|A halo of romance always surrounded the fishing club and its members, though I cannot explain just why its members loved it so or just how it acquired such a hold on the community. Its headquarters were at Shaver Lake, in the Sierra Nevada, about sixty miles east of Fresno. Its early buildings were of the crudest kind and its accommodations for the comfort of members and guests were even more primitive- Perhaps that very fact was responsible for much of the affection it received. I have often wondered whether the glamour of the early days was not buried in the ashes of those old buildings, for time and weather conspired to destroy the original clubhouses.|
General M.W. Muller was responsible for organizing this club and was for many years its president and guiding spirit. In its first year (to all recollections 1904) several Fresno fishing enthusiasts decided to drop all their business cares for about two or three weeks and camp out at Shaver Lake. Tradition has it that there were eight in this little camping group.
Fishing was so good and their camping trip so successful and enjoyable that they decided to invite about twenty fellow lovers of the mountains to join them the next year at their old camp site. The idea of a fishing club emerged about this time.
General Muller and Major Hughes of the State Militia were in possession of a quantity of army tents and camping equipment used in their army maneuvers. They stretched their authority over this equipment and used it for the mountain outing. The original group of eight acted as the "advance guard." When the invited guest's arrived at the selected site, they found a fully equipped camp awaiting them with two large army tents set up: one for the dining room and the other for an assembly room, In addition, there were smaller tents for sleeping quarters. Eddie Jones and Sim Winters were hired as cooks. Wearing white chef's caps and culinary aprons, they catered to the wants of the group.
A crude bar was constructed and about every kind of liquor known was piled high behind it. Needless to say, before the end of the outing, this supply had disappeared down to the last drop. As it was free, it was quite naturally preferred over the lake water.
The sumptuous repasts prepared by Eddie and Sim rivaled those of the Waldorf Astoria, in our estimation. Eddie was the chef at the Hughes Hotel and Sim received his training as a cook with the Pullman Company, I believe. They regarded these outings as their vacations for many years. While their equipment was crude -- consisting of an old camp stove positioned under a huge canvas covering and supplemented by a campfire -- the results of their skill are beyond my ability to describe.
An example of the fare we "mountaineers" enjoyed might be shown describing a typical breakfast menu: Southern flapjacks, a choice of ham or bacon, eggs, a nicely broiled T-bone steak, fried potatoes and, if anyone brought in a mess of freshly caught trout, a plate of delicious fish. All this was accompanied by aromatic coffee. As the mountain air is noted for adding to already healthy appetites, one can easily imagine the quantities of food consumed by our group.
The second year of our camping and fishing expedition we discovered upon arriving at Shaver that C.B. Shaver had built us a clubhouse. Though it was not very substantially built, being constructed with upright boards with the cracks battened, and with a roof made of "worm wood lumber," it answered our purpose better than the tents. Sadly, a heavy snow crushed it into kindling wood a year later.
MR. SHAVER'S DUNKING
Teased by the convenience of a permanent structure, the club levied an assessment upon the members to erect a larger and more durable building and a bunkhouse. To show our appreciation for the gift of the earlier clubhouse and for numerous other courtesies shown us by Mr. Shaver and his associates at the dam, we invited them all to our annual banquet that season. To my memory, the guests included J.G. Ferguson, mill superintendent Cutting, a Mr. Fitzpatrick, John Boyd Smith, Harvey Swift, and Arthur Long.
Instead of walking or riding to the festivities, the group decided to make the trip from the dam in the little steamer "Michigan," a very small tugboat used for towing logs and material about the lake. As the boat approached our floating landing wharf, we observed Mr. Shaver standing proudly in the bow of the boat, noting a decided similarity to the famous picture of Washington crossing the Delaware; there was even a flag flying from the short mast. Though he may not have presented the martial appearance of Washington, Mr. Shaver, standing beneath that flag, his two hundred and fifty pound form erect, created an image almost as impressive.
Shaver had received his start as a lumberjack in Michigan. In his younger days he'd been an expert at riding logs and nimbly jumping from one log to another. On this occasion, however, he evidently failed to realize that time and surplus girth had reduced such nimbleness.
As the boat drew up to the floating wharf, a large sugar pine log floated alongside between the boat and the wharf. Instead of waiting until the boat was securely tied up, Shaver took the opportunity of demonstrating his log-rolling ability to the assembled crowd and stepped off onto the floating log. As he did so, the log took.an unexpected roll. The next thing we saw was Shaver splashing in the lake, his derby hat floating off propelled by the breeze. As he came up for air, several of us grabbed him and hauled him out of the lake in a much bedraggled condition. This ignominious arrival created much merriment in which Mr. Shaver did not join with much enthusiasm.
Refusing the offer of a suit of dry clothes from General Muller (a man of similar girth), the honored guest preferred to sit down at the banquet table in his water-soaked clothes. I can still see him in my mind's eye, sitting at the banquet with his back to the blazing fire with the fireplace about five feet to his rear. The steam from his warm back rose to the ceiling in a regular cloud while water trickled all around him onto the floor.
While badly crestfallen over the style of his arrival, Shaver became the life of the party once the dinner was underway and a couple of cocktails were under his belt. He regaled us with wonderful stories of his log-rolling days.
A STORM THAT WOULDN'T QUIT
In the early years, a small group of us would act as the advance guard and proceed to the club site about three days prior to the outing. This group usually, consisted of Gen. Muller, Judge Crichton, E.V. Kelley, the two cooks, and I. On one memorable occasion, Kelley and I arrived together during a fierce storm that lasted three days during which time the downpour never let up once. The club house was not shingled; instead, the roof consisted of old knotty one-by-twelve lumber which leaked faster than any sieve. Every worm hole and loose knot allowed the rain to trickle down onto the floor below. There seemed to be a leak in every square foot of the roof.
As night approached, we debated whether to attempt to sleep or just sit up and endure the drenching. About midnight we tried to move our cots to a spot without a leak, but to no avail. Fortunately, we each had a heavy piece of canvas wrapped about our bedding. We hurriedly arranged our cots and covered each with this waterproof canvas and crawled into bed, drawing the canvas over us so as to leave simply our noses sticking out. We had hoped our noses at least might avoid the drips, but though we moved our cots perhaps four times during the night, we couldn't escape the leaks. This ordeal continued for all three nights.
On the fourth morning, I awoke soon after daylight and found to my delight that the storm had passed and the sun was streaming in the windows. I heard a deep snore proceeding from Kelley's cot and, looking in that direction, was amused to discover a sight I wish I could have captured on film. There lay Kelley on his back with his mouth wide open, snoring loudly. Perched on his chest and gazing down his throat was a large grey squirrel which had apparently wandered in through the door.
UPHILL BY STAGECOACH
The rest of the party, meanwhile, was preparing for the stage coach. Gathering at 4:30 a.m., this group of doctors, dentists, lawyers, and businessmen presented the appearance of a most disreputable bunch of bums. In their mountain clothes, they were a happy and hilarious gang, full of anticipation of the fun that awaited them at the lake. One couldn't help noting the contrast between those faces as they prepared for their favorite outing as compared to the same men just about to leave the club on the journey back to Fresno.
By 6:30, the group would breakfast at Clovis while the horses were being changed. After several stops to change horses, the coach would arrive at Tollhouse at the foot of the Tollhouse grade. With a full meal from the Tollhouse Inn under their belts, the eager fishermen would struggle to walk up the six miles to the Widow Waites, (later named Shady Rest). The grade was nearly thirty percent and was usually endured along with a hot morning sun beating down on the hikers. The Jacobi hill just above Cressman's Store had an even steeper grade. Then on to Armstrong's Store at Pine Ridge for another stop and more liquid refreshment.
Then it was on to Tom Ockenden's store. Tom always had a generous supply of drinkables and the stage was often delayed while any who were still thirsty took advantage of his hospitality. Tom always had some corny tricks to play on any greenhorns in the bunch. For example, he'd hand a newcomer a shaker filled with dry beans. When asked what to do with them, he'd be told to "shake the wind out of them." Everyone was asked to sign the guest register. The first "victim" would be handed a pencil that flew to pieces as he attempted to sign his name; the next would get a pencil with a soft rubber lead.
Numerous other gags were sprung on the unsuspecting tenderfeet in the crowd, and as each one bit, he had to treat the crowd. By the time we left Tom's resort, we were usually a very happy crowd, ready for any devilment. It was all downhill from Ockenden's to the clubhouse and these five or six miles were easily covered. Soon the Clubhouse would come into view with smoke arising from the huge roughhewn fireplace and the advance guard and the cooks standing out in front to greet the happy but tired adventurers.
With so many judges in our membership, one would have thought that law and order would prevail at these outings. Quite the opposite was true. Judicial dignity was left behind in Fresno and some of these dignified interpreters of the law were the most likely to turn all our laws topsy-turvy. As Judge M.K. Harris once facetiously remarked when we accused him of some misdemeanor, "This court recognizes no law above the Tollhouse." That phrase became the byword and tradition at these outings.
A FISHERMAN'S HOAX
Fishing in the lake and nearby streams was phenomenal in those days. As club historian, I was given the task of recording the number of fish caught by each member. The grand total for the first outing was 1,800 trout and for the second year, 1,200. At our final banquet, I would read my reports. Lo and behold, I had caught more fish than anyone else in the club, thus establishing myself as the champion. This reputation continued. for several years -- until another member took over the job of historian. After that, he held the championship, as did each succeeding recorder.
General Muller was one of the most enthusiastic fishermen I ever knew, but he was also about the poorest fly caster. With his creel hung over one shoulder and rubber boots up to his hips, he would scrabble over the rocks along the numerous streams near Shaver Lake. I always preferred fishing down stream, but he would choose to fish up stream for some reason. He always used a thin, limp braided trolling line instead of an enamel line; as a result, little time would pass before one would hear a string of cuss words as he tried to unsnarl his line from a nearby tree or bush. With that slimpsy line, he could seldom cast more than ten or fifteen feet. And by casting up the stream, his line would come floating down to him all limp and tangled and would usually get hung up on a rock. Of course when he waded out to untangle a snarl, he'd scare away all the fish for hundred feet around him.
For years, Gen. Muller claimed the reputation as one of the worst fishermen in the club. Then one day while he was out trolling on the lake, he landed a three and a half pound trout, the largest of the season. One could tell by the gleam in his eye that he was savoring the prospect of winning the prize pole which would be awarded to the champion. An hour or two later, I managed to land a fish just under three pounds.
When I saw that the general's fish outweighed mine, I saw an opportunity for some mischief and persuaded our cook, Sim Winters, to pour some surplus army shot down the trout's throat until it weighed about an eighth of a pound more than Muller's. To the general's dismay, the official club weigher declared me the winner. Muller looked as though he'd lost his last dollar in a stock market crash.
Following tradition, these two trout were then cooked for the annual banquet. Before beginning our feast, the prize pole was presented to me with a speech of congratulations by the toastmaster. In the middle of this speech praising my fishing prowess, Sim carne suddenly on the scene and exposed the hoax by announcing he'd "found" about half a pound of shot in my fish. General Muller let out a joyous holler that shook the building when he realized he was the champion after all.