NORDEN, Calif. — The Donner Summit pass is a wellspring of historic events, from ancient peoples and petroglyphs, emigrants crossing the Sierra Nevada, to the transcontinental railroad spanning the country.
In recent history, Donner Summit has become a recreational destination for hiking, biking, climbing, fishing and skiing.
Donner Summit Historical Society held the Summit Pioneer Awards Aug. 11 at the DSHS Museum, a four-year tradition honoring interesting and outstanding personalities who helped shape the area.
A jovial crowd enjoyed barbecued hot dogs, macaroni salad and refreshments, with honoree Babette Haueisen sharing additional cold beverages stashed in her Subaru.
Norm Saylor, a Donner Summit resident of 52 years and Donner Summit Historical Society board member, emceed the event, noting many of the old folks have passed on, but those who remain on the Summit are having fun.
Introducing the first “pioneer” to be honored, Saylor said, “God, if it's skiing, this lady has been involved, she's been tremendous for the ski game … looking back, the Poulsens, McKinneys and Babette were real pushers and shovers.”
Good friend and skier Starr Hurley was a fellow torch bearer with Babette in the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley. “Miss B can still carry a mean stick,” said Hurley.
Miss B herself, upon accepting the award, remembered days at Sugar Bowl when they would get “wonderfully stuck” in the snow, when grooming meant side stepping on your skis up the hill, and teaching lessons to “gazillions of kids.”
Pat Northrop, longtime skier and instructor, remembered Babette with those ski kids trailing behind her, calling down from the chairlift “quack, quack, quack,” with Babette shouting back, “Now you kids stop that.”
Jim Mahon, a railroad salt, was also honored as being able to do what the young bucks can't. “He is a fire and brimstone operator,” said Saylor. Nicknamed The Bear, he was once quoted as saying “I don't care what the Big Boys in San Francisco say,” and is one of the few who can run the old rotary snowplow.
Saylor thought back to the days when there was a “different type of fun,” that involved skis, snow and outdoor play. “I am proud to have been there,” he said.
The Donner Summit Historical Society Museum
The Donner Summit Historical Society Museum, located in Soda Springs, features the history of Donner Summit. There is information about American Indians, who crossed Donner Pass thousands of years ago, leaving behind petroglyphs and grinding rocks. Exhibits focus on “first events” across Donner Summit, such as the first wagon train to California, the first Transcontinental Railroad, Transcontinental highway, Transcontinental telephone line and Transcontinental air route.