Randsburg ‘Old West Days’ set for Sept. 18-19

Randsburg ‘Old West Days’ set for Sept. 18-19By LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

Randsburg is set to celebrate its 125 year heritage during Old West Days on September 18 and 19. Hollie and Neil Shotwell, of The Joint, have been planning this for over six months. Unfortunately, as with many important events, it was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Stand by for a good time. Neil Shotwell tells us, “We have music for two days, a lot of vendors, a lot of shoot outs, more horses than we’ve ever seen, people dressing up. Petting zoo for the kids. Awnings with shade and a dancing area provided. We are having a car show from the Dead Owls from Ridgecrest. Most of the car club guys grew up in Randsburg. We have a bike show (motorcycles) that is all American veterans. A lot of different things this year, a lot for the kids this year. We have a pre-party at the Joint on Saturday night with Donny Pryer and the Light Bandits. They have started us off for many years.”

Long before it was Old West Days, the celebration was Miner’s Day. Linda Gallman, long time resident and docent at the Rand Desert Museum, remembers, “There were activities in Red Mountain, Johannesburg, and Randsburg.” One of the main things she remembers is the drilling contest. She explains, “There was a lot of hard rock mining. What they would have to do was drill holes to put dynamite in. They would put the dynamite in, run a line, push the lever (she mimics pressing down) and blow up rocks into pieces so they could be hauled out and milled someplace else to extract the gold. The Hard Rock Drilling Contest was how fast you can drill to get to the other side and go all the way through the rock” Apparently it took a lot of muscle and there was lots of vibrating.

Neil recalls his childhood during Mining Days, “I was always up here helping my Grandma (Olga Guyett). She ran this place until 2012, she passed away at 101 years old. My whole family has always been a big part of the celebration. Mining Days was the people. You had gunfighters, shoot ‘em ups, and fake robberies. That was the biggest entertainment as a kid, watching the cowboys pull out their guns and shoot everywhere.”

As a third generation owner of The Joint, which has been in operation since 1955, Neil did not want to see this celebration disappear. He and Hollie are a dynamic team, with Neil doing the heavy lifting and Hollie orchestrating the fun. The community is near and dear to their hearts as are the Old West Days. Neil remembers a moment from the last one, “We do a National Anthem in the morning where everybody stops, drops their hats, salutes the flag in front of the museum. It was a sight to see. All up and down the street the veterans have come and parked their bikes. I looked up and down the street, complete quiet for the National Anthem. Hats off, heads bent and tears go. It was America. It was pretty sweet.

Folks in Randsburg have memories to share. Edward Shotwell, AKA Uncle Eddie, moved to Randsburg in 1944 when he was six years old. He started there in second grade and when he graduated there were nine boys in his class, no girls. “In the old days there was mining going on, it was wide open. We could go anywhere we wanted, down mine shafts. Dogs weren’t on a leash.

My brothers and the other kids would go down a mine shaft and come out the other side of the mountain, but I never would do that.” He recalls, “In the early days there were a lot of turtles and jack rabbits. And tarantulas, but not very many snakes because the mines scared them off.” He tells of some of his hi-jinks, “I used to dig outhouses. I and a bunch of kids got in trouble because we went around one Halloween and pushed all of them over. One of them on Lexington Street fell all the way down Fiddler’s Gulch, they said, ‘Well, you don’t have to put that one back.’

There aren’t very many people here any more. People buy the houses, fix them up and just come up when they want. There are only about 50-60 people who live here all the time. There were several hundred living here when I was a kid,” Uncle Eddie says.

Gallman says, “I’ve been in and out of here since 1955.” Her family lived in Burbank. “ My dad was always interested in mining. He started coming up here and until this day I can still hear my mother say, ‘Louie, you are gone every weekend and you never take me and the kids with you.’ So, in 1955, we started coming up here. I was 13 years old. I learned more from the kids up here that had nothing and made a life than I did growing up in the city.” Her favorite memories include going into the Ice Cream Fountain that was where the Randsburg General Store now sits. Her friend Caroline’s grandfather would give them the key and, “We could go in there, we could make ice cream sodas, malts, sundaes. All we had to was write it down so they could keep track of things. That was classic.” Another favorite, “Kids were given the use of their parents’ vehicle and we would go over to Trona with the company pool, Valley Wells. It was free to get in, you could barbecue, you could bring you own lunches. That was a big treat.”

“The biggest change,” says Gallman, “ Is a heartbreak.” A landmark of the Yellow Aster Mine was forever changed. “The Glory Hole was so big, it was where most of the rich ore came out of. It looked like the Hollywood Bowl, it was all carved out. A Canadian company came up here in the 90’s and started working the tailing piles. They take all the dirt and rocks and extract the gold that they can get. All the rest of stuff became tailing piles.” And the tailing piles were dumped in the Glory Hole. “The Glory Hole went away, it was our icon. The history of the Yellow Aster and what started Randsburg was lost. It is heartbreaking. That was our history. It can’t be replaced.”

As a Rand Museum Docent, Gallman tells us, “The museum will set up auction items in front of the museum for Old West Days. The museum will be open. It is open Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays. During the hot months the hours are limited, 10am-1pm. In cooler months it is 10am-4pm and by appointment: 760-608-7776. Visitors to the museum “can’t believe the history of the area. I direct people back to Black Light Room because as a kid coming up it fascinated me. The black lights fluoresce minerals in rocks and soil. Without the black light they just look like a rocks.”

Old West Days begins at 8am with a pancake breakfast. Vendors and activities begin at 10am. For more information about participating in the Car Show, Raymond Kelso, 760-977-1122; Vendors, Hollie Shotwell, 760-977-1416; Bike Show, Boz 432-661-4833. The Pancake Breakfast benefits the Rand Desert Museum, Old West Days benefits the Historic Cemetery in Johannesburg.

Randsburg has had its share of interesting characters and some folks are drawn to the town because of the people and the history. Tim Powers became a resident in 1983. He tells us, “I’ve been fascinated with history all the time I’ve been here. I got to know a lot of the people who lived here back in the day. I always thought that it would just keep going the way that it was. The old-timers, people who were miners, people who had lived here, people who were drunks, people who knew the town. I thought that magic was going to continue but I didn’t realize that they were in their 50’s and 60’s at the time and now 30-40 years have gone by and they died off. So it is not the same any more. The town looks the same, pretty much, but it doesn’t feel the same, because all of that knowledge of underground mining and all the knowledge of the desert and all the knowledge of the town kind of went away. It is replaced from people from the cities who want to get away. Some of them are really great people. Some of them have no idea what the desert is about. I always thought that the people that I moved here for were going to live forever. I didn’t realize I was witnessing the end of an era. And I was.”

Powers misses his friends that have passed away. He is an amiable storyteller who shares some of his memories. “I met Gene Manning through Grant Nielsen, Bill Guyett, Rom and Janice Austin on the street. We spent time in the White House Saloon, a little time at the Joint, and a little time on the bench in front of Austin Antiques. I remember one time we were sitting out there, a woman introduced herself as she was walking by and she goes, ‘Rom, what do you do here?’ He said, ‘I hold down this bench.’ She laughed and walked away, she says, ‘What are you going to do when you retire?’ He says, ‘See that bench across the street?’ That was Rom Austin, he was the most dry sarcastic man I have ever met. I miss him. I miss them all.”

His pals include some pranksters, “Lee Anderson had the bar across from the White House Saloon. In the 70’s, my friend Grant Nielsen, would sit outside the bar with a squirt gun. It would squirt at their crotch without them knowing it. And he would comment, ‘Hey, are you okay over there?’

Grant Nielsen was an ornery character,” continues Powers. “He was a good friend to me, he was a periodic drunk, and he was a hard ass. A lot of people didn’t like him. He was a desert rat. He did old west paintings like Remington. He was extremely good. He was an interesting complex character. Drunk for six months out of the year then he would hole up and paint for two years. Then he would come out and get drunk for six months. You didn’t see him very often.

I used to take him to the Silver Dollar. One night he shot a guy’s hat off in the bar. This guy, named Ralph, was being too noisy, Grant told him to be quiet so he shot his hat off from about ten feet away. That night a swat team shows up at Grant’s house and took him away to jail. I went and bailed him out the next day. It was kind of crazy because he and Ralph made up. Grant didn’t have a car so he rode with Ralph to Bakersfield for their trial. The judge was reading the charges and said, ‘Hold it. You’re the guy who shot his hat off? And you guys are friends now?’ Ralph said, ‘Yeah. I don’t want to charge. I was drunk. I was being stupid.’ And the judge says, ‘Mr. Nielsen, you shot this man’s hat off in a dark bar from ten feet away. I only wish I had deputies who can shoot that good.’ And Grant says, ‘Shoot that good? Hell, I was aiming for his belt buckle.’ That’s a true story. The judge threw it out.”

Powers laments the loss of the old timers and the character they brought to Randsburg. “This town is bitter sweet for me. I still like it. It is still a small town. People still help each other. People like Neil Shotwell. Great people. But my circle is extremely small. It used to be everybody in the town. If somebody needed help, they would take care of them. Even if it was a stranger. Somebody needed help in this town, they were taken in. That is old school people who have been through a really hard life that really cared through experience and now it is different.”

Yet, there is a resurgence happening. Powers says, “There are some people who have moved here from the city, like Travis. Young, 39 years old, extremely old school. He cares about everyone. I wish he could have met the people I met when I was first here. He loves it.”

Travis Frankel, Architect, discovered Randsburg through off-roading. He says, “We would stop through Randsburg and just loved its history and the mining and all of the amazing buildings that have been here for the last 100 years. We found the house for sale and completely remodeled it and fell in love with it. We couldn’t imagine being in downtown LA anymore. The Desert is where we want to be.”

He and his fiance began remodeling their home three years ago, but something good came out of the pandemic, “We became permanent residents when Covid hit. Everyone was working remotely and we decided that the place we were working on here was a much better place to work than downtown LA. We have high speed fiber optic internet that is faster than we had in LA.”

Not only is the couple enjoying remodeling their home, they are already contributors to the community. “We bought the old Rand Motor Company on Butte across from the museum. We started working on that building about nine months ago. We are restoring it so that the front will be all original 1930s signage and we are finding the old gas pumps that were out there. Our goal is to make it look like it did in 1932. Inside will be a workshop, garage, and office. In the front, someday, a retail space. For now it will look like the gas station it was in the 30’s. It is a fun project.”

Frankel says, “We are looking forward to Old West Days having fun with the locals and inviting new people. People are always impressed. It is like stepping back in time. It is so different. The history here and the entire lineage you can sense here, you don’t find it in LA. Our friends are always happy to visit.”

Laura Austin photo: Edward Shotwell, resident of Randsburg since 1944, touching his mother’s name, Olga Shotwell, in front of the Rand Museum at the “Be a Partner in Preserving History” fundraising bricks.

Story First Published: 2021-08-13