December 2007 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts








Click on the 4Runner or contact us at for tour information.




Friends of Last Chance Canyon is a new organization interested in sustaining and protecting areas within the El Paso Mountains, near Ridgecrest, California. The main focus is preserving and protecting historic sites like Burro Schmidt's tunnel and the Walt Bickel Camp.

Please click on either logo to visit the FLCC site.







We support


Mules can taste the difference--so can you





It's FIRE SEASON! Click the NIFC logo above to see what's burning.





Click on the bag to find out how.



January 31-February 3, 2008

Don't put it off to the last minute, now is the time to register for the 8th Death Valley History Conference.

Returning presenters include Sally Zanjani (Hang Me If You Will: Homicide and the Goldfield Legal System), Robert Palazzo (The Mystery of the Cleveland Mining District), and Susan Sorrells (The Ashford Brothers, Their Lives as Miners in Death Valley).

This year there are a number of new presenters including Jim Price (The Wedding of the Waters) and Cecile Vargo (Louis D. Gordon - The Man Behind Cerro Gordo's Zinc Era).

L.D. Gordon-The man behind Cerro Gordo's zinc era.

The purpose of the conference is to encourage original research on the Human History and Prehistory of the Death Valley area and to disseminate that research through presentation at the conference and publication of the papers in the proceedings.

For complete information on the conference, contact the Death Valley Natural History





Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway.

     Click your mouse through the website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them. If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your vehicle, please contact us at:

     Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn. The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 16 years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the Owens Valley.

     Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size restrictions.

     Our tours are operated under permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, and other authorities.

     We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old cabin or deserted mountain lookout.

     California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the "Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to explore historic California.

Roger, Cecile and Marty

Christmas Delivery at Bodie Sparks Jordan Disaster

by Cecile Page Vargo


            The month of snow fall between mid-December 1910 and January 16, 1911, would have come as no surprise for the residents of the mining town of Bodie who had become accustomed to digging themselves out of one and two story buildings during the harsh and grueling high elevation winters. When the first snowflakes hit, they more than likely grinned and bared it, and went about their way preparing for the holidays as usual, secure in the fact there would be a white Christmas.

          While local children made lists for Santa and fell asleep on Christmas Eve with visions of sugar plums in their heads, the adults in town were filled with equal anticipation. The mines in Bodie had been running on electricity generated from the Green Creek Power Plant since 1893, but the rest of the town was in the dark for the most part. Since the spring of 1910,  papers had been touting the arrival of electricity from the newly built Jordan Power Plant at the base of Copper Mountain twenty miles away. Now, along with all of the delights of Christmas Day the switch would turn on at last for most everyone in town!


APRIL 25, 1910 Bodie Miner

Actual construction work commences. Supplies for power plant in route from Minden to Jordan. Some ideas of the size of the plant can be had by the construction calls for 12,000 feet of wooden pipe, 48 inches in diameter and 31000 foot of steel pipe from 48 inches to 36 inches. The plant will be in operation by the first of August. The freight coming along for the hydro-electric plant at Jordan is in at Thorn - two transformers weighing 12 ton each. This will make it necessary to build a steel track for carrying. The dynamos are monsters being 12 foot high and 11 feet wide. Which will manufacture juice to burn.


December 24, 1910 Bridgeport Chronicle-Union

    The hydro Electro Company is stringing wires for the distribution of light and power to the residents of Bodie. The pipeline is completed and it is expected that the juice will be turned on Christmas Day.

The original Jordan hydroelectric power plant was located at the base of Copper Mountain, near the center of this photograph taken in August, 2007. The area is north and west of Mono Lake, near the intersections of Highways 395 and 167.

          Life in Bodie and other Eastern Sierra communities continued on after Christmas, with high winds and heavy snows raging around them.  Thermometer readings often dipped twenty and more below zero. Roads were often closed for days at a time, making travel virtually non-existent. One resident recalled the story of a secretary to the Power Company and her unusual snow mishap that winter. After work one day, Miss Cassin headed to the Occidental for dinner. The snow was so deep she had to stoop under the power lines on Main Street. Snow was melting away from the buildings and mounted against the walls. As Miss Cassin prepared to duck under one line to get across, she slid down the snow and directly into the dining room taking the window frame in with her.

          On March 6, 1911 yet another storm raged in the Eastern Sierras. Emil and Gus Billeb lived with Nat Smith and Ed Stinson on the Bodie bluff near the railroad and lumber company office. By the second day of the storm, the four decided to go to town until it was over and wait it out at the Occidental Hotel.  It took them four hours to travel from the hill to Main Street, only a half a mile away. The snow reached the roofs of houses and visibility was nearly zero. Another half hour was spent traveling the few blocks down Main Street to the Burkham Barn where the horses would be stabled.

          On March 7, the town of Bodie went dark for the first time since power had been delivered on Christmas day. The old oil lamps were brought out once again. When the storm died down the next day efforts began to dig out and get the roads opened in town and to the outside world. Work went on through the dark of the night, with no electricity to light the way. The telephone lines were down, until the next morning, when a caretaker at Mono Mills finally made connection 17 hours later. The word was that the Jordan Power Plant had been wrecked but the true extent of the tragedy can best be told in the newspaper stories that followed in days to come:



Nine lives Lost

Relief Parties Are Searching for Bodies of Unfortunate Victims



Electric Plant at Crystal Lake Gold Mining Company at Lundy is Buried Under a Mountain of Snow

Like a thief in the night, the mountainside came to the valley, took the lives of those in its path, leaving broken hearts and desolate homes in its wake. As soon as the news of the calamity was known willing hands took up the work of rescuing those who perchance might be alive or the bodies of those beyond human aid. The minds of Bodie are closed and an army of shovelers are opening a road to Copper Mountain, 20 miles distant. Meantime the rescue work at the power plant is progressing rapidly.


Mrs. R. H. Mason. Yesterday the rescue party found Mrs. Mason alive and she was taken to J. A. Conway’s, where every care and attention is being given her. With her husband she occupied one of the cottages that was destroyed and for nearly 60 hours was entombed in the wreckage. Reports this morning indicate that she will recover.


R.H. Mason

John Sullivan

A miner, who was occupying a cabin a short distance from the power plant.

The Rescue Party Is Making Good Progress and Expects To Find The Other Bodies Today

The storm this week has been the most destructive to the life and property of any in history of the county-so far nine lives being lost in snow slides.

About 2 o-clock Wednesday morning the power and light went off at Bodie and investigation proved that a snow slide had demolished the building of the Pacific Power Company at Jordan and that eight lives were lost in the disaster.

 Those dead are: R. H. Mason, H. M. Weir, E. M. Peacock, Harold Hardy, Ben Pessner, John Sullivan, Patrick Stromblad. As soon as the news of the terrible accident reached Bodie Thursday forenoon relief parties were organized and in a few hours nine men on snowshoes started for Copper Mountain.

 Later in the day another party left for the scene of the disaster in an effort to relieve the situation. Linemen, Paul Greenleaf, of the Pacific Power Co. and L. A. Larson of Bodie were the first to learn of the catastrophe. Wednesday morning they left Bodie to locate what was supposed to be a break in the line and traveled the entire distance to the power plant, which was found wrecked and covered with slide.

They went to Mono Lake in an endeavor to communicate with headquarters, but found the telephones at Mattley’s and Hammond’s out of commission. Going to C. W. Bogt’s place they finally reached the Bodie office by the way of Mono Mills Thursday morning.

The scene of the accident is 20 miles from Bodie where a power plant of 200 horsepower was installed last year by the hydro electric Company and turned over to the Pacific Power Company at the first of the year. The pipeline from Lundy, a distance of seven miles, carries the waters of Mill Creek along the north side of the canyon and around to the east side of Copper Mountain where there is a fall of 1500 feet to the power house.

The building was a one story concrete structure and the machinery therein was the most modern. Two concrete cottages were built to accommodate the employees and the slide demolished these as well as the power house.

Under ordinary conditions the buildings would be considered safely situated as they stood nearly 1000 feet from the steep part of the mountain, but the unusually heavy snow upset all calculations and the catastrophe arrived.

While the buildings were wrecked, the machinery was but slightly damaged. At one time a smelter was in operation there in a building that has stood there since 1879, was destroyed by the big slide, as were several other structures nearby that had been erected 30 years.

The lines were furnishing power and light to Bodie, Lucky Boy and Hawthorne and would be supplying the mines and mills of Wonder, Nevada. It is believed that the plant will be in operation again soon.

Saturday March 18, 1911

Clearing Up Wreck Of The Disaster

 The terrible snow slides of last week that destroyed the life and property at Jordan, Lundy and Masonic are the worst ever known in the county. The power plant at Jordan, where the greatest loss of life took place, was only erected last summer and the current was turned on last Christmas Day furnishing light and power for Bodie, California, Aurora, Lucky Boy, Hawthorne, Fairview and Wonder, Nevada.




(TOP LEFT) R. H. Mason, and other Jordan avalanche victims are buried on a small hill about one mile north of the site of the powerhouse. Their headstones were cut from insulating panels used at the powerhouse.

(TOP RIGHT) A section of riveted iron penstock rusts near the old powerhouse foundation.

(RIGHT) View of the concrete discharge channel from the old powerhouse looking west toward the avalanche path on Copper Mountain.


Thanks to:

Bodie Ranger Rod Duff for inadvertently sending us on an adventure to Jordan following his excellent stamp mill tour earlier this year.

Norm De Chambeau for sharing his family history and sparking our interest more during an impromptu visit to the Mono Lake School House Museum

David A. Wright for the special gift of The Album which helped us to put the pieces together after our on site explorations.

The Album

Volume 1, Number 3

"Bodie Electrifies The World"

by Barbara Moore

Chalfant Press


The Album

Winter Spring 1994-1995

"The Jordan Tragedy"

by Barbara Moore

Chalfant Press


Bodie “The Mines Are Doing Well

by Michael Piatt

North Bay Books


The Ghost Town of Bodie-A California State Park

by Russ and Anne Johnson

Chalfant Press


Mining Camp Days

by Emil Billeb

Howell North Books


Paiute Prospector Pioneer

by Thomas C. Fletcher

Artemisia Press


Pioneers of Mono Basin

by Margaret Calhoun

Artemisia Press

While We Were Out-November 2007

Photos by Roger W. Vargo and Marty Cole


Stovepipe Wells sand dune, Death Valley, CA, at sunset.

(LEFT) The Cook Bank building continues to weather away at Rhyolite, NV.





(BOTTOM) The morning sun breaks through an unglazed window frame at Rhyolite's "modern" schoolhouse.



A contingent of visiting journalists from Pierce College pose at Badwater, Death Valley.

"Silver Coyote," Harry Lewellyn (right) makes a rare appearance at Bickel Camp on Thanksgiving weekend.


Assorted rock drills await sharpening, and an old sparkplug and carburetor wait for spark and fuel at Bickel Camp.
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