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)