Friday, January 8, 2010

Salt Tram Profile: Lillian Larson Hilderman

Salt Tram history is rapidly disappearing, and we are striving to rediscover the efforts of our forefathers in order to give proper recognition to their hopes, dreams and abundant sweat from an era that is rapidly fading from our memories. We are actively seeking out information about the mining of Salt in Saline Valley between 1903 and the 1940's, including: documents, photos, articles, stories, artifacts, etc. If you can help us out, please email us at the address above - Thank-you! --Tim and Brian Waag, the Waag brothers (aka E. Clampus Waagus).
Caution (PLEASE READ): Climbing around on the tramway is dangerous because its really old and defnitely unsafe, so don't even think about it. Shoot, just getting to it requires some perilous hiking, and if you don't believe me, just take a look at the Zig Zag Access Trail (or what's left of it). Plus, climbing on it weakens it and endangers your life. Also, the Saline Valley Salt Tram is on the National Register of Historic Places and should be treated with the respect that it deserves. What little remains is of great historic value, and should not be disturbed in any way. Heck, its probably against the law to move parts of the tram around, and certainly a crime to take home some of the few bits of it that remain (though you'd have to ask your friendly local BLM agent for details). So please treat it with the respect it deserves, so that future generations can enjoy whats left, without you messing it up. Really. Please. You can see its listing on the National Register of Historic Places at these web links:
National Register of Historic Places 1          National Register of Historic Places 2

A eulogy (date unknown) of sorts for Lillian Larson Hilderman (by Henry Raub, former Director of the Eastern California Museum) can be found in a pdf file at:

Owens Valley History: Lillian Hilderman Eulogy (pdf file)
(the entire text of the eulogy is reproduced at the end of this post, in case at some future date that the eulogy is moved from the Owens Valley History site in which it resides).
She is of interest to us for 2 reasons:

1) She was married to Harry Hilderman, listed in the ASCE document as the Construction Manager in charge of building the Salt Tram - a key figure!

2) She is named in several Salt Tram photos in the collection of the Eastern California Museum; also, one of our sources who lived in the Saline Valley in the 1960's was friends with Lillian, and Lillian told him some stories about the Salt Tram - riding the buckets in particular. We anxiously await hearing these stories in detail.  I finally tracked down my super-bad quality photocopy of Lillian at the Salt Tram. We are hoping to obtain better quality copies from the Eastern California Museum, in hopes of identify the material in the background, since the photo is dated October, 1929. One of our goals is to determine the state of construction and deterioration at various points in history.

3) When scanning photos in March 2010 at the Eastern California Museum, a high percentage of them were taken from Ms. Hilderman's scrapbooks, as the photos were apparently glued to black construction paper, indicative of the scrapbooks of the era. Sadly, many of the photos had annotations in pencil on the back that was inadvertently destroyed in part by the glue that attached the photo to the scrapbook. Nonetheless, her photos were a great addition to our Salt Tram knowledge.

Photo 1 (click on photo to enlarge): Here's the photo (or actually, 2 photos stuck together; two other shady figures appear in this photo: a G. W. Russell, and a Mrs. Granquist - salt tram roles unknown). Note the Eastern California Museum code that is handwritten on the photos: "HILD 31b" and "HILD 31a". We happen to know that the museum codes their donated photos with the name of the person that donated the photos, and NOT the photographer; my guess is that "HILD" stands for Hilderman, which means that it is likely that the Hilderman family (or Lillian herself, since she was born in 1886, but only passed away in 1976) donated them:

Photo 2 (click on photo to enlarge): The 1917 ASCE document (Doc02)  contains the listing of Harry Hilderman as the Construction Manager of the Salt Tram:

From the above referenced PDF, I have summarized the few facts and statements about Lillian Larson Hilderman (LLH) relative to the Salt Tram:
- LLH was a reporter for the Chalfant Press and covered the Keeler beat at some point in time (the Eulogy does not say); she was also the Keeler Postmaster (side note: a few years back, the Keeler Post Office was still struggling to stay open, and I bought about $500 worth of stamps there for our business; I don't know if they have won the battle to keep their post office open, but I doubt it)
- LLH was born May 18, 1886 in Minnesota, and moved to Independence in 1909, where she married Ludwig Linde, and had one son, Lawson; Ludwig died in WWI.
- LLH moved to Keeler in 1919 and became their postmaster; it is likely that this is when she started covering the "Keeler Beat" for the Chalfant Press
- LLH married Harry Hilderman (Salt Tram Construction Manager) in 1929; Harry died 4 years later in 1933
- LLH's Keeler column reported the following (date unknown): "A truck of about 20 tons of Saline Valley salt was unloaded here Tuesday, via Lee Flats, which means about 65 miles back and forth.
- LLH died February 7, 1976 at the age of 89

Lillian’s Keeler
By Henry Raub
Keeler, an almost-ghost town, drowsing in the sunshine on the eastern shores of Owens Lake, surely
must be one of the most unlikely places to abound with hot news for the press.
But when Lillian Larson Hilderman lived there and mailed her reports to Chalfant Press newspapers,
the news did not have to be "hot" to be avidly read. Veteran fans opened the pages first to her column,
naturally titled KEELER by Lillian Hilderman. Then they refolded the pages to scan Page 1.
It wasn't that the front page provided inferior reading. It was that Lillian wrote news unlike that
known anywhere throughout the world of journalism.
Where can you pick up a newspaper and read James Smith has a new set of choppers? Or notice a
society tidbit reporting that Extra special sundaes were served to Mrs. Viola Race and Mrs. Osburn
because one dislikes whipped cream and the other one specializes squirting people with it.
As Keeler's self-appointed official in charge of weather reporting to the press, she might dispatch an
item of interest mentioning that a strong north wind had blown all the tumbleweeds out of town into the
desert. Then the next issue of the paper announces that a south wind had blown all the tumbleweeds
back into town.
Where can you get news like that? The locals loved it, and big town travelers benefited from the
contrast with the sensationalism of their metropolitan scandal sheets.
An understanding existed between correspondent Hilderman and Chalfant Press that her news items
appear in the paper exactly as submitted. Editor Todd Watkins, it is said, notified the staff that not one
jot nor one tittle of Hilderman's material was to be altered in any way. The Keeler scribe had fired in
some critical remarks about tampering with her copy. Seemingly unavoidable typographical errors in
her reports caused immediate response in the following news from Keeler.
Last week's paper gave Glenda Coburn's name as Brenda.
The Murrells have been at Morning Star four months, not four years, and their daughter is
Densie, not Denise.
Then, as if Inyo County was proving to be no match for her, critic Hilderman, like a feminine David
went after newspapers' Goliath, the prestigious Los Angeles Times.
L.A. Times has its errors too. Feb. 3 Issue spelled Catholic as Cotholic ... Connie as Commie.
But a hypocrite she was not because she even included herself.
Error on my part listed Tommy Davidson as Tommy Fuller when eighth grade graduates were
mentioned fast week.

Lillian’s Keeler
Page 2

First a correction on my part. Gary Fuller was eight years old on his birthday, not seven.
Then along came a blockbuster in 1969 that brought the Keeler reporter bolt upright in her easy
chair. True West magazine published a story about Keeler titled "How to Tame a Town" that was
riddled with mistakes, as judged by Hilderman's memories. In no time the editor received 20 paragraphs
from the Keeler reporter. Her printed story covered nineteen column inches of newspaper. Hilderman's
article tore to pieces the magazine yarn about Deputy Marshall Dan Thomas with his trusty gun and
holster cleaning up Keeler's community of 8,000 souls.
Keeler was a cross section of other Inyo county towns, she wrote, and 1 along with many others
did not know it required a cleanup.
As for girls coming from Mojave, not required as there were two and more at Lee's "Laundry"
and one had a dugout room south end of Laws St., which we knew as "Bachelor's Row," there
being a number of cabins.
Joe You spelled his name thusly and so pronounced. The cellar under his gambling room led
by tunnel to Lee's "Laundry." Joe was not the storekeeper. Sam Kee Chan was owner and was
registered as a voter, Sam Yuensang. The wife was Choy Foo, and daughter Rossie Foo, why 1 do
not know.
Critic Hilderman emphatically stated that Owens Lake bed was not dry in 1918, as stated in True
I remember Thomas Isaacson complaining of lake water jumping over a 20 ft. vat wall and
spoiling soda In vat which was ready to harvest.
Other strange statements came under Lillian's fire such as, Don't understand about Dan Judge
receiving a direct phone call from Cerro Gordo as that was a private line ... 1 never heard of a
man falling 400 feet at Cerro Gordo ... Why was Shepherd's Canyon affair listed as a part of
Keeler? That goes for Ballarat, too ... Keeler population 8,000??? The great register of 1918 gives
voters as 114, total of county 3106.
As for arrests, June 1918, Logan and Thomas arrested a man for insanity; June 29 Logan and
McAfee made an arrest on a liquor charge, then Aug. 23 Dan made an arrest on a pro-German
charge, ditto for Aug. 25. Four arrests for a year ... would you say town needed taming?
Lillian Larson Hilderman was born May 18, 1886, in St. Peter, Minnesota. In 1909 she came to
Independence to be the bride of Ludvig Linde, and to establish a homestead half a mile south of town.
They had one son, Lawson. Lillian's husband was killed in WW 1. She moved to Keeler to become
Postmaster in 1919 and to marry Harry Hilderman in 1929. Harry lived only four years more. Life held
many sorrows for Lillian, and not the least of these was the death of her son and his wife and their
younger son in an airplane crash.

Lillian’s Keeler
Page 3

Friends point out that she had great compassion for the sick and injured, and was the first to visit
them with handmade gifts. She traveled in her car to bring cheer to people all the way between Bishop
and Lone Pine.
Sick and injured dogs constantly received mention in her column. They seemed to be high on her
list of friends.
Friday several dogs decided hunting they would go, later in the afternoon they came back,
mouths, jaws and feet covered with quills from rodent porcupine. Two dogs required help from
Last week Mr. and Mrs. Van Hoose went to Hunters Mt. and dog Gomer received a tick bite
on inner ear causing an infection, hence Gomer had a week's stay at Bishop Veterinary Hospital.
Mrs. G. Hernandez and Mrs. Bessie Stark have used Dirty Sox pool several times through past
week. Mrs. Stark did not bring her dog, as stated last week.
Sunday afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Earl Murphy, Diana, Susan and Gus, the police dog, called on
me. If you don't think the dog counted, you can't realize the space he used in the Murphy's small
Hilderman included other animals, if they made news, and even if they didn't.
The Jim Merrills while at Ubehebe Mine have accumulated a number of animals, four goats,
guinea hens, banti chickens and rabbits. They had two dogs, cats and chickens.
Of animal interest are the travels of Mrs. Suprenant's Dickie Bird who went with her in auto
to Bend, Ore. After visit, daughter, Mrs. Joanis, took mother and bird to Reno, where bus would
not take bird to Lone Pine. Back to Bend went poor bird, where it was expressed to Lone Pine.
Now home, it is happy.
Keeler plant life appealed to the writer for favorable publicity.
Some towns may be in the red - just now Keeler is pink with the African Cedars (tamarisk) in
bloom for Easter. Come and bring your color film.
It is noticed that sunflowers as grown here turn their heads with the sun while they are small
but when larger, all face east.
Hilderman made a big thing out of that boring old hat topic of the weather. It sounded like maybe
there was more of it in Keeler than any place else.
We thought spring slow in arriving, then on Wednesday a regular hot summer day, Thursday
suddenly cold, no excuse for Friday's weather except opening for fishing was due. At 2 p.m. the
biggest wind of many years began to show its strength by tearing large limbs from trees and the
sign from Gandera's Grocery. Roofing paper and general litter of twigs, dried bushes, papers and

Lillian’s Keeler
Page 4

tin cans move with gusto. Neither of the mountain ranges could be seen. Through night snow fell
on Inyos and Sierra. actually cold Sunday. At 3 p.m. a hail with rain. When I got home shortly
before 8, highway had been posted with caution sign, sand covered part of road and diversion
ditches from Inyo mountains and the Coso Range was white to foothills with clouds hovering east,
south and west. Puddles of slush at Keeler and gauge registered a generous .40. Monday normal
as usual.
Last Wednesday began with dark clouds overhead, wind and dust added to the dullness. Snow
at 2:30. No power between 5 and 6 p.m. which meant no dinner, to many, also no light, no ice box,
no radio. no heat, no iron, and so on, and if it keeps up no water, as tank empties rapidly.
Thunder and lightning Thursday a week ago caused a switch to Cerro Gordo mine to burn
out. The fireworks were awesome.
Hilderman observed with dread the sometimes reckless antics of the War Department's fly boys,
competing overhead with nature for the attention of mankind in Keeler.
Friday a plane or jet flew so low at 10 a.m. that 20 foot trees swayed as if there was a wind.
That altitude is too low for residents' peace of mind.
Two thunderous booms 9:30 Friday as jets passed overhead.
A jet flew low at 11 a.m. Friday and broke the sound barrier, shook houses and people like a
giant dynamite charge.
And no obvious improvement at ground level, either.
Atom bomb as set off In Nevada Friday seemed like an opening shot for Lone Pine Stampede.
Lillian liked to report a distinctly more pleasing sound that came irregularly from the tracks of the
old Carson & Colorado Railroad. Running just about as it pleased, the little narrow gauge steam
locomotive came down from the north to the southern terminus of Keeler with the dusty, creaking
swayback box, flat, cattle cars, gondolas and ancient open-end platform passenger car, used as a
caboose. They were so old they retained their original archbar trucks with wooden beams, truss rods
and queen post supports. Rumbling, thumping and swaying down the undulating, well-worn tracks, they
faithfully followed the tiny Baldwin locomotive. With blowing of the steam whistle and ringing of the
bell the engineer, probably Mr. Ferguson, adjusted the Johnson bar to bring his freight consist to a fine
wheezy, screeching and clanking stop at the yards.
Regular passenger went out on train Tuesday, ticket and everything.
After dark Friday, the whistle of engine was heard. Seems RR crew had been hauling for
three days for northern points and overtime piled up, requiring a 10-hour rest. Agent Crieman
after being gone over tour months was recalled from Lone Pine and saw Keeler by night for the
first time.

Lillian’s Keeler
Page 5

Engine No. 9 Monday puffed out with three gondolas of bulk talc and twelve closed box cars.
Several wondered at the shrill whistles made by train as ft came in Monday. Later learned two
of our small fly took their sweet time in crossing right of way. Thank you, Mr. Ferguson for being
Some of Mrs. Hilderman's news items prove that her touted healthful air at Keeler did not always
guarantee perfect health.
Mrs. 8. Dillard and Cheryl were ill with colds last week.
Mrs. 0. Hanger went to hospital at Lone Pine fast Wednesday, returning Saturday feeling
much better.
Andy Pedneau fell out of bed Wednesday night. Doctor's attention received Thursday a.m.
Charles Withrow and Richard Osburn in playing football fast Wednesday had a mishap which
places Ricky in hospital with bumped Adam's Apple.
Of course, Hilderman's column came to the reader as a grand mix of news at Keeler as it occured. A
sample might be something like the following.
Moths were everywhere for a while, but the new moon ... enticed them elsewhere. Since have
come many scorpions and cinch bugs, and a few stray grasshoppers. Even the white cabbage
butterflies are here. So far, no rattlesnakes, but Harvey McMorris and Frank Wasson saw a
larger than usual chuck-a-walia near their mine in Saline Valley.
Mrs. Hilderman went to Bishop fast Monday.
A box of brass fittings and fixtures at one house, grew legs and walked off through Thursday
A truck of about 20 tons of Saline Valley salt was unloaded here Tuesday. Via Lee Flats -
which means about 65 miles back and forth.
All through this weekend I've been told, "No Keeler news fast week (in the paper)!" Certainly
/ know, but only two items were available.
A bulldozer went up Cerro Gordo hill on Friday.
Yes sir we are fully aware school began Thursday, September 9. Everything was so unearthly
Mrs. Frank Osburn brought me swiss chard from her garden Sunday.

Lillian’s Keeler
Page 6

Not to mention names, but three Keelerites were seen at Hawthome, Nevada, on New Year's
It may not be carrying coals to Newcastle but fast week an Inyo county lady shipped a dog to
Kansas. Kansas ships dogs to California, but, of course, not as good.
Bean dip, onion dip, shrimp dip are well known and enjoyed. Coming home from
Independence Friday I noticed a Caution Dip.
Water pipes have been installed, cutoff valves and a few miniature red fire plugs installed.
Last article should be appreciated by Pomeranians.
As of yesterday, vagrant breezes roll tumbleweeds out of Keeler, and tomorrow they will be blown
into town. Children have birthday parties and parents hold meetings. Sand blows over the highway
while lightning flashes overhead and thunder echoes through the nearby hills. War Department's killer
planes roar over Owens Lake and break the sound barrier to make the citizens cringe. The everlasting
Sierra peaks cast their lengthening purple shadows across the nation's Deepest Valley as the golden sun
sets slowly in the western sky.
In fading memories old timers see proud and fiesty Lillian Larson Hilderman return from
Independence in her alkali-dusted, bluish mouse colored sedan, to emerge slowly at her modest Keeler
home like a true lady leaving her chauffeur driven Pierce-Arrow limousine. Here was one of the truly
great characters in Inyo's golden treasury of folk lore.
"She is gone now," wrote the late Ed Rosendorf, correspondent for the Inyo Independent, 'but her
columns will always remain classics in the memory of the many who each week turned at once to read
what was going on in Keeler, one of the most unlikely sources of news in Inyo county.
"For her news was like the air she breathed. The flight of a bird, the winds rustling the trees, the
soda ash over the lake, the shifting sands, a strolling dog, all of these were duly recorded events. And of
course there were the comings and goings of the people of Keeler to be dutifully chronicled and
faithfully read by a most loyal clientele."
After a life distinguished by being wife, mother, nurse for Inyo's noted "Doc" Irving J. Wooden,
Keeler's postmaster, Eastern Star's Past Worthy Matron, historian, compassionate friend of the sick, and
Chalfant newspapers' famous correspondent at Keeler, Lifflan Larson Hilderman left this life February
7, 1976, at age 89.



  1. Harry Hilderman, the foreman, engineer of the tram, came from Colorado where he had some silver mines, in the Silverton area. He spent time in old Mexico as a mining engineer. He originally came from Sweden. He was a real Indiana Jones type of character. He was my grandfather.

  2. Prof Watson,
    It’s good to hear from you. Harry was listed as the Construction Foreman of the Salt tram, but died in 1933. We would love to learn more about him, as little is known. We have several documents written by him during his duties at the Salt Tram. Also, he signed his name and date in concrete at the summit station of the Salt Tram in 1913. Please get in contact with us when you can - thanks.

    You are invited to comment or become a follower!

    Tim Waag (personal)
    home (805) 544-2109
    cell (805) 440-9144