Opening for the season May 5, 2023. Spring hours: Friday-Sunday 11-3
Gene Van Dyne | Cressman Road
A Little History of Cressman Road from the 1940’s to the Creek Fire as told to Ari Arroyo
Gene Van Dyne started coming up to the Shaver Lake area in the early 1940’s and moved to Lower Cressman Road in 1947 when he was 12 and his family purchased 160 acres covering the area roughly from 35822 Lower Cressman to the back gate at the end of Lower Cressman Road. There was a small shop on the property at 35822 Lower Cressman Road and they added a small building for his father’s planer (he was a cabinet maker) and a small house where he lived until he joined the Air Force in 1954. Over the years his family sold most of the land and he now owns and lives on 20 of those acres. Gene and his mother built his present house at 36075 Lower Cressman Road. Gene made the money to build the house by logging his property as well as his mother’s adjacent property.
The question arises as to how the Van Dyne’s ended up on Cressman Road. They were living in Fresno and every weekend his family came up to the mountains to camp in Woodchuck Country south of Wishon Reservoir and go fishing and hunting. In 1947 his family decided to move up to the mountain. He does not recall how they found Cressman Road and when they got here in 1947 there was only a dirt road and the trees were so thick they were like a tunnel. Lower Cressman was later paved using funds from the property owners in the mid 1980’s.
There are so many stories. Here are a few. Gene recalls when in 1948 there was so much snow that he and his brother made tunnels in the snow going from their house to the shop building. He would walk down to Peterson Road to get the bus to school at Sierra Elementary in Tollhouse and Sierra High. When there was too much snow to go back and forth he would board with Hubert and Queenie Yelton in Tollhouse. When he was in high school he and his father did the garbage pickup service for all of the Shaver Lake area in their 1937 Dodge truck. He gave that old truck to Ari and Peter Arroyo and you can still see it at the bottom of their driveway on Lower Cressman Road.
Gene joined the Air Force in 1954 and was stationed around the United States from Texas to California to Arizona, in Thule Greenland, Enewetak Atoll, Vietnam and Korea. In 1955-1956 he was in the 55th Weather Squadron as a navigational equipment repairmen working on the B29’s and WB50’s at Enewetak Atoll when they were doing the first atom bomb testing. He recalls being told to put their faces into their knees when the bombs went off and recalls seeing the red glow reflected through his knees. While Gene was in the Air Force, his father built a large cement dance floor, a bandstand and a concession stand for drinks and snacks behind their house. They would have dances every week or so and the locals from Cressman community, Peterson Road, Auberry and other areas all came up to socialize. Many would camp out and spend the night after the dances.
Gene returned stateside in 1972 and was stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas where he met Royella at the NCO Club where she was decorating for Christmas. To hear Gene and Royella tell their story, it was pretty much love at first sight. Gene went to Korea in 1974 for one year which Royella says was the longest year of her life. Since his return to the States in 1975 they have always been by each other’s side.
Gene was stationed in Las Vegas until 1977 when he retired from the Air Force and returned to the mountain and to Lower Cressman Road . . . Gene was home!
They spent the next 43 years living on the mountain in the summer and spending the winter months on the coast or in the Nevada desert and fishing at Lake Mead (Gene and Royella know all the best fishing spots). To the delight of their neighbors and friends, in 2019 they stopped going away and have stayed on the mountain all year long.
Gene has always been an integral part of the Pine Ridge community. In 2008 Gene and eight other community members started the Pine Ridge Volunteer Fire Department and Gene was an engineer, firefighter and mechanic for the fire department. He still works on the fire engines today as an auxiliary member. He served for many years as road commissioner for the community, in charge of determining the needs and doing the work to keep the roads (which are not maintained by the county) in good shape. Although he is not road commissioner anymore, he is always active in the work parties throughout the community. Ari Arroyo recalled that when she came up to the mountain in 2010 she walked into her first Pine Ridge community meeting on the arm of Gene and was truly proud to be on the arm of who she then considered and still considers one of the most important people in the community.
And then on September 4, 2020 the Creek Fire happened and Gene and Royella evacuated with their 1992 Airstream to the valley. They were blessed that their home did not burn down but their old circular sawmill did. When Royella learned about the sawmill she cried because it was so important to Gene and the whole community. Though their home did not burn, there was immeasurable damage around their home and property but once they were able to return home they buckled down and got to work. Now, two years later, they’re still working to get back to where they were before the fire but nonetheless, they are loving being back home!