Tuesday, September 9, 2008


This morning I came across this picture of my dad, Scott Dobbins, on a dozer up at the ranch. He's been dead 7 years now and I was cleaning out some old material I had in my files -- and if I ever saw this picture I don't remember it. And I was quite taken with it, because it represents about the apex of my father's life. It was after this time that everything went downhill for him.

The ranch was 640 acres of land he owned in the canyon on the way to O'Neill Park in Orange County. There were two houses on it, the larger one was for the Dobbinses and family members, and the other one was where Fred, the caretaker and artist, lived. Dad had bought the land I'd guess in the late '50s with the idea that somewhere on that land there was something to be mined. In his files I found the geologists report that there was nothing of mineable worthiness on this property. I imagine dad was very disappointed, for he had mining in his blood. But for the period of time he owned the property, he and the family made good use of the house and nearby property. Dad did not have any relatives in California but my mother had plenty, and dad was very generous in loaning the house out to them for weekend stays. Besides that, he and my brother Steve, who was just a little tyke then, spent lots of time there during the summers, shooting at cans, moving earth around, and just in general having a good time.

It also was at this time that his drinking became a major problem and his family's life began falling apart. He sold some of the property, carrying notes on it so that he and mother would have income in their old age. The rest of the property he gave away to various people, mostly to his drinking buddies, but saved none for his family. From the early '70s to the end of his life in 2001, he became a problem for everyone. After mother's death in 1982 he became my problem, and from then on I cried many, many tears at what he and I both had to go through. As awful as it sounds it was a relief when he died, and I have since had a hard time thinking good thoughts about him. "Let bygones be bygones" has not come easily.

But I have a new friend who unknowingly helped me get back to a more realistic picture of my dad. In 2003 I wrote a booklet "Growing Up In Long Beach, 1935 to 1953" and in mentioning it to my friend Nancy in San Francisco, she said she'd be interested in reading it, since she too grew up in Southern California in about the same time period. I sent the booklet to her, and when we got together last July she said she was really amazed at what an important role my father played in my life. She said she just didn't ever remember of her father, or the father of her friends, being so involved in their children's lives. She said I was very lucky to have had such a father.

All that came to mind when I saw this picture this morning. This was Dad at his best. I got the best years of his life -- and it truly was, as Nancy said, a unique thing to happen at that time. I was very, very lucky. Most kids didn't have fathers like mine. He and I were buddies. And I must never forget that, because I really do see so much of him in me - his work ethic, his values, his drive.

All my relatives, old and young, remember those good years and what a swell fellow my dad was. And regardless of the end, I can honestly say I was proud of my father for what he accomplished.

1 comment:

Steve Dobbins said...

In some respects Dad was a do-it-yourself guy and when he got tired of paying $100 a day for an operator and the D7 Caterpillar he bought one used and paid the operator to show him how to use it. He had so much fun driving around pushing down tall oak trees that would have brought in environmentalists if they had existed back then! I suspect Dad was in his 50's at the time.

He recounted the following story to me often as I asked to hear it again and again as I became an adult. One day, Dad was on the Cat, making a road to the top of a hill but as he got to the top he had underestimated the pitch. The dozer has tracks as you can see by the photo and when it hit the crest of the hill the front turned down and the back flew up, teeter-totter style, and he was thrown violently out of his seat, over the top of the dozer, and into the thick Southern California chaparral. Bruised and bleeding from multiple scratches on his face, he got up just in time to see the dozer going by. There is no "dead man's throttle" and they will run forever without you. Dad got up and jumped on the tracks which took him to the driver's seat and he eventually ended up back at his car, wiping blood from his face with his white handkerchief. As he drove the car back to the cabin, still trying to stop the flow of blood, he was flagged down by a man who had seen the sign that Dad had some acreage for sale.
Oblivious that Dad had just tangled with a bulldozer and that he was probably in considerable pain, the man went on asking questions about the property for several minutes as Dad listened patiently and bled on. Finally, Dad said he could take it no longer and let the man know in no uncertain terms that he needed some medical attention. Knowing Dad's proclivity to turn curse words into unusual and very descriptive phrases, I'm not sure the man ever returned.
Whenever I think of this story and Dad's recounting of it, I still laugh out loud!