as possible, or into, a small hole in the sand. We modernized the game just a bit by using the empty butter cans to set in the sand, rather than just making a hole. I canít remember how points were awarded. Obviously, getting your "Teja" in the can scored the most points!
At some point Arthur MacFadden and Herb Walker came for a short stay. Toward the end of our stay, Grampa Utt and our cousin, Jack Deaver arrived. Alan joined them when they left. They were off for a trout-planting trip to San Pedro Martir. The summer of 1938 was full of adventure!
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