Penn Valley Courier Volume 1 No. 3 August 26, 2005
By Marianne McKnight
Tate Johnsrud, age 1, is a sixth-generation Penn Valleyian (pictured with Grandma). Her great-great-great-grandparents bought
what was to be the 750-acre Robinson ranch in the late 1800s. Her grandma, Susan Hoek, grew up in Penn Valley when ranching was still king. “We lived in town when I was a kid,” says Susan. “Dad was in the logging business. We would come down to the ranch and ride horses and move cows with Grandma.” Grandma was Olive Robinson; Grandpa was Guy, who served on the county board of supervisors at one time. Long after her grandfather retired from ranching, Grandmas was still going strong. “Olive was quite a frontierswoman,” says Susan. “She was amazing. For years and years we’d take the cows to the mountains – she and her son, Don Gates.”
Susan would go along for the ride, on horse-back. “I rode until I got blisters on my rear end,” she remembers, with a chuckle. At that time Lake Wildwood was a ranch, and they would always stop there for a break. There were huge oak trees and a nice meadow there.” They would continue moving the cows to Pike City and on up to Sierraville and Gold Flat for summer pasturing. “It was cheap grazing and it was good for the cows to get out of the heat,” says Susan; such memories. “It was a great experience.”
Life was good in Penn Valley in those days, says Susan. “I remember the gas station and market – the wood floors would creak. Where the shopping center is were trees – that’s where people would park when they had the rodeo. “Everyone would come to the rodeo. That was a big thing.” “I was there for the first rode,” says Susan’s mom, Kathy Robinson. Susan was, too – she was a year old. “You sat on bales of hay. It was Father’s Day, and it snowed,” says Kathy. The food served at the rodeo was good home cooking. “This is when all the local ladies – Becky Alderman and Frances Gates and all of them – did the food.” The women did the beans and the salad and pie. The men did the beef in the ground. It was delicious. “That’s what the rodeo was all about.” In those days, Kathy says, everyone knew everybody. “It seemed that everyone was related.” “There was a sense of community,” adds Susan. “If there was a fire, everybody came and built a new house,” Kathy says. The years have passed. Some things have change, some things haven’t. Today, Susan’s father, Neil, and his brother, Lowell, still run a cow/calf operation on the Robinson ranch, with 220 head of commercial cattle. Kathy and Neil have four daughters, 11 grandchildren and two great grandbabies – most live here. The Robinson family continues to sink their roots deep in the Penn Valley soil.
Today, it’s a “T” intersection the heart of downtown Penn Valley, framed by Penn Valley Shopping Center, Hauser’s Hardware,
commercial/office construction and the bus shelter put up by the Penn Valley Rotary. In a bygone ere, where Spenceville Road and then old State Highway 20 (now Penn Valley Drive) meet was known as Pegar’s Y.
Judie Border’s dad built the hamburger place there. In 1953 they built the little house facing the fire station that was recently refurbished for office space. “That’s where we lived.” There used to be a big holding pen on that site, she says. “That’s where they watered the cattle.” The artesian well there was nine feet deep. And that’s how Penn Valley got its name, Judie says. Later, the spot was called Casey’s Corner. The Casey’s owned a big ranch in that neck of the woods. “My parents bought it in the 1950’s from Harold Ennor. Jess Ennor was Harold’s father,” she says. “Jess is the one that had the old barn (across from the Penn Valley Community Church). Jess used to ride his paint horse from the old barn to the other barn the other side of Highway 20 (it’s the dilapidated one that’s close to The Farm Store). “It took him all day,” she says, “because he stopped and visited everybody. He carried the news up and down the road.” The early days in Penn Valley were wonderful, says Judie. “As a kid growing up here…it was absolutely fantastic.” Judie remembers riding horseback all day. The whole area consisted of big ranches. Folks were so close knit. “Everyone knew everyone,” she says. “Everyone knew everyone’s kids”. The Pegars ran the hamburger place. Penn Valley resident Larry Martin remembers the juicy burgers with obvious delight. “I can still taste them,” he says. “The guys would come in from Beale – that’s how Penn Valley got its first (fire) truck,” Judie says. They heard on base of a truck for sale and gave the Pegars a heads-up on it. Judie’s dad was instrumental in getting the fire department started in Penn Valley. “When they first got the fire truck,” she says, “they didn’t have the fire house.” Mr. Walton donated the ground for the fire house, she says. A fire horn was installed on the tower behind Pegar’s Y. Whenever there was a fire, they would sound it. Judie remembers the old crank phone. The two-wire telephone line up to town was maintained by the ranchers and farmers. We were on a 12-party phone line,” she says. Whenever the phone rang, everyone would answer, curious of who was calling. Judie remembers, with a smile, that when this would happen, her mom would say into the receiver, “It’s Judie calling from school, and I can’t hear her. Would you all please get off the phone and I’ll call you back and tell you what’s going on.”