Thursday, February 12, 2009

The search for Vanderbilt, Manvel and Lanfair

Vanderbilt, Calif.

A spur line of the Santa Fe Railway was built from Goff's to Ivanpah. Vanderbilt was a station on this old railroad, and also the name given to the mining district.
A United States Post Office was established at Vanderbilt on February 1 1893.
The name Vanderbilt was given to the town and the district in the hopes that it would prove to be as rich as the famous family in the East, bearing that name.
As of 1963, the railway spur has long since vanished and the ties and rails removed. The present road to Vanderbilt follows the old railroad bed for one mile. The C. C. Darling Mine still operates in the area,but not on the site of the old town. Half a dozen crumbling old wooden buildings remain,as well as some rusting mining machinery.
After 1964, the C. C. Darling Mine was sold and the entire property, including Vanderbilt is posted " No Trespassing. "

Manvel, California ( Now called Barnwell )
Manvel was another station on the same Santa Fe spur as Vanderbilt, about 5 miles South.
It was named for A. A. Manvel, President of the Santa Fe Railway. Its U. S. Post Office was established on March 30 1893.
Quite a few old frame buildings still stood as of 1963. The town was still occupied,apparently, until about 1952.

Dads trip to Vanderbilt as told by himself 1963

It took two or three months, during the early winter of 1963, to track down the location of the ghost town of Vanderbilt. I had seen the town mentioned in an index of California ghost towns, and I had been told that there was an interesting article on the old camp in a back issue of a certain magazine, but I was unable to locate that issue from the publisher. Finally, I wrote to the Mitchell's Cavern State Park people who had so kindly directed me to Providence a few months previously.
The prompt reply to my query was just what I needed. Complete with a hand-drawn map, mileage notations and visible landmarks. It not only guided me to the town of Vanderbilt but indicated that I would pass two other ghost towns on the road: the abandoned site of an old dry-farming community called Lanfair, and a mining camp named, variously, Manvel or Barnwell.
I laid my plans for a week-end in the middle of January 1963. Disregarding all warnings that the desert in that region was subject to gusty winds, below zero freezing weather and sandstorms at that time of year, I loaded the jeep ( 46 Willy's ) , with equipment for an overnight camp and, at 2:30 Saturday morning after only two hours sleep, I pointed my Four-wheeler toward the distant New York Mountains of Eastern San Bernardino County.
My clothing, that cold morning, consisted of thermal underwear, wool hunting jacket, wool sweater, fleece-lined jacket and a hooded sweat shirt, over all of which I pulled a heavy, three-quarter length car coat. On my head I wore a foam rubber-lined cap with earflaps, and of course wore heavy gloves on my hands. One might guess that my jeep had no heater, and the thin canvas top was no ways windproof.
Thus guarded against the elements, I could laugh away all the fearful admonitions of my friends and family. Was I not, by now an experienced desert rat?
I was right, at first. For the entire 250 miles to Goff's, California, near U. S. Highway 66, I rode as cozily in the drafty cab of the jeep as though I were sitting in my own living room.
Swinging North on the Ivanpah-Goff's road, a bulldozed track of dirt and gravel, I gave a self-satisfied smile as the early morning sun began to warm up the landscape. Within half an hour I had located the site of Lanfair, at the junction of my dirt road to Cima.
Here I found only old concrete foundations of buildings and a ruined water tank. I was unable to see any sign of trash dumps so, since my object was old bottles, and since the wind was a little sharp here, I left the site of Lanfair behind me and crossed Lanfair Valley until I had entered a low range of mountains.
The road had been climbing for some time, and in the hills the sky was overcast. I passed the OX Ranch without stopping, and a few miles farther, on a mountain slope to my left, I spotted many scattered frame buildings, obviously abandoned and falling into ruin. This, I was sure, must be the old town of Barnwell, or Manvel.
I spent two lonely hours here examining the ols buildings and going through the dumps. Three little brown pill bottles about half an inch in diameter and three inches long went into my pocket, as well as a sun-blued " Absorbine, Jr. bottle, a " cathedral " type bottle and several more of a similar nature. Most of these had screw caps, however, and would have little value. They would suffice to be happy reminders of the trip.
Four or five miles North of Manvel I found the little road sign I was looking for. Pointing to the hills on the right it read " C. C. Darling Mine."
This little road was no more than a couple of wheel ruts, and it ran as straight as an arrow through a deep cut in the hills. It dawned on me that this was an old railroad bed with the steel rails and wooden ties removed. Once through the cut in the hills a deep,inverted v-shaped rock and earth fill carried the road across a deep gorge.
I felt very puny as I bounced along, for the steep sides of the fill dropped sharply for many many6 feet,while the apex of the vee which carried the road, was not more than 10 or 12 feet wide. ( near the center of the gorge a slide had narrowed the track to only a little wider than my jeep! ) Gingerly I inched past this danger point, very conscious of what would happen to me and my jeep if the road gave way under us!
Crossing several more cuts and fills, always ascending, I soon found myself among the high , rolling peaks of the New York Mountains. " Rolling Peaks" is, perhaps not quite the proper description, since the hills were quite steep but there were no verticle escarpments in the area.
Higher still, and to my right, and half mile or so away from the railroad bed, I could see the crumbling shacks of Vanderbilt.
This was real four-wheel drive country, and long before I reached the uppermost building in town, I was using compound low gear.
An old tipsy-looking building, a false-front store, first attracted my attention. It presented a sad appearance,and as I crossed the threshold of the doorless aperture I felt a distinct shudder pass through the entire structure. In the main store room merchandise shelves lined two walls clear to the ceiling, and on the floor were wooden bins for the display of dried beans,potatoes and other products, after the fashion of fifty years ago. Everywhere the dust and debris was evident.
Even now, the wind was icy on my face.It entered boldly through the doors and windows, felt its way between the broken, rotting floorboards.
In the kitchen the rusting wreck of an old wood-burning stove lay on its side, and a loose window screen frame thumped insistently in the wind. Other near by buildings were in even worse shape. Tho had given up the long struggle and had collapsed into piles of rubble. Others still stood, drunkenly,with one or more walls lying on the ground, waiting for the final storm that would send them, too, crashing to the ground.
Discovering a trash heap in a deep ravine, I descended and soon worked up a sweat digging for the old bottles. The first was a small green bottle with the label still on it,but so damaged that no lettering was legible. However, in the center of the label I could make out the familiar outline of a cat; so I knew this one had contained Guiness Foreign Extra Stout, imported from Dublin, Ireland.
The next one I dug up was also dark green,but of a different shape. Wonder of wonders, it was a " three -piece mold" bottle which I had seen described but never saw the real bottle before. The lower portion had been made in a so-called "turn mold" and the bottle then rotated so that the lower mold lines were eliminated. The upper portion was made between two hinged sides of the molod forming the shoulders and neck. The bottle was still corked with a small amount of liquid in it which turned out to be water that had seeped in around the cork. Embossed in half-inch letters on the upper shoulder was the curious legend, "No. 4."
The last bottle I found was the most interesting, if not the most valuable. It was a small, purple drug store bottle, and in the panel on one side were the words "Frank M. Towne, Pharmacist. San Bernardino, Cal. Open all night."
This bottle was marred slightly by a small chip in the lip. It was heavily opalized from the mineral-rich soil. I picked up several other bottles of more recent vintage, one being an amber or "wheat" colored catsup-type bottle with horizontal rings around the base and shoulder. The legend on the bottom read "packed by Calif. Cons."
In the deep ravine where I was working, I was not aware of any change in the weather, but when I climbed back to where I had parked my jeep I was almost swept off my feet by gusts of freezing wind. Against this driving force I could not even stand steady enough to take pictures with my camera! The canvas cab of the jeep belled and billowed until I thought it was going to take off like a kite. The sun had disappeared completely, and what I took to be low cloud masses were skudding across the sky. A strange, acrid odor filled my nostrils, and only then did I realize that the overcast was not clouds, but alkali dust that the winds had carried into the mountains.
It was imperative that I get out of the wind if I were to set up camp and make my noon day lunch-- but where? None of the old houses were windproof, and probably not even safe; The only spots that offered any protection at all were the deep ravines, but their sides were so steep and rocky that it was out of the question to make camp there.
Inside the jeep, the wind was not so unpleasant, so I ate a couple of cold sandwiches and had hot coffee from my thermos. Then, in low gear, I investigated every spot in the whole town and its environs, without finding a single place where the fingers of the wind could not reach me.
As the moments passed, the velocity of the wind increased perceptably, and little by little the atmosphere took on a sinister and forbidding look. No longer was this a cheery little ghost town dozing in the sun: rather, the old houses were seen for what they really were-- fleshless skeletons rattling their bones. This was the desert in another mood, one which I had never witnessed before. I felt the menace of a force that had to be respected.
I had not seen another human being since I left the highway five hours before. Should an accident happen in these lonely hills, no one would know, and there were no chance passers-by in this remote spot to whom I could appeal for help. Reluctantly, then I headed the jeep down hill, with many a backward glance. Meeting the wind head on, I rode the old railroad bed back to the Goff's-Ivanpah road and turned to the North.
In a few moments I passed through the little railroad siding community of Ivanpah. I saw no people, but every house seemed to have a pack of rangy dogs huddled in the lee of the buildings. Desert-wise, they simply looked up and bristled as I passed, but made no attempt to buck the storm to chase my car!
Intersecting the freeway from Las Vegas thirteen miles farther on, I joined the pack of automobiles struggling against the wind towards Los Angeles. High-powered engines that normally pushed their cars along easily at 70 or 80 miles an hour were crawling at 40 or 50. My little jeep, when going up grade, was often slowed to 25 or 30.
The stink of alkali grew stronger as I approached the town of Baker and Soda Dry Lake. Clouds of dust swept over the freeway, reducing visibility sharply.
A few miles past Halloran Summit, where I had stopped for gas and a cup, of coffee, such a blast of wind struck the jeep that I thought the little vehicle would be blown right off the road. The windshield wiper blade was torn from its arm and a few minutes later the outside rear view mirror vanished.
With eyes burning from the sand and a thick grey film of alkali dust coating everything, I descended Cajon Pass and,free of the wind at last,rolled into a service station at San Bernardino. Here I was able to wash up. I had a quick lunch and, rested, covered the last seventy five miles uneventfully, reaching home just a little after 9 p. m.
While my 600 mile trip was a decided success, since I had located the three ghost towns I had set out to find, and had actually brought a dozen or more bottles,it was also a failure in that I was unable to camp there overnight as I had intended.
The desert was, indeed, in a hostile mood. I learned still another lesson: no matter how well-equipped,or how experienced a man may be, the desert is still the stronger entity, and the explorer will do well to remember this when the winds howl and the sands of the desert take to the sir!

Elmer Long ( 1919-2005 )


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