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Author: Subject: Chapter 6 Early Construction in La Salina
Baja Bernie
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[*] posted on 12-15-2006 at 10:15 AM
Chapter 6 Early Construction in La Salina

The first couple of houses in La Salina were built much like when people raised barns and houses in the early days of the old west. Everyone just pitched in and a house started to rise from the ground. There were neither permits nor any real plans; they just grew out of the ground like mushrooms. This was particularly true of the historic, “A” Frame; built by Art McLaren and his numerous friends. The main beams were torn from an old barn in Ramona California and smuggled—how do you smuggle (40) 6"X8"X24' hunks of lumber—across the border and down to La Salina. These were followed by many more loads of free building material that went into the building of McLaren’s place. This landmark grew from the soil at a cost of almost nada (NOTHING)!!

Everyone heading south in the early days used the “A” Frame as a landmark—“once you see the “A” Frame just keep going until—.” These were typical driving instructions given to newcomers to Baja from 1965 until the mid eighties. An exact copy of the A Frame can be found in La Bufadora, about 50 miles south of the original. It seems that the guy who built it liked the “A”frame so much that he copied it exactly.

The guys who worked on the A-Frame were cops who worked for Captain McLaren in San Diego. We all worked our butts off for the “old man.” Sometimes there would only be two or three of us and other times there would be a dozen. But, always we would have at least 10 cases+one of Corona to keep us working. In those days Corona was known as “skunk beer” because, sometimes, it smelled so bad that you had to hold your nose to drink it. Es Verdad, (it’s true) they brought the beer to Baja via train from the mainland. If the train broke down in the desert, as it so often did, the heat did weird things to the beer.

Art always barbecued chicken halves; they ended up being well seasoned with sand before they were ready to eat. The only meal he provided, assuming you worked all day, was that chicken ala sand and Mexican rolls covered with butter and garlic. That was it! If you wanted breakfast or lunch you had to bring your own. The Cantina (Rancho Benson’s) did not serve food.

The day we put the roof on the old house, it was old even as it was being built, was a time none of us will ever forget. Day one found six of us nailing on the 1"x6"x8's that covered the roof. It was a scorcher of day in the summer of ’65 and we were left with nothing to drink by about 4 o’clock. Sure, Art cooked the crummy chicken but we had nothing with which to wash it down. We called it quits and headed for the Cantina for a few cool ones. In those days no one would be caught dead drinking the water in Baja. We all ‘knew’ that it was no seguro (unsafe).

Well, we did all right by the Cantina until they ran out of booze. This lack of refreshments occurred at about 8 o’clock as close as I can remember. We closed the place and wandered, splashing, across the lagoon—now the Marina—to Dick Eckert’s trailers in Angel’s Camp. Dick hauled his trailers into Angel’s in 1958 and that makes him the most senior gringo around La Salina. When we got to Dick’s trailers we found he had neglected to drink a whole half-gallon of rum. We rapidly corrected that oversight and the rum was gone before we ‘retired’ for the evening!

Five o’clock came terribly early but we were all young so we all trouped back across the lagoon and started working on the roof about the time the sun came up. Right! No breakfast, but we were all full of the night before.

You talk about a kick; the roof of the A-Frame is 24 feet high. Art had (2) six-foot ladders, a four footer, and (1) eight footer. Ernie Trumper and I laid the ladders’ one atop of the other and they almost reached the peak of the roof. We both did very well hauling the 90-pound rolls of roofing to the top where we would nail it down and let it roll down the roof. Someone would cut it off at the bottom. This continued, up and down, up and down until the roof was finished. You should know that Art and a couple of other guys made it halfway up the rickety ladders before they fell and rolled down onto the sand below. Ernie and I stayed on top and laughed our “A’s” off. All in all it was a great weekend. Art got his roof finished for ten cases of cerveza and some rubbery chicken.

We all shared an experience that none of us will ever forget. It caused a couple of us to return to Baja year after year after year after year…

A few weeks later my son, Bernie, and I came down by ourselves. Our task for the weekend was to frame in the kitchen and paper it so that Cayo and Gus could plaster it the following week. Bernie was only 7 years old and he really didn’t do a whole lot of work. He ran back and forth to the beach while I framed in the kitchen. We had a cold dinner and were in our sleeping bags by 8 o’clock.

It seemed like only a few minutes later that he was hollering, “Wake up dad it’s time to go back to work.” WOW!! The moon had come up and it was so bright he thought it was daylight. I looked at my watch and it was only 10 o’clock. “Go back to sleep kid!”

If you look closely at the window at the, upper, south end of the house you will see that it is cracked. This happened when young Bernie stepped on it as he chased rabbits through the bushes around the house. He played hard that day. He was up and down the dunes and out into the surf.

He found a friend, Ricardo, and they wandered around the camp looking for old Indian arrowheads. They found a few and Ricardo let him keep all of them because he had un million at home. Ricardo is the oldest son of my comparde (more than a friend) Cayo. On the way home all he could talk about was what a great guy Ricardo was and how he was going to share his arrowheads with the kids at school. So now you see another important side of early camp life!

PS.....The A Frame was demolished a couple of months ago and Dick Eckert is now fishing in the clouds.

My smidgen of a claim to fame is that I have had so many really good friends. By Bernie Swaim December 2007
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[*] posted on 12-15-2006 at 10:26 AM

Right on time Bernie -THANKS again! Wish you also Happy Holidays over there!!

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[*] posted on 12-15-2006 at 10:47 AM

Great story.
Having spent time in the A-frame, it is great to hear about it being built.
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