1950’s and 1960’s Stories and Legends
Most of these concern the third generation of Grace Boys (Jim, John, Mike and cousin Bill) in Sonoma County. They include stories about and of the various ranches and the brewery. Many other colorful stories could have been added but I kept this focused on the workplace-more-or-less
The Rice Ranch-Or the Duck Club
Much legend and lore surrounds the story of this ranch. Over the years, more than one generation of Santa Rosans had gone to the Rice ranch, located just outside of Maxwell in Colusa County, to shoot ducks and probably let their hair down a bit. The old home that I remember was a simple wooden structure that had a huge rat population. There were so many rats that we would feel them run across our sleeping bags at night. Once, when one of our guests (or one of my brothers) was in the bathroom, armed with an ice pick, a rat appeared in a hole in the wall. Since it was less than two feet from the perpetrator, the rat became immortalized by hanging in that same spot for the entire duck season-with an ice pick stuck through it No one saw fit to remove it . A welcome to the ranch perhaps. Another time, around 1962, a good friend of my brother John’s joined us for a duck hunt. We were unaware that Pete was deathly afraid of rats and so after the first rat crossed his sleeping bag at night Pete launched himself into the rocking chair where he stayed the night. I am very certain that we were very supportive of Pete and properly consoled him.
“Shootout at Maxwell”.
This is another story that has taken on legendary proportions. This shootout was a bit different from most shootouts in that it did not concern moving objects or animate objects. It seems the target was a 1950’s Ford owned by one of my brother Jim’s friends that was left at the ranch during duck hunting season for reasons unknown. Not a good idea apparently. Someone accidentally shot the car (the how, why and such are best put aside on this one). This started a frenzy of gunfire and what resulted was a car that was totally shot up and rendered useless-flat tires, windows blown out, multiple body wounds, bleeding vital fluids for days on end. How did it start and who started it and what did the unlucky owner say when he came to retrieve his car? This you must take up with my two older brothers who are obviously wiser, more experienced and fully capable of giving a sound explanation.
Another time a friend of mine came with me to the ranch after we shot (and missed) ducks at his grandfather’s duck club outside of the town of Williams. We had driven over to the club the day before and had taken a long time to arrive due to a variety of unforeseen circumstances. Since we slept in that next morning and missed the hunt we hastened over to shoot at the Grace Ranch. My friend, Bob, had on a new suede jacket. Bob made the mistake of stating that he wished his jacket had a broken-in look. My brothers and Mark Rafanelli were more than happy to accommodate him. Perhaps Bob wasn’t really acquainted with their methods and mind-set. His jacket was quickly hung on a fence post and they proceeded to break it in by shooting at it. Only later did we discover that he had a box of shells in the pocket of the coat and luckily they didn’t hit the pocket. Bob did get his coat broken in that day-and I have no idea what he told his mom.
The Shot Heard ‘Round the World (or at least in Williams)
This concerns another kind of shot-one made from a moving vehicle-but no gun this time. Mom would send us off to go duck hunting with her chili casserole- which was Dennison’s chili layered with and topped with corn chips. We combined that with a liberal use of beer. The results are, I think, self-explanatory. Many of our hunting guests were greatly impressed by our South-of- the Border delicacy. However, brother John came up with the most creative use of the casserole. It was used as a projectile to be launched from the front seat of the 1964 International Scout (an amazing semi-four wheel drive vehicle with a four-cylinder engine and totally devoid of any speed or power) by John towards Gary Rache’s car-a Nash Rambler I think. We were coming home from hunting on a Sunday and traveling through Williams and we had the chili dish in a bag in the front seat of the car for some reason. John decided that it would be a waste not to let Gary have some of the chili so he rolled down the window and let fly with the bag. Jim claims it was the most amazing shot he has ever seen –the entire bag of mom’s chili, thrown from a moving vehicle at about 55mph (top speed for the Scout) landed inside Gary’s car (which was traveling alongside us-he couldn’t outrun us because his car was more gutless than ours) totally covering him and the inside of the windshield and seats. Truly a miracle shot.
The Healdsburg Ranch
We grew prunes, apples, peaches, strawberries and anything else that would sell on the Healdsburg ranch. Primarily, however, it was a prune ranch. Prior to growing prunes we grew hops on the ranch. The hop blight wiped out the hop fields in Sonoma County after WW11 and the use of a hopharvesting machine lead to a shift to larger fields outside the county. The last hop crop harvested in the county was in 1961.
Most of my family memories date from the ’55-’58 period. I remember so many days riding with Dad in the summertime to the Healdsburg ranch and he let the three of us go about the ranch driving trucks (well, Jim actually drove being the oldest) and swimming in the Russian River. The Healdsburg ranch was over 340 acres located off Westside Road on Foreman Lane and it bordered the river. You can imagine the fun for three boys, plus friends, getting on a water truck and watering down the roads and then heading out to the river to swim for the rest of the afternoon. Captain Jim, being all of twelve or so at the time, was in charge of driving and of taking care of his very obedient younger brothers. We would strip down and dive in the river with no lifeguards, no tubes, life jackets, etc. I guess in looking back it was a little like Tom Sawyer. Not until I was older did I appreciate the total freedom that we had.
Either brother Jim or Frank Noonan (a good buddy of Jim’s-born on the same day as Jim) was driving dad’s car going through the orchards when he clipped a young fruit tree. Obviously he was driving too fast for the roads but no one said a word to dad all the way home. And we did get all the way home and, in fact, parked in the garage without any mention of the incident. We knew we should have told him but we didn’t and we all let out a sigh of relief that we had not gotten caught and just might get away with something. But this was not to be. After turning off the motor, Dad asked who was driving when the car was dented and the tree run over. Busted and we thought we were home free. When you are young you have no idea how obvious your pranks and screw-ups are to adults around you. Dad had a very clever way of obtaining the truth. I don’t remember the punishment but it was enough to have violated his trust. He did give us a little room-perhaps enough to hang ourselves.
John and I were working in the prune orchards when we were in junior high( driving the flatbed trucks and loading the prune boxes) and I mentioned to one of the workers, Roy I think, that I wanted to play football when I got bigger. He kept me talking about playing football and other things (he used to tell us all sorts of stories about his navy days and the nature of women…none of which I understood) and finally told me that if I wanted to build big muscles I should eat a bag of warm prunes just out the dryer. Of course I did that with the inevitable result. The next day I walked up to the flatbed prune truck a little bow-legged and he just about fell off the truck. A rite-of-passage I guess. He was an Arkie (migrant worker from Arkansas) and his partner, was a black migrant worker, and they were pretty smart guys-smart enough to get John and me to lump the boxes while they drove. The boxes weighed up to 80-90 pounds so it was a good days work. We got paid $1.25/hour so we were happy enough to buy some very cool school clothes( Levis and Pendletons of course). And maybe not so smart
Jimmy Jimenez was the leader of the Filipino community on the ranch and he lived just behind a large single-story barn. I remember well is the cock fights that the Filipinos had on Sundays. Money flying, blades being placed on the leg of the roosters, the beautiful colors, a flurry of wings and. inevitably, the absolute bedlam that took place in the arena and a winner and a loser. Around the roosters were brown faces and a handful of white faces mixing in to watch the action. The two combatants were handled by their owners and they grabbed the roosters around the body while another man would tie on the blade. Then they would enter the circle of onlookers/bettors while the money kept flying between the bettors. At the announced time they would drop/shove the roosters toward each other and they would begin flailing at each other. Sometimes it was over quickly and one would emerge triumphant. I just remember it was terribly exciting and bloody. It was illegal so from time-to-time the law would show up and bust someone for appearance sake. Cousin Bill Grace tells the story that he and dad (Jack Grace) came in one time riding in dad’s red convertible pretending to be the cops and people scattered in every direction. It was part of the cultural tradition of the Filipino community and I don’t believe we gave it any thought other than it was pretty darn exciting. Bill remembers driving Tom up there one time to see the fights and enjoy some hospitality at Jimmie’s. Bill was the driver at age 16. Jimmy’s house was where the action seemed to be.
Everyone learned to drive at the ranch-probably from age ten or so. It didn’t make any difference what we drove as long as we could drive something. When we were teenagers, being able to drive different vehicles from tractors to flatbed trucks was a great source of pride. I can also remember driving a forklift at the brewery when I was about 11 years old and almost tipping it over. It scared the heck out of me and I hoped my dad didn’t see how dumb and careless I was. When John and I worked in the prunes in junior high we were driving the tractors and old Model A trucks hauling a trailer for the prune boxes. I can remember trying to back up the trailer amongst the wooden prune props that held up the branches. It was an obstacle course with a full cast of pickers to watch and laugh at your mistakes. A Filipino man named Yarita would occasionally make one of us drive when he got in amongst the prune props and we had to turn around between the rows. Still, it was driving and we loved it. Not many boys our age could make that claim. At lunchtime we could take off and drive through the ranch to grab an apple or a peach. It was a young man’s delight and a great life experience.
It seems crazy today but back in the 1950’s and 1960’s school was often postponed so the prune crop could get picked. This was usually the end of August to the middle of September. Obviously, the farmers needed the labor. Everyone from that era has a prune-picking story. Can you imagine that happening for the grapes today? Child protective services, lawyers, psychologists and trauma specialists would have to descend on the kids to make sure they were ok. Oh well. The thing was any kid could earn his own money by just going out and picking prunes.
The famous poison gas episode
I remember another story that involved Yarita. Gene Fillipini was a foreman at the brewery and the ranch and he would drive John and me and Sam Bellazini to the ranch each morning during prune season. Sam was in charge of the field workers because he spoke some Spanish-actually mostly Italian but close enough to communicate. One morning Yarita rode with us and John had a strange gastrointestinal/esophageal medical phenomenon. His burps actually burned our eyes-which John thought was the greatest trick he ever came up with. Silent burps that carried an unbelievable odor that assaulted your nose immediately. Yarita yelled out “ Poison gas, poison gas, Johnny!” and we would roll the windows down. This was repeated all the way the Healdsburg-about 20 minutes away…and at 6:30am. John was so happy he was almost crying. So were we.
Grace Tract and Dynamite Cave and Exploring the Hill
The names of the streets in the Grace Tract:
The Grace Tract was started in 1939 but really didn’t get going until after the war. It reaches from Bryden Lane to East Foothill Dr bounded by Grace Dr and Grosse Ave. It is the same land that Moses Grace farmed until his death in 1940. The origin of the names of the streets is pretty simple: Pamela, Patricia, Julianne and James from the Grace family and Mendota from the cotton ranch in Mendota county and Delevan from the rice ranch near Maxwell. Norte Way I believe was named for a family friend Norte Forsyth. And Finlaw and Geary from a great family friend Finlaw Geary, a local attorney.
It was a veritable paradise for kids growing up in the 1950’s. They could slide down the hill on waxed Grace Brothers beer boxes that were located in an old barn behind the old house or explore Dynamite Cave, shoot their BB guns or trap raccoons and then head for home when the brewery whistle sounded at 5 pm. Dynamite Cave was a place of intrigue and many stories. Just a while ago a friend asked me how big it was… and could it still be found. I just remember being able to crawl in about 10 to 15 feet. I know Uncle Tom had his friend Ben Race (a local civil engineer) fill it with cement because of the fear of someone getting hurt. Ben said kids cleared the opening so it remained accessible for a few more years. It was located on the east side of Grace Heights just around a bend. You go onto Alta Vista and the go east on Chaparral Rd and veer to your left…and in someone’s backyard you will find the infamous Dynamite Cave. You could look out to Rincon Valley /Hwy 12 area from just outside the cave. Local lore regarding the origin of Dynamite Cave ranged from Chinese workers buried there, to treasures from bank robbers, to a make-out place for teenagers. The real make-out place in the late 1950’s was Happy Valley Court-just about a ¼ mile from Dynamite Cave. Kids would sneak up on couples parked at night and scare them and them run for their lives into the hills. A great Friday night activity.
Sliding Down the Hills
There were a couple of fairly steep hills on the ranch and local kids made these into slides that a whole generation of kids can remember spending their Saturdays going up and down on GB beer boxes. They were waxed so it made it easier to slide down the hill. This was a great afternoon for any kid from six to twelve years old…just sliding down the hill, tumbling off from time-to-time and then going over to the barn located close by where the boxes were stored and catching blue belly lizards. There was no worry about gangs or other dangers and the usual nicks and scrapes that were encountered were cleaned up before dinner. No excuse for being late for dinner since the brewery whistle could be heard all the across town sounding at noon and five o’clock. Below the hill were the prune orchards (now Grosse Ave) where most of the kids had picked prunes at on time or another. All of this was easily accessible since there were no gates-or fences to keep you out-not that that would have stopped anyone. The moms got the kids out of the house for a whole day and we got to play whatever came to mind. If you ask anyone who grew up close to the ranch and Dynamite Cave, they will tell you their stories about it. The time and the area were really a kid’s paradise.
All the kids in our family remember the brewery picnics at the Santa Rosa ranch. There was a pig turning on a spit, toilet paper races and 3- legged races, there were lots of kids running around and playing and lots of food and room to roam. We have a little movie footage from one of those picnics and you can see the adults with a GB in hand and the kids and adults involved in the races and everyone having a good old time. I assume that the employees and their families and family friends were invited. In the appendix there is a picture of the four remaining Grace Brothers with a cold beverage in hand.
The beer strike of 1963 and other tales
All of us kids worked at the brewery during the summer, including cousin Cathy, who did office filing in a “safe”. She recalls it as being very boring. Jim and John had the best jobs-they worked in the brew house. Bill lumped trucks and worked on the bottling line…at least for a short time. It seems that Bill decided to sample a few of the beers coming by him…. They were so close he could just reach out and grab one. So he did sample a few and, as the story goes, he fell off the chair while working the line. Of course, this could just be another example of his mean and jealous cousins spreading false rumors. Jim worked at the brewery in the late 1950’s and early 60’s and John and I worked there through the next-to-last summer we owned the brewery, 1965.
I am not sure why we were not allowed to work the next summer but I have always assumed it had to do with the option/sale of the brewery that came later that year. But we had a good run at it and all enjoyed working at the brewery and mostly we enjoyed the great union wages. When everyone else we knew was getting $1.25 to maybe $1.50 an hour we were pulling down over $3.00/ hour. With wages like this it took me three summers to get enough money to buy my first car-for $1,000.And it was a beautiful 1957 Corvette-the absolute envy of both my brothers. I sold it nine months later for my first BSA motorcycle.
The brewery workday included two fifteen-minute breaks and a one-half hour lunch. Some said the union helped break the brewery. I guess when you look at the minimum wage ($1.25) of the day compared to the brewery pay there may be some truth in that. But for a high school kid in the 1960’s it was a golden opportunity and that paycheck was always a source of pride. However, since you were summer help that meant you were on the second shift, and since there was not always a second shift in the bottle house you were never sure of how much you would work in a summer. If you lumped the trucks (rode with the driver and stacked the cases and generally did his grunt work) you were in line behind all the older married guys so work could be sporadic but still financially rewarding.
During the brewery strike of 1964 for some reason Grace Bros was not out on strike. I don’t know exactly why we didn’t go on strike and why we weren’t picketed when we continued brewing and selling beer. Bill Grace thinks it may have been Tom’s relationship with the unions and also Tom’s relationship with the employees at the brewery. At any rate there was lot of overtime and we made great money until the strike was settled. I lumped that summer and received time and on- half after ten hours and the driver got it after seven and one-half hours so there was great incentive to work long shifts. I am not sure any of the drivers broke the speed limit; however, the trucks we had at the time probably couldn’t have done it anyway. A good summer and lots of work and good pay.
Now understand that quite clearly the brew house was the place to work. There were times of hard work I’m told though I never witnessed them…all I remember is John sunning himself on the roof in his rubber overalls. I am told that Jim and John actually cleaned the different tanks used in the brewing process and that they had to shovel the malt and hops into the various tanks. If you listen to them it was all work and no play. However, that may not be totally accurate. There was a fair amount of downtime but in all fairness when it was time to clean the 30,000-gallon vat after the wort transfer or cleaning a fermenting tank they worked extremely hard. What I envied was being at the heart of the brewery-where the brewing process happened. For some obscure union rule only two relatives of the owner could work in the brew house so I worked in the yard, on the bottling line, lumped one summer, and then finished with the best of all-relief work where I would relieve the various men working in the bottle shop (except the really technical jobs) for their 15 minute break then start on the lunches, then start the second 15 minute break and then clean up. Variety was the key. It was a wonderful job and I ended my day making sure the refrigerator in the Tap Room was full for the community groups coming in. By full I meant full of beer. I will say that the endless monotony of stacking of cases of beer all day taught me the value of education-which was probably part of Uncle Tom’s plan.
The Tap Room
The Tap Room was a room located on the second floor of the brewery above the bottling line and it did, indeed, have a magic refrigerator that was always full of cold GB. I encountered many of the town’s leading citizens in there and it was enlightening to see many of them have a good time and drink a few beers, maybe more than a few and wander out. The Tap Room was legendary in Santa Rosa for the many meetings held there and the hospitality Grace Bros Brewery extended to the community. Many of the old coaches told me the North Bay League Coaches Association held many meetings in the Tap Room. That brings up images of very strong-minded men having a few beers and settling disagreements and old grudges amicably-hopefully. The walls were lined with beautiful beer steins that we all loved. When Tom passed away the steins went to a Safeway salesman and it about broke our hearts. We all felt if Tom had been alive we would have kept the steins. Also, there were wonderful captains tables and chairs. That seemed to perfectly complement the décor and ambiance of the room. It was always was always open to family friends and almost anyone else who did not abuse the privilege It was a marvelous meeting spot for Santa Rosans in the 1940’s through the 1960’s.
The employee room was always full of beer also and a good spot to stop at on the way out. It was located on the first floor just off the bottling line. My friend Vic Colli and Jim’s buddy Steve Langs got very comfortable with this room which also had a magic refrigerator. On a few Friday nights Vic would wait f in the lunch room for me to get off my shift and talk with the guys on break and have a couple of beers as he waited. Since I worked the second shift and did not get off till around ten o’clock it was a great place to hang out -particularly for a 17 year old boy. Tom gave us a bit of freedom in that regard but I suppose with so many Santa Rosa policemen working at the brewery maybe we were in good hands. In Santa Rosa at that time if anyone underage was caught imbibing while “out on the town, “ it was “pour out the beer and get your butts home …and if I see you back on Fourth Street I am taking you in”. A bit different from today but Santa Rosa was a town of 40,000 or so and most of us knew the police in town. Actually, my brothers knew them better than I did- at least that is my story.
The Older Guys One Friday Night
One Friday night the college guys on the second shift in the bottling line said everyone was to drink a beer at every break-that amounts to three beers by the last break. Probably easy work for a college kid but I was 16. I think I made it halfway through the lunch break beer and decided I was in over my head. The older guys kept up their pace and then hit the employee room before rolling into the night. I remember Pete Magrini and Pat De La Forest from that summer crew-and I think Bruce Reading. As mentioned before, Tom would hire lots of college kids for the second summer shift and that always meant new faces mixed with the young veterans of a couple of summers. It was a great place to work and imagine going back to college and telling your buddies your summer job was at a brewery! Not bad work. A great many Santa Rosa athletes were hired by the Grace Bros over the years to work the second summer shift. I know it was their way of supporting the town and athletics in particular.
Yates, Noonan and Mac
Two of my brother Jim’s buddies, Bob Yates and Frank Noonan, got jobs one summer as lumpers on the delivery trucks. Mac (short for MacFarlane) was the Teamster union rep at the brewery and a serious union rep at that. He hated it when the helpers slept while he had to drive. Both Bob and Frank could sleep easily. This did not endear them to Mac. I think he figured since he had to drive and stay awake so should the helper. Jim tells me that Frank was the real pro…he could fall asleep at the drop-of-a-hat. When I got hired to work the trucks the next year all I heard from Jim and others was don’t sleep if Mac is driving. I knew all about Yates and Noonan and others who had gone before me and I tried my best to keep awake…but the power of suggestion and the gentle rocking of the cab…. You get the picture. Mac even admonished me not to sleep like Yates. I slept and Mac fumed. I probably didn’t help my cause by asking him why we couldn’t make two runs to Safeway in one day since there was plenty of time to do so and it seemed a waste for the guys to come back early from Richmond (where Safeway was headquartered at that time) and just sit around the employee lunchroom until their 7 ½ hour shift was up. My rides with Mac were quiet rides.
Jim and Bill’s Seven-Up Can Adventure
It seems that one day a shipment came in from American Can Company and in the shipment was a batch of Seven Up cans-obviously by mistake. The two cousins, Jim Grace and Bill Grace, decided that filling these cans with GB was a wonderful experiment and a marketing must-do. This they did and happily drove around drinking their new Seven Ups. Every teenager’s dream I guess. Bill was working the filler and I guess Jim was stacking cases. Some of the other employees must have known or else these two were geniuses. At some point in time they ended up telling Uncle Tom of the adventure and he said that that could have closed down the brewery. I really don’t know why Tom didn’t want us to continue in the beer business.
Jim Uses Uncle Tom’s Car
This story is really about poor Uncle Tom and his nephews (actually nephew). Jim borrowed Tom’s beautiful blue Plymouth for a date one Friday night in about 1960 and went to get gas at a local gas station. Somehow he was talked into (his version) cutting the springs and lowering the front end of the car-a very cool thing to do to a car in the 50’s and 60’s. It was also called “raking” the car. So Uncle Tom’s car was raked and radical and there really was only one problem: two nuns from the Ursuline convent needed it the following morning early so they could go to a church function in San Francisco. Jim was not able to correct the lowering job he had done before the nuns drove the car. So there was Jim watching, along with Uncle Tom, as the two nuns in their black and white habits, drove down the street in Tom’s blue Plymouth –raked and wobbling. It was lowered so much in the front that the car actually jerked down the road because the suspension system had been altered so radically. When I heard this story years later I finally understood Tom’s reluctance to let me borrow any of his cars.
Santa Rosa JC Hockey team and Grace Bros. Brewery
Yes, there was a real hockey team in Santa Rosa. Back in 1939. Joe Grace, a strong supporter of local athletics as well as a wise businessman, built an ice arena on the backside of the brewery property. I believe he had heard that a competitor was going to build an ice arena so he beat him to it. In conjunction with the UC Berkeley ice hockey coach, Joe concocted a plan to bring down a dozen or so Canadian men 17 to 18 years old, who had grown up playing hockey since they were just out of diapers. With 4 Americans on the team, the SRJC football and baseball coach, Cook Sypher, taught himself the game and how to coach it. And coach it he did! The team was called the Polar Bears. Local merchants including Grace Bros Brewery employed these boys, and Cook enrolled them in night school. So successful were they, that they beat USC, Cal and UCLA in succession in 1940.
Local folks did not become rabid skaters but they did become hockey fans. Imagine having 2,500 people inside the ice rink and 1,000 standing outside in the rain to watch the local team beat USC! Keep in mind the total population of Santa Rosa was just over 12,000 at that time. They played the northwestern champions on New Years Day and defeated them 16-1. Cook said this was the equivalent of 150-6 in football. The brewery paid the players .35 cents an hour. They were young men playing hockey, going to school and working at a brewery-a young man’s idea of paradise.
However, this paradise did not include hot showers for them after the games. The hot water never did get hooked up. One of the hockey players remarked recently at a SRJC Hall of Fame Dinner that the fact the games were played at a brewery definitely helped recruit players and opposing teams. Larry Silvestri, said, “I could never understand why the big university teams came to play us, but now I understand. That (Grace Brothers) beer was awfully good.” The hockey team lasted for two years until WWII took the boys back home to fight for Canada in the war. But it was a galvanizing time for the players, the JC and the town.
( Hockey Team photo here)
(Thanks to Gaye LeBaron for information and photo)