CHOLAME VALLEY EARTHQUAKES
DONALEE L. THOMASON
Parkfield Road, Box 3565
San Miguel, California 93451
Excerpts from "Cholama - The Beautiful One, Cholame Valley History and its Pioneer People" written and compiled by Donalee Ludeke Thomason, Tabula Rasa Press, 1988. Available from the author.
The San Andreas earthquake fault is literally "as old as the hills!" Old, yet ever new. The fault has a definite personality, one moment a capricious child, the next a sinister adult gleefully exploding into action and hoping to scare the wits out of the faint hearted such as myself. Crunching anything that won't give to the power of its might, it then smugly settles back considering a job well done. There will be another day! Its attitude appears to be every man for himself and the Devil for all!!
The San Andreas fault was named by geologist A. C. Lawson after the San Andreas reservoir in San Mateo County. He and his partner, Mr. Anderson, and others were privately referring to the fault as the San Andreas as early as 1883, but it was not printed publicly until 1908 --- after the great San Francisco earthquake in 1906.
When talking to old time valley people, they eventually get around to telling about an earthquake they remember that happened in such and such a year. Earthquakes go with this territory, they always have and they always will, as long as there is an earth . . . .
From a Letter to the Editor of Salinas Index newspaper:
Imusdale, February 4, 1881. I left Salinas City January 23rd on horseback. I passed through Gonzales, Soledad, up Long Valley to the Peach Tree; thence through Slack's Canyon to Imusdale in Cholame Valley, where I am stopping at present, at the house of G. S. Gould.
Mr. Gould tells me that they have had 15 inches of rain this Winter one inch and a half has fallen since my arrival. On the 1st of this month we had seven shocks of earthquakes, the two first very hard ones, they knocked down several chimneys, one adobe store room of A. Imus, and one end of an adobe barn of Wm. Imus. At Mr. Parkinson's place it knocked down his chimney and I counted thirty quite large cracks in the ground running across the road. It also opened several springs of water on Mr. P.'s ranch; one I noticed between the house and the road boiling up quite strong. Just back of the house, it started sulpher springs and just where those sulpher springs are, the ground, about 20 paces square, is sunk about 4 feet.
After the March 2, 1901 earthquake in the Cholame Valley, C. W. Wilson, who worked at one of the stores on Oak Street in Parkfield, wrote a letter to his mother:
Sunday Evening. Well Ma, we have had a terrible shaking up down here. Last night at 20 minutes of 12 o'clock there was the heaviest shock of earthquake I ever felt --- my bed was jerked out in the middle of the floor. Nearly all the goods in the store was an the floor in an instant and the poor old Earth trembled and groaned like some person in great agony. At intervals ever since it has rumbled and shook. Daylight revealed a scene of destruction. Eight cases of eggs near the back door had fallen against it so I could not open it nor could I get to either of the other doors for debris piled in the aisles and on the counters. All the chimneys in town were shaken down and the ground is seamed for miles they tell me . . . Smiths, Durhams, and McConnells houses are badly wrecked and many more or less injured. Lou Fisher was here this morning and said she felt 38 distinct shocks. And she like myself was not scared only as she said it seemed queer to feel that what you had under you could not keep still . . .
Earthquake recollections by Norman F. Kester (as told to Donalee L. Thomason in 1985):
Buck Kester 87, has experienced four of the major earthquakes in the Parkfield Cholame Valley. In the 1901 shake he was about three years old, but Buck has great memory, and he say's that he can vaguely remember standing around up Lang Canyon where several men were rebuilding their fireplaces after the quake.
The next big earthquake came in 1922. Buck was working for Ben Carr, plowing with a ten horse team. The Carr house sits right on the San Andreas fault. As Buck recalls the shake arrived at around 3 A. M. He said he could hear dead limbs falling off the cottonwood trees, also the Carr children screaming from fright. He relates that a tramp had come the night before and had asked to sleep in the barn. The next morning the horses had stampeded and were gone from the barn --- and so was the tramp! The Carrs never saw him again.
Buck has said that he feels the 1922 quake was not as strong as the 1966 shock. Evelyn Fretwell Carr tells a story about Buck and the 1922 quake. It seems he was sleeping in a little room attached to the Carr house. The next day Buck made the remark, "I needed spurs to ride that bed"
Encounters with two M6 earthquakes (as recalled by Donalee L.
On June 7, 1934, my mother was in charge of an end of the school year program at the old Parkfield Community Hall. I was nine years old at the time. There were about twenty students who would give short recitations.
Electricity had not come to the Cholame Valley yet; it arrived in November of 1949. It was totally dark in the narrow passage behind the stage. In 1934 lights in the old hall were gas lanterns that hung from the ceiling.
The program was in progress around 8 P. M. when the foreshock arrived, and it was fairly heavy. The program came to a halt for several minutes. Someone in the audience said, "The big one always comes first, let's get on with the play." So on with the program. In about 17 minutes the person who made the preceding statement was proven wrong. The M6 earthquake arrived with a vengeance.
I remember being thrown back and forth against the walls of the narrow runway behind the stage. It seemed the hall was turning upside down there in the darkness for a few seconds. I could hear people screaming and trying to run to the exit, falling down of course.
The program came to a halt for the second time that evening. People stood around this time discussing what they should do. It was decided that the show must go on!
Little aftershocks kept arriving. By now we were out on the stage, and kept in a panic by these little unwelcome shocks. I've often wandered how we completed the program, and I've also wandered if that earthquake happened just to celebrate my mother's last day to teach in Parkfield. No one was injured, just badly frightened.
The next encounter, 32 years later:
On a hot Monday, June 27, 1966, our son, Douglas Henry, who at that time was a restless teenager, said, "This is really dullsville around here. I wish something would happen, even an earthquake!"
It was a warm afternoon, indeed, and I was talking over the telephone to my good friend Helen McClure Durham when we felt a very quiet, but very strong what I would describe as an earth pull --- rather than a bona fide earthquake. Helen Durham lived about two miles from us on the southwest side of the San Andreas fault.
Between eight and nine o'clock that evening the foreshock arrived, and it was heavy. Bill hurried down to the barnyard to see if the bulk gas tanks were still on their wooden stands (they were). Thinking back to the 1934 quake, I anticipated the possibility of a bigger shock, and acted accordingly.
Remembering what I had read in books, I stood in the kitchen doorway, took hold of the casing on either side of myself, and prepared to "hang on." This kitchen door was on the north side of the room, and I faced into the room. There was no rumble! The very first thing my ears recorded was similar to a great drawing in of a breath, or a suction sound may better describe it. Then a blast of hot air hit my back as the shock wave rushed forward along with the seismic land wave, it sounded like an angry hot hiss lashing forward with incredible speed.
I tried to hang onto the door frame. I looked toward the ceiling in the southeast corner of the kitchen. To this day I do not see how walls could have buckled down that much and snapped back into place. Dust was flying everywhere.
What I didn't see was the door coming straight at me from the right. It hit me hard enough to knock me down on one knee, but I kept trying to see and record in my mind what was happening. Looking directly across the room and up at the china cabinet, I was shocked to see its latched doors burst open as that wall buckled. The colored glassware shot straight out of the cabinet from the force and stood in mid-air. After a few seconds all the objects crashed and shattered on the kitchen floor. What a noise all this made, what with both fireplaces going down and boards popping and cracking, with items falling and breaking all over the house. I glanced at the floor and it was moving in a circle; I felt immediate motion sickness. At this time the electricity went off and everything was dark, but the noise continued.
That night, Bill and I slept in our car. Our little fox terrier dog begged to get into the car and sleep with us. He was as frightened as we were. The car rolled back and forth most of the night as the many aftershocks kept coming. Son Douglas elected to sleep in his bed but the next morning he said that he had to hang onto the headboard most of the night. Douglas was told never to wish for an earthquake again!
Later the Durham family said that the day before the big earthquake their dog hung under their feet all day. He made such a pest of himself they had to tie him up to keep from tripping over him.
When people ask me if I'm afraid of earthquakes, my standard reply is, "You had better believe it!" No one in the valley was injured in any of the earthquakes, and there was not too much damage to the houses, except for the fallen chimneys and loss of dishes.