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by Bill Kimberlin

April 26, 2003
 Poster for Mason's Ale and Porter

          A few years ago I was wandering around a ranch next to my aunt’s old summer resort. There is a great big apple dryer on this neighboring property, as well as several interesting old barns. But the best part that day was discovering a cache of old Model-T era cars and trucks under some trees.
          One truck was particularly interesting because, while it had emblems identifying it as a “Reo Speedwagon”, there was a pretty big tree growing through the middle of it, where the truck bed should have been.
          To be able to still find this kind of stuff is to be able to still find what I call “Old Boonville”. My uncle Dewitt once told me that as a kid hiking the Valley hills in the 1930’s he came across an abandoned cabin that used old newspapers to insulate its interior walls. Taking a closer look at the papers he found that they were from the Civil War era. There was no telling how long this place had been there. Time frozen, is still an intriguing aspect of living here.
"I had heard the family stories for years..."  
          Sometime after discovering the Reo I called the owner of the property for permission to take some photos. When I mentioned the Speedwagon he said that he got it from his neighbor (my uncle Avon) and that, “It had been your grandfather's. He used it to haul bootleg liquor during prohibition. It had some hidden places for the booze.”
          Now that was a real surprise. I just happened upon an abandoned old truck that used to belong to my grandfather and he used it during prohibition to haul liquor?
          I had heard the family stories for years. I had pestered my Aunt Leonore to tell me them over and over again when I was a kid living at the resort. So now I started to look into them a little more.
          The image at the head of this article is of my great grandfather John Mason’s San Francisco Brewery. It is a photo taken from a lithograph that hangs in my uncle DeWitt’s dining room.
  Mason's Brewery at Meg's Wharf, San Francisco
          Mason’s Brewery was one of the first in San Francisco. It was a Steam Brewery and they also made Irish Whiskey. Masons was founded in 1851. It moved to Sausalito in 1892 as Mason’s Malt Whisky Distilling Co. and by 1925 was producing one sixth of all the alcohol in the country. The site of the old distillery is now called Whiskey Square.
          John Mason had come to California from Ireland in 1849 but his wife died and he had to go back to get another one. The one he got this time was from New York and her name was Mary Hayes. Her father, Jacob Hayes was the first Chief of Police in New York City. That was in 1803, and he held the position for fifty years.
          Stumbling upon what was left of that old truck and finding some ties with my own past illustrates one of the pleasures of Old Boonville for me. But there is more to it than just nostalgia. This small country town allows us to sometimes get a glimpse of simplicity that is harder to discover in the outside world. While chopping wood, working on the well, or occasionally going without electricity may not sound like amenities, they can be when they slow things down just enough so that a metaphorical Old Boonville can come clearly into view.
          I read a story recently about a Silicon Valley executive that was so busy that when the lights at his home failed one winter he just didn’t have time to fix them so he went without and used only candles for light. Over time he came to love the soft flickering glow so much that he never did fix the lights, he just kept the candles. At first his girlfriend would come over and complain bitterly about it, but soon, she too lit her own home with candles. They each had accidentally introduced themselves to something they would never have otherwise chosen.
          Now I actively look for and try to celebrate Old Boonville when ever I can find it.


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