Camp Meeker Beat - September 2011
Oh geez, it’s almost Labor Day. Another summer been and gone. That’s all right, because this month I’m going to talk more about some summers been and gone nearby. Last month I gave a very, very brief history of Morning Star Ranch, the classic hippie commune that flowered for a few brief years around the Summer of Love, and featuring many refugees from that scene. This month I hop over to the other side of Bohemian Highway to the other major west county commune, Wheeler Ranch. But first…some timely business.
Fire Department Website
Camp Meeker firefighter (and my neighbor!) Tony Tominia informs me that the shiny new Camp Meeker VFD website has a new addition: a blog. You can find it at www.campmeekerfire.org/blog. In this blog, Tony will keep us all posted on the doings of the fire department. It’s pretty good stuff, actually; I promise I will only occasionally raid it for fresh material.
All right, back to Wheeler Ranch. Last month, I gave the story of Morning Star Ranch, a 32-acre parcel on Graton Road owned by Lou Gottlieb, a member of folk group the Limeliters. After a couple of years of increasing law enforcement and/or harassment from The Authorities (no less a personage than Governor Ronald Reagan declared “there will be no more Morning Stars”), the jig was about up for Morning Star: Gottlieb was being fined $500 for contempt of court every time someone was found living rough on his land, and now he was being directly ordered to kick all the bums out.
Enter at this fateful juncture one Bill Wheeler, scion of the Wheeler and Wilson Sewing Machine Company fortune (they sold the company to Singer around the turn of the century, and did quite well on the sale) owner of 320 acres off Coleman Valley Road about halfway between Joy Road and Highway 1. Bill was friends with Gottleib and by extension his extended hippie family. In a weak moment (or perhaps one of beautiful transcendence, I’m not here to judge) Bill decided to open his 320 acres to the hippie hordes. Given that they had just been given their walking papers over at Morning Star, in the blink of an eye Bill and his wife Gwen found themselves with a rapidly growing number of house guests. Along with the guests came noise, cars, trash, children, and the occasional motorcycle gang.
Bill and his wife tried to be hospitable, requesting only that people refrain from building open fires during fire season, properly dispose of their human waste by burying it, no building in the open meadows (cows need to eat too). Some people cooperated, others decided that “we didn’t come here to be told what to do” and laughed off Bill’s remonstrations.
It was all getting kind of unpleasant for Bill and Gwen, and Bill started having second thoughts about the whole operation. Then on June 17, 1968, Bill and Gwen came back from town to find a surprise birthday party, complete with banners, balloons, strolling minstrels, and food. They decided that however difficult it was, opening Wheeler Ranch to the hippie hordes was, and I quote, “RIGHT ON.” And there were some right on things happening – spiritual seekers, musicians, do-it-yourself architects, organic gardeners. Neighborhoods started developing in various locations around the 320 acres. Visitors developed unique “canyon calls” when coming a-calling, hallooing from a distance of a hundred yards or so. If the visitee wished to receive the visitors, they could answer the halloo. If not, not.
How did it all turn out? You know how it turned out. The neighbors got edgy and nervous, then openly hostile. The more sociopathic about the free-thinkers ruined it for everyone with their disregard, making things tense and ugly at times. Sanitation and protein became in short supply. The sheriffs and the law eventually had their way, and Bill Wheeler received the same ultimatum as Lou Gottleib: kick all the hippies off your land, forthwith.
That is an extremely foreshortened history, of course; it’s a short column. Wheeler Ranch is now known as Ocean Song, and the residents there work hard to keep the positive lessons of Wheeler Ranch alive, and to learn from the mistakes. As should we all.