Sketching Columbia

I have sketched the Gold Rush Town of Columbia many times with various degrees of success. I was returning here in winter when the historic streets are not as crowded with summer visitors. I sketched either in the early morning or at the end of the day when I would have more options for selecting my perspectives.

I had a few buildings on my sketch list, some of which I would be sketching for the first time, while others, I was making a second or third attempt.

One building that I returned to is probably one of the most famous buildings in the Gold Rush town of Columbia. This is the 1858 Wells Fargo office building. This building, which is photographed many times by visitors, has also appeared in the Clint Eastwood movie Pale Rider (1985), filling in for Yuba City. The exterior and the interior was used when the Preacher trades his collar in for his guns.

I’m had attempted to sketch this building on two other occasions but I made some mistakes with perspective and aborted the drawings. This time I sat on a bench, across the street (Main Street) from the building and carefully measured out the side ratios by holding out my pencil at eye level. Once the perspective is correct, everything else just falls in place.

In the end, I was very satisfied with the final sketch (featured sketch) which goes to show that patience and perseverance wins the day.

Another building I was interested in sketching was the firehouse, just down Main Street from the Wells Fargo Building. I took a seat across the street at a picnic table and started to sketch. The pole topped by a weather vane reached across the gutter onto the other page.

The firehouse sitting in front of me was built in 1911. Inside of it’s swinging doors is one of the town’s water hand pumper fire engines “Papeet”, built in Boston in 1852. This pumper and the firehouse are featured briefly in the very beginning of the masterpiece High Noon (1952).

At one time, Papeet was bound for Tahiti but the government there was overthrown and the pumper was stuck at the docks of San Francisco. The citizens of Columbia raised money to buy “Papeet” and was eventually returned to Columbia.


High Noon at 70

One of my favorite westerns was released in 1952 and in 2022, has turned 70.

High Noon has risen above so many of the other westerns made at the time. It still holds up today because, well, it’s simply a great movie.

The majority of interiors and exteriors were filmed on the Columbia Pictures Ranch in Burbank. There are a few locations in Northern California, outside of Hollywood that still exist, and I have visited most of them and sketched them too.

I returned to Warnvillie, a collection of houses, cows, and railroad tracks. This location is one of the most famous locations featured in High Noon and I wanted to sketch it again but from a different perspective.

Before I had attempted to assume the angle of cinematographer Floyd Crosby’s (yes David’s dad) camera, looking westward down the rails, longingly anticipating the noontime train.

It was here that the three outlaws (including Lee Van Cleef) wait the return of Frank Miller who has just been released from prison. It was also the location where Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado board the noontime train on their way out of Hadleyville. And only one of them succeeds. See the film, trust me, it’s worth the 85 minutes.

Sierra Railway passenger car No. 6 has been featured in so many westerns including High Noon. Producers like the wide windows that shows the background. The car is now stored the Jamestown Roundhouse.

This time, for my sketch, I sat just to the right of the tracks. Directly in front of me was the site of the Hadleyville Train Depot set, now gone. On the left side of the tracks is the only structure still standing from the filming in the summer and spring of 1951.

This is a corrugated roofed and sided structure that looks like it might have been a pump house. A little further down the tracks are three parallel concrete slabs which are all that remains of the Warnerville water tower, which is prominently seen in the film. The water tower, like the steam locomotives that once pulled freight on this line, are now long gone.

As the tracks lead off toward the horizon, in the direction of Oakdale, the hills remain very much unchanged from 70 years ago.

The train that pulls into Hadleyville at noon features Sierra No. 3 on point hauling the “movie train” consist of cars five and six.

Field sketch of Sierra No. 3 in her stall at the Jamestown Roundhouse.

The build up to the train’s arrival is one of the things that make High Noon such a great film. As the minute hand creeps towards noon, Fred Zinnemann and Crosby gives us portraits of the townspeople who nervously await the train, none more so than Marshall Will Kane, who sits at his desk writing out his lay will and testament. The three outlaws have been waiting for the arrival of Frank Miller, the man the Kane put away. The four of them will come into town with only one objective: to kill Will Kane.

A long pull on the whistle cord of Sierra No. 3 announces the arrival of the noon train and Kane will have to do all in his power, without the help of the citizens of Hadleyville, to save his own life.


The Jamestown Roundhouse

There are very few roundhouses that still exist in the United States. There is one that still is intact and houses three of Sierra Railroads original steam locomotives.

These structures were built around a turntable and contained stalls where the steam locomotives where kept and served. Most where they obsolete on the age of diesel locomotives but Hollywood saved the Jamestown Roundhouse.

The roundhouse was first built in 1900 but burned down in October of 1910. It was rebuilt right after the fire and then enlarged in 1922 to have a total of six stalls. In 1922 a new turntable was built.

I’m the heyday of westerns, Hollywood needed steam locomotives, vintage rolling stock, and landscapes untouched by the 20th century. Sierra Railroads had all three in spades!

So I found a seat on some railroad ties and started to sketch the red roundhouse at Jamestown.

The Screen Queen, No. 3 in her stall at the roundhouse being repaired back to working order. To her left is Sierra 28, which is also being maintenanced .

The roundhouse itself was used in a few films. There have been three Oscar nominated films filmed on the Sierra: High Noon (1952), Bound for Glory (1976), and Unforgiven (1992).

Bound for Glory was a biopic about Woody Guthrie directed by Hal Ashby and the roundhouse was in a brief shot with Sierra No. 3 on the turntable. Above is a still from Bound For Glory. There a few things to point out about this still: to the right you can just make out the top of a yellow locomotive. This a switcher that is used to move locomotives and rolling stock around the turntable and yard. I believe it is switcher No.1638, (which is featured in the featured sketch), which would not be period with the time of the film. Also just to the left of No. 3’s exhaust is a building with white siding. This is the 1913 passenger depot that burned down two years after Bound for Glory was released. The roundhouse looks very much the same as the day filming took place here in 1975.


Mendocino Sketches

I really wanted to sketch more of the very sketchible town of Mendocino but I was off non-whale watching and sketching lighthouses and orca bones.

I did head up north on a short drive to Russian Gulch State Park to sketch the 1940 bridge over Russian Gulch Creek.

I set up my sketching chair on the sandy beach looking west under the arches of the bridge.

Behind me, a group of kids gathered around to offer an assessment of my sketching progress. (They where heading out on a spearfishing expedition with their father.) This tends to happen when sketching in the field and children tend to lack a filter when it comes to their artistic opinions.

One piped in, “That’s really good!”

Another echoed, “Yeah, that’s really good!”

Phew! I passed the test! I chatted with the kids about how cool the bridge looked and they agreed. They then wandered off to get into their wetsuits.

On my last morning in Mendocino, I wasn’t going to spend time looking for whales, besides, there was a long line of fog on the horizon. Instead I set out with my sketching chair and bag, to sketch some structures in town.

My first sketch was the Temple of Kwan Tai on Albion Street, which is one of the oldest Chinese Taoist Temples in California. It was built in the mid-19th century and is dedicated to the Chinese God of War. The temple has been restored and is now a California Registered Historic Landmark No. 927.

After my temple sketch, I headed down Albion about half a block and sketched a converted water tower.

Mendocino has a really big water problem, as in, the lack of it. Wooden water towers rise in the town like trees. Some of these towers have been converted into rental units. The first time I stayed in Mendocino, I stayed in a three story converted water tower at the MacCallum House. It was a very unique experience.