Fellow Book Benders
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August, 2017                                                            Vol. 2, No. 8


     This is the 16th edition of Fellow Book Benders, a free monthly online newsletter about the ridiculous truth and historical tidbits of San Francisco, the Russian River and beyond.  Can you spy a glimmer of your yesteryear from these tales?   Better yet, are you willing to confess to it?
Communes of Sonoma County, Part 2:
Wheeler Ranch

         Wheeler Ranch lies west of Occidental in rural Sonoma County.  Bill Wheeler makes his home there, but the place sends out a different vibe today than it did in 1967 when Bill founded the commune as  an alternative to mainstream America.  He copied many of the communal concepts of Lou Gottlieb of Morning Star Ranch (upper left photo shows Bill & Lou) including willing his land to God. 
            It was a particularly mystical and magical era on our planet where God and nature's bounty became one. Mother Earth beckoned a wide variety of free spirits yearning to shed the shackles of an "uptight" society.  There were sages and seers, gardeners and builders, musicians and lovers, poets and orators, geniuses and scholars, old soldiers and survivors, hippies and trolls, and a cowboy or two. 
            They hitchhiked from the four corners of conservatism to the western end of Coleman Valley where a dirt path led to a gate some 11/2 miles from the main road.  Carrying their worldly possessions on their backs, these wanderers would settle in and eke out a living on the three hundred and fifteen acre ranch.  Resting just four miles from the ocean, the land was regularly visited by the morning mist, which easily found its way through the cracks of the roughshod abodes.

          The houses at Wheeler Ranch were a variety of shapes and sizes, each having its own unique personality and earthly attachment.  Everything from a dome to a log cabin to a tent to a two-story mansion could be found. Water was available near the garden in the center of the commune or from a nearby spring.  However, there was no electricity.  Light shone from gas and oil lanterns or from 12-volt hookups to car batteries. Heat radiated from wood stoves while bathrooms consisted of a shovel and a roll of toilet paper. Showers were handcloths or water basins or visits to the garden hose. 
          One unique invention at Wheeler's was the "canyon call".  Residents created individual verbal salutes to announce themselves as they approached a neighbor's lodge.  In this fashion no unwanted surprises would come knocking.  One might here such calls as "awyee" or "hello the cabin" or "eeyakee".
       Kids were in their element at the ranch.  They laughed and played in shrieking groups, communing with wildlife and resident pets.  The world was free for the taking, limited only by one's imagination.   They never had to doubt their safety or comfort as every adult was everyone's parent.  Life was a gas and it was all good.  Little ones went au naturel with modes of transportation being backpacks for the bigger toddlers and a sling for the infants.  The miracle of life was always a cause for awe, and word spread quickly regarding the introduction of a newborn. 
        The Wheeler's gave birth to a girl in the vegetable garden and named her Raspberry Sundown Hummingbird.  Today, she goes by Jessica Wheeler and is a software magnate in San Francisco.
           Music was always in the air and people were known to break out into song without provocation or reason.  Someone would latch onto a guitar and in no time a rhythm section would appear.  The tinny echo of inverted pots and pans could be heard alongside the  tom-tom sound of upturned oatmeal boxes.
         Celebrated musicians visited the land as well. Lou Gottlieb had previously played with the popular folk group, The Limeliters.  Alicia Bay Laurel was there with her wonderful voice and string instruments. Raymond Sender's accordion was a familiar sight in addition to Snakepit Eddie and his band.
            The steam baths were observances of cleansing and community with a little help from their friends.  Peyote, mushrooms, and LSD would heighten the consciousness-raising experience.  The sauna itself was a dome of branches covered by canvas.  Inside, bay leaves would be used to drip water onto hot rocks.  Residents crouched within the clouds of steam, sweating, minds filled with the intensity of it all, existing as one.  Afterwards, the garden hose would diminish the body heat and invigorate the soul. 
              But nirvana would be tested when a neighbor used his easement rights to harass the occupants of Wheeler Ranch.  There were many court appearances where terms such as "code violations, "red tags" and "illegal dwellings" were tossed about.
          On one occasion armed men swarmed onto the property looking for runaways.  Bill tried to defend one girl but had his third eye opened by a pair of swinging handcuffs.  When he spit blood onto the deputy, he was arrested.  Another time, lawmen in riot gear held people at gunpoint while searching the compound for San Quentin escapees.
              The whole thing came to an end on May 20, 1973.  Bulldozers roared and shook the earth as dwellings came tumbling down.  To save the land from further mechanical rape, the residents burned the remaining houses to the ground. 
            Besides producing seven critically acclaimed music CD's, Alicia Bay Laurel was a noted author selling 350,000 copies of Living on the Earth, published by Random House and appearing on the 1971 New York Times bestseller list.
              Raymond Sender co-founded the San Francisco Tape Music Center in 1962, which was later incorporated into Mills College and still operates today as the Mills Center for Contemporary Music.
               In 2005 researchers used radiocarbon dating to study two peyote buttons found in an archeological dig from a site named Shumla Cave No. 5 on the Rio Grande in Texas.  The results placed the age of the specimens to 3700 B.C.    Getting high is nothing new.
             Within the last twenty years, Bill Wheeler has become a celebrated painter.  He studied at Yale University and at the San Francisco Art Institute.  He is represented by the Bradford Gallery in San Anselmo. 
             If you have enjoyed reading one of my novels, a short review with Amazon would be appreciated.  As Red Skelton used to say, "Good night and may God bless."

Next Time:
     In September, we will visit the Cow Palace where the manure usually hit the fan.  If you have a story pertaining to the Cow Palace, I would love to publish it in next month's newsletter.  You can reach me through my website or email me directly at  Thanks and stay tuned. 

        My latest novel, Don't Stop the Music, is an action/adventure story that celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love.  It is a wild ride through the streets of the Haight and Fillmore Districts of San Francisco culminating in the historic Grateful Dead concert in Rio Nido along the Russian River. The book will be available to the public in mid-August. 
              If you want to gab about local history, stop by the Rio Nido Art Festival and Pancake Breakfast on Sunday, August 6th from 9:00 a.m. until noon (in Rio Nido near the post office).  Also, I will be schlepping my books at the Sonoma County Fair with other authors from Santa Rosa's Redwood Writers.  Look for our booth in the E.C. Kraft building.  You can catch me there on Friday and Saturday, August 11th & 12th from 11:00 a.m. until 6:00p.m.
           For more information regarding my novels  or a preview of Don't Stop the Music  you can go to   

Attributions & Asides:
       A special thank you is due to anonymous subscribers for sharing their memories of Wheeler Ranch.   Also, a note of appreciation goes to the following individuals and organizations: Marsee Henon, Friends of Rio Nido ( Card Cow Vintage Postcards (, Sonoma County Historical Society, Russian River Historical Society, San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, and Wikipedia.
                To subscribe a friend to this newsletter (Fellow Book Benders) or to discover more information regarding John McCarty's novels, go to
                 Your privacy is important to me.  Be assured that I am not sharing your email or any other personal information.  JMc
Copyright © 2017 John McCarty, All rights reserved.

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