Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Silicon Valley and traffic-light heaven

December 25, 2014

Casa Grande in New Almaden, built 1854 . The red brick was painted white at least 10 years ago. Home of the Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum.

Casa Grande in New Almaden, built 1854 . The red brick was painted white at least 10 years ago. Home of the Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum.

Recently on one of my regular rides on a certain road in the heart of Silicon Valley I discovered the longest stretch without a stop light.

Qualifier – it has to be a public road used by cars. Any road north of Blossom Hill Road in San Jose and south of Palo Alto.

Do you know where it is? Distance? Send me your guess.

Answer: Central Expressway between Mary Avenue and Bowers Avenue – 3.8 miles. There are only three stoplights (counting Owens Corning) continuing on to De La Cruz Blvd., 5.8 miles.

When the river runs dry

November 9, 2014

An old bridge reveals itself at the bottom of the empty Chesbro Reservoir near Morgan Hill.

An old bridge reveals itself at the bottom of the empty Chesbro Reservoir near Morgan Hill.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the drought continues. I checked out Chesbro Reservoir, which is at 1 percent, on Oak Glen Avenue.

Uvas Reservoir is at 3 percent, Guadalupe 4 percent.

Chesbro is so low that a bridge over the old road is clearly visible. Why are all these old roads at the bottom of reservoirs?

Horse and wagon needed easy access to water, so they followed the creeks. It wasn’t until the advent of more reliable car radiators in the 1930s that easy access to water wasn’t a big deal.

In the 1950s when the local reservoirs were built, the were roads moved to higher ground.

Asphalt Bungle – the road to Bear Gulch is paved with bad intentions

September 21, 2014

I wrote about the road many years ago. Here's a little history.

I wrote about the road many years ago. Here’s a little history.

Some wonderful scenic country roads course through the Santa Cruz Mountains and Bear Gulch is one such road, about a mile south of Kings Mountain Road at Hwy 84.

It bridges Skyline and 84, looking a lot like Old La Honda Road, but a bit steeper and straighter.

Surrounded by redwoods and a canopy of madrone and tan oak, it passes by the California Water Service watershed to the north and Wunderlich County Park to the south. As with many roads in the area, it was built for logging redwoods in the mid-1800s, before being purchased by San Mateo County in 1899.

As local cyclists know all too well, it’s closed to the public. Electronic gates block both ends to keep out all but occupants of about 25 residences near the road, tucked between watershed and parkland.

Here’s the rub
The county spent $350,000 in public monies to help pave the road. In fact, ever since 1964, San Mateo County has done more than its share to help landowners build their dream homes on Bear Gulch Road. Residents got together to form an assessment district back in 1964 and over the years the county approved it and finally paved the road in November 1979 at a cost of $1.2 million, with residents chipping in about two-thirds of the cost.

But like several roads up and down the Peninsula, it is partially owned by the county — and remains exclusively private.

Before the road was closed, the county seemed eager to keep the area open to the public and provide a road for residents as well. It hired a Redwood City engineering firm to design a road 22 feet wide, broad enough for two fire trucks to safely pass one another.

The public didn’t go for it. Who needed a road as wide as Highway 84? And besides, it was too costly.

Residents continued to pursue the idea until 1974, when Martin Wunderlich made a generous offer to sell Wunderlich Ranch (now Wunderlich Park) bordering Bear Gulch Road at an extremely low price. If taxpayers didn’t want a huge road before, now, with this classy land addition, they would never approve.

Bill Royer, chairman of the county board of supervisors at the time, and himself a former real estate developer, helped find a solution.

The county said that the area was a headache, that it was impassable during winter rains and sometimes closed in the summer from fire danger. Residents complained about people shooting guns and raising a ruckus.

Bear Gulch Road property owners met with county supervisors and public works director Sid Cantwell in 1976. County officials decided to abandon the road, then pave it at its current width of 12 to 16 feet, installing gates to keep the public out.

Not only would the landowners have their paved road, it would be private. In return, the county got a bargain on a paved fire road and access to Wunderlich Park for park vehicles in exchange for turning it over to private use.

A month after the road was paved, county supervisors held a public hearing to see if anybody objected to abandoning the road. Since the road width was not up to county standards [are they ever?], the county supervisors declared it as unsafe for public use; the vote for abandonment was unanimous.

Today the road is one of the best-maintained roads in the county, partly because it has so little traffic. Its surface is as smooth as the day it was paved [it was smooth back in 1989].

Even though it is the same width as nearby county roads, it has been declared unsafe, not just for cars but for bicycles, horses and pedestrians.

Mt. Hamilton summit around 1970

August 1, 2014
Mt. Hamilton summit around 1970. From left: John Hiatt, Anwyl McDonald, Dave Lucas, George Varian, Jobst Brandt with his orange Cinelli.

Mt. Hamilton summit around 1970. From left: John Hiatt, Anwyl McDonald, Dave Lucas, George Varian, Jobst Brandt with his orange Cinelli.

San Jose History Park Looks Back at Bikes

July 27, 2014

Schwinn bikes on parade at Kelley Park.

Schwinn bikes on parade at Kelley Park.

On Sunday, San Jose’s Kelley Park saw a bike gathering of epic proportions as two bike events meshed into one: Shiny Side Up Bicycle Day and the exhibit “Bikes: Passion, Innovation & Politics Since 1880″ opened inside the Pacific Hotel’s Arbuckle Gallery.

I’ll get to the history part in a second, but first a little about Shiny Side Up. Like car collecting, bike collecting is a niche activity.

If you’re into the old Schwinn balloon tire bikes and “chopper” bikes, southsydecycles is the place for you.

Schwinn made millions of single-speed town bikes, and it looked like every one that’s left was on display in the park. My parents couldn’t afford a name-brand like Schwinn so we kids got the J.C. Higgins Flightliner, circa 1960, sold by Montgomery Ward.

Now let’s take a look inside the Arbuckle Gallery and see what’s in store for cycling history aficionados.

Local history
There’s a lot of history packed into a small area, starting with the earliest bike on display, a velocipede (a name coined by the French) built in the mid-1800s. These bikes with steel rims were aptly nicknamed boneshakers.

Beautiful photo on display in Arbuckle  Gallery.

Beautiful photo on display in Arbuckle Gallery.

In my mind, bicycle design took a step backwards with the big-wheel penny farthing in later years, mainly because they were so difficult to ride, mount and dismount.

The first safety bikes that looked and worked like today’s bikes are also on display, including one of my favorites — the bike without a chain. Instead of a chain, it has rear-stay direct-drive geared shaft. (Check out the wood rims.) There’s a modern version of this bike. I don’t imagine it sells all that well, but if you really don’t like chains, it’s a decent option.

No more chain. Drive- shaft technology.

No more chain. Drive- shaft technology.

There’s a display case devoted to Clyde Arbuckle, who by all accounts was a walking encyclopedia of San Jose history in later life (1903-1998). He was, in fact, the city historian. But more importantly, he was a cyclist and winning bike racer in his youth. Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet him, or his son Jim, who died while cycling, age 72.

There’s also tribute paid to Spence Wolf (Cupertino Bicycles), Ellen Fletcher (Palo Alto City Council), and John Forester (bicycle transportation engineer). I did a two-hour video interview with Ellen about her life a few years ago that I hope to post.

You’ll see some interesting bikes from the past, including a classic Cinelli track bike in pristine condition, and of course some mountain bikes, which were popularized by cyclists in Marin County and, to some extent, by South Bay riders.



Familiar faces
The real reward for showing up on opening weekend was encountering cycling acquaintances who have seen their passion evolve over the past four or five decades.

I talked with Chris Dresden about his recovery from a heart operation, and Ken Kratz, retired Santa Clara traffic engineer who helped design the San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail. Our paths had crossed years ago at work and while I was on the Santa Clara bike committee.

Trophy case for San Jose clubs going way back.

Trophy case for San Jose clubs going way back.

Finally, one of the co-curators of the bike display, Terry Shaw, walked around chatting with attendees. The retired owner of Shaw’s Lightweight Cycles in San Jose (1976) and Santa Clara (1984) had a heart transplant in 2011, as reported in the San Jose Mercury News, and says he is back riding and feeling great. He sure looks it!

Among pro bike shops, I could depend on Terry to have those rare parts that riders need for older bikes. But unlike some, Terry also catered to the regular bike crowd. One time he sold me a set of nice alloy rims for a beater 3-speed. He was the only shop owner that had alloy as opposed to the standard steel rim. Now there’s someone who appreciates all bikes.

Terry Shaw put his considerable knowledge of cycling history to good use.

Terry Shaw put his considerable knowledge of cycling history to good use.

Terry said that this display is just the beginning. He hopes that it can find a permanent home and continue to grow. That’s a worthy goal, considering the rich history of cycling in the Bay Area. Many of the bicycle inventions and trends of the 1970s-2000s have been here. The riding isn’t half-bad either.

He rode to the moon and back

December 8, 2013

HP's Homestead/Wolfe campus is giving way to Apple's new spaceship HQ. Jobst Brandt used to work at this location.

HP’s Homestead/Wolfe campus is giving way to Apple’s new spaceship HQ. Jobst Brandt used to work at this location.

I stopped by to see Jobst Brandt and as I was there I thought about all the miles he’s ridden. My estimate is nearly 500,000 miles, or to the moon and back.

He rode a bike since childhood, but I figure he had 50 years riding 10,000 miles a year, and that is a number he has used in correspondence. I have no doubt it’s true.

For a while in the 1970s, Jobst rode from his home in Palo Alto to the HP facility at Homestead and Wolfe Road in Cupertino. For a time I also worked nearby on Tantau and it was about 14 miles one way via Foothill Boulevard. Jobst rode both ways on most days, and on Sundays anywhere from 50 to 130 miles.

When he worked at HP Labs in Palo Alto, he always rode the Loop — Sand Hill Road, Portola Road, Alpine Road, Arastradero Road. He often complained about merging onto Page Mill Road at the I-280 exit. I hear ya.

For those of you who received the annual woodblock Christmas card, here’s one of my favorites, the avocet. It looks like he started doing these in 1965 and stopped in 2007, from what I could see.

Jobst Brandt woodblock carvings from the 1980s. There's something wrong with this photo. Guess.

Jobst Brandt woodblock carvings from the 1980s. There’s something wrong with this photo. Guess.

Cyclometers keep us honest

June 5, 2013

Jobst Brandt descends Haskins Hill on Pescadero Road, promoting Avocet tires.

Jobst Brandt descends Haskins Hill on Pescadero Road, promoting Avocet tires.

Among its many benefits, the Avocet cyclometer took the BS out of cycling. You couldn’t exaggerate how fast you sped down steep hills. I used to routinely hear Tour de France TV announcers talk about racers reaching 60-70 mph as though it were an everday occurrence. Hardly.

I don’t hear that kind of talk as much now, so to impress the uninitiated they go metric on us. “They’re descending at amazing speeds, 80-90 kph.” That’s more like it.

One of the best descenders I’ve known is Jobst Brandt. Not only was he a skilled rider, he was fearless, a pre-requisite for going 60 mph and beyond. At 180 pounds he had a weight advantage over the elite riders who took his draft, racers like Tom Ritchey, Sterling McBride, Peter Johnson, Keith Vierra and others.

Jobst had a key role in designing the Avocet cyclometer (bike computer). As an engineer and a cyclist he was a stickler for accuracy, which is why the Avocet cyclometer was the most accurate computer of its time.

So how fast did Jobst go? He clocked himself just over 60 mph descending the east slope of Tioga Pass. Jobst repeated that effort on Italy’s Fedaia Pass with Peter Johnson. Dave McLaughlin, past winner of the Mt. Hamilton road race, says he reached a similar speed on Tioga Pass, according his to friends following in a car.

You can’t appreciate how fast that is until you’re up around 50 mph. The slightest error means catastrophe — a rock, a gust of wind, a pothole.

I’ve read anecdotal reports of racers reaching speeds of 75 mph, but I’m skeptical. It would have to be under perfect conditions and with a tailwind. Few racers carry as much weight as Jobst, who also lugged a 20-pound saddle bag on his Alps rides.

Ted Mock takes photos for an Avocet tire ad with Jobst Brandt.

Ted Mock takes photos for an Avocet tire ad with Jobst Brandt in the mid-1980s.

Faber’s Bike Shop Memories Burn Bright

April 27, 2013

One legend admires another. Jobst Brandt checks out Faber's (closed) back in July 1983.

One legend admires another. Jobst Brandt checks out Faber’s (closed) back in July 1983.

Sadly, the historic Faber’s Bike Shop caught fire Thursday in downtown San Jose and will most likely be torn down. The building dates back to 1884 and had been used as a bike shop for 100 years.

Many San Jose residents have fond memories of the shop, which has seen its ups and downs over the years. It’s a part of San Jose’s history, no doubt. To get a real feel for the kind of place it was, watch this beautiful video photo montage by Bernardo Grijalva on Vimeo. His black and white treatment captures the rough-hewn wood-frame interior like nothing else I’ve seen.

Faber’s, located at 702 S. First Street, shared its historic roots with yet another bike shop nearby, Desimone’s Bicycle Store on 83 S. Second Street. It was owned by Joseph Anthony Desimone, who died in 1945. I don’t know when that shop shut its doors, but there’s an interesting article about one of the shop’s senior mechanics, Ed Barnes, in a past issue of Bicycle Journal.

Jobst Brandt and Peter Johnson inspect the bike wrecking yard at Faber's.

Jobst Brandt and Peter Johnson inspect the bike wrecking yard at Faber’s.

Mt. Hamilton History Reboot

January 6, 2013

A Northrop A-17 crashed into Lick Observatory in May 1939.

A Northrop A-17 crashed into Lick Observatory in May 1939.

I found a rather embarrassing error in my Mt. Hamilton by Bike publication, so I wanted to set the record straight regarding a fatal plane crash at the Lick Observatory.

I said the plane that crashed was a jet, which would have been impossible on May 21, 1939, when the accident happened. I was also off by a day on the accident. The first jet flight did not take place until August 27, 1939 — the Heinkel He 178.

Someone told me it was a jet and when I did the search online I found the account but did not follow through to identify the plane, which was a Northrop A-17 single-engine Army attack bomber, built around 1935-7. It could also be called a Douglas brand aircraft.

A thorough account of the tragedy was written in The Scientific Monthly, July 1939, and is now available online.

Once Upon a Ride…Stevens Canyon

November 11, 2012

Keith Vierra, center, waits for a rider to fix a flat on the single-track section of Stevens Canyon Trail, January 1982.

Stevens Canyon Stymies Vierra

November 23, 1980
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Keith Vierra, Rick Humphries, Ray Hosler, Bill Robertson, Bob ?, Matt ?
Weather: Cool, cloudy, rain
Route: Up Old La Honda Road, south on Skyline, down Page Mill Road, down Stevens Canyon, Foothill Expressway, home to Palo Alto.
Tire/Mechanical Failure: Bill – flat; Keith – slow leak; Jobst – chain clunk

After a heavy rain on Saturday, Jobst wisely tailored this ride so we could avoid muddy bikes, just dirty. When he saw a dirt path alongside Sand Hill Road he decided it wasn’t too muddy, so we could find a dirt road somewhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

We headed up Old La Honda Road at a rapid pace. On Skyline we rode through a chilling fog as clouds obscured the Coast, riding past Tom Ritchey’s new house, still under construction.

Predictably Jobst pushed big gears going up 1.2-mile hill on Skyline, which passes the overlook parking area.

About a mile down Page Mill Road we turned right onto Stevens Canyon Road (now called Trail), passing the sag pond on our left and open fields before the plunge into the canyon. At the Indian Creek Trail junction Keith commented, “It’s the steepest road I’ve ever been up.”

Meanwhile, Jobst wheeled up to an impassible ditch. We had to walk our bikes around a narrow, steep hiking trail with a 100-foot drop on one side.

Once at the bottom of the canyon we took a narrow trail to our left and then descended to a tributary that feeds into Stevens Creek. It was here the Keith thought he could ford the creek. Jobst dismounted and walked, but Keith would have nothing of walking. “Out of my way Jobst! I’m riding through.” Keith didn’t have much speed when he hit the water. He bounced among the rocks before his front wheel wedged into a rock and he went flying!

[Keith was an elite cyclist, competing in the Coors Classic stage race. In 1973 he won the Nevada City Bicycle Classic as a junior racer.]

After another short distance riding on the narrow road we came to a huge landslide. Jobst dismounted and walked, while we followed, gingerly picking our way across the steep slope.

Before we knew it we hit pavement on Stevens Canyon Road, but the rain started before we could exit the canyon and Bill flatted. With the flat fixed, we headed home on Foothill Expressway in the rain.

Riders negotiate the massive slide in lower Stevens Canyon, 1982.

Stevens Canyon 32 years later
That was then, what about now? I rarely ride in Stevens Canyon. I rode up from the bottom to check out the memorable creek crossing. It’s still there but there isn’t much water right now. The slide has been repaired and it’s now rideable — has been for years. Aging wooden bridges in Stevens Canyon are being replaced with splendiferous concrete spans.

Long ago cars drove the length of Stevens Canyon Road up to Page Mill Road. I don’t know if the road was paved all the way. I doubt it. At some point the road slid out and that was the end of it. It’s ground zero for the San Andreas Fault. When the earth moves here again the landscape will change. Enjoy it while you can.

Keith’s creek crossing. Not as easy as it looks, especially when there’s a lot of water.

Slide area. It’s rideable on a narrow single-track to the left.

Out with the old. Better capture this in a photo, because it won’t be here much longer.

In with the new. Wide bridges replace the old, narrow bridges. This section of the road is mostly used by cyclists.


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