Articles by John Howsden

The Eagle has Landed

By John Howsden 
For the last four years Danny Benson, along with his classmates, has had to stand in the mud at Cheyenne St. and Copper Cove while waiting to catch the bus for Bret Harte High School. Thanks to Danny and several other people who donated time, money and materials, students now have a bench to sit on and a cement platform to stand on.  
It started out as a Boy Scout Eagle project for Danny Benson. Although putting in a bench sounds like a simple project, nothing is done in a vacuum. First, Danny had to pitch his idea to the Eagle Scout Board in Lodi. Once he got their blessing, he had to contact the property owner, the Homeowner’s Association and the fire department for their approval and permission. Having passed those bureaucratic hurdles, he then started raising money.  

He got donations by knocking on doors, collecting cans and asking teachers for help.  Even his father got in the act by putting out a donation can at his work. The local Ace hardware store and Calaveras lumber helped with discounts. The property owners, Dave and Julie who also served as his mentor, donated the pavers. Even with all these donations Danny’s family and other students still had to come up with a couple of hundred dollars of their own money.

“I thought it would take a couple of months of jumping through the hoops,” Danny said. But surprisingly, getting donations, permission and design approval gobbled up almost a whole year. “I felt the stress late at night while I was filling out all the paperwork,” Danny explained. Normally time would not be a problem, but he had to have this project signed, sealed and delivered before he turned eighteen, which was now only a few days away. “There were times I didn’t think I would make it,” said Danny. Finally, with the material in hand and permission to proceed, he, along with his pals Chris and Matt Nelson, met at the location early Sunday morning.

It was cold and overcast. Holes were dug, cement was poured and pavers were laid. With the day coming to an end, they put the finishing touches on the bench and swept off the pavers. Although the bench was installed and looking good, Danny was learning the lesson that the job isn’t done until the paperwork is turned in and signed off. The only thing keeping him from getting his eagle badge now was getting the paperwork in on time.

With only a few days before his birthday, Danny got his project signed off. Not taking any chances, Danny will drive down to Lodi Thursday and hand deliver his application to the Eagle Scout Board.

When asked how he felt about the project, Danny said, “It was hard work but worth it. I learned that dedication pays off.” Danny was quick to point out that many people helped along the way and wanted to thank his parents Dan and Lisa, his mentors Dave and Julie, his fellow scouts; Chris and Matt Nelson, Paul Shuck and lastly Scout Master Rob Hecocks.



The cycle of life Spins Faster in the Country

By John Howsden

I was in my backyard yesterday evening; three drinks into Happy Hour, when my wife, Diana, pointed to the far side of the yard and said, "I think I just heard a rattlesnake.” Somewhat anesthetized, I hadn't heard anything. However, always wanting to be the knight in shining armor, I marched over to the edge of the lawn to take a peek. As I peered over the embankment through somewhat blurred vision, I saw a fat rattlesnake four feet down the embankment with what looked like a feather sticking out of its mouth. My butt puckered and an involuntary grunt shot out of my mouth. Upon hearing this, the snake looked up and stared at me, the feather dangling from its mouth.

Squeezing my toes so as not to run out of my Sperry Topsiders, I high stepped it to the tool shed. Reaching the shed in record time, I flung the door open like Mother Hubbard looking for crack. Facing me were several wooden handles stacked in the corner, and for the life of me, I could not discern which handle belonged to the hoe. Finally, I reached in, swooped up the handles with the crock of my left arm and threw them out of the shed. After rummaging through the pile of tools, promising myself to paint the hoe handle fire engine red later, I grabbed the hoe and ran back to where I had left the snake.

Surprisingly, the snake was still there. The jog to the shed must have cleared my vision, as I now could see that the feather was actually the tail of one of our pet ground squirrels. Balancing on the edge of the dirt embankment, I raised the hoe above my head and took aim. The first swing hit short by about an inch. The snake reared back. I scooted closer, aimed and nailed him just behind the ears.

Although I had swung with all my might, the head was still somewhat attached. I swung several more times, raising such a dust storm that I couldn't tell who was winning. Finally I stopped to catch my breath and let the dust settle. Once the dust cleared, I spotted the snake half buried in leaves and looking dead. I picked it up with my hoe and laid it out on the lawn. The squirrel's tail was gone and in its place was a squirrel's foot. The snake's head was still attached by a sliver of skin.

My mouth was dry, my hands were shaking and sweat was dripping off the end of my nose. Meanwhile, Diana who had initiated this whole affair was still sitting in the lawn chair on the patio within a few steps of the sliding glass door.

I last saw the snake when I hooked it with my hoe and flung it over the embankment. In mid air the head separated from the body. The next day I painted the hoe handle red and assured Diana I would never doubt her bionic hearing again.

What are the rules?
By John Howsden

I started using the telephone when it had a rotary dial, a cord and two stainless steel bolts securing it to the wall. The only person with a mobile phone back then was Dick Tracy. Now cell phones are as common as heart burn. But something that isn’t as common is phone etiquette. What are the rules of the road when it comes to cell phones?

I know phones are indispensible. Back in the day rich, powerful people had phones brought to their dining table so they could take a call. There was a rumor that every president since the atomic age has had a red phone. The red phone being the ultimate; you didn’t dial it, you just picked it up and yelled, “FIRE.”

Although phone technology has caught up with the characters in the comic books, phone etiquette is still back with eight track tapes. I was keeping up with technology until the fax machine. Everything after that has left me confused and alone.
I like cell phones and I like most of the people I know. But when you combine the two, things change. Before cell phones, we used to sit within shouting distance, look each other in the eye and carry on a conversation. Now when I talk to someone, I keep expecting their phone to ring and break up the conversation like a referee throwing the yellow flag in the middle of a football game.

Awhile back, I was talking to a friend when his phone rang. He jumped out of his seat, answered the phone and walked away like I was yesterday’s paper. I hadn’t felt so snubbed since prom night. Last night we went to dinner with some friends. When the food arrived, the wife whipped out her cell phone, photographed the main entrĂ©e and sent it off to who knows who. I don’t know if she’s was tormenting some girlfriend on a diet or if this was some high tech way of saying grace.

Cell phones are an asset. I carry one myself. That way I don’t need a wristwatch. But, when I am talking to someone, I never whip out my cell phone to check the time in the middle of a conversation.

Even though we are falling into the abyss of phone rudeness, I think there is hope. Recently I heard of a new rule that applies while dining. Upon sitting down at the table, everyone puts their phones in a pile in the center of the table. If your phone rings and you answer it, you have to pay for dinner: a draconian rule for sure, yet effective.

It is a start. Should you have any ideas for phone etiquette, drop me a line.


Medals for Mel
John Howsden

Sixty eight years ago Mel Og was a nineteen year old Marine standing in the middle of the jungle on Bougainville with an axe in his hand getting ready to chop down a tree. Unbeknownst to Mel, a few miles away in another part of the jungle, a Japanese’s artillery crew was firing an artillery shell with Mel’s name on it.  The shell landed on the other side of the tree. Mel is living proof to the saying, “you never hear the one that gets you.” Although the tree he was about to chop down landed on top of him, it also saved him from being shredded by shrapnel. Instead he was knocked unconscious and suffered an injury to his collar bone.

He woke up in the First Aid station wrapped in a blanket with a fellow Marine sitting across from him shaking his head and saying, “I thought you were dead man, you weren’t even breathing when they brought you in.” Mel took a swallow of the rum the medic had given him to ease the pain and said, “Well I’m obviously not dead.” Mel healed and rejoined his outfit, but for some unknown reason he never received his Purple Heart. 

Mel didn’t complain about not getting his medal and instead went on with his life, thankful that he made it back home alive and well. However when his son-in-law, Allen Gilbert, a Vietnam vet himself,  heard about the oversight, he felt sixty some odd years was long enough to wait for the Department of Defense to remedy the situation.  Three times he wrote to the Department of Defense and three times he was ignored. Finally it was suggested that he write a letter to Congressman Dan Lungren for assistance. Within a week of writing the letter, Constituent Service Representative Michelle Panos called Allen back.  Initially, Allen wanted to surprise Mel with the medal, but Panos explained that since Mel was still alive, only he could make the request. Mel made the request via Lungren’s website. Allen didn’t hear anything more about it until Mel called him one day and thanked him for getting him his medals.

With the Purple Heart medal in hand, along with five other medals, the only thing left to do was for someone to pin them on Mel’s chest. The ceremony was set for December 18th.  Allen requested Congressman Lungren do the honors, but he will be in Washington then. When word spread of the ceremony, Fraser West, a retired colonel that had fought in the same jungle at the same time as Mel, although they had never met, volunteered for the job.  When Allen found out the Colonel was in his mid nineties, he offered to drive him to the ceremony. The colonel instructed Allen he was quite capable of getting to the ceremony on his own.

So sixty eight years, one month and three days later, Mel will receive a medal that will remind him of how precious and capricious life can be.

You are welcome to join Mel Og and his family for the ceremony on December 18th, at 2:00p.m. Located at 8A building on
Feather Dr.
in Copperopolis.


Hugs, Donuts and Gunfire
By John Howsden

According to Mel Ogg, his trip back to the World War II memorial in Washington D.C. last month was, “well worth the time and wait. I am grateful to Honor Flight and all the volunteers that put it on.”  When asked what his trip was like, his eyes lit up and he blurted out, “I got a lot of hugs from the USO ladies serving us coffee and donuts at the airport.”

A warm welcome from the USO ladies was just the beginning. The Virgin Atlantic airline pilot got on the public address system, and for all the passengers to hear, welcomed the thirty-one veterans aboard. Five hours later, when they touched down at Dulles airport and taxied to the terminal, fire fighters mounted on fire trucks showered the airplane in water from their hoses.

From the airport the veterans were loaded onto a shuttle headed for the hotel, wheels chairs first followed by the “walking wounded,” as Mel refers to the ones getting around under their own power. Once at the hotel they paired up with another vet and were assigned rooms. Shortly after getting their rooms, they met downstairs for a buffet dinner. It was during the dinner that a microphone was passed around so everyone could introduce themselves. Mel dreads public speaking, so it was only fitting that he was handed the mike first. He summed up his introduction by describing himself as, “one of the old marines lucky enough to make it back.” They hit the sack early after dinner as they had a full day planned for tomorrow.

Nine o’clock the next morning they arrived at the World War II monument. “It was beautiful and I think everyone should see it, especially the vets, Mel said. He was in awe when he stared at the four hundred gold stars stretching across the monument, each one representing a hundred fallen soldiers.

Each vet was wearing a peach colored tee shirt donated by a group of teachers that read, “If you can read this shirt, thank a teacher. If you can read it in English, thank a vet.” While walking around the monument, a woman tapped Mel on the shoulder and asked if it was all right to take a picture of him with the shirt. One of the guardians of Honor Fight offered to take the picture for the woman so she, along with her husband and two children, could be included in the picture. Upon leaving, the woman thanked Mel and told him she couldn’t wait to show the picture to her sister because she is a school teacher.

Mel had his hands full for the next two days, seeing monuments, visiting museums and talking with fellow. However, one particular visit caught him off guard. While standing in front of the Korean monument, which shows life size soldiers dressed in foul weather gear advancing across an open field, Mel felt an ache way down inside, an old familiar pain that never goes away and defies description. Even sixty-four years later, sitting safely in his home at his kitchen table he struggled to put it in words. After staring at the worn table clothe for a time, he looked up and said, “I don’t think there is any words you can use to describe the feeling. You know the shooting is over and you are no longer in danger. I guess it is just a sense of sadness because you remember the guys that didn’t come back.”

It’s a sad fact that many didn’t come back from the war, but Mel and others like him did, and for that we are grateful.


Bill Albee Would be Proud
By John Howsden

After much planning, plowing and planting, the Bill Albee Memorial Copperopolis Community Garden has hit its stride. The 900 hundred square foot garden is teeming with ripe tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, zucchini, yellow squash, pumpkins and more. If you think it is impossible to grow a garden in the foothills, swing by the community garden on O’Byrne’s across from IGA.

“It turned out better than expected,” said Jack Jimenez, chairman for the community garden. Volunteers planted trees, flowers and vegetables that are thriving in the rich soil that was once a dusty weed patch. With many helping hands providing daily care over the summer, along with donations from several local businesses, the garden is overflowing with ripe, juicy vegetables.  When asked if there was something else the garden could use, Jack said, “Someone with a small tractor who could be on call would help and, of course, we can always use more volunteers.” The garden is doing so well, Jack said, “They are looking into applying for a grant for the garden.”

Although the garden is providing a bountiful harvest, there were some mishaps, such as the water accidently getting tuned off to one of the timers, but because someone was checking the garden daily, the water was turned back on quickly.

Any gardener will tell you that there is a lot of work to growing vegetables, but they will also tell you it is a labor of love. The only thing more pleasing than looking over a garden abundant with ripe vegetable, is sharing them. For anyone interested in adding fresh vegetables to your meal, regardless of whether you had a chance to volunteer or not, now is the time to head for the community garden. All are welcome. That is the way Bill Albee would want it.

Copperopolis WWII Vet takes Honor Flight to DC
Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Mel Og kissed his girlfriend good-by, walked into the nearest Marine Corps recruiting office and said he wanted to fight for his country. After some no-nonsense training at boot camp he was put on a cargo ship headed for the South Pacific. The young farm boy was about to become a combat veteran the hard way—fighting.

The above sentence makes going to war sound easy and exciting.  But World War II was among one of the most heinous human crimes in history. Before it was over, 16 million Americans went off to war and of those, over 400,000 didn’t come back.

Mel was one of the lucky ones. Returning home, he did his best to put the horrors of war behind him. He married his girlfriend, bought a house and raised a family. And so it went for sixty four years until his son-in-law, Al Gilbert – a Vietnam Veteran, spied an article in the newspaper in 2009 about an organization called Honor Flight flying veterans back to the newly dedicated WWII memorial in Washington D.C., all expenses paid. Without asking Mel’s permission, Al submitted an application on Mel’s behalf and then mentioned it to him in passing a few days later. Nothing happened. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and months into years until Mel figured the organization had gone out of business.  Finally, Debbie Johnson, the co-founder of Honor Flight Northern California, called Mel and asked if he was still interested in going.

Mel, a feisty man with a keen sense of humor, told her he still wanted to go and thought, “It’s a great deal for vets who can’t afford to go on their own.” When asked if he had started packing he said, “I have two pairs of drawers, and I know where they both are.”

Honor Flight started several years ago and is supported by donations. From the moment the veteran arrives at the airport to the time they return, Honor Flight volunteers serve as guardians making sure the veterans are taken care of, providing them with food, boarding and transportation for the entire trip.

But age is taking its toll. At last count, World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 1,100 a day. At 89, Mel knows this is a once in a life time deal. Since Mel knows this is his only shot at getting back to Washington D.C., he is hoping to see some monuments that he has heard about since childhood, such as the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. He would also like to see the spot on the Potomac River where Washington threw a coin across the water. 

Mel leaves in September. His marching orders are simple: be at the San Francisco airport by 5:30 a.m. Bring with you five days supply of any medication you may be taking and wear comfortable walking shoes with rubber soles. The last time he took a free trip he ended up in a jungle hefting an M-1 rifle, mess kit and 200 rounds of ammunition. This time he is going to the Mall in Washington D.C. hefting a cell phone, digital camera and the blessings of a grateful nation.  

A Feather Merchant Goes to War

By John Howsden

In 1942 Mel Ogg was a short, skinny, nineteen-year-old kid working as a dish washer at a Chinese restaurant in Texas. He got five dollars a week and one free meal a day. Up to then he had never shot at anyone, never seen a pile of dead bodies, or ever heard a dying man cry out for help—but all that was about to change.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States jumped into WWII with both feet. With the country in need of fighting men, Mel’s cousin suggested they join the Marines, Mel agreed. He kissed his girlfriend, Nadine, good-by and headed for the nearest recruiting station. After the recruiter praised them on their stellar judgment for picking the Marines, they signed on the dotted line.

After a seven week boot camp where he trained as a machine gunner, Mel got on a converted luxury liner and sailed for the south pacific. His first taste of combat was at Empress Augusta Bay at Bougainville. While they were unloading ammunition from the ship’s hole, the air raid sounded. He stuck his head out of the hole just in time to see Japanese airplanes strafing and dive bombing the ships. A near-by sailor, blazing away with a 40mm gun, bellowed, “Get your butt back down in the hole Marine.” Not wanting to be in a hole crammed full of ammunition, he did what any red blooded marine would do; he ignored the sailor, stepped into the shadows and watched the show.

Surviving the air raid, he, along with several thousands of his buddies landed on Bougainville, becoming part of the operation called, Cherry Blossom, which was to establish a beachhead around Cape Torokina for the construction of an airfield for our fighters and bombers.  Although Mel was trained as a machine gunner, his primary job was that of combat engineer. At the time, there were not enough Marines to push the Japanese all the way off the island, so they had to endure constant bombing and artillery raids from the Japanese holding out on the other side of the island. 

Air raids are horrifying and confusing, yet one in particular stood out for Mel. One day a bomb exploded near a large coconut tree, cutting it in half.  When the tree crashed to the ground, a body of a Japanese sniper flopped out. The fact of a sniper being tied to the tree wasn’t usual, but that it was a female took everyone by surprise. Mel said, “I can’t prove it, and the brass may deny because they wouldn’t want the word to get out that we were killing women, but I was there and I saw her.”

Bougainville itself was a miserable island fraught with the enemy, diseases, mosquitoes and snakes. The only thing worse was perhaps your buddy’s sense of humor, as an example. In the middle of the day, Japanese dive bombers attacked the airbase. Mel dove into the nearest foxhole and hugged the soggy earth as bombs exploded around him. He was feeling a little better knowing he was at least below ground when he felt a snake squirming underneath him. Before he could stop himself, he jumped out of the foxhole.  With his face in the dirt, looking at the foxhole he desperately wanted to occupy, he spied a rope stretched across the bottom of it. With his eyes, he followed the rope to the next foxhole. Crouching inside that foxhole was two of his buddies laughing as they gently tugged on the rope. Mel swore if he lived long enough, he’d get even with his buddies. As it turned out, he survived, but he never got around to getting even.

After Bougainville, Mel’s unit was shipped back to Guadalcanal where they rested, refitted and trained for the invasion of Guam. Once while they were at sea as floating reserve, they trained to climb up and down cargo nets for the preparation of the coming invasion. Cargo nets were strung high above the bow of the deck. All you had to do was climb up the nets, swing over and climb back down. What you didn’t realize was that from the top of the net the deck looked to be only two feet wide. The swaying of the ship causing the net to swing out over the water only made it worse. As long as you didn’t look down it was it doable. Unfortunately, one young Marine couldn’t resist and looked down just before he reached the top. He panicked, locked his hands together and froze, swaying back and forth fifty feet in air.

When Mel saw the marine grasping the net in a death grip, he climbed up and tried to talk him down. First he jokingly told him it would only hurt once if he fell, or if he didn’t come down he would have to eat sea gulls to keep from starving to death. The marine just squeezed is eyes shut and hugged the net that much harder. It got so desperate that Mel whispered into the guy’s ear, “I have a chocolate candy bar in my pack down below. If you climb down the net, I’ll split it with you.” The marine opened his eyes, looked at Mel and said, “Really?” After a little more cajoling, they made it down the net together. It cost Mel half of a candy bar, but that’s what you do for a fellow marine.

Once trained and rested, the Marines invaded Guam on July 21, 1944. On a sunny morning, Mel found himself crammed into an amphibious tractor grinding his way towards the beach. Instead of being taken to the beach and dropped off as planned, they were dumped off 300 yards short and had to wade into shore. Things were going relatively well, for an amphibious landing, when he fell through a hole in the coral reef. Standing only five foot seven inches and loaded down with a pack and machine gun, he went straight to the bottom and was not coming up.  A passing marine pulled him up by the pack and said, “What are you doing down there buddy?” After sucking in a lung full of sweet, tropical air, Mel replied, “Fishing.”

While Mel was one of the lucky ones to make it to shore that day, many didn’t. He remembers seeing an amphibious tractor coming ashore packed with marines taking a direct hit from a mortar round. There were no survivors. Even later, when they were on the island, death came quickly and in big numbers. Although a cardinal rule in combat is to never bunch up, seven platoon sergeants inexplicably gathered for a quick meeting. The momentary lapse of good judgment didn’t go unnoticed by the enemy. Within a few seconds, a mortar round landed in the center of the group killing all seven men.  

The saying goes that it’s the bomb or bullet you don’t hear that’s kills you, which may explained why one day Mel woke up in sick bay with a dislocated shoulder and no idea how it happened. All he remembers is chopping away on a palm tree while on a work detail out in the jungle. The next thing he knew he was waking up in the aid station. When he asked what happened, all they could say was they found him unconscious on the jungle floor next to a palm tree. A wounded marine on the cot next to him kept shaking his head saying, “Man I thought you were dead when they brought you in here. You weren’t even breathing.” Mel surmises that a random artillery shell landed on the other side of the palm tree. The explosion knocked him out, but the tree protected him from the shrapnel.

Mel recovered from his injuries and returned to his unit. It took twenty-eight months, but Mel finally made it back to the states in one piece. Mel was still in the Marines when the war ended. He was standing on a street corner in San Diego waiting for a bus when people started cheering and yelling that the war was over.

The days of snakes, snipers and sudden death were over. Mel holds no animosity towards the Japanese. “They were soldiers doing their job just like me,’ explains Mel. Oh, and that girlfriend in Texas he kissed before he went off to war. They married, had three children and shared a wonderful life together until her passing sixty-one years later.

On Patrol
By John Howsden

After putting in over twenty-eight years in the field of education, the lion’s share of which was in adult education, Ed Anderson retired. Moving to Copperopolis from Tracy, Ed fulfilled one of his dreams of buying some property and building a log cabin. After being a school principal and a home builder, he decided to look around for something less stressful to do, so he joined the Sheriff Department as a volunteer deputy.

With a smile on his face, Ed said, “The similarity between being a principal and being a deputy is you’re always dealing with people that complain or have a problem.” Part of the duties of a volunteer deputy is to staff the Copperopolis substation at the Lake Tulloch shopping center. A sampling of the problems showing up there is people wanting to report crimes, asking for directions or phone numbers. Often people will come in with lost property such as license plates, weapons or drugs. When the problem exceeds the volunteer’s authority, they refer the people to the Sheriff’s Office in San Andreas.

When not working in the office, Ed is out on patrol in his old, striped down police car with 200,000 miles under its belt. Even though Ed’s car is long in the tooth, it’s not an issue since most of his cruising is at 15 mph. Although it doesn’t have any red lights or siren, it is equipped with a radio, amber lights and wig-wag headlights. The trunk is stocked with electronic flashers, orange cones, a slow/stop hand held sign and a first aid kit.

While cruising his beat at a blistering speed of 15 mph, Ed checks out his beat for suspicious cars, broken windows, and vandalism, or meth dumps— debris from methadone labs; an abundance of broken bottles is a sign of such a dump. “After you work an area long enough, you know what should be here and what shouldn’t,” said Ed.

To do their job, volunteer deputies get ample training, including radio procedure, first aid, CPR, drivers training and traffic control. Additional training is offered such as bomb and drug recognition. Ed isn’t a newbie around things that blow up. Ed did twenty years in the military, starting out working ordinance in the Air Force in 1965 in a far off land called Viet Nam.

Although most people refer to this immediate area as Copperopolis, the Sheriff’s Department refers to it as beat “B” and it’s big. It stretches from Murphy’s to Jenny Lind and reaches across to both county lines. Deputy volunteers are not sworn personnel and therefore do not carry guns, but they serve a vital role of being the eyes and ears of the department and the community in this vast area. They do vacation home checks for up to thirty days. Some of their annual duties are foot patrol at the county fair, and traffic control at special events. Spur of the moment duties include assisting at traffic accidents, searching for lost children and serving civil papers—foreclosure notices and wage garnishments. 

With a few exceptions, people appreciate seeing the police car in the neighborhood. “People wave us down and thank us for patrolling,” Ed said. Currently there are six volunteer deputies working beat B, and they enjoy meeting people and helping out where they can. “You get use to working with people. Some conversations are good and some aren’t,” according to Ed. But in a time when resources are spread thin, it helps having the extra help that the volunteers provide. The next time you see a police car with sheriff volunteers boldly written on its side zipping by your house at 15 mph, feel free to flag down the driver with the silver hair and chat with him for awhile. 

Down and Dirty
By, John Howsden

Spring is here and the volunteers for the Bill Albee Memorial Copperopolis Community Garden have sprung into action. In a recent meeting at the library, volunteers reviewed their progress and discussed their plans for planting this weekend.

“Donations are arriving,” advised Jack Jimenez, chairman for the garden committee. Among other items; a self propelled rototiller was donated. Although the old engine had to be replaced, the tiller is large enough to handle the 900 square feet of semi-rocky soil. Even though it’s hard to avoid rocks in Copper, it can be done; several yards of garden soil from local businesses were purchased at a reduced price or donated. Also donated were an 8x10 storage shed and one picnic table with benches.

Because we’re talking about a garden, donations of plants are essential. Tim Reed is donating over a 100 seedlings or sometimes referred to as “starts.” Sierra Ridge also is contributing two trays of starts. The after school program may be growing starts as well. “We plan on planting a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers, snap peas and squash,” said Jack. The Cub Scouts will plant pumpkins among the squash, while 4-H members will do some composting.

Of course none of this means anything without water, which is why Jack quickly pointed out that two water lines are broken, requiring immediate repair. Richard Duncan, who works maintenance for the Copper Cove Homeowners Association, took note. Not only were the water pipes in need of repair, but the gate enclosing the garden had been mysteriously knocked off its hinge. Later, when we visited the garden, volunteer Richard Duncan, taking the initiative, fixed the broken gate using nothing more than a pipe wrench for a hammer.

A community garden is a simple, healthy and rewarding project, but it requires many things to make it a success: dedicated volunteers, equipment, plants, ingenuity—pipe wrench for a hammer—and yes, money.  So to raise money, the volunteers are donating items to Copperopolis Parks & Recreation (a nonprofit volunteer organization) who in turn will sell it at the Flea Market this week-end located in the lot on O’Byrnes Ferry Road just south of the IGA grocery store. Money generated from the sale of the donated items will be earmarked for the garden.

The Bill Albee Memorial Garden is well on its way to accomplishing its purpose of educating and empowering the community to produce some if its own food. By using organic practices they will provide food for local community members and the Copperopolis Food Bank. The list of volunteers exceeds twenty, yet there is room for more.
For additional information contact Copperopolis Parks & Recreation at or call 785-PARK.

5-3-11 Dam Glad of It

Dam Glad of It
By John Howsden

I can’t be trusted. I hedge on the truth. But I do it for good reasons. In this case I wanted to see how they make electricity at the Lake Tulloch dam, but I was too embarrassed to admit to Susan Larson, the coordinator for Tri-Dam Project, that I was just a kid in a man’s body. So I arranged to meet her at the dam site under the guise of doing an article on who controls Lake Tulloch reservoir.

On a cool Wednesday morning I jumped on my Harley and made a bee line for the dam. On top of a hill overlooking the dam, I met Sue, who in turned introduced me to Ron Berry, the Interim Operation Manager. I didn’t know what an operation manager did, however, it sounded like someone who could get me inside the dam so; I took a shine to him right away.

Meanwhile Susan dutifully starting listing many of the government agencies involved in controlling the water resources and explaining how each one interacted with the other. Ron chipped in occasionally until government acronyms were flying around faster than a pack of cigarettes at an AA meeting. I kept my mouth shut, my ears open and just kept thinking, “When do I get inside the dam? When do I get inside the dam?”

Being a guy, and not having a poker face, Susan recognized the look men get when they’re around heavy machinery. Throwing in the towel, she asked if I was ready for Ron to give me a tour of the dam. I mumbled something, jumped into the cab of Ron’s truck and patiently waited for him to get behind the steering wheel. We headed down an old paved road that was more gravel than tar until we pulled up next to what looked like a giant snail shell lying on its side. What’s that I asked? “It’s the new spiral. It directs water to the turbine. Better take a good look at it. In a few weeks it will be incased in tons of concrete at the base of the dam, never to be seen again.”

We climbed out of his truck and into the eight foot opening of the swirl. The further we walked into the swirl the smaller it got until we were squatting at the end where the turbine began. Timing is everything, and I couldn’t help but thinking that in a few weeks, if I was in this same spot, I would last about as long as a bug in a blender.  

Back in Ron’s truck, we drove across the twelve foot wide roadway atop the dam and stopped where water was tumbling over the spillway. When I stepped out of the truck, the roar of 1,700 cubic feet of water crashing on the rocks 120 feet below spoke of power and largeness. But how large is large? I don’t know what a cubic foot of water is let alone 1,700 of them. The only time I’d dealt with a large volume of water was when I filled up my 30,000 gallon swimming pool. It took five garden hoses and 30 hours to do that. When Ron told me a cubic foot of water equaled 7.6 gallons, I did the math. In other words enough water was flowing over the dam at that moment to fill up my pool in two and a half seconds.

Duly impressed, we headed for the powerhouse where the turbines turn acres of water into megawatts of electricity.  Immediately, upon stepping into the cavernous power house, I knew I had found a place for my Virgo alter ego. The walls were painted glossy green, the floors were swept clean and the entire room was unfilled as if someone had stuck a massive vacuum hose through the door and sucked it clean. In the center of the room were the two rotors spinning at 240 revolutions per minute.

Now we were in the belly of the beast. A constant humming filled the air. I turned to Ron and said, “These rotors must be well balanced. I don’t feel any vibrations. “You’re right” Ron said, “the shaft leading down to the turbine is milled to within 400,000 of an inch. However the humming you’re hearing has nothing to do with the balance of the rotor. It’s caused by the two electromagnet fields created by the rotors.” He started to explain, but then he saw that look on my face and suggested we move on to the control room.

Inside the control room was a panel the size of a two car garage door adorned with dials, gauges and flashing lights. Six feet away leaning back in a swivel chair sat Bill Wearin, an Emergency Relief Operator.  Atop the control was a blacked faced Harley Davidson clock. Thinking I had stumbled across a kindred spirit in the bowels of Tulloch dam, I asked, “Is that clock yours?” Bill, wearing a greasy camouflaged cap and a grizzled beard, grinned and said, “Nah, somebody before me left it.” 

Normally an operator monitors the dam operations remotely by a computer, but since two of the seven spill gates for the dam were open today, policy required an operator on site. Although every precaution is taken and all systems have back-up, bad things still can happen in this business. In August of 2009 an explosion occurred in the turbine room of Russia’s largest hydroelectric project, flooding it instantly. At last count seventy-six workers were drown, crushed or washed into oblivion. Yeah, Bill was friendly and talked with me, but I noticed he never lost sight of the control panel.

After the control room we continued to the bottom of the dam, passing through a machine shop straight out of the 50’s—machines, tools and walls all painted battleship gray. Next to the lathe machine was an automatic hacksaw tailor made for Paul Bunyan. It looked just like a hacksaw, but it was five times bigger. It had an oscillating arm hooked to one end so you could start it, walk away and return an hour later after it had sawed through a six inch solid metal bar.

We left the machine shop and were working our way back up when I spotted sixteen red acetylene type bottles hooked to a common hose. When I asked about them, Ron explained, “Those are full of CO2. If a fire starts anywhere in this power house, we have thirty seconds to get to the top of the dam before the CO2 replaces all of the oxygen in the building.” “Oh really,” I said. “Normally when I give a tour with forty kids, I unhook the bottles because I can’t imagine getting a bunch of kids out of the dam in thirty seconds. But with you, I didn’t think there would be a problem.”  I’m still not exactly sure what he meant by that.

Once we were back out in the sunshine, with no danger of being squashed by a renegade rotor or snuffed out by a blast of Co2, we piled into Ron’s pickup. He flipped a couple of pages on his clipboard and said, “Well, with both turbines running today we made 423,000 kilowatts.  That’s 17.6 mega watts per hour. I nodded judiciously and asked, “How many houses will that light up?” He replied, “I don’t know.” He didn’t know because there is no way of knowing; too many variables.

As it turned out, I didn’t find out much about all the councils, boards, special districts and advisory committees, run by city, county, state and federal agencies that make Lake Tulloch possible. Instead I met people like Sue, Ron and Bill—honest, dedicated folks who safely accomplish their primary mission: delivering water to the farmers in the valley, a valley that once grew two thirds of the world’s table crops. The fact that the Tri-Dam Project’s reservoirs also provide other benefits such as water sports, flooding protection and electricity, to name a few, is a bonus we all can enjoy.

 For more information on the Tri-Dam Project go to

Copper Cop Sets Up Shop

If Calaveras County had a contest for the shortest commute to work, resident Deputy Paul Newnam would win hands down. Newnam, a Calaveras deputy sheriff since 1998, has always wanted to work in the same community that he lived. When newly elected Sheriff Kuntz asked for a volunteer to serve as a resident deputy for Copperopolis, Newnam got his wish.

In order to feel more like a part of the community, Newnam moved to Copperopolis with his wife and two children from Sonora long before the position of resident deputy was available. “I like walking out of my front door and letting my neighbors see they have a cop in the neighborhood.” In times where some police departments are laying off deputies this is a big plus for our community. Although his beat covers more than Copperopolis, he enjoys working closely with the people within his immediate neighborhood.

Letting everyone know you’re a deputy by parking your police car in front of your house, sometimes resulted in people driving down your driveway to report a crime. Newnam takes this in stride and considers himself on duty twenty-four hours, seven days a week. “My ambition is to work with the community as well as being a part of it,” says Newnam.

Even though police services is an around the clock affair, Newnam still finds times for his hobbies. He is an avid deer hunter and his latest gig is playing keyboard in a local band called The Copper Holdings Company. His eyes lit up when he started rattling off all the places he had played years before, up to and including the Hollywood Club, a sign that you’ve made it as a band.  Playing back-up for Freddie Fender was mentioned almost as an after thought. Oh yeah, he’s also self-employed with a truck washing business, a line of work he’s been involved in since moving to California from Oklahoma as a young man.

In 1992 he hired on with Angels Camp Police Department as a reserve.  “It was just a hobby,” says Newnam, but he worked as much as a full time officer and twice was awarded the title of Officer of the Year. Six years later he joined the Sheriff’s Department.

Being in police work for nineteen years has afforded him valuable experience in dealing with people in stressful situations. When asked if he had ever had to fire his gun in the line of duty, he knocked on the top of an old wooden table he was setting next to and said, “No, and I hope I never have to.” Being a deputy in an area where your nearest back-up officer can be a ways off, you learn how to deal with people.

Learning how to deal with people may explain why Paul proudly wears the brass letters of HNT pinned to his shirt above his right breast pocket, which stands for Hostage Negotiating Team. In addition to special training, the people skills he’s learned over the nineteen years arresting drunks, handling family fights or showing compassion for victims no doubt make him an asset to the team.

When asked if technology has helped police work, he leaned back with a grin, and I knew a war story was about to unfold: Recently two suspects broke into a vacant vacation house owned, as luck would have it, by a Redwood City police officer. When Paul arrived at the house, he spotted a security camera perched in the eaves over looking the driveway. The next day, when the camera was played back on the homeowner’s computer, they could plainly see the suspects pull into the driveway, break into the front door and abscond with the loot. Later the camera showed Newnam arriving. Then, after Newnam left, the camera showed the greedy suspects returning for seconds.
While on patrol the next day looking for the suspects, Newnam spotted the truck at a gas station occupied with the two suspects. Newnam pulled them over. After a brief search of the truck, some of the stolen property was recovered and the two suspects were jail bound.

Although it still takes alert deputies patrolling the streets of their beats, “security cameras and alarms in the price range of three to five hundred dollars are worth having,” say Newnam.

But one of the most critical assets our new resident deputy brings to the town of Copperopolis is his desire to work with the people of the community. Although he’s had the opportunity to move up in rank, he prefers to work as a deputy explaining, “I like working at the ground level because that’s where it get’s done.”  I want the people in the community to know, “I’ve been in their shoes and I want to assure them that we will work with them to resolve their problems.”
In a society where law enforcement officers sometimes appear distant and cool, it’s heartening to have one who remembers that he was a husband, father, neighbor and a rock and roll band member before he was a cop.

 Shake, Rattle and Roll ~ By, John Howsden

With April approaching, two things come to mind: rattlesnakes and taxes. What’s the difference between a bite from a rattlesnake and an audit from the IRS? The snake bite might kill you, but an audit goes on forever.  Since an audit is such an unpleasant ordeal much beyond our control, let’s focus on something we can control: treatment for a venomous snake bite.

Snake bites aren’t funny; several people die from them each year, especially children.  There are four types of venomous snakes in this great country of ours, but we only have to worry about one in Copperopolis—the rattlesnake. Although a bite from a rattler may not kill a healthy adult, it can cause extensive tissue damage. Besides, why suffer any injuries at all when help is just a phone call away.

Should you find yourself snake bit, the first thing to do is get away from the snake. That’s probably why he bit you in the first place. Don’t try to catch it or kill it, and “Don’t drive to the fire station,” says Joe Butler, a paramedic with the Copperopolis Fire Department. The best thing you can do is call 911, stop moving and keep the bite below the heart.

If you feel you must do something, you can “circle the bite with a pen and write the time of the bite,” said Butler. This gives the medical personnel a reference point to judge how fast the venom is traveling. While waiting for the paramedics, you may notice a burning sensation in bite area.  Not to worry. Once the fire paramedic is on scene, you’ll most likely get hooked up to some morphine, provided you’re not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Granted, this is a lousy way to get five milligrams of morphine, but when used properly, this wonder drug really is what the doctor ordered.

With professionals now on the scene and morphine easing the pain, the only thing left to do is fulfill the Fire Department’s main priory of, “getting the patient to an approved facility in a timely manner,” according to Butler.

Depending on the condition of the patient this may mean a ground trip via an ambulance to a local hospital or zipping across the sky in a life flight helicopter to as far away as Davis.  Whether it’s by land or air, you’re in competent hands and on your way to where medical staff are waiting with the antivenin in hand.  
Even though the fire paramedic, flight nurse and, and emergency doctors are in place to help you, there are many things you can do to improve your situation. 
The information listed in the boxes is the latest dos and don’ts of first aid for a venomous snake bite. Only Cleopatra VII, who committed suicide by enticing a venomous snake to bite her on her left breast, would ignore this information. But then again, who knows what kind of audit she may have been facing.  

Do these

·        Do apply first aid if you cannot get the person to the hospital right away.
·        Lay or sit the person down with the bite below the level of the heart.
·        Tell him/her to stay calm and still.
·        Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.

Don’t do these

Do NOT allow the person to become over-exerted. If necessary, carry the person to safety.
Do NOT apply a tourniquet
Do NOT apply cold compresses to a snake bit.
No NOT cut into a snake bite with a knife or razor.
Do NOT try to suck out the venom by mouth.
Do NOT give the person stimulants or pain medication unless a doctor tells you to do so.
Do NOT give the person anything by mouth.
Do NOT raise the site of the bite above the level of the person’s heart.

The Copper Gazette Welcomes John Howsden, contributing reporter

John Howsden grew up in Hayward, California. After graduating from college he joined the Fremont Police Department. For thirty years he worked to protect and serve the community of Fremont, retiring as a Sergeant. Upon retirement, he and his wife Diana moved to Copperopolis to "enjoy country living."

To keep busy John volunteers his time planting shade trees at Black Creek Park, growing his own fruit trees and cruising the country roads on his Harley.

His hobbies also include RC Airplanes, but he has yet to find and open area or hill large enough in Copper to let them go.

Writing is also on John's list of hobbies as he is working on and off on a memoir of his life as a policeman, the stories both tragic and enlightening are sure to make a strong book.

John says, "We like Copperopolis for its friendly people, warm climate and relaxed pace."

Welcome aboard John, and thank you so very much for your contributions.

John Howsden has also written for the Copper View, a publication produced and distributed by the Copperopolis Area Business Association. His latest works include an indepth interview with Sheriff Gary Kuntz for the Copper View and coverage of our local 4-H for the Copper Gazette.

Growing up the Old Fashion Way ~ By, John Howsden

At the start of the twentieth century the government had a problem. Researchers working at the land-grant universities—run by the USDA—were coming up with new agriculture discoveries; however, the old farmers showed little interest in the new fangled ideas. Although the old guys weren’t receptive to what the government was touting, the younger generation was. Consequently, youth programs such as the 4-H club were formed and became the platform to introduce new agriculture technology.

The 4-H club was so successful that it now has 6.5 million members with 90,000 cubs, one of them being the Copper Hills 4-H club right here in downtown Copperopolis.

Although getting the word out on better agriculture practices is fine, something even better happens when a young person decides to raise an animal in 4-H. Kandee Smith, a 4-H leader for seven years with two children in the club says, “I would absolutely recommend it as a way for children to learn responsibility and management skills.”

It’s true, responsibility isn’t taught; it’s learned. And when it comes to raising livestock, the learning process starts long before the sun rises. Early in the morning the animals have to be fed and watered. Once the animal has been tended to, its owner is off to school for a full day of academics.

Returning from school in the afternoon, it starts over again with the feeding, watering, plus now the animal needs to be exercised. While walking the animal, they have to be visually inspected for signs of ill health or injuries. But wait, there’s more.  Depending on the type of animal involved, it may have to be brushed, shampooed, scrubbed, rinsed off and dried. If the animal doesn’t need worming or vaccinating, then, and only then, the young adult can take a break from their manual labor and go inside to fill out their paper work.

Yes, like any business enterprise, there’s paper work. The animal’s weight is watched, tracked and recorded on a matrix. The amount of feed is adjusted to control the closely watched weight of the animal, which will be crucial at the auction. All this is recorded and analyzed like a stock broker watching the market. According to Tasha Westberg, who has three children in 4-H, “It’s a tricky situation, but they learn how to manage their time and the importance of consistency.” 

Of course, none of this is free. The initial thousand dollars, or so, to buy a steer just gets your muddy boot in the door.  Food, grooming and medical attention cost money as well. Again good business practices means starting and managing a bank account along with monitoring the profit and loss on a spread sheet.  Because livestock don’t come equipped with an on and off switch, this ritual of feeding, watering, grooming and tracking goes on every single day.  

It’s during these endless months of care and feeding for the livestock that these budding business people learn words like “labor intensive,” “work ethic” and “fiscal responsibility,” are really synonyms for blood, sweat and tears.  

In time the weather warms up, the animal fattens up and the Calaveras County Fair opens up.  By now the young men or women have learned more than they ever wanted to know about raising livestock. Finally it’s time to take Tri-Tip, or whatever name they’ve dubbed the animal, to the auction. There are no cute euphemisms about what’s going to happen to these animals they’ve doted on the last six months.  No doubt there may be some emotional attachment to the animal; but it was always known that the county fair was the animal’s portal to someone’s dinner table.

In May, the Calaveras County Fair is in full swing.  Amid the rides, candy and side shows, you, the potential customer, are welcomed to the auction.  Why buy market meat at the auction? “The meat you buy is fresher and higher quality and it supporting local youth.” says Westberg.

Auction day starts out with breakfast and a Bloody Mary, if you’re so inclined. One at a time the animals are brought into the ring and bid upon.  Since the primary goal of raising market live stock is to sell it, the auction makes it easy for you to make a purchase.  One of these ways is to not require you to purchase the whole animal. You can go in with other folks and buy just a portion of the animal to fit your freezer or pocket book.

The auction marks the end of an arduous, yet a valuable journey. But best of all, it means it’s payday—maybe. Like any other business venture, there is no sure thing.  “Sometime you make enough money to buy a lap top or save for college,” says Smith, “and sometimes you’re lucky to make a hundred dollars.”  To reinforce this, Taylor, one of Westberg’s three sons explained, “Over the years I’ve earned several thousands dollars, but with things being slow, I only earned two hundred dollars last year.”  But still that’s enough for Taylor to buy a car and go to Columbia College where he intends to major in fire science to launch his fire fighting career.

Besides, what price do you put on the experience of growing up learning how to take care of business? Either way everyone wins by living up to the 4-H motto “To make the best better.”

For information on Copper Hills 4-H contact Michele Toberer at 785-9800.