Parkfield Then And Now Pt. 4

Parkfield capital of the Cholame Valley finally had reason to awake from its self imposed 95 year sleep. Ranching at it’s best is always a gamble but the most tenacious and hard working recognized that ranches in The Diablo Mountain range had to be bigger in order to survive so like myself and others started to consolidate by buying the land that surrounded the “home place.” 10,000 acres is a common size that seems to work (pay the bills) but some are much larger and some a little smaller.
1980 was the year that determined the direction that Parkfield would take. A developer from Los Angeles decided that this Valley split into 40 acre parcels would be very salable, especially if deer and bird hunting or raising horses and cattle were all options on these parcels. Those of us that could see the possible conflict between people that had different values and priorities and seeing what happened when ranching communities took land development as an expected transition to a more urban environment. 7 of we ranchers thought that it didn’t have to be the normal course of events. We petitioned the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to change the zoning from its present 40 acre lot size up to 160 acre minimum size. Needless to say this was not a very popular proposal but on a 3 to 2 vote the board did save Parkfield as a true ranching and farming community for 160 acre was too big to fit a developers agenda so another possible but not wanted industry left.
This zoning change did create a vacuum but did give enough time for Parkfield  to reinvent itself into a neighborhood that its priority would be, to encourage hunting, horseback riding, living the Cowboy life, cattle drives and birdwatching. The list is limited to activities that leaves Mother Nature still in charge.
Well if your going to have recreation as an industry, then the logical place to start would be downtown Parkfield. It’s glory days were long gone and by 1987 Parkfield was in bad need of a major remodel. I felt that in order to have one theme that told of Parkfield’s history I needed to own the land that our town was built on. Remember, those town lot deeds that in the 30s and 40s were sometimes used as Chips in a Parkfield Poker game?  Well they had moved from the Poker table to actually having some value and all could be bought for less than a $1,000 per lot.
So over several months in 1987 I was able to purchase most of the lots that I needed to carry out a major “do over” on Parkfield. 1988 my son John who had just graduated from Cal Poly university at San Luis Obispo Ca. decided he wanted to make his home in Parkfield. I said the cattle business will only support 1 family so why not a cafe for you? John said ” sounds good to me, I’ve got a hammer and if you have a saw let’s go for it”. John grabbed his hammer and some nails and I hauled things to build a proper cafe and in spring of 1989 John opened for business. We still needed a place for our guests to get some “slumber time”, so John went to his shop got out his hammer and in 1991 he opened the Parkfield Inn.
The renewal of a Rodeo in Parkfield took place at the new Rodeo grounds in 1993 produced by our daughter Katy and in 1994 Zee and I went to the movies and saw ” City Slickers.” A movie about 3 wanna be Cowboys on a cattle drive. I looked at Zee and said we can do that, we have the ranch, the horses, and family with the skills to make any person feel right at home on his or her horse for 3 days of living the life of a cowboy or cowgirl and in the blink of an eye 24 years of cattle drives have passed from view and into V6 ranch history.  Now as the family looks forward to our 25th year this spring I’m hoping that several of our grandchildren will be helping with the drives and getting themselves ready to take the reins to continue giving our guests a chance to experience driving cattle over the beautiful V6 ranch. John and wife Barbara have developed several different kinds of cowboy and horseback vacation events that are sure to please.
I hope you have enjoyed Parkfield history 101. Now we must look to Parkfield’s chances to survive in a tumultuous, interesting, scary, optimistic, pessimistic, brave or fearful New World. I think our Cholame Valley brightest days are starting right now and then melding into a future that will fullfil a need for people who want to reconnect with Mother Nature, Horses, livestock and a land that is much the same today as it was 100 years ago. But you say Parkfield’s success will be it’s downfall as the developer’s will arrive to carve up our Valley and then cart of the spoils. Not this time they won’t. Because of a tool called a Conservation Easement which if a land owner voluntarily chooses to place this kind of deed restriction on his land organization like The California Range Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy and many local Land Trust’s are available to hold your restricted deed in perpetuity and can also help raise the funds necessary to pay you the land owner for the difference between its present “sub dividable”value and it’s restricted value when the Conservation Easement is recorded the land will be devalued because it can no longer be divided. This that’s left is called its Conservation Value and is held by a land trust that protects the land in its present state. Parkfield presently has about 40,000 acres with recorded easements. Add to this our 160 acre minimum size zoning restrictions and a Monterey County Board of Supervisor who loves Southern Monterey County in its present state and would be committing political suicide if for some reason they chose to allow the South County to sub-divided. Mother Nature you can take a sigh of relief as well as all the Wildlife that calls this Valley home and all the rest of us that enjoy this beautiful Valley, I think we’re safe from man’s heavy hand.
See Ya


It took the Homesteaders the rest of the 19th century to “prove up” on the best of the land that was still available. Oil seeps that had always been a curiosity on the Valley floor caught the imagination of a few wildcatters and now took center stage. This started Parkfield’s 2nd boom that went on from about 1888 till 1915 +or- a few years. Parkfield’s mini oil boom is a testament to human perseverance as it took about 30 years to convince the last of the high rollers that putting your money down for the right to drill for oil in the Cholame Valley. It was literally a guarantee that the money would have just as good a chance if it were poured down a Rat Hole. The few hints of oil that this well drilling binge produced was just enough to give the saying “hope springs eternal” credence. But enough is enough and the money to pour down more Rat Holes finally dries up. When the dollars took flight and left so did all the  wildcatters and their Roughneck crews and equipment. Their was, about this same time another part of the Parkfield economy that was starting to call it quits. They were the Homesteaders. 160 acres was just not enough acreage to make a living, no matter how frugal a family was and so with mixed emotions one after another started to leave. The following excerpt from the twice monthly newspaper ‘The Sand Storm’ printed the following glowing report on the health and prosperity of the Cholame Valley. Little did it know that the report was written from the deck, of the dry land version, of the good ship Titanic. Two more events were about to show themselves that would relegate Parkfield to “a house of cards” status who’s economic foundation was about to take a hit that would empty  the town’s pouch of Silver and Gold.
Besides oil the Cholame Valley was home to Mercury, a much valued element. During World War 1 this metal, that at room temperature was a liquid and was necessary in the making of bullets and cannon shells for the war effort, could also be found encased in glass tubes to make the thermometer that hung on the back porch wall in many homes. The Patriquin Mine discovered by Louis Patriquin in 1910 was very rich in high grade ore and by 1913 the Patriquin family along with a host of miners were ready to fire up the retort furnaces necessary to separate the Mercury from the Cinnabar ore. At the same time their were several other mines being worked in the Valley, all needing workers. Their was one Glory Hole in particular that yielded $10,000 in Mercury, a whole lot of money in 1913. Now add to this activity a large coal mine just outside of the Cholame Creek water shed but miners came to Parkfield for grocery and love and laughter. The chain of events that follows is a story shared by many other towns that settled the land west of the Mississippi River.
World War 1 is over and their is no longer a need for tons of Mercury so Supply and Demand takes over and the price goes in the toilet and the once rich ore has played out leaving only the low grade ore not worth processing, miners leave. The coal mine on the other side of the mountain shortly after Coal was being produced and then loaded on its own rail cars then sent down  25 miles of track that  had been laid from the town of San Miguel where it would meet the Southern Pacific rail line then on to San Francisco but in no time the mine starts intercepting a lot of water, so much it was costing more to pump out the water than the coal was worth. Miners were let go and the coal mine closed. Remember the plight of our wildcatters and Homesteaders?  Adding all 4 catastrophes together I believe adds up to Bankruptcy for “our town”. If only our Cholame Valley could have foreseen the future. The end result would probably would have been the same, for a bloated confidence is a hard thing to extinguish.
It’s time to read what the local newspaper had to say.  By April 22, 1899 the local newspaper called ‘The Sand Storm’ while boasting a population of 900 people, said this. “Parkfield is at least a model town in respect to business houses. It has 2 stores, 2 saloons, 2 livery and feed stables, 2 blacksmith shops and 2 hotels and it probably has 2 good citizens in it”. It also boasted of a community hall, school and water tower to meet the needs of the town. Who could want for more!
The time is now 1920 and most of the folks who came to this Lovely Land to carve out a life are gone. Parkfield was closing down because there were very few jobs left to offer. There are 2 occupations that remain to this day, 1 being Cattle Ranching that need ranch hands and the other is Dry Farming. This style of farming which depleted the fertility of the soil over several decades finally made the costs to raise and harvest a crop to expensive leaving soil that once grew Wheat and Barley to revert back to grazing land. So Parkfield was left to languish in the backwaters of southern Monterey County “out of site out of mind” to the point that Paso Robles our shopping town 37 miles to the South West. If you asked many of its residents in town what they new about Parkfield the answer would probably be “where the hell is Parkfield”?
Parkfield never quite became a ghost town but there were times when deeds to some of its town lots were used for chips in a Poker game. Our grammar school stayed open and reading, writing and arithmetic were still the most important part of the curriculum. The Cal Fire station opened its doors for each fire season and rodeos were still a part of life in this Cowboy town. They were only held occasionally as were dances in the town hall, because Parkfield had become a town that would produce a Rodeo or dance “now and then” between Cat Naps that lasted for 95 years. It could also be awakened every now and then when “The rumor mill” talked about new money coming to town in search of Oil or that somebody was going to reopen the Patriquin Quicksilver Mine. But in 1981 Philips Petroleum actually came to town and leased up the mineral rights on a large share of the Cholame Valley and then picked a sight on our V6 Ranch to drill. With modern equipment that could go deeper supposedly to where the oil was and then to spend about $1,000,000 drilling under very difficult conditions to find a pocket of pressurized Salt Water by Natural Gas that had a very short life and Philips Petroleum had had enough. They pulled up stacks with their wallet somewhat lighter never to be seen again and ending all rumors that Parkfield would now wear 2 crowns, 1 for earthquakes and 1 for oil. So our town yawned and went back to sleep to have the longest decline in population of any Californian town, lasting from its Zenith year of 1899 to the middle 90ties about 95 years when “our town” reached a sustainable number of 18 citizens which can fluctuate a little when there is a birth or a death.

(End of part 3)