Archive for October, 2012

In celebration of its “92 years of science and service in Marin,” the University of California Cooperative Extension has assembled a photography exhibit of Marin County farming and ranching between 1920 and 1950.

The exhibit at Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station consists of scenes of local agriculture that M.B. Boissevain, Marin’s first UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor, photographed as he went about his rounds.

At the exhibit on Sunday, Dewey Livingston (left) and Juliet Braslow pointed out to the crowd what certain photographs reveal about the evolution of Marin County agriculture during the past century.

Being released in conjunction with the exhibit is a book of historic photographs, M.B. Boissevain, Marin’s First Farm Advisor.

Historian Livingston of Inverness served as photographic curator for the book and was responsible for “rephotography.” Braslow is the sustainable agriculture coordinator at UC Cooperative Extension in Marin.

Joe McCammon in his field of Harding grass. Fallon, 1925. Black-and-white photos from M.B. Boissevain, Marin’s First Farm Advisor.

“Marett Burridge (M.B.) Boissevain began as Marin’s first UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor in 1920,” Livingston notes in a forward to the photography book. “UC Berkeley, California’s land-grant university, was sending agricultural agents out to communities up and down the state to spread practical information and new farming methods.

“He brought with him progressive ideas, and technological innovations, while advocating farmer cooperation. M.B. Boissevain served as an agronomist, community leader, and photographer for 30 years….

“During his tenure, he organized 4-H clubs in rural communities where young people and their families could practice new techniques with hands-on agricultural projects. These activities produced a new generation of farmers interested in education and enhanced the productivity of Marin agriculture for decades after.”

Before Boissevain started organizing 4-H clubs in Marin County, there was only one club with 33 members. By the time he retired 30 years later, there were 18 clubs with a total of 648 members.

Tomales High’s original agriculture teacher, William Reasoner (seen here with his students in 1927), organized the first Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter in Tomales. In 1931, Reasoner’s students took the cattle-judging trophy at the National Dairy Show in St. Louis.

Members of Tomales High’s Purebred Pig Club seen on a 1927 pig tour with Charles Hampton, club leader and school principal.

Boyd Stewart planting oats and forage-crop test plots at Stewart Ranch in Nicasio in 1930. The late rancher’s daughter JoAnn Stewart is quoted in the book as saying, “In 1927, Boyd bought a John Deere tractor, a Model D, from Adolf Holmes in Petaluma, and Boyd told me that it came on the train to Petaluma and Boyd drove that tractor  from Petaluma to Nicasio.”

Cow tester C.C. Goodale at Dan Bondietti’s Ranch in Tomales in 1923.

A contemporary rancher, James Marshall, noted that Boissevain “introduced cow testing, which improved the dairy herds, and then of course [aided in] the elimination of Bangs disease and tuberculosis [from Marin’s dairy herds].” Bangs disease can cause cows to abort or give birth prematurely.

As for increased production during Boissevain’s tenure, Ellie Rilla of Marin’s Cooperative Extension Service writes in the book, “When he began in 1920 there were 24,797 dairy cows producing 3,389 million pounds of butterfat [per year].

“By 1925, there were 25,069 cows producing 4.89 million pounds of butterfat…. Twenty years later, Marin cows produced 7.5 million pounds of butterfat.” Boissevain always advised ranchers to increase production with better cows, not bigger herds.

Boissevain holding oats and vetch at Bear Valley Farm in Olema, 1922.

In 1950 when Boissevain retired as farm advisor, there were 200 dairy ranches in Marin County. There are now only 29.

Nonetheless, “dairy and livestock continue to be the foundation of agricultural production [in Marin],” writes farm advisor David Lewis in the exhibit’s  book. The herds average 300 cows on approximately 600 acres.

Unfortunately, the traveling exhibit at Toby’s will come down this Wednesday, Oct. 31. It will be be shown next in the Board of Supervisors gallery at Civic Center. M.B. Boissevain, Marin’s First Farm Advisor, the book of photographs in the exhibition, was published by the University of California. It totals 123 pages. I got a copy from Point Reyes Books for $30.

Back in 1975 when I first owned The Point Reyes Light, the paper was constantly getting mail addressed to Mike Gahagan, my predecessor, and even to Don DeWolfe, his predecessor. Why the mail was misdirected could easily be understood; mailing lists don’t get updated very often. More perplexing was the newspaper’s mail from the National Audubon Society, which was always addressed to Mrs. Gloria Eagan. I never met the woman nor knew who she was.

Something similar happened when I previously edited The Sebastopol Times. The paper was constantly receiving mail addressed to B.M. Angel, but I had no idea who the person was. Finally one day, I asked sports editor John Owens: “Have you ever heard of a B.M. Angel?” John thought it over for a moment and replied, “No, but I’ve heard of a tooth fairy.”

From Sparsely Sage and Timely 35 years ago: A young lady created something of a stir in Bolinas by walking her pig through downtown dog-like on a leash. It was a guaranteed double-take until the pig got loose and started down Wharf Road on the run.

It soon caught up with a car traveling slowly in the same direction, causing bystanders to fear the pig might run under the car’s wheels. Pedestrians began shouting, “Pig! Pig! Pig!” to alert the motorist, who unfortunately was a sheriff’s deputy in a patrolcar. Brakes were slammed on; the pig darted past; and everyone breathed a sigh of relief — especially the deputy.

As it happened, a sheriff’s dispatcher a couple of months later alerted deputies to be on the lookout for “a WMA [white-male adult]” brandishing a firearm on Highway 1. He was described as “wearing dark glasses and a t-shirt with a peace symbol on it.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought: “Young man, you’re a disgrace to the uniform.”

San Francisco for years has been home to numerous events, such as the Folsom Street Fair, where many of those in attendance are nude. However, some residents have begun complaining about too much public nudity year-round in the city, especially in the Castro District. The Board of Supervisors is now trying to devise an ordinance that would ban public nudity — except for special events.

However, crafting such an ordinance can be tricky. Are striptease theaters public places? Should police cite the parents of children who are naked in public places? What’s the cutoff age? Such questions are not as simplistic as they may seem.

If not carefully written, the result will be a law of unintended consequences. One marvelous example of this occurred in the city of Florence, Oregon, back in 1977 when the City Council decided to shield that city from indecorous sights. In doing so, the council passed an ordinance that made it illegal to have sex “while in view of a public or private place.”

City officials, however, soon realized they had banned absolutely all sex in Florence and decided not to enforce their new ordinance.

I’ll close with an apocryphal story from the world of theater. It seems there was an aspiring actor who had set his sights on Broadway but never made it through the casting calls. Finally after months of frustration, the would-be actor landed a bit part, playing a soldier in an off-Broadway production.

He had only one line: “Hark! I hear a cannon!” Nonetheless, he knew this could be the break that launched his show business career, so he practiced the line day after day, trying to decide just how it should be uttered: HARK, I hear a cannon! Hark, I HEAR a cannon! Hark, I hear A CANNON!

Finally it was the night of the dress rehearsal, and as he stepped onto the stage he was nervous as cat. Just as the time came for his big line, however, there was a loud explosion backstage, and the startled novice exclaimed, “What the hell was that?”

Tony’s Seafood in Marshall is known to most West Marin residents; less well known are its origins. Sitting on pilings over the water, the restaurant’s view of Tomales Bay is magnificent. So are its barbecued oysters, which feature a tomato-ey sauce that is particularly smooth and sweet.

Tony’s is the favorite restaurant of Inverness Park residents Linda Sturdivant (right) and her partner Terry Gray. Sunday was bright and clear along the bay, even warm. It was a perfect day for me to open the sunroof and drive the two of them and Lynn (left) four miles north for a seafood lunch.

Tony’s is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays, from noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and this flock of seagulls appears to have learned the schedule. They paddle around the restaurant hoping that diners after eating will throw them pieces of any leftover bread or French fries.

From a deck over the water on the southeast side of the restaurant, we watched jellyfish pulsating their bells as they propelled themselves away from the shore.

Restaurant matriarch Anna Konatich takes in the sun on the deck beside the bay. She and her husband Felix, who died in 2008, were born on the Croatian island of Iz. She immigrated to the US in 1947, he in 1937. Their family opened Tony’s Seafood Restaurant in 1948.

Felix was already living in Marshall when they became reacquainted in Seattle. He was part of a wave of Croatian immigration to the area that had begun in 1900. At least 14 families from the islands of Iz and Hvar settled in the tiny town of Marshall and — as Anna reminded me Sunday — at White Gulch directly across the bay.

Anna told me there were seven children in the first grade when her daughter entered school, and “three of them were Croatian.”

When I greeted her Sunday, I asked, “How’s the rebel?” The question sparked immediate laughter. Back on Iz 20 to 30 years ago, many residents considered her a radical nationalist.

In the years between the death of Yugoslavia’s longtime Communist ruler Marshal Tito in 1980 and the fall of communism in 1990-91, Anna visited Iz several times. It was a time when Communism was enforcing severe restrictions on Catholics. On one visit, she startled others in church by singing out the traditional lyrics to a Croatian national song that had been rewritten by the Communists. “Hey, you guys,” she told the others. “You can’t let the church fall apart like this. That’s our heritage.”

(In 1991, Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, and the European Economic Community in 1992 recognized Croatia as independent. The Yugoslav army and Serbian militia, however, battled the Croatian military from 1991 to 1995 in an unsuccessful attempt to partition the newly independent country.)

Outside Tony’s Seafood Restaurant after a hearty lunch are (from left) Linda Sturdivant, Terry Gray, Lynn Axelrod, Dave Mitchell.

Sometimes when I mention Marshall’s immigrant families from Croatia, I get a blank stare from other West Marin residents. “What Croatians?” they ask. In fact, they know the names. They just never realized they were Croatian.

Along with the Konatich family, who still run Tony’s Seafood Restaurant, other well-known names include the Vilicich family, who started the Marshall Boat Works in 1927, and Nick Kojich, who — with Felix Konatich’s father Tony — founded Nick’s Cove restaurant. And now you know who Tony was.

When I moved to Point Reyes Station in 1975, the town’s postmaster was a short, thin, friendly man named George Gallagher. His identical twin Bob ran North Bend Ranch just east of town along the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road.

Sadly, that historic ranch is now for sale. Scott Stevens of Leading Edge Properties two weeks ago told The San Francisco Chronicle the 300-acre ranch is listed for $5.5 million.

The ranch got the name North Bend because Papermill Creek makes a northward-pointing arc as it crosses the property. In 1913, the twins — who both died in 2002 at the age of 89 — were born on the ranch, which their grandfather bought from the Shafter family in the 1870s.

The old Gallagher house is unoccupied but is now being cleaned. Photos by Leading Edge Properties, (707) 695-4448.

Bob and George grew up in a white, two-story Victorian house, watching the North Pacific Railroad’s narrow-gauge trains rumble through their front yard, sometimes hopping aboard for a trip into San Francisco.

“There’s something about a train — you can live right by it every day, and still when one comes by, you can’t help looking up,” Bob Gallagher recalled in a Point Reyes Light interview 11 years ago.

“You could always keep time by the trains runnin’ by there,” his brother George added. “Like clockwork five or six daily trains passed by on schedule from dawn to dusk.”

While the young twins rode a horse and buggy into town to attend Black District School, their older siblings rode the train to high school. “They used to get the train up to Tomales High and get there by noon,” George said. “Then they’d have to catch another train back at 3 p.m. That cut into their learning some, but they turned out just fine.”

The cattle-feeding barn with the ranch’s old barn at right.

The tracks ran right between the Gallaghers’ front door and their barn. “The dairy was on one side, and the house was on the other,” Bob said. “We had to cross the those tracks. [The train] always whistled before it got there, but comin’ one way, it came right out of the woods.”

The Gallagher children weren’t the only ranch residents who had to be careful. Sometimes turkeys and cows got dangerously close to the tracks while foraging in the right-of-way.

George Gallager (left) and Bob Gallagher in 1997.

Bob told of a time when a young ranch dog followed him and George as they ran across the tracks to beat a speeding train. The twins made it across safely, but the dog disappeared under engine. However, after the train had passed, the dog — which had crouched under the cars — got up and was able to walk away although it no longer had a tail.

The trains made it possible for the Gallaghers to take quick trips into San Francisco. Both Bob and George fondly remembered playing cards on one trip with Jackie Coogan, the child actor whose well-known roles included starring with Charlie Chaplin in The Kid. As it happened, Coogan had a grandfather in West Marin whom he frequently visited.

It was easy to catch the train as it ran through their ranch, Bob and George noted. “You’d just wave down the conductor, and he’d stop and give you a toot-toot,” George said.

The brothers would then board the train and ride it to Sausalito, where they would transfer to a Northwestern Pacific ferry. They’d reach Fisherman’s Wharf in about 90 minutes — less time than it takes most commuters today.

The main ranch house, where Kevin and Katie Gallagher live, was built in the 1960s and has three bedrooms.

There is much more that could be said about the ranch.

• To the south, it borders on federally owned land within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In the 1980s, the GGNRA’s boundaries were extended to include North Bend Ranch. This means the Park Service has Congressional permission to buy the property; however, the Park Service hasn’t had the funds to do so. The Park Service has also discussed extending the Cross Marin through the ranch, and on Oct. 14, 2001, bicyclists took a trial run. But nothing has come of that idea either.

• Another government agency, North Marin Water District, has a well on the property. It’s one of several wells along Papermill Creek for the water system that serves Point Reyes Station, Olema, and Inverness Park.

•  The Gallagher family hadn’t wanted to sell the property but needs the money to help pay for retirement and medical bills, real estate agent Stevens told The Chronicle. The owners of the ranch are George Gallagher’s sons Kevin and Paul, along with Bob Gallagher’s son and daughter Dan and Maureen.