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Ever heard of an Egg Ranch?

May 14, 2012

1953 Chevrolet Sedan


1959 Chevrolet Yeoman Wagon

 

There was one sunny midday drive I remember that was taking us out back behind Calero Reservoir and down into Gilroy via Bailey Avenue. Going down Bailey was always a trip. At the tail end of Calero lake it was a t-road off of McKean Road and you probably only went about a half mile up Bailey when, plop! it falls off the little Calero plateau and switchbacks down to the narrow Coyote river plain that leads to the little farm town of Gilroy, California, south of San Jose. These switchbacks are short and tight and us kids thought it was sort of natural roller coaster. They got you from the top to the bottom, probably more than 500 vertical feet, in very short order. It was always a pain in the ass for the driver, but the kids loved it. This series of hairpins was so steep and tight even a bicycle had to brake hard to make each of the turns.
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But, once to the bottom, on the ancient river plain, it was a straight shot bee-line to Monterey Road, a remnant of the old El Camino Real, “the King’s Highway,” that led from one California Mission to the next. Bailey Avenue is an enigma of a road; all twisty and turny on one end and straight as an arrow at the other and it isn’t but a mile or two long.
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I was riding with the Longs, a family that owned one of the largest egg ranches in our area. They had about 30,000 chickens in hugely long chicken houses that were really no more than corrugated tin roofs shading raised wire cages that held the endless rows and rows of jittery, white hens who laid one egg a day. We were taking these back roads to Gilroy in their 1953 Chevrolet Sedan to buy a brand new 1959 Chevrolet station wagon. The Longs were originally from the heavily Swedish area of Minnesota (and they were of Swedish extraction) but at the end of World War II, Ken, a welder who had been building Liberty ships up in Oakland, decided to stay here in California, like so many newly discharged soldiers and sailors on the west coast. Their egg business was bringing about as much money now as Ken’s work at the Westinghouse welding yard in Sunnyvale. The trunk of the sedan wasn’t big enough to handle the newly expanded egg business. These Midwesterners liked Chevys and they knew the Chevrolet dealer in Gilroy personally, so this purposeful business trip was a “no-brainer.” Us kids were riding along because, in those days, baby sitters were unheard of in Almaden. We kids were just an unconscious nuisance that no one thought about, we just trundled on along with everyone else.
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However, on this particular trip my “best friend,” Steve Long, and I were riding along with a particularly positive attitude. After our return in the new car, we were going to be allowed to drive this old sedan all over the “back 40.” Ken and his wife, Helen, were going to drive both cars back to Almaden. Our farmers never traded the older cars in. They became farm implements. Nearly all of the homesteads in our neighborhood were laid out the same. The main house would be off the road by a hundred feet to a hundred yards. The long, dirt drive would be straight and unlined but the house itself and the older out buildings would be surrounded with windbreak trees and shrubs. Then there would be the barn and a few more stray sheds. Everything behind this last tier of structures was “the back 40,” even if it was just a half an acre.
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So, Ken was giving me and Steve a really big “go-cart” to tool around in on his back 40. He even told us he was going to put some blocks on the pedals because neither of us were tall enough to hold on to the steering wheel and reach the brakes or the gas pedal. Now, how cool is that?
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Steve and I were 11 years old when we got that old Chevy. We handed it off to some other younger neighborhood farm kids when we got our own cars when we were 16 or 17. When we gave it to them, it didn’t have any fenders or doors and you didn’t need a key to start it. Who knows when it was finally retired.
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The Longs went to Gilroy to purchase a brand new white 1959 Chevrolet station wagon, white, with an automatic transmission, a 283 cubic inch V-8 engine with a simple two barrel carburetor and some upgraded tires, as they expected to use the car a lot. There was no shopping, no dickering, no “hard sell.” This is what they wanted and this is how much they were going to pay for it. I watched Helen pull out a #10 standard business envelope out of her purse and hand the salesman a big wad of “egg money” to pay for this new car, cash. And they brought the old car back with them, each one of the adults driving one of the Chevys.
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Nothing was wasted. No “interest” was paid. There was nothing owed, no questions to ask, like “what happens if you can’t make a payment.” It was a done deal and you proceed into the future with a simple and clean slate. And the Longs came out of it with a back-up vehicle to boot, our huge go-cart.

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(to be contintued tomorrow)

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