John Hanes – June 12th, 2009

GEDC0083I met with John at The Boonville Lodge Bar & Grill and we decided that a little lunch and ice water, no beer, would probably be best for our ensuing chat…
John was born in San Francisco in 1936 but his family history goes way back to the days of the Revolutionary War. The Hanes family was loyal to the British and fled to Canada at the end of the hostilities where they settled in Ontario. Several generations later, John’s Grandfather, who was a preacher in the Salvation Army, arrived in Northern California in the 1890’s where he spread the ‘good word’ to various communities in his position as a lieutenant in the Outriders. John’s Grandmother was a Captain in the ‘Army’ and when they got married the authorities were upset and made it known that this was unacceptable. As a result they both quit…
In 1903 the family moved further south to Mendocino and began to homestead on Mountain View Road where John’s father, Ward was born. In those days there were no easements or right-of-ways issued – it was all done by gentleman’s agreement. As a result those settlers further back in the woods, away from the roads, had to ask permission to cross other’s land. The Hanes Family gave permission to the Crispin Family to cut across their land provided they closed the gates – the Crispins never did. This led to several very heated arguments over many years and fistfights had often broke out with the Hanes family invariably coming out on top. Then one day, in August of 1922, it came to a head. Yet another altercation broke out at a gate. Guns were drawn and shots rang out. John’s Grandfather had confronted several of the Crispin clan and was shot four times. Ike Crispin received one gunshot wound. Both died. The coroner, a relative of the Crispins, was not called and neither body was examined. The two main protagonists had died and the police decided there was no need for an investigation. From that day forward, John’s father swore, “there will be Hanes on this property long after the Crispins have gone!” He was right – the Hanes Ranch is still there, where John and three Hanes families have property. There are no Crispins left up there…
The Ranch could barely pay the bills so John’s father moved to San Francisco for work, initially on the trolleys before, in 1929, he joined the S.F. Police Department. He met and married Ruth Jacks of San Luis Obispo and over the next few years they had three sons, including John in 1936. With the U.S. involvement in World War 2, came fear of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast cities and so John’s mother and the three boys moved up to Boonville and lived in a house that was where the Boonville Hotel parking lot now exists, at the corner of Hwy 128 and Lambert Lane. They lived there from 1943 to 1946, before moving on the 3,200-acre Hanes Ranch for the final year of their stay in the Valley. During this time John attended the local school with classmates such as Dick Sands and Dwayne Ornbaun… On his return to San Francisco in 1947, John went to Longfellow Grammar School before eventually graduating from Balboa High School in 1954. He then spent the summer in Trinity County, northern California, as a firefighter for the U.S. Forestry – “the start of my government career”. He returned to the City and began work for Met Life Insurance Company – the first in a long series of jobs that would result in John “not working for anyone for more than nine months for a long time.”
In the winter of 1955-56 there was terrible flooding in northern California and John thought there would be lots of adventures and work repairing bridges and roads. However, the work had not started when he arrived and the bad weather continued so John headed south through Nevada and eventually reached Tucson, Arizona where he got a job as a busboy in the Elks Club restaurant. “It was the first time in my life I worked with a black person – I learned a lot from him, The wages were $1 hour and we got a little in tips from the waitresses…It soon got old and I was really missing my girlfriend back in San Francisco – we had got engaged before I left. When I returned she had decided I was some kind of ne’er do well and thought I had been really dumb to go off in the first place. She broke off the engagement. Her parents had also convinced her that ”that Hanes guy is a loser.”
“I was very upset and left the City, returning to the Ranch to work with my Dad who had retired from the police department and was running the place up here…I worked in the woods either as a Chain Setter or on the Green Chain, sorting out and pulling logs off the conveyor – both very hard and dangerous jobs for which I earned $1.80 hour. I knew many people who got injured, but not me, nevertheless, in the fall I decided to attend Santa Rosa Junior College and although I did return to work in the woods during the next two summers I knew I didn’t want to do that for a living.”
At Thanksgiving in 1957 John married his girlfriend, Virginia Meadows, whom he’d met at college. With her parents agreeing to pay for their room and board, they both remained in college and transferred to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo where John studied Mechanical Agriculture, and some Engineering classes, with a view to getting a job in the farm equipment business. Virginia became pregnant and their first son Derek was born in 1959. At this point Virginia’s parents began to express dissatisfaction that they were paying for John’s education but not their daughter’s and John was pressured to get a job. He quit school and applied to the Concord Police Department but after his initial acceptance after four months he was let go, surplus to requirements. “We had moved back up to Santa Rosa and our daughter Kim was born in 1960. I applied for many other jobs at that point and was accepted by P.G. & E but just before starting with them as a substation attendant, another job I had applied for came up and I accepted. It was for the U.S. Government Bureau of Public Roads in San Francisco, working on a survey crew.”
This job entailed John being away from the family for long periods and the strain began to tell. Once again, after less than nine months, John decided to move on and accepted a position in Madera for the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Soil Conservation Service. The family moved and a third child, Mark, was born in 1962. “I loved working with the farmers down there but couldn’t stand the boss I had – the most manipulative person I have ever worked for. I transferred within the Department after a few months and we returned to Santa Rosa again where I was a civil engineering technician working on the complex Santa Rosa flood control channels and its five dams. I had finally found a job where I was content and stayed there for many years, until 1974, by which time we’d built just about everything we could!”
After a series of trials and tribulations John and Virginia had finally split up for good in 1966 but he was able to see the three children every other weekend. Then in June 1968 he met Meda Athey, mother of three children of her own (Kevin, Cindy, and Scott), and they got married, son Wade being born in July 1970 – the first person in the family to get John’s father’s name. “It was Old Ward and Young Ward. The children all got along and we’d take all seven of them to Tahoe most summers where Meda’s family had a cabin.”
In 1974, John transferred to Davis where the Soil Conservation Service had their headquarters. The government had introduced a program by which they would pay for sixteen hours of the working week if an employee went to school for that amount of time. John began to attend U.C. Davis from where he graduated in 1980, at the age of 44, with a degree in Agricultural Engineering, all the time still working for the Soil Conservation Service…He ultimately retired in 1990 – “It had been a mixed lifestyle to that point in terms of rural and urban living. I had spent many summers up here in the Valley but obviously much of my life had been in cities too. I think I have a decent understanding of both.”
The Ranch had existed as the Larmour/Hanes/Campbell Ranch – the three branches of the family, and in 1932 John’s father started a Hunting Club on the ranch to help pay the bills. In 1947 it became the Hanes Ranch. Logging had been quite steady but by the mid-fifties it was a boom industry and there were over fifty sawmills in the Valley, timber was in great demand. “People say how the logging families damaged the land but the government had introduced a system whereby you would pay no taxes if you clear-cut the woods. So everybody did. My father, after selling all of our timber for $100,000, and paying $25,000 in capital gains tax, was left with $75,000. Not many people wanted to keep their logged land so Dad paid this amount to our nearby neighbors and was able to double the size of our ranch to 6,400 acres. Then other people, who had timber land-locked by our property, were prepared to give my father the deeds to their properties in return for permission to haul their timber out across our land. We ended up with 8,700 acres – mainly thick forests today, tough country; perhaps 30 acres are usable of which 10 acres are gently sloping. A few years ago we were ranked the 20th largest private timber holder in the State according to the Department of Forestry…When my father retired in 1955 he began to work on the logging access roads. I helped him over a few summers. He said, “we’d better build them now because there will come a day when you won’t be allowed to” – he was right. We have about seventy miles of roads up there.”
The Ranch, which is about eight miles out of Boonville, (John lives a further two and a half miles in) now has two Hunting Clubs, with perhaps thirty families belonging to each. The members can come and go as they please, there are forty-five cabins, and a waiting list to join. “My father, who started the whole thing, used to charge people the cost of our taxes for each unit plus just $10 on top. Some of the members have been coming up for five generations – they had a great deal. I had to talk him into increasing this in his later years and he agreed but insisted, ‘You go ahead but don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg’… They hunt for deer, turkeys, and occasionally hogs. Some use bow and arrows and in seventy seven years hardly anyone has been asked to leave – there are rules of course but the most important one is – ‘just don’t do dumb things’.”
On his retirement John concentrated on the Ranch work and also a passion that had become increasingly important to him – art and sculpting, with particular emphasis on the latter. He began to attend various classes, going as far as Crescent City for some of these. His first works were shown at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in 1992 and he then showed in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I made many contacts in the art world down there and from 1996-99 I showed my works as part of the ten-week show every year.” He has attended the festival down there every year since and the friends and contacts he has made are playing a very important part in the ‘John Hanes Gallery’ that he has almost finished building in central Boonville, designed by son Ward. “All those whose work will be on display are both good and serious – ‘coz they’re making a living out of it. To run a successful gallery those are the artists you need.”
“I have talked to many other gallery owners and they would all agree with this. Furthermore you cannot mix the quality levels – the same level of professionalism and abilities must be in all the works – I tell that to everyone who wants to show their work at the Gallery. I started this mainly because I was tiring of going to the Scottsdale Show every year. I want to do my own thing but am determined to maintain high quality and hopefully make Boonville a destination for art buyers. Of course, my ego has played a part in all of this but I also have a sense of legacy and when we bought the property from J.T. Ferrer’s grandson – the last piece of land that old family owned in the Valley – there was a condition: that I put up a statue of J.T., at the front of the building, there in perpetuity. I plan to put one of my grandfather there too – that would be very fitting…We hope to open in July sometime, with wine from Londer, and about thirty artists’ works on display – twenty painters and ten sculptures. No two will be alike in style or technique.”
I asked John where he liked to hang out in the Valley. “These days I love my coffee in the mornings at The Redwood Drive-In in Boonville. I am part of ‘The Philosophers Club’ who meet there most days,” he added with wide grin. “I like most of the restaurants in the Valley, each has its own unique crowd and distinctive menu…Since the Gallery construction began I have been in town a lot and enjoy seeing the same faces every day but I live up on the mountain and love to go out around the ranch roads on my A.T.V. I’m sure glad we built those roads but I can no longer go on horseback. I take a chainsaw with me and if any little jobs need doing I’ll do them, or ask Scott or Ward to. There isn’t a place I go up there that I don’t have a memory of. That process is really enjoyable – the heritage, the history, even the actual conversations – you know, ‘this is where Dad said this…or that’ It’s a special place for me.”
As I do each week I asked my guest for his brief responses to various ‘hot-button’ issues that concern many Valley folks…”Go ahead” said John, “I have an opinion on every subject. It’s free so you can take it for what it’s worth” he added with a laugh…The wineries? – ‘I love the wineries. The ranches were being put out of business because, with the outlawing of poisons and trapping, the coyotes were taking over and livestock couldn’t survive. Sheep were simply replaced by grapes – it’s too bad in many ways but we have to have some industry here. Logging is dying. I do not fault the wine industry – they provide income for many people. It used to be a beautiful pastoral scene here. Guess what? –  It still is. Growth happens and people not wanting that is a continuing problem. Without it we’d be like hundreds of other places across the country – a virtual ghost town.”…The A.V.A. newspaper? – I rarely buy it but will read it if I see a copy lying around somewhere and check in with the local stuff. I used to subscribe. I think if you learn to read it with a ‘jaundiced eye’ shall we say, then it can be good – just don’t believe all that you read.”…The local public radio station, KZYX & Z? – “I am not a member but find myself listening to it almost every day. I am a conservative or libertarian type but I do like to hear both sides. I do not like ‘Queer Radio’ and when that comes on in the evening I immediately switch to my favorite country and western station. I do like the Jimmy Humble show and the jazz presented by Point Arena John…I am a registered Republican and turn the radio off and make sure to turn on Bill O’Reilly on Fox news at 5pm.”…Law and Order in the Valley? – “Interesting question – let’s say I have always had a good relationship with the local deputies.”…The modernization of the Valley? – “I’m trying to speed that up!”…The logging industry? – “I’m all for it. The last few mills closing down is a bad thing. It’s too bad we cannot support this renewable resource industry.”

To end the interview, I posed a few questions to John many of which are from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
What is your favorite word or phrase? – “I like the word ‘stuff’. According to Harold Hulbert I say it a lot.”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “The ‘f’ word and the ‘n’ word. I had a black boss in Davis and he taught me so much about tolerance. Some people around here are still far too careless with their use of the ‘n’ word.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Nude women – they get my creative juices going.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Dogmas expressed by the liberals in our society. I get overwhelmed just thinking about how they can see things that way.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The playing of a flute”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “The popping of chewing gum.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “My Dad very occasionally said ‘hell’ or ‘damn’. I try to be the same and it is rare but I do say ‘damn’ sometimes.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – A book – ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ by Irving Stone about the life of Michelangelo. I am absolutely overawed by his accomplishments.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Some form of sculpting – I enjoy just doodling with any sort of material.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “An actor – I have been in the last two productions of the A.V. Theatre Guild and wonder what might have happened if I’d done it earlier. It’s been just a super experience.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “A doctor. I admire them but would certainly not wish to be one.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “That’s very tough to answer. It would have to be the births of my children and grandchildren – I am just awed by it every time.”

What was the saddest? – “Breaking up with my first fiancée. You remember these things. I have been sad but never depressed. That was a very sad thing for me.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I am an egotist by nature. I like to make art that others like. I also like to think that I’ve accomplished a lot of different things. In recent times putting together the Gallery has taught me much and doing the acting has shown my versatility.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – Well, ‘Come in John – I’m glad to see you.’ would be good. You certainly don’t want to hear the opposite!”…

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Published in: on June 24, 2009 at 5:03 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Congratulations,the gallery is beautiful and I hope to visit and see it in person. Mary told me about it. Your biography was interesting. I had no idea how big the ranch was—I have 40 acres and hope to add to it.

  2. Learned your internet site via yahoo the other day and absolutely find it irresistible. Carry on the truly amazing work.


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