Bill Holcomb regularly joins the Valley Elite morning meeting in downtown Mosswood in Boonville for coffee and to discuss local and global affairs. Friday a week ago I met Bill there around 9am too cold to sit outside so we were joined at the big table inside by other pensioners like the driver logging truck Morgan Baynham, poet and sculptor Steve Derwinski and retired electrician Jeff Pugh.
Bill was born in 1933, on a large ranch set up by his grandfather near a town north of Abilene called Rule, which today has about 695 people, probably fewer at the time. The farm itself was north of Rule a few miles on the lowlands along the headwaters of the Brazos River, called the Clear Fork. This part of Texas is near the end of the cultivable prairies, the annual rainfall being about twenty inches. Bill’s father Ed and his mother Susie Spradling, an “Okie”, had four children, and the “dustbowl” drought of the 1930s that John Steinbeck described so brutally in Grapes of Wrath, hit the Holcombs hard. By 1939, their dryland cotton and livestock farm could no longer support the family.
That year, his father, mother, Bill, and three brothers joined the “dustbowl” migration to California. The Holcombs acquired an old Desoto sedan that the previous owner had upgraded, replacing the stock wheels with homemade wooden-spoke wheels, and headed west, landing in San Jose. His mother found a job at a local cannery supporting the thriving orchard industry on old Route 101 in San Benito County, pears, apples, walnuts, plums, cherries, and more. His father found work as a boilermaker in Oakland where the Kaiser-designed Liberty Ship freighters were built during World War II. A long drive in the pre-highway days, so Ed and several other shipyard workers arranged a carpool to share their family vehicles and gas expenses.
Before the family moved west, Bill had attended school in Texas, arrived in third grade at a local school in nearby Haskell. In San Jose, he attended the local elementary and high school in his neighborhood called Horace Mann after the 19th-century pioneer in favor of taxpayer-funded public education in America. What Bill remembers best from those school days was the ice cream parlor across from campus where he could buy a milkshake after school for ten cents.
Towards the end of the war, Bill’s father was seriously injured on the job at the shipyard. An accident involving the collapse of scaffolding while he was welding caused severe damage to the upper part of his spine, severe enough that he could no longer perform heavy physical work of any kind. Once again the family was back on the road in search of employment. His father found work in agricultural factory farms, managing the irrigation system, etc. Now the family has settled in the heart of San Joaquin, buying a small piece of land and building a small family home in Tulare.
Bill continued his education from seventh grade through high school at Palo Verde Grammar and High School in Tulare. He also began working after school in part-time jobs to support the family, some farm work, a job at a retail grocery store, another as an usher at the local State Theater movie theater. Free movies! Bill reports that the movie theater owner was so impressed with his work ethic that he offered him the job of assistant movie director, not bad for a teenager. And after about a year, the owner was so confident in Bill’s business skills that he offered him to be assistant manager of the three theaters he owned in Tulare. Bill refused.
In 1950, her father found better earning opportunities in the Anderson Valley sawmills, and the family, now consisting of five children, moved to Boonville. Bill wanted to finish high school in Tulare and stayed, living alone in the family home. Ed Holcomb found work at the Weeks Planning Factory across from the Church of God on Highway 128, and as Bill put it, “learning the business of the factory from friends and errors”. The family lived in one of the “cabins” on the Weeks Mill property.
In 1952, Bill graduated from high school and followed his family to Boonville and moved into the family “cabin”. His first job was with Weeks, a tallyman, measuring and recording the size of logs from nearby woods at the mill by truck, a tough job on a busy day eating dust from the yard of the truck and loader plant while measuring with tape. the size of each log. Salary: $2.00 per hour.
Bill then found a more financially rewarding job than at Weeks’ factory. In the local redwood forest, he worked on landings by peeling the bark off redwood logs, twenty to forty feet long, with a hatchet and a peeling pole, a round steel bar 6 feet in long with a pointed checkerboard corner three inches wide. With luck and starting with the hatchet, one could peel the forty feet of a log six inches or more wide the full length of the log. Peeling wages were piecework, $1.25 per thousand board feet of lumber.
Bill’s first wood peeling job was for Frank Hiatt. The logging site was Haynes Ranch, up Mountain View Road, then up a logging road at Bear Wallow to Rancheria Creek. He once made $125 in an hour by peeling a giant old log. You did this shift work during the twelve hour day in the woods, four o’clock in the morning, then you “rested” doing wage labor on the landing at midday, limbing or chopping logs, then another four hours of peeling to complete the ten or twelve hour day.
Bill also took on a second job after the summer logging season and all day during the winter when the lumber closed. He leased the gas station and truck and automobile maintenance garage next to Rossi Hardware in Boonville. One of his maintenance jobs was that he was the only mechanic in The Valley to change the tires on an eighteen-wheeler logging truck.
One afternoon, Bill scraped his knuckle with his wrench and, in exhausted anger, threw the tool out of the store and across Highway 128, narrowly missing the head of a lovely woman. named Eva Pardini, daughter of Ernest de Navarro’s famous Pardini hotel family, and younger sister of Donald and Robert. A friendship began between Bill and Eva, based on her making him sandwiches for lunch in exchange for servicing and repairing his 1949 Ford two-door sedan. Their business friendship grew into a relationship. much more lasting, and when Bill proposed to Eva a few months later, she replied, “I guess so, I’ve invested too much in you not to…” Bill and Eva’s marriage lasted 65 years. until his passing in 2017. Bill celebrated their wedding with me saying… “I barely know how to live without her.”
Together, Bill and Eva had two children, son Billy, who lives in Ukiah and whose professional career has included first being an airline pilot and later in state and county law enforcement. Palma continues to live in the Valley and is married to home builder Dennis Toohey. The family remains close to this day.
Every time Bill talks about Eva, I sense a deep sense of loss in his voice. Thematically, it describes his loyalty to his Pardini family relatives and to the annual Boonville County Fair and Apple Show. The photo below shows high school student Eva picking apples for display at the Fair’s Apple Hall. She never missed a year doing this for nearly eighty years of her life.
From an early age, Eva also devoted herself to her church, St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church, attending Sunday services almost weekly and doing a lot of volunteer work on the premises and among observant parishioners. She also loved the entire community of Anderson Valley and its people; she called the colony of Yorkville in Navarro “My Valley”. Bill has two beautifully painted panels at his house for Eva’s funeral. The framed signs read: “Anderson Valley Love Story”
Next week: Bill Holcomb, Texas “Arkie”, lucky to find Anderson Valley.
BUSINESS1 month ago
Westerham-based financial planning company buys first firm
FINANCE1 month ago
ESFA Update further education: 19 October 2022
AUTO MOBILE1 month ago
Chicago Drives Electric event in Oakbrook Terrace showcases latest EVs, with cars from Chevy, Ford, Volkswagen and more
WORLD1 month ago
Costco is selling ‘world’s largest’ jigsaw puzzle at 29 feet
HEALTH1 month ago
Vergeire not offered DOH chief post, admits reservations