The Harshman family has considerable significance in the proud history of Shaver Lake. John Harshman established the first commercial business called ”The Trading Post” in the area now known as Shaver Lake Village. It has been in continuous operation since its beginning. John was a native of Ohio. He started coming to Shaver Lake to fish then moved there in 1928 following a stint in the Valley working as an automobile and house painter. Health protection against painting was practically non-existent so he struck out looking for a better life.
In September, 2001, Kathy Boone, Executive Director of the Central Sierra Historical Society, volunteers, Karl Michel and Ed Selleck video taped an interview with John’s widow, Velma, age 90, and her son, John, Jr. Following is a synopsis of that interview.
Velma is a native of Los Angeles. She met John while vacationing one summer at Shaver Lake with the family of a girlfriend. John was in the process of building up his business at the Trading Post. They married in 1932. Friends gave their marriage six months.
The business started from scratch and slowly built up to include a grocery store, restaurant, soda fountain, meat market, post office, and gas station. The Post Office brought in _ cent for every stamp cancelled. After Prohibition a bar was added. Movies were shown for a few years during the early days. Sounds like a big operation, but it was all carried out from one small building no bigger than a convenience store. The building had previously been a real estate office for lot sales at Shaver Lake Heights. John and Velma lived upstairs with their two sons, John, Jr. and Loren. Venison was put up to make it through the winter. John and Velma had no mentor. They had a clear vision, however, and learned and grew by jumping in and pursuing it.
John and Velma Harshman In Front Of The Trading Post Velma Harshman Collection
In the early years, the area emptied out at the end of logging and deer hunting seasons. On occasion, a seasonal worker would try to stay through winter, but the hardships were too great. The Harshmans and one other couple were the only year around residents at Shaver Lake. The other man, a caretaker at Rock Haven, had a crystal set. News from the outside world was interspersed with the crackling sound of static over the crude radio. Velma left for the Valley where she roomed for several months when her children were born. Otherwise she remained hard at work in the business.
In the early 1930’s the road was plowed after each snow storm by the County, but it would take 4-5 days to complete the job so that two cars, who dared to venture out, could squeeze by each other. Deep mud on the dirt roads was another disincentive for leaving home.
Dances were held in a building across the street in the summertime. It was a very popular place. No liquor was served there so people would alternate between the dancehall and the Trading Post. No need to worry about getting hit by a car while crossing the road because they were few and far between. The Harshmans kept the dancehall’s roof free of snow in winter to assure the building would be available in the summer for dancing.
John kept several loaded deer rifles mounted on the wall above the fireplace in the bar. One night a customer took a 30-30 down. He pointed it at the ceiling, and pulled the trigger. A bullet went through the ceiling, passed through a bed where Loren was sleeping missing him by 12 inches, and went on out the roof. Velma almost had a heart attack. Little Loren didn’t even stir. The bullet hole can still be seen in the ceiling above the fireplace.
In wintertime, if someone happened by who wanted a drink from the bar, an icicle was retrieved and converted to ice cubes. After a few years of living alone, the State took over the highway and based a crew at Shaver Lake. They, and their families added considerably to the Harshman’s winter income, and social life. They also brought with them an innovative rotary snowplow
There were no doctors or law enforcement close by. Law enforcement was provided by one constable whose territory ranged from the foothills to Huntington Lake. Fred Crabb of Big Creek, and Jack Sturges of Auberry were two who served as constable.
A dentist had a summer cabin at Shaver Lake. He determined there was a need for his services, so he set up a dental chair on a wooden platform in his dirt floor garage. He saw patients on Saturdays.
John, Jr. related Wynder, “Windy”, Shelton’s experience in getting medical attention. One day, Windy was up by the old rock quarry at the north end of the lake. A 22 he was carrying went off and the bullet traveled down his leg. Friends wrapped a tourniquet around his leg and hauled him off to the doctor at Big Creek. The doctor was ill-equipped to help and sent them to Fresno. During the entire time the tourniquet was never loosened so Windy had to have his leg amputated. As an aside, Windy was in the class of 1950 at Sierra High School. When he stripped down to shower, his buddies would steal his wooden leg and wouldn’t return it until Windy came up with a dollar.
John and Velma acquired property at “The Point”. Velma ran the Trading Post while John built “Johnny’s”. Overtime, Johnny’s evolved into a restaurant, bar, gas station, grocery store, rental cabins, boat dock, and boat rentals. A campground was established that included a bathhouse and small store. They also engaged in real estate selling some of their lake front property. Every year, profits went back into the business. Once the business got going, the Trading Post was sold and full attention was given to Johnny’s.
Times were tough during the war years. John got a job with the government as a dam watcher. The task, that he shared with one other fellow, was to watch out for saboteurs and enemy aircraft. He thought it would be a good winter job, leaving him free to work the resort in the summer. But, the government froze his position permanently so he had it for the duration of the war. In winter, he snow shoed to his watch station. Highway 168 was closed at Pine Ridge and kept secure by the National Guard. Special windshield stickers were required to get past the guards and home to Shaver Lake. Velma relates how they were impacted by shortages of meat. On occasion tiny little steaks could be obtained, but they were expensive. Never the less, when they were available, locals came to dine and dance and never complained because it was just good to be able to get out.
Johnny’s was very popular. The dinners were excellent. A dance band came up from the Valley to play on Saturday nights. You had to get there early to stake out a seat. People would be four deep at the L-shaped bar.
Completing grammar school for most students in the mountains wasn’t too difficult. However, for the Harshman boys, it wasn’t so easy. They started off in a school at Shaver Lake. In the Fall they were joined by the kids of mill workers, forest service employees, and other seasonal people. When those families vacated the area at the approach of winter it was just the two of them. The superintendent of Fresno County Schools didn’t consider the expense to be justifiable for two students so he closed the school. The next nearest school [one room, no electricity, outdoor privy] was at Pine Ridge to which the Harshmans were transferred. Pine Ridge found it too costly to run a vehicle to Shaver Lake for school busing so the boys were squeezed out. They wound up commuting 28 miles round trip to Big Creek. They never lost a day due to bad weather, and successfully finished school.
At haircut time, Velma gave each boy 50 cents. She also penned a note to the school teacher giving her permission for the boys to leave the schoolyard to get a haircut. It was a short walk to Fred Crabb’s place who was the only barber in the mountains. The school bus dropped the boys off at Johnny’s in the afternoon where they remained until John and Velma were ready to go home for the day.
A groomed ski run was set up on the west side of the hill between Johnny’s and the dam. The hill was forested, but had no conflicting roads or cabins. It was a do it yourself project maintained by and for the enjoyment of locals. A rope was stretched out so people could pull themselves up the slope. It took considerable endurance to get to the top. This was long before the new highway was built to Huntington Lake. It was a fairly short ski run, but the best the entire area had to offer at the time.
The family moved into a beautiful home on Dorabella Road. It was a simple house by today’s standard, but a vast improvement over the cabins that dominated at the time. In the winter, they had to shovel their way out to the highway, then at the end of the day, shovel their way back home.
During John, Jr’s. young adulthood, he became partners in the first barge on Shaver Lake. It was a stout wooden platform supported by a dozen or so 55 gallon barrels. It wasn’t portable and stayed in the lake year around. It was a party barge. During the summer it would be staged out on the lake. Water skiers would drop by and spend time enjoying a respite. Before long, a second barge of similar construction appeared followed by a fancy one mounted on pontoons. The rest is history as grandiose barges now abound.
Life was a struggle during their early years. With industry, and tenacity the Harshmans went on to become successful business people. They did a terrific job in raising their sons. That was attested to by Charlie Eckert, a good friend and fellow businessman, who acted as a character witness for John, Jr. and Loren when they enlisted in the Navy during the Korean War.
The business was sold in 1951. John dabbled in real estate for awhile. He bought and sold the property that Tamarack Lodge now sits on halfway between Shaver and Huntington Lakes. He acquired about 1000 acres of foothill property near Sierra High School and went into the cattle business. John and Velma built a new home on Pine Ridge where they lived for many years. John took up the hobby of wood working and turned out beautiful objects such as bowls made of exotic and rare woods.
John passed away at the age of 89 in 1989.
As the interview closed, Velma reflected on the wonderful years of a small, tight knit community where everyone cared for and supported each other through good times and bad.
John and Velma- Wedding Day March 6, 1932, Los Angeles Velma Harshman Collection
The Harshmans – 2001 Ed Selleck Photos
Velma, her two sons and their families have remained in the area. Velma lives independently in Auberry. John, Jr. took over the cattle ranch and is now retired at Shaver Lake. He is a very active volunteer in the Edison owned forest. His wife, Jan, is the owner of Wish I Ah Care Center in Auberry. It is among the top rated independently owned care facilities in the State of California. Loren and his wife, Cathy, live in the family home on Pine Ridge.
Shaver Lake Elementary
Shaver Lake Elementary School, Fall, 1939 Front Row, L. to R. Unkn., Billy Bonham, Unkn., Unkn., Merele Webster Middle Row, Webster girl, Unk., John Harshman, Wief girl, Betty Bonham Top Row, Bob Robinson, Unkn., Wesley Wief, Mrs. Serverty, Unkn., Bill Robinson
Note:Unknown students were mostly children of Byles and Jamison, and Forest Service employees. The Robinson brother’s father, Jay, operated a ridng stable. Father of the Wiefs worked for the Highway Department. Robert Parker Photo, Velma Harshman Collection
The School House.
Ed Selleck Photo
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This post was written by Sierra Historical