23 September 2015

The Kenney Stables of Carbon Canyon, Part 3

Here is the third and final part of the story of the Kenney Stables, located on what is now Carbon Canyon Regional Park, which celebrates its 40th anniversary at a special event this Saturday.  Thanks to Matthew Kenney for the text and photos used on this post.

By 1971 we were moving along nicely with construction. We had successfully built a rodeo arena, graded for the three riding arenas, and ran a 3" main waterline to feed the complex. The water line was no small task as we had to bore under the highway to hook onto the main water line which was on the opposite side of the road. 

It was accomplished with a home brew horizontal drilling rig my Dad built. The county engineers said it would never work but Dad talked them into issuing the permit anyway. The main line got hooked up in about a week. We had done a septic tank for the initial complex and moved in a single wide mobile home for our base of operations. The main steel framing for the 50 stall barn was up and bolted together. In early 1971 we sold the house in Fullerton and moved into the canyon that summer.

The Aeromotor steel windmill brought from the Hellman Ranch at Seal Beach to the Kenney stables in Carbon Canyon, September 1972.  Photo courtesy of Matthew Kenney.  Click on any image to see them enlarged in a separate window.
In mid 1972 we obtained what would have been the centerpiece for the main entrance which is the main park entrance today. It was an Aeromotor steel windmill. I think it came from the Hellman  ranch in Seal Beach which was being demolished at the time. 

[Editor's note:  Isaias W. Hellman (1842-1920) came to Los Angeles in the 1850s and established a popular store, in which he conducted an informal banking business.  In 1868, he opened the second bank in the city with ranchers William Workman and F.P.F. Temple and called Hellman, Temple and Company and then dissolved that to form Farmers and Merchants.  By the 1890s he was a powerful figure in Los Angeles and expanded his banking empire to San Francisco. Hellman, one of the wealthiest persons in western America, also owned Rancho Cucamonga and, in 1881, bought Rancho Los Alamitos with the Bixby family--this is where the windmill was from.]

Nice size windmill, but how to get it to the canyon? For every problem there is a solution. One of the neighbors up the canyon had a big giant four-wheel drive truck with a lumber rack on it. We loaded the windmill on the truck in one piece, strapped it down and hung some flags on it. It was a little bit (a lot!) over the oversize limit. I can't imagine what people thought as we motored it down the road all the way to the canyon. 

The easy part was putting it up. A small crane and several sets of hands and it was bolted in place. As I looked at all the pictures of this process I wondered why I was not in any of them.........then it occurred to me that it was because I was the one taking the pictures!

The installation of the windmill at the Kenney stables, Carbon Canyon, September 1972.
By late 1972 it all started to unravel. We had formed a corporation with a "friend". He convinced us that doing so would make it easier and cheaper to obtain the insurance and funding that would be needed to operate. He also promised laborers to help with some of the grunt work since he ran a small company that provided migrant labor for some of the area citrus growers. He took care of forming the corporation with him being the controlling partner. He said he could secure more funding for us, as cash money was our weak spot. We believed him and went ahead with the deal. As we learned later (too late!) he had no intention of making good on his promises. This was strike one.

In 1972 our lease came up for renewal for the basin. The parcel where the actual stable sat was a separate property that was owned by CWOD [formerly the Chanslor-Canfield Midway Oil Company--editor]. That was the access land to the basin. That was a different lease negotiated with the county and CWOD. The deal was that when the county and the Corps of Engineers decided to go ahead with the regional park plan, our equestrian complex would be included providing we were operational. The county would buy the property and would act as our landlord.

We put our bid in for the basin lease and were very surprised to find out someone had bid a much higher amount. It seems our operation had caught the attention of some greedy folks from the valley that had a small horse operation in one of the flood control basins there. They figured they would take over the lease and push us out. We could have fought it and taken it to court and won but they had one thing we didn't........money. 

Much to their surprise we had them fenced out of the stable property in record breaking time. They were too stupid to know that it was two properties. They were very upset when they had to file for an easement with the county to access their newly acquired land! They then also found out they couldn't build anything on the Corps of Engineers land. Not a happy day for them to find out they wasted their money. 

The barn on the Kenney stables looking east, Carbon Canyon, June 1972.  The hill at the right behind the trees is where the park is separated from the tract homes on the Yorba Linda side.  In the distance are the hills in and around Soquel Canyon.
They then resorted to more and more desperate means to push us out. They complained to the county regularly. They would harass us by cutting fence and running livestock in our property that we had to constantly round up. It then turned violent with open threats to our family, the end result being a man almost getting himself killed in a planned assault that took place at our trailer one afternoon. The Sheriff's report of that incident made its way to the county planners. They did not want to be mixed up in any kind of land feud, so they accelerated the timetable for the park development. There was strike two.

In 1969 California experienced some torrential rains in the early part of the year. The end result was the basin filled with a great deal of water and debris from the canyon above. It did it's job. Enough silt washed in to completely bury the bottom basin cross fence, about 6 feet at the tallest post. You could only see the top 3 inches, if you could find them at all. When the water dried up we had to clean up the debris. Logs, tires, entire trees, you name it. It took almost 7 months of work to get it done. That was a major setback in the way of time spent on building the stable, but we forged ahead. The county and the Corps of Engineers later used that as an excuse to kick us out.

In early 1974 we received a letter from the county about their intent to buy the stable property so that the Corps of Engineers could start grading for the regional park. This was a full three years ahead of schedule—it seemed like they changed their mind about us over night. They wanted us out. The county stated the reason was because we were not operational yet, when, in fact, we were maybe five months away from renting the first ten stalls that were finished save for the plumbing. 

Then the Corps of Engineers canceled any lease to be held on the basin on the basis that it was not "cleaned of flood debris" in a proper and timely way nor were the fences being maintained. We were paid pennies on the dollar by the county for the improvements to the property. We were set to battle it out in court but our business partner put a stop to that. We found out the hard way that he was not only greedy but had no spine as well. Since he had controlling interest in the corporation he was able to dissolve it and walk away with the lion's share of our money without making good on a single one of his promises. Strike three, you're out!

The single-wide mobile home that was the residence of the Kenney family at the stables in Carbon Canyon, June 1972.
Carbon Canyon has a long list of failed business ventures attached to it—ours was one of many. It didn't have to be that way—there was plenty of the horse business to go around for everyone. All it took was the greed of a few people to wipe over ten years worth of work away. In the end, none of them really gained anything. 

Carbon Canyon is so built up now I don't know if we would have survived even if we had been successful in finishing the equestrian complex. This story should, however, serve as a cautionary tale to anyone planning to start a business on that scale. Simply put, be careful!

The thing that made me the most sad about the whole deal was not having 24/7 access to the canyon anymore. In the short time we lived there it was like Adventureland USA. History could be dug right up out of the dirt sometimes without even a shovel. You can bet there are many more stories of the things my brother Khris and I did in the hills of the canyon. There were many more good things that happened than bad in our short stay. 

But, then, life goes on, we all got over it and never looked back.

There's just a small side note on a recent event related to Iron Eyes Cody. Someone told me that the guys on the "American Pickers" TV show had bought some Iron Eyes Cody memorabilia on one of their recent programs. I don't watch much television so I looked it up on a video-streaming service, as I wanted to see what they bought. One of the things they got was Iron Eyes personal teepee. I sent them a brief history of it as it wound up being donated to the Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire, Iowa. They didn't know what it looked like set up or its age, so I sent them some of the pictures I sent along with the story. It's the teepee in the picture of the whole family in the canyon in 1968 [shown in the last post].            

In 1975, Carbon Canyon Regional Park opened to the public.  This Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the 40th-anniversary celebration will be held at the 124-acre facility, located at 4442 Carbon Canyon Road in Brea.  Activities include guided hikes of the park's redwood grove, live animals, presentations on canyon history and the Olinda Oil Museum, and, for the first 100 participants, lunch.

For more information, call (714) 973-3160 or email carboncanyon@ocparks.com                    

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