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Sierra Treasure Hunters: 60 years and counting

Sierra Treasure Hunters 4WD Club logo
Sierra Treasure Hunters 4WD Club 60th anniversary logo

Chris Collard

Download In Gear article on STH's 60th anniversaryIf we drift back to the 1950s, the lonely two-tracks and mining routes that crisscross the West’s backcountry were experiencing a revival of sorts. Military surplus flat fenders were available at fire-sale prices, and the public was chomping at the bit to head out the door. Near the end of the decade, like-minded folks were forming clubs for monthly excursions, and those clubs eventually rallied together to create a state-wide association, Cal4Wheel. Taking cues from clubs like the Sacramento Jeepers, in 1963 Robert Silva suggested the ‘club’ idea to his posse of weekend warriors. It was an easy sell and considering their regular sorties panning for gold or digging through mining camp dumps for artifacts, it was only fitting that the nascent organization would be known as the Sierra Treasure Hunting Club (STH).

As a family-oriented group with a strong bond of volunteerism, STH quickly immersed itself in association activities. In 1965, working with Cal4Wheel founding member Ed Dunkley, they began scouting an abandoned mining route along Fordyce Creek that led to Meadow Lake and the 1860s mining camp of Summit City. Two years later they joined the Sacramento Jeepers and Camellia City Broncos in hosting the inaugural Sierra Trek. During the past 55 years the club has been involved at all levels, managing every committee from camp KP to chairing the event. In 1986, Uncle Willy (aka Jim Harris) started the Thursday run for out-of-state participants, and in the 90s we started offering hot showers — albeit standing on a used pallet wrapped in tarps. This slowly evolved to a six-stall assembly with on-demand hot water and dedicated trailer.

Through the Decades

Over the years the club has been involved with a host of events and fundraising efforts, some were STH-specific while others were volunteer projects for the association. The first STH event, the Motherlode Rally, was back in 1969, followed by Playday, a multi-course affair at Prairie City SVRA that ran for 25 years. The 80s brought the Jeep Cup and Willy Rally, as well as the Nevada Sagebrush Scrabble, a free treasure hunt where we invited other clubs to participate. We also hosted the Sacramento Mud Drags fundraiser for Cal4Wheel.

Moving into the 90s and 2000s, STH worked with Disabled Sports USA Far West to launch a program for the mentally and physically challenged. These were single-day or weekend camping trips to the Rubicon, Fordyce, or other OHV trail. Uncle Willy initiated the Cal4Wheel calendar program, and club worked on various reforestation projects with the USFS, trail clean-ups, and spent weekends volunteering for El Dorado National Forest Snow Patrol.

Around the turn of the century, a new breed of off-road vermin had taken over the Rubicon Trail and turned Spider Lake into a drug-infused mosh pit of tweakers, cockeyed gun wavers, and all-around idiots. It was so bad that most normal folks simply stopped going and the trail’s existence was threatened due to environmental concerns.

We worked with El Dorado County to bring law enforcement officers to Spider Lake in our personal vehicles, observing the overnight chaos with night vision goggles from a camp above Little Sluice. This led to discussions with the California OHV commission, grant funding, and Randy Burleson worked extensively with Del Albright on the formation of the Rubicon Trail Foundation. It was significant chapter in the multi-decade effort to preserve the Rubicon for future generations.

STHers have been chairpersons or worked as volunteers on Cal4 events, and the Christmas season will find us unloading Jeep-loads of toys at the Hi-Lander’s Christmas Promise and Uncle Tom’s Toy Runs. For years the summer months found the club working our Adopt-a-Trail near La Porte (American House), and this year we adopted Walker Hill on the Rubicon. The club has participated in events across the state such as Panamint Valley Days, Santiago’s Revenge, Run-a-Muck, and Molina Ghost Run, organized trips everywhere from Moab to Mexico, and even worked as the chase team for icon off-road racer Rod Hall in the NORRA Mexican 1000.

During the last 38 years, the ‘old guys’ taught me to fix shredded radiator cores with needle-nose pliers and pepper, set up ring & pinion gears, perform trail welds with batteries, and MacGyver an array of broken parts back together — though not always pretty, I must admit. I’ve had the privilege of sharing countless trail rides with my STH family. We’ve worked and played together, towed and repaired each other’s vehicles, slept in Sierra storms, under starry Nevada skies, and on sandy Baja beaches. We have mourned the loss of family, celebrated the births of the next generation, and watched STH kids grow from toddlers to responsible adults. Many have become lifelong friends, and I can’t imagine life on the trail any other way. (Am I biased… sure.)

Members have come and gone through the decades, and our founding fathers have long passed. But the club has maintained the ethos of its charter members, a fun, family-oriented group with a common goal. The phrase Public Lands — Use Without Abuse graces our Treasure Chest monthly newsletter, and we continue to overcommit to volunteer causes. We hope Mr. Silva and his posse would be proud.

The first six decades have penned countless chapters in the STH annals, and as the club approaches this significant anniversary it is those yet written that excite me the most. If you make it to Sierra Trek, we’ll be there serving Friday dinner, leading the Thursday Fordyce run, and, of course, providing hot showers. Stop by, say hi, and tip a coldy with us.

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