Jack Tone Road is my favorite strip of pavement to bicycle in San Joaquin County.
It starts in Ripon near its namesake golf course surrounded by cookie-cutter homes. It head north past miles of almond orchards. Just beyond Louise Avenue the orchards start giving way to an occasional dairy standing against the forceful breezes that sweep across thousands of acres of freshly planted row crops in the spring or the remnants of the harvest in the fall.
On a clear day you can see the imposing Mt. Diablo and its 3,845-foot summit. Given its high perch it is easy to understand why surveyors use Mt. Diablo as the anchor benchmark to devise maps and property lines for much of Northern California.
To the east, the snow-capped Sierra push up against the blue sky.
The winds usually make pedaling a bit unpleasant between Five Corners where the old cemetery and school are all that are left of the post-Civil War farming settlement of Atlanta and until you reach Duck Creek just beyond the four-way stop at Highway 4.
Once you cross Duck Creek orchards of walnuts and apples protect you against the persistent blows of nature. Gentleman farmers now start popping up as you keep heading north on parcels fronting Jack Tone Road. Try as they might, horse ranches and small parcels with homes are dwarfed by honest-too-goodness agricultural endeavors.
There is one exception, of course. A quarter of a mile north of the Eight Mile Road intersection along a creek is the Jack Tone Ranch.
Founded in 1849, it is the oldest family-owned and continuously operated horse ranch in California. Jack Tone Ranch is world-famous for its Arabian horses descended from the Fabulous Fadjur. Visitors are always welcome at Jack Tone Ranch. (Contact them first at 209.931.4972). Services offered run the gamut from horse handling and riding lessons to horse boarding.
Before much longer you reach the pioneer community of Lockeford. In all, Jack Tone Road covers a little more than 30 miles before it crosses into Sacramento County toward the abandoned twin towers of the decommissioned Rancho Seco nuclear power plant that soar more than 40 stories above the valley floor. From Ripon just a few hundred yards away from the Stanislaus River to Sacramento County, Jack Tone is not only the longest road maintained by San Joaquin County but also for most of its distance the straightest.
Lockeford is near the site where the man for whom Jack Tone Road is named — John H. (Jack) Tone — first settled in 1851.
Tone left Mahattanville in 1849 as part of the famous Audubon Party that headed the California gold fields. The party was led by John Woodhouse Audubon whose father John James Audubon gained fame as the ornithologist roaming the Kentucky wilderness painting and sketching the habits 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 more curculios 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 in 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 concluded they’d make more money supplying the mining camps than actually mining. So they invested $12,000 they saved from mining, homesteaded fertile acreage along the Calaveras River and planted a potato crop. The initial potato crop in 1851 failed but the barley crop in the summer of 1852 was a success yielding Tone and his partners plenty of profits.
Tone’s original plan was to return to New York with bags upon bags of gold nuggets. But once here he saw the potential of the Central Valley.
After learning the story of the pioneer who helped break ground for today’s annual SJ county crop output of $2.7 billion that’s bigger than that of 20 states, Jack Tone Road is a perfect fit for the name of a ribbon of asphalt passing by almond orchards, watermelon fields, dairies, and walnut orchards.