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A Farewell Message from The Coutants    6/18/2019

Hello, friends and neighbors. My name is Stan Coutant. From the time I was eleven years of age, my family and I have been Johnson Valley property owners. The year was 1954, and the Bureau of Land Management had made available five-acre parcels for homesteading. We ended up with Parcel 18 in Section 18, and three years later hired a local contractor to build us a one-room “cabin” with attached tank house that also served as a bathroom. During the years that followed, we had two bedrooms added, after which I added two more rooms and a two-car garage.

When we arrived on the desert scene in 1954, others living in the area included Clarence and Ina Goodridge, Warren and Irene Stites and their son, Wilbur, and Daisy Crawford. Daisy lived alone on a fixed income, played hymns on her upright piano, and drove a 1940s Dodge sedan. One Saturday morning it would not start, so Daisy contacted us for help. My dad and I went over to see what we could do. He cleaned the Dodge’s battery posts and cable clamps. Immediately the engine fired up. Daisy came out of her house, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I was so afraid I was going to have to buy a new battery,” she said. Politely my dad refused payment. Daisy asked, “Is there anything I can do to repay you?” I had been looking around her yard, and had spotted a 1931 Model A Ford five-window coupe with several engine components missing, including its generator, carburetor, and radiator. “Would you consider selling us your Model A?” I asked. Daisy thought for a moment, then replied, “Would fifteen dollars be too much?” My dad had many of the needed parts left over from his having been an automobile mechanic during the thirties in Pasadena. We bought new radiator hoses and several other parts, and got it running. I drove that Model A around the valley for years. On Friday nights and Saturday mornings, weekenders arrived to enjoy their cabins. Often their kids would be looking for things to do, and I spent most warm Saturday evenings hauling them around. It was not unusual for kids to be sitting on the fenders, standing on the running boards, or stuffed into the rumble seat.

Early on my dad and I helped neighbors to obtain the appropriate FCC licenses and install Citizens Radio Service (CB) two-way radios, which provided a means for locals to stay in touch with each other. Countless incidents of CBs coming to the rescue are legendary. JV resident Burl Moore formed a club named The Desert EARS, “Emergency Activated Radio System.” CB radio remained vital until the arrival of telephones.

My mother, Martha, who lived for a century (1913-2013), was a journalist for nineteen years. Following her retirement, she began authoring a series of historical documentaries. One of these, written in 1986, she entitled, “Heart Bar Ranch and Johnson Valley Neighbors.” It has attracted considerable attention, and I am delighted with the Morongo Basin Historical Society’s recent decision to update and reprint it.

For seven consecutive summers beginning when I was 15, I worked for “Goodie,” also known by his real name of Clarence E. Goodridge. He was a building contractor in Johnson Valley, and taught me construction and heavy equipment operation. His wife Ina was a dear friend known to many as a hard-working member of the GIA (Grandview Improvement Association), later to become the JVIA. Many in the community helped to build what we now call the Johnson Valley Community Center. “Goodie” and I were two of them.

At the beginning of 1958, my dad and I hiked up Bighorn Canyon. Off-road vehicle tracks had not yet begun appearing in the soft sand. No signs of any human activity were to be seen. After an hour or so we spotted tailings high up on the side of the west bank. After 40 minutes of clambering up the mountain, we reached the entrance of a mine. A chained wooden door blocked our entrance. But the chain was wired, not padlocked. After untwisting the wire, we opened the heavy door and looked at the sunlight fading straight into oblivion. Not wanting to trespass, we closed and re-chained the door and headed back down the mountainside. The following week we contacted Percy “Red” Stilwell, the deputy sheriff in Lucerne Valley, and told him about what we had discovered. “I appreciate knowing about these things,” he replied. “Occasionally we search for missing persons or a fugitive, and an abandoned mine is a good place to start.” Red asked if we would guide him to the mine, and on January 4, 1958, Deputy Stilwell and Reserve Deputy R. A. Mitchell appeared at our door, and up into the canyon we went. The officers had brought Coleman lanterns and a German shepherd named “Tex.” Once we arrived at the mine, it did not take long to untwist the wire and open the door. With lanterns lit we entered the shaft, which extended about 200 feet straight into the solid granite of the mountain. At that point the tunnel branched off at 90-degree angles on both sides, and a few feet farther the main tunnel continued at a slight angle to the right, and continued another hundred feet where it stopped. Additional details and photographs are available at https://coutant.com/bighorn/index.html

As you can well imagine, over the intervening sixty-five years much has happened. Of particular interest is that my wife Dixie and I were a part of the group of people who thwarted the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s plan to create something called “Green Path North,” which would have brought a column of tall steel electrical line towers through our beloved valley. This came about one morning when a helicopter landed within a few hundred feet of our home, and I walked over to ask what was going on, and took numerous photographs (which I shared) of the surveyors at work.

Now, at 76, I am no longer able to maintain our JV homestead. Dixie and I have moved to Tehachapi, where we hope to live out our days closer to town. As I mentioned during a few remarks I made at the June 1 meeting of the JVIA, I never thought I would find a place I liked better than Johnson Valley, but now I have, although for different reasons than I had imagined.

Farewell to all, and please know the valley will always be a part of us.

—Stan and Dixie Coutant