All of us that were on staff can tell at least one story or two of an experience traversing the road to get to the transmitter. For instance, during rain there was a muddy spot on the front road where you would need to begin the short climb up a grade as far to the right as you could get. By the time you got to the top of the climb you would be on the far left side. Failure to start the climb on the right would most assuredly result in being stuck in a ditch on the left in 8 to 12 inches of mud! During the climb the four-wheel drive would be slinging mud all over.
There were other times during heavy snow when you could get within a mile or so of the transmitter site then the vehicle would “high center” in the snow causing you to have to hike in the remainder of the journey.
It was around February, 1973 when access to the transmitter from either the front or back road was not possible. While I cannot recall why the front road had been closed we had been using the back road to access the transmitter site. This time the back road was closed in several locations. I believe we ran into the first obstacles several miles from the transmitter. A small scrub oak and the surrounding earth had given away and landed in the middle of the road. We also had reports from the engineer that had been staying at the transmitter that there was a rock slide just down from the transmitter.
We decided that we may be able to open the road with a crew of men equipped with axes, picks, shovels and sledge hammers. So, we shut down production at the Glendale studios for a day and took a crew up the mountain in an attempt to open the road. We went up the mountain in the white Toyota Land Cruiser shown in the photos. The “butterscotch” colored pickup truck, which Bernie Marston describes as another color that I won’t mention, was already at the top since it had been driven up there by the engineer on duty prior to the road closure. By the way, this is the same truck that went over the mountain described in another story posted on the FBN site.
We started up the back road and to the best I can recollect we made it within a couple of miles to the transmitter site to where the scrub oak had fallen on the road. It didn’t take long to get it and the earth around it cleared away to where we could get the Toyota through. That was the easy part.
We continued the climb and as you can see in the following photos we soon hit some heavy snow. Utilizing the full benefit of a four-wheel drive vehicle along with a little push from us we made it to the next obstacle.
The Opening of the Sunset Ridge Road
Of all the broadcast properties that made up FBN the KHOF-TV transmitter site was, without a doubt, one of the most challenging to access. The site was atop Sunset Ridge which is 5,400 feet above sea level. This location was just to the southwest of Mount Baldy. There were two ways to access the restricted dirt forestry road leading up to Sunset Ridge. We called the entrance from the south side of Sunset Ridge the “front road” which began near the end of Wheeler Avenue. Once you accessed the forestry road through a locked gate it was a 9 mile trip to the transmitter.
The other way to access was what we called the “back road.” This road began off of Glendora Ridge road and was about 7 miles long.
Both roads had their challenges ranging from mud holes to land and rock slides. When inclement weather hit you never knew which road would close first. I remember when I first joined the staff the front road had been closed for some time due to a major land slide. It was another year or so until forestry finally cleared the earth and installed shoring to keep the slide from closing the road again. I should add that the front and back roads were primarily constructed to provide forestry access during a fire so that was the major reason they wanted to keep them open.
Joe Snelson & Bernie Marston at the back road gate. This picture was taken in 2000 when they revisited the site.
These pictures give you an idea of the challenge we had ahead of us after clearing the scrub oak. This part of the back road was prone to frequent rock slides. Note the size of some of these rocks. This slide was blocking about half the road.
As you can see in the pictures above we were clearly having a struggle getting the Toyota Land Cruiser through the snow. This photos were most likely of the portion of the back road that faced north. Snow would stick for some time after it had melted on the southward facing portions.
I will pause for a moment to comment on four-wheel drive. When I left FBN I relocated to Kansas City where snow was not at all uncommon during the winter. I used to get a chuckle on how people would drive on the road with a four-wheel drive vehicle. They would drive like it was impossible to get one stuck. I knew from firsthand experience on trips to Sunset Ridge that it was very possible to get any vehicle stuck if you didn’t pay attention to the surroundings. That’s my side note. I will now share more pictures of our trip up the mountain that day along with some comments that I hope you will find interesting.
This is a picture of Paul Hohman, Faith Center Board member, taking a swing on a boulder with Don Davis looking on. I would put Paul in his 60’s when this picture was taken. Paul and I became close friends and went hiking in the Sunset Ridge area several times. I mention this to say for a man in his late 60’s he was “as strong as an ox.” I will also add he was a great Christian man of faith and loved working with the TV staff.
Taken from another angle you can see that we indeed had plenty of rock to move. It was all manual labor. Rick Eisleben, FBN Producer/Director, is seen in the distance walking towards the camera.
This picture gives a better perspective of how the road was blocked. There was no way a vehicle could pass between to rock and the edge. By the way, the edge was a slope of about 45 degrees or more going down for several thousand feet!
Some of the rock we encountered was granite. Moving the big rocks that couldn’t be easily broken up was a slow process. If you look closely at the picture you will see we used a hydraulic jack and timber to move the rock along and out of the way.
The guy in the picture on the right giving the photographer the “raspberry” is engineer Tim Rote. Tim performed transmitter duty as well as studio engineering. Note the “butterscotch” truck in the background. This is the truck mentioned in another story that went off the side of the mountain. Being already at the transmitter it met the crew from the other direction.
As you can see we finally cleared enough rock out of the way to get the vehicle passed with not a lot of room to spare, I will add. You will notice one of the large boulders that we “inched” along lying on its side to the left of both pictures. In the photo on the right the Toyota is being driven by FBN Chief Engineer, Bernie Marston, with Paul Hohman standing at the right.
Here’s a picture of a fine crew at work. In order from left to right: Bernie Marston, FBN Chief Engineer; Dwight Edwards, Engineer; Joe Snelson (in Bob’s Pool Service coveralls), Assistant Chief Engineer; Paul Hohman (on the Rock); Faith Center Board member. The Bob’s Pool Service coveralls being worn by the author has an interesting story. More on that later.
Here are some of the jubilant crew members that helped to clear the road. Going from left to right:
Tim Rote, engineer
Joe Snelson, Assistant Chief Engineer
Paul Hohman, Faith Center Board member
Rick Eisleben, Producer/Director (standing on slide)
Jake “Owen” Rees, engineer
Marvin Rush, engineer
I have submitted this story to show some of the camaraderie that existed between the staff at FBN. It was more than just a job to many of us, it was our family…our life. Though we faced hazards at times getting up to Sunset Ridge we knew we were doing it for a purpose. It was to see lives touched and transformed by the message of the Gospel.
The Bob’s Pool Service Story:
As I mentioned earlier there is a story behind the Bob’s Pool service coveralls that you may find interesting. Faith Center had been given a load of old costumes from Filmways Television. Filmways produced televisions series such as Green Acres, Petticoat Junction and Beverly Hillbillies to name a few. Many of these costumes were used in the programs mentioned. For example, there was a sweat shirt with “Jethro’s Jogging Club” on the front. The Bob’s Pool Service coveralls were used for an episode of Beverly Hillbillies where they did a shot of the swimming pool being cleaned (see more below). The author also got a train engineer’s hat believed to have been used on Petticoat Junction. This stuff was being sold for prices ranging from 10 to 50 cents! Oh how I wish I would have bought $20 worth of this merchandise. It would probably stir some interest on ebay. The author still has the coveralls, though they are pretty well tattered and torn from being used. The engineer’s hat is still in good shape, however, though not for sale.
The Bob’s Pool Service coveralls were shown in The Beverly Hillbillies, season two, episode eight (1963), titled “The Clampetts Are Overdrawn.” On the right is a frame from that episode showing “Granny” (Irene Ryan) holding the pool man, Bob (Gill Perkins), at gunpoint and accusing him of “poisoning the pond.” Click the frame to see the video excerpt. The coveralls are still in possession of this author. They are, however, a bit tattered as they were placed into actual service, not cleaning pools but doing engineering duties at FBN.
© 2012 Joe Snelson
Road photos courtesy of Al Davis - used by permission