Ernie Branscomb, the fifth generation of his family to live on the South Fork of the Eel River, has been chosen to be the Grand Marshal for this year’s Garberville Rodeo.
Branscomb’s family has a long history in Northern California.
“The Branscombs have been in California since 1857, but they were in Marin County first, and they ran a dairy that supplied dairy products to San Francisco,” Branscomb said.
Branscomb explained that when his ancestor got wealthy and decided to retire he bought the valley at Branscomb, near Laytonville.
“He moved up here and bought a store and a hotel and had a lot to do with building all the schools around Laytonville,” Branscomb commented.
Some of his mother’s family, who came from Germany, owned the famous Rathjens and Sons sausage factory in San Francisco.
Branscomb said his ancestor won a shooting contest in San Francisco.
“He became the great king of the parade, or I don’t know what,” Branscomb laughed. “The president even wrote him a letter congratulating him. It’s so dumb. I don’t know, they must have been desperate for a party back then.”
Branscomb lived in Laytonville until he was 12 years old, when he moved with his family Garberville and his father worked logging in the Sprowel Creek area.
“And then we lived here from then on,” he said.
Branscomb worked with his family growing up. “Kids were different back then,” he noted. “If you were bored, they gave you something to do.”
Branscomb said he was happy to have been raised in the area.
“Being a kid here when I was a kid was wonderful. Everybody knew everybody,” he commented.
It was a safe place to live, and kids could do pretty much whatever they wanted.
He remembered that as kids they fished in the river, hunted fossils and clamshells in the sandstone while pretending they were archeologists, and rode bicycles wherever they went.
He and his cousin could hike up behind the former Tooby Ranch on the pack trail to Harris.
“That’s where they used to bring the pack trail in from Harris, because the main route north and south went through Harris. And they would bring freight in to Garberville through the pack trail on mules,” said Branscomb, and added, “Of course that was before my time.”
Branscomb is fascinated with the history of the area. He said that he wished his great-uncle had written down his memories of living in the Laytonville area and of the Indians he had known there.
Branscomb’s family lived in several places in Southern Humboldt.
Branscomb attended a year of electronics engineering at Heald College in San Francisco, where he learned all basic of electronics that he said he still uses every day in his work with refrigeration. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated all the Heald students were told to go home. There was fear that the space program, which at the time had been creating jobs in the electronic industry, would be defunded when Kennedy died, Branscomb explained.
While he was at home during that time Branscomb met Wally Pedersen who said he would offer on the job training so Branscomb could learn about refrigeration. The refrigeration business Pedersen owned was in Redway where the laundromat is currently located.
“That sounded really good,” Branscomb said. “I could have a job while learning a trade.”
Branscomb became a refrigeration contractor and then, when he married his wife, Janis, they went into business for themselves. For a while they owned the Sears catalog store and later, after Sears stopped having catalog stores, they became a Radio Shack combined with a small-town variety store.
Branscomb’s daughter and her husband, Shelly and Scott Elders, live in Orange Park, Calif. There are two grandchildren, Christian and Allyssa, and a great-granddaughter, Evangeline.
Branscomb’s mother, Elsie Branscomb, lives with Ernie and Janis, and his sister, Sharon Adkins, lives in Sacramento.
Branscomb has belonged to the Garberville Rotary since 1980, and was a volunteer fireman with the Redway Volunteer Fire Department from 1973 until he retired in 2012. He said that being a volunteer fireman is the “best gig ever” because it is so rewarding. And he still participates in fire department activities.
Branscomb said he appreciates his good friend since grammar school days, Dan Healy. He noted that Healy has been involved with the community, especially the Healy Senior Center and is the announcer for the Rodeo Parade.
Branscomb said he remembered when the rodeo was the biggest event in town.
This year the Garberville Rodeo activities begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 17 and on Saturday, June 18 the festivities begin at 7 a.m. with pancake breakfast under the town clock in Garberville. There will be a battle of the beards contest at 9:30 a.m., and crowning of the Rodeo Queen and Princess at 10 a.m. in front of Getti Up in Garberville, followed by the Rodeo Parade through Garberville at 11 a.m. After that the rodeo events are at Greycliff Rodeo Grounds the rest of the day and into the evening.