Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fresno, Clovis & Hanford, California

Sat - Nov. 27th

Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno was built by an Italian immigrant who came from Sicily in 1901. After a dispute with his father, who was giving all his business interests to the eldest son to manage, he left for America to become a citrus magnate on his own. Arriving in America, he worked five years as a subway digger on the first Big Dig to create the Holland Tunnel. When he had saved up some money to buy land, he moved to California. There he unfortunately purchased 80 acres of what turned out to be hard pan soil a few inches beneath the surface. The brutal heat of his first summer in Fresno drove him to carve out a couple rooms below the surface for a cool retreat.

One thing led to another. He tried growing some plants with success. He kept adding plants and rooms until he had an entire home, patios, grottos, gardens, reception room and banquet room all connected by tunnels. In the chapel he had a large bell with a rope that visitors could ring, so he would know there was company when he was working in his spectacular maze of rooms.

Open-air bath. He had an electric pump to pump water from his well to the bathroom, kitchen, aquarium, and fish storage pond. He went down to the river, caught fish and brought them back to store them in his pond, so he could have fresh fish anytime.

This is one of the bedrooms with fireplace for the winter. All the rooms had open ceilings for ventilation in the summer that were covered with glass during the winter to keep in the heat and let in the light. There were also doors between the rooms to keep in the heat.

This is the kitchen and dining room with stove, icebox and built-in pantry shelves. Each room had an open skylight decorated with fruit trees or grape vines. He built everything based on his knowledge of farming and Roman architecture in the Mediterranean.

Most citrus trees don't last over 40 years. This one and several others here are over 100 years old. Of the original 20 acres of excavated rooms and tunnels, there are only about 4 acres left. The rest was sold off in the name of progress and dozed under. Across a five lane road at Carl's Jr. , they have one of the original rooms that they use for storage.
Baldassare dug out his subterrainean oasis by hand with pick, shovel and wheelbarrow in his spare time between 1906 and 1946, while cultivating the acres above ground, making wine and selling produce. This tree was planted at the third level down, 25 feet below the surface. He had a Michelangelo quote in one room. "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

This tree originally had seven different varieties of citrus growing on it from grafts, 3 varieties of oranges, 2 of lemons, grapefruit and Italian citron (cedro) which can grow up to 7 pounds. Only three or four varieties remain today. He also grew kumquat, loquat, jujube, quince, strawberries, dates and several varieties of wine and table grapes. He found a way to defeat the heat and force the brick-like land to be productive. Every tree he planted would bear fruit.
There is glass in the center of his shallow aquarium. He had a table and chair below, so he could watch the colorful fish overhead. When he was asked why he kept digging, he said, "The visions in my mind overwhelm me". He did it all from his head, no plans, nothing written down.

The temperature is cooler in the summer by 10 to 20 degrees and warmer in the winter. Frost never touches the fruit and it hangs twice as long as it does on the surface. By 1923 ten acres were already excavated with about another ten done by Baldassare's death in 1946. There were 50 rooms, miles of tunnels on several levels and an auto driveway from one end to the other with arched niches along the way to park in.

This is the banquet room showing the arches that he used, making homemade bricks from the hard pan. The ceiling is the roof from a WWII dining hall. It was purchased and put on by his brother after his death.

Just outside Fresno, we stopped in Clovis "Gateway to the Sierras", to see a statue of Ken Curtis "Festus" of Gunsmoke from 1962 to 1975. He grew up in Bent County, Colorado where his father served three terms as sheriff. He was a veteran of WWII, a staff singer on NBC Radio, a featured vocalist with the Tommy Dorsey and Shep Fields orchestras and the Sons of the Pioneers. He had numerous movie and television roles before becoming Matt Dillon's deputy. He and his wife moved to Clovis in 1980 and he performed in the Clovis Rodeo in 1991 the day before he died.

Home Sweet Home at John's sister's place in Hanford. Free camping at Kathy's KOA is great! Thanks Sis.

Just down the street. This is what Christmas in California looks like.
I dedicate this blog to our special friend, Adam Hinojos, father of our friend JoAnn. We met Adam last year and spent lots of time with him during the month we were in Hanford. He passed away shortly before we returned this year. He was a WWII veteran, a Fresno State football fan and a very interesting and funny man. It was an honor and pleasure to know him.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hanford to the Coast

Mon - Nov. 15th

James Dean died at 24 years of age when he crashed his Porsche at a fork in the road 900 yards east of this marker, referred to as the Tree of Heaven. He was in several Broadway plays and three movies, East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant.

Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. The butterflies are here Nov. thru Feb. They blend right in with the leaves when they are closed up. They have been decreasing in number for the last dozen or so years, due to lack of rain and human encroachment. They need milkweed to lay their eggs. Between agricultural and residential growth, lots of milkweed plants have been pulled up.

In 1996 they had 150,000 butterflies here. Last year they had 17,000. If you want to help the butterflies, plant a few milkweed plants in your yard. From here we walked down a path to the beach that was next to the state campground.

It is beautiful here and we hope to spend some time here next year. Plans for this year are already made.

Just down the road, we ate lunch at a restaurant on the pier. Not all views are about the landscape.

These guys were attempting to surf just next to the pier.

Surfs Up!

Bird's eye view.

Arroyo Grande Creek Swinging Bridge (old town Pismo) was built in 1875 with no sides. Sides were added in 1902. Walking over a swinging bridge without sides sounds very scary to me, especially the way John bounces it every time we are on one.

There is a replica of a late 1800's train running around in the ice cream shop, including a replica of an 1876 engine. It was the Pacific Coast Railway in 1882 and some of the cars are still in use in Alaska.

View from Avalon Beach.

Morro Bay where John nearly drowned our daughter when she was about 4 years old. She says the tide came in, he paniced, dropped and ran for his life. He says, she was my first born and the love of my life and I would never do that.

About 25 miles north of here is Hearst Castle at San Simeon, built by William Randolph Hearst. There are four separate tours to see the whole thing. We did two of the tours about 33 years ago. It's definitely a must see, if you are in the area.

There are dozens of vineyards along the way to the coast, but John has put a hold on my wine buying budget. We were listening to 40's music on the way, which tends to date some of the others in the car. Al Jolson came on singing, "You made me love you. I didn't want to do it, I didn't want to do it...". Kathy said, "They're playing Tarra's theme song."
Happy Surfing,

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sacramento Railroad & Governor's Mansion & Cemetery

Tue & Wed - Nov. 8th & 9th

Current Governor's Mansion last used by Ron and Nancy Reagan for a short time. Nancy didn't like it as a place to raise little Ronny, so they moved out.

Sitting room or parlor.

Master bedroom, just as the Reagan's left it.
Arnold stays at the Hyatt across the street from the Capitol when he is in town. He has a special tent set up outside his office at the Capitol, so he can smoke his cigars. Smoking is not allowed in the building.

Down at Old Sacramento on the river front, we thought about eating at Joe's Crab Shack. Then we saw this sign and decided to wait until tonorrow.

The California State Railroad Museum is in Old Sacramento which is also a state park. Considered one of the finest museums in the country, it has over 20 restored locomotives and railroad cars.

This dining car was sold by the railroad in 1970 and was briefly a restaurant in Tea, South Dakota.
The passenger trains were quiet luxury on wheels with reclining seats, sleeping cars, private dining rooms, barbershop, showers, radios and phones.

Inside the dining car, each table has two place settings and each place setting is from a different set of china, glassware and silverware showing many of the different sets used on different trains. The kitchen is in the back end of the car.

During the Golden Age of Railroading, 1920s to 1950s, the Pullman cars carried 39 million passengers a year, one third of the U.S. population.

The booth seats folded down into a bed and the overhead compartment pulled down for another bunk. A curtain pulled shut for privacy. Now the Amtrak sleepers have locking doors.

Coordinating time schedules across the country was difficult, so the railroads created Standard Time and time zones. On Nov. 18, 1883 "The Day of Two Noons", railroad time became America's Standard Time.

There were cases and cases of model trains and toy trains and and games.

There were a couple of little boys just fascinated watching several sets of trains running in this display, as was I.

There were over 7,000 Pacific type locomotives built between the 1900s and 1950s. They could go 100 mph, but usually went 50 t0 60, and could pull 15 heavy passenger cars.

This is a Blue Jay Western 1" to scale model passenger train built by Bernard Farmen of Roslyn, SD. He was a clock maker, but his passion was model trains. This one took him 7 years to build.

Pony Express started right here in Old Sacramento at 2:45 AM on April 4,1860, the first lap of a 1,966 mile trip to St. Joseph, Missouri. Each rider carried 20 pounds of mail in four cantinas (pockets) on a light leather mochilla (saddle). They had a dozen riders at a time who made $50 per month. They rode approx. 75 miles in 9 hours each lap, changing horses five times and it took about 10 seconds to change horses. Each trip took ten days. One rider once rode 22 miles in one hour and 5 minutes. The entire Pony Express era lasted only 19 months, had 121 riders, 800 ponies and 35,000 pieces of mail with only one pouch of mail lost.

We walked through the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery started in 1849 with a gift of ten acres from John Sutter, owner of the land where gold was discovered. He is buried there along with senators, governors, generals, 1500 people and 17 doctors who died during the cholera epidemic of 1850 and many anonymous pioneers and gold seekers.

Alexander Hamilton's son is buried here somewhere, but it was getting dark and we couldn't find it.

Between 1848 and 1900 California gold seekers produced 2,300 tons of gold.

This is the highest point in the cemetery (maybe 35') and the highest point in Sacramento (elev. 25'). During the flood of 1861 the cemetery served as a safe haven from high waters. Hundreds of tents were seen on it's hills. The cemetery is at least a mile from the river.

This is just a small monument to Mark Hopkins, one of the "Big Four". Along with Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington and Charles Crocker, they were responsible for getting the transcontinental Central Pacific Railroad built.

Wells Fargo headquarters brought the bulk of California's gold and Nevada's silver to Sacramento and put it on steamers to San Francisco. Henry Wells and William G. Fargo were express and banking pioneers and in 1850 were founders of American Express. Wells built the earliest telegraph lines ending the need for pony express. Fargo's later involvement with the Great Northern Railroad resulted in the town of Fargo bearing his name.

In case we were missing winter, they have an ice skating rink right downtown. 60 degrees, now that's the way to go ice skating!

We will be at John's sister's in Hanford, central California, tomorrow night for the next three weeks. I probably won't be blogging much until about the second week of December.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!