Press "Enter" to skip to content

Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Tim Bates

I met with Tim in the spacious kitchen that is used for cooking classes at his Apple Farm business on the Philo-Greenwood Road and we sat down to talk at the large dining table.

Tim is the oldest of three children born to Donald Bates and Eunice Radford, his siblings being David and Sherrie, each born two years apart. The family is of Eng­lish/Scottish heritage on both sides although Tim has lit­tle knowledge on this subject beyond the fact that the Bates side had been in Michigan for a couple of genera­tions and the Radford’s perhaps for one. “I know my Dad was a butcher in a town near to Detroit but on being discharged from the navy at the end of World War 2, he disembarked in Vallejo, California and thought ‘this is nice.’ He had been dating my mother back in Michigan and at some point over the next year or two they were married and decided to move out here in 1947, settling in Napa, where I was born in 1948.”

In those days Napa had a population of about 9,000 (not the 70,000 or so of today) and was basically a bed­room community, as they were called, for the two large industries nearby — the Mare Island Naval Base and Kaiser Steel. “My Dad was a butcher at a large store before becoming the general manager at a smaller estab­lishment — most grocery stores had a section for a butcher in those days. We lived at the south end of town and the houses were basic blockhouses, many duplexes, surrounded by fields and ditches where we’d play. There were also lots of uninhabited hills in those days and of course the ‘dangerous’ reservoir where we’d often hang out. I did some fishing down towards the Bay, in what is now an area where you see vineyards everywhere. After kindergarten and 1st grade we moved to the Westwood district where I went to what the NY Times called ‘the most modern school in the USA.’ It had lots of windows. I then went to Ridgeview Junior High and then Napa High.”

Tim was a “semi-industrious” kid with a paper route and a number of lawns to mow. During the summers, he and his friends would also pick plums that became prunes in one of the three de-hydrators in Napa at that time. “We’d work from 6am to noon by which time it was too hot, getting 25¢ for each 50-pound box. Of course we’d inevitably have lots of plum fights. I spent most of my money on Levi jeans, Converse sneakers, and if I was lucky, perhaps a Pendleton shirt. It was too hot for apples really but Napa had walnuts, pears and cattle, and only about 400 acres of vineyards back then — the Beringer Winery, Christian Brothers, and Beau­lieu vineyards were there then.”

‘I hung out with a group of friends and we’d play cards, bicycle everywhere, play a little baseball, some tackle football, and in the summer hang out at the rec­reation center. I liked sports and we played pick-up foot­ball games for years — they were great times, but I was not good enough to play on the school teams. My Mom was into sending us to summer school — not because of poor grades, I had a B+ for most of the time, but just to make sure we were kept busy. She would enroll us for art, clay modeling, and Spanish classes when I was younger but later I did subjects that gave me some units towards graduation. All that finally stopped by 10th grade fortunately. I stopped the picking by then too — it was not cool unless you got a job picking walnuts which paid much better.”

Tim played the clarinet in the band in 5th through 10th grades — “because I couldn’t play the trumpet. I would also go to the Saturday matinees almost every weekend. I’d mow a lawn for 35 cents and it would cost 25 cents to get in and 5 cents for candy or popcorn. I loved it — The Three Stooges, The Bowery Boys, Little Rascals, and of course the science fiction and horror movies of the time. Our family would also sit down and watch a film on the television on Sunday nights and have milkshakes and popcorn. Our family was not particularly close but my parents were very fair with us. They were quite firm with us — it was the 50s — and they based their parenting on work for rewards.”

By the beginning of his senior year, in the fall of 1965, Tim had become aware of the growing changes in modern culture - he had discovered the Beatles and grown his hair. “I got some John Lennon glasses, although I didn’t need them to see better, and was in a clique of friends at school all into the same thing. It was not the top tier group, we were the second tier in trying to be cool.”

He graduated from high school in 1966 and went to Napa Jr. College for two years. “I had some really good teachers in that time and education became more inter­esting to me and less structured. Some friends from Napa had enrolled at U.C. Berkeley so I’d visit them there while another friend, Gary Meyer, had been showing 8mm movies in his barn since Junior High where I got to see ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, and ‘The Seventh Seal’ for the first time — all three very different from anything I’d seen before and major influences on me in terms of my lifelong love for film.”

Like many others of that generation living in and around San Francisco, Tim experimented with Marijuana and LSD during this time and also became politically aware and active. “At the Junior College I was part of a group that advocated alternative candidates for class President and I attended many anti-war protests. I guess I really embraced the counterculture movement that was everywhere around me. A teacher at high school had introduced me to the music of Bob Dylan, and while I originally liked the Beatles and the pop stuff, I soon got into the Rolling Stones and as time went on I was really into all the bands that played such a big part in the hippie movement of the time — the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and particularly Jimi Hendrix, who I saw three times live. My first rock concert was in 1967 at the Long­shoreman’s Hall in the City and saw The Doors open for The Seeds and The Rascals — that was a major event for me and I attended many performances at the Fillmore and Avalon Ballroom over the next couple of years. My mother didn’t approve of all this and I remember she threw out an album of mine by the controversial come­dian, Lenny Bruce. I was into all aspects of this new scene and read the books of Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut, wore my hair long, with beads, and had my ear pierced.”

In 1968 Tim transferred to SF State to continue his studies. His filmmaker friend Gary worked there in the Audio-Visual department and helped Tim get part-time work there too. “This was a big change for me. Napa was lilywhite, but now I met black people for the first time really. With three friends I rented a huge house a few blocks from the college and we had a big old lot of fun for quite a few years. I got more into the civil rights and anti-war protest movements and I personally broke the College President’s window twice. I was chased through the streets by cops on horses with big sticks and I remember we tried to close down the bank of America and I was very close to getting arrested on that occasion. Unfortunately, my folks did see me on the television news and gave me one last chance or they would stop supporting me.”

Despite all of these extra-curricular activities, Tim was still reading a lot as he continued to study for his English literature degree. “I remember taking classes such as ‘Vonnegut the Absurd’ and ‘Primitive Drum­ming’. Teachers would invite you to give yourself a grade and so my grades certainly went up. I smoked a lot of dope and, after trying acid for the first time when the Beatles’ White Album’ came out, I dropped a lot of it — sometimes before classes. I even tried dealing the stuff but never sold a drop. At some point there were seven people in the house and we had Christmas lights on all year round. It was a very wild few years looking back. As for relationships, I enjoyed chasing girls but I’d always fall in love and then that would scare them off — most girls don’t like clingy and desperate men. Then I’d spend time alone in my room listening to the Beach Boys.”

In 1970, Tim received his degree from the President whose windows he had smashed but he continued to live in the house near to campus for nearly two more years. “My parents had split up and it was a strange time for me. I had got my college deferment for the draft and after working in a gas station for a time, my buddy Dan and I decided to go to Europe. We had a great time, first in England — I had been really into Brit bands like the Kinks, the Searchers and of course the Beatles and Stones, and then on to Scotland. I got to really like beer for the first time, particularly after being drunk for a week with two guys who gave us a ride and a place to stay. I had my first whisky in Scotland and we hitched everywhere. Then we crossed to France where nobody liked us. They ignored us in the cafes with our long hair and backpacks and we could not get any rides at all. Dan returned to the States so I caught a train to Germany and after that things went well as I hitched around Switzer­land and Italy, paying $1 a night for hostels or being put up by friendly locals. I went on to Yugoslavia and finally Greece where I had heard there was an island called Mykonos where you could hang out naked, eat freshly caught fish, get drunk, and live in caves. It was true!”

Tim returned to the States in October 1970 to find that he would have to appear at the draft board office — he no longer had student deferment. He was in line at the physical when he decided to ask for conscientious objector status. They didn’t have the necessary papers for him to sign so he walked out. Two months later he was visited by the FBI and told he would have to report. “I wasn’t going to shoot my toe off and I didn’t have asthma and so, with the thought of three years alternative service as a conscientious objector in my mind, when a friend of mine, John, from my days in Napa, thought we should ride bicycles to Canada to avoid the draft I thought that was the best plan. We cycled up Highway 1 for a time and took about three weeks in getting to Can­ada where I was to stay for nearly two years. There were plenty of other draft dodgers in the Vancouver area.”

Tim got his social security card and found himself working in various restaurants and then making waterbed frames. “It was a hot item. I still did some pot smoking but not nearly as much LSD, and was into the new health food movement. I took some classes at the Free Univer­sity and fell under the spell of a class called ‘Magick in theory and practice’ based on a book by occultist Aleister Crowley, and taught by an Anglican Priest. This turned out to be a serious occult endeavor. It was a sort of Gestalt therapy along with magic rituals that would help us to ‘lift the planet’s consciousness.’ I found myself in a house with several others in a 24-hour-a-day encounter group. I was convinced about a lot of stuff and was sure this was the fastest way to realize my higher self.”

When friends visited Tim from the States during this time they were worried about him. He was living in a house with twelve others and their priest and was clearly influenced by this man and their way of life. Tim had met a woman called Gail on the course but over time everything became too intense and after getting hives he moved out of the house. “I kept the restaurant job and Gail came and found me and we were married. It lasted about six weeks before her old boyfriend showed up and they got back together, in our house. Eventually we had had enough of our life there and those two wanted to go back to Montreal so the three of us caught a train and moved there. I once again found a job making waterbed frames for cash and claiming unemployment at the same time. Apart from some personal stuff, Canada was good to me. I loved the beer, the steak dinners, and I even got into ice hockey.”

Tim had money and found himself supporting the others. He still wanted to be with Gail and was becoming a nervous wreck as she remained with her boyfriend. The hives returned and he phoned his mother one day in some distress. ‘You’re not as far out as you think you are’ was her comment. He had had enough and decided to return to the US in the early spring of 1973. “When I crossed the border at Burlington, Vermont, I was held by the border patrol. I was wanted by the FBI for draft dodging and spent the next week in jail. I was advised by an attorney to waive my right to trial there and go to court in California. Two FBI men put me in handcuffs for the plane ride back west. We sat in first class and I remember listening to the Grateful Dead on the head­phones. I was ready to return.”

Tim met up with his old cohorts in Napa and he found work tearing down old barns that were in the way of the ever-expanding vineyards, and recycling the wood. He would hang out at a place called the Vintage Café in Yountville where two or three of his friends worked. “ I had hung out there many years earlier when at the junior college, cutting classes to sip espresso and play chess with my friend Ed. I did not have any full-time work and was hanging out there again, waiting for my trial date. That place had fantastic food, the best hamburger ever, and with my friends working there I got plenty of breaks. Then one day the cook cut himself and the owner, Sally Schmitt, asked if I wanted to work. The next day I am the fry cook in a very popular place, sur­rounded by friends and cute girls. Not long after I appeared in court and was acquitted due to the fact that I did not get my CO papers in the mail. We expected I’d get three years but I didn’t.”

Tim began hanging out with the owners’ daughter, Karen, and then on their first date he took her in his ’54 Chevy to go and see the latest Mel Brooks’ movie ‘Young Frankenstein,’ which, being a Mel Brook’s fanatic, he’d seen a few times already. Apart from the odd shift, Tim left the café to take a job as a baker in Vallejo where he worked nights for three years. Karen became the manager of the restaurant and they were married in 1978. Around that time Sally and husband Don Schmitt opened what was to become a major land­mark restaurant, ‘The French Laundry’ where Tim helped with the landscaping. Son Joe was born and soon afterwards Tim and Karen took a ranch caretaking job in Chiles Valley at the north end of Napa Valley. Karen continued to take some waitress shifts at the French Laundry while Tim babysat, having quit the bakery job.

“I learned quite a lot at that ranch job — particularly from their tree guy whom they had hired; also about tractors and orchard work too. The big problem was the woman we worked for. She was very difficult to deal with and after two years things came to a head and she fired us. Our daughter Sophia had arrived by this time and thankfully the French Laundry continued to be very successful meaning that Don and Sally were prepared to look for an investment somewhere. As a result we went in on a house with them in St. Helena and I started my own janitorial business and cleaned toilets etc for a cou­ple of years, my main client being the Calistoga Inn.”

“We had grown tired of Napa and the increasing num­ber of tourists. Meanwhile, Karen’s brother, Johnny, had driven through Anderson Valley a few years earlier and one day we had made trip up here with him. The Valley was similar in some ways to Napa but far smaller and so after another trip a few years later, when we camped at Hendy Woods, we checked out an apple orchard owned by the Schoenahl family. Don and Sally also checked it out and they were keen on something that was not just a home but a business too. In September 1983 we made an offer and after a few month’s of back and forth negotiations, the deal was made in January 1984, and the rest is history.”

It was a tough time at first with so much left that was worthless. Lots of renovation would have to be done. “We knew just one person here, Mike Langley, a friend from Napa, and he was a great help. It had basically been a farm labor camp and we were in a trailer at first while the house was worked on. We re-hired some of Schoe­nahl’s workers to do some major pruning — nothing had been done for three years and the fruit was small and scabby. Fortunately, we could get by raising the price for the fix-priced dinner at the French Laundry a little at a time — it went from $12.50 at the beginning to $48 sev­enteen years later at the time it was sold in 1994.”

Tim’s experience at the ranch earlier came in handy and the necessary equipment for running an apple orchard was purchased. The property is thirty-two acres, about twenty with apples, and Tim, having been into the idea of organic farming for many years, felt he had to learn about farming in general before he could do it that way. He was helped greatly by the Valley’s big apple producers, the Gowans, who bought his apples in the first few years and also showed him the ropes regarding pruning, thinning, weeding, mowing, and forklift driv­ing. “I also learned that chemicals work very well but I didn’t want to use them. I was certified organic in 1986.”

Tim had about 2000 apple trees in the early days, mostly Golden Delicious, with a few Jonathan and Red Delicious, although over time the Sierra Beauty has become the Apple Farm’s signature apple. They also have one-and-a-half acres of Bartlett pears, and have found room for goats, chickens, horses, sheep, and then occasional pig. He became a member of the Mendocino chapter of the California Certified Organic Farmer’s, and later it’s president, which led him to being involved with the writing of many of the rules and regulations that exist in this field. “I am not a good leader as such but give me a sub-committee to work on and I will do well. I have made many proposals over the years and worked at the State level for fourteen years until the Feds took over and it got way out of hand so I stopped being involved in that side of things.”

Daughters Polly and Rita came along in 1988 and 1991 respectively and Tim and Karen built and moved into a rammed earth home on the property, where Rita was born. They made a groundbreaking move in 1994 when the very successful cooking classes were intro­duced for visitors to the Apple Farm by Sally Schmitt, which are now run by Karen following Sally’s retire­ment. Then some cabins were built for these people tak­ing the classes to stay overnight thus offering a full weekend deal for visitors. This has been a great success and offset any down periods in the volatile apple market. “We have various wholesale outlets, two big ones being Monterrey Market in Berkeley, a ‘Mecca’ for top quality produce in the Bay Area, and Veritable Vegetables, but this has fallen to about 50% of our business with the rest coming from restaurants, retail, and direct to the cus­tomer at the farmers stand on site here, which Karen started in 1995, adding jams and jellies and chutneys etc over time. We also now offer the whole place for com­plete wedding packages and that is doing well also... I have learned so much about apples, although my knowl­edge is more from the emotive and passionate side than from an academic point of view. I am basically self-taught and do not have a degree from U.C. Davis! I was dealing apples for a time but have now let that go, and we have less staff and fewer trees these days, with two thirds now replanted.”

A dozen or so years ago, Tim and several friends — Charlotte Triplett, Jeanne Eliades, Eric Labowitz, and Marie Goodwin, set up ‘Solstice Productions’ and showed films in the Valley, at the Veterans Hall mainly, and for three years in the late nineties they ran a film festival. He has now become involved with the current Film Festival team along with those same people, plus Heidi Knott and yours truly... He loves the Valley’s size and that it takes a determined person to visit and or settle here. “It is not a day-trip for most, as Napa is. What’s not to like here — we have Lemons’ Market — a real butcher! Oh, but we currently don’t have a great bar that would be good for everyone to visit.”

It had been an unusually long chat so it was time to finish up. I asked Tim for his thoughts on some Valley topics of interest.

The Wineries? “There is more than enough to be hon­est. We need another good row crop for some diver­sity. Water is a problem and I probably use more per acre than the wineries, but I do produce 15 to 20 tons of food each year. Having said that I do like our wines.”

The AVA? “Great entertainment.”

KZYX radio? “I was there at the beginning and had a show for 15 years. I am glad it’s there.”

The school system? “Very tricky — I can’t complain, so I won’t. Polly went through there and got to Stanford so why people would take kids out and send them to Mendocino I’m not entirely sure, nor do I encourage it. We did that with Rita, although with her being the fourth it was a case of ‘whatever’ at that point, I think. Mean­while cutbacks in the arts and sports cannot be good.”

I posed a few wrap-up questions to Tim.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Looking out at my Farm.”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Not much. Perhaps the little things like the tractor not starting, a toilet not flushing right... oh and my arthritic knees.”

Sound or noise you love? “Birds singing.”

Sound or noise you hate? “Goats that sound like a human baby that has fallen into an electric fence.”

Favorite food or meal? “Well I’ll probably get into trouble for this but how about the perfect hamburger with grilled onions, fries, and two pints of beer.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “Author Herman Hesse.”

Favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? “The film would be ‘King Kong’ — the original of course; the book would be the complete works of Law­rence Durrell; and the song would be an album — ‘Aftermath,’ an early one by the Rolling Stones.”

Favorite word or phrase? “It’s probably ‘Suure’, often said in a sarcastic way.”

Favorite hobby? “Well I continue to be an avid reader, or perhaps it’s playing solitaire on the computer.”

Profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were  given the chance to do anything? “An author.”

Profession would you not like to do? “Well, I did clean out toilets so that’s out. Probably a coalminer.”

Happiest day or event in your life? “All those babies arriving.”

Saddest? “I’ve been very fortunate to this point. I was sad when my father died but as a family we were not close. Perhaps when my friend Mike died — he was one of the gang who played in those pick-up football games, a dear friend. Losing friends will be tough.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself, physi­cally, mentally spiritually? “That I’m easy going and can always come up with an excuse for a beer — and that I very seldom get angry when I drink too much.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what will God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “What do you want?” ¥¥

(To read the ‘stories’ of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at Next week the guest interviewee will be Valley Activist, Eugenia ‘Gene’ Herr.)

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *