Monday, April 9, 2012

Memories of Grant Clark

We've got mail! Grant Clark, who worked at the lodge in 1969, sent the following e-mail. It's a perfect description of "life at the Lodge" that I know many others will enjoy too. Thank you again for contacting me, Grant. We really enjoy hearing from everyone and catching up.

Dear Leslie,

I hope this letter finds you well. I have not seen you since you were two years old in the summer of 1969, when I worked that season for your father at the lodge. Through the years I have thought often of your family and I was very happy when my oldest daughter, Michelle, found the Rock Creek Lodge blog. I enjoyed the photos of your mom and dad as well as you and your brother (I didn't know you had a brother). Michelle encouraged me to write and share some memories of my time at the lodge.

I had just finished my junior year of high school (Buena Park High School in Orange County). I arrived on a Greyhound Bus in early June, 1969, at Tom's Place and there was Kib Roby waiting for me in the old VW to drive me up to the lodge. That afternoon, in June, it snowed at the lodge and it was the first time in my life that I had been in falling snow ... it was pretty wild for a So. Cal. boy. I met your mother, Shirley, and you, and if I remember correctly a dog named Pepper. We all got to know each other over dinner. Your dad gave me a tour of the lodge and grounds, and I was so excited for the adventures that I knew lay ahead that summer.

The winter of '68-'69 had been a severe one for snow, and its volume and weight had collapsed the roof of the dining hall right down through the middle of the floor. Of course the dining hall and kitchen were essential to the operation of the lodge so the repair of roof/floor was the first order of business. Kib had already started the work before I arrived so I helped in its completion and that was my introduction to building/remodeling skills. Climbing up on the roof to repair it and paint it green finished the project.

There was some minor damage to the roof of the lodge, but it did not suffer a collapse. We accessed the attic through the drop down stairs and then strengthened several trusses with 2x4's we cut to size. We finished that project by painting the roof of the store/lodge the same green color as the dining hall. Through the experience of rebuilding structures and the entire summer of working with Kib as he repaired plumbing and electrical, I think he is the handiest man I have ever known.

Within a few days the entire summer staff arrived; Penny and Wendy Sykes (sisters), Tom Pogue, Roger Nielsen and I. Roger had worked at the lodge the previous summer and was the most knowledgeable and responsible of the three guys. He was an easy choice for your father to be the go-to guy. Roger lived in the room up in the attic of the lodge while Tom and I bunked in the room over the shower/laundry rooms. I forget where the Sykes sisters stayed, probably in one of the cabins. You and your family had the small cabin across form the kitchen and you had your own little play ground with a red slide and swing I think. By-the-way, you were the cutest little thing at age two.

As I suspected, that summer turned out to be one filled with adventures. The guys had daily routines of opening the store at 6:30 a.m., cleaning cabins after guests checked out which meant we cleaned the kitchen and dishes, changed bedding, swept and mopped floors, etc. The A-frames had bathrooms that also needed cleaning between guests and we cleaned the flush toilet outhouses. Penny and Wendy along with Shirley washed all of the sheets, towels, etc, in the old washer with the hand ringer. Everything was line dried as there was no clothes dryer. At various times during the day we took turns watching the store and serving customers who stopped in.

Penny, Wendy and Shirley worked in the kitchen and prepared three squares a day for the staff. I must say, we ate well that summer. Each evening they would prepare dinner for the lodge guests and sometimes we guys helped serve. It was always fun being around the guests who were generally in good spirits. On Fridays we barbecued steaks, burgers or dogs and that was always a treat.

The guys had several special assignments and projects. We spent the better part of a month cutting and chopping fire wood for the stoves in the cabins, and laying in a large stock of fire wood for the winter ski company who occupied the lodge. Large trees with trunks three to four feet in diameter on the lodge grounds had already been felled so we used chain saws to cut rounds about one foot tall. We then employed steel wedges and sledge hammers to separate a round into four or five pieces. We then used axes to cut the pieces into two inch thick sticks that were twelve inches long to be put into the wood burning stoves. I thought of the whole process as a manly task ... just what a 17-year old boy needed!

Once a week Tom and I hiked the 1/2 mile or so up to the cistern and checked on the water level. The source of water for the entire lodge and cabins was the natural spring and well that fed into the cistern, so its level was critical to maintain.

Once each week we guys made a trash run through the grounds of the lodge. We drove the old, large stake bed truck and picked up bags of trash as well as the trash cans. We then drove down the canyon to the dump (ravine) behind Tom's Place and dumped the load. As an aside, in those days one could buy fire arms through mail order catalogs. Shirley had a Sears Catalog that Tom and I got a hold of and we discovered some .22 caliber rifles that we could not live without . . . so we each ordered one! In ten days they arrived in the mail and they made the runs to the dump a whole lot more fun. We shot up the dump like we were defending Fort Apache . . . they were great times.

Each week Shirley made a shopping list for one of us guys to take to Bishop to get the week's supply of food and other commodities for the store. Going to Bishop (going to town) was always the coveted job. We drove the old, blue Dodge pick up and Kib had a large, insulated chest in the bed that we used to haul back the dairy and refrigerated goods. We bought meat, vegetables, fruits, canned goods, dairy supplies and what ever Kib wanted for the store. The trip often took the better part of the day, but we were always back for dinner.

Each day someone drove the old VW down to Tom's Place to pick up the mail. I remember that our address was Rock Creek Lodge, Star Route 2, Bishop, CA. The post office was downstairs under the bar at Tom's Place, but it really wasn't a post office, it was just big box about 4x4 feet with lots of cubby holes, one of which was labeled Rock Creek Lodge and our mail was in there. Kib always liked a news paper to be brought back to him as there was no T.V. or radio up at the lodge.

Each evening after dinner Kib made a roaring fire in the lodge fire place. Many of the lodge guests gathered with us to visit and tell stories. When customers came into the store we served them. One night we asked Kib how hot the fire could make the temperature in the lodge. He said, "Let's find out." We stoked the fire with wood and more wood, we closed the doors and got the temperature up to 87 degrees -- that was too hot so we opened all the doors.

Kib always gave us a day off each week. We traveled, hiked and saw the sights of the eastern side of the Sierras. One night all five of the staff made a moonlight hike over Morgan pass. Once I climbed with an experienced climber to the top of Huntington Peak and that was really something. Once we traveled to Bodie, the old ghost town. Sometimes we went to the hot springs and pools. Usually each day Tom and I could find some time to put on our running shoes (we both were cross country runners in high school) and go for a workout. We developed strong lungs running at 10,000 feet.

When early September arrived I had to leave to finish my last year of high school, but a part of me would have willingly struck a deal to be like Peter Pan and suspend growing up if I could have stayed. Leaving the Robys, my friends on the staff and Rock Creek Lodge made me sad. Three months earlier I didn't know what to expect and how great a summer it was going to be, but it turned out to be the best summer of my life -- a coming of age summer. I think I instinctively knew that a chapter was closing and that I would never return to this place, at least not as a member of the Rock Creek Lodge staff.

For the summer of work and fun, Kib compensated each staff member with their room, their board and $400 cash. After tallying up the cash advances, treats I ate from the store, the purchase of a .22 caliber rifle and the purchase of my first pair of cross country racing shoes, I departed Rock Creek Lodge with $124 in my pocket, a hug from Shirley, a hand shake from Kib and a lifetime of memories. I couldn't see spending the money to buy a bus ticket to get home so I hitched a ride in the back of a pick up truck from two guys who were heading down to L.A. My father worked in L.A. and when I showed up at his down town office looking a little like a hippie (I had let my hair and mustache grow), he took a double look and was quite surprised to see me. We had breakfast together and then he put me on a bus that delivered me to Knott's Berry Farm which was only one mile from my home in Buena Park. When I walked through the front door of home, my mother squealed with delight that her oldest child was home from a summer of adventure. I know you can't go back, but I do miss the days and times of Rock Creek Lodge in the summer of 1969.