Saturday, October 11, 2014

Exhibit recalls 50 years at ‘Calico Dig’

By Staff Reports
Victorville Daily Press

The Victor Valley Museum will recognize the 50th anniversary of the Calico Mountains Archaeological Excavation with a special exhibit, “50 Years Ago: The Calico Dig.”

The exhibit will open on Saturday and continue through Nov. 9.

The Calico Mountains Archaeological Site (once called the Calico Early Man Site) is a quarry and tool production site near Yermo. For thousands of years, prehistoric people gathered stones (chalcedony and chert) from which to fashion tools for hunting, preparing food and making other tools.

Dr. Louis Leakey, Ruth DeEtte (Dee) Simpson, and Dr. Gerald A. Smith, then director of the San Bernardino County Museum, established the Calico Mountains Archaeological Site in 1964. The National Geographic Society funded the first four years of excavation. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Continuously excavated for 50 years, the site is still active with the help of trained volunteers, college classes and scout groups.

The Friends of the Calico Early Man Site, incorporated in 1981, cares for this important public resource and provided the funding for this exhibit.

The Victor Valley Museum is at 11873 Apple Valley Road in Apple Valley, just east of the Jess Ranch Marketplace. Contact the museum at 760-240-2111 or visit the San Bernardino County Museum’s website at

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for military/seniors and $2.50 for children ages 5-12.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Mohahve Historical Society celebrates 50 years

Victorville Daily Press

The Mohahve Historical Society celebrated its 50th anniversary on Sept. 25, with a barbecue at the Victor Valley Museum hosted by past president Jim Mustra.

After a meal, catered by Cujo’s Big Smoke BBQ, attendees enjoyed a presentation on the historic mining town of Ryan in Death Valley by the live-in caretakers, Mr. Scott and Dr. Jessica Smith. The cutting of the 50th anniversary cake bearing the MHS seal concluded the memorable event. Mohahve Historical Society would like to thank all who attended, and especially appreciated the support of three other historical societies: Searles Valley Historical Society of Trona, Wrightwood Historical Society, and Mojave River Valley Museum of Barstow.

The organization, which started as a class at Victor Valley College in 1964, meets regularly on the fourth Thursday of the month to enjoy a presentation on some facet of High Desert history, followed by refreshments and socializing. There is also the opportunity to purchase books, including the recently published “Rancho Yucca Loma” by local historian Fran Elgin.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Stamp mills highlight museum celebration

Hugh Brown, left, current director of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association, stands with former director Dennis Casebier on the upper level of the association's recently renovated stamp mill. (MARK MUCKENFUSS, STAFF THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE)


Dennis Casebier has learned that you don’t have to build it to get them to come; you just have to have the materials on hand.

Casebier, a desert historian and former head of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association, found himself standing in a salvage yard in the high desert town of Rosamond in 1996, looking at pieces of a large, ore-crushing machine. He had a vision of reconstructing the monstrous piece of equipment on the grounds of the association’s museum in Goffs, about 30 miles northwest of Needles.

Originally, the material was headed for Disneyland, which had been collecting antique Western props for its parks in the 1980s, Casebier said. The Rosamond dealer “got one 10-stamp mill too many,” he said.
Casebier bought the mill and some other material for $15,000. It took a year to haul everything back to Goffs. And there it sat for 14 years.

This Sunday, visitors to the Goffs museum will not only be able to see the 20-foot-high, 15-foot-wide reconstructed American Boy 10-stamp mill but also will get to watch it run. Casebier said it is the only operational 10-stamp mill in California that he knows of. The nearest is in Arizona.

The same man put both machines together.

Casebier said Charlie Connell came looking for him, which was a good thing. Otherwise, the mill, which weighs more than 30 tons, probably still would be sitting in pieces.

“I had no idea where to start,” said Casebier, a physicist who worked for three decades on weapons systems at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Norco. “We’ve learned patience out here. Sooner or later, somebody will come along who’s interested.”

Connell, of Phoenix, heard through the grapevine that Goffs had a stamp mill.

“He’s a nut about stamp mills,” Casebier said. “He has a little team of guys (including his wife, Kathy) and they just love working on stamp mills. He lets them know he’s coming out and somehow they show up from as far away as Colorado.”

It took Connell and his crew three years of work – an estimated 4,100 man hours – to put the mill back together using original and newly made parts. They turned on the machine for the first time in March, using a diesel motor. Originally, the mill would have been powered by a steam engine.

It is the sixth mill that Connell, a retired nuclear plant worker, has constructed. He also helped get the Goffs museum’s smaller two-stamp mill operating.

An amateur gold prospector, he was volunteering at the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum when he learned about an abandoned stamp mill in the desert. He didn’t know what a stamp mill was at the time, but when he saw the dilapidated remains, it got the better of his tinkering nature – he’d rebuilt a Model A in earlier years – and he decided he had to put the stamp mill back together.

“I like to see things run,” Connell said.

It has become an avocation. Besides the ones he has rebuilt in Arizona and California, Connell said he has consulted on stamp mill reconstructions as far away as Colorado. Last summer, he spent two weeks on a road trip that took him through several Western states looking for stamp mill parts. He even traveled to Australia and New Zealand to look at stamp mills there.

Thanks to Connell and his crew, both stamp mills will be operating Sunday. And although the machines may draw the most attention, Casebier hopes visitors also will check out the rest of the museum he spent more than 20 years putting together.

The project started in 1990, when he and his wife bought the Goffs Schoolhouse and restored it to its original condition. The school is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Sunday’s event is a celebration of the schoolhouse’s 100th anniversary.

The Casebier’s and some museum staff are pretty much Goffs only residents these days. At its peak in the 1920s, 200-300 people lived in the town. Route 66, local mining and the railroad kept it alive for many years.

In addition to the schoolhouse, the museum also has an archival library on historical materials related to the Mojave Desert.

Casebier – a transplanted Kansan, fell in love with the desert during a two-year stint in Twentynine Palms when he was in the Marines. He started exploring and researching the Mojave Desert not long after he started his civilian job with the Navy, then in Corona, in 1960.

His work often took him to Washington, D.C.

“I’d spend my evenings in the National Archives,” he said, delving into desert history. “I did that for 30 years.”

The Goff’s museum has a 10,000-volume library, a collection of more than 100,000 photographs and 6,000 maps. But what Casebier values most is the material from his oral history project. The archive holds recordings from interviews with 1,300 people. Casebier did most of the interviews himself.

“If there was only one thing we could get on the ark, that would be it,” he said. “That is a national treasure.”

Much of the archive is housed in the recently completed Goffs Depot, a reconstruction of the original train station that sat just a short distance away. Tours of the building will be part of Sunday’s activities, along with games for kids, a book sale and lunch for visitors. In addition, there are the museum’s wide array of historical objects and equipment, many related to the local mining industry.

Casebier is hoping a few of those visitors might consider becoming volunteers for the museum site and fall in love with the place the way he did.

“I wanted to go to the desert and I like doing things with things that are neglected,” Casebier said. “This whole place here is a testament to that.”