The Move Into the Store

We had been running the campground for several years before the Rinconada Store became available tor lease. The Campground was somewhat hidden behind the store and many campers did not even know it was there so I was quite anxious to take over the lease and put an entrance to the campground on Santa Margarita Lake Road.This would give us much more exposure to those going up the lake road


Entrance to the Ghost Town

Inside the Ghost Town, there were lots of old relics and several buildings including a School House, a Jail, the Silver Slipper Dance Hall, and the Train House.

The Silver Slipper was a very popular Saturday Night place to go as a live band would perform and the place was always filled to capacity.

dance hall

The Silver Slipper Dance Hall

The ATF would not allow us to sell beer or wine in the dance hall so everyone would come into the store and buy what they wanted and then we would close the store and open the dance hall.

There was usually a break about 9:30PM and we would once again close the dance hall and open the store and go through the same procedure. Also, when I took over the store, The Whiteford's (lease holders) put in the lease that they could use the dance hall for Church on Sundays

There was an old fire truck parked between the jail and the train house and I always wanted to see if I could get the engine to run. It was in very bad shape and when I went under the hood to check it out, I found that the starter was missing. It was not something that you could go to the parts store and buy as the Fire Truck looked to be a 1930's Vintage so I set the idea aside for a bit. Then one day I was cleaning out a larger storage shed that sat behind the closed cafe and as I was going through some boxes, there was the starter all torn apart but complete. All it needed was some new brushes and I was able to find those and get the starter working.


fire truck

The Vintage Fire Truck

I put in new spark plugs and put some gas in the tank.  It was a 6 Volt system so I had to borrow one of the batteries from my RV bank of 4 batteries. All was ready and I cranked it over. I turned ok but did not fire.  It had an updraft carburetor so I decided to pull a couple of the plugs and put some gas directly in the cylinders. On the second try, it kicked over and dust and debris flew everywhere. I put it in gear and moved it about 6 feet forward and then shut it goal to get it running was accoplished. It was never started or moved again for the duration of my time there.

In order to enter the campground from Santa Margarita Lake Road, We had to tear down a barricade and make a gentle slope out of an 8 foot drop.  The picture below shows the very beginning of this process. There was also a small creek that flowed down though this gully so I had to put in a culvert for the road to go over the creek.

new entrance road

Gordie, Helen's Dad and myself doing road work

There were no water lines running to this area so I trenched a new line from the water tank on down.  We put in about 6 sites right alongside Santa Margarita Lake Road


Trenching Water Lines

Gordie had a can collection and we decided to line the walls in the Red Barn  with all of his cans and make a game room in there. We bought a juke box, candy machine, pin ball machine and a dart board.

game room

The Red Barn Game Room

As time moved on, we added a pool table and this soon became one of the busiest spots in the Campground.

game room

Gordie and Helen setting up to play a game of Pool

This is a picture of Helen making the rounds up on the 3rd level of the campground. We had a golf cart and daily we would make a run through the place to pick up any loose trash that may be blowing around.


Helen on the 3rd Level

After we had been at the Campground for a while, a fella came along selling picnic tables. He was asking $20 each for them if I would do the assembly so I bought 20 tables. It was the best investment I ever made.


A couple of new picnic tables waiting to be painted

Right next door to the Campground was grazing land for cattle.  The big bull that you see in the picture below had more than once crossed the fence line and made it's way to greener pastures on the other side of the fence. I have two stories to tell about this bull. My first experience with  him was trying to chase him back to his own stomping grounds. I had made an opening in the fence and was trying to shoo him towards it but instead of going the way I wanted him to, he went the other way, up the hilll towards the silver water tank.  When he got to the top, he put his horns down under the top row of barbed wired and then lifted straight up.  Well it pulled up 4 fence posts on each side of him and everything fell to the ground and he just lazily walked on over.

The Big Bull's other incident involved an older guy that was a permanent in the Campground.  I can't remember his name but I do recall that he had a green and white Cadillac. Anyway, he was going up the road towards Santa Margarita Lake.  He was still in sight of the store when I heard all this honking and when I went out to see what was going on, there were three or four cows on the road plus the big grey and black bull. Well, apparently the big Bull did not like car horns and he came right up alongside the Caddy and put his own horn right through the windshield.  About scared the old guy to death.

mean bull

The Big Grey and Black Bull that Lived Next Door

Below is a picture of Allyson's sons Billy and Jason.  One thing about them living in the campground, the never lacked for places to play.


Billy and Jason

This next picture is one of Jason feeding the peacocks. At this point and time, the Campground was full all the way out to site 20 on the main street level, and we had campers coming in every week end during the summer months.


Jason and the Peacocks

Down at the far end of the campground, we put in a playground for the kids. We also put in the teepee which got moved to Huer-Huero Road and now resides in Whtimore


Helen standing alongside the teepee in the playground

This is a picture of the big fire that whipped through the area in 1985.  It was the straw that broke the camels back as business never did recover before we decided to close down.


The 1985 Las Pilitas Fire



Santa Margarita Lake

The fire started on Monday July 1 near Santa Margarita Lake, and was naturally called the Santa Margarita Lake Fire. On 7/4 it was renamed the Las Pilitas fire. It was competing for resources with a slew of other fires in the central and south state, especially the Wheeler fire in Ventura County which was burning from Ojai to Carpinteria, the Lexington Fire near Los Gatos in Santa Cruz & Santa Clara Cos, a 63-home-burner in the Normal Heights area of San Diego, and an arson-caused urban wildfire in Baldwin Hills in the City of LA which destroyed 48 homes and killed three people.

On July 6, the weather had improved with higher humidities, and the Las Pilitas fire was declared 40% contained, with full containment expected on Sunday the 7th. However, early on the morning of July 8th, temps increased and winds whipped up dramatically, and the fire was bearing down on the eastern outskirts of the City of SLO, threatening the University, and got within a half mile of the SLO General Hospital. Resources were rushed in, including 80 companies from LAFD, and the fire was stopped before getting into the city proper. It was declared contained on July 11th, and under control on the 15th. It burned about 75,000 acres, and destroyed 24 buildings and 5 vehicles.



Santa Margarita Lake After the Fire



The big flood in 1980



Allyson in front of the cafe in the 80's



The Cafe as it looked in March of 2011





Rinconada, California  1975 to 1989


In 1975, we moved from 911 Cunningham Drive, Whittier, California to Santa Margarita, California.  We bought the 30 years that were left on a 40 year lease of the Rinconada Campground.  It was baren, dry and hot when we took over. There were no trees and 10 sites with only one trailer there on a permanent basis. It took us several years and lots of hard work just to get trees planted throughout the park.

It was our original plan for Helen to go to work in San Luis Obispo which was just up over Cuesta Grade to the south of us and for me to work in the park in an attempt to make it more attractive to campers.  As it turned out, San Luis Obispo was a college town and Helen found it impossible to get a job at a rate of pay that she was accustomed to.  We then discussed my going to work and her managing the Campground and I would do the maintenance on the week ends. I found a job as Service Manager in Santa Maria working for Ryan Equipment which was a Case backhoe Dealer, 5 days a week with week ends off which is just what we wanted. I stayed there a couple of years but it was a long drive to and from work so I began looking for something closer. I saw an ad in the San Luis Obispo paper for a mechanic at Cal Trans so I applied for and got that job. The pay was a little less but it was right downtown San Luis Obispo.  I stayed with Cal Trans for 15 years and when we got ready to think about retirement, I got a transfer from San Luis to Redding,  More about that on the Whitmore page.

cal trans

Cal Trans Shop in San Luis Obispo, California

dragging hoses

This is me Dragging Hoses, Shovel and What not from Place to Place Planting Trees

There was a combination office and mobile home which was about 1/4 the size of our home in Whittier so it was a tight squeeze for the four of us, my Mother, Helen, Gordie and me. The Mobil only had 2 bedrooms and Gordie opted to sleep in the newly nicknamed "Red Barn" This later went on to become a game room for the Park.

Gophers were a real problem with regard to the tree planting and so each tree had to have a wire mesh basket made for it. I learned this very quickly on as the first ten trees that I planted were dead within a week due to the gophers. I planted over 100 trees the first year and they all had to be hand watered daily using a garden hose.

main level

Ten New Electric Sites and Ten Fast Growing Trees Went on the First Level


The campground was on 3 levels so I decided to plant trees on the first level and work my way up.The thrid level was like a junk yard and there was tons of metal, wood, boxes, cans and just plain junk that had to be hauled off so I worked on removing the junk in between planting trees.

I moved up to the second level next.  There was only one good campsite there because of a huge oak that was there so trees had to go in on both sides of the large oak. There was only one picnic table in the whole park so that and fire grills became a priority as well. I found out that 18 wheeler truck tire rims made excellent containers for camp fires so I used those throughout the park

second level

This is the Lower 2nd Level and it was Separated from the Upper Half by the Oak Tree

In the middle of all this, we got a call from Allyson telling us that she was leaving her husband Bill White because he was cheating on her and was it possible for her to move up to the campground with us. I had no idea where we would put her but I rented a U-Haul trailer and headed to LA to bring her and her things up to Rinconada. We ended up putting her in a old wood sided travel trailer that someone left there and never returned to pick it up. As I recall, it was an old man and a young boy but something must have happened to them as they never came back.  In any event, Allyson painted this trailer and fixed it up and moved in.

old trailer

This is the exact same spot where some old friends of mine moved in, Dolly and Vincent Benzenhaufer.  They stayed with us for a couple years and then moved on.  They now live in Zephyr Hills, Florida.


Allyson and Gordie working on the Trailer That She Would Soon Move Into

We soon worked our way into winter and some of the trees that we had planted began to take shape.  There was a whole row of pine trees that went in directly behind the Red Barn Game Room as well as other places throughout the park.  I was hoping by the following summer that this row of trees would hide much of the equipment we had stored behind the red barn.

row of trees

A Row of Trees Leading up to the Top Level of the Park


A New Awning out Front and Back, a Rose Garden, and Trees Transformed the Look of the Office

As we moved into the new year, we set about making a game room out of the Red Barn.  We had lots of items stored in the Red Barn and I got permission from the Whiteford's to move whatever I wanted into an old building out behind the Ghost Town. I also moved the large shed that was sitting just to the left of the Red Barn.  This was quite a chore as we had to use utility poles to roll the shed to it's new location. It was a very solid  shed constructed of 2x4's and on the outside, there was some kind of waterproof cement panels


helen jason

Helen and Jason out in front of the mobile home-office where she had spent many hours developing a rose garden.

moving shed2

Moving the Shed and Away We Go

This is a couple of comparison pictures.  The first one shows the Trailer Park Entrance in the 1970's. As you can see it looked very barren before the planting of trees along the entrance road.



The Rinconada Trailer Park in the 1970's 


This picture was taken from Google Street View. It looks like all of my hard work paid off as far as the tree planting was concerned 

trailer park

The Rinconada Trailer Park Entrance as it looks today



A fairly large group of campers



The Game Room Bear


helen on bike

Gordie and Helen on his Dirt Bike


cut grass

Jason and myself cutting grass

This is how the 3rd Level looked in 1976. It was very barren and dry and I had just started putting in trees there


Jason on a toy coming down the 3rd Level

That same spot on the 3rd Level with all the trees full grown. It was absolutely beautiful there in March of 2011 but the park was closed to camping.

third now

The 3rd Level March 2011

This is a picture of Gordie with some friends in 1976 and you can see how open it was around the water tank

water tower


This is the same view taken in 2011 and you can hardly see the water tank without getting up as close as I did

water tower