Opportunity or Madness?
It was the fall of 1946, so I was entitled to two weeks of vacation. I got a phone call from my old engineering pal, George-he and his wife drove us to our honeymoon, remember? He was still working for Plxweve, managing a sawmill they bought near Groveland, a Tuolumne County town on Highway 120, the northern gateway to Yosemite.
He knew I loved hunting, and asked me if I wanted to accompany him on a trip up to the sawmill. I could see the country, stay at the mill for a few days and we could go hunting. Alva said I should go, as we would have the second week of vacation together.
George picked me up and by the time we started up Priest Grade it was dark, so I had to wait till morning to see what the country was like. It was glorious! George showed me the mill and told me about the booming lumber business. We never did go hunting, but by the time we left he was proposing that we go into business for ourselves. He could get orders from the clients that he knew. We would need trucks to haul the lumber from the mills to Chinese Camp where we would transfer the lumber to railroad cars for shipment to a broker in Los Angeles.
We discussed it all the way home, and when we arrived , George and Mary and Alva and I discussed the whole situation. If I could borrow some money from my parents, George and I, both veterans, could each buy a war surplus truck, brand new, parked by the thousands at Port Hueneme Army depot. Both families agreed subject to me getting the money. Looking back as I write this, it was sheer madness. Neither of us really knew anything about sawmills, the lumber business or trucks. We were just a couple of overconfident engineers with a couple of naïve wives thinking this was a great opportunity.
Anyway, I wrote my parents and explained the whole proposition to them, and, incredibly, they loaned me the money! I can’t imagine the anguish they must have felt.
George and I gave notice to our employers. George phoned the lumber broker in Los Angeles and got an order for all the lumber we could buy, and called a sawmill owner in Groveland that he knew and contracted to buy his output. George and I went up to Port Hueneme and came away with two all wheel drive ten wheel dump trucks. We drove them up to Sonora and began to convert them to haul lumber at Sam Whitt’s Manufacturing Company. He let us use his equipment and welder and supervised us as we did the work. When we finished we drove up to the Lavoroni mill and started our work.
The mill had a bunch of lumber cut for us, which we began to stack for air drying. When we got it all stacked, we drove back to LA to be with our families. When the mill filled up with lumber, we drove up and stacked until we cleaned them out. Then repeat the cycle.
When the first stacked lumber was dry, we trucked it down to Chinese, loaded it into rail cars, and sent it to LA. This left us with a lot of waiting time between shipments.
Fortunately we got a call from sawmill owners we had met at Sam Whitt’s shop, asking us if we could take over trucking their lumber to a dry yard in Sonora, as their truckers were broken down. So we started hauling lumber from their mill in Jupiter to the drying yard which at that time was where the Timberhill Shopping Center is now. Ah, some immediate income!
Deb Bentley and Spud Preston, owners of the mill, informed us that their former truckers weren’t coming back, and asked us to take on the job permanently.
This was great, as we had a steady income. Our broker in LA had commercial truckers bring the remainder of the lumber in Groveland as it dried, and we were through with that obligation.
George and I found rental houses in Twain Harte so we could move our families up from LA to be with us all the time. Alva and Mary and the kids loved it, overcome by the beauty and fresh air.
George and I had to work furiously to keep ahead of the mill as they had no storage room at the mill site. We made two trips a day each, and one on Saturday. Saturday afternoon was for servicing the trucks in preparation for the next week.
George’s family lived right across the street from us, so Alva and Mary and the kids had a great time and kind of felt they were on one long vacation.
Alva was walking to the market one day when she was approached by a middle aged gentleman who introduced himself as Pastor Will J. Callahan. He asked her if she was a Christian. When she said she was, he invited her to attend a Wednesday evening Bible study that he was conducting in the clubhouse at Twain Harte arch. He pastored the Standard Community Church, but held the meetings in Twain Harte as there was no church in Twain Harte at that time.
We immediately began to attend Sunday morning services at Standard, and Wednesday Bible studies if I got home in time. We were greatly blessed at both places, but especially at the Twain Harte meetings. There were about fifty in attendance, from a number of different backgrounds: Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, whatever. They were all serious about their Christianity, and got along well in spite of their diversity. I liked that.
Pastor Callahan was a Quaker, called himself a mountain missionary, and preached simple, practical messages from the Bible. He emphasized evangelism, living a holy life, and looking for Jesus’ return.
As the months went by the Wednesday meetings grew until the clubhouse was packed. Lois Callahan, the Pastor’s daughter, led the singing from the piano. We sang mostly the best of the old hymns, with a sprinkling of beautiful “worship choruses.” It was wonderful. I sensed a spiritual level that I had never known before, and a commitment to Jesus greater than I had ever made. Alva was in her element, and didn’t know about my inner stirrings.
We had to leave the place we were renting and moved to a house on Tuolumne Road at Cedar Springs Road in late summer of 1948. It was about this time that Alva became pregnant. We didn’t know how this might affect the future, but kept soldiering on. George and I were kept very busy until it started to snow and the mill shut down for the winter. And what a winter it was! Half way through it we had four feet of dense snow on the level in Twain Harte, followed by six weeks of bitter cold, sometimes at five below zero. We were without water for the entire six weeks. We melted snow for water for drinking and cooking. I broke the ice on the nearby creek and dipped out water with a bucket with which to flush the toilet. Our car was buried in snow, so I walked the mile plus to Twain Harte to buy groceries when needed, and to attend the Wednesday Bible Study every week. Alva had to stay home with the kids, and of course made a party out of all our coping with the weather.
One Wednesday evening we had an especially powerful meeting. Despite the deep snow on the ground and the bitter cold, the clubhouse was full. God blessed everyone for braving the elements with an unusual sense of joy. Because the others were joyful, I had a sense of joy, but it seemed to be sort of a second hand joy. I sensed some need in my life. Was it that my profession of receiving Christ under the pressure from Alva just a profession, and I wasn’t saved? Or was it a lack of real commitment? Or perhaps both?
During fellowship after the Bible study I asked Pastor Callahan what he thought. He told me I would have to sort that out with God-end of discussion.
I set out on my hike to home. The moon was full, the snowy scene glorious, and I was thinking about Pastor’s comment when I reached the top of the hill on East Avenue (there was no overpass then). I stopped and looked around at the exquisite beauty. I thought, no place could be any closer to God than this, so I struck up a conversation with Him!
“Father, I am tired of wondering if I am a real born-again Christian. If I didn’t really receive Jesus back in Glendale, I want to receive Him right now. Jesus please come into my heart and save me and be my Lord. Thank you for doing so! Oh, a PS-this time I want to know I am saved!” (or something equally un-poetic)
From that very moment till now, sixty five years later, I have lived in the answer to that prayer. Hallelujah!
I don’t think I told Alva-let her notice a change in me if it was real. But I did tell George, and before long I had a Christian business partner. He was the first person I was able to introduce to the Lord, and when he received Jesus the exultation I felt exceeded that of any spiritual experience I have had to this day! George’s wife, Mary, was a timid believer and was stirred by George’s move to become an active Christian. They served together for many years in a Baptist Church.
Alva did notice the change in me. I was constantly reading and studying the Bible, memorizing Bible verses and spending time in prayer. This began to work good changes in my heart, my attitudes and my actions. God was good!