Eldorado Gold Overnight Tour hosted by David & Becky Harrison
A threat of thunderstorms had everyone on edge, but the clear weather we ordered was delivered just in time for fourteen vehicles from SCVMTFC to travel to Placerville. (Heavy rain arrived one week later.) Five vintage cars drove all the way to the foothills, seven arrived via trailer, and two moderns rounded out the group.
Thursday’s dinner plans were delayed as those staying at the Best Western didn’t want to miss the wine hour hosted by the hotel. Afterwards, they tottered across the parking lot to Casa Ramos where they met the Carlton Lane gang for huge plates of Mexican food.
After Friday’s driver meeting in the hotel parking lot and a change of spark plugs for Bob Beaman, the group headed out Mother Lode, El Dorado, and Pleasant Valley Roads to the home of the wood-fueled Model T. We were met by Bill Nixon, his daughter and son-in-law, Jill & Mike Kearney, and some members of the Hangtown A club.
The wood-fueled Model T had a canister on the back where pine wood chunks were placed and ignited. The fire was not visible but fully contained in the canister and was "choked" such that not all of the gas evolving from the burning wood was consumed. After sufficient gas was being created, it was routed to the Model T carburetor and combined with air to start the Model T engine. The truck was then driven around the property powered by the wood gas. This wood gasification was used in Europe during WWII when no gasoline was available.
Bill Nixon had a Model T that had been taken on the Rubicon trail several times. This is a famous adventure trail near Lake Tahoe that is used by lots of Jeep and other 4-wheel-drive clubs. Jill described how her father shamed the Jeep drivers by conquering the trail in a no frills vehicle. Also on the property were other Model Ts with various stories, and a saw mill that Bill demonstrated for us.
Diamond Springs, a former Pony Express stop, was just a few miles back down the road. We descended on the Diamond Springs Hotel for a lunch on their back patio. The hotel was established in 1916 as a boarding house for miners and loggers. It is the last remaining establishment of its kind in town. Check out this link if you want to read tales of the hotel’s ghosts: https://www.mtdemocrat.com/uncategorized/ghosts-on-the-menu-at-the-diamond-springs-hotel/
Well-fueled for our afternoon activities, we drove back out Pleasant Valley to Bucks Bar Rd. and the home of Dave and Leann Traver. A large spread of snacks awaited us to make sure we didn’t go hungry.
This stop included plenty of rust and collections of various sorts.
There was a large selection of hit and miss engines, probably 50 or more, with some the size of a room. One of the largest engines was started for us. It was a 1917 Western engine with a 14.25-inch bore and a 24-inch stroke. This two-cylinder gas-powered engine was originally used in Oildale in the oil fields.
In the barn, there were about 7 fully-assembled unrestored Model Ts, some Chevrolets, and other cars. The back lot contained an old car bone pile that included Model T and other car parts. Bob Meneely found something useful in that collection. Scattered about the property were oodles of windmills.
We were impressed to see about 20 Nickelodeons shoe-horned into a small climate-controlled room. The wood cabinets were beautifully refinished and accented with decorative stain glass. The sounds they made were very diverse with different combinations of instruments mechanized within each box. Some were contained within a traditional piano box while others were keyless. All it took was a nickel and a roll of punched paper to put on a performance. Overall, it was a very nice collection.
Onward we went up and down hills, through oaks and pine forests, through orchards and vineyards to the Apple Hill area to view a hillside of blooming irises in every hue at the High Sierra Iris and Wedding Gardens. Alberta conquered the steep climb through the garden to enjoy the flowers before most of the others.
The last stop of the day, Boa Vista Orchards beckoned and members were soon enjoying the apple cider, apple wine, apple pie, apple fritters, apple donuts, apple turnovers, apple strudel, apple dumplings, apple cookies, apple brownies, apple cake, … You get the idea. Anyone dream of apples that night?
On sunny Saturday, the group headed out Cold Springs Rd. to Doug Veerkamp’s extensive private antique caterpillar collection. Historically, Holt built the first crawler tractors in order to farm in the California delta region. These tractors were heavy but had lower ground pressure than a wheeled tractor. Another local crawl tractor manufacturer was Best. These companies made their tractors in Stockton and Oakland. Around the 1920's, Holt and Best combined into the Caterpillar Tractor Company which is now based in Peoria, Ill. The Veerkamp collection includes several fully-restored Holt and Best tractors. Doug owns the very first Caterpillar tractor and various other models of tractors and other Caterpillar machinery up to modern times. His collection is so complete that Caterpillar borrows tractors from him to take to trade shows all over the world. Five of his tractors were on display in Peoria for over a year. We watched an interesting video of Doug's son and another mechanic getting an old Cat tractor off a mountaintop by air-lifting it out with a helicopter. Some of his more modern equipment includes logging trucks, motor graders, and early scrapers.
Heading north on Highway 49 and west on Gold Hill, the group arrived at the home of the Harrisons for a lunch in David’s shop. A long row of tables was arranged down the center to seat the entire group. We tried to fill them up on barbecued Italian sausages, lasagna, enchilada casserole, garlic bread, chips, a salad bar with fifteen toppings, and fruit salad. Gallons of fresh-pressed Boa Vista apple cider were on hand to quench the thirsty. Dessert included apple-strawberry pie, of course, with cookies and Milk Chocolate Kahlua Truffles to top it off.
A drive around the hill on aptly named Thompson Hill Rd. and a few miles down the slope toward the South Fork of the American River took the group to the site where history was made in 1849. A discovery by James Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma started the gold rush.
The group wandered around Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park exploring the site where that first nugget was found, and checking out the reconstructed lumber mill, the blacksmith shop, gold mining equipment and related historical information. A few docents were showcasing their gold rush
skills in the camp – cooking pies over the fire and sawing wood. Several people took a turn at a 2-person wood saw.
Jumping from the 1800’s to the 21st century, it was time to head to Placerville Speedway. Staff had reserved a grassy area for the Model Ts to park where race fans could get a view of the cars. Then, sixteen of us brave souls climbed to the top of the grandstands (a much cleaner location to sit than we’ve experienced before) to watch the various cars compete on the ¼-mile dirt track.
After a few races, Ed and Peder were allowed to take 5 laps in their speedsters. While the rough dirt track limited their speed, they put on a good show for the Placerville fans. We later learned from the organizers that several fans thanked them for including the old cars.
The real racing for the night included several classes of cars with the most exciting being the 360 Winged Sprint Cars. The main event included 20 of these cars simultaneously doing 25 laps on the ¼-mile dirt track. They are very fast and hit speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour on the short straight-aways. Three of us stayed to the dusty end to watch the current favorite, Forsberg, win the main event. A 16-year-old girl finished in third place!
We were sad to see our SCVMTFC friends depart on Sunday morning but very pleased that so many made the trek to Placerville to see where we live. Thank you for the visit and for sharing a few days with us!
Becky and David Harrison
A few photos provided by Mary Beaman