Going Beyond Common Course Courtesy

Asking a stranger to join in a round of golf is common course courtesy.  Asking a second time is a special gift.

 Brilliant red flowers frame the putting green at Stanislaus Golf Course in Modesto.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Brilliant red flowers frame the putting green at Stanislaus Golf Course in Modesto.  Photo by Steve Newvine

I was waiting my turn at the first tee at a Central Valley golf course.  My thoughts were centered on a solo round where I might work on some new clubs, drop an extra ball if it did not hold up play, and just be alone with my thoughts.  

When the pair in front was far enough away to assure me it was safe to tee off, my plans for a solo round were about to change.

A golfer in a motorized cart pulled up near my golf bag and pull cart.

“You can go in front of me,” I told the older golfer who sat behind the wheel of the cart.  “I’m walking.”

“Wanna play together?” he asked.

“No, that’s all right,” I said.

I really didn’t want to play with someone else.  I have a regular golf partner and get plenty of socializing when we get together for a round every few weeks.

 When I’m not playing with my regular golf buddy, I go out alone. I’ve grown accustomed to playing alone. I just wanted nine holes of solitude: me and the course.

“You sure you don’t want to play together?” he asked once more.  “I really don’t mind.”

“Okay,” I said.  I didn’t want to belabor the conversation.

“I’m Tony,” he said extending his hand.

“Steve,” I said completing the handshake.

My scorecard would show I ended several shots over par.  But as what usually happens in a story about golf, this is not about the score.

Our conversation started over where our opening drives landed.  We covered missed approaches, clutch putts, and places where we’ve played over the years.

He told me about his older brother who became a golf professional shortly after taking up the game.  Sadly, his brother had passed away a few years ago.

Then it got even more personal.

“You married Steve?”

“Yes, thirty-eight years this summer.”

I would soon learn that Tony lost his wife four years ago to cancer.  

“We would have made it to fifty-two years this July,” he told me.

He spoke about his two grown sons who live with him.  

“One of them likes to be confrontational,” he said.  His laugh told me more about why he liked to get out of the house and onto a course.  

“All the more reason to play golf,” I said to him.

We talked about why we love the game.  

“You can just come out here and forget about your bills,” he said.  “Forget your worries, forget anything and everything. Just think about hitting that ball.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that sentence,” I said.  That’s a phrase I use a lot when I hear something good.  My family is sick of hearing it, but Tony never heard it before.

Like all good things in life, a round of golf comes to a close.  We shook hands one last time. I thanked him for twice asking me to join him.

“I said no the first time, but you asked me again,” I said to him.  “And for that, I am grateful.”

“We had a good round, didn’t we?” he smiled.

“We sure did,” I said.  “Thank you.”

He adjusted his hat, put both hands on his motorized golf cart and said, “You’re welcome, my friend.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

He has authored California Back Roads, Stories from the Land of the Palm and the Pine.  It is available at Lulu.com

School Administrative Assistants- In Charge

Memories are stirring up about two outstanding secretaries who made a difference while I was going to school in the 1960s and 1970s.

 Mrs. Mekkelson, our high school principal’s secretary. Photo:  South Lewis School Yearbook.

Mrs. Mekkelson, our high school principal’s secretary. Photo:  South Lewis School Yearbook.

When we think about high school, there’s likely a favorite teacher that comes to mind.  Sometimes, our memories recall an administrator or guidance counselor who made a difference.

But for the graduates who have walked across the stage to receive their diplomas at my high school, there may be some special memories attached to two very special women.

They made the announcements in the morning, wrote out hall passes when necessary, or tended to unique problems that came about with students, their parents, and the faculty.

They would help keep bus routes on schedule, track down an administrator who was needed immediately in the school auditorium and ran an office with all the associated functions.

They were school secretaries. That’s what we called them back in the 1960s and 1970s.  They are known today as administrative assistants or similar titles that reflect their level of responsibility.

 An early picture of Christine Allen (now Christine Chaufty).  She would soon return to the school after graduation in 1971 and build a forty-seven year career in the administrative offices.  Photo: South Lewis year book.

An early picture of Christine Allen (now Christine Chaufty).  She would soon return to the school after graduation in 1971 and build a forty-seven year career in the administrative offices.  Photo: South Lewis year book.

At my alma mater South Lewis in upstate New York, Christine Chaufty retired at the end of the school year.  

She graduated from the school in 1971, and then went to work there as a secretary. With forty-seven years on the job, combined with six years in junior high and high school, she’s been part of South Lewis Junior/Senior High for fifty-three years.  

She was interviewed by the local paper in a story recognizing her service to the students at South Lewis. Her secret to success was very simple.  

She told reporter Jamie Cook, “I have always liked how people worked together here. It is one very large family here.”

Christine stayed in her hometown because she loved her life there.  She remained on the job at South Lewis because she cared about the students, her coworkers, and the school itself.  

She told the Watertown Daily Times, “I live and breathe South Lewis and I have always been happy here.”

Christine had many people to show her the ropes more than forty years ago.  Among them was Mrs. Laura Mekkelson, a school principal secretary who worked for the elementary and secondary schools I attended.  

 The Principal’s secretary at South Lewis School who enjoyed a long and prosperous retirement.  Photo: Legacy.com

The Principal’s secretary at South Lewis School who enjoyed a long and prosperous retirement.  Photo: Legacy.com

Mrs. Mekkelson, as I always called her, started her career at Port Leyden Central School long before I entered kindergarten.  When the school merged into the larger South Lewis district in 1967, she continued her work there until her retirement.

Mrs. Mekkelson passed away in June at the age of 96.  Her family made sure her obituary announcement captured the kind of person she was.  

She went to a business school after high school graduation.  She worked for the Ration Board during World War II.

Her working career missed a full inclusion within the computer age, but that didn’t stop her from becoming a master at her own computer that she bought when she was seventy.  She was skilled at spreadsheets and applied those skills to a number of volunteer activities.

Non-profit organizations appreciated her time and many credits her with bringing their organizations into the computer age.  

Her children and grandchildren looked forward to her emails. She did genealogy research, historical searches, and would often go online just to find an answer to a question that had been tugging at her.  

Her obituary also described how much she was respected and loved by the students at the two schools where she served.  

The words sweet, compassionate, and understanding are used to describe how she was regarded by the students she knew from her forty-plus years of work as a principal’s secretary.

I spoke with Mrs. Mekkelson several years ago after delivering a copy of one of my books to her home.  She was a very special person.

 Christine Chaufty (third from the left) devoted a lot of her time away from work on such community endeavors as the Lyons Falls Farmers Market.  Photo: LivingInLewisCounty.com

Christine Chaufty (third from the left) devoted a lot of her time away from work on such community endeavors as the Lyons Falls Farmers Market.  Photo: LivingInLewisCounty.com

Graduating seniors will leave their high school days with a diploma in hand, and memories of friends and teachers.  

At my high school, this year’s class will remember Christine as a dynamic person who led by her example of enthusiasm for the job and the people who make the job special.  

For alumni like me, we’ll appreciate Christine for those same reasons.

And we’ll call to mind another school secretary who loved her job, was respected by students, contributed her talent to her community, and was adored by her family.  

Mrs. Mekkelson’s life of purpose will be remembered by all who knew her.

Both women made an impact on thousands of people at the schools where they worked.  

A Journey of a Lifetime Cycling Through Merced

Francois Hennebert is a bicyclist from France who takes his recreational activities seriously.  

 Francois Hennebert is a long way from his native France, but he’s enjoying California and the western states as he travels from Mexico to Canada on his bicycle.  Photo: Steve Newvine

Francois Hennebert is a long way from his native France, but he’s enjoying California and the western states as he travels from Mexico to Canada on his bicycle.  Photo: Steve Newvine

François has cycled all over the globe and is currently on a four-month, twenty-five hundred mile journey that started in Guadalupe, Mexico in March and is expected to end in Vancouver, British Columbia in July.

 François enjoyed his repair pit stop at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

François enjoyed his repair pit stop at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

One way to get from Mexico to Canada is to cycle through the Golden State.    The trip has already taken him through the desert of Death Valley and to the high peaks at Yosemite National Park.

He encountered a tire and wheel problem while in Yosemite, so he sought out the help of a professional.

 Francois inspects the tire that was damaged on his bicycle.  His tire and wheel were fixed at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced and he was on his way after a couple of hours.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

Francois inspects the tire that was damaged on his bicycle.  His tire and wheel were fixed at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced and he was on his way after a couple of hours.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

His bicycle wear and tear problem led him to Kevin’s Bikes in the Save Mart Plaza at Olive and G Streets in Merced.

For the better part of an afternoon in the week before Memorial Day, Francois watched as the staff at Kevin’s Bikes repaired the wheel and got the bike back in tip-top shape.

The staff at Kevin’s Bikes understood the problem and knew immediately what needed to be done.  While the staff worked on the bike, Francois kept everyone entertained with his stories and his personality.

I would have missed the story entirely had I not run into an associate who was leaving the shop with his own repaired bike.  As he relayed the story to me, I was hooked. I went inside to meet Francois Hennebert.

 Francois Hennebert estimates he has put over forty-five thousand miles on his bicycle.  His current trip from Mexico to Canada will add another twenty-five hundred miles, and probably many more miles as he takes various detours to see the western United States.  He’s shown here with Kevin from Kevin’s Bikes. Photo: Steve Newvine

Francois Hennebert estimates he has put over forty-five thousand miles on his bicycle.  His current trip from Mexico to Canada will add another twenty-five hundred miles, and probably many more miles as he takes various detours to see the western United States.  He’s shown here with Kevin from Kevin’s Bikes. Photo: Steve Newvine

He spoke hardly any English, but he was able to understand some of my questions.  He wrote his name on the paper I was using to make notes. He also provided a web address where he maintains a site dedicated to telling the stories of his worldwide bicycling adventures.

In 2008, Francois and a group of one-hundred people cycled from Paris to Beijing China.  That trip took one-hundred, forty days with all but twenty of those days spent on a bike seat.  

That trip is five-thousand, one-hundred miles (or eight-thousand, two-hundred kilometers).

In 2010, he bicycled in South America.  That trip started in Buena Aires, Argentina.  

Anyone who understands French can read about it at his website velo.hennebert.fz  

 Francois at the Great Wall of China during his 2008 trip with one-hundred other bicyclists that took them from Paris to Beijing.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

Francois at the Great Wall of China during his 2008 trip with one-hundred other bicyclists that took them from Paris to Beijing.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

The Mexico to Canada trip has been a dream come true for Francois, who is seventy-two years old.  So far, he has seen the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Yosemite National Park.

During these trips, he tries not to bike every day.  If he’s on schedule, he’ll take time to enjoy the vistas, meet people, and rest.  

Usually, he camps in a small tent. He lives his bicycling life on the road with backpacks and saddlebags carrying all he needs.  He’s prepared for just about any emergency. A highway map is with him at all times.

  This is the luggage Francois carries with him on his bike as he travels all over the globe.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

 This is the luggage Francois carries with him on his bike as he travels all over the globe.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

Whether it was the universal language of bicyclists, or just the common decency of being a good neighbor, anyone who stopped in Kevin’s Bikes that spring afternoon enjoyed the company of Merced’s international visitor.  

Francois guesses that he’s put about seventy-three thousand kilometers (or forty-five thousand miles) on his bicycle.  

With all those miles, repairs are just part of what most cyclists expect as they put their bikes through some of the toughest tests imaginable.  

 This is Francois’ bike loaded with his travel bags.  This picture was taken from a South American journey in 2010.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

This is Francois’ bike loaded with his travel bags.  This picture was taken from a South American journey in 2010.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

Upon arrival later in the year in Vancouver, Francois will fly back to France and get to work on planning his next bicycling adventure.

“Thailand and Laos,” he told me when I finally phrased the question about his future travels in a way he could understand.   

And after a slight pause, and a smile, he was quick to add, “Maybe.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His new book California Back Roads is available at Lulu.com

Merced Falls- A Ghost Town with a Great Story

There was a time from the late 1800s until the early 1940s when the town of Merced Falls in northern Merced County was a center of commercial activity.

   The Yosemite Lumber Company employed 1,000 workers in the early part of the 1900s.  Photo from: Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

 The Yosemite Lumber Company employed 1,000 workers in the early part of the 1900s.  Photo from: Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

The gold rush created dozens of towns for the thousands of workers and families that would come to the Sierra Mountains and other western locations.  

Merced Falls was born of the gold rush but continued to flourish thanks to the need for lumber and an abundance of tourists.

At its peak, Merced Falls had a large lumber mill that employed one-thousand workers.  There was plenty of housing, a store, movie house, and a school.

A railroad served the logging industry and provided passenger service to take people to Yosemite National Park.

Like a lot of these booming areas in California in the early 1900s, times changed.  

Automobiles became more common reducing the need for railroad travel. Once the lumber mill closed in 1942, it was only a matter of time before Merced Falls became a ghost town.

  This railroad serviced the Merced Lumber Company as well as tourists interested in seeing Yosemite National Park.  Photo: Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

This railroad serviced the Merced Lumber Company as well as tourists interested in seeing Yosemite National Park.  Photo: Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

Thanks to an exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum, we can explore dozens of restored photographs depicting life in Merced Falls during those boom years.  We can see how a typical worker slept and lived in a company bunkhouse.

We can understand the reasons why this focal point of commerce in Merced County declined and left only a few visual reminders from that era.

The exhibit is made possible by the County Courthouse Museum, the UC Merced Library, and some individuals who loaned their family photographs and technical expertise.  The Society and the Library co-present the exhibit entitled Yosemite Lumber Company, Merced Falls.

  The intersection where Merced Falls Road begins going north was once a thriving business center.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The intersection where Merced Falls Road begins going north was once a thriving business center.  Photo by Steve Newvine

As great as the exhibit is with its photographs, artifacts, and skilled docents explaining some of the finer details, to truly experience what was Merced Falls one should actually travel to the site of that former company town.

It is relatively easy to get to the major intersection of Merced Falls.  Taking highway 59 or Merced’s G Street to the community of Snelling, Merced Falls Road runs east just as one is leaving town.  

About four miles from that intersection, the road takes a sharp northern turn toward the Mariposa County line. That intersection where the sharp northern turn happens is approximately the center of the former Merced Falls.

  The plaque placed at the site of Merced Falls by the group E Clampus Vitus, Estanislao Chapter No. 58.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The plaque placed at the site of Merced Falls by the group E Clampus Vitus, Estanislao Chapter No. 58.  Photo by Steve Newvine

There’s a plaque marking the site.  The group E Clampus Vitus placed the marker there in 1970.  It reads in part: The flour and woolen mills were built in 1854 and 1867.  

The town was destroyed by fire in August 1895. Yosemite Lumber Co. had a large mill here from 1912 until 1943.

Heading up the first incline in these foothills, the Mariposa County line is less than a half-mile away.  Commerce flourished when Merced Falls was in its heyday, but there is very little left to show.

  Some foundations and these structures are all that remain of the once busy community of Merced Falls. Photo by Steve Newvine

Some foundations and these structures are all that remain of the once busy community of Merced Falls. Photo by Steve Newvine

Heading south down the incline to the intersection near the Hornitos Bridge, the remains of a couple of buildings can be spotted from the road.  Fencing prevents the curious from getting too close to the structures.

As the exhibit explains, there were flour mills, wool mills, and even a stage-coach stop in the community in the late 1800s.  These mills burned. In 1912, the Yosemite Lumber Company started operations in Merced Falls.

  Loggers with a really big tree that would eventually be cut at the sawmills of Yosemite Lumber Company.  From Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

Loggers with a really big tree that would eventually be cut at the sawmills of Yosemite Lumber Company.  From Merced Lumber Company, Merced Falls exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

Back in those days, lumberjacks would deliver thousands upon thousands of logs that came from the higher elevations including El Portal.  A rail line, as well as the Merced River, kept busy moving the logs from the forests to the mill.

Some UC Merced students have been busy studying the area and some of the artifacts that have been contributed to the Museum’s effort to tell the story of Merced Falls and the Yosemite Lumber Company.

Being out in the open countryside looking at the remaining structures can get the imagination going.  What was it like back then when this area was an active and thriving community? What factors contributed to the decline of Merced Falls’ commercial backbone?  

What would Merced County look like today had the Yosemite Lumber Company either continued operation or a new business had moved in to replace it when YLC closed?

  The Merced County Courthouse Museum has created this display that suggests what a worker in a Yosemite Lumber Company bunkhouse might have had.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Merced County Courthouse Museum has created this display that suggests what a worker in a Yosemite Lumber Company bunkhouse might have had.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The general story is clear:  Merced Falls was a gold rush boom town that continued to thrive through the mid -1900s thanks to the Yosemite Lumber Company, the Merced River, and a rail line.  

There are likely many reasons why it could not survive longer. Some point to the automobile. Some point to the shift in the population centers of the San Joaquin Valley as well as the Bay Area.  

There are, no doubt many reasons.

Thanks to the efforts of the Merced County Courthouse Museum, UC Merced, and some key individuals who wanted the history of Merced Falls to be preserved, more answers are now available for future generations to study and appreciate.  

They are on a journey to learn more.

All it takes to be part of that journey is to take a short drive away from the City of Merced to see what remains of this historic site.

 

The Merced County Courthouse Museum is open Wednesday-Saturday from 1:00 to 4:00 pm

An interactive map of the Merced Falls area as it once was will soon be available on ArcGIS.com

 

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  His book California Back Roads is available at Lulu.com

  

California Back Roads. A preview of my new book

  California Back Roads is my eleventh book

California Back Roads is my eleventh book

California Back Roads is my eleventh book.  I’ve taken about three-dozen essays, many from my regular column here on MercedCountyEvents.com, updated each with new information, added a few essays from other publications, and included some never-before-seen material to create this book.

The book starts with an explanation of the “where the palm meets the pine” phrase we often hear about Central California.

 MercedCountyEvents.com webmaster Brad Haven told me my January 2016 column on the palm and the pine was among the most popular essays I’ve done in terms of web hits, shares, and visits.  

That seemed like a good phrase to use in the title and a good start to the book.

 

  • places

  • people

  • heroes

  • golf

  • music

  • ...And postscripts.  

 

The places section includes stories about the All Souls celebration in Hornitos and the Port of Stockton.  

The people section includes the story of Joe and his 1953 Chevy: a car he’s held on to since he drove it off the new car lot over sixty years ago.  

The heroes section remembers the brave men who defended our nation in the military as well as the people who go above and beyond in their support of our armed forces.

The essays on golf include my farewell round of golf at Stevinson Ranch from a few years ago.

The music section features a popular piece I wrote last summer about the Central Valley’s connection to the legacy of Tony Bennett.

Every page in the book connects to California; most of the stories relate to my experiences here in Merced County.

 This drawing is included in the children’s fiction story The Giant Bulldozer, co-written by my wife Vaune.  The story is based on the real giant bulldozer at United Equipment Company in Turlock

This drawing is included in the children’s fiction story The Giant Bulldozer, co-written by my wife Vaune.  The story is based on the real giant bulldozer at United Equipment Company in Turlock

bulldozer 2.jpg

There’s also something new to my writing- a collaboration with a writing partner.  

My wife Vaune joined me for a children’s short story I have included in this collection.  We present The Giant Bulldozer, inspired by the real thing at United Equipment in Turlock.  Here’s a preview:

The next morning Kasper bid goodbye to Mommy and Daddy as they left for their vacation before they ate breakfast.  

During breakfast Gram said, “Gramps has a surprise for you Kasper.”

“You do Gramps? What is it?”

Gramps laughed.  “Have you ever seen a bulldozer as big as a house?”

“No.  That sounds silly.”

“Well after breakfast we are going on a ride to see it.”

After breakfast was cleaned up, Gram strapped Kasper into the child seat in Gramps car.  Then all three of them headed off to see the great big bulldozer.

They drove to a place called United Equipment Company where Gramps turned off the car, got out, and unlatched Kasper’s seat.  

“Take my hand,” Gramps said.  “Let’s go find that bulldozer.”

After a short walk through the parking lot, Kasper spied the giant bulldozer. His eyes grew large with wonder.  His mouth opened wide.  He was speechless.

“What do you think?” Gramps asked him.

“It’s as big as a house!” Kasper exclaimed.

Gram and Gramps laughed.

I hope you like this book.  Thank you for taking the time to read the columns posted here on MercedCountyEvents.com.  

My best wishes to your family and you in this holiday season and happy New Year in 2018.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  California Back Roads is now available through this link:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/steve-newvine/california-back-roads-stories-from-the-land-of-the-palm-and-the-pine/paperback/product-23431833.html