Thursday, July 28, 2011

End of the Road

"This place ain't dead yet, but it's got about half a foot in the grave," said Bob Frees, 61, of Moundsville, W.Va., which now has a population of just over 9,000. "The big-money jobs are all gone. We used to have the big mills and the rolling plants and stuff like that, and you could walk out of high school when you were 16 or 17 and get a $15-an-hour job."

Rural US Disappearing? Population Share Hits Low, by Hope Yen (AP), 7/28/11

In the Spring of 1963, my father, having apparently exhausted limited opportunities in the foothill town of Sonora, Ca., migrated to the substantially smaller hamlet of Alleghany, Ca., pop. 150, elev. 4400 ft. 

James Kimball put about as much distance between him and his home state as the lower 48 would allow, but he clung to his Boston accent tenaciously; "pawf-the-coss" is what he might have said about the done thing he had rejected - par for the course - and an observer might have said the same of his migrations and career path. In a decade, he ran a small insurance business and a desultory gentleman farm in suburban Sacramento, sold cars in Sonora while moonlighting with an equally desultory attempt at a TV repair sideline, then tended bar in one of the watering holes on the main drag. The placement that came his way in Alleghany was the management of one of its two bars, Casey's Place, and the occasion was the retirement of the owner, Harold Casey, a former welterweight boxer. 

The town of Alleghany, well-embedded in the Tahoe National Forest, at the end of the paved road you would at that time only take to get there - unless "Jeeping" was your purpose - was well into a deep decline since its heyday early in the century. It was ringed with the gold mines that were the engine of that heyday, and when all the stamp mills operated in the twenties, it's fair to assume that the noise in the middle of town would be impressive. My father landed a 99-year lease on one of them, the Morning Glory, which was more or less fallow by that point, and in the years before 1963, the family made a few trips to stay at the cabin on the site, initially just corrugated metal on a minimal frame with an outhouse down a path. The road to the Morning Glory, a deeply rutted dirt road not for the faint of heart, passed on its way the mine that always dominated the area, the Sixteen to One, which still operates.

Even though only a couple of mines operated, there was still a point to the institutions that represented the town's social infrastructure: two bars, Casey's and the Golden Eagle Inn (lodgers possible though not likely); a general store, Alleghany Supply, with a post office and single-pump gas station; a library; and a twelve-grade school complete with a non-standard-sized gym. And further, there was even a point to the difference in the two bars, for even as the Golden Eagle was a cramped and narrow place, it had more of the snuggery feel, whereas Casey's was cavernous, the bar lining two walls, with a Rock-Ola occupying one opposing corner and a television the other, leaving abundant room for dancing or fighting.

(to be continued)

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