When I think about signs featuring the moon, my mind goes to Dixon where the cow still jumps over the moon. My friend had the same thought when we were doing our moon motel exercise, but I didn’t have the energy to pursue the Dixon sign then. I do now.
Aside: the earliest printed version of the rhyme as we know it is from London, Mother Goose’s Melody, printed in about 1765.
Karl A. Hess built the Milk Farm in 1928. It fed and entertained several generations of teenagers before closing. They competed to break the record of the most milk consumed in order to get their names on the restaurant’s record board.
The Milk Farm closed in 1986 when a windstorm blew a hole in the roof. It was dismantled some years later. The sign remains.
My parents moved to Yuba City from Pennsylvania in 1975. My father died in early 1977, but my mother stayed on in Yuba City until 1994. I drove by the Milk Farm many times, either on my way to work in Sacramento or to family in Yuba City, and stopped more than once. In those days, I stopped on drives and used a pay phone with an ATT credit card to check my office for phone messages, which I would return from the pay phone. I did business at the Milk Farm, and I seem to remember something about chocolate ice cream cones.
What else do we know about Dixon?
We know about the Giant Orange, one of the very few still in business. It is visible Interstate 80, on the south side of the highway.
We know – or knew – a little about the Dixon Migrant Farm Labor Camp. In the summer of 1974, while still a legal worker with the United Farm Workers, I worked on tomato strikes, first in Stockton and then in Davis. I remember with fondness my few weeks in Davis. A local lawyer let me stay in her house as she was out of town, and it was absolute luxury, as were the bookstores and food stores in Davis. And, while there, I spent most evenings at the Dixon Farm Labor Camp with the Ramirez family. The summer nights were hot, there was no cooling in the small houses, but the feeling of family and pride were strong. My Spanish grew in leaps and bounds.
And, thirdly, we know that just down the road from Dixon is Vacaville.
The looks of the main drag notwithstanding, Vacaville had its share of quirky restaurants and motels, if “quirky” subsumes – as it does for me – old-fashioned and hokey and cool.
Of these, the Black Oak stands, a perfect old-time coffee shop with a loyal if senior customer base. I have breakfast or lunch there a few times a year. It is a two-minute drive from my office. We moved there from Walnut Creek in 2003.
Also gone, for all intents and purposes, is the Nut Tree. What a place it was – beloved by the mainstream, dominant paradigm crowd as well as this lover of old-fashioned America. It was about halfway between Yuba City and Berkeley, and so more than once I rendezvoused with my mother there for lunch. And – it was my go-to stop for a bathroom and telephone break on drives between Sacramento and Berkeley or Walnut Creek.
The Nut Tree was named after the Nut Tree.
Highway 80 was US Route 40. Monte Vista Drive in Vacaville preserves old Route 40.
The fruit stand that Helen and Ed “Bunny” Power opened grew to a restaurant, a bakery, a gift shop, and ice cream stand, an aviation bookstore, an airport, a gift shop, a toy shop, and the Nut Tree Railroad. I would sit in the shade with an ice cream cone on a summer day and watch families.
The decor of the restaurant was pretty much locked in a pop sensibility of the 1960s.
There was a toy store.
The food was far, far better than you would expect. They made their own candy and baked fresh bread.
Outside was pretty amazing too.
The train was a poor second to the Tilden Park steam train, but it was stunning all the same.
I don’t know if President Reagan ever rode the Tilden Park Steam Train, but I do know that Governor Reagan posed in the Nut Tree Railroad.
A family feud took out the Nut Tree. It closed in 1996 and was torn down in 2003.
I showed the photos to my friend. “Yes sir, I remember the Nut Tree. Do you remember the sculptures in the flower bed? They were far far far out. Whoever made them was a stone head.”
He continued. “But you forgot the Most Amazing Thing that ever happened in Vacaville.” (He spoke with upper case).
“And that would be?”
Well, yes, there was the Wooz. It was advertised as a human labyrinth when it opened in 1988. I would argue that it was in fact a maze, not a labyrinth. A maze is a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle that includes choices of path and direction, may have multiple entrances and exits, and dead ends. A labyrinth is unicursal i.e. has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center then back out the same way, with only one entry/exit point. The Wooz was definitely a maze.
The object was to find each of the four towers and then find your way out. My son Jake loved it. He had a birthday party there, probably in 1989? He remembers it well, and denies ever cheating by climbing under the plywood partitions. Vacaville being Vacaville it was pretty hot, but he and his friends addressed that problem by carrying squirt guns.
My friend was a huge Wooz fan too. He’d drive up to Vacaville with a few friends and wander around the maze. He didn’t care about the four towers or the stamps you’d get on your ticket to prove that you’d been to the four towers. He just liked to wander.
The Wooz was not a huge success. It closed after a few years, perhaps because of the confusion over maze and labyrinth, or more likely because of the heat. The Vacaville Fire Department did a controlled burn as a training exercise. My friend sat on the north end of the Wooz and watched it go up in flames. I suspect that he sat within a few yards of where my office now is. There is a Toyota dealer where the Wooz was, across Orange Tree Circle from my office.
So, yes, I had forgotten the mention the Wooz. What about the Milk Farm and Nut Tree and the simpler America they represented?