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

First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo-Remembered in Merced County

Behind the name of anything that honors an individual is a story.  Here is the story of a soldier’s sacrifice and a memorial to that life.  

First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo.  Photo from Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund http://www.vvmf.org

First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo.  Photo from Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund http://www.vvmf.org

Often, that story is told briefly on a dedication plaque.  Sometimes, it is up to others to tell a little bit more.

This is about the life of Peter Gallo whose sacrifice on the battlefields of Vietnam is remembered now with the veterans’ center recently named in his honor.

The First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center is located on the Merced College campus.

The Gallo Memorial Foundation worked with the College to provide a gift of eighty-thousand dollars to help remodel the existing Veterans Resource Center and to name it for the soldier who lost his life in the Vietnam War.

Plaque behind the entrance sign at the First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center at Merced College.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Plaque behind the entrance sign at the First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center at Merced College.  Photo by Steve Newvine

A brief story about First Lieutenant Peter Gallo is told on the back of the sign in front of the Resource Center.  

It reads in part that he was born in 1946, attended Livingston High School, Merced College, and Cal Poly.  

He enlisted in 1966, graduated from Officer Candidate School, and became an armor instructor at Fort Lewis, Washington.

The plaque goes on to read:

“Gallo began his tour of duty in Vietnam on December 9, 1967. On March 30, 1968, at the age of22, and while serving with Troop C, 3rd Squadron,5th U.S. Cavalry, 9th Infantry division, 1st Lt. Peter Joseph Gallo was killed in action during Operation Kilo in Quang Tri Province.”

There’s more information on that bronze plaque.  

First Lieutenant Gallo was posthumously awarded a number of medals and honors.  He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The plaque does not mention that Peter was the son of Joseph Gallo, founder of Joseph Farms of Livingston in Merced County, one of California’s largest dairy farms.  

Joseph passed away in 2007 and his obituary mentions that Peter was killed in action during the Vietnam War.

Fast forward from the 1960s when Peter served in the Army, on through the early part of this century when his father passed, and now to the present time when veterans services are near the top of our awareness.

Merced College was already providing services to students who served in the military.  But there was a need to improve the physical location where those services were based.

It was that need to upgrade the facilities, coupled with a desire to honor the sacrifice of Peter Gallo that led the Gallo Foundation to fund the Merced College Veterans Resource Center remodel project.

Thanks to that gift and the vision to enhance the facilities for those who served and those who continue to serve, Merced College veterans now have a special place.  

It is a spot where they can relax, get help with problems unique to this category of student, and know that they are not alone in their higher education journey.  

Counselors are available.  

New friendships with other veterans can be fostered.  Dependents have a more visible resource.

The First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center is part of student life at Merced College.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center is part of student life at Merced College.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The idea behind the remodeled Veterans Resource Center was to give Merced College’s veterans a better place on campus.

Whether they needed someone to talk to or just a quiet space to be alone with their thoughts, the hope was to provide a little bit of everything.

The Gallo Veterans Resource Center serves approximately one-hundred, fifty veterans, active reserve, and their dependents.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The Gallo Veterans Resource Center serves approximately one-hundred, fifty veterans, active reserve, and their dependents.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Vice President of Student Services Michael McCandless says the Center is now a meeting place as well as a resource center.  

“We wanted a space that veterans could use inside and outside,” he says.   “(The Center is) an anchor to attract them to a place where they have the resources to be successful.”

More than one-hundred fifty veterans and their families are served through the Center.  

In addition to meeting space and counselors, other services include a lending library, computers, and printing services.

“The faculty and staff of the Center work hard to function as liaisons between student veterans and the campus community,”

Michael McCandless says.   

“They serve as advocates, spearhead fundraising opportunities, and work with student veterans in regard to access to educational and community resources.”

Some of the student veterans are on active reserve. That status frequently requires modifications in the way instruction is delivered.  Center staff often needs to intervene with instructors to help accommodate the student schedule. 

“This is a pro-active group,”

Michael McCandless says.   

”The Center has allowed the faculty and staff to interact closely with students and best learn how to serve and encourage success.”

That success is measured in many ways, from improvements in academic behaviors as well as in enhancement of support systems for these veterans. 

The legacy of Peter Gallo’s service lives on at the Veterans Resource Center named for him at Merced College.  Photo from Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund http://www.vvmf.org

The legacy of Peter Gallo’s service lives on at the Veterans Resource Center named for him at Merced College.  Photo from Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund http://www.vvmf.org

Thanks to the website Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund ( http://www.vvmf.org) , visitors can learn even more about Peter Gallo and others from that era who lost their lives in the war.  

Peter was born on January 29, 1946 and was killed in action on March 30, 1968.  

His war record, including honors received and the battles he fought are listed on the page dedicated to him.  

Beyond these facts, the website has a feature where people who knew a soldier as well as those who may not have known the soldier but wish to express their feelings can do so.  

Some of the testimonials help fill in a few more details about the kind of soldier First Lieutenant Gallo was.

John Mandrano of Greensboro, North Carolina was so moved by Peter’s service, he posted on the website:

“My heart aches by their loss of life and the loss by their friends and family. I'm deeply saddened. I will try to honor them by living a good and helpful life to others. Thank you for the posting by Peter's classmate about how they have not forgotten him. We are now connected by them....from the West Coast to the East Coast.... We are Americans. “

Peter J. Gallo served two years in the US Army.   Photo from FindADeath.com

Peter J. Gallo served two years in the US Army.   Photo from FindADeath.com

In another post, Vernon Cole recalled his high school classmate.  

“Peter, it's been 45 years and your high school classmates still talk fondly of you... You will never be forgotten. “

The First Lieutenant Peter Joseph Gallo Veterans Resource Center was completed in the early summer.  

A dedication was held in August.

Peter Gallo served his country, gave his life, and left many memories among family and friends.  His name is now linked forever with a Resource Center that helps other veterans, active military, and their families.  

It is a legacy that makes all of us proud.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His new book, California Back Roads- People and places among the palms and pines of Central California will be published in December

Off the Beaten Path- James Dean Memorial in Cholame, California

When I first saw the sculpture honoring movie star James Dean, I found it unusual.  I’m not a big fan of markers for tragic events. 

James Dean Memorial in Cholame, San Luis Obispo County, California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

James Dean Memorial in Cholame, San Luis Obispo County, California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

In this particular tribute, I found it odd that a memorial for the man killed in a car accident was steel wrapped around a tree.

Dean’s car accident in 1955 at the intersection of Highways 41 and 46 in San Luis Obispo County marked the end to a promising movie career. 

His death was the result of a collision of his sports car with another vehicle that authorities believed pulled out in front of Dean.

At that time, investigators believed speed was not a factor, but rather an apparent lack of visibility by the other driver.  Highway Patrol investigators believe the driver of the other vehicle likely did not see Dean’s car heading west on Highway 46. 

According to accounts at the time, neither that driver nor Dean's passenger were seriously injured.

Fans still bring flowers or drop coins at the James Dean Memorial.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Fans still bring flowers or drop coins at the James Dean Memorial.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The memorial is a piece of steel that wraps around a tree in the parking lot of the Jack Ranch Café, less than a mile away from the actual crash site.  

Bronze plaques explain the tribute and touch briefly on Dean’s career.  

This sign was placed at the junction of highways forty-six and forty-one in Cholame, San Luis Obispo County, California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

This sign was placed at the junction of highways forty-six and forty-one in Cholame, San Luis Obispo County, California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Even more interesting to me is the green highway sign at the intersection of highways 46 and 41.  That sign looks no different from other markers dedicating sections of roadways after police officers, first responders, or political leaders. 

This sign does not dedicate anything.  It says “James Dean Memorial Junction”.

Hopping out of my car to take a photograph of the sign, I couldn’t help but think about what it must have been like on that night in 1955.  James Dean, fresh from finishing the filming of the motion picture Giant, had returned to Hollywood from his location shoot in Texas.  

Having received a speeding ticket in Bakersfield earlier in the day, he might have considered flooring the gas pedal on this somewhat desolate highway. 

Investigators ruled out speed as a factor, so we can only presume he was just focused on his final destination. 

His death forever froze an impression on the minds of the generation that produced such stars as Natalie Wood and Dennis Hopper. Hopper had a small role in Giant.  

Natalie Wood worked with Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.  

Jack Ranch Café on Highway 46 in San Luis Obispo County, California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Jack Ranch Café on Highway 46 in San Luis Obispo County, California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

That era marked by James Dean’s death is celebrated at the Jack Ranch Café, a diner where the metal Memorial is maintained in the parking lot. 

The walls inside the Café are covered with photographs, paintings, and souvenirs of Dean.  Among the tee shirts, coffee mugs, and postcards, I spotted a photograph of Clint Eastwood with the operators of the Café. 

On another wall, there’s an enlargement of the speeding ticket Dean got near the intersection of highways forty-six and ninety-nine in Bakersfield. 

Some might say it’s over the top.  Some might ask why we still care.   

Clint Eastwood posed with the operators of the Jack Ranch Café when he visited the James Dean Memorial.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Clint Eastwood posed with the operators of the Jack Ranch Café when he visited the James Dean Memorial.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Every year, the Dean Memorial and the Jack Ranch Café are seen by tens of thousands of drivers passing by this lonely stretch of highway that connects Highway 101 to Interstate 5. 

Whether it is just a place to satisfy a curiosity, or a desire to visit a spot to recall the promise that James Dean's life held, the crash site and the accompanying memorial continue to fascinate visitors who take the time to go off the beaten path.

 

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  His new book on California will be published in December.

Bill Anderson, Classic Country in the Central Valley

In the circles of country music, Bill Anderson has been known as a singer and songwriter for nearly sixty years.  He has gold records, a house full of awards, and the affection of his peers not to mention his fans.

Country Music Singer and Songwriter Bill Anderson. Photo from Bill Anderson.com

Country Music Singer and Songwriter Bill Anderson. Photo from Bill Anderson.com

He performs October first at the Gallo Performing Arts Center in Modesto.  He’s performed in the Central Valley before, but this will be his first time playing at the Gallo.  

“We’ve been in Fresno once, Sacramento once, and we played the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield several years back,” Bill told me in a phone interview.

The Crystal Palace was owned by the late Buck Owens who lived in Bakersfield.  Buck passed away in 2005.

“I didn’t know him well, but one time we were seated together on a flight from Los Angeles to Nashville,” he recalled.  “We talked about songwriting and performing.  We agreed on some things, disagreed on some things, but I certainly enjoyed the conversation.”

Bill remembers the night he heard another Central Californian, Merle Haggard, perform a new song called Okie from Muskogee.  “It was the first time he performed the song on stage,” Bill recalled.  “I talked to him about it after the show.  Merle told me he wasn’t sure how audiences would accept the song given it had patriotic overtones.  I told him not to worry, “I think you have a hit.”

Okie from Muskogee, written by Merle Haggard and Roy Edward Burns, was a number one hit for Merle in 1969.  

Years later, Bill interviewed Merle for his satellite radio program.  Bill told Merle he was his favorite singer.  “A tear fell from his eye,” Bill told me.  “I made Merle Haggard cry.”

He also knew the Maddox Brothers and Rose, a popular family hillbilly band who settled in Modesto in the 1950s.  “I knew Rose rather well and was acquainted with Fred.  Rose ran a nightclub in Ocean City that I performed at back in the sixties.”

While Bill is looking forward to performing in the Central Valley, he wishes he could have traveled throughout the western states more back when he lived in LA in the 1970s.  “We could never bundle enough dates together to make it work,” he says.  

But this time around, he’s able to play the Gallo Center and the newly renovated performing arts center in Red Bluff.  The singer/songwriter plays about forty dates a year in addition to his regular performances at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

“There are some songs I do all the time during a live road performance,” Bill says.  “I can’t get off the stage unless I do Still.”

Still was a number one song written and sung by Bill in 1963.  It’s about a man lamenting a lost love and how he carries a torch after many years.  

Other songs in his catalog include Po Folks, about growing up in a household short on money but full of love; I Love You Drops about missing someone to the point of tears, and the iconic Tips of My Fingers which recalls the same lost love theme.  

Tips of My Fingers has been recorded by a number of country and pop artists including Roy Clark, Eddie Arnold, and even Dean Martin.

In recent years, he has collaborated with other songwriters on tunes that have blossomed into big hits.  Give it Away was co-authored by Bill with Jamie Johnson and Buddy Cannon.  It was a big hit for George Strait in 2006.  Whiskey Lullaby, a sad song about alcoholism, was written by Bill along with Jon Randall.  It was a duet hit for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss.

Bill hopes his fans leave his performances feeling satisfied and entertained.  He wants to be remembered as a good singer, and hopefully as an enduring songwriter.

As for his legacy, he says, “I don’t think much about a legacy, but I hope if I am remembered for anything, it will be for my songs.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His new book on California will be published in December.

Linden California’s Pride and Joy - Aaron Judge’s Hometown

Aaron Judge’s official Major League Baseball photo.  Photo from MLB.com

Aaron Judge’s official Major League Baseball photo.  Photo from MLB.com

Anyone with a passing interest in baseball likely knows Aaron Judge is the New York Yankees outfielder who has had an incredible rookie season in 2017.  

He is Linden, California’s pride and joy.

Aaron played his college ball at Fresno State University and his high school ball at Linden High. In high school, he played football and basketball in addition to baseball.

He set school records for football and was recruited by such schools as UCLA, Notre Dame and Stanford for football.  

But baseball was his favorite sport.  So he headed just a couple hours south from Linden down the road to play for Fresno State.    

The Yankees drafted him in the 2013 draft and he spent the next three years in the minors.  He hit a home run in his first Major League Baseball at bat and had his first grand slam just a few weeks later.

The downtown area in Linden, California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The downtown area in Linden, California.  Photo by Steve Newvine

In his hometown in Linden, there are few signs that this baseball superstar grew up, played baseball, or even has made it to the major leagues.  

On a visit in the late summer, one could find signs protesting a plan to locate a Dollar General Store in the community, a banner at Linden High generating interest in the start of football season, and a poster promoting an upcoming church dinner.  

Recently, small signs noting Linden as the home of Aaron Judge have been put up at the city limits.

While there may be few outward signs of this hometown star, many who live and work in Linden have not forgotten Aaron.  On the streets downtown, a merchant told me there’s a lot of interest in Judge and he’s often asked by visitors about the Yankee star’s connection to Linden.

A mural covers the upper interior walls of the mailbox section of the Linden Post Office.  Photo by Steve Newvine

A mural covers the upper interior walls of the mailbox section of the Linden Post Office.  Photo by Steve Newvine

At the local post office, there’s a special mural commemorating the history of this farming community.  There’s nothing on the mural yet about the Yankee outfielder, but there’s hope that someday Aaron’s likeness will be on display prominently in Linden.

Eric Weber is the athletic director at Linden High.  While Eric was not the athletic director when Aaron went to high school, he is proud of all the success this sports star has achieved in such a short period of time.

Linden High School is proud of their alumnus Aaron Judge.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Linden High School is proud of their alumnus Aaron Judge.  Photo by Steve Newvine

“We’re very happy about his accomplishments,” Eric said.  “He is a humble person, respectful of his roots, and has an excellent work ethic.”

Those accomplishments include hitting thirty home-runs by the all-star break in 2017.  That achievement beats a record set by Joe DiMaggio.

Aaron has been a tremendous addition to the Yankees, and he’s brought a lot of positive attention to Linden.

The baseball field at Linden High School where Aaron Judge played.  He was also a star football player at Linden High.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The baseball field at Linden High School where Aaron Judge played.  He was also a star football player at Linden High.  Photo by Steve Newvine

It’s really exciting for this young man, from a small town, to create so much attention. You wouldn’t believe all the media who have been calling us.
— Eric Weber

That media includes the national sports magazines, television networks, and sports radio.  All are following Aaron Judge’s remarkable year.

And the community of Linden, as well as the entire Central Valley, is sharing in some of that spotlight.

 

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His new book about California will be published in December.