Ed note: Junior Price, 92, has died in Santa Rosa. To honor the memory of this vivid Valley old timer, we are re-printing the interview he did with Steve Sparks in August of 2011.
I was very pleased to meet Clyde Price Jr. — he goes by 'Junior', when he made a special visit to the Valley a few weeks ago with daughter Gloria. We sat down in the new meeting room alongside the Little Red Schoolhouse Museum building near to the Elementary School north of Boonville and Junior told his story.
He was born in November 1920 and is therefore ninety years old. He was born on the Ranch at what is now Gowan’s to parents Clyde Price and Mary Brown who had married when they were seventeen and fourteen respectively. The Price family was originally from Germany where their name had been Preisch, coming over to the States from Offenbach in the 1740’s and reaching Knight’s Landing in Yolo County, California in 1867 and Anderson Valley in 1890. His great grandfather, William Price lived in a house behind what was a few years later, the large red house on the highway — Reilly Heights, built in 1895, next to what is now Roederer Winery. Junior’s grandfather was Sumner Price who married Katie Studebaker in 1890, another old Valley family and they had four children — stepson Gilbert from his earlier marriage, Hazel, Clyde, and Ellis...
On the Brown side, Junior’s great grandfather was Doctor John Brown, whose picture can be seen in the Museum and his grandfather George was born in St Helena before coming to the Valley. Mary met Clyde here and they eloped to Santa Rosa to get married in 1915. “It was not a shotgun wedding, just a couple of scared kids afraid to come home. They lived on the Studebaker property that was divided up by my Grandmother Katie, with my Mom and Dad getting the Price Ranch, which is down the barely noticeable lane just a few yards south of the Philo-Greenwood Road off Hwy 128, now on the Gowan’s property. As a kid I was always outside and did everything from hunting and trapping to working in the orchards, picking apples, prunes, pears, and later different produce. I would have to collect all the windfall apples and put them into sacks. We’d swim in the river where the bridge by the Apple Farm is now. It was called the River Rest, but we just called it the river. I went to the Shields School, which is on the third bend in the road north past the Gowan’s Oak Tree stand. There were just eight or nine kids in the whole school, 1st through 8th grade — they were the Hiatt girls from Yorkville, Jack Clow, George and James Gowan, Helen, Stanley and Philip Hagemann, Johnnie Williams, Myrtle William, and Warren Ingram. My Uncle John Studebaker, my Dad’s cousin, couldn’t sell his produce so my Dad took it over and started ‘peddling’ the fruits, mainly on the Coast at first, but later in the produce markets in the Valley and towns and cities on the coast and down south — Navarro, Boonville, Healdsburg, Geyserville, Albion, Mendocino, Fort Bragg, even up to Rockport and down to San Francisco.”
Clyde and Mary had five kids — Jesse in 1913, Ruby in 1915, Mary Etta in 1919 (who died as a baby), Clyde 1920, and Harold in 1923. Clyde Jr. is the only one left. I was friends with Warren Ingram and his brother Rea who was later the school bus driver for many years, and also Jack Clow, who went on to open Jack’s Valley Store just outside Philo. At thirteen, Junior went to the High School that was on what is now Anderson Valley Way where the District Office is, next to the current Elementary School and just yards from where we were sitting. “I went to school because I had to; I was not too good but I did graduate in 1939. I didn’t like sports, except horseshoes, although I did play a little basketball. My main interest was band and I had started saxophone lessons with a teacher in Cloverdale when I was six years old. In high school I played the tenor sax in the school band with Clare (a boys name too) ‘C.W.’ Fields, Joe ‘Junior’ Gleeson, Bill Dightman, Pete Witherell, and my brother — Harold ‘Bink’ Price. We would hang out together out of school and all knew a little of the local language — Boontling — yeah, we ‘piked up the Boont’ and hung out at the local ice cream store — St John’s, later Weiss’s — a restaurant/bar and soda fountain, and a bus stop. The Buckhorn is at that spot now.”
“I smoked cigarettes and played horseshoes a lot. Yes, I smoked. They would sell us cigarettes, Camels, there was not much law around here then. I also smoked when I milked the cattle and hid my cigarettes there. Sometimes my Dad would buy me Bull Durham tobacco. I remember the teachers and the bus driver challenged us to horseshoes and they didn’t win a single point. I liked beer too but a few years out of high school I stopped. I found I was missing too much if I was drinking. During high school I had pocket money from my job on the produce truck at weekends and during the vacations — enough money to keep me in cigarettes for the rest of the year. I was always outside; kids were back then. I trapped with my Dad — ‘coons, skunks, otters… Mom would take us to Sunday school and church — both Methodist churches in the Valley — in Philo and Boonville. Dad never went — he was raised 7th Day Adventist but never practiced. If it were up to my Dad I would never have finished school. Even on my last day I had to leave school early to make deliveries with him in Ft. Bragg... After graduating and getting my diploma, I went to work for him. It was never going to be anything different. By 1942 he was selling to many stores, apples mainly, and a few years later I was driving down to Los Angeles on deliveries. I also got some work in the mill for the Union Lumber Company, earning 40¢ an hour.”
In 1936, Junior married Marjorie Berryhill from Fort Bragg and they had two children — David (1941) and Gloria (1945), living in my parent’s house across the highway from the Floodgate Store. “My Dad paid me $20 a week but with lots of bonuses, and then in 1944 I was drafted into the Army. I was an infantryman in the 104th Division fighting in Europe. The 413th Battalion, C Company, #39052456. We were in the fighting just after the Battle of the Bulge and we slowly pushed the Germans back.”
After the war, Junior returned to work with his father, with brother Bink also helping out a lot. “Following the war the mills started to spring up all over the valley as the lumber industry boom took off — they needed wood to build houses in the expanding Bay Area. This meant the arrival of mill workers from Oklahoma and Arkansas — ‘Okies’ and ‘Arkies.’ They took over the Valley and never fired a shot! There were mills from Navarro all the way inland to the county line — about thirty of them, not counting the small ones. Our kids attended the Navarro Elementary School. Gloria later went to the Indian Creek School, where the PG&E sub station is now, in Philo, before doing six months at the Boonville Elementary in the Veterans’ Hall. When not working I had my own swing band in which I played the alto saxophone. At school I had started the band with my school band-mates and we’d play at dances in The Grange Hall. The old hall that was burned down, the dance hall at the Pardini Hotel in Navarro, Comptche Hall, and also over the hill to Redwood Valley, and in Ukiah at the Shady Oaks Dance Hall. I’d I carry my sax on the handlebars of my motorcycle. I still have it. As a family we would spend time with the family of Warren Ingram, the California Highway Patrol guy in the Valley, and a friend for many years. We’d get together for dinner at one of the houses and play cards — pinochle, canasta, Monopoly, and I’d play checkers for hours with Warren. He was very competitive and called everyone ‘fathead.’ He called me ‘Popo.’ That was my nickname around here. Bob Glover was ‘Little Beast,’ Junior Gleeson was ‘Big Beast.’ And there was Clare ‘Sneeze’ Fields, Bill ‘Dighter’ Dightman, and Pete ‘Wit’ Witherell. Because my parents didn't like the teacher in Anderson Valley, I went to school in Cloverdale for a year in 1932. I was called ‘Mickey’ there because I wore a Mickey Mouse belt. We rented a house in Cloverdale, about 25 miles from Boonville, and for years after that I was called Mickey whenever I was in town.”
In March 1955, Junior and the family returned to Cloverdale where their new home was one of many being built there. The down payment had been obtained through the G.I. Bill. Junior was a mill worker once again — a truck driver hauling lumber in his ’52 GMC truck and later a MAC Diesel truck, often as far as Wilmington, south of Los Angeles, a two-day trip. He moved on to work with Hulbert and Muffly as a forklift operator, feeding the mill and stacking limber off the green chain. “They were cousins of the Hulbert’s whose family my sister Ruby had married into. We’re half-assed relatives around here, not in-bred! I stayed there for about six months and then went back to working for my Dad driving the produce trucks from here to LA.”
Junior’s son David was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1959 and he and Marjorie split up the following year. Junior moved to another job — back to driving a lumber truck for Kelly Trucking, working for Baxter and Son Lumber Company out of Cloverdale. “Then I met someone I shouldn’t have met, Jackie. We lived together and in 1961 we got married and had a daughter, Twyla, and I went back to working with Hulbert and Muffly up in Arcata. I was there for a year and we split up and I returned to the Valley. My Dad had passed in 1961 and I stayed with Mom at the Price Ranch. I was forty three and back home. Mom died in 1966 and I met Alice Senn, born Kaiser and became her 5th husband in 1967 and she was my 3rd wife. I said ‘We’d better stay together. Nobody else wants us!’ We did — for nearly 40 years — until she passed in 2006.”
They moved in to Alice’s place on Gschwend Road, south of Floodgate but not long afterwards they moved to the Price Ranch and rented out Alice’s to a few young women. They turned out to be the early members of Charles Manson’s gang, who also lived there for a time. Meanwhile, Junior worked for Cordes Lumber and also Redwood Coast Lumber on Masonite property, making split rail, grape stakes, and salvaging logging and doing clean-up on his D8 Cat after major logging had been completed. “They were big Cat’s, not D9’s though... The 17-acre ranch was left to my brother Jesse and me but I bought him out for $2000. We paid off the loan on the ranch and sold it to James Gowan in two separate parcels — the orchard first in 1972 then the rest in 1973. The Gowan family still has it today. His mother was Alice Studebaker, a first cousin of my father’s. It was the Studebakers who originally donated out the ranch so James got it back, but he had to pay for it. We had bought a house in Santa Rosa in 1971 and moved there in 1973 and I took a job delivering milk to stores, restaurants, even homes. I went all over the area and out to Guerneville and Sebastopol too. It was a mistake but it took me a year to find that out... I then went to work for Performance Towing driving a tow truck for the next 33 years, and later Opperman & Son Truck Sales and Equipment, until 2006 when I was 86. I didn’t retire. They just stopped calling me! I drove all over for them, from Salt Lake City up to Arcata and down to LA. Yes, that milk route and Jackie were the two big mistakes in my life.”
“Now I have the best job of all — doing nothing. I get up real early so that I have all day to rest. I like to watch old westerns and for many years Alice and I liked to travel. Her mother lived in Wisconsin and we went there every year, taking a different route each time, up into Canada sometimes on the way. My daughter Gloria married a military man and they moved around a lot — up to Washington State, Georgia, and in Germany. I have two granddaughters — Michelle and Renée, and four great grandchildren — Kyra, Aiden, Rylee with Renée and husband Ryan in Jackson, California, and Hunter down in Texas with Michelle and her husband Jeff. Through Alice, I have a step great, great grandchild. Since 2006 I have done nothing at all. I have a woodworking hobby — making cradles, stools, kids’ toys, checkerboards, and the watering can figures outside the museum, anything pertaining to wood. But I don’t do much of that now, unless somebody wants something special. Alice passed away in 2006, on 04/05/06, at the age of 92, and for years she had provided a child care service at our home, practically raising a couple of kids ourselves — Justin and Larkin Simpson.”
I asked Junior for a snapshot verbal image of his father. “Driving his produce truck. He had a real good way of making you do something you didn’t want to do. He made a real good boss.” And his mother? “She was just Mom. But that’s a lot.”
Next I turned to asking Junior for his brief responses to various Valley issues.
The wineries and their impact? “Well, as you will know by now, everything used to be apples and sheep. There will always be changes. It then went to the sawmills and now it’s the wineries. Who knows what will be next? In the 30s, Asti Winery planted grapes and harvested for two years. There was ‘not enough sugar’ they said, this was ‘not grape country.’ I guess they were wrong. There has always been grapes on Greenwood Ridge, where the Italian families settled — Vinegar Hill as it was called — no sugar!”
Changes in the Valley? “Well, as I said, change happens and not everybody likes it. Ever since the Valley was discovered. That was by Anderson by the way, not Henry Beeson as some will tell you. I heard that from Beeson’s daughter herself, Etta Beeson. She would have said it was her father, unless it wasn’t the truth. She said the Beeson brothers, Henry and Isaac, were not with William Anderson that first time the Valley was seen by white folks. I believe her.”
I posed a few questions. Some from TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself.
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? Nothing excites me. I get up and look forward to breakfast and another day.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “The noise of traffic.”
Sound or noise you love? “Country and western music.”
Favorite food or meal? “A t-bone steak with potatoes and gravy — the Anderson Valley special.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “My Dad.”
Anything scare you? “I don’t think so.”
Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? “Germany — to visit where I was during the war. The Ruhr River — where we lost half of our company when they were swept down the river we were crossing after a dam further up river was blown up. I lost a lot of good friends in the war.
Favorite hobby? “I don’t have one now. Used to be woodworking. Now I like to watch old western movies — John Wayne, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers. I remember the first movie I saw was ‘Wings’ in 1927. I went to see it with Albert Farrer at the Oddfellows Hall in the Live Oak building in Boonville.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? “When I was a teenager I wanted to be the school bus driver. In my senior year, our driver was Johnny Giovanetti but he worked with my Dad a lot and so sometimes, if he was busy doing that, he’d let me drive the school bus down from Vinegar Hill to Hwy 128. Later I wanted to be a Greyhound Bus Driver.”
Profession you’d not like to do? “A sewage worker.”
How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? “I remember my first kiss, I was at a Halloween party at Alice Gowan's house and Helen Hagemann grabbed me and took me outside and kissed me. My first sort-of date was when I rode my bicycle up the Haehl Hill and out to Nina Delbar's when I was a sophomore in high school. I remember George Gowan telling me about one of his first dates when he was driving the car and he put a hand around his date’s shoulder. She said ‘Should you be doing that with your hand?’ and George replied ‘Well if I take it off the wheel we’ll crash the car’.”
Something you would do differently if you could do it over again? “Probably not, although I have made mistakes, as I said earlier. I have not seen Twyla since she was five years old. She must be nearly 50 now. That’s life.”
A memorable moment; a time you will never forget. “There are too many of them.”
Something you’re really proud of and why? “I am proud to be here. Proud of my kids and grandkids.”
Favorite thing about yourself? “That I have always been able to do any kind of job, or fix anything. A jack of all trades and master of none.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Well, ‘Come on in,’ would sure beat ‘Get the hell out of here,’ I’d say!” as he laughed out loud. Thus ended one of the most pleasurable interviews that I have conducted over the past few years.
To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com.