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Jack Tone’s dream thrives along his road

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POSTED August 30, 2014 1:29 a.m.

Jack Tone Road is my favorite strip of pavement in San Joaquin County.

It starts in Ripon surrounded by cookie-cutter homes and heads north past miles of almond orchards. Just beyond Louise Avenue east of Manteca, the orchards start giving way to an occasional dairy standing against the forceful winds known to sweep across thousands of acres of row crops.

On a clear day, you can see the imposing Mt. Diablo to the west. It’s easy to understand why surveyors used Mt. Diablo as the anchor benchmark to devise maps and property lines for much of the Central Valley.

The winds can make pedaling a bit unpleasant between Five Corners where the old cemetery and church are all that’s left of the post-Civil War farming settlement of Atlanta and Duck Creek just beyond Highway 4. The only mar on the agrarian landscape is the massive Santa Fe Railroad intermodal train-to-truck trailer transfer yard that about a decade ago forced Jack Tone Road to deviate from an otherwise flat and straight-line course to curve upward slightly and then back down to cross the yard’s railroad tracks.

Once you cross Duck Creek, orchards of walnuts and apples again protect you from the savage blows of Mother Nature. Farming is still king in these parts. But gentlemen farmers are starting to take over bit by bit on the land fronting Jack Tone Road. Horse ranches and little acre home sites abut honest-to-goodness agricultural endeavors.

Before much longer you’ve reached the pioneer community of Lockeford. In all, Jack Tone covers a little more than 30 miles making it the longest county-maintained road in San Joaquin County.

Lockeford is near the site where the man for whom Jack Tone Rod is named – John H. (Jack) Tone – first settled in 1851.

Tone left Manhattanville in 1849 as part of the famous Audubon Party that headed for the California gold fields. The party was led by John Woodhouse Audubon, whose father John James Audubon gained fame as an ornithologist roaming the Kentucky wilderness painting and sketching the habitats of nature’s creatures.

Audubon – loaded with canvas and paint – headed west with others such as Tone who brought gold mining equipment. But instead of crossing the Rockies and the Sierra, the party took a much longer route through Mexico. Audubon figured the more southern route would reduce the number of mountains to cross. The northern Mexico desert, though, proved to be an equally treacherous foe.

Tone and the rest of the Audubon Party reached Stockton in December of 1849. From there, they headed to the southern mines ending up near Murphys. Tone struck pay-dirt in September of 1850 when the first pan of dirt he took from a 16- by 16-foot claim yielded 112 ounces of gold valued at $1,800

Tone and three partners, though, quickly came to the conclusion they’d make more money supplying the mining camps instead of actually mining.

So they invested $12,000 they saved from mining and homesteaded fertile acreage along the Calaveras River and planted a potato crop. The initial potato crop of 1851 failed but the barley crop in the summer of 1852 yielded Tone and his partners plenty of profits.

Tone’s original dream was to return to New York laden with bags of gold nuggets. But once here, he saw the potential of the Central Valley.

The original ranch is still located on the northern end of Jack Tone Road.

I used to think Jack Tone was a strange name for a road.

But after I learned about the story of the pioneer who helped break ground for today’s annual San Joaquin County crop output of $2.8 billion, Jack Tone is the most fitting name for the ribbon of asphalt that passes by almond orchards, walnut trees, dairies, and fields of watermelons and pumpkins.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.

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