Sunday, May 2, 2010

Our Farewell to California Tour

There's something very special about Springtime here in Southern California.  No...I don't mean the fact that I always end up spending most of my golfing money on Claritin-D and Zyrtec.  Not at all.  It's the sprouting of all of the new green grass on the hillsides after the fire-season of last's the blooming of the citrus blossoms on all of the orange and lemon trees around the area.  And those poppies!!  The beautiful Golden Poppies!  Our California state flower!

The first place you begin to notice them is along the Harbor Freeway between here in Pasadena and Downtown L.A..  I think that Cal-Trans must actually scatter poppy seeds along the medians - because it has always seemed to me to be such a strange place to see such a beautiful sight.  Amy Suzzanne was the first one to notice them.  They usually begin to sprout-up and bloom just at about the end of her annual Busy Season (April 15th) - so she sees their arrival as a sign from God that she's actually going to survive another year!

When I was a kid...the paternal grandparents used to like to drive us out to Newhall and Saugus - - I don't think there was a "Valencia" then - - mainly so I could see my great-grandfather's handiwork.  You see, after the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928 - Great-Grandpa worked for the Department of Water and Power.  These were exciting times for the Southern California area...think of the movie "Chinatown" with Jack Nicholson!  There were (and still are!) two main electrical plants up in San Francisquito Canyon... "Power House #1" (which is above the site of the dam-break) - and ... (yes, you guessed it!) "Power House #2" which was wiped-out when the dam burst on that fateful midnight on March 12th.

It began at approximately 11:57 PM on March 12, 1928 when a two hundred feet-high wall of concrete suddenly shuddered, cracked and broke apart. 12 1/2 billion gallons water burst through gaping cracks and crumbling concrete. Within minutes, a towering surge of mud, trees and debris rumbled down a narrow canyon. Directly below the dam was the aforementioned Power Plant #2, which was surrounded by a community of workers and their families. Only three would survive. Ahead in the night lay a construction camp and isolated Southern California farms, ranches and entire towns. Most of their inhabitants were sound asleep. Many would die.

When the flood waters reached the Pacific Ocean (all the way through Santa Paula and out to Ventura!!) -  five and half hours and 53 miles later, more than 470 people were dead -- including many Mexican-Americans who lived directly in the flood path. As much as $25 million worth of livestock and property were washed away. No one is sure of the exact number killed or how many were buried or washed out to sea — and, as most people from So. Cal. know... the disaster ended William Mulholland's career.

I don't know all of the technical things that Great-Grandpa was famous for.  There was one article in a journal that my Grandpa Orval used to bring out of the family archives to show me.  I do know that his name is on a plaque at the re-built "Power House #2" (for all I know....ol' Elmer J. Kingsbury himself could be in this photo!) ... There is a brief bio on him that I found a long time ago in a San Francisco Chronicle article online - it's 3/4 of the way down the page - the eighth bio listed.  I think what he did was figure out some kind of advanced engineering technique for using the actual turbines salvaged from the ruined power station as some sort of "lathe" to machine new old San Francisquito Canyon Road was wiped out for some time after the disaster and virtually impossible to bring heavy equipment up from L.A..  The photo actually shows what was left of the turbines after they were un-buried from all of the debris.

My most vivid memories of those trips up to the old dam-site (they seemed like full-day trips...this was in the days before the Golden State Freeway went up there...and all there was was The Old Road, the Saugus Cafe and San Francisquito Canyon Road!) are of the POPPIES!!  The local canyon hillsides that looked like they were ablaze with orange...more orange than green in some places!!  You just wanted to reach out and touch looked as if God Himself had spread out a giant picnic-blanket of orange velvet over the walls and roadsides of the entire canyon!  I can also remember having the fear-of-God put in me by my Grandpa Orval when I actually bent down and picked one of the poppies.  I must have been three-or-four years old.  He told me that these poppies were the California State flower and that I could get fined for picking one.  Sheesh!  No wonder I need therapy!  Thanks, Grandpa...!

Anyway...this afternoon...after we get some more house-organizing done, I'm going to take Amy out to the old dam-site, and tell her the same old lies and tall-tales that were told to me about the exploits of my great-grandfather and William Mulholland "back in the day".  Then, we'll head up San Francisquito Canyon to the top...and out Lake Elizabeth Road to see the poppies. We've been planning to go for the last twelve years...and we're finally going to do it!

I don't know what the State Flower of Andhra Pradesh, India is...but I'll bet this is the last chance we'll have to see the poppies for a long time!

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