Elsie’s Mountain Years- A Winter Tale -Then & Now

2 Mar

One night journey up that old grade is certainly unforgettable. In fact, that whole trip is indelible. It was in December, 1909. We were again living in Long Beach, but for the first — and only — time my parents were trying out the idea of spending the winter at the ranch, where we girls were then there for the holidays. Hylinda must have been at Los Angeles Normal school that year and for some reason she did not go up to Palomar for Christmas. Alice was staying with our friends the Hands and attending High School in Pasadena. I was a Pomona College Junior, living in Sumner Hall, then the girls’ dormitory. A few days before Christmas Alice took the Santa Fe at Pasadena, I got on the same train when it stopped in Claremont, and Papa met us with team and wagon in Temecula.

Breakfast was early, before our thirty-mile drive. But we were only on the lower reaches of the grade when dusk fell. It was bitter weather. We all wore heavy coats, but the icy wind chilled us through and through. As usual, we girls walked part of the way up to save the horses. When we climbed back to the seat we were glad to pull about us the heavy quilts Mama had thoughtfully provided.

“It’s going to storm, all right.”  Papa said hoarsely looking at the black sky that seemed to surround us. “And it’s getting so dark I can’t see the road. One of you will have to walk ahead and carry the lantern.”

We put the thick quilts over our heads and fastened them under our chins with big safety pins (those must have been sent down by our loving mother, too). As we walked along the edge of the road the howling wind tore our “shawls” out like balloons and almost blew us over the precipices at the lower side of the grade. We took turns carrying the flickering lantern. The horses bent their heads and toiled ahead. Papa was bent, too and muffled and bearded.

On that dark night on the bleak mountain side I thought we must look like the Russian peasants I had seen pictured. Almost sixty years later that scene is still vivid in memory.

We reached the forest, and finally the ranch with its warm fires and warmer welcome. For days afterward Papa was very ill. Later Mama said it must have been pneumonia. And for days the snow fell, silently, endlessly. Mama and I went out with an axe and cut down a Christmas tree; Aunt Mamie filled our stockings, as she always did for Christmas, with contents earlier ordered from Sears and Roebuck, the “farmers’ Bible” which Alice brought out for reference on every possible occasion.     

For many years mail came to the “Nellie” post office at Baileys’ three times a week, the carrier and his horse using the using the old trail, once an almost impossibly steep road, a bit of which may still be seen near what is now the south grade up the mountain, built to provide a safer journey for the “Big Eye” of the observatory. Even when a mail day fell on a holiday the mall came, just the same. This year Christmas was a mail day. The storm was over, the sun brilliant across the fresh, deep snow and the evergreens. Never again, I fear, will there be such beauty on our mountain as on that pre-smog day when we had real rainy seasons. Beyond the verdant hills and valleys the ocean glittered with the distant islands standing out sharply in deep blue.

On that sacred day in the midst of such beauty my heart sang as I walked lightly on top of the snow through that shining world. Christmas gift packages and greetings that I carried back only added to my always-remembered joy.

Over 100 years since Elsie wrote that winter tale , the fifth generation ( our youngest son Joshua) was on Palomar enjoying a winter wonderland. Joshua is Elsie’s youngest great grandchild. I posted a picture of his truck in the snow. What took Elsie a full day via horse and wagon (from Temecula to the mountain top) took Joshua less than an hour. I added a picture to show the winding mountain road, now paved and maintained. The sign beside Josh says “Since 1904.” I spent several days working on the next book and wanted to share with you a little excerpt of this winter story she wrote. The pictures at the top are Alice and Elsie in the snow and her father Alonzo Hayes driving the wagon up Palomar.

7 Responses to “Elsie’s Mountain Years- A Winter Tale -Then & Now”

  1. Barb Waite March 2, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    I Meant to say the pictures of Josh were taken on Palomar Mtn. Feb 26th, 2013.

  2. Carole Binder March 2, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    I’m going to love this book too, I can tell already!

  3. Rita Covalt March 2, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    Can’t wait for the completion of the second book and time to purchase! Great reading! So glad to know the authoress!

  4. hanna-lea finkbeiner March 3, 2013 at 3:43 am #

    great photos, make me feel to go home finland.
    Delightful to hear new book is coming.
    What a great adventure.

  5. ritaroberts March 3, 2013 at 6:59 am #

    As you Know already Barbara I adored your book, and I am so pleased that you are writing a second one. Please let me know when it will be published. Good luck.

  6. Elsie Campbell March 4, 2013 at 10:45 am #


    I too am anxiously awaiting your next book to come out, its great to be able to know of the places that you write about. I have two families of grandchildren who live in Temecula and we live about an hour from Palomar Mtn. It’s so interesting to see the difference in the scenes of then and now. Looking forwrd to this adventure of Elsie

  7. Roland Caron March 15, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    Have read your book about ELSIE, my dad was born, 1911,and pass away, 2012. I wanted tosee what life was like in Arizona at that time.
    When will the next book be out? I would love to read it as well.

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