By Harriet Alto
When I first arrived in Dunsmuir in the late summer of 1952, it was the largest town in Siskiyou with a population of 5,000.
Dunsmuir Elementary School was “bursting at the seams” with 700 students. The school was located near the business district on the main street of the town which also served as a segment of the main highway between San Francisco and Seattle.
Traffic Boys were an essential part of school children’s safety. They were trained to allow buses, rumbling logging trucks and other big trucks to continue past the school without gearing down to stop. School children waited patiently to cross the street before and after school, as well as during the hour-long noon recess which allowed them to walk home for lunch. When the timing was appropriate, the captain would blow his whistle and the team of boys on both sides of the street would turn the wheels that swung the big STOP signs out to the middle of the street. Then the captain stood in the crosswalk signaling the children that it was safe to proceed.
Special uniforms and caps (covered by bright yellow slickers in bad weather) lent prestige to their task. The boys were rewarded in the spring with a trip to San Francisco and a Giant’s baseball game.
With its thriving business community, Dunsmuir was the “hub” of shopping for all of Siskiyou County. Department stores, furniture stores, five separate men’s and women’s clothing shops, four grocery stores, two hardware stores, and three drugstores provided every family’s needs. No one needed to shop out of town – in fact a two-hour drive down the two-lane, winding canyon road to Redding wasn’t worth the effort!
Change, however, was inevitable. In the mid-1950s with the advent of the freeway, a wide swath was cut along the west side of town and resulted in the removal of many homes. Coupled with this was the modernization of the railroad industry and the gradual demise of the timber industry. Dunsmuir’s economic base along with its population began a spiraling downward trend.
The ribbons of steel still hug the canyon’s walls but no more can one hear the melancholy sound of the steam engine’s whistles. The Shasta Daylight train is long since a part of the past and AMTRAK whizzed by in the dark of night with its passengers missing the most scenic part of Northern California. Union Pacific recently created a merger which absorbed the Southern Pacific, so change continues
But the spirit of Dunsmuir is still alive in the hearts of long-time residents and newcomers whose vision for our community brings the hope and promise of brighter days ahead.
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