Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mojave Desert historian keeps California's heritage alive

Dennis G. Casebier stands in front of the library in Goffs, Calif., that bears his name. The railroad depot replica holds the world's largest archive of Mojave Desert history. Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Over the course of decades, Dennis G. Casebier has assembled the lost voices and hidden histories of a place largely washed clean of its past.

By David Kelly
Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Goffs, Calif. — Out on the great swells of the eastern Mojave Desert, that vast sand sea lying between Barstow and the Colorado River, there is no crumb of history, no tall tale, no arcane bit of knowledge too small to escape Dennis Casebier's notice.

"I'm fascinated by who ate rabbits," he said, sitting inside a library that will soon hold his life's work. "Did they eat jack rabbits or cottontails? Did they fry them or roast them? Did they grind them up or make stew out of them?"

"You see, that's the level of history we get into here," he said.

The soft-spoken retired physicist is a legend in this harsh land, a sort of Willy Wonka of the desert who transformed 70 acres of rock and scrub into the Goffs Cultural Center, his personal Xanadu of history and imagination.

In this tiny hamlet of 23 on the barren edge of the Mojave National Preserve, he and a group of volunteers carved roads and towed in ore carts, a defunct wooden post office, a caboose, windmills and boxcars. He bought a collapsing 1914 schoolhouse and turned it into a museum. His own Tales of the Mojave Road Publishing Co. has produced 26 books, 16 of which he wrote.

Yet none of it compares to his masterwork, the recently opened $1-million Dennis G. Casebier Memorial Library. Housed in a replica of the old Goffs Railroad Depot, the two-story, climate-controlled collection of thousands of books, maps, photos and tapes is the exclamation point on his arid passions.

Steve Mongrain, president of the Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association, a nonprofit group that has helped raise money for the project, calls it "the most extraordinary historical collection of Mojave Desert history and culture in existence."

"There is nothing like it in the world," Mongrain said. "Anything that pertains to the Mojave can be researched there. It is unprecedented."

The association's 800 members donated $250,000 for the library, and the California Cultural and Historical Endowment provided the rest in grants.

Casebier, 74, has assembled the lost voices and hidden histories of a place largely washed clean of its past. The homesteads are gone, the mines closed, the tiny towns swallowed by sand.

Freight trains, some 6,000 feet long, still lumber through to Needles and beyond, but they rarely stop anymore because there are so few towns to stop in.

A 1920s picture of Rock Springs Land and Cattle Co. cowboys is one of about 108,000 photographs Casebier has collected. The library also has thousands of maps, oral histories and biographical files. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Gone too are characters such as gunfighter Bill Hollimon, who, when he wasn't shooting rivals, liked to pour gasoline down anthills and set them alight.

"The history is just everywhere, yet nobody is here. It's empty," said Casebier, an especially polite man who speaks with great precision.

"The people have gone, their life ways ended somehow. We are gathering the history of this forgotten land, and we have done so with a vengeance."

On a recent morning, Casebier rattled around the library, dipping in and out of the new filing cabinets. Each one contained dozens of subject files filled with personal histories.

Harrison Doyle?

"He's the oldest guy I ever interviewed, 103 or 104," Casebier said. "He was walking the streets of Needles in the early 1900s."

Llewellyn Barrackman?

"Former headman of the Fort Mojave Indians."

Betty Ordway?

"She was like the Rosetta Stone," he said. "She came here in 1914 and knew everyone and remembered everything. She knew the gunfighters and the homesteaders and where the stills were. She was the belle of the valley."

Tucked away in library cabinets are 3,000 biographies, 1,000 taped oral histories, 108,000 photographs, 6,000 books and 6,000 maps, ready for perusal by those Casebier believes demonstrate "an advanced interest in the desert."

Jo Ann Casebier, right, and volunteer Carol Brown sort historical documents. Thousands of soldiers were stationed in the Mojave during World War II, and many of their personal accounts are on file in the library. (Irfan Kahn / Los Angeles Times)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., consulted Casebier and used information from his collection when writing "Searchlight: The Camp That Didn't Fail," a book about his hometown.

"This book is better because of Dennis," he wrote in the preface.

Students working on master's degrees have come to study the homestead period and the military history of the region. Thousands of soldiers were stationed in the Mojave during World War II. Many of their personal accounts are on file in the library.

Casebier's own history in the desert began in 1954, after he left his home state of Kansas and enlisted in the Marines. He was stationed in Twentynine Palms and spent his free time poking around what is now Joshua Tree National Park.

"It was love at first sight when I saw the desert," he said. "It's different for everybody, but for me it was the wide open spaces and maybe the simplicity."

He returned to Kansas in 1956, got a degree in physics from Washburn University in Topeka, and returned to California in 1960. He worked on guided missile systems for the Navy and lived in Corona.

Meanwhile, his passion for the desert led him into the eastern Mojave, where he was smitten by what he dubbed "the forgotten country" encircled by the Colorado River and the I-40 and I-15 freeways.

There, he found an awe-inspiring emptiness.

"All the people had moved away. The schools went away. Everything went away," he said. "You would think that people would be swarming all over this area looking for its past, but they weren't."

Casebier's Navy job often took him to Washington, D.C., where he spent evenings at the National Archives and the Library of Congress photocopying records and maps about the eastern Mojave.

At one point he found a defunct wagon trail stretching 131 miles from the Colorado River to Camp Cady, east of Barstow.

Casebier formed a volunteer group that turned the dirt track into the four-wheel-drive Mojave Road. Soon he was leading caravans down it.

Chris Ervin first toured the road in 1988.

"It was a really fun, educational and a socially uplifting experience," said the Orange County resident, who works on the archives as a volunteer. "Dennis single-handedly rediscovered the Mojave Road and got thousands of others involved. He is an inspiration and a visionary."

In 1990, after he retired, Casebier and his wife, Jo Ann, moved to Goffs and bought 113 acres that included the old Goffs Schoolhouse. Working with the Mojave heritage association, he set to work saving the school and building the cultural center, which he donated to the nonprofit.

At the same time, he traveled the country interviewing former desert residents for his oral histories, persuading many to part with photographs and personal papers.

His disarming approach put people at ease.

"I'd say, 'So, how did a nice girl like you end up in the desert?' "

Some subjects were duds, but others, he said, were "bell ringers." He interviewed Curtis Springer 54 times. In 1944, Springer founded a spa and resort in an area he named Zzyzx, just south of Baker. A road bearing the name still exists.

Betty Ordway was another bell ringer. Casebier, who found her in Auburn, Calif., was so impressed that he put her entire 155,000-word interview into two bound volumes.

"She had 500 photos and she cast light on the big things and the little things," he said. "We had gunfights out here between ranchers and homesteaders, who would help themselves to a cow once in a while. A 1925 shootout killed two gunfighters, and Betty knew both men."

And she liked her rabbit fried like chicken.

"You could see her salivate when she remembered," he said. "I just loved that. Maybe because I'm such a nut or maybe because I wish I lived back then."

With his research constantly expanding and scattered everywhere, Casebier came up with the idea of a central library.

The grants arrived in 2006 and the building was completed in July.

Archival material is still being moved in, and the rules on how people can use the library are still being worked out.

Casebier, who still does oral histories, said anyone interested in visiting must make arrangements first.

"We are targeting researchers of desert history, those who are writing books or papers or scholarly works," said Ervin, the library's project manager. "Our focus is how do we make sure this thing lasts longer than all of us? We are trying to get an endowment -- maybe $10 million -- to pay for and support all these wonderful materials in perpetuity."

Back in Goffs, Casebier hopped into a golf cart and motored down his complex's Boulevard of Dreams. He passed a Justice of the Peace office that once served the towns of Amboy and Ludlow, and pulled up in front of an old library built in 1927.

There are hundreds of books inside that have not been moved to the new library just up the road.

For desert aficionados it's a small, if dimly lit, slice of heaven. Books with titles such as "The Great California Deserts," "Our Desert Neighbors," "On Desert Trails" and "Desert Treasures" stand in dark wooden cabinets behind glass doors.

Casebier likes to sit in the back room and read. If he should ever get bored, which is highly unlikely, he could open the window and drink in unlimited blue sky.

He has spent the better part of his life studying the desert. For years people have asked him why.

"I want people to know the tremendous respect I have for the human beings who lived here and the tremendous respect I have for their self-reliance," he said.

"They were a special breed. I don't want that story to disappear."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Reading Room furniture installed

Patron view of the reception desk and bay windows as one enters the
Reading Room of the Dennis G. Casebier Library.

Report and Photos by Chris Ervin

Here are a few images of the beautifully appointed Reading Room of the Dennis G. Casebier Library immediately after installation of the new furniture.

Patron view past the reception desk of three of the six bookcases.

The Reading Room reception units and library table are now assembled thanks to the efforts of Leslie Ervin. The six bookcases were earthquake-proofed and set against the walls by Chris Ervin.

The library table, which will seat future researchers,
takes full advantage of the east facing bay windows.

This beautiful new furniture, which complements the early twentieth century Santa Fe depot design of the new Dennis G. Casebier Library, was purchased with funds donated by the MDHCA membership.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dedication of the Dennis G. Casebier Library

Director John Fickewirth.

[MDHCA Director John M. Fickewirth was chosen to deliver the official dedication statement for the new library during the 29th Mojave Road Rendezvous. Following is his address.]

We are assembled here today to dedicate the Casebier Library. It is fitting we do so—as we celebrate the achievements of a man and his life's work.

A library is a repository, a center of learning, and this library for Dennis is the culmination of his mission to gather, conserve, and interpret the history of the East Mojave.

Dennis' association with the East Mojave began when he arrived in 29 Palms to serve the Republic as a United States Marine. He fell in love with this wonderful land, a love that lasts to this day.

Many of us are fascinated by the desert. We come, enjoy its wonders, and leave. Dennis is different. He came—and he collected the artifacts of the desert. He gathered the historical documents, he traveled to the wastelands of Washington, D.C. to conduct research at the National Archives, he met with the old-timers—and sometimes their descendants—and let them tell their stories. And most important he recorded and transcribed their oral histories.

What can be more ephemeral, more transitory, more anecdotal than the human memory? And when a pioneer of the East Mojave is gone, he or she takes his precious knowledge with him.

There are letters, documents, journals, photos, artifacts, all the physical reminders of man's presence here. But, what was the experience? What was the feel and texture of life in this great land?

It is from Dennis' thousands of pages of oral history that we know this. There is no other resource of the East Mojave comparable to this.

Since Dennis published his first monograph 38 years ago, he has built an admirable "shelf" of authored books. Many of Dennis' books are the standard reference works on the subjects.

We are often criticized for subscribing to the "Great Man Theory" of history—the belief that from time to time among us one person's actions change events.

Today we are here to dedicate a library. It will hold over, 6,000 volumes. Over 6,000 historic maps. Over 100,000 photographs of the Mojave Desert. The Weight, Edwards, Moon, and many other collections. And none of this would be possible without one Great Man—Dennis Casebier.

Please join with me in the dedication of the Dennis G. Casebier Library.

A magnificent bronze plaque measuring 26 x 34" and tipping the scales at 70 pounds was procured and donated by John M. Fickewirth. It is to be mounted on the wall inside the first floor of the Dennis G. Casebier Library. It bears the following inscription:


Dedicated to the pioneers of the East Mojave Desert whose stories are enshrined in this building

And to the membership of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association

Steve Mongrain, President
Dennis Casebier, Exec. Dir.
Phil Motz, Vice President
Randy Kimball, Treasurer
Hugh Brown, Secretary
Jo Ann Casebier, Director
Chris S. Ervin, Director
John Fickewirth, Director
Russ Kaldenberg, Director
John Terrill, Director

Dedicated October 11, 2008

Funding for the Library was made possible by a grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment

Plaque Donated by John M. Fickewirth

Volunteerism and Providence

Director Chris Ervin.

[The following remarks were made by MDHCA board member Chris Ervin at the dedication of the Dennis G. Casebier Library on October 11, 2008.]

My first inclination on speaking here today was to pull a “William Mulholland.” If you are from southern California you’ll likely recall Mulholland was the head engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in the early Twentieth Century. Upon completion of the 233-mile engineering feat called the Los Angeles Aqueduct, at a ceremony similar to this one, Mulholland pointed at the gushing water and said, “There it is. Take it.” This building is certainly no LA Aqueduct, but after sweating over something bigger than myself for so long, I can understand the irony, the sense of accomplishment, and exhaustion, behind those five simple words.

So I’d like to make a few remarks here today on the occasion of the celebration of this accomplishment before us. Having lived with the process of bringing this to fruition for the better part of ten years, I recognize the fact that to some, this building may appear to have merely sprung from the earth. Now I know, that you know, that isn’t so. But over a decade’s time, the highlights of how we got here may be a bit fuzzy. But have no fear, for I am here – to recap the good stuff for you.

We’ve had some major contributors along this journey who generously lent their expertise at each junction. The story of this building is one of nurtured volunteerism, punctuated by sudden spasms of Providence. That’s a theme here – volunteerism and Providence.

Doing things on a shoe-string budget, which is typical of volunteer endeavors, has many frustrations. But the side benefit is that the experience generates stories you can tell at building dedications.

Back in 1993, board member Gene Perry of Palm Desert, who worked for the Imperial Valley Irrigation District, made application on behalf of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association for the nonprofit status we enjoy today. That status is key to this organization’s ability to shamelessly ask for money and donations of your time and expertise. Today, that nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service and the State of California is maintained and kept current through the efforts of our long-serving treasurer, CPA Randy Kimball of Rancho Cucamonga.

When the Association completed its first large project in 1998, the restoration of the Goffs Schoolhouse, it encouraged us to think bigger, to think about what our next accomplishment should be to fulfill our mission of preserving the history of the Mojave Desert. We concluded that we should build a Library to house the wonderful collections that desert historian Dennis Casebier had been amassing for – well, forty years – at that time, ten years ago.

As we became serious about this concept of building a library, we were advised by our county building inspector that we had already maxed out the number of structures we were allowed to build on the property. It’s actually zoned as residential and it’s very difficult to obtain a zoning change. A better way of approaching it would be to apply for something called a conditional use permit. Basically, it’s an agreement with the County that would allow us to build specific structures beyond what is allowed by the zoning – like a library. This required submitting a plan to the county for approval. Perhaps this is straightforward if you know what you’re doing. But as a bunch of volunteers with our hearts in the right place and no experience with conditional use permits, we did not know what we were doing.

So, being novices, we asked around our membership for advice. One member who had lived in the county for many years told us it was easy. Just make application, draw up your plan on some butcher paper, and present it to the Planning Department. So we felt pretty good when we paid our $14,000 application fee and showed up with a drawing done on a computer. As we found out, the Planning Department is used to having civil engineers deliver plans – not desert rats. We were pretty much sent back to the drawing board.

About that time, long-time supporter and board member Carl Volkmar of Las Vegas, a developer and Land Rover enthusiast, unexpectedly donated ten thousand dollars at just the right moment so we could hire a civil engineering firm to do the necessary survey work, maps, and traffic studies for a lot split of this property using Lanfair Road as the dotted line for the cut. This was an improvement in our thinking in that it set the stage to allow the Casebiers, who owned this property, to split these 70 acres away from the 40 across the street where the Casebiers now reside. That felt like Providence to suddenly have the funds to obtain both a lot split and a conditional use permit at the same time. Unfortunately, Carl died of cancer a few years ago and is not here to witness this great accomplishment to which he contributed importantly.

It took about two years to get through the process, but we obtained our conditional use permit approval and lot split from the county. In all fairness to the county, it took us two years instead of the average six months because we are constrained by the amount of time and effort that volunteers can contribute. Many of us have full-time jobs and families, so volunteerism is actually a kind of leisure activity. It’s a labor of love that has to be fit into one’s life.

The next major milestone in getting this building in place was to get the property legally under the ownership of the nonprofit entity, the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association. Dennis and Jo Ann Casebier exhibited great faith in the potential of this organization in 2003 when they donated these 70 acres and all of the structures on it to the MDHCA. It is a responsibility we as members must step up to. It is a legacy for us to maintain in perpetuity.

So time was passing by. Our conditional use permit was only good for three years and we still had no library. We didn’t even have a drawing of a library. It was 2004 and we had only a year left on the permit. Funding was the challenge. We knew we could not lean on our generous membership for the amount of money it would take to construct such a building in the amount of time we had left. We had no choice but to request an extension from the county on our conditional use permit. We were granted another three years, but that would be it. Otherwise we’d have to start the application process all over again.

We scrapped around for grants. But the majority of grants available for historical societies were for small amounts – if you call five or ten thousand dollars small – and most had restrictions that the money could not be used for new construction. We did have one brainstorm during this time. We figured out what shape our Library should take. It should take the form of a local historical structure – the Goffs Depot – which was torn down in 1956 and of which we had only photos. Historical documents were found by Dennis that described the dimensions of the depot. Those, along with old photos from the photo collection, and from several angles, were enough for member Roger Leggett of Kingman, Arizona, the structural engineer who oversaw the restoration of the Schoolhouse, to develop our first large format elevations of the new Goffs Depot / Library building.

But what about the money required for construction? We had enough experience with projects small and large to know we couldn’t cobble the Library together with volunteer labor only. We needed the experience of a general contractor to get all of the various components up quickly to meet our conditional use permit deadline. And, we figured it was going to take half a million dollars – far too much money to raise from our members.

It was in August of 2004 I received an e-mail announcement – out of the blue – that the state of California had loosened up funding from a public works proposition passed by the voters in 2002, which included $267 million for historic and cultural resource preservation. Best of all, these California Cultural and Historical Endowment funds could be used for construction of capital assets – a rare eligibility for grants. This grant program was a perfect fit for us and our need for construction funding. This opportunity felt like Providence. Dennis and I had one month to put everything else on hold and pull together a 73-page grant application. Apparently, the CCHE staff and board agreed with us on the worthiness of our proposal and allocated $500 thousand dollars for the library in May 2005.

You might still ask, “But what took so darn much time to get this building up?” There are too many mundane tasks to mention, but just to give you an idea, the conditional use permit came with seventy conditions – that’s seven-zero – that we needed to meet before we could obtain our building permit. These conditions cover things we take for granted in modern society; water quality, fire safety, sewage, hazardous waste, endangered species, archaeological significance, professionally prepared building plans, handicapped access, etc. Out here in the desert, we had to start from scratch on many of the conditions. We eventually overcame all of these challenges, but with volunteer labor as the method of getting work done, these things take time. This is not a criticism, just a fact that all nonprofits adapt to in order to get things accomplished on a shoe-string budget.

Now, I would like to take the opportunity to recognize by name, those volunteers who made a significant contribution to making this building a reality; Robert Botich and Walters Wholesale for a major discount on our 400 amp electrical panel; designer Paul Geissinger for a major donation of services for our professional building plans; archaeologist and board member Russ Kaldenberg and his wife Judyth Reed for our cultural resources survey and report; the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association for the two acres of land this building sits on; San Bernardino County Fire Department for waiving fire plan check fees; wildlife biologist Larry Sip for our desert tortoise survey and report; and board member and president Steve Mongrain for arranging the donation of the Goffs and Santa Fe signs on the sides of this building.

Additionally, I’d like to recognize the leadership and labor contributed by our board members and the following volunteers who provided direct “in kind” labor that counted towards our $250 thousand match for the CCHE grant; Gail Andress, Bob and Dorothy Beal, Red Brooke, Larry Burkholder, Leslie Ervin, Dave Given, John Harrington, Sharon Holmes, Don Johnson, Gus and Stella Lind, Jeff Moffatt, Kristy Motz, Rick Nisbet, John Reiff, Kib and Shirley Roby, Jerry and Jan Sears, Ron Shepard, Tom Smith, Morris Swain, and Carl Weikel. My apologies to anyone I’ve left out. Together, these folks contributed 5,676 documented volunteer hours towards this building. We couldn’t have done this without your assistance.

Even with volunteer labor, though, these things don’t happen without vision and direction. Those all-important core ingredients are provided constantly and without fail by Dennis and Jo Ann Casebier. I cannot overstate the importance of their contribution; their generosity, and their faith in volunteers. In fact it’s more than what these words indicate. Inspiration may be a closer word. And Providence: it feels like Providence to me to have the honor of being associated with Dennis and Jo Ann, and learning from them.

Now, I’ve said a few times it cost a half million dollars to construct the Library, and that is true. But it is actually a million dollar building value-wise to the MDHCA. In addition to the half million dollars of CCHE funds, the MDHCA had to come up with a two-to-one match of “in kind” funding. The way we met that match was through various volunteer labor efforts in support of the construction – $250 thousand dollars worth of documented donations of labor and goods by many of the folks present here today. So now we’re up to $750 thousand. The last $250 thousand was achieved through a parallel fundraising effort among our membership over the course of four years to furnish and operate the Library once it was finished. Way to go, TEAM! So, there you have it – a million dollar building.

The dedication of the Library closes one chapter and opens another for the Association. Now we begin the process of furnishing the Reading Room, (already in progress) and consolidating the collections of the Mojave Desert Archives into this building. Describing the collections and development of finding aids are next. Fleshing out an operations plan and policies and receiving researchers are also in the queue. Those are the tactical activities we’ll be concentrating in the near future.

Strategically, the Association will be working on funding its endowment. An endowment that will generate the long-term funding needed to hire a professional archivist and other staff to operate this facility in perpetuity. "O’ Providence" – if you’re listening – here’s your next opportunity. Thank you.

Dennis G. Casebier Library Dedicated

Slideshow of the dedication ceremony and BBQ

Dennis G. Casebier Library Dedication Ceremony, October 11, 2008.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dedication Ceremony for Mojave Desert Library

Chris Ervin
Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association

Dedication Ceremony for Mojave Desert Library

New Library Building to be Dedicated at
Annual Mojave Road Rendezvous

GOFFS, CA – October 2, 2008 – The Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association (MDHCA) will formally dedicate its recently completed research library that will house the collections of the Mojave Desert Archives. The dedication ceremony will be at 2:00 PM on Saturday, October 11, 2008 in Goffs during the 29th Annual Mojave Road Rendezvous. The dedication will include the unveiling of a bronze plaque, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and tours of the new building. Desert historian Dennis Casebier, County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt and Mojave National Preserve Superintendent Dennis Schramm are scheduled to speak.

A $500,000 grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment (CCHE) made possible the construction of the research library that is a reincarnation of the historic Goffs Depot (1902-1956) built by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. The library is built on the grounds of the 75-acre Goffs Cultural Center, which also boasts the restored Goffs Schoolhouse, a National Register property. The new building is a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled repository designed to process, protect, and make available to the research community a unique, extensive and ever-increasing volume of gathered materials pertaining to Mojave Desert history.

The Mojave Desert Archives is the largest single collection of archival materials covering the American history of the Mojave Desert—a history rich in the stories of western migration and pioneering spirit. This unique collection, formed by renowned desert historian Dennis G. Casebier over the last fifty years, consists of more than 108,000 historical photographs, 6,000 volumes of published works, tens of thousands of pages of news clip files, 5,000 maps of the region dating from earliest times, 2,000 loose subject files pertaining to specific individuals and cultural sites, more than 1,000 oral histories, an extensive collection of old area newspapers, periodicals and pamphlets, and materials culled from federal records in the National Archives.

Goffs is a former railroad junction and Route 66 highway stop that has become a repository of historical buildings, artifacts, and lore relating to the Eastern Mojave. The Goffs Depot formerly stood at the junction of the short line Nevada Southern Railroad with the Santa Fe, the main east-west line through the Southern California desert. For about 30 years beginning in 1893, this junction connected isolated mining communities, homesteaders, and cattle ranchers to the outside world.

About Mojave Desert Historical and Cultural Association
The mission of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association is to research and conserve the natural and cultural history of the Mojave Desert region for the purpose of preserving and sharing these resources in perpetuity. This is accomplished through operation of a research center, library, and archives, restoration of significant structures, conservation of historic open space, interpretation of backcountry trails, and production of educational guidebooks and historical publications in concert with government agencies and people of good faith everywhere. For additional information, visit

Friday, September 26, 2008

Library dedication scheduled for Oct. 11 at 2 PM

The Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association is pleased to announce the dedication of the new Library/Depot building to house the Mojave Desert Archives will occur on Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 2:00 PM during the 29th annual Mojave Road Rendezvous being held at the Goffs Cultural Center in Goffs, California.

(subject to change)

1:45 p.m. Spectators assemble east of the Library / Depot loading dock. Bring a chair.

2:00 p.m. Welcome by MDHCA President Steve Mongrain

2:00 p.m. Pledge of Allegiance

2:05 p.m. Introduction of guests and dignitaries by Steve Mongrain

2:10 p.m. Remarks by Dennis Casebier – Introduce and recognize Chris & Leslie Ervin

2:20 p.m. Remarks by Chris Ervin, Director and Project Manager

2:30 p.m. Remarks by Dennis Schramm, Superintendent Mojave National Preserve

2:40 p.m. Remarks by Brad Mitzelfelt, San Bernardino County Supervisor, First District

2:50 p.m. Dedication of Dennis G. Casebier Library by John M. Fickewirth

2:55 p.m. Christening of the building with champagne by Jo Ann Casebier

3:00 p.m. Ceremonial presentation of building keys by Secretary Hugh Brown to President Steve Mongrain.

3:00 p.m. Ribbon Cutting by MDHCA Board of Directors with photo opportunity

3:05 p.m. Opportunity for everyone to tour building

4:00 p.m. Dinner at Flywheel Cafe

7:00 P.M. Raffle Drawing - North porch of Route 66 building

Funding for the Mojave Desert Archives Library/Depot construction was made possible by a grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment and the membership of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Security cameras installed

Report by Dennis Casebier

The Electronic Eye Security camera guys, Josh and Michael, arrived at about 9:30 AM. They said they'd be here about four hours. They finished and left at about 1:15 PM. The cameras are all installed and I believe they are operating.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New furniture begins arriving

Report by Chris Ervin

FedEx delivered the first two pieces of new furniture for the Reading Room. They are a two side-by-side computer workstation tables. The plan is to install a computer on one side for searching the Library's online finding aids and a microfilm reader on the other side.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

File cabinet shipment delivered

Report and photos by Dennis Casebier

Lopez Trucking, under the command of Fernando Lopez with Hesus Rivera as copilot, arrived at the Library just before 1:00 p.m. By 3;00 p.m. they had 48 file cabinets unloaded and in place in the north Freight House Room and they have now departed Goffs.

Two Hispanic gentlemen and one 84-year-old gringo (Gail Andress) did the job in two hours. The cabinets look just fine. Jo Ann and Donna have already made use of about four of them to store the Russell Collection, so that collection is now off the floor in safely stored away in cabinets.

Monday, September 8, 2008

O. A. Russell Collection delivered to Library

Report and photo by Dennis Casebier

The O. A. Russell Collection was delivered to Goffs from Tucson, AZ today by Chales A. Corder and his daughter Christine. Actually they arrived yesterday evening and were our house guests until about noon today.

Carol and Hugh were on hand to assist Jo Ann and I and the Corders in unloading. The collection is on flattened cardboards on the floor in the first floor of the Depot, except for a particular collection of negatives that are considered to be especially critical. Those have been removed to a file cabinet in the Court House.

Since we now have a collection of value in the Library/Depot, Hugh said he would activate the security system. We are scheduled to receive 48 file cabinets on Wednesday of this week. After they come we plan to relocate the Russell Collection into several of those cabinets for temporary storage and protection.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tables delivered for the new Library

Report by Dennis Casebier

Rob Fulton was here today deliverying three tables for the Library/Depot. Rob, Mark Wire, and Hugh Brown unloaded them. They are in the south Freight House. Some assembly required.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Majority whip tours Library

Senator Harry Reid (left) and Dennis G. Casebier take in the view towards Searchlight from the second floor bay window of the Library.

Report by Chris S. Ervin
Photos by Shannon Raborn

Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV) toured the newly completed Library building today. The Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association was honored to play host to Senator Reid and his Southern Nevada Director, Shannon Raborn.

The Goffs Depot, upon which the design of the Library was based, connected the shortline Nevada Southern Railroad with the mainline of the Santa Fe at Goffs. Searchlight, Nevada was the terminus at the other end of the Nevada Southern. Senator Reid grew up in Searchlight and still calls that former mining town his home.

Several members of the MDHCA Board of Directors as well as some volunteers had the pleasure of visiting with the good Senator for about ninety minutes. The Senator declared the Library to be a fine building.

From left to right; Steve Mongrain, Gail and Donna Andress, Hugh and Carol Brown, Jo Ann Casebier, Chris Ervin, Dennis Casebier, Russ Kaldenberg, Sen. Harry Reid, and Leslie Ervin.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Signs installed on the Library

Report by Chris Ervin
Photos by Leslie and Chris Ervin
Historic images courtesy of Mojave Desert Archives

Starting yesterday, with most of the work done today, Chris Ervin installed four of the five "historic" depot signs on the new Library/Depot. A "GOFFS" depot station sign was centered on the bay window as well as on the far (south) end of the Freight House.

Historic (above) and new bay window GOFFS station sign (below).

A 30-inch square "Santa Fe" herald was also installed on the north end of the two-story Depot building just above a 60-inch long "GOFFS" station sign.

Historic (above) and new Depot signs (below).

To be historically correct, another "Santa Fe" herald needs to be installed on the Freight House, but a special mounting bracket will need to be fashioned before that can happen.

Historic (above) and new Freight House sign (below).

All of these signs are modern reproductions based on historic photos and artifacts found on Ebay. As mentioned in a previous post, MDHCA president Steve Mongrain arranged for the fabrication of the signs and their donation by Vegas Valley Business Forms. They are nice accents for the Library built in the image of the original Goffs Railway Depot and are sure to attract attention.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Data cabinet installation begins

Report and photo by Hugh Brown

Danny Marin and Bobby Kokrak from Data Specialties, Inc. arrived at Goffs shortly after 9 AM to begin installation of the various data, phone, and cable TV infrastructure components in the north Freight House of the Library/Depot.

They worked through until 3 PM, and then departed for Buena Park. They will return early tomorrow to complete the job. The original plan was for them to stay here this evening, but a tester needed for final checking was not loaded on their truck, hence, necessitating the return.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Water tanks painted and signs delivered

Report by Dennis Casebier
Photo and artwork by Chris Ervin

Hugh Brown and Mark Wire commenced painting the two 5,000-gallon water tanks that support the Library/Depot. This project continued for several days.

Also, Steve and Mary Mongrain were here to deliver the GOFFS and SANTA FE SIGNS for the Library/Depot. The signs are being donated by their business, Vegas Valley Business Forms.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Intrusion alert system completed

Report and photo by Chris Ervin

Yesterday, Dave Mongrain of Alert Team, completed hooking up power to the security alarm and intrusion alert system. Director Hugh Brown provided Dave with support and received some training on the system.

There are still a couple of items remaining to do on the system; 1) "punch down" the auto dialer phone wires on the phone block once it is installed on the backboard, and 2) program the auto dialer with desired phone numbers to call should the alarm be tripped.

Dave intends to complete these items when he comes out to the Rendezvous in October.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Certificate of occupancy issued by County

General Contractor Dan Cordova (left) receives the certificate of occupancy from San Bernardino County Building Inspector Steven Given.

Report by Dennis Casebier
Photos by Hugh Brown

This morning, General Contractor Dan Cordova and Building Inspector Steven Given met and went over the building. The bottom-line result was that Inspector Given signed off on our final certificate of occupancy - the building is now ours!

Everyone associated with this is authorized to take great pride in this achievement. And of course special credit goes to Chris and Leslie Ervin for administering the grant and all that they do.

General Contractor Dan Cordova presents the Library/Depot certificate of occupancy to MDHCA Director and Secretary Hugh Brown.

President Steve Mongrain informed me that he has in his possession three large GOFFS depot signs that are to be placed on the new building. They are to scale with the originals and made of metal. He said he also has on order two full-sized Santa Fe Railway herald signs to be placed on the building. He said all these signs will be given to the MDHCA courtesy of his company, Vegas Valley Business Forms.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tortoise fence removal

Report and photo by Dennis Casebier

Mark Wire got the tortoise fencing material removed from around the Library/Depot today. That leaves the pegs. Gail Andress intends to use the tractor to remove the pegs tomorrow and then smooth out where the fence had been. He'll also bring fill dirt in to build up in front of the handicapped parking pad.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Climate control systems activated

Report and photo by Dennis Casebier

It was a busy day at Goffs today.

Brandon the painter had stayed overnight in the Dutchmen Trailer. Phil Motz provided him dinner last night and they sat out under the Green Tree working on the world's problems until a late hour. Indications are they made a lot of progress. Brandon finished up his painting and was gone by about noon today. I believe that's the last we'll see of the painter.

General Contractor Dan Cordova was here this morning. He got the plywood backboard mounted on the north wall of the north Freight House room and Brandon painted it. This backboard will be used for centralizing the phone, data, Internet, and CATV wiring.

Donnie Millard of "Desert Air" showed up during the morning and was here until 4:00 PM. He activated the heating, air conditioning, and humidity control systems. Just before he left, Jo Ann, Phil and I assembled over there. The whole building was chilled. On a day with the humidity standing at 35% and the temperature at 104 degrees -- it was wonderful.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

MDHCA Board Reviews Library Construction

Report and photo by Chris Ervin

Today, as part of the regularly scheduled meeting, the MDHCA Board of Directors did a walk-through review of the nearly completed Library/Depot building.

Director Chris Ervin and other board members discussed the layout of the first floor reading room, how researchers would be received, and the possible furnishes they might encounter.

Director Ervin has been tasked with developing a strawman room layout to present to the Board with the goal of having some furnishings in place by the time of building dedication at the Rendezvous in October.

Later in the afternoon, at around 4:00 PM, a monsoonal thunderstorm moved over Goffs and dropped about an inch of rain in about 20 minutes. Water was running in the streets and the wind was pushing the rain sideways. It was a wild storm with thunder, lightning and quite the downpour. It was a good test of the new Library roof. No leaks.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Inspection and phones

Report and photo by Dennis Casebier

Inspector Steve Given was on site today with general contractor Dan Cordova developing a list of final items needing to be done before finalization.

The phone rang just now in the Casebier house. It was Phil Motz calling from the Library Depot! Then he called back on our second (fax) line! So the Library/Depot is in communications with the rest of the planet! All thanks to very hard and hot work by Mr. Motz with a little help at times.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Odds and ends

Report by Dennis Casebier

General Contractor Dan Cordova and two of his crew arrived at about 7:00 AM this morning. They are working on Library/Depot odds and ends. Finishing up!

Here are some upcoming activities;
  • Tomorrow 9 July the safety glass will be put into three upstairs windows as required.
  • Thursday we are scheduled to have the final inspection on the building (we have a bottle of champagne chilling in the frige.
  • Next Tuesday the HVAC guys will be out and fire up the air conditioning systems.
  • That leaves the one door that needs to get painted green. Dan said Brandon & Co will be out to do that.
It is 110 degrees out there on our front porch at noon. Phil Motz is out in the heat working on the electrical for the water system.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Ditch dug for the phone lines

Report and photos by Dennis Casebier

Much hard work has been accomplished over the past few days in getting the phone lines to the new building. It wasn't until mid-week that we were able to settle with Dan Cordova on a point to bring the phone lines into the building.

In order to accomplish it we had to dig a ditch a little over 200 feet long to carry the line from the Power House to the northwest side of the building where the line will enter. But the job is done and Phil will now be able to get the phones through into the building before he leaves on the 17th.

I say the job is done but it isn't exactly. We still have to string the line from the Power House to the power pole near Lanfair Road. Phil and I can do that.

This important and difficult work has been accomplished over a holiday weekend in intense heat - by Phil Motz, Hugh Brown, and myself. It was very hot working out there on that ditch!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Baseboards and clean-up

Report by Dennis Casebier

Dan Cordova and two of his guys showed up at about 8:00 AM. They will be putting in the baseboards and cleaning in and around the building. He figures they likely won't get done today and will be back tomorrow.

One of the on-demand water heaters in the Lounge/restroom isn't working. The plumber will be coming out next week to replace it.

Phil has procured all the materials he needs to complete the phoneline to the Library/Depot.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

An Endowment to Keep the Goffs Cultural Center Operating in Perpetuity


After four years, thanks to you, we have beat our fundraising goal of $250,000!

by Dennis G. Casebier

Over the past couple of years we’ve been soliciting funds from you, our membership, to furnish and equip the new Library/Depot. Through your support and generosity we reached our goal of $250,000 some time ago. Thank you!

The grant we received for construction of the beautiful new building is of the reimbursement type. We contract for things and when the contractor submits an invoice to us, we must pay the invoice. Then we submit our own invoice to the California Cultural and Historical Endowment (CCHE) for the amount paid to the various contractors and other expenses and in time we are reimbursed by CCHE. Of course, this implies we have large amounts of money on hand to pay the contractors so we can first pay them and then ask for reimbursement. We have been using the $250,000 raised from you for that purpose. Clearly, then, that $250,000 pops out at the end and can be used to furnish and equip the building as originally intended. This is all working well and we look forward to having the $250,000 to finish off the job at hand later this year and early next year. We’ll be acquiring tables, chairs, lamps, filing cabinets, shelving, computers, and many other items needed to properly fit out this library.

The creation of this new building presents us with fantastic opportunities to better serve the public and to more properly preserve our priceless collections into the future. To better capitalize on these opportunities, we are laying plans to ensure this facility will exist in perpetuity. To accomplish that, we need an endowment. The endowment we are structuring will be a large amount of money that sits in a financial institution and yields dividends. Those proceeds will then be used to manage and operate the facility here. The principal on the endowment will never be spent; only the income on that principal will be used to fund operations.

For example, a part of the revenue generated will be used to pay a stipend to someone to operate the Goffs Cultural Center. You know, like Jo Ann and I have been doing for 18 years, except we never got paid! As our age advances and health issues pile up, it has become clear even to us that we likely won’t be living forever and we won’t likely be able to stay here many more years. This becomes our biggest and most vital challenge—i.e., making provisions for this place to operate in perpetuity when Dennis and Jo Ann go off to their reward.

And so we ask you to dip into your pockets once again and join with us over the next several years while we accumulate money in an endowment fund. A special account is being opened and any monies donated for the endowment will be carefully segregated and deposited directly into that account. A fund manager will be selected and appointed by the Board of Directors of the MDHCA to oversee this resource. The endowment fund will also have a carefully defined mission statement and will be managed by a special Board of Directors. In addition to asking our membership to contribute to the fund, we will be seeking grants and support from private sources.

So the time to begin is now. This is the next step we must take to ensure that the great accomplishments of the MDHCA membership will exist forever in Goffs. There are several ways you can personally participate in this important initiative. You can simply write a check, payable to the MDHCA. Please write “Endowment Fund” in the memo space on your check.

Another completely different approach that many will find useful is to make a provision for the MDHCA Endowment Fund in your will. I have done that myself, and I have knowledge of several other members who have taken this step as well. These contributions will be invaluable to those providing leadership to the MDHCA and the Goffs Cultural Center in the years to come.

A receipt for tax purposes will be sent to each donor whenever a donation is made toward the Endowment Fund. There will also be special recognition in the Mojave Road Reports and through other methods yet to be developed.

Everyone who comes to Goffs and sees what has been accomplished by the MDHCA over the past 15 years is amazed. Frankly, I am amazed myself. This endowment will ensure this success continues.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this new initiative, please contact Dennis G. Casebier by phone at 760-733-4848 or email at

Finishing touches on the water system

Report by Dennis Casebier

There have been no workers here yet this week. Dan Cordova and crew are expected to be here as early as tomorrow to put in door closers, base boards, and maybe an illuminated address sign.

Phil Motz has been busy working with the water system. Both the north and south systems are on line and we are using water out of both. Also he obtained materials in town yesterday to put in lights in the Power House and the new north Pump House. Lights are designed to come on when Deep Well #2 pump is on and when the booster pumps in the north Pump House are on.

Phil has also picked up ceiling fans which he will install in the new building.

It's very hot in Goffs today and along the Colorado River Valley.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Flooring finished on the second floor...

Report and photos by Dennis Casebier

The flooring for the second floor of the Depot, the Lounge, and the restroom were finished at about 3:00 PM today.

...the Lounge...

...and the restroom.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Depot flooring begins

Report and photos by Dennis Casebier

The flooring crew, consisting of Kelly Binns, Ed Hardesty, and Donna May, arrived mid-morning. They started on the first floor of the Depot.

First they cleaned the floor, then put down some kind of foam sheeting, and now they are laying maple tongue and groove pattern, perco-type flooring on top of that. At 2:00 PM they were about two-thirds of the way done with that room.

Here at the end of the day, the flooring is complete on the first floor of the Depot. Also they've cleaned the floor in the lounge and bathroom and are putting glue down. We are asked not to go in there this evening or we might have to stay forever!

The crew is moving all of their tools and materials to the second floor. This same flooring goes in the second floor of the Depot. Then they'll lay a vinyl material of the same maple style in the Lounge and rest room.

A window guy is here working on loose molding. There'll be some other glass guy later to replace some of the glass upstairs.

Very warm and windy today but it isn't impacting their work day since the workers are inside.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Air conditioning units rewired

Report and photo by Dennis Casebier

The electrician arrived mid-morning and did some rewiring of control boxes by the air conditioning units on the west side of the Library/Depot.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Flooring delivery and plumbing leak

Report by Dennis Casebier

The flooring guys, led by Jim O'Connor, were here before noon. They dropped off a bunch of flooring (apparently not all of it) and then departed for Laughlin. They said they'd be back Wednesday morning with the rest of the flooring to do the job.

The plumber came in some time this morning. He found a leak. It was in a pipe that got punched with a nail during some of the finish work around the toilet. It's now been fixed. The plumber adjusted the pressure in the pump house to 56 pounds.

Very hot in Goffs today. 110 degrees at 3:30 PM on the west porch.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rain gutters and bollards

Report and photos by Dennis Casebier

The rain gutter guys (three of them) showed up this morning. Jo Ann and I were just leaving for a quick business trip into town. I figured they would still be here when we got back at about 2:00 PM, but they were gone already. Hugh reports the job took about four hours. So the gutters are all in place.

Also, Dan Cordova and a helper were here this morning finishing up the bollards they started yesterday. These are metal posts designed to prevent people from driving their vehicles into the new building.

The plumber is expected to be back on Saturday of this week to fix a leak that has developed in one of the walls.

Dan is picking off the few remaining tasks. The last big one will be to put the flooring down and I understand that is to be done next week.

We are nearing completion.