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Ron Cheshire, former Mayor of Ridgecrest 1982-1984, takes a breather along Butte Ave. during last year’s Old West Days Celebration. / Laura Austin Photo

Randsburg to celebrate Old West Days Sept. 17

By Laura Quezada News Review Staff WriterPull on your cowboy boots. It is time for Old West Day in Randsburg on Saturday, September 17. This is a great time to visit this historic mining town just a few miles from Ridgecrest off of Highway 395. The News Review visited with several residents and frequent visitors at The Joint to learn about the events planned and found some great memories of Old West Days from the past.

This is the third year that owner of The Joint,  Hollie Shotwell, coordinates Old West Day. She tells us that all of Butte Avenue will be lively. The day starts with a pancake breakfast at the Opera House up the street which runs from 8am until 11am. Between 6am and 9am almost 60 vendors will set up on the street. There will be a wide variety of items to browse, buy, eat and drink. Many of the vendors will have fun games for the kids to play.

At 9:30am folks line up for the 10am parade at Santa Barbara Church farther up the street. Burroughs High School Band will lead the parade. Shotwell remembers, “The band last year really put a tear in my eye when I asked them to stop right in front of the museum and play the National Anthem as we raised the flag in front of the museum. They’re going to do that again this year.” Also in the parade will be horses, cars from the Car Show, motorcycles from the Bike Show, and Randsburg residents have been invited to decorate their golf carts and join in the fun.  

There are three Old West Reenactment Shows by The Sweet Water Gang in front of The White House Saloon at 10:30am,12noon and 2pm. “The reenactment show is our shoot ‘em up cowboy show,” says Shotwell. The winners of the Car Show will be announced at 3pm at the Cottage Hotel  followed at 3:30pm with the announcement of the winners of the Bike Show and the Costume Contest at the band stage next to The Joint.

Live music goes all day outdoors starting at 10am at both ends of the avenue. Ridgecrest favorites, Station Street, will be playing classic rock at Cottage Hotel and country music from Lancaster band, Runaway, will be on the lot next to The Joint. 

Handicap parking will be near Butte Avenue, folks will be directed to other areas to park, and there will be a people mover running downhill from the top of the street so you won’t have to walk all the way if you don’t want.

This will be a great day to visit The Rand Desert Museum on Butte Avenue. President of the museum, Marty Gomez, owns the Cottage Hotel with his wife. He tells us, “I’ve been coming to town here since I was 10 years old…for 50 years. I never heard anything about it because I lived down in Southern California and just rode my dirt bike in. We’d come up every Thanksgiving; I started hearing about it about 15 years ago. It’s a big thing for the town; it is a good time for everybody to let it all hang out and just have fun. The kids have fun with the cowboys coming to town.”

Gomez and his wife moved to Randsburg 10 years ago. “When I moved here I never thought we would own a hotel,” he says, “but now my wife Debbie and I do and it’s pretty good.” He isn’t sure of the exact year the building was built but it was the early 1900’s. “They tell us a family lived in there. The gentleman, a miner, and his wife had six kids. It’s a big, big place  with a  big yard for the kids. They transformed it into a hotel a when he sold and it’s been a hotel, I believe, since 1930. 

   “It has antique furniture and everything looks like it was when the original family lived there. All the stuff on the walls are from the early 1900s The old switchboard is in the lobby, it’s not plugged in or anything but that’s where they would use it. Then you go into the dining room area  there’s a pool table, the dining room, the kitchen and all. I have added motorcycle memorabilia in there.” They also have a restaurant that is open during the off-road season which runs from Old West Day until April or May. 

The Rand Desert Museum is free and open Saturday and Sunday from 10am until 2pm. Folks can call 760-608-7776 to schedule private events. 

As with many of the folks who own businesses in Randsburg, he became president of the museum to help the community and to keep the town going. He says of his favorite display, “Burro Schmidt, that was a man there. I’ve been up to the tunnel more than many times throughout the years and  it’s pretty incredible.  We have his old britches, as they call them, his old pair of pants in the museum in a special case. We have stories about him posted to the museum.” During Old West Day they will be selling T-shirts out front and selling commemorative bricks as a fundraiser for the museum.

Cowboy Jim is a regular at The Joint. He meandered in and took a moment to talk with us. “It’s a great event for everyone. I think my first one was almost 20 years ago.  They got slow for a while but it picked up thanks to Hollie. We used to have probably a dozen or more horses here; but, a lot of my friends aren’t in it anymore.  What was really unique about our group was we did a lot of the gunfights on the horses; we don’t do that anymore but we bring the horses for the kids. 

“The best part is for the kids to see the horses. I missed one year and one lady showed up with these two little kids dressed up in cowboys. They asked ‘Where are the horses? Where are the cowboys?’ These kids have been talking about it all year.” Which sparks a memory for him. 

“When I was a kid, we’d go to Kansas a lot.  I used to ride horses there. On the way back, we stopped at a little town called Jackson Hole, Wyoming, little Western town. I saw a guy come out of the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, get on a horse and ride away. I was about 10 years old, I said that was the coolest thing. That guy doesn’t know it, but he’s the one that kind of got me started and so I was wondering  when kids see me riding my horses around town and stuff like that, if one of them is going to say, ‘I might do that one time.’ You can take a horse anywhere you can take a car legally in California except the freeway.”

Cowboy Jim’s signature move is riding his horse INTO The Joint. Apparently, he does this all over the place including at the Deadwood Bar where Wild Bill Hickock was shot, the Doc Holiday Saloon in Tombstone and at the Pioneer Saloon in Nevada.

Cowboy’s given name is Jim Heffel and you may have seen him on the big screen or the small one. Twenty years ago he started renting his horses to the movie industry. He was standing around dressed like a cowboy and was asked “Can you maybe ride the horse because this guy doesn’t know how to ride.” Or, “Can you get shot off your horse?” “Can you ride across the field?” Eventually they asked him to say some lines and now he is an actor in films with Tom Berenger and Bruce Dern.

Cowboy isn’t sure how many horses will make it this year, but he will be bringing two.

Longtime Indian Wells Valley resident, Tex Whitson, was enjoying companionship in The Joint with several old timers that he has been hanging out with since he was a kid. He remembers Old West Days before they were named that and started at Red Mountain. He tells us, “We came up here to Red Mountain Roundup, which was the rodeo and that was over in Red Mountain. The next event was up here in Randsburg and it was called Old Miners Days. But this was the same community because we’re mile apart here. Old Miners Days was probably started in 1949. I was a child and we had real miners living up here in those days; the mines were still open. They had real miners doing these things on Main Street. Drilling and contests that had to do with mining. 

“It was just fascinating. Remember at that time, kids could come in these bars and sit right there and drink a Coca Cola if their parents were with them. I remember these old guys telling the old stories about how hard the rock was and how much gold come out of a certain place.”

Wondering if he was motivated by these stories to try mining, as Cowboy Jim was inspired by seeing a fella ride off on a horse, Whitson had this to say, “All of us at one time or another had an odd jobs around these old mines, cleaning up or doing stuff for 25 cents an hour. It was a lot harder work than most people wanted to do.”

Old West Day in Randsburg, September 17, all day until 5pm. Family fun with a bit of a history lesson, too.