ON HERB RINGER’S TRAIL IN NEVADA (Volume 2): Goldfield and Tonopah (Plus Old Station, CA) … by Tonya Stiles

This past Fall, Jim and I took a trip out to Herb Ringer country. We wanted to return to a few of the spots in Nevada and California that held particular importance for Herb, and see how those places had fared in the intervening years.

As Jim wrote:

For a while, Tonya and I have wanted to return to his beloved Nevada, and other places in the West that were cherished and revered by Herb. We wanted to take his photographs and memories with us, first to pay tribute to him but also to see what has changed–and what has survived–from the time Herb first arrived in Reno, in the fall of 1939.

More specifically, we wanted to use his images as a guide to find the precise location where he first took aim with his camera and recreate the scene, standing in his shoes as it were. The results have been interesting–sometimes amazing, and sometimes heartbreaking. 

The Ringer Family. Photo by Herb Ringer

Herb and his parents were consummate travelers. They drove all over the country, and particularly all throughout the American West. And Herb took thousands of photos of towns that spanned the continent. But Nevada and the Sierras of California held particular importance for the Ringers. Reno was their chosen home, quite a distance from New Jersey and New York City, where they had all been reared. And any place within easy driving distance of Reno was their favorite territory to explore.

In Volume One, we visited Reno, which was Herb’s home with his parents for most of his life, and neighboring Fallon, where he lived in his later years. We also spent time in Virginia City and Austin, Nevada. We tried as best we could to recreate photos that Herb took of these spots in the 40s:

This issue, we’re continuing our journey to two other Nevada towns. Firstly Goldfield, with its grand long-closed hotel…

GOLDFIELD

Herb Ringer Goldfield Nevada downtown 40s
Herbs WPA Guide to Nevada
Herb’s WPA Guide to Nevada

Herb rolled into Goldfield on an early morning in the 40s. Note the wash of morning light on the sides of the houses. There’s a good chance he was en route to or from one of his favorite camping spots in Death Valley. And he certainly carried with him his well-thumbed and annotated copy of the WPA’s published guide to Nevada.

As we arrived in the town, on a cold October day in 2019, we stopped at the first turn and pulled off to the side of the road, sorting through Herb’s images to find the one above, of the downtown.

We consulted his WPA Guide, which describes Goldfield of the 30s:

Goldfield WPA Guide

This was our view of downtown Goldfield that morning:

Goldfield in 2019. photo by Jim Stiles

The Goldfield Hotel was already shuttered by the time Herb visited, as described in the short WPA excerpt above.

Herb Ringer image of Goldfield Hotel in the 40s

When we visited, the exterior of the building looked unchanged…

Goldfield Hotel, 2019. Photo by Jim Stiles

Herb was lucky enough to find a caretaker on his visit who let him into the hotel. He shot this image from inside one of its balconied rooms:

View from a Room at the Goldfield Hotel. Photo by Herb Ringer. 1940s

Those balconies are still there…

Goldfield Hotel room balcony, 2019. photo by Jim Stiles

We were curious, of course, to know what the interior of the hotel looked like. An icy wind blew through the streets that morning, and so we huddled in the car re-reading the WPA description:

WPA description Goldfield Hotel

Herb took this picture of the ornate lobby on his visit…

Goldfield Hotel Lobby, 1940s. Photo by Herb Ringer

Peering through a window, Jim was able to take this shot. Note how much of the interior remains, including the tile floor…

Lobby of the Goldfield Hotel, 2019. Photo by Jim Stiles

Tonopah

Herb’s WPA Guide describes Tonopah of the 1930s as a booming town, standing for “youth, excitement, hope and the great adventure of a lifetime” in the minds of Nevadans:

WPA GUIDE Tonopah Nevada 1930s

Herb shot this image of the Courthouse on a quiet day, almost certainly a weekend. He and his parents escaped Reno every chance they could get to wander throughout the nearby country…

Tonopah Courthouse. Photo By Herb Ringer, 1940s

Our arrival in Tonopah was also on a weekend, and despite all its changes, the courthouse was as quiet in 2019 as it had been decades earlier…

Tonopah Courthouse, 2019. Photo by Jim Stiles

Herb and the Ringers were in Tonopah for some kind of event. In the following photo, a row of little girls are lined up, seemingly about to race each other down the street…

Downtown Tonopah, Nevada. Photo by Herb Ringer. 1940s

The same street was much quieter on a Fall weekend in 2019…

Downtown Tonopah, 2019. Photo by Jim Stiles

Joseph Ringer, Herb’s father, had been a professional musician most of his life, and I wonder what he made of the bands that marched through the town…

Tonopah Parade, 1940s. Photo by Herb Ringer

Clearly it was an important day in Tonopah. The whole town seemed to have shown up. Quite a few excited people were lined up outside the drug store to watch these young boys race…

Tonopah Parade, 1940s. Photo by Herb Ringer

It was hard to picture that long-ago bustling scene when we drove through. The drug store building remains, housing a Variety Store, but the buildings next to it are missing…

Tonopah street, 2019. Photo by Jim Stiles

BONUS!: Old Station, California

As I said above, the Ringers explored every place they could reach within driving distance of Reno. And once we had driven through many of Herb’s favorite Nevada spots, we followed his trail into Northern California.

On the way, we passed the location of one our readers’ favorite Herb images. This shot is from the Rim Rock Ranch, at Old Station, California. It’s a little later than the Nevada images above, and spotlights his prized 1950 Ford Woody.

It’s easy to imagine the Ringers stopping at the Ranch for provisions on their way to a camping spot somewhere in the Lassen Forest…

Rim Rock Ranch, 1940s. Photo by Herb Ringer

We arrived at Old Station early in the morning, after spending the night in Susanville. And we found it extremely difficult to line up the original shot, given how brightly the morning sun was illuminating the valley behind the buildings. But we were very pleased to find the Ranch still looking the same, under new ownership…

Rim Rock Ranch, 2019. Photo by Jim Stiles

As soon as we got home, we looked up the Ranch and found this website: https://www.gordonsrimrockranch.com/, which has a number of other great shots of the Ranch over the years…

NEXT TIME: We Return to Hope Valley, the Ringers’ favorite camping spot in the Sierras…

Tonya Stiles is Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.

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1 comment for “ON HERB RINGER’S TRAIL IN NEVADA (Volume 2): Goldfield and Tonopah (Plus Old Station, CA) … by Tonya Stiles

  1. Roy Travers
    February 7, 2020 at 6:43 pm

    I can’t get enough of the Herb Ringer photos. What a treasure.

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