Pack Train Still Serves Remote Mountain Areas

The following article was reprinted in the February, 2016 newsletter for Angeles National Forest volunteers.

MERCY CALL - L.E. Adams calls rescue crew, frequent task when trouble occurs in the mountain camps

MERCY CALL – L.E. Adams calls rescue crew, frequent task when trouble occurs in the mountain camps

Source: Los Angeles Times
Date: March 18, 1953
Pages: A6

ARCADIA, March 17- The Last pack train in the Angeles National Forest, and said to be one of the few general service pack trains left in the Old West, is run by Mr. and Mrs. L. E. Adams and their son Bill out of Chantry Flats.

With Mabel, a stout Jenny as lead animal, four horses and five burros, the station packs in as far away as Chilao, 19 miles back. The train is responsible for four camps, Sturdevant, Fern, Ivy and Bon Accord, and serves a total of 143 cabins, some of which are occupied year around.

Varied Freight

In addition to groceries, which the occupants of the cabins have brought up to Chantry Flats by car from 2500 feet down below. Bill Adams, who handles the pack train, carries in butane, gasoline and coal-oil for lights, lumber for new buildings — anything anybody wants or needs. One of his trickiest jobs was packing in a television set for Mr. and Mrs. Robert Gick up Big Santa Anita Canyon.

The history of packing in the Sierra Madre range dates back to the 1880’s. The old trail started at the east boundary of Sierra Madre. In 1937 the paved highway from Santa Anita Ave., which is the northern extension of Double Drive in Arcadia, was completed to Chantry. Most of the 143 cabins, many with five and six rooms, were built prior to that time, and lumber for them had to be carried in by pack train.

Aid Injured

The sorrows and the joys of the mountain range come to the pack station door. Because hikers have parked their cars there, they return to the station for aid when there has been an accident. Seventeen persons have been “pulled out” of the mountains by rescuers in the last 18 months.

The Forest Rangers, the Adams, Sheriff’s Posse No. 5 and the Sierra Madre Rescue Squad work together as a team. The Sheriff’s Air Patrol also helps. The members of the rescue squad are trained mountain climbers, adept in moving a body twisted and torn by compound fractures after a fall down a steep cliff, in rescue litters.

The Adams have a list of 20 numbers to call for help and the rescue groups have a fan-out system by which they take up the call as soon as one of the members is reached.

Fire Protection

Eight telephones, all leading into the ranger station or connecting with the Adams telephone, give fire protection. Eight portable pump stations are at the telephone locations. Big Santa Anita has been lucky, however, and has not had a fire of any consequence since 1896.

The State Fish and Game Commission keeps the canyon streams stocked with trout and the only way to get them into the streams is by pack. Transported 100 miles or more from the State hatchery at Victorville by tank truck, the young trout are transferred to small tanks which are loaded onto Mabel and her burro friends by Bill Adams and his helper, Riley Herrick. Then they packed two and one-half miles upstream where they are turned loose by the rangers into the clear cool spring waters that ripple down toward Big Santa Anita Dam.

Four Camps

Ivy camp is run by the Rev. Elmer Nelson, pastor of the Bethel Community Church of Duarte, Fern Lodge is owned by the YMCA, Sturdevant Camp is owned by the Methodist Church and Bon Acord is owned by the Girl Scouts of San Gabriel and is not open to the public. Year-round residents lease their land from the government and own their cabins. A cabin may be bought for as little as $500 on up to fancier ones with fireplaces at $1200.

Commentary from the Forest Service:

There have been a lot of changes in the last 63 years

  • $1.00 in 1953 had the same buying power as $8.79 in 2016
  • Ivy Camp (Bethel Community Church) – 1954 the Camp reverted back to LeRoy Haynes who had owned it before. But, with the loss of the dining hall due to the 1953 fire, it eventually shut down, but I cannot find a specific date. It became Hoegee’s Campground at some after it shut down.
  • Fern Lodge (YMCA) Sold to the los Angeles Presbytery in 1956, but shut down in 1960 and the improvements removed.
  • Bon Accord (girl Scouts) Sold to Brad Bryce in 2004 or 2005 and converted to the residential recreation permit rather than an org camp. Sold to the Woods about 4 years ago.
  • Sturdevant Camp Sold to “The Friends of the San Gabriels” who have been working diligently since April 2015 to provide some improvements (new out door chairs, fuel reduction, inside painting) and marketing.
  • Within a few months of this newspaper article, the 1953 fire will have destroyed numerous cabins, portions of Fern Lodge and the main dining hall at Ivy Camp. By 1954, there were only 94 cabins left in the Big Santa Anita Canyon.
  • During the early 1960’s the Chantry Flats check dams were constructed. The U.S. Forest Service and Los Angeles County Flood Control District teamed up to engineer and construct these Lincoln Log type structures in many of the front country canyons of the Angeles National Forest. These structures were designed to keep the stream bed’s ever-moving alluvium “in check” with hopes of reducing the accumulation of sand and rock in the Big Santa Anita’s reservoir further down canyon. The paved fire road that you begin your descent down into Robert’s Camp is the beginning of the construction road that was bull dozed all the way past Sturtevant Camp.
  • The State Fish and Game Commission no longer stocks trout in many of the canyon streams due to the impact on species and habitats affected by hatchery-raised rainbow trout.

However the crank phone system

The crank phone being used by L.E. Adams in the newspaper article is still in operation. This phone is part of the largest remaining crank system in the United States (some say the world). There are over 4 miles of wire connecting the pack station, Sturtevant Camp, 9 emergency call boxes and cabins in between.

One Response

  1. Lucy Wolfe Rose says:

    I was a brownie and Girl Scout in the San Gabriel council from 1949 to 1959. Our troop often hiked to Bon Accird for a weekend camp out. We also held our summer day camps in the picnic grounds at Chantry Flats. My father, George Wolfe, owned two different cabins in those mountains in the 1960’s and again in the 1990’s. He rode his little scooter down taking his golden retriever, Sam, with him. Dad lived to be 93 and that canyon was a life saver for him after Mom died in 1988. Thank you for reserecting this newspaper article, it brought back may great memories of our times in that canyon.

Leave a Reply