21 September 2015

The Kenney Stables of Carbon Canyon, Part 1

Back in the Spring, Matthew Kenney got in contact about sharing his family's Carbon Canyon story.  Specifically, his father, C. Bob Kenney, in the early 1960s, leased the land behind Carbon Canyon Dam, a few years after that flood control mitigation measure was completed.  The family went on to build a barn, stables and had a mobile home situated on the site when they moved onto the property full-time in 1971.

However, after it was decided that Carbon Canyon Regional Park would be built on the site and after the family was told they could continue their stable operation as long as it provided public access, the lease was not renewed.  The Kenneys, having expended much time, energy and money on the enterprise, were forced to leave.

Given that this Saturday is an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Carbon Canyon Regional Park, this seemed an apt time to share the story of the Kenney stables, thanks to Matthew.  The posts are slightly edited from his submission and all photos come from him.

The Kenney family (clockwise from back left: C. Bob, Bette, Khris, Matthew), Fullerton, Thanksgiving 1961.  All photos courtesy of Matthew Kenney.  Click on any photo to see them enlarged in a separate window.
There were four of us—my father C. Bob Kenney, mother Bette, older brother Khris and of course me, Matthew. The first picture shown above is from Thanksgiving at Grandma's house in Fullerton in 1961. Dad wears a suit and tie and works as a aerospace engineer, mom works as a secretary at Chicksan in Brea.......just a normal 60s suburban family right? My mother once told me that when she and dad were dating he would show up nicely dressed and clean. After they got married she said she discovered she married a dirty cowboy......and I do mean a REAL cowboy, not something you see in some movie. Life is full of paradoxes, this was a big one.  The second picture below is of "cowboy Bob," circa 1948.


In Fullerton we leased various properties from the oil companies to run cattle and horses on and in the late 1950s started a small stable operation on Associated Rd.  Our stable consisted of ten stalls that rented for $35 per month and pasture space that cost $15 per month. We limited our total of horses on the property to 50 head and had a waiting list for both pasture and stalls. Then there were feed, tack and care services that we provided. From an early age my brother and I provided the extra helping hands to make it possible. It was a very good business, but very hard work. This was all done while my dad worked the late shift at North American aviation in Seal Beach. He was one of many engineers that helped get the Apollo missions to the moon.

C. Bob Kenney, Fullerton, circa 1948.
With the success of the stable in Fullerton in the early 60s my father was looking to operate on a much bigger scale. He designed a 50-stall bolt-together horse barn that was built entirely out of a material that was very plentiful and inexpensive at the time--two-inch oil well drill tube. There were huge stacks of this stuff available for pennies. We would have a 50 stall barn, regulation size rodeo arena, three riding arenas, a general store that sold feed and tack and about 50 acres of planted pasture space. We would sponsor events (like we did with the Iron Eyes Cody Indian pow-wows of 1968-1972) and host some of the smaller national rodeo events. Carbon Canyon was the perfect spot.......


Since this property was largely undeveloped, the first thing that had to be done was build a perimeter fence. It was the major sticking condition on the lease contract along with cleaning any debris out of the basin that may wash down out of the canyon (that was later to become our undoing). Total mileage on the fence.......just under six miles. Doesn't seem like much, does it?

The Kenney family (right to left, Khris, Bette, Matthew, Bob) with relatives at the Carbon Canyon stable property, 1967.
But that was six miles of new fence where no fence had been before on some of the most rocky, hard packed soil/shale you can imagine.All to built on the weekends by one grown man and two pre-teen kids. Not very likely to succeed in a logistic sense. We built an old-school 4-strand barbed wire fence. By old school I mean done "Plains" style. The fence is laid out with "pull" poles on 16ft centers with 3 steel T-posts pounded in between for wire tie downs. 

"Pull" poles are what you staple the wire to in order to pull the wire tight between runs. One run = 32 feet. The pull poles were old surplus telephone poles which were free at the time (before they gained popularity in landscaping). Pull poles were 8ft long sunk 3ft into the ground. This cycle of fence construction was repeated almost every weekend for five, almost six years (I started when I was about 9 years old). 

Matthew Kenney at the family's Fullerton stable, 1968.
We did have a little Ford tractor with a post hole digger but that could only be used on flat terrain. Better than a third of the fence was built on hills of shale which is not easy to dig in. A lot of the rocky areas tore up the post hole digger auger, so my Dad designed and made some special digging tools like the changeable tool steel cutters for the post hole digger auger. 

Concerning some of the fence building tools, what we each had on us in our tool belt, with the exception of the nail puller (used for mistakes stapling the wire,) was a good 24-ounce hammer, a pair of fence pliers and a wrecking bar. I say wrecking bar because there is a difference between it and a simple crow bar. A wrecking bar is longer and has less of a crook on the neck giving you better leverage to pull the wire on the post. 


Some of the tools used by the Kenneys to build their six-mile long barbed wire fence around the Carbon Canyon stable property over a six-year period.
We also used just your normal set of post hole diggers alongside the most important tool we had......the digging bar, or just simply "the bar". It was one of the first home brew tools my Dad made. It was made from an old handmade axe head that was submerged in a flux mixture of flourides and oxides, welded to a high carbon tool steel tube, and then tempered in an oven (thanks to the huge tempering oven at my Dad's work). The end opposite the axe head was left open for the tempering operation. Once tempered, the tube was filled 2/3 full of sand and then the end plug was welded in (a sucker rod threaded end, this had more uses than just digging). It acts much like a dead blow hammer, you can knock a hole in solid pavement in a matter of minutes. The whole thing is 9ft long, weighs about 45 pounds. I've used it for countless things over the past 50 years, just recently doing a rock retaining wall. Need to lift a 400 pound hunk of stone? It's easy when you have the best lever in the world and a couple tackle blocks.

Of course we had a small complement of hand tools, gloves, and etc. There was also a digging shovel for each of us.  I also found artifacts while we were building fence, including about 500 feet of Brink ribbon wire with a field splice on it, found in the back corner of the basin near the Yorba Linda side and an 1859 one-cent piece.  I found the coin digging a post hole around where the town of Olinda used to be. It has been in my pocket for 50 years (my lucky penny). 

Here's what six miles of fence comes to in materials that we paid for:
  • About 2000 pull poles
  • 6,000 steel T posts
  • 126,720 feet of barb wire (four strand fence)
  • An estimated 100 pounds of hot dip galvanized staples
  • Five-six years of building
  • An infinite amount of blisters


On the left, a standard post hole digger and, on the right, Bob Kenney's custom-made digging bar.
I'm not sure what is left of the fence, but I know that parts of it along Carbon Canyon Road were still there ten years ago. It appears to be all gone now from looking at the area through a Google Maps street view.

There were some other minor obstacles:
  • Getting the poles and wire up the hills was a challenge. We made a sled of sorts that kind of looked like a dog sled........and we were the dogs. Sometimes it would take two or three weekends just to place the materials for a section of fence. None of that ever got stolen, they were too heavy to pack out.
  • Dirt bike enthusiasts had a habit of cutting and tearing up the new fence.....there was a guy that would actually show up on the weekends and sell admission to "his" newly fenced motorcycle park!
  • Neighboring ranchers that wanted "free range" cutting and tearing up new fence.
  • Road wrecks on the canyon road cutting and tearing up new fence (a monthly deal).
  • People regularly stealing materials an equipment.....we lost two post hole diggers that way. As everyone knows, the canyon is kind of a no mans land for law enforcement.
Because the property was just a short drive from Fullerton where we lived, we learned to check on everything every couple of days. That went on until we actually moved there in late 1971.

Coming next is part two of the series!

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