The Cave In at Pioneer Point

Lee Shimmin,Leroy Reece, Gilmore, and Richard (Larsen) Orr were involved in building a cave. It started on a sand dune on the lake side of the highway going from Trona to Valley Wells east of Pioneer Point. We had an iron pipe some 2×4’s stretched between the sides of sand and holly bushes holding up the pipe, then we placed cardboard on top with sand thrown on top to hold the cardboard down tight so it would not be blown away. Gilmore, Reece and Orr went in and I followed into the room we built inside. Richard Orr went out the tunnel entrance and I followed him. He got out but I did not and the pipe hit my head and I was covered with sand as the cave collapsed. Lucky for me my head was out enough to breathe. But, the steel pipe and sands weight pinned me so I could not move.

Richard went out to get help and contacted a graveyard [shift] foreman at the Point and my mother Mary Shimmin. She came ASAP with a shovel and tried to leverage the pipe off the shovel to no avail. The pipe was raised above my head and slipped, only to land on my shoulder and severed a nerve that paralyzed my arm. There were no bones broken, however my arm was limp. I could only move my fingers and could not write. I was in the hospital near Austin Square and my roommates included Walter Austin who taught me my multiplication tables and coached me to move my arm to no avail. My concerned parents took me to Los Angles near MacArthur Park where a neurologist examined me and put me into an “Airplane Splint”. The splint lasted into the summer of sixth grade when after swimming and doing physical therapy I recovered. They had to pump sand from my lungs and try all kinds of modern techniques during the recovery time. The splint was used in polio patients for their recoveries.

Well, needless to say I survived due to Richard Orr.

The story above is told by Lee Shimmins, class of 1957, in an email to my brother, Joel, who I had written to find out what he could tell me about this story. Lee says he was in the 6th grade at the time and was the school superintendent’s son. Counting backwards this incident must have happened about 1951.

A few days ago Ernie Kraut wrote a note asking about this incident that how this post came about . After being reminded that it was Lee, Ernie wrote: “We were in the 5th grade I think and in the temporary buildings at school. Lee had his arm on a support that held his forearm and bicep up in the air even with his shoulder and the elbow at a right angles.” LeRoy Reece told Joel that he also ran to the Point and brought back help. I’m not sure who Gilmore is but there was a Sue Gilmore who is now Sue Halstead. She was in Lee’s 1957 class.

Digging caves was a common thing for Trona kids to do at that time. It probably started with the the first kids in the valley and probably still goes on today.

Paul Mock, class of 1958, also dug a cave during this same time period in the lot behind our house. Perhaps he was inspired by Lee’s cave and the self confidence that he could build a safer cave that would not cave in. Mr. Mock took one look at it, and made Paul fill the hole in but promised to help build another one that was properly braced so it couldn’t collapse and he did follow through on his promise and the cave was built. It lasted several years. Someday I’ll write a post about the secret cave that went back deep into the mountain of the Point of Rocks (Ali Baba’s cave).

This entry was posted in Alumni, Trona History and tagged on by .

About David L Stevens

David has been the creator and maintainer of Trona on the Web since 1996. He has been creating websites since the beginning of the World Wide Web. He is not the best person to be the webmaster for a Trona Website but someone needs to do it and Doug Polly isn't with us any longer. David worked in maintenance for the San Bernardino City Schools, retired from Honeywell, worked in IT for a while and is now working as a school bus driver.

2 thoughts on “The Cave In at Pioneer Point

  1. Ernest Kraut

    I can’t recall a red-headed boy in our class. He may have been older, in the class of 56 or 55 since he was described as “big”.

    I enjoyed reading the article about the cave. My father and others destroyed our caves at “white hill” in Westend right after Lee’s incident. White hill was a alkali deposit just south of the company town of Westend and between the highway and the railroad. My father built me a cave in my backyard, locked by a padlock and lite by a covered electric light but it just didn’t have the magic of a cave. It wasn’t mine. It was completely boxed in, sides and top, with 2x6s and had a foot of dirt on top. Yuck! no fun!

  2. Lee Shimmin

    I was in the 5th grade in Ms. Knipp’s class. The cave was built in May. Wallace Austin was the founder of our town square. It was called Austin Hall. The person in the cave was not named Gilmore but it started with a “G”. He was big and he burned easily with sun red hair. Leroy knows his name. I am sorry if I didn’t get it right (I was 9 in 1948 and was born June 12, 1939). Please update any errors. I want this right! All those who were there helped me survive and I am indebted to their courage. This is the character of Trona .

    Thank you with sincere gratitude,



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