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Mojave River Valley Museum
People in the Mojave -
Harry RosenbergI was raised on the Amargosa River in a boxcar parked at various sidings along the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad. The T&T ran along most of the length of the Amargosa. Our living quarters were part of a string of railroad cars for lumber, tools, sleeping, eating and a water-tank car supporting a "Bridge and Building Gang." The string of cars was called an "Outfit." We moved every few weeks to repair a bridge washed out or strengthen a weakened road bed.
The railroad was created to transport minerals out of Death Valley and central Nevada. At one time, it extended from Ludlow California on the Santa Fe to Tonopah Nevada in the "Gold Country." A perrenial money loser, the T&T was shut down in 1940. In 1942, the railroad was pulled up and shipped with all its rolling and maintenance stock to Egypt where it provided transportation and aided in the defeat of Rommel's army. Equipment that was unusable was scrapped. Today, one has to know where to look to find any trace of the old roadbed. In many places, all trace has disappeared.
Among my earliest memories are rides on a putt-putt-rail-road "motor car" with my father to a bridge washed out by a flooding Amargosa. Four decades later, another Amargosa flood took his life. He dared the deep waters all of his life but in the end could not walk upon them. By then he was a businessman like his father before him. And so was my brother.
Life on the Amargosa was harsh by modern standards. Summer temperatures of 110-120 F by day were/are common. No running water or electricity. No sanitary facilities beyond an outhouse and not even that at some sidings. (Distance was modesty.) For a young boy, playmates beyond a little brother were a rare treat and that only happened when a bridge went out near a settlement. Self reliance and independence happen early to nomads on the desert. Such were my roots.
From there to here has been a long journey, both in time and in concept. After five years in the mines and losing a partner to a cave-in, I realized that a miner's life, while honest, was just not for this string bean. Lauren Wright, while a grad student at Cal Tech, encouraged, my natural curiosity in geology. So I pulled up stakes and went to San Jose State College (now University) and eventually Stanford. I was still a poor, naive boy in more ways than one, earning a freelance living around getting a formal education. For my Stanford opportunity I shall forever be indebted to Professor Cutler Shepard. I am also deeply indebted to Helen Ogston, my high school teacher, who enabled the whole thing by giving me visions of what the outside world is like. So also for Professor Norman Dolloff of San Jose State who made my transition to Stanford possible in the first place.