December 16, 2009

Plaque part of 'Clampers' philosophy

Route 66
Part 6 of an ongoing series

By Claudia Heller
Pasadena Star-News

The Honorable and Ancient Order of E. Clampus Vitus, Platrix Chapter has dedicated a plaque honoring the Ross Field, U.S. Army Balloon School, which once stood on land that later became a portion of Route 66. (Alan Heller)

E Clampus Vitus.

Just the sound of it is intimidating, conjuring up visions of a horrible disease or perhaps a fraternity of enlightened scientists.

Neither apply. It is a men's organization with dual personalities whose members wear red shirts and funny hats. Some "Clampers" call it a historical drinking society, while others dub it a drinking historical society.

But whatever its secret purpose, it is a name you will find all along California's Route 66. If you see an historical plaque along the Route, it was probably the work of ECV.

One of the recent plaques erected on the Mother Road is located on the Elks Lodge Building on Route 66 (Huntington Drive) and Santa Anita in Arcadia, and is dedicated to the Ross Field U.S. Army Balloon School. Built in 1918, the school served as the training grounds for cadets to learn to observe enemy activity from hot air balloons. During construction, the workers lived in Lucky Baldwin's racing horse stables.

The school trained 60-man ground crews responsible for raising and lowering the balloons, and two-man observation crews. It remained viable until the end of World War I in 1919.

The "Clamper" plaque was dedicated on Sept. 6, 2008, by ECV Platrix Chapter No. 2 of the Ancient & Honorable Order of E. Clampus Vitus and the Arcadia Elks Lodge No. 2025.

Not far from Route 66, on Aug. 9 this year the Clampers dedicated a plaque honoring the Adams Pack Station located at Chantry Flats in Big Santa Anita Canyon. In 1936, J.P. Steele obtained a special permit to operate a pack station and store at Chantry Flats, an enterprise that flourished until the great floods of 1938 washed much of it away along with 200 cabins in the area. Steele sold what was left after the floods. Although the station changed hands several times, it continued to operate, making it the only remaining packing station in Southern California.

On Aug. 13, 1995, the Clampers erected a plaque in Sierra Madre at Hermosa and Carter avenues honoring the town's wistaria vine, "the world's largest blossoming plant."

On Route 66 in Daggett, near Barstow, you will find an ECV Billy Holcomb Chapter plaque dedicated to the Daggett Garage which "began life in the 1880s at the borax town of Marion." It was later moved to Daggett, where it housed an auto repair shop on the National Old Trails Highway.

Plaques appear along Route 66 from Chicago to the "End of the Route" plaque in Santa Monica. We have many visionaries to thank for providing permanent historical notes which remain long after the remnant has decayed or disappeared. These one-page history books may be found along many roads, most notably on The Mother Road and its environs. Near where Santa Monica Boulevard dead ends at Ocean Boulevard, a brass plaque marks the official end of Route 66, and refers to it as the "Will Rogers Highway," one of the many names the famed highway has been called.

Now we can add five new Route 66 sites to our list: (12) The U.S. Army Balloon School; (13) The Adams Pack Station; (14) The Sierra Madre Wisteria Vine; (15) The Daggett Garage; and (16) the official end of Route 66.