Sun 2 Oct 2011
For a town with only 85 residents, Duncans Mills, which is on the Russian River just upstream from Jenner, contains a surprising amount of history from the Marin and Sonoma county coasts.
West Marin oldtimers may recognize this narrow-gauge passenger car from the North Pacific Coast Railroad, which operated from 1875 to 1930 between Sausalito and Cazadero. Point Reyes Station’s present post office was the town depot, and the Red Barn (now painted green) was the engine house.
For the rail line’s first year and a half, the northern terminus was in Tomales, but after a 1,700-foot-long tunnel was dug through “Tunnel Hill,” the line was extended to Valley Ford and Occidental (then called Howard’s) and on to the Russian River area.
After the line shut down in 1930, this passenger car, which is now being repainted, was the Point Reyes Station library until 1957. The late Mike Contos bought the car in 1957 and kept it at his trout farm, which was located where Point Reyes Station’s Caltrans corporation yard is today. The late Toby Giacomini, who at one time owned Toby’s Feed Barn and Toby’s Trucking, bought the rail car in 1975 and moved it downtown to where West Marin Storage is now located.
Millerick Brothers of Sebastopol purchased the car in 1981 and kept it at Millerick Brothers Boat Yard until 1983 when Duncans Mills Trading Company bought it. The old rail car was then moved it to the Duncans Mills Depot Museum, where it is currently being restored for the fourth time.
After a ceremony that took note of the history of this 140-year-old barn in Duncans Mills, Clamper Kevin Dixon of Vallejo (at left) from Sam Brannan Chapter 1004 indicated with a gesture what a great day it was.
On Saturday, two chapters of E Clampus Vitus dedicated a plaque in Duncans Mills, memorializing another piece of coastal history, Moscow Barn at Casini Ranch Campground. The structure is so old that President and former Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant is believed to have stabled horses there at one time.
The “plaquing” was carried out by Sam Brannan Chapter 1004 (Napa, Glenn, Colusa counties “and protector of Solano”) and Yerba Buena 1 (“the Mother Lodge”), which is based in San Francisco.
It was the second time a group of Clampers had dedicated a plaque in Duncans Mills. Back in 1989, Yerba Buena 1 placed a plaque on the Blue Heron Restaurant and Tavern, recalling an odd bit of town history. In 1877, Black Bart for a second time robbed the stagecoach between Fort Ross and Duncans Mills. The outlaw would eventually rob a total of 28 stagecoaches while never firing a shot. What made the second robbery worthy of Clamper recognition is that for this heist, Black Bart wrote a short poem and left it with the stage.
Clampers, by the way, have also left their tracks in West Marin. In 1998, the two groups dedicated a plaque to Tomales’ historic downtown, mounting it on a traffic island in front of the William Tell House. In 2008, they placed a plaque in Tomales Town Park, marking the site of the house of Warren Dutton, a co-founder of the town. The house was destroyed in the 1920 town fire. Yet another plaque was mounted at the Point Reyes Lifeboat Station.
The leader of each chapter or lodge of the Clampers is known as the Noble Grand Humbug. Here Jim “Woody” Morton (at left), the Humbug of Sam Brannan 1004 jokes with Nils “Hagar” Anderson, Humbug of Yerba Buena 1.
The “right temperament” to be a Clamper, said Dean Hamlin of Santa Rosa, ex Humbug of the Sam Brannan chapter, “means you have to have a sense of humor, the ability to laugh at oneself and with others, and have a sense and appreciation of history.”
Loren Wilson, who once lived on the Cereni Ranch just north of Tomales near Fallon, is an ex “Sublime Noble Grand Humbug” of all the Clampers, as well as a past Noble Grand Humbug of Sam Brannan Chapter 1004 and a current Clamper historian.
Gina Casini and her brother Paul Casini own Casini Ranch Campground where historic Moscow Barn is located. Paul noted their grandfather once managed a dairy ranch for the LaFranchi family on the site. In 1928, he bought the land from them. Gina said her grandfather then started the campground “and charged two bits.”
In 1919, the Christian Brothers had bought the neighboring land where the barn was located to start a retreat for boys. The barn’s stalls were converted into a recreation hall that was also used as sleeping quarters, Paul said, and the hayloft was converted into a chapel. By 1973, he added, the barn was no longer being used and was in disrepair, so the Christian Brothers decided to have it torn down and offered the Casinis the lumber.
However, his father had been baptized in the chapel and played in the barn as a boy, and he was fond of the building, Paul said. His family then moved the barn 1,500 feet to their property. On the way, the barn had to travel down a slope, and Gina said she’d been amazed it didn’t shake apart. Fortunately, the barn arrived safely and her father then restored it.
Gina told the crowd of almost 200 about going to movies in the barn as a youth. More recently she’s taught line dancing there and would like to do it again, she added. Nowadays, however, the former livestock barn is primarily used for weddings and other group events.
Following the comments from Gina and Humbug Anderson, he in accordance with tradition asked the group, “And what say the brethren?” In unison they shouted back, “Satisfactory!” Anderson then read the plaque to the crowd and again asked, “And what say the brethren?” Again the response was: “Satisfactory!”
The two humbugs then “anointed” the plaque with bottles of beer.