Preserving the Future


By Trudy Wischemann

While in Dunsmuir two weeks ago, I overheard something wise from an acquaintance, who’d been told “You can drag the past around with you like a dead horse, but you can’t bring it back to life.” I was struck by the truth of the image, and put it in my mental pocket for future use.

But something else I brought home from Dunsmuir convinced me that the past is an unpredictable part of the present, as well as necessary for the future. It is a small book on Dunsmuir, one of the “Images of America” series published by Arcadia Publishing Co. I fell in love with these books when I worked at the Book Garden in Exeter ten years ago, and exactly for this reason: they show us – literally, in photographs with captions – the connections between our past and our present. They help us understand what might be possible in the future.

Like many towns, Dunsmuir’s development was defined by the railroad, which was spurred by outside corporate interests to convey coal from British Columbia to San Francisco. In turn, the railroad promoted Dunsmuir as a tourist resort, as well as carrying the products of surrounding forests to distant markets. But it was the development of the automobile that brought prosperity to the little town, which seemed to thrive when Highway 99 ran down its main street. Despite fires, heavy snows and avalanches, and flooding of the Sacramento River repeatedly reshaping the facts of Dunsmuir’s life, the little town has re-built on its past, retaining a sense of authenticity.

And of course it’s the people who make that possible. Ron McCloud, who co-authored the book with Deborah Harton, owns the True Value hardware store on the main street, which is part museum, with shining wood floors as well as inventory to supply everything you’d need to live there. Across the street, wedged between cafes, is a thrift store run by third- and fourth-generation Dunsmuirites whose profits support single mothers in need. There’s a record shop/book store aimed at us Boomers, multiple shops featuring artists’ and craftspersons’ wares, and a storefront for the local watershed preservation organization. There’s a dispensary for medical marijuana across from the Amtrak station. And there’s a noon signal horn every day that becomes an emergency warning when it blows 5 times in succession.

When I mentioned Ron McCloud to a friend here, he said “Oh, he’s like our Chris Brewer.” Having worked for Chris and Sally at the Book Garden, I can say “yes.” Chris has managed to bring the powerhouse of history into the preservation of the future in Exeter. I think the example of both men is worth noting. But it takes a host of people dedicated to the community’s well-being to connect the past to the present – and that’s what preserves the future of our small towns. Let us join hands.

Trudy Wischemann is a community development researcher who writes. You can send her your town development stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.

Start typing and press Enter to search