Trucks, bombs and booze in old time Marin

Eileen, Bill and Anna Jensen at the family's ranch

Eileen, Bill and Anna Jensen at the family’s ranch

Highway 101 was a little two-lane road when 81-year-old Anna Jensen was growing up in Ignacio, located just north of the Golden Gate. In this month’s program, we’ll hear her talk with her son Bill about growing up there in the 1930s and 40s, when the restaurant down the road ran a bootlegging operation, and Hamilton Field was a thriving military post during WWII. The soldiers bought eggs and turkeys from her family’s ranch, before the military took it over; Tomales Bay was also used for bombing practice during those years. Anna also describes what it was like to move to the remote town of Tomales as a 19-year-old bride, where she helped her husband drive cattle trucks. The Jensen family, formerly the Irvin family, was one of the first to settle the town. Today Bill runs sheep and cattle on the ranch that has been in his family since 1856.

Listen  to the program by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.

Anna drives home in her jeep (complete with racing stripe)

Anna drives home in her sporty jeep (complete with racing stripe)

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The tenacious vines of Jackass Hill

Two teenagers eloped to California from Italy in the late 1800s. Guiseppe Martinelli had a dream of making wine, and  once he and his young bride Luisa arrived in the Russian River area he began scouting for the place he would eventually plant his first vines, on a few acres cleared from the forest. Today, his descendents are still farming, and growing grapes (as well as some apples). In this episode of the Story Shed, we will hear from Lee and Carolyn Martinelli, in conversation with two of their four children. Listen here for stories of  how grape vines took the place of apples–as well as tales of smuggling illegal fruit in the dead of night, and how one of their premier wines came to be called Jackass Hill.

Listen to the program by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.


Hanging on to the Home Ranch

In 1852 the five Marshall brothers came from Ireland to Marin, where they founded the town that still bears their name. Though the family once owned land from Tomales Bay to Bodega, it was gradually sold off, piece by piece. Today, the thousand-acre “home ranch” is the last of those original properties. Today beef cattle and sheep graze on the rolling hillsides, and chickens cluck around the 150-year-old barn.

In this interview we talk with Gary Thornton and his daughter Marissa, who are the descendents of the Marshalls, about their struggle to keep the ranch in the family. Since Gary’s father passed away in 2001, the family has been dealing with massive inheritance taxes – a common problem that make it hard for ranchers to keep the family property.  When Gary sold the development rights of the land to the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT)  in 2010, things got a bit easier. The family gets to keep their land, while the organization essentially pays them for the drop in property value that comes from limiting development potential and guaranteeing that they will keep the land in agriculture.

Gary and Marissa also talk about the amazing voyages the Marshall brothers took to get here, what life was like back when the San Francisco Bay Area was still a rugged frontier, and how Marissa plans to take the business over some day. Listen to the show by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.


Farming oysters by the bay

Pam Jensen and Theresa Harlan at the former town of Hamlet

Pam Jensen was raised on her family’s oyster farm in the train-stop town of Hamlet, on the northern shore of Tomales Bay. Her great-grandfather immigrated from Denmark in the 1880s and bought the farm that included the train stop and its town. Pam’s mother was of Coast Miwok descent and many of her relatives still lived around the bay when she married Henry Jensen in 1955.

Today there is no trace of the town, the farm or the restaurant that the Jensen family operated for over 50 years, and all of her relatives (on both sides) have left the area. In this episode of the Story Shed, we join Pam and her cousin, Theresa Harlan, as they visit Pam’s childhood home and reminisce about the old days. Join us to hear their conversation about picking and shucking oysters, and what it was like to be a Native American kid in a mostly white community. Listen to the program by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.

For more information on the town of Hamlet, you can read a detailed history that was prepared for the National Park Service by Dewey Livingston.

This show originally aired on KWMR radio station on June 21, 2012.


Native to Tomales Bay

Theresa Harlan and her husband Tiger at Laird’s Landing

Theresa Harlan’s mother grew up on the Point Reyes Peninsula during the 1920s in a mixed race household. Her father was Swiss-Italian and her mother was of both coast Miwok and Filipino descent. The family lived on the edge of Tomales Bay at the place now known as Laird’s Landing, and both her parents worked on nearby ranches. In this show, Theresa talks about their life there with her cousin, Pam Jensen, who grew up across the bay (at the oyster farm that had been in her family for generations).

Today,  neither Theresa nor Pam have any close family left in the area. Theresa says that many Native America families moved away during World War II, including her mother. Her grandmother passed on, and her uncle lost the land to a local rancher after a court battle during the 1950s. In this show, Theresa talks about her mother’s stories of her childhood on the point, and what it meant to her mom as an adult when the tribe finally gained Federal recognition. Listen to the show by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.:

Photos of Theresa’s family’s homestead are below, taken when her mother was young. And tune in on June 21 for the next episode of Story Shed. In it, we will go with Pam Jensen to visit the place where Jensen’s Oyster Company once stood and hear about her family’s life on the shores of Tomales Bay.

The Campigli family home at Laird's Landing

The Campigli family home at Laird’s Landing

Theresa's mom, Elizabeth Campigli, with Henry Jensen

Theresa’s mom, Elizabeth Campigli, with Henry Jensen

Bertha Felix Campigli with her cow at Laird's Landing

Bertha Felix Campigli with her cow at Laird’s Landing


Last of his line

Rich and Matt Gallagher

In this episode of the Story Shed we hear from 77-year-old Rich Gallagher, in conversation with his nephew, Matt Gallagher. Rich is the last of his immediate family to still be in the ranching business, and it’s likely to stay that way, since his son Tim doesn’t plan to take over. Though he sold his property in 2001, Rich still ranches under a lease on the land where he grew up – right at the intersection of Point Reyes Petaluma road and Nicasio Valley Road. This spot is known to many locals because of the American flag that always waves from the top of a roadside rock formation.

Rich describes the old days in the small town of Nicasio, where he says their life was a model of sustainability before the idea had become popular. Click the arrow below to hear to him talk about the dances and peddlers of his childhood, and how he came to sell the ranch, or download the mp3 here.:


Farming like they used to

A century and a half ago, a young orphaned girl named Ellen Fallon moved to the US from Ireland. Along with her big brother James, she settled in the rolling hills of Marin County. In the years since then, a town bearing their family name arose – and now has vanished. But her great- and great-great grandsons still work the land that has been in their family since 1875, raising sheep, beef and chickens much as their forebears did. Listen to Mike and Kevin Maloney talk about the old days, how farming is coming full circle, and making the difficult choice between “organic” and “local” (or, download the mp3 here).
Visit them at their website to learn about their products and markets.


14 gates from home

What would it be like to be a kid on on a windswept ranch, separated from the rest of the world by over a dozen closed gates? Wonderful, according to Sharon Doughty and her brother Joey Mendoza. Their family emigrated from Portugal to start a dairy farm in western Marin County at the turn of the century, and has been there ever since. Their family’s original ranch is still operating as one of the historic ranches within the Point Reyes National Seashore. In this episode they talk about a deep love of ranching and of the land they grew up on as they discuss their grandparents, parents, and their own lives spent on (or near) the Point Reyes Penninsula. Listen to their conversation by clicking the arrow below, or download the mp3 here.:


Return to the one-room school

Even today, there are a handful of kids getting their early education in one-room schoolhouses. In this episode we hear  Peter and Louise Dolcini who talk about teaching at one such school. Though Peter and Louise are now retired, the Lincoln School remains open today. Peter also was a student at the same school 80 years ago. Listen here as they talk about teaching, learning, and life in a rural community, or download the mp3 here.:


Reviving Redhill Farms

Keeping a family ranch viable is no easy thing in this modern age. Don Gilardi of Redhill Farm talks with his mother, Joyce, about how they worked together to rebuild the ranch that Joyce grew up on back into a thrivng business. Listen here: