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Kelso Depot Reopening Page 2

Kelso Depot Grand Reopening

Kelso, California
March 25, 2006
Story and photographs copyright 2006 by Richard Elgenson

The 11:00 am Kelso Town Tour was guided by park archaeologist David Nichols.  The town tour focused on the physical modern ruins 120 years old or less and took us walking easterly along Kelso Cima Road, which is a shortcut for motorists driving from Las Vegas to Palm Springs.  The first people in the area were  the ancestral Mojave.  Around 1500 the Chemehuevi, literally “black bearded ones”, who wore loincloth, inhabited the area.  Different groups of Native Americans inhabited the area at different times.  Some groups preyed on others for women and slaves.  Nomadic Paiute pushed others away to the Colorado River.  One of the inhabiting cultures left artwork about 6 miles away in a limestone cave in Foshey Pass.  The artwork depicts a horse and rider who is supposedly Father Francisco Garces, a non-native explorer in the late 1700's. Garces made note of headwaters of a northward flowing river, therefore believed to be the Mojave River.

The original depot building was 2200 square feet.  In 1923 the present depot was opened with beautiful hedges and roses.  Across the street (below left) was the post office and store which had been opened by the Packard family in the 1910’s.  Theo Packard started working here as a teenager in 1924 and is now 91 years old.   Kelso has suffered from the loss of its own town as private parties and the railroad have removed houses from the area.  The ruins of the houses date to the 1920’s and 1930’s.


The house in the below two photographs is privately owned.  Ranger Nichols said that if and when the house and property came onto the real estate market, the National Parks Service would attempt to purchase it.


The school, below left, is boarded up and chain link fence surrounds it.  This is what the NPS calls stabilization which means things are fixed in place and water is kept out.  When the school was closed in the early 1970’s it was still administered by San Bernardino County.  At the close, students were asked to paint the interior walls which, apparently, still contains those messages.


The schoolmarm’s house still stands along with out buildings towards the back of the property.  On this morning tour, at least 2 former students of the school were present.  They are Robert Dell and sister Katherine Dell.  Their father had been a roundhouse worker in Las Vegas and then moved his family to the Kelso area to work for the Kaiser Vulcan Mine.  Katherine Dell was a student here in 1944-1945.  She told listeners that the school was split session and brought along one of her report cards.



I noticed the back of one man’s shirt with some interesting information and this man turned out to be the tour guides father, Richard Nichols from Saugus California, about 250 miles to the west of Kelso.


The tour ended by the old school house and most people made their way back to the depot, about ¼ mile away.  I took a few pictures of Dave Nichols and his dad plus a group of history buffs from Arkansas.  Below right is the Kelso Cima Road.  This road parallels the railroad to the top of Cima grade, then diverges away from the track.  The original roads were Native American trading routes.  In more modern times, there was resistance to paving the road due to an odd belief that big horn sheep would not cross asphalt.  After this, the tour was done.  I returned to the depot where Ranger Nichols explained some facts about local archaeology.


The two photographs below are views of the ticket agent's office in the depot.


Below left is the lunch counter which will be reopened in the future.  Below right is the first floor baggage room.  The basement has additional room for baggage and supplies.


Kelso Depot Page 3