Charles Faso and memories of Madera


For The Madera Tribune

Charles Faso was a life-long resident of Madera and veteran of WWII.

Charles Faso was a grand fellow. I will never forget that time I saw him on the morning of Oct. 11, 1996. He and his wife, Sophie, had been honored as Madera’s “Old Timer’s Day King and Queen” that year. It was Madera’s 120th birthday, and some of our kids from Sierra Vista formed a parade from school to the Southern Pacific Depot for a special celebration.

As our entourage approached the depot, there sat the Fasos in all their royal regalia. They joined us in paying homage to Madera’s past, and it seemed most appropriate — this blending of the young and old.

Years later, thanks to the intrepid labor of folks like Norma Hickman and the cadre of volunteers who put together a book entitled, “Madera: Short Histories by Local Families and Friends,” I learned more about Charles and the early Madera he had experienced as the son of an Italian immigrant.

Between 1914 and 1925 the Vincent Faso family had seven children. Charles was the next to the oldest, having been born in 1916. His father had several acres of vines and worked in the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company as well. Having been born and raised in Madera, Charles had hundreds of anecdotes of early Madera.

He remembered well the downtown “tent shows” in which traveling entertainers erected a large tent on the empty lot at Yosemite and B Street. They put up wooden benches and a stage and thrilled local audiences with comedy and songs.

Folks held street dances every Saturday night at Yosemite and D Streets. Other than a silent movie house, this was the only entertainment Charles remembered from his boyhood.

During the 1920s, many of the sidewalks along Yosemite Avenue were wooden — especially those in front of Rosenthal Kutner’s Hardware Store.

Another piece of the past that stood out in Charles’ memory was an episode of “Hoof and Mouth” disease. Before they got on the school bus near the Story depot, the kids all had to step on sacks soaked in sheep dip and wipe their shoes. It was a bad time for cattlemen and herders, for hundreds of animals had to be killed and buried in a long trench at the Adobe Ranch.

Back when Charles Faso attended Lincoln School, “F” Street was the old Highway 99 (present day Gateway Drive). Palmer’s Grocery stood near 5th Street, and that’s where Charles bought his supply of candies and sodas. He also remembered the M.J. Ryan Company, a hardware and equipment store where he worked as a clerk and assembler after graduating from high school in 1935.

The Standard Garage stood across the street from Valley Feed and Fuel, and a little to the south was the Barsotti family’s Madera Baking Company. Charles also remembered the old bus depot and a hotel in that vicinity.

Further south on 99, at 6th street next to a small city park was the American Laundry and Dry Cleaners, which the Stenovichs operated. Next to the cleaners was a battery shop.

It came as no surprise that Charles and his young friends were fascinated by the old flume that came down from Sugar Pine to the Madera mill. The kids would walk on the “catwalk” and watch the boards, which were clamped in bundles of 5 or 6, come down the flume.

An additional enticement to visit the flume were the blackberry bushes that grew nearby. Every year Charles and his friends would go to the flume and pick blackberries. The boys would wear two or three pairs of overalls and jump on top of the bushes from the catwalk to pick the berries that could not be plucked from the sides. The girls assisted by handing the boys the pails. In the end, everybody enjoyed some of the most delicious blackberry pies and jelly in the world.

Not everything in old Madera came up roses, however. There were some difficult times, and Charles Faso remembered those as well. One day, near the Story Depot, as he was standing and watching trucks at the stockyard being loaded with sheep, another truck loaded with sheep was crossing the track, and a southbound passenger train traveling very fast hit the rig in the center. The tractor was separated from the trailers, and the driver was saved. Many of the sheep, however, were killed or destroyed.

It took the train a mile or so to stop, so Charles drove down and picked up the engineer and returned him to the site of the accident. For months, Charles could still see some of the intestines hanging on the power lines over the track. At that time, animals roamed freely and many were hit by trains. Charles’ family lost a couple of horses and a cow to the deadly rails.

Once, a train hit a couple as they crossed the tracks. The woman survived, but the man was killed. The woman asked Charles to look for the man’s dentures, which he did. He was successful and brought them to her.

As I said, Charles had a hundred stories about old Madera, but I think the most poignant was one that took place in Italy during World War II.

We’ll tell that one next time.

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