The cloudless sky, leaves turning bright yellow and red, clean cool air that didn’t blow your hair off; it couldn’t have been a better day for photography. I wanted a better picture for my book of FJ White Learning Center.
Ernie Garcia worked with me at Francis J. White Learning Center. He volunteered to come with me on my photography spree and pose for a fake picture for my book.
We took some great pictures there then he said, “Now where are we going to go?”
History is all about geography, and geography changes over time. So when someone says to me, “I worked at Redbanks,” I think Dead Rat Saloon, and trees on the hill. I love it when people want to drive around town with me and point out where things used to be.
Ernie suggested, “Let’s drive to Redbanks. I haven’t been there in quite a while.” So we drove to the real Redbanks where Ernie worked in the 1940s before Uncle Sam pointed his finger Ernie’s direction.
Looking left from the bridge I saw the old hotel that Chuck Hackett told me resembled a Union Station. Over the years Redbanks (and probably others) had used Cottonwood Creek as an equipment gravesite, which lay exposed in the dry creek bed.
Ernie came to Redbanks in 1933, and attended Paloma School. When we drove in, the manager pulled his pickup next to my Prius. I started to introduce myself and explain why we were trespassing, but he interrupted me. “I know this guy!” You would have thought Ernie was a rock star! We were in.
He and Ernie chatted while I snuck off and took pictures of the old hotel.
Janet Livingston gave me a little history about Redbanks. Mary Anne Terstegge Tulare County Historical Librarian wrote in the March 1991 Valley Voice p. 27,
On the north bank of Cottonwood Creek was the ranch headquarters. Immediately west of the road is the two-story manager’s house. Bill Murray lived there from 1921 until 1929. Then the Bill Mayfields moved into it. Wilbur Mayfield was a pipe man from Goshen who served as superintendent until 1934.
Beyond the manager’s house was … the main building which is of Spanish style resembling a Southern Pacific depot. Constructed in 1914. This building had a large restaurant for the workers at its west end.
Immediately behind the dining area was a large kitchen and food storage area with ice lockers in the center directly below the upstairs. The kitchen was presided over by Wylie, a one-eyed Chinese man who was an excellent cook. In the center of the north side of this headquarters building, a hall and stairway gave access to the upper floor.
In the late 1920s, the east end was remodeled to create offices. West of the headquarters building and near the creek was the shower/lavatory building.
At first there were only rooms for workers up there. Then in 1932, the upstairs has converted into a five-room apartment known as “the penthouse”. The east half of this building contained rooms for bachelor workers. Hence it was referred to as “the hotel.”
Ernie guided me back into the Redbanks complex past the ranch garage for motorized equipment. Earlier it had been a blacksmith shop area. Ernie called this next house the “Hindu Building.” Originally it had been the Hindu irrigator’s bunk house.
Ernie’s brother had his wedding reception in this, once beautiful building. Looking across the fence to the north we saw Colvin’s Mountain.
The first settler in that area west of Woodlake was Elijah T. Colvin, a stockman who in the early 1860s bought three sections of land on the southern slopes of the hill, which bears his name. At that time Cottonwood Creek still ran due south into the St. Johns River. By 1892, Elijah Colvin was dead and some of his property was sold.
Ernie told me that when he worked here, they could see the vegetable gardens planted by the Japanese that once lived on Colvin Mountain. The government evacuated them sent them to live in internment camps during World War II. They did not return, and now orange groves cover the lower part of the mountain.
As we left, I pulled the car over, left it running, but did remember to put it in park this time, and ran back across the bridge to take one last shot of Cottonwood Creek and the Sierra Nevadas. Ernie taught me more in an hour than I could have mastered reading 10 hours of articles about Redbanks. Thanks Ernie!