The Chip

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A Childhood Memory of Earl Meyer

It was early June in the summer of 1954 and my parents Alvin and Emma Meyer, the year before, had been able to purchase our cabin, number 24 in West Mineral King.

The little cabin up the hill, a long stone’s throw above our cabin at the base of the mountain, was owned by Clifford and Ruth Martin Buckman, currently known as the Art Martin cabin. Clifford was on old cowboy-type guy, about six feet tall and as skinny and straight as a steel fence post. He was probably in his early 80’s at the time and wore an old plaid cowboy shirt with the metal snap buttons, Levi’s, cowboy boots and always wore his old straw hat with the sides turned up from years of shaping. He was very friendly, talkative and had a twinkle in his eyes. When he took a deep breath he had a wheeze from years of smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes, “since I was fourteen,” he would say. I would go up to their cabin and sit and listen to Clifford tell stories of his years of experiences in the Mineral King area.

When Clifford was a young fellow, “a whippersnapper,” of about twenty, he was fortunate to have the job of driving a team of horses and a wagon from Three Rivers to the Mineral King valley. On one trip he was driving a buckboard wagon with a huge flywheel loaded on board that was at least a foot wide on the outside face. It was lashed down to the buckboard with strong rope and covered with a canvas. The wheel was the only freight on the wagon and was consigned to the Empire Mine Company. It was quite heavy and extended out over the edges of the buckboard by almost a foot on each side. Clifford left the shipping dock in Three Rivers early one morning and proceeded to drive his team up the Mineral King road, which at that time was hardly more than a wide trail in places. He had crossed the stream on the westside of the mountain and the team was moving well on the curves and turns.

At one point on a curve, the road narrowed and a large boulder was sticking out. As the team made the turn the boulder was hit by the flywheel hanging over the edge of the wagon. The impact brought the team and wagon to a sudden stop. After the horses settled down, Clifford backed the team up a bit, and got down off the wagon to inspect his cargo. The impact had knocked a chip the size of a quarter off one edge of the flywheel. Upon inspection, Clifford rubbed the area with his hand and an edge of the canvas, said a few choice words and pulled the canvas around and over the chipped area. He checked the ropes to see that the wheel was secure and proceeded up the road with his team. As he completed the journey with stops at the watering holes to water his horses, he pondered what, if any, repercussions the accident and the chip would mean to him and his job. When he finally reached the valley he checked in at the receiving dock, but said nothing about the chip. Interestingly enough, the chip damage was not noticed and nothing ever came of the incident.

It was almost 50 years later that Clifford was fly-fishing the Kaweah stream at Mineral King. He had started fishing the stream a little above the current ranger station and had fished upstream to the area just below the Richard Barboni cabin where the stream starts to turn and head south up the valley. There was a sandy area, and here, sticking out of the sand and gravel buried almost completely was the same flywheel he had delivered years before with the chipped edge facing out toward him. It was rusted, covered with debris and seemed to be saying to him, “Remember me? It’s been a long time!” The flywheel had been swept down the side of the mountain by one of the great snow avalanches that had destroyed and buried all the buildings and machinery set up to service the mine many years before. As he knelt down on one knee, he considered what the flywheel had experienced. He turned and looked up the mountain side behind him where he envisioned a bustling community of buildings and activity and hundreds of people when he had first delivered the flywheel. Now it was a gently sloping rise to Timber Gap covered with sagebrush, fern, grasses and an occasional tree. He shook his head and said to himself, “Such is life,” picked up his fly rod and continued fishing the stream.

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