Fellow Book Benders
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May, 2016                                                                Vol. 1, No. 1


My truth is plugged into a past that entwines itself around the history of the Russian River and San Francisco.  While my experiences may reside in a different place than yours, perhaps this monthly newsletter will spark a recollection of your own.  Whether you live in Lake Oswego or Timbukto, you might just spy a glimmer of your yesteryear from these stories.  Fasten your seat belts for a slippery ride down memory lane.
A True Story (or so I've been told):

The research for my first novel, Memories That Linger, flowed out of me from some hidden corner of my youth.   As City kids, we were always relieved to leave our fog shrouded parish of St. Brendan's and venture across the Golden Gate and thru the Rainbow Tunnel to the other side of the world.  Mark Twain once wrote: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."  Truer words were never said, at least according to my childhood friend, Gil. He recalls the summer of 1960 in particular when he followed the sun north to the land of adventure. 

Like most fourteen-year-old boys, Gil was determined to ignore papal teachings and flirt with damnation.  What better place to do that than in Rio Nido along the lower banks of the Russian River.  However, a recent viewing of the 1936 movie "Reefer Madness" had placed doubts into his bravado.  He took his cigar-size doobie away from the Chinese lanterns of Canyon Two and traveled across the parking lot of the Rio Nido Lodge where a pumpkin moon winked at him.  Dick Crest (former host of T.V.'s Rock'n Rally and music instructor at CSM) and his band were tearing down their gear from the amphitheater and transporting all to the dance hall next door. Gil would use the diversion to sneak behind the platform and light up.  But another and bigger exploit waylaid him.  His family's Galaxie was rocking within the inky shadows of a redwood.  

With the devil crowding his mind, he rushed back to the stage and "borrowed" a mic, which was still connected to the outdoor speakers.  He slipped to the side of the Ford and held the mic  against a steamy window.  Moans and groans and salutations of ecstasy flowed out across the crowd, which was milling around the rows of benches and a bonfire.

At the sound of their own voices echoing off the giant trees, Gil's older sister and her boyfriend spilled from the car.  They spotted the laughing prankster and chased him across the village center. The muscular boyfriend caught up with Gil near the Post Office and raised his fist to strike him when Gil produced a peace offering.  The boyfriend waved off Gil's nagging sister and opted for the joint instead, which sent her to seek satisfaction elsewhere.

With the promise of more weed, Muscles hooked up with Gil the next day.  The pair promenaded past the village fountain and under River Road via a tunnel and down a steep slope to a pedestrian bridge.  Once on the other side of the river, they purchased snow cones, rented an umbrella and set up camp along the pebble-strewn beach. While listening to the Drifter's "There Goes My Baby" over the loudspeaker, the lads checked out the local talent.  Without warning, Gil's sister appeared from behind the glare of the rising sun.  She surprised the boys with the dumping of two large Cokes upon their lily-white frames.  After a series of complaints, she tore Muscle's high school ring from her necklace and tossed it at his Tony Curtis hairdo. But she wasn't finished.  She stomped to a concession stand, snatched a megaphone and announced to the world a string of embarrassments regarding their manhood.   Catcalls and whistles chased after Gil and Muscles as they retreated back across the boardwalk.

Who said vengeance rested solely within the hands of the Lord?  I learned a life lesson from Gil that day-never let sin get the upper hand.  Do you remember your teenage brush(es) with Satan?

Rio Nido: A Brief History, Part One

Oxen and Chinese coolies and R.R. tracks covered the enclave of Eagle Nest Lumber Co. (the mill stood where Rio Nido's village center is today).  It was not a place for the faint of heart back in the 1880's.  The temporary bridges, which connected the area to the outside world, were torn down before the rainy season.  Isolation clawed at one's sanity. Fires destroyed the area on five different occasions during the decade. Alcohol, whores and a game of chance took your money while racial tensions, floods, corporate greed and industrial sabotage stole what was left.  With the passing of the golden age of timber harvesting, the Eagle Lodge of San Francisco bought additional parcels in 1908 and sold them to club members. 

In 1910 the hamlet's name was changed to Rionido and later in 1947 to Rio Nido, which means "Nest River".  Our American tycoons at the time most likely meant to call the village "El Rio Del Nido", which would have possessed a more appropriate translation of "The Nest On The River".  

It soon became a vacation destination for blue collar workers from San Francisco.  Bus drivers "freed" muni-green paint from City warehouses to decorate their rural cabins.  Union electricians supplied the old knob and tube wiring.  Workers from the Chronicle and Examiner tacked up rolls of newspaper print to double as insulation (many, however, found the one-walled cottages to their liking, allowing nature's air conditioner to take affect).  Off-duty cops roamed the redwood lanes, instilling a sense of security from the crooks of their other life.  No political correctness here.  God bless them.

If you traveled by auto before 1935, you would come down Pocket Canyon, across the Guerneville Bridge and follow a dirt road east (now River Road) alongside the Northwestern Pacific R.R. tracks (more about the railroads in another edition).  Harry Harris owned much of the village center from 1928-1953.  He developed the Rio Nido Lodge.  The Red Fox dining room featured Italian cuisine while two cocktail lounges kept your whistle wet.  Several tent cabins were rented out back.  Eventually the  family owned some 10 acres with 700 cottages and 130 rentals, two swimming pools, and tennis courts.  A walking bridge took you to the beach where George Fenneman could rent you anything from a one-piece bathing suit to candy cigarettes to a canoe.  There was a wading area for the kids while the more adventuresome would give the ten-foot high-dive board a go.

A church stood near the hotel while other buildings soon sprung up.  The village became a self-contained community with a post office, a grocery store (upstairs was a one-chair barbershop), a soda fountain, a coffee shop, an outdoor dance floor (a roof was added later), a four-lane bowling alley and a pinball arcade where you could play Baseball-O-Rama until the next pretty girl drifted by. 

Side Bars: Harold Smith operated carnival games in Northern California from 1920-1935, including a shooting gallery and a bingo parlor in Rio Nido.  He was a personable pitchman and could attract and hold a crowd.  He talked loud and fast while introducing card numbers with hog calls, all of which came naturally to his outgoing nature.  But in the mid-thirties, the state cracked down on all forms of gambling, so Harold decided to try his luck in Nevada and opened Harolds Club in Reno in 1935.

Also, Harry Harris was the father of Claire who recently sold his interest in Johnson's Beach in Guerneville after 48 years of operation.  Even upon reaching his nineties, Claire was a hands-on type of manager, bellowing out requests for an employee to assist with an umbrella rental, or commanding a canoer to put on his/her life preserver.

George Fenneman later became the announcer for the T.V. show You Bet Your Life, starring Groucho Marx.
To Share:

erhaps you have a story of your own you would like to share with Fellow Book Benders.  Go to and click on "Contact" and tell all.  The taller the tale, the more majestic.

Next time:

n June, we'll join the Big Bands as they visit the River.  Until then, my friends, keep turning those pages.

Attributions & Asides:

Thank you to the following individuals and organizations for the above images: Ron Friedland, Marsee Henon, Friends of Rio Nido ( and Card Cow Vintage Postcards (

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Copyright © 2016 John McCarty, All rights reserved.

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