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School and Town

A Short History of Johnsondale

Written by Walter S. Nicholas

Johnsondale, CA



Johnsondale school.

A one room school still exists to serve the children of R-Ranch employees, but at its peak the K12 school had seven teachers.



As the family population grew, it was necessary to have a school. For the first six months, Earl Pascoe drove up the mountain and hauled the Johnsondale children down to school at Road's End. When a school was established at Johnsondale, the thirty-five students from Road's End School were moved to Johnsondale.

In a letter dated April 7, 1988, Mrs. Lucille Binkley said:

"We (Lucille and her husband Carl) came in the fall of 1941. Mrs. Nelson was the only teacher until Carl came. We lived at Road's End Lodge, and Carl drove our car the first couple or three years and brought up the High School teachers and Mrs. McGee, the first grade teacher. Later a bus was bought. As the mill grew and more houses were built, more families and children moved in. Mrs. Nelson left and Mrs. McGee took 1st and 2nd grades...Mrs. Foster taught 3,4 and 5 in the north part of the elementary building and Carl Binkley had 6,7 and 8 grades until the spring of 1954...Miss Bess Lamb and Mrs. Gold were High School teachers and them Mr. & Mrs. Covington joined them as the High School grew. There were other teachers during our stay, but some have slipped my memory. Mr. & Mrs. Hamilton came to Johnsondale...and she taught; also a Mrs. Cooper. All the time Carl was still there. We lived at Road's End for ten years; moved to Johnsondale for the last three years."

In June of 1943, a speech was given during graduation ceremonies. We unfortunately have found only page three of this speech which says: The Johnsondale school is now finishing its second year. Up until now, it has had a rather haphazard and unsettled existence as an emergency school. The new school building which we had hoped to use for tonight's exercises, will be completed and fully equipped for the opening of school next fall. Tonight we are honoring our first (elementary school) graduating class."

The first little school building was a two-room affair which was later remodeled and used as a dwelling. The Company deeded land to the school authorities from time to time to accommodate the growing needs of the children. The Elementary School, K through 8, was part of the Hot Spring's School District. The High School was one of the few branch schools in California, being part of the Porterville Union High School District centered some 65 curving miles to the west. The Elementary School eventually had four teachers: one for Kindergarten; one for 1st & 2nd grades; one for 3rd, 4th & 5th; and one for 6th, 7th & 8th. There were three High School teachers. In 1972, 112 students were enrolled with 31 of them in the High School which had all facilities including an athletic field. The R-Ranch church was the Kindergarten classroom, our Adult Center was the High School and our Teen Center was the Elementary School. One end of R-Cafe was the High School auto shop and the other end was the wood shop. Two of the High School teachers lived in cabins 339 and 333, and one of the Elementary School teachers was in 335. These cabins are currently Ranch employee homes. The graduating class would go on a trip at the end of the school year and would sell items to raise money for the trip. The school, in its final year, had a graduating class of one.


Little Hospital

Did you know that there used to be a little hospital here? It was located in cabin 315 behind the store. This U-shaped building accommodated the hospital in one wing and the Doctor and his wife in the other wing. The little hospital was more of an emergency room than an in-patient facility. People who needed more extensive medical care were taken down the mountain by car. Most births were in Kernville or Bakersfield. A part of the building caught fire and it ceased its functions as a hospital. Better roads made it easier to transport patients, removing much of the need for on-location hospital facilities. What remained of the building became a bunkhouse for single loggers and mill workers.


Dining Hall

The R-Ranch Dining Hall was originally divided in two sections: the kitchen and restaurant; and the bar with shuffle board, pool tables, juke box and tables for poker and card games. The restaurant was open to the public and a person could eat with the loggers by first calling and making reservations. Food was served family style at big tables. Verle and Opal Chaplin operated the restaurant and in 1979 said, "You should have seen it in its prime. The bar would be filled with people waiting to eat; the restaurant would have all its tables filled to capacity. All the people sat together at long tables. It was like a big family dinner. It was great." Aileen Piazza of the Pine Cone Restaurant in 1979 said, "I'm going to miss going up there for the wonderful dinners they have. They put big pitchers of milk on the table, big platters of meat, potatoes -- it was good." Hack Davis, who with his wife Ramona, lived there many years, said, "One time we had 96 houses full and three trailer parks. The pool hall and beer joint would get pretty lively on a Saturday night." As you face the dining hall, you may have noticed some stairs on the right hand side near the back of the building. These stairs led into Hilltop Coiffures, the beauty parlor of Johnsondale. There was also an Avon-Lady in town.


Elliot Hall, aka R-Ranch Dance Hall

Our Family Center used to be the social center, church and school auditorium. The new Community Hall, the Ranch Dance Hall, was built in 1951 and was dedicated to Joe Elliot, the Manager of Mt. Whitney Lumber Company under Bill Arblaster. Joe was instrumental in the planning and erection of the building. The main floor was 36 X 72 feet, the stage was 14 X 36 feet and the hall was finished inside with knotty cedar. Except for hunting, fishing, the annual rodeo and the roping club, there was little entertainment until the Company built the new recreation hall. The dedication of Elliot Hall was a major event in the mountain community.

Dances were held on Saturday nights with local residents playing Western music for dancing. Hack Davis occasionally played guitar for the band. Sometimes there was a visiting band. Although the dances were open to the public, it was mostly attended by residents. Sometimes men at the dances became rowdy so the Deputy Sheriff was usually there on Saturday nights. The school also used Elliot Hall for its graduation ceremonies, pot lucks for school fund raisers, and plays and entertainment for the holidays. Every year the women of the town put on a Christmas party in the Hall and every child got a present.

Other activities that took place in the Hall included Boy Scouts, card parties, loggers' union meetings, business meetings, roller skating on wooden wheels and ping pong. It also housed the town library and served as a movie theater. The Madrigal Singers, from Porterville High School, entertained in the Hall on an annual basis. Church services were held in the Hall on Sundays and Bible studies on Wednesday nights. Services were conducted by a non-denominational, resident minister who worked in the mill. Baptisms usually took place in Kernville or Bakersfield. Archie & Oleita Harrison were the first couple married in the new Elliot Hall.


Other Buildings

The ROA Office used to be the Mt. Whitney Lumber Company Office and the big tree is still there. The Post Office was located across from the dining hall and is the cabin with the flag in front. The Company had a gas pump located across from the Post Office by the R-Ranch in the Sequoias log sign where gas was sold for 25ยข a gallon. There was a volunteer Fire Department with a 1935 Ford fire truck owned by the Company. The trucks were kept full of water. The reservoir up on the hill was also used for fires. There was a loud whistle in town run off the steam generated by burning wood chips in the burner. The whistle would blow twice in the morning for the start of work, at lunch time, quitting time and for fires. The children kept track of the time by listening for the whistle. The storage shed near the U.S. Forest Service used to be the maintenance barn for the gypo's trucks. "Gypo" was the term used to describe the employees of another company who did business for the Mt. Whitney Lumber Company; i.e. the tree fallers at one time. Up the hill, on the other side of the bridge by the Forest Service, was another maintenance barn/truck shop.


Social Life

Box socials were a popular activity at one time. Ladies would pack a picnic basket and all the baskets were then gathered in one place. Men would make bids for the baskets, and the highest bidder would not only get the picnic lunch, but a picnic-date with the woman who prepared it. John McNally would put on a rodeo each year and Bill Arblaster would invite many people to attend. It was held in our current horse arena. Loggers would pull their rigs up on the road to block people from watching the rodeo free from the road. "Old Town" is an R-Ranch term, but the area was always used to keep horses, hay and tack.

The youth enjoyed many activities, mostly oriented to the outdoors: fishing; hunting for quail, dove, deer and bear; riding horses; swimming in the creek and even in the pond with the logs in it; ice skating on the pond. One time when the ice was very thick, someone pulled a sled across the lake by car. The log soaking pond was larger than our current lake. Volleyball, basketball and tennis were played where the Ranch tennis courts are located. Football and baseball fields were where the swimming pool is today. There were sled parties, bonfires, and the usual "hanging-out" at friends' houses listening to or playing music. Biking and hiking were favorite activities, and the youth loved to hike up Capital Rock. "Ditch 'em", a hide and seek game,was popular and sometimes played with automobiles.


Hard times

Johnsondale has had its share of hardships, mostly connected with the elements. There have been three floods since the mill opened, and one time it rained for five days and nights. Each time the flood came, the mill pond broke, once taking the burner, machinery and several buildings with it. Jim Richards, former head of security at the R-Ranch, remembers logs flowing out of the pond into the river and eventually destroying part of the bridge at Kernville.

The winter of 1937 was one of the most severe ever experienced in the area. The snow reached an unprecedented depth, and the thermometer dropped to 24 degrees below zero. The CCC men were living in tents and suffered severely from this extreme cold. Since the road to Hot Springs was closed by snow, food, powder and other supplies were packed in on horses. This same winter thousands of deer perished being caught in the snow drifts and many deer fell through the ice on the Kern River. It was the greatest loss of wildlife in this area of which we have any knowledge. Oleita Harrison remembers having a six foot high fence around her house and the snow one year being piled up higher than the fence.


Closing of the Mill

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