Last week’s Floodgate story mentioned that the gyppo logging company working for Masonite Corporation in the seventies, Shuster Enterprises (!), provided its crews with transportation to jobsite, important for those living on the Ukiah side of the hill. These “crummies” were simply brand new 3 seat station wagons handsomely painted and name-scrolled in Shuster’s bold black and white chevrons, sparkling clean on the way to work in the morning, deep in dust heading home at the end of the day.
The “crummies” regularly stopped at Floodgate because Sam Avery’s Homelite saw sales/service business was an important part of their working lives. Sam claimed he sold over 100 saws annually, mostly to the timber industry, and from his tiny chicken shed shop behind The Store and straddling Floodgate Creek he probably repaired and rebuilt a couple of hundred saws each year too. Friday evenings it was almost guaranteed the crummy stop at the sawshop would include a beer or two on the way home as well. Even Budweiser tasted good after eating dust and tan oak pollen for ten hours a day.
One particular crew, mostly Boonville and Philo residents, also included its social director, Billy Owens, Arkie immigrant, master songsmith, everyone’s friend, and last Fall at ninety years just retired after delivering the daily Press Democrat around The Valley for a generation. Billy had an authentic “hillbilly” tenor voice and an archive of “country and western” music stored in his head that was a treasure. He knew songs back to Jimmy Rogers, the Singin’ Brakeman from the thirties, most of Hank Williams and much of Nashville that had been written and broadcast since then. He could yodel too, and his steam engine whistle “holler” enlivening “I’m Movin’ On”. “That big eight-wheeler rollin’ down the Track…” was authentically spine-tingling.
(Does anyone remember how deep in “Country” music radio programming in northern California was back then, Nashville and Evangelical preachers all over the AM dial? When I had a long day working the vineyard, I would turn the pickup radio high enough so the music broadcast at least a hundred feet from the truck down a vine row. And most of the stations, even in San Francisco, 1010 KWIN, were “country.” From the vineyard I could get that one and also KFRE, 50 thousand watts in Fresno, Sacramento’s KRAK and it “Corral of Country Music,” launched in 1948 by Texas Swing creator, California immigrant Bob Wills, never mind the local Ukiah and Petaluma stations. I think the Petaluma one still survives, on FM.)
So for my consort and I those Friday afternoons at Floodgate were the highlight of the week; it was a day we never missed those early first years in the Valley. Nothing like joining a ragged chorus led by Billy of “Your Cheatin Heart” or “Jambalaya,” “Wabash Cannonball,” or “Okie from Muscogee.” One day the consort had a really great idea. She brought down her old acoustic guitar and put it on the backbar as a contribution to the Floodgate Jamborees.
And when we arrived around our usual time the next Friday, at least half a dozen dusty, sweaty buddies in boots, jeans and grimy workshirts were gathered around Bill perched on the center bar stool, guitar, already tuned, cradled in his arm and well down the road knocking out his favorites, and directing his audience in a raucous “Do you know...” game. I loved train songs, “City of New Orleans,” “Hobo Bill,” “The Wreck of old 97,” or “Rock Island Line,” for instance. Sometimes at a suggestion Billy wouldn’t even pause for a thought, he’d just dive in with guitar and vocal before the request noise died down. Other times, he’d lean back onto the bar, search his warehouse for a hint before launching, sometimes slowly, searching tentatively for the right key and tempo. Sometimes, it was simply, “Nope, no, I don’t recall,” which started up the request yammer again.
Those were wonderful sessions at Floodgate back then in the early seventies. They lasted about two hours or so and for six months. Then one Friday in October the consort and I showed up at the usual time, no one there except Sam and Alvy, guitar gone from the back bar. Well, it turns out that the Floodgate Friday Jamboree had migrated down The Valley, first to Janie’s Place in Philo, now the Company Cookhouse, then on to The Boonville Lodge where, we later heard, the festivities, not necessarily musical, became very raucous and extended.
Those evenings in Boonville did in fact come to the attention of Charlie Shuster, Mr. Enterprises, the logger boss, over in Willits. Charlie, to my knowledge was a fair and considerate boss who trusted his crews in the woods. But he was very nervous about the negative consequences for his business and its reputation if an “unfortunate incident” occurred while his vehicle was conveying the loggers for hours from bar to bar on their way home from work.
Shuster’s investigation of the circumstances led from The Lodge upstream and inevitably to the source of this recreational form, Floodgate Store and the Friday Night Jamboree. Shuster got in touch with the Averys, and when we noticed the guitar was no longer mounted on the backbar the next week, Sam looked at us sheepishly as if it had been his idea to produce, then cancel the show. Sadly we assured him it was his generosity for its opening but our responsibility for its closing. And to our everlasting disappointment this remarkable contribution to the local folk karaoke was over. I am still in mourning.
(Next Week: Marguerite’s Floodgate Bar Rules of Law.)