13 August, 2019
That Time I lived in a Ghost Town
One of the most interesting places I lived was Lida, Nevada. To find Lida fill up with gas at Big Pine, California, head east for 64 miles going over Westgard Pass, and right at Oasis. Once you arrive in Lida, if you head east from Lida the first thing is Lida Junction, location of the infamous Cottontail Ranch (not a cattle ranch if you know what I mean, wink-wink). If you turn right at the junction, Las Vegas is 170 miles. If you turn left at the junction, 16 miles down the road is Goldfield, Nevada and the nearest gas station. Little did I know at the time, both Lida and Goldfield have rich histories. Funny how history only becomes interesting after you have some of your own.
It was 1980, I was 18 years old, and I had just spent my first summer in Jackson Hole. In late August or early September my X got a job as a working cowboy on a ranch in the ghost town of Lida, Nevada. So we packed everything we owned into our station wagon and left what would later become my home. The ranch had two mobile homes for family housing, we lived in one of them and the other was empty. The Cow Bosses house was down the hill to the east, the single cowboys and ranch hands bunked in a house around the corner, and the owners house was way up the hill to the west. There were a bunch of old abandoned houses and shacks in the central area, and an old schoolhouse kitty-corner from our mobile home. Because of the location on the California-Nevada border, there was a resident police officer that lived in one of the old houses. Apparently shady people commonly used Westgard Pass as an escape route, but from which state I don’t know.
Lida lore was that the old schoolhouse was haunted by the ghost of a school teacher that had committed suicide in it. The schoolhouse was once used as the bunkhouse, the story goes that the men would wake up in the middle of the night with the feeling of being punched in the gut by some unknown force. Nobody would sleep in it, so they vacated the schoolhouse and used another house on the property for the bunkhouse. I explored the schoolhouse, it was in OK shape but it was dirty and looked like it was vacated in a hurry, it had trash all over the floor and the really cool farmhouse kitchen sink looked as if they just pulled their dishes out and left. It was creepy, however I did not feel or see sort of evidence of a ghost… but I never visited at night.
The cowboy’s wage was not much, but it included housing, utilities, and sometimes beef. This ranch was the only one that also included fresh milk, whenever I needed some I just made a request. In the morning a galvanized bucket of warm, fresh from the cow, milk would be delivered complete with barn flies and gnats floating on the top. I filtered the milk through cheesecloth into refrigerator containers and, once chilled, the cream would separate to the top. I would spoon most the cream off the top into a separate container but sometimes I would mix it back into the milk before drinking or using it in recipes. My favorite thing to make with the milk was ‘from scratch’ hot chocolate with Hershey’s baking cocoa, using the recipe on the can. I used the whole milk with the cream mixed in. YUM YUM! Recipe on bottom of this page.
AM radio was a wonderful thing back in the day. At night KFI from Los Angeles could be picked up hundreds of miles away, as did several other stations. In 1980 we didn’t have satellite or cable TV and the internet wasn’t a thing. There were no TV stations near the area so in the evenings we would tune to an AM station that played Suspense Theater and listen over popcorn and a cup of homemade hot cocoa. One night the story had an unexpected funny ending where the villain got their comeuppance and I had a good laugh. The next day I was talking to the Cow Boss’s wife and she told me she heard a scary laugh coming from the old school house late at night. Yup, that was me but, if I remember correctly, I didn’t ‘fess up.
The Cow Boss’s wife and I were the only two women on the ranch at the time, naturally we became friends. After our chores were done we would chat over coffee and explore Lida. She was the one who told me about the haunted schoolhouse and filled me in on where to explore. One day we were out walking and we saw that someone had left the gate open to the hay stack and there was a heifer in it eating hay. On this ranch they bread their cattle with Brahma because Brahmas were stout and the cattle would do better in the harsh, high desert environment. When we tried to chase the heifer out of the hay storage area she turned on us and chased us up the hay stack. That was the first time I ever climbed a hay stack, and with a mean heifer on my bum I did it fast! I didn’t know I could climb a hay stack until that very moment.
I did a lot of exploring while I lived there, there were several mines in the hills, some mines still had visible claims staked, a large old dump was across the street, and a few ditches north of the town where people dumped their garbage. I found a few old bottles and a few old Log Cabins Pancake Syrup tins that I displayed in my mobile home.
For something to do I hiked up to the mines, however I would not go more than a few steps into them because the Cow Boss’s wife told me a story of seeing a pack rat the size of a cat in one of the mines. Kind of like the haunted schoolhouse, the story may or may not be true, but why take chances. Besides, if had fallen in a shaft my family would have had my X arrested for murdering me and hiding my body.
The block in the central part of Lida had a house on one corner, several one room shacks around the edge facing inward, and a root cellar in the center. All of the buildings in this block were abandoned and owned by the ranch except for one of the houses that was fenced off, if I remember correctly, the ranch had not purchased it yet. The shacks looked to have been built in the early 1900’s, and the bigger house had a built in bathroom so it I’m guessing it was built closer to the 40’s.
There were a few old relics in the shacks, one of the shacks had a cool old metal bed frame and old lumpy cotton mattress. I always wished I had moved the frame to our place and used it, I remember thinking the mattress was gross and I didn’t want to touch it. At the time that frame was considered junk, but it was well built and now would be a valuable antique.
The root cellar in the middle was fairly large, about the size of a walk in closet, with a lean-to type wood shack entrance. It still had dozens of jars of food on the shelves, again, I wish I had grabbed a couple for the jar not the food. In the video below the root cellar shack has collapsed.
In the video, I *think* the first house he explores in Lida might have been the police officers house. The front looks like I remember it but I might be off on the exact location. The big white house in the background at 19:21 might be the schoolhouse.
One of the abandoned houses still had the belongings of the couple who owned it before the ranch. I imagine they died and the family sold the house as is. It was cool to look around, it had been kept clean and tidy except for the dust that accumulated from it sitting empty. There was nothing valuable in the house except maybe some vintage household items. I have a Coca-Cola bottle opener on my key ring that I picked up in this house. That opener earned me many beers over the years.
While out exploring I would often see military aircraft fly over. I didn’t know it at the time but, as a crow flies, we were not far from Area 51. One day a strange looking aircraft with a military jet on each side flow over. They were low and weren’t going too fast, the strange looking aircraft was clearly man made, but might qualify as an UFO because I couldn’t identify it, other than it was an aircraft. After all these years I’m sure the design has become declassified. In the 90s I was watching an episode of Stargate SG-1, The Asgard mother ship reminded me of the aircraft I had seen, a bit clunkier though. It makes me wonder if Hollywood writers use old military designs to get ideas for fictional space craft.
I wanted to make a little money of my own so I got a job working the breakfast shift as a waitress at a diner in Goldfield. I believe it was a word of mouth thing that the police officer told my X about. It took $10 in gas round trip to go to work and back and I usually made enough to pay for gas and have a little extra money. The cafe was in the spot where the Dinky Diner is now, it may have been the Dinky back then too. When I would pull into town I would park by the old firehouse, which gave me the heebie-jeebies. A few years ago I saw an episode of Ghost Adventures, they visited the old Goldfield Hotel and apparently got some footage of a haunting, until I looked at google streets I though I must have been parking in front of the hotel. Maybe the Goldfield Hotel wasn’t the only haunted building in Goldfield.
This was one of my first waitress jobs and my first time working a breakfast shift, and I sucked at it! I was this skinny little city gal still trying to figure out the country life, and bit shy for a waitress, likely not the type of waitress the locales were used to. The timing in this place was hard to figure out and the cook hated me, she yelled at me all the time which made it worse. Remember the scene in Terminator where Sarah Conor was standing there with several plates trying to figure out who ordered what, people were yelling at her from other tables, and the kid put ice cream in her pocket? I was that girl.
If you head back towards Big Pine and turn right at Oasis there is a little ranching town called Dyer, Goldfield and Dyer had the closest gas stations to Lida in either direction. One night my X went out with the guys to the bar in Dyer, the round trip was 82 miles and also took $10 in gas… my X put in $5. The next morning I got up at 0 dark thirty to drive to work with half the gas I needed to get there. But since Lida didn’t have gas available to the workers, and Goldfield was the closest gas station, I headed out. I ran out of gas half way and literally rolled into the Cotton Tail Ranch parking lot. They had a phone booth outside but I only had 20s. No change. I had to knock on the door and ask the Madam for change so I could call the diner and have someone bring me gas. I didn’t work at the diner very long and was relieved to be fired from that job. I became much better at waiting tables after that and made a fair living at it. I will always remember that as my worst waitress job ever.
I befriended and eventually adopted a kitten that lived in the hay stack, the poor thing had her little ears infested with ticks. The Cow Boss’s wife gave me a bottle of Campho Phenique and instructed me how to remove the ticks. I sat on the edge of the bathtub with a towel and the kitten on my knees, dipped a Q-Tip in the Campho Phenique and touch the belly of each tick. The tick would pull out its head and I would flick the nasty little creature into the toilet. I did this one by one, she had over 20 ticks in each ear and she remained still for this process, she must have known I was helping her.
She liked to steel pieces of popcorn while we were listening to Suspense Theater so we named her Popcorn. I had her through a few moves but don’t remember what became of her. I think I left her at one of the ranches where she would be happier.
I also adopted a blue healer mix puppy from someone on the ranch, I named her Pepper. My X soon after adopted a small cow dog pup. We had the dogs for about a year, but when I was pregnant with my first son, my X wanted to get rid of the dogs. I wanted to keep Pepper, she was the only dog I have ever had that was my dog. One day my X and his uncle took both the dogs, without telling me, and came back laughing and told me a weak story of how they found a rancher who wanted both the dogs.
I lived on the ranch only a few months, my X quit his job and we moved on before the snow sat in. Everything we owned had to fit in the back of an old station wagon so I left most the bottles and tins I salvaged, keeping one Log cabin tin, the Coca-Cola bottle opener, some old wood hangers I found it a long abandoned out house, and a collapsible tabletop book shelf I acquired from the ranch’s abandoned house.
I bought my first SLR camera with the money I earned at the cafe but not until we left, I only have a couple photos from my time in Lida that I took with an old Instamatic camera. I looked at the satellite photos of the town before I wrote this blog, it looks like some of the old buildings are still there but it has changed a bunch. As all things do.
‘From Scratch’ Hershy’s Hot Cocoa
- Medium Saucepan
- ¾ tsp Vanilla Extract
- 4 Cups Fresh Whole Milk Mix in the layer of cream before measuring
- ⅓ Cup Hot Water
- ½ Cup Sugar
- Dash Salt
- ¼ Cup Hershey's Cocoa
- Mix sugar, cocoa and salt in medium saucepan; stir in water. Bring to
boil over medium heat, stirring constantly; boil and stir 2 minutes.
- Add milk; stir and heat until hot. Do Not Boil. Remove from heat; add
vanilla. Beat with whisk until foamy. About six 6-ounce servings.