Growing up in Tracy definitely had its advantages. In addition to all of the normal activities like baseball, basketball & football there were outdoor attractions galore. There were ample irrigation ditches surrounding the town with opportunities to catch frogs and crawdads. One of our favorite hangouts on the west side of town was the junction of two large ditches that the local kids called “Frog Hollow” It was there that I tossed a home made frog gig across the ditch to my buddy Larry Schroeder. Unfortunately I got him in the leg and he had to visit the hospital to get a tetanus shot. Sorry Larry.
There was Black Lake on the north side of town just east of the Holly Sugar mill, which was an easy bike ride of only an hour or less. Black lake was only an acre or two in size and I think every kid in town fished there for bass, bluegill and catfish. Black Lake even connected to Old River and somehow I managed to catch a three foot long sturgeon on my fly rod. I was the envy of every kid on the lake that day, even the legendary Jimmy Corso.
On the south side of town was the ghost town of Carnegie which owed its livelihood to the extensive clay deposits there. In its heyday, Carnegie had several huge brick and tile manufacturing factories that supplied bricks, roof tiles and clay pipe to a booming young California. The bricks were all stamped with the name of their makers such as the Carnegie, Cowan, and Snowball plants. The town’s economy collapsed just about the time of the Great World War and before long it was completely abandoned with a huge brick smokestack reaching into the sky. Ultimately the chimney was dynamited, and there were piles of bricks everywhere. For decades anyone could drive their truck out to Carnegie and fill it with free Carnegie bricks. I’ll bet there were hundreds of backyard patios and barbeques scattered around Tracy that were built with Carnegie bricks.
A few miles further up Corral Hollow Canyon was another ghost town named Tesla, which was fueled not by clay but by its coal deposits. Coal? In California? Who knew? I thought all the country’s coal mines were in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Yep there were huge coal mines at Tesla producing high quality coal that fueled the entire west. A rail line was run up the canyon to Tesla so that its coal could be shipped all the way to the Port of Stockton and from there all over the western U.S. Until recently the Tesla mines were still semi- accessible. They were located on land that ended up in the possession of the Vieira Family. The gate to the site was posted No Trespassing, but if you knew someone in the Vieira family you could get permission to enter & explore the old coal mines.
As kids we would go into the mines and play for hours. There were tunnels running everywhere inside the mountain, with wooden chutes connecting the upper and lower levels. There were steel rails in the tunnels with ore cars to convey the coal out for processing and shipping. Unlike almost every mine I’ve ever seen, there was no water in the mine. It was completely dry. Illumination was provided by electricity run through bare copper wires that ran through ceramic insulators attached to the mine timbers. Because there was no water, the mine timbers seemed as solid as the day they were installed in the early 1900s. Generations of Tracy kids explored those mines with nary a mishap.
One time in the 1960s as we entered the coal mine, my brother Chris attacked by a startled bat, which he promptly shot. Chris then placed the dead bat in his coat pocket and promptly forgot about it. Imagine my Mom’s surprise when she reached into his jacket pocket prior to washing it and discovering a dead bat. Another time I managed to capture a live barn owl in the mine by throwing my coat over it. I brought it home in released it into our garage. When Mom went out into the garage to do laundry the owl buzzed her and almost scared her to death. There was a reason Mom had grey hair.
The ghost towns of Carnegie or Tesla are just a dim memory of times gone by. Today all that remains are a few old bricks in patios and barbeque pits scattered around the west. I kind of miss the old Carnegie bricks.
Until Next Week,