Heart of Heavy Steel.
A Mentryville Story by Darryl Manzer.
The "M4" brand represents the family of four in Mentryville: Alton and Pat Manzer and two of their children, Alyce and Darryl. (Daughter Karen was married and living in Texas.)
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I have a few items of family memorabilia I've carried around from place to place as I transferred and moved for the Navy and in retirement. Mostly it's pictures and some old watches, and some belts my father made when he was in the Navy. I also have some items that were my mother's.
All of these things denote a special time or event I had with my folks. They mark times that were happy and sad. They measure the love my parents and I shared.
There is one item maybe I shouldn't have carried from California to Washington and back to California, on to Virginia and Kentucky, then back to California, and now it is in Arizona with me.
I suppose this heavy steel item maybe shouldn't have been moved from place to place. But this item, above all, is a memory I can't seem to let go. It was such a happy time when it came into my life, and when it became mine, it was a very sad time.
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When we lived in Pico Canyon, or "Mentryville," we raised cattle. We started with some "drop calves" from the local dairies like the one in Placerita Canyon and the one in Saugus where Saugus High is now located. May father had a dream of building a herd of cattle and supplementing our family income.
This started in 1960. By 1962, he had bought a Hereford bull named "Buddy" and even registered a family brand with the state of California. The herd was growing.
Most of the cattle we sold to feedlots when they were under a year old. We always kept four each year that we would put in the fattening pen that was constructed between the house and the schoolhouse. It was heavy steel pipe welded together, and those steers couldn't get out of it.
Being next to a huge eucalyptus tree, we had a place we could butcher them and hoist them to cut the hide off and take the entrails out. Once that was done, we put some fresh-washed clean sheets on the bed of the pickup (which had been washed with bleach and lots of water) and took them to the butcher next to the Newhall Ice Company. There, they were cut up and wrapped to the specifications of what the folks who bought it wanted. Thick steaks and big roasts. Our meat was well marbled and always of the best quality.
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Not long after we got the bull, my dad went to T.M. Frew's welding shop in downtown Newhall. He wanted something designed and manufactured to an exacting specification.
Frew's was the place to get that done. My dad ordered a branding iron. What was different was that it was one to be used with an acid paste that would make the brand on the side of the steer.
Now, those of you who might think using an acid-paste brand instead of a fire-heated branding iron isn't as effective or somehow hurts the animal more, are not ranchers. We couldn't use a fire in Pico Canyon. Something about those hills starting to burn from flying embers was just a little scarier.
So, my dad had his branding iron. It was kept in a special spot on the back porch of the house near the milk separator. I think he checked that it was there every day. You see, my dad had dreamed of a ranch with his brand on the herd. He was a Nebraska farm boy who grew up to be a rancher who had his own brand, a real registered brand, approved by the state of California. He had achieved his dream.
I remember the day he brought the branding iron home. He was grinning ear-to-ear. I know it sat on the kitchen table for a few days as a centerpiece to announce to all visitors: WE HAVE A BRAND! I heard the whole story of how he'd get it many times as folks came to see it and have a cup of coffee. (My mother always had coffee ready for visitors).
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On April 5, 1966, I had to go into Newhall and visit the California Highway Patrol office, which was then located east of Highway 99 just south of Lyons Avenue. I had an equipment violation to be signed off on my little motorcycle. So, that morning it was Easter vacation. (Yes, we still called it "Easter" and not "Spring" vacation or break back then.)
I rode the motorcycle to town and, of course, had to cross Highway 99 and the intersection of Lyons Avenue-Pico Canyon Road and the main highway. (Interstate 5 was someplace in the future, as was the overpass that sure would have been handy that day.) I had to cross that highway. A four-lane, divided road, with two lanes going south and two going north.
I did succeed getting over the southbound lanes. I did not have the same success crossing the lanes headed north. I found a car in those lanes and managed to hit its left front fender. My cycle and I bounced around. The bike was totaled. Both of my legs were broken.
I was taken to Golden State Hospital down the hill on Lyons. The hospital bills mounted up.
I know it broke my father's heart to sell his herd, including "Buddy" the bull. I wasn't there when they were trucked away, but his dream was dashed — and my accident had caused that. He said at the time, thank God we had those cows to pay the bills, and we could always get more cows. He said he was happy to do it to get me healed.
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By the start of school in the fall of 1966, we had moved out of Pico Canyon to a new house in Carpinteria. My dad transferred to work on the offshore oil platforms there. On November 7 of that year, the helicopter he was in crashed into the ocean. He was killed along with three other men.
I made sure the branding iron moved with us back to the SCV. Later it moved to Vallejo, California; Washington, Virginia and Kentucky. I even took it back to the SCV before I moved to Arizona.
In just about every place I lived, I had to, at some point, pour a cement slab or steps. Into each one of those concrete constructions is an imprint of the branding iron. My dad's brand is now in each of those places. It has spread far and wide in this country.
He kept telling me that those cows, his herd he dreamed of, made it possible for my legs to heal. I still feel responsible. So, the branding iron stays with me, ready for another place to leave its mark.
I think he would like that. I do know that each time I left that brand in some wet cement, it said to me that he was still in my heart. It still does. That little bit of steel is a part of me and my family.
I hope my sons can keep it in use. I pray they will want to.
Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley for a spell. Darryl has traveled far and finally landed near the town "too tough to die," Tombstone, Arizona, calling it home for the past two years with the exception of summers camp-hosting at Refugio State Beach near Goleta. His older commentaries are archived at DManzer.com; his newer commentaries can be accessed [here]. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].
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