Friday, February 15, 2019

Trask is Dummer

Judge D. K. Trask, circa 1900
On the list of strange Orange County street names, Trask Avenue ranks right up there with Heil Avenue, Meats Avenue, and Weakfish Lane. Trask runs about eight miles through Westminster and Garden Grove, passing such landmarks as the Brodard Chateau restaurant, the Garden Grove Elk’s Lodge, car dealerships, Leroy L. Doig Intermediate School, and the headquarters of the Orange County Motorcycle Club. But where did Trask Avenue get its odd moniker?

The surname Trask refers to those from the North Yorkshire town of Thirsk, which Norse invaders originally named Tresc or Trask – meaning marsh. Although Westminster was pretty marshy in its day, the street’s name is actually a reference to the unfortunately named Dummer Kiah Trask (1860-1914).

Trask was an Ohio native who spent his formative years in Maine. He came to California in 1882, initially living in Stockton where he taught school, studied law, sat on the board of education, and served as principal of a business college and normal school.

In 1887 he married Ida C. Folsom (1860-1922). Together they would have four children: Ida Mary Trask (1889-1975), Dummer F. Trask (died in infancy in 1891), Dorothy Kate Trask Goodrich (born 1897) and Walter Folsom Trask (1896-1919).

In 1890 the family moved to Los Angeles, where “D. K.” set up a law practice and served briefly on the L.A. Board of Education. In 1898, Governor James Herbert Budd appointed him to a vacancy on the Superior Court of Los Angeles. Trask was reelected to a full six year term as judge in 1900, and for a few months in 1905 he was even discussed seriously as a candidate for governor.

Andy Osterdahl, on his blog, The Strangest Names In American Political History, writes that in early 1906, “…Trask (while still serving on the bench) accepted the presidency of the Consolidated Realty Company, which had been 'organized for the purchase of business property' in the city of Los Angeles.”

Trask did not run for re-election in 1906. Instead, Osterdahl writes, he "formed the law firm of D.K Trask and Co. and was also active in a number of non-political areas, being a longstanding member of the Knights of Pythias Lodge … and in 1910 was elected as president of the Jefferson Club of Los Angeles. Trask also held a seat on the Los Angeles Police Commission, entering into that office in 1909.”

In 1910, Trask purchased seventy acres in Westminster, bordered by today’s Trask Ave. on the north, Westminster Ave. on the south, Richardson Way on the west, and Beach Blvd. on the east.

D. K. Trask died of a stroke on March 12, 1914 while in the middle of ‘trying a lawsuit’ in probate court. Ironically, he died without a will. Ownership of the Westminster property ultimately became half owned by his widow, Ida, with the rest split evenly between his three living children. So far, no evidence has been found that the Trasks ever actually lived on this property.

When Trask Avenue received its current name is unknown, but references to it can be found as early as May 1926 when the road was significantly widened and improved.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Ranney Street, Garden Grove

Excelsior Dairy ad from the Santa Ana Register, 1916.
Alert reader Steve writes: "I recently ran across Ranney Avenue in Garden Grove and wondered who it was named after or what its history is. Do you know anything about it?"

Walter D. Ranney founded the Excelsior Dairy in 1915. This successful business was later run by his sons. The dairy was headquartered on Westminster Blvd in Garden Grove. The ranch covered the area between Taft and Wright (Brookhurst) Streets -- Today’s Ranney Street runs right through the middle of it. The company was dissolved in 1954, but the Ranney's Excelsior Creamery Co. in Santa Ana continued to operate for some time thereafter.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Tree/Stump Remover That Broke the Groves

Weldon Field yanks a tree out of the ground – roots and all. (County of Orange photo)
Along with the Post Brothers plow and the Carroll Beet Dump, Weldon Field’s stump remover is one of the most historically significant pieces of heavy agricultural equipment in Orange County’s history. This custom-built tree-removing machine fell off everyone’s radar screen for a few decades, but perhaps at least a small version of it has resurfaced.

In the 1930s, fruit and nut groves dominated Orange County’s landscape and economy, and the removal of sick or dying trees was an important step in the agricultural process. Young mechanic and Orange High School graduate Weldon Lane Field (1908-1990) grew up in McPherson – now part of Orange – and spent countless hours helping his citrus rancher father dig up trees. As he did, he came to envision a mobile device that could tear trees from the ground, roots and all, saving hundreds of man hours each year.
Weldon Field and wife Mildred, 1937. (Orange Public Library photo)
Field bought a Caterpillar crawler tractor and began to deconstruct and rebuild it to match his vision. He modeled his machine after a boot jack. To the tractor frame and engine he added a large V-shaped pulling implement, ten heavy cables, two huge “duck feet”, connecting gears, old car parts, wooden-spoked wheels, a transmission lock-out, and other bits and pieces.

"Once the tree was caught within the steel V, the machine's approximately sixty-ton force lifted it straight up from the ground,” wrote Francesca Russello Ammon, in her book, Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape. “Then the operator would use a shovel and chain to pull up any roots that had broken off during the process. Beginning in the late 1930s, Field applied his stump puller to the removal of trees damaged by disease, gophers, or frost in Orange, Los Angeles, and Riverside Counties.
In the groves, a group including Field (right), stands with his machine. (County of Orange photo)
“The period after World War II offered even greater opportunities for his stump puller. As Field recalled, ‘I pull the old seedling walnuts when they were taking out the walnut trees around here and putting in citrus. I pulled a lot of those with it. Then eventually I pulled the citrus trees out for houses.’"

 The process, including uprooting, clean-up and grading the land, generally cost developers about a dollar per tree.
Weldon Field with his tree puller at the U.C. South Coast Field Station, 1970. (O.C. Register photo)
The population boom of the 1950s and early 1960s saw the conversion of Orange County from a primarily agricultural area into suburbia. Driving this change was a high demand for housing, a disease called “quick decline” destroying orange groves, and new modes of tax assessment that punished farmers for farming.

By the time Field retired, around 1963, he figured he’d torn out 350,000 trees with the machine – most of them citrus.

In 1970, Field brought the machine (and himself) out of retirement to remove experimental trees at the University of California’s South Coast Field Station in Santa Ana. It may have been used there for a number of years.
(L to R): HB&P Ranger Rich Huffnagle, GSA’s Bob Erskine and Manuel Garcia with tree puller at a County of Orange facility, Fall 1994. (Orange County Archives photo)
Field died in 1990, and four years later the Orange County Harbors Beaches and Parks Department (HB&P) acquired his stump remover. An article in the Orange County Environmental Management Agency’s Nov. 1994 newsletter, Inside EMA, noted some of the machine’s interesting features: “…In place of a dipstick, the engine has a float to indicate the engine oil level. There are also markings on the frame that indicated when the tree and stump remover was serviced and how much Weldon charged to remove trees. … George Key Ranch and areas around what is now Heritage Hill Historical Park also used Weldon’s services to remove diseased and dead trees.”

The article then gives us a hint as to the agency’s plans for the stump puller: “In cooperation with GSA/Transportation, Supervising Park Ranger Rich Huffnagle of HB&P/Coastal Facilities expects the [machine] to once again be operational and put on display at a county historical park.”

Over the years, HB&P morphed into OC Parks, and officials with that agency, including the Historical Parks division, seemed to have no idea that they’d ever even owned such a device. Had the machine gone missing or sold for scrap? Or was it right under the nose of someone why just didn’t know what it was?
Stump Puller seen in Victorville, California in 1996. (Photo by Richard Walker)
Finally, in late 2018, during a visit to the Orange County Archives, OC Parks Historic Resource Specialist Justin Sikora mentioned a similar machine that was stashed around the corner from the old Bennett House at the County’s Heritage Hill Historical Park in Lake Forest. A few days later, he sent a photo of the machine. At first, it seemed like a small version of a stump puller, but it turned out to be a hand-built deep well irrigation pump puller.

In 1996, vintage tractor enthusiast Richard Walker was at an auction in Victorville, and took several photos of a “shopbuilt stump puller mounted on a Caterpillar 22 crawler tractor, designed and built by mechanical master Weldon Field, of Orange...” The stump puller was not part of the auction and seemed to belong to the collector of farm equipment on whose property the auction was being held. 
Irrigation pump puller at Heritage Hill Historical Park, Dec. 2018. (Photo by Justin Sikora)
Was the machine donated to the County the same one seen in Victorville? We might need better photos of both to be sure. Walker writes, "Over the years Weldon fabricated several stump pullers on crawler tractors. The 22 was his last. I believe a previous version was built on an earlier Cat 30."

[Article updated 1/29/2019. Thanks to Richard Walker for answering some of the questions raised in the earlier version of this post.]

Friday, November 30, 2018

Juanita Lovret and Don Tryon

Orange County recently lost two more excellent local historians: Don Tryon of San Juan Capistrano and Juanita Lovret of Tustin.

I only spoke to Lovret briefly once or twice, but I've cited her articles many times. In addition to retelling important but oft-told tales, she also frequently and commendably delved into corners of Tustin's past that no one else had ever tackled. Lovret's fellow Tustin historian, Guy Ball, writes:

"It is with regret and sadness that [I] report Juanita Lovret’s passing recently at age 92.

"Juanita lived in the Tustin area her entire life, taught at Tustin High, was Tustin Woman of the Year in 1996 and was very active in the Tustin Area Historical Society. Juanita also wrote a weekly column ["Remember When"] in the Tustin News for many years and wrote two books about Tustin history.

"Her columns in the Tustin News focused on growing up in early Tustin as well as the earlier histories of so many of our leaders, institutions, and buildings. The [Tustin Area Historical] Society has republished a good number of her columns at http://tustinhistory.com/articles.htm...

"Details about a public memorial gathering will be forthcoming. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the [Tustin Area] Historical Society in Juanita’s memory. The family has also asked for people who knew her to send letters or cards to them describing their favorite memories of Juanita. These cards and letters can be mailed to: Remembering Juanita Lovret – c/o 13711 Yorba Street – North Tustin CA 92705."

Another great loss to our historical community this month was the passing of Don Tryon, who was always my "go-to guy" at the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. No study of a Capistrano-related topic was complete without a call to Don to see if he had more on the subject. He was always friendly and helpful. Don co-authored the book Images of America, San Juan Capistrano and wrote the regular "Old San Juan" column for The Capistrano Dispatch. His obituary from the Orange County Register follows:

"Don [Tryon] was born and lived most of his life in California, working primarily in the oil industry and raising a family. In retirement, he and his late wife, Mary Tryon, moved to San Juan Capistrano where they became active with the Historical Society, Mission Archeological team, and Fiesta Association.

From about 1990-2015, Don was the Archivist for the Historical Society, preserving the photographic legacy of San Juan Capistrano. During his tenure, the collection grew to over 9,000 photos. Don also served as a Cultural Heritage Commissioner, served on the County Historic Commission, was a Kiwanis; a longtime Chamber of Commerce member, and was a writer of historic facts and stories for various local newspapers. Don was selected as the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce 1999 Man of the Year and was commended in 2000 by the California Legislature for his exemplary record of civic leadership.

Don is survived by his wife since 2009, Penny, by his children Gail and Michael, and four grandchildren. [Ed - He was also married to Mary Ellen Tryon for 58 years until her death in 2008.] In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the San Juan Historical Society Building Fund, https://sjchistoricalsociety.com."

Goodbye to two more of the good ones.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Autumnal Updates

Irvine Park, circa 1920s. (Don Dobmeier Postcard Collection)
The good folks at Preserve Orange County asked if I'd add a link to their (very impressive) website on links roster. That made me realize that I hadn't updated those links in at least a year. So, after much weeding, pruning, and updating, the links on the right-hand side of this page are mostly up-to-date and functional again. Please browse and perhaps discover a few gems you'd missed in the past.

In addition to Preserve O.C., other new additions to the list include the Orange County California History group on Flickr, the Old Courthouse Museum Society, the Yorba Linda Historical Society, Newspapers.com, and a link to a sampling of articles from my old "O.C. Answer Man" column at Orange Coast magazine.

By the way, the Rancho Santa Margarita Historical Society seems to have fallen off the radar. Does anyone know if they're still active?

Friday, October 26, 2018

1890s Halloween: All tricks and no treats

Trick-or-treating is a rich American tradition, but it wasn't until the 1930s that it began to catch on as replacement for the just plain tricks (no treats) that were part of Halloween in earlier generations. A few examples from Orange County follow:
1891 -- John Gould of Tustin, confined to his bedroom all night for having caused trouble the previous Halloween, slipped out the window, went downtown and climbed a tree to sneak into the bell tower of the Presbyterian Church. He rang the bells as long as he dared, waking most of Tustin, and then rushed back home and back in through the open window before the authorities arrived. His grandfather told the cops that John "was up in his room all night."

1892 -- Among the reports from Santa Ana in the Nov. 6 edition of the Los Angeles Times: "Several businessmen of this city are still being inconvenienced by the questionable pranks of a gang of boys on Halloween." Halloween pranks that take five or six days to clean up after sound pretty serious.

1895 -- Some of the boys in Garden Grove decided to "round up" all the wagons and buggies of farmers in the surrounding countryside and leave them all at the blacksmith shop in town. It was dangerous business, as some folks couldn't tell the difference between a prank and out-and-out theft. In fact, one of the Garden Grove boys -- Seventeen-year-old Oscar Ingram -- took a shotgun blast from farmer Ira Woodman, whose carriage he was stealing. At first it seemed Oscar might die. He pulled through, but doctors never could get all the lead shot out of his back.

1895 -- Anything in Santa Ana that wasn't nailed down was moved to an unexpected spot during the night, including a spring wagon placed atop an outhouse at the grammar school. At least one lad, Ray Jones, was injured during the shenanigans when he was hit in the head by a large piece of lumber he was "liberating."

1898 -- Santa Ana boys took the nuts off the axels on a wood and hay delivery wagon, rendering it dangerous and useless until it could be repaired. Some of the pranks were pretty costly.

1899 -- "Halloween was celebrated in Santa Ana in the usual way by mischievous lads, and as a result many gates and other loose paraphernalia about the door-yards were missing this morning," reported the L.A. Times. Gates were a common target on Halloween. Pranksters would neighbors' garden gates from their hinges and then hide them elsewhere. Some were never found.

Attempts to deter young people from such behavior by distracting them with alternatives began early. At first parties were held -- sometimes by families and sometimes by organizations. Events sometimes included bobbing for apples, games involving fortune telling,and dinner involving special foods like tamales and pumpkin pie. Later, larger events like the Anaheim Halloween parade (1923) were held as a fun and harmless way to enjoy the season. And finally, trick-or-treating offered beleaguered citizens a chance to bribe their way out of mayhem with candy and other treats.

Not that plenty of people don't still cause trouble on Halloween, but most of that involves adults with alcohol, not kids with costumes.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Buena Park's mystery monster

Watch for falling arches. (Photo by Gnashes30)
In one of my old April Fools Day posts, I told you about Santiago Sam, the world's shortest bigfoot, who lives among the scrub brush of the Santa Ana Mountains. Now, here's another local bigfoot tale, but I promise I won't make stuff up like I tend to on April 1. (Or at least, I'll only doctor the last photo a little.)

On the night of Monday, May 10, 1982, five people called the Buena Park Police Department to report seeing an eight-foot tall, stinky, hairy, man-like creature walking through a concrete storm drain tunnel on Brea Creek behind Executive Park Apartments (7601 Franklin St.) Witnesses included three teenagers: Bennie Hinsley (18) and brothers Raymond (16) and Chris Bennett, who noticed the creature around 9:30 p.m. and watched it for about an hour.

“We could see the monster's shadow in the drainage ditch," Bennie told a UPI reporter. "We heard the water splash and then we smelled something awful."

It all matched what they knew about bigfoot. The young men also heard the creature made terrifying noises, like a cross "between Godzilla and a gorilla," before it headed west and out of view.
The delightfully mid-century Executive Park Apartments, as they appear today.
Frank and Lorraine Missanelli, managers of an adjacent apartment complex, said they’d heard but not seen the creature. "It roared and growled just like the dinosaurs in the movies,” said Frank.

Disappointingly, the monster didn’t show up for the "monster watch" attended by about a hundred people the following night. However, unexplained phenomenon investigators Dennis Ruminer and Tom Muzila of Special Forces Investigations, claimed to have found giant footprints and handprints near the mouth of the tunnel by using a divining rod and that they had made a  cast of the handprints.

They had less luck with the footprint. "We were looking around the mouth of the tunnel when someone shouted, "There's a track,'" recalled Ruminer. “There were a lot of people around, and as we went to look a kid stepped on the track. So we only saw the front part of the track. It was a humanoid foot with five big toe marks, about seven inches across the ball of the foot. Before we got a good clear look at it, another kid stepped on it and completely obliterated the track."
John DeHerrerra with his hobo photo.
The Buena Park Police Dept., annoyed with hundreds of calls from concerned monster-phobes, held a press conference and announced that they had investigated the area but found nothing out of the ordinary.

The police also introduced freelance photographer and "unexplained phenomenon" buff John DeHerrerra, who presented a photo of a "hobo" he'd taken while waiting for a chance to photograph the creature people had begun to call "Buenafoot." The hobo was only about 6'4", but DeHerrerra suggested that the hobo may actually have been the mysterious hairy hominid in question. The man in the photo was shirtless, covered in dark grease, and according to DeHerrerra, stank to high heavens. The public hubbub died down considerably when it was discovered that the cryptid creature was likely just a filthy bum.

Well, MOST were satisfied with the explanation. "A hobo doesn't walk in water, he walks along railroad tracks," said Frank Missanelli. "Plus, he smelled so bad that if he was on a freight train the engine would uncouple and go off by itself."

Already losing steam, the story still got enough attention that even Dan Rather covered it on the national CBS Evening News.
1960s photo at Knott's Berry Farm may indicate presence of cryptids.
Six years later, on the other side of Buena Park, Knott's Berry Farm announced its new Bigfoot Rapids ride. It was themed to the sort of wooded habitats where bigfeet (bigfoots? bigfootses?) supposedly are most common. (Sadly, the ride lacked any animatronic monsters leaping out of the woods at the passing ride vehicles.) Did Buenafoot provide any of the inspiration for this attraction? Will Buenafoot return to Buena Park any time soon? Does Buenafoot have as much trouble finding shoes in his size as I do in mine? Stay tuned.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Orange County Plain Dealer

Our Anaheim/Nixon/Disneyland friend Jason Schultz just added another 4,000 scanned pages of the Anaheim Gazette to the many old Anaheim newspapers he’s digitized and made available at YoreAnaheim.com. This amazing resource includes a brief history of the Gazette, and I thought Jason might also appreciate brief histories of some of the other Anaheim papers. Naturally, I began with the most obscure.  Here’s a slightly longer version of my history of the Orange County Plain Dealer, which Jason may or may not decide to use…

The Orange County Plain Dealer was launched in January 1898 – briefly in Fullerton, before moving to Anaheim, depending on which accounts one reads. Although it covered North Orange County generally, the newspaper’s focus was Anaheim-centric to the point that it was often incorrectly called the Anaheim Plain Dealer. The paper was originally owned and edited by James E. Valjean, the former editor of the Portsmouth (Ohio) Blade, a Republican, and the inventor of an improved stomach pump. He bought a small local paper called the Independent and built the Plain Dealer on its bones. The name of the new paper may well have been inspired by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in his previous home of Ohio. Once the new Orange County Plain Dealer became established, Valjean’s wife, Sarah Jane, moved from Ohio to Anaheim to be with him. In 1913, he made Earl R. Abbey (future Orange County Coroner) manager of the paper.

Shortly after a destructive fire at the newspaper plant and just prior to Valjean’s death in 1914, Abbey became the Plain Dealer’s publisher. Fred A. Chamberlain, also an employee of the paper, became editor. They purchased the paper and remained until 1916, when Paul Vincent Hester (editor) and Rolla Ward Ernest (manager) became the paper’s new co-owners and operators.

Ernest, going through an ugly divorce and looking for ways to lower his alimony, tried to sell his interest in the paper to Hester in 1923.  But Judge Cox put the kibosh on the sale.

On May 8, 1925, publishers Ernest and Hester sold the entirety of the Plain Dealer (by now an afternoon daily paper) to John S. Baker and his son-in-law, Anaheim Bulletin publisher Lotus Harry Loudon, for $35,000.  The afternoon daily was purchased with financial help from Loudon’s friends, developers Alfonso Bell (tennis star, oil tycoon and namesake of the communities of Bel Air, Bell, and Bell Gardens) and Phillip A. Stanton (politician who founded Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and Stanton). Louden and Baker immediately merged the Plain Dealer with the Bulletin.

Lotus H. Louden
A $90,000 libel suit against the Plain Dealer by Rev. James Allen Geissenger of the White Temple Methodist Church contributed to the newspaper's sale. The Plain Dealer had accused Geissenger of supporting the Ku Klux Klan’s recent takeover of Anaheim’s city government. However, hard evidence to support this claim could not be produced in court. The court forced Ernest and Hester to make a large payment to Geissenger, print a retraction on the front page (of the very last issue) of the Plain Dealer, and agree not to engage in newspaper work for at least fifteen years. Handing the reigns over to Loudon as publisher may have been one final slap at Geissenger and his associates, since Loudon was also an ardent adversary of the KKK. (Loudon was also a co-founder of the Anaheim Halloween Festival – where, he reckoned, dressing up like a bed-sheet ghost was more acceptable.)

Today, scattered issues of the Plain Dealer, beginning April 1898, can be found at the library at University of California Irvine's Special Collections. More complete runs of the Plain Dealer, from Sept. 1902 to March 1903 and from Jan. 1919 to May 1925, can be found on microfilm at the Anaheim Heritage Room. Of this latter collection, all but the issues from April 30, 1919 through December 1920 are now available at YoreAnaheim.com.