As I crossed Sierra Madre Ave I flashed on Happy Jack’s Trout Farm, the old Ghost Town, the stables, roller coaster road, and Foothill Dairy, where we downed what must have amounted to hundreds of gallons of fruit punch each summer, after all of those canyon trips and Seven Pines hikes. Foothill Dairy, now only a memory, a victim of condo madness.
I drove up as far as the El Encanto Restaurant and pulled into the lot behind the Canyon Inn. I turned off the engine and sat there awhile listening to the roar of the San Gabriel River down below, remembering the times we rode down the river on inner tubes. God those were fun times. On one occasion I almost drowned. That particular adventure began one hot summer afternoon, about a half mile down river from the Morris Dam Spillway at what we fondly called the swimming hole. There the river made a sweeping left turn, then spread out to more than four times it’s previous width. Because of the depth in this section, the current slowed considerably, and created the perfect pool.
There were eight of us there that day, Art Vasquez, Dave Morales, Steve Gallegos, John Montgomery, Jack Fitch, Bob Lloyd, Steve “Cannonball” Luevanos, and myself, all eager to ride the river. We took turns using the single bicycle pump to fill our tubes then hit the water. We floated lazily downstream for about a mile or so, hooting and hollering and having a ball! Everything was going great, but when we rounded the bend just below the El Encanto, the current grew stronger and we began picking up speed.
As we passed under the Highway 39 bridge we were really moving! I drifted wide, away from the others, got caught in the swirling current and was thrown from my tube. I was immediately sucked under and swept downstream. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stop myself. If it wasn’t for Cannonball I probably would have drowned. Somehow he managed to grab hold of me and drag me to shore. I was bruised and my ribs ached, but otherwise okay. We sat on the bank until I regained my strength, then jumped back on our tubes and continued down river without further incident. In spite of my fall it was a real blast!
I sat listening to the river for several more minutes, then headed back down the mountain. I turned left on Azusa-San Gabriel Canyon Road and headed south towards the ranch. The one acre ranch, owned by Art’s dad, was part of a much larger avocado grove, and one of our favorite places to hang out back in the day. We spent a lot of time there, kicking back and drinking beer, a lot of beer. It was also a great night spot to spend some time with our girlfriends, which we often did. Yeah, we had some good times at the ranch, some really great times.
I drove by slowly and couldn’t believe how different the ranch looked. It was nothing at all like the lush, green, little piece of paradise that I remembered. There were far fewer trees and most of those were small and sparsely covered with foliage. Could this have really been the site of all those good times? It sure didn’t appear to be. So much for memories.
I headed back down San Gabriel and hit the signal at Sierra Madre. I could see my mom’s old restaurant Angela’s. in the small strip mall across the street. My mom really loved that place and always seemed so happy there. I could almost she her inside throwing together one of her famous pizzas or grinders. I wish they’d never sold it. I know they had their reasons, but maybe things would have turned out differently if they hadn’t, maybe she’d still be alive. Way too many maybe’s. God I miss her…
To be Continued… July 13