Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ludlow California

This excursion to Ludlow, California was one of the last trips my father and I had been on together before I had left home for good. My father, Elmer Long, wrote this in 1964. Keep in mind that much of what he had written about in that period is now no longer in existence. Time has also taken my father. All that is left are some of the bottles and many of the precious moments associated with them. Like the bottles, the stories should be shared.

This is from Rider's "CALIFORNIA, A GUIDEBOOK FOR TRAVELERS ", McMillan & Co., N.Y., 1925.

In 1925, Ludlow had a population of 125. Today the count is 75 (1964).

It was an important rail junction, the Tonopah and Tidewater Railway coming from Goldfield, Nevada, joined the Atlantic and Pacific tracks here, to make contact with both coasts. Running south was a small spur line to the Bagdad-Roosevelt mine. (Present site of the ghost town of Camp Rochester, or Stedman.)

Through Ludlow, too, came the borax from the mines at Death Valley, carried in the cars of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railway.

Ludlow, California, is no ghost town, but many a restless ghost roams its back streets.
The weary motorist, racing over the bleak, flat desert between Barstow and Amboy, is usually ready for a little break by the time he reaches Ludlow. Not a very prepossessing town, it still offers a decent roadside cafe, a garage and service station and a motel. And that is just about all there is left of Ludlow ! ( The living Ludlow, that is. )
Most travelers who stop here to stretch their legs and have a cool drink never get off the pavement. Were they to drive a few blocks south to the Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway they would easily find the ghosts of Ludlow's departed past.
Of course the main street of old Ludlow faced the railway tracks. After all, the daily trains halting here brought all the visitors, the food, medicine, equipment and all the necessities of life on the desert. This was, unblushingly, a railroad town, and very little else counted for anything.

The Main Street today has lost its character, although some indications of its former importance are still visible. At the west end of town we can still read the faded lettering on the large, empty, barn-like structure that was Murphy Bros. General store. (The legend over the entrance reads “Ludlow Mercantile Co. 1908.) A few blocks east, one finds a vacant white frame store with gold lettering still on the plate glass window, “Lee’s General Store”. Inside the window of Lee’s hangs a faded sign CLOSED; dust has gathered on both sides of the glass and the whole structure has the unmistakable air of abandonment. (Note, Lee’s was burned down about 1970.) Murphy’s is a mere shell standing alone at the west end of town and between these two derelicts lie the foundations of many of the buildings that once made up the business district of Ludlow in the old days. For several blocks north the concrete slabs are crumbling now, indicating the size of Ludlow’s old residential section here and there one sees a single, weather beaten house with a truck or car parked and family washing flapping in the breeze. Here dwell the few residents who still cling to this desert whistle stop on a transcontinental highway. They have turned their backs on the railroad, which gave birth to their town and face the future with the automobile highway.

Bumping across five sets of track to the south, more specters may be found. Perhaps a dozen weather beaten shacks still stand. Their condition varies from “barely habitable” to total ruin. And beyond this single ghostly street the desert glitters with the sparkle of sun-tinted glass fragments. The old tin can sumps, more than anything else, indicate the number of people who made their homes here.

Trains still pass through Ludlow daily, but they rarely stop. Their powerful diesel engines do not depend on little stations like Ludlow for water.

West of town lies the ruins of the old switching yards that were Ludlow’s main reason for existence. Row on row of evenly spaced railway ties, marching into oblivion, lies half buried in drifting sand. Here, too, are more foundations and “cellar holes” marking the sites of buildings that house the multitudinous railroad activity of the yards. My son, Elmer, and I drove our jeep all through this area, utterly fascinated with the story we were able to reconstruct from the visible evidence on the ground.

We had come here intending to search for the ghost mining camp of Baghdad-Chase (Camp Rochester, or Stedman) some nine miles south. Old bottles, of course, were our objectives. However, the glass-littered dumps of Ludlow itself proved to be so attractive, from a bottle standpoint, that it was many hours before we could tear ourselves away.

Under the floor of one of the abandoned houses, my son found an old pint whiskey bottle, of the type that I used to sell to the bootleggers as a kid, during the years of prohibition. Meanwhile, searching nearby dumps, I uncovered half a dozen tiny prescription type bottles, most of them still corked. Some were a lovely purple color with tiny, handmade necks and lips. A real prize was a purple E.R.DURKEE SALAD DRESSING NEW YORK with the patent date 1877 blown in the glass of the base. Elmer found a cobalt blue POISON bottle and both of us dug up many Vaseline jars of the CHEESEBROUGH MANFG. CO.CD. NEW YORK. A few were sun blued and bubbly with age, but most were clear glass or faintly amber. Several familiar GEBHARDT EAGLE CHILI POWDER bottles in both large and small size turned up. Other nice finds included a THREE IN ONE OIL, a FOLEY BROTHERS, CHICAGO, and also a J.A.F. & C. (J.A.. Folger & Co extract bottle).

A unique curiosity that my son turned up was an old nasal spray apparatus. The chrome plated metal work seemed to be of much better quality than is found in the stores today. The little glass reservoir, of course, was our main interest. A light purple in color, it was made with an applied neck and a very narrow flange was designed to snap into a flared metal collar on the spray tubes instead of screwing into place as modern sprays do. Altogether this was a find worthy of any collection of bottles.

We found several old horseshoes that we tossed into the jeep to add to our pile at home. A rusty eggbeater that had broken in half bore the molded lettering DOVER EGG BEATER PATD MADE IN BOST_. The frame was made of cast iron.

We took 69 bottles of all kinds from these dumps in just a couple of hours. This was one of those occasions when a person’s skill and knowledge of old bottles paid off, because the older bottles were freely intermingled with glass made only a few years ago. So plentiful were the bottles, especially the small medicine types, we scarcely bothered to inspect them at all. If they were made of cork, we collected them as a matter of course. It was only later, after having cleaned them up, that we really realized the value of our finds.

Crossing the busy highway to the north side of town we discovered a huge dump of several acres in extent. Most of the trash was of modern origin, and yet, a close search turned up quite a few older or at least interesting bottles. I found an infant’s nursing bottle with a tiny flared lip for a rubber nipple of the type used in the 1920’s. Unfortunately this bottle had a hole broken on one bottom corner and a long lateral crack down the front. Foolishly I threw it back and left it there. I should have brought it home as a representative type until I might find a whole one.

Actually, we were seeing such a flood of bottles that our judgment was being impaired. We simply could not take them all home. We did not have the time to devote to a close search because several other places beckoned us in the short time w had. We barely scratched the surface of this huge dump. Literally hundreds of valuable bottles still remain there, awaiting the patient searcher.

Crucero Road, a dirt track marked, NOT A THROUGH STREET, leads northward from Ludlow for an unknown number of miles. For half a mile or more, small dumps of tin cans and bottles appeared on either side of the road. Many were old dumps that have been dug up pretty thoroughly. Without spending too much time here, we managed to find a few good bottles. I was delighted to find a half-pint, heavy glass cream or mild bottle that I remember clearly form my childhood. These bottles were closed with cardboard caps this particular one bore raise lettering on the front: ONE HALF PINT CRESCENT CREAMERY CO.

Soon we returned to the railway right of way paralleling the tracks. Bottles can often be found at the foot of the railroad embankment where they have been tossed from the windows of speeding trains. Their heavy glass and small size prevented their breaking when being thrown from the moving train.

By noon , Elmer and I were very tired. Over a light lunch we recalled our original mission, Baghdad Chase. With a box full of bottles in the back of the jeep, wrapped carefully in old newspapers, we left Ludlow and set out for the mountains. Nine miles south.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did your Father ever take pictures of these trips? I would enjoy seeing some of this story associated with pictures

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would suggest that you DO NOT DIG for bottles on BLM land. It is now against the law and if they catch you they will come to your house and conficate every bottle and artifact you own, unless you can provide a receipt for them. This is no joke, I am an experienced bottle digger and metal detectorist. Even removing a 50 year old coin is in violation of the law. If you are going to use a metal detector on BLM land, be sure to tell anyone you are 'PROSPECTING', this is allowed on BLM land ;)

5:38 PM  
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6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was your father Elmer F. Long? In a masonic group called "Desoms" or "Ancient Delta Guild"? Email me at

1:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Elmer

My son and I just visited you while driving Route 66 from Chicago to LA. Thank you so much for showing us around the "ranch." we love your work - particularly all the interesting things on top of the trees. we have great pictures and memories. you certainly have a great sparkle in your heart and it shows in your work.

I'm telling all my friends to go visit - who knows, maybe some will actually show up!!

Thanks again, we really are appreciative of your hospitality and great art!!

Mom and broken arm boy

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Elmer,
My great grandfather Felix moved to Ludlow with his young son Salvador(My Grandfather)in 1915. He worked on the railroad until his death in 1929 from a train accident. My grandfather stayed in Ludlow until 1934 and then moved to Los Angeles when he married my grandmother who is from Oro Grande. I have three relatives burried in the Ludlow cemetary. I keep a piece of plaster from the now collapsed Murphy brother's store under the driver's seat of my truck as a keepsake.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:34 PM  

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