This Bidwell Bar Bridge from the 1800s is now only for pedestrians. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Two bridges, the same name, and a whole lot of history.
Both Bidwell Bar Bridges involve Lake Oroville.
When the first Bidwell Bar Bridge was installed across the Feather River in 1856 it was California’s first suspension bridge. The 372-foot-long steel span was built in New York for $34,922. It got shipped around the Cape Horn—the southern tip of South America—to San Francisco. From there it made its way north via the Sacramento and Feather rivers to Marysville. Then an oxen team took it to the location to be installed.
“Four heavy wire cables were used on the suspension bridge. Two main cables were strung on each side of the bridge, each containing 205 lengths of number 10 gauge wire,” a sign at the bridge states. “The total weight capacity the bridge could carry at one time was approximately 40 tons.”
Bidwell Bar Bridge spans Lake Oroville. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
In 1856, this weight would be equal to nearly 62 empty covered wagons. This compares to a typical 18-wheeler loaded truck that weighs 40 tons. In other words, it wouldn’t hold up to today’s traffic.
Modern travel, though, isn’t what doomed this bridge or the adjacent tollhouse. Both operated until 1954. The tollhouse was also a post office, store and residence for the bridge tender.
What rendered them no longer usable was the construction of Oroville Dam, which started in 1961. It dammed the Feather River and created Lake Oroville. The initial location is under water.
The original bridge and tollhouse were relocated in 1977 to State Parks land to what is now called Bidwell Canyon, a sector of the greater Lake Oroville State Recreation Area. Today the bridge is open to foot traffic. The bridge is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and a California Historical Landmark.
Today’s Bidwell Bar Bridge can be seen in the distance from the area of the old bridge. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A short walking trail brings one to an area where the second Bidwell Bar Bridge can be seen.
It is 1½ miles upstream from where the original one was built. It was built 600 feet higher up on the hillside to accommodate the reservoir. It is now part of Highway 162, also known as Oroville-Quincy Highway.
This new suspension bridge was built in 1965. At 627 feet above the original stream bed it was one of the highest such bridges at the time. When the lake is full it’s like you can touch the water from the bridge.
Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa is a tribute to the world renown horticulturalist. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Luther Burbank was such a force in the horticulture world that in California his birthday (March 7) is celebrated as Arbor Day.
Burbank is credited with creating nearly 1,000 varieties of plants, including more than 200 fruit species. One of his goals was to increase the food supply in the world.
Burbank’s aptitude for cross-cultivating plants led to the creation of the Russet Burbank potato. His goal was to create a potato that would resist blight, and therefore help other countries like Ireland that were enduring a famine because of potato blight.
A bee sucks the nectar from one of the many flowers at the Burbank gardens in Santa Rosa. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
This potato is still the No. 1 spud used in food processing—think McDonald’s French fries and the like.
Burbank is also the creator of the plumcot, a combo of apricot and plum.
A sign on the property states, “The thousands of experiments conducted on this site and on his nearby Sebastopol farm were largely responsible for turning plant breeding into a modern science. His work with plums was influential in making them a major industry throughout the world.”
Many plants that we take for granted were the creation of Burbank’s at his 4-acre home in Santa Rosa. Today the property is 1.6 acres, with a garden that is free to roam. The old carriage house is now a museum. Docent led tours are available seasonally, which provide access to buildings and information not granted to non-paying visitors.
Borage leaves are said to be cucumber-flavored. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Here is a snippet from the Luther Burbank Gardens’ website about a flower that is rather ubiquitous today, “2001 marked the 100th anniversary of Luther Burbank’s introduction of the Shasta daisy, one of America’s most beloved garden flowers. Burbank spent 17 years developing this quadruple hybrid which he named after Mt. Shasta. Others have continued Burbank’s work and many new varieties of the Shasta daisy have been introduced since Burbank completed his work more than 100 years ago.”
Roses were Burbank’s favorite flower, with a section of his garden dedicated to them. Prior to Burbank’s death in 1926 plants could not be patented. Posthumously the Blushing Beauty and Apple Blossom rose varietals were patented in his name.
Today his Santa Rosa home is a registered landmark at the national, state and city levels. It also has been designated a horticultural landmark by the American Society for Horticultural Science.
This female African lion suffered partial face paralysis from an ear infection and vitamin deficiency, making her a permanent resident at the Oroville center. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Wild animals not in the wild are where most people get to see these magnificent creatures.
It is through facilities like the Barry Kirshner Wildlife Sanctuary in Oroville where people can be only a few feet from an array of big cats and other animals that aren’t even found on this continent.
The nonprofit that was founded in 1994 says this on its website, “Equal parts wildlife sanctuary, educational park, and research center, the sanctuary is home to a remarkable assortment of non-releasable wild and exotic animals, many of them endangered species. Each animal is housed in an enclosure that far exceeds state and federal regulations.”
This African cheetah has sight and front leg issues that will keep it captive. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Some of the animals at the facility include Bengal tiger, snow leopard, African lion, black-tailed deer, macaws, gray wolf (she was illegally owned and was with 240 animals before coming to the sanctuary), white-nosed coatimundi, red fox, clouded leopard, ring-tailed lemur, ocelot, bobcat, fishing cat, and serval.
Another interesting animal at the sanctuary is the tiliger, which is a cross between a male tiger and a female liger. The sign on her cage says, “She came to us for animal behavior and nutrition research.”
It can be difficult to see these animals behind cages in what seems too small of a space. It’s hard to know if this life is better than no life. If only they could talk.
The sanctuary, though, strives to provide the animals with a positive quality of life, including daily exercise and healthy meals.
While we were there many were being fed by volunteers, and having their dens cleaned of feces. The animals certainly looked healthy.
The great thing about this Oroville center is there is an educational component to it. It is possible to take a self-guided tour or be part of an educational excursion. With so much information provided outside of each enclosure, it is possible to learn much without anyone saying a word.
Servals have the longest legs and largest ears of any feline compared to body size. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The National Yo-Yo Museum in Chico has hundreds of the spinning toys. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It’s amazing how a round object with a string tied to it can bring endless hours of entertainment to people of all ages.
This is the yo-yo. While it’s not as ubiquitous as it was in my childhood, people are still playing with this toy, even competing with it.
The National Yo-Yo Museum in downtown Chico pays homage to this instrument of fun. Row upon row of yo-yos line the walls. In the middle of the display is the world’s largest working wooden yo-yo, weighing in at 256 pounds.
It is a version of the No-Jive 3-in-1 yo-yo created by Tom Kuhn.
According to the museum’s website, “At 256 pounds, Big-Yo made it into the 1982 Guinness Book of World Records claiming the title of World’s Biggest Working Wooden Yo-Yo. And yes, it does really work. You’ve heard of Paul Bunyan right? Actually, with the assistance of a large crane and a skilled operator, Big-Yo can successfully make its way up and down the string.”
Display cases at the museum show off various yo-yos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
This heavy weight is 50 inches high, 31.5 inches wide, and has an axel diameter of 5.5 inches. The body is made out of California sugar pine and the face is Baltic birch. The axel sleeve is hardrock maple, steel axel rod and hex nuts. It was built by Haas Wood & Ivory Works of San Francisco.
Kuhn, a dentist by trade, wanted to improve upon the yo-yo design. His website shows a multitude of designs made from various materials. Some sell for more than $100, while others are less than $10.
The origin of the yo-yo dates to 400 BC. Historians aren’t sure if it was invented in China, the Philippines or Greece.
Sales in the United States exploded when Duncan partnered with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
According to the museum, “Duncan convinced Hearst that the yo-yo could increase circulation. Hearst newspapers across the country would advertise Duncan yo-yo contests and list the prizes. The catch was kids had to sell three newspaper subscriptions to enter. The rest is history—the yo-yo craze of the 1930s had begun.”
A chart on one wall lists the 10 basic yo-yo tricks, including the spinner, the forward pass, over the falls, walking the dog and rocking the baby.
The museum is tucked in the back corner of the store Bird in Hand on Broadway Street. For those looking for fellow yo-yo fans and lessons, the Chico Yo-Yo Club meets at the museum on Saturdays from noon-2pm.
Pre-pandemic yo-yo competitions in Chico were the norm. Trophies, photos and newspaper clippings are part of the museum display.
The museum website says, “Every year the National Yo-Yo Museum hosts the U.S. National Championships, and manages regional competitions through the National Yo-Yo League. Yo-yo contests are now held with great frequency, and it is clear that this ancient toy has remained popular with people around the world.”
When the actual competitions will return has not be disclosed.
Freda Ehmann’s legacy is rooted in Oroville’s olive industry. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
While Freda Ehmann was not the first to pickle olives, she is considered the mother of the canned olive industry.
The widow started Ehmann Olive Company in 1898 with 20 acres in Oakland, and turned it into a multimillion dollar company when she was in her 50s. Ehmann olives were distributed nationally by 1904, and in 1922 she had 700 acres of trees in the Oroville area.
The German native revolutionized the pickling process, which in turn made canned olives readily accessible to the masses. Until then, most olives in California were turned into oil.
Her curing process ensured all of the olives were black, like one finds today in a can of olives, instead of the green or brown color that was the norm at the time.
The original Ehmann olive label was red, yellow and black, the same as the German flag. She had come the United States as a teenager with her mother in 1852.
Her home that was built in 1911 in Oroville is available for tours, and is now the site of Butte County Historical Society. It was constructed by her son, Edwin, in the Craftsman bungalow style. (Edwin became mayor of Oroville in the 1920s.)
One of the nice things about this museum is people can actually sit on the furniture and touch items. A lot of this has to do with most of the furniture being period pieces, as opposed to her original belonging. One thing that did belong to Ehmann that is upstairs is her writing desk. It’s tiny, as was she.
The stained glass is also original. Ehmann had an extensive beer stein collection, a symbol of her roots.
Tours are available of the old Ehmann home in Oroville. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
By 1925 the Ehmanns were out of the olive business and the house had been sold.
A nationwide botulism outbreak in 1919 was traced to the Ehmann Olive Company, though others were implicated as well in the deadly spread.
According to Food Safety News, “USDA’s Bureau of Chemistry did a study of Ehmann’s glass and metal containers in 1920, finding both could look normal but still contain pathogenic organisms, including Clostridium botulinus. The California State Board of Health responded to the 1919 outbreak with emergency regulation of olive production on Aug. 7, 1920, requiring sanitation through the processing facility and mandating a thermal process. California responded with the Cannery Inspection Act of 1925.”
That same website goes on to say, “Judith Taylor, who wrote the book The Olive in California, interviewed Freda Ehmann’s granddaughter who said her grandmother never could come to terms about the company’s role in the 1919 outbreak.”
The Ehmann Olive Company was bought by the Mt. Ida Packing Company in 1925. In 1970, it became Olive Products Company, a division of Beatrice. According to the historical society, the company was then acquired by DaLallo Company, which produces Ehmann Olives that are sold through the Butte County Historical Society. Today, Lodestar Farms, which bottles olive oil, traces its roots to the Ehmann olive trees.
The Ehmann estate is a museum as well as headquarters of the Butte County Historical Society. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A plaque in Magalia points toward Sawmill Peak near where a 54-pound gold nugget was discovered. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Butte County once boasted being home to the largest gold nugget in the world.
On April 12, 1859, Ira Weatherbee discovered the 54-pound specimen in the Feather River Canyon near the town of Magalia. At the time this tiny enclave north of Paradise was known as Dogtown. That is why the chunk of gold is referred to as the Dogtown Nugget.
The plaque along the old Skyway, which was erected in 1955, says: “This marker symbolizes the discovery of the first large gold nugget in California. It was found across this canyon in Willard Gulch April 12, 1859. Weight 54 pounds.”
The gold piece was found at a hydraulic mine. Even though it was melted down, casts of the nugget were made. One used to be on display at the Gold Nugget Museum in Paradise until it burned down in the 2018 Camp Fire.
Weatherbee took the more than $10,000 he got for the nugget and built the Chico Hotel, which opened Jan. 1, 1861. The downtown lodging establishment twice burned to the ground, and was not rebuilt after the second fire.
Eventually that record-setting gold nugget was eclipsed by one discovered in August 1869 in Sierra Buttes. It is the largest ever unearthed in California; weighing in at 106 pounds, according to the Sierra County Historical Society.
An array of planes fills an old hangar that is now the Chico Air Museum. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Planes of all shapes and sizes, along with parts—like a tire from a space shuttle—are packed into what looks like a nondescript hangar just steps from the tarmac at Chico Municipal Airport.
The Chico Air Museum, which has been open since 2005, is impressive with its multitude of planes, displays, history and future plans. When the museum opened it was in a small World War II Army Airfield building. Needing more space, in 2015 the museum moved to a large WWII Army Air Corp hangar.
Knowing nothing about the museum other than it existed, this was quite a delightful find. So much information is available that it would take hours or multiple visits to absorb everything.
It was the history that captivated me the most. The Chico Army Air Field existed from April 1942 to December 1945. A United Press story published in the Chico Record newspaper on March 3, 1944, said, “Chico Army Air Field will become a Fourth Air Force base in late April.”
Gear has come along ways through the years. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The federal government via eminent domain acquired 276 acres one mile north of the airport for the Titan 1 Missile Program. An extensive underground complex was developed, which included three missile silos. On May 24, 1962, an explosion at the site completely destroyed one of the missiles and caused significant damage to the silo.
The missile site was deactivated in 1964. The city of Chico in 1982 declined to accept the property from the government because of liability concerns. That land is now privately held.
Plenty of information about the Titan 1 Program is available at the museum, as is other military information.
A small section is dedicated to aerial firefighting. To this day the airport is an air attack base for CalFire. The base was established in 1969.
Future plans at the museum include re-creating the interior of the International Space Station. Even so, the space exhibit still seems extensive, with the details a bit exhausting. But better to be comprehensive than lacking in information.
I was surprised to see and thus learn the space shuttle tire isn’t much bigger than a truck tire. The difference is that tire can “carry three times the load of a Boeing 747 tire.”
Volunteers wander about, able to answer questions if the displays didn’t cover something.
In depth details about Chico’s involvement in the Titan I Missile Program line one wall. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Most planes are inside, though some are outside.
Current museum aircraft:
Thorpe T-211 Sky Scooter
Antonov AN-2 Russian Biplane
Bell 47 Helicopter
Culver Cadet LCA
Chance Vought A-7 Corsair (Vietnam War)
Delphin L-29V Czechoslovakian jet trainer
Grumman Guardian(one of only six in the world)
Lockheed P2-V7 Neptune ASW aircraft
Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star
North American F-86 Sabre
Piasecki H-21 helicopter
Pitts Model 12 extreme aerobatic airplane
RAF 2000 GTX SE Gyrocopter
Schreder HP Sailplane
SPAD XIII (WWI Biplane)
Taylor Titch Formula 1 Reno Racer
Consolidated Vultee BT-13 Valiant(iconic trainer from WWII and Chico Army Airfield).
Military, experimental, other aircraft and equipment at the Chico Air Museum. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
McEvoy Ranch has been producing high-end olive oil for decades. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Swirl, smell, gargle, swallow. That’s how you truly taste olive oil.
Gargling isn’t the term Sam Dorsey used, but it was essentially the action she told us to take. She may have said slurp. The point was to have the liquid linger in the back of the throat.
Dorsey is president of McEvoy Ranch, having started with the company 20 years ago as a gardener.
What an experience the ranch has created. Most of the tasting, though, was traditional with bread dipped in the oils. I left with a new appreciation for what olive oil should taste like.
In 1990, Nan McEvoy founded the 550-acre ranch located in the Petaluma Gap that divides Marin and Sonoma counties. Only 15 percent of the acreage is planted. More wine grapes used to be grown there, but the current philosophy is to focus more on olives. They are grown, harvested, milled, blended, and bottled on site.
Sam Dorsey, president of McEvoy Ranch, explains the intricacies of making olive oil. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
If it weren’t for the San Francisco Chronicle, there would be no McEvoy Ranch.
This is because the founder of the ranch, McEvoy (née Phyllis Ann Tucker), was the granddaughter of M.H. de Young. He along with his brother founded the Chronicle in 1865. McEvoy in 1981 became chairwoman of the parent company of the Chronicle.
She was living in Georgetown on the East Coast at the time. That was a place she called home for 36 years. In 1989 she returned to the West Coast to better manage the family’s publishing enterprises. At the time she and her son, Nion, owned one-third of the holdings, with nearly two dozen family members controlling the remainder of the enterprise. McEvoy died in 2015 at age 95, 14 years after the newspaper was sold to the paper’s rival Hearst Corporation for $660 million. Prior to that, family discord forced her out as chairwoman by implementing a bylaw stating no one could be on the board over age 72. McEvoy was 75 then.
Today, Nion McEvoy owns the ranch. It is because of him and his management team that the ranch has been turned into a tourist haven and a force in the industry.
Dorsey is involved in the industry as a whole, including backing California legislation that would change labeling practices. She is an advocate of a bill that would mandate labels could only say “California Olive Oil” if 100 percent of the olives are grown in California.
At McEvoy Ranch the organic traditional blend is the most popular. It is a combination of seven Italian varietals. Absolutely delicious. But so were the flavored oils—like garlic, lemon and basil. One that isn’t often seen is jalapeno. Also great.
A small fraction of the 550-ranch is planted with olive trees and wine grapes. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Dorsey said new blends are always in the works. The latest to be bottled is ginger turmeric. It would be best as a finishing oil. I’ve used it on a roasted vegetable green salad. Loved it.
The setting is completely serene. It’s a perfect place for tasting oils and wines. It’s off the beaten trail, doesn’t feel like you are in the Wine Country, and seems so civilized. They aren’t into high pressure sales of product or joining their clubs—though there is plenty of product to buy and more than one club to join if you choose.
This is a destination I highly recommend. Fantastic experience. We left with wine and olive oil.