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Laura Austin Photo Take a quantum leap into history and walk in the footsteps of the prospectors and gunslingers who once walked the boardwalks of this old ghost town. / Laura Austin Photo

Revisit the yesteryear with Randburg’s old timers

By Laura Quezada News Review Staff Writer–

   Randsburg is situated in the mountains off Highway 395. Take the drive and go up a piece on the little mountain road, and you will enter the Old West Mining Town of Randsburg. There you can step back in time through a Living Ghost Town. You will find original buildings, interesting shops, great food, great stories, ghost stories, a museum filled to the brim, and a saloon.

Some of Randsburg’s interesting stories come from its interesting characters, and some folks are drawn to the town because of the people and the history. Tim Powers became a resident in 1983. He tells us, “I’ve been fascinated with history all the time I’ve been here. I got to know many people who lived here back in the day. I always thought it would just keep going the way it was. The old-timers, miners, people who had lived here, people who were drunks, people who knew the town. I thought that magic would continue, but I didn’t realize that they were in their 50s and 60s at the time, and now 30-40 years have gone by, and they died off. So it is not the same anymore. The town looks the same, but it doesn’t feel the same because all of that knowledge of underground mining, the knowledge of desert, and the knowledge of the town kind of went away. I didn’t realize I was witnessing the end of an era. And I was.”

Powers misses his friends that have passed away. He is an amiable storyteller who shares some of his memories. “I met Gene Manning through Grant Nielsen, Bill Guyett, Rom, and Janice Austin on the street. We spent time in the White House Saloon, a little time at the Joint, and a little time on the bench in front of  Austin Antiques.  I remember one time we were sitting out there, a woman introduced herself as she was walking by, and she goes, ‘Rom, what do you do here?’ He said, ‘I hold down this bench.’ She laughed and walked away. She says, ‘What are you going to do when you retire?’ He says, ‘See that bench across the street?’ That was Rom Austin. He was the driest sarcastic man I have ever met. I miss him. I miss them all.”

His pals included some pranksters, “Lee Anderson had the bar across from the White House Saloon. In the ‘70s, my friend Grant Nielsen would sit outside the bar with a squirt gun. It would squirt at their crotch without them knowing it. And he would comment, ‘Hey, are you okay over there?’ Grant Nielsen was an ornery character,” continues Powers. “He was a good friend to me, he was a periodic drunk, and he was a hard ass.  A lot of people didn’t like him. He was a desert rat. He did old West paintings like Remington. He was extremely good. He was an interesting, complex character. Drunk for six months out of the year, then he would hole up and paint for two years. Then he would come out and get drunk for six months. You didn’t see him very often.

“I used to take him to the Silver Dollar. One night he shot a guy’s hat off in the bar. This guy, named Ralph, was being too noisy, Grant told him to be quiet, so he shot his hat off from about ten feet away. That night a swat team showed up at Grant’s house and took him away to jail. I went and bailed him out the next day. It was kind of crazy because he and Ralph made up. Grant didn’t have a car, so he rode with Ralph to Bakersfield for their trial.  The judge was reading the charges and said, ‘Hold it. You’re the guy who shot his hat off? And you guys are friends now?’ Ralph said, ‘Yeah. I don’t want to charge. I was drunk. I was being stupid.’ And the judge says, ‘Mr. Nielsen, you shot this man’s hat off in a dark bar from ten feet away. I only wish I had deputies who can shoot that good.’ And Grant says, ‘Shoot that good? Hell, I was aiming for his belt buckle.’ That’s a true story. The judge threw it out.”

Powers laments the loss of the old timers and the character they brought to Randsburg. “This town is bittersweet for me. I still like it. It is still a small town. People still help each other. People like Neil Shotwell. Great people. But my circle is extremely small. It used to be everybody in the town. If somebody needed help, they would take care of them. Even if it was a stranger. Somebody needed help in this town, they were taken in. That is old school people who have been through a really hard life that really cared through experience.”