By Eileen Majors
One of my favorite stops for advertising is at Morning Star Log Furniture in Chester. Mike and Cathy Simmons just seem like real, old fashioned folks with a cowboy approach to life. Now I know why.
Anxious to feature them in our Summer edition I asked, “So how did this all begin?” I was handed a journal written by Mike, an account of their trip west which would lead them to beginning their furniture crafting business.
Based on the journal of Mike’s, here is The Tale of The Long Trail to Morning Star:
The story begins in 1980 after Mike, faced with his own mortality, had decided many things would change for this cowboy with heart.
He had been a successful building contractor in the Bay Area. He had built high level commercial buildings and was involved in production of the first Geodesic Dome developed by Buck Minister Fuller, a project I remember from my days in the Bay Area.
He now had a new profession, a new home and a new life. He was a logger in Darby, Montana. As the snow left the mountain and passes, Mike knew the new season would bring even less work and little money. These days Mike was led toward paths with heart, wisdom, knowledge, and worthiness, along with a little adventure and much happiness.
This new man found he could keep a dozen horses in good shape and still have a little beer money. The paths led him also to meet Cathy Quinn. “Her eyes,” he wrote, “were set as the early morning dawn and would become lighter as the sky came to life,” and so he named her Morning Star. He would soon learn more about himself, his Morning Star, their love, wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.
In the coming August, Cathy’s sister was to marry in Truckee, CA. The journey would be on horseback as work and dollars were hard to come by.
Weeks of planning led to the new moon and the beginning of the long trail ahead. “Thunder heads and drops of rain voiced themselves,” he wrote, moving to an icy rain for their first night on Camp Creek.
Their three month journey led to an occasional campground, cold beer, and shower, with a chance to stock up on supplies. But most of this adventure was about living off the land and what they had packed on two of the four horses that accompanied them. Fish and Fantail chickens were hard to come by, but added to the flavor of the ride.
The two shared dinner with miners and enjoyed the company and wisdom of others along the trail. They camped at creeks whenever possible and awoke to pots of hobo coffee.
One camp was made in a deserted building nestled next to other old structures inhabited by cows. They built a makeshift table and a fire pit in the corner to dry out their belongings as they watched it snow. Finally heading out after the snow, they were met by rain, so they made their way to Panther Creek for a warm fire and a beer.
Battling storms in wet ponchos and cowboy hats, they persevered mile by mile. When the cold weather discouraged, warm hearts encouraged.
Fish and pan fried bread would make their next meal, followed by hot rocks in bed that night. A ranger stopped for coffee and pointed out a better trail. He left them moose steaks for dinner. With their 14 inch browns and a half a dozen rainbows, things were looking up.
“It’s Wednesday, the full moon of May,” he wrote. They did some washing, mostly drying things and shot some ducks for dinner. They soon saw a welcoming sign, ‘Cold Beer & Lodging 11 Miles’. Upon arrival, they asked for a shower and a feather bed. “30 bucks”, said the proprietor. Mike quickly responded, “How about $10 and some work?” And so they stitched saddles the next day.
The days’ 25 inch trail turned to 18 inches and even less at times. “We walked some. Star fell in the rocks, tears in her eyes, I wanted to go back and hug her.” She got back on the horse.
“Tired, bumped and bruised, the sun came out to build our spirits, 185 miles from Darby.” he wrote. (Rain would follow.)
The couple made their way to the Nevada desert where temperatures climbed to the opposite extreme. They would ride their horses from the center of their chosen campsite in a circle, far enough out to chase away the rattlers for a few hours sleep.
I had to stop the interview and ask Cathy, “You just kept going?” She smiled and said, “I think it was a test to see if I could live his lifestyle.”
Their trip would finally end in the Black Rock Desert when temperatures climbed to 120º and the horses began lying down in protest. They stopped at a ranch and called Cathy’s sister who barely recognized her frail body when she came to meet them.
They stayed for the wedding festivities then carted their horses and their gear in a rented trailer back to Darby. Mike did some logging and they bought some land and an old saw mill. They bred horses and cut two-by-fours for 15¢ a piece. Mike decided they could sell it for more if they made it into a fancier wood trim. They did that and built cabinets until 1989 when the ranch burned. They moved to California, first to Truckee then settled into a place Mike’s family had on Peninsula Drive at Lake Almanor.
He started working with local builders building log homes, starting at the ‘Top of the West Shore’. They built cabinets out of their garage. Eventually they rented a shop in Westwood and later settled in their current workshop/showroom at the edge of Chester, where Highway 89 meets Highway 36.
Mike cuts the wood. Cathy peels the bark and then it is cured. Together they make their log creations.
Today Mike and Cathy are busy in the shop where they create custom log cabinets, trim, and furniture. They also have a showroom filled with furnishings you can choose from on site.
They have expanded the store, carrying the work of other local artists. Rest assured though, everything is made in the USA. They have beautiful paintings on saw blades and deer hides by local artist, Giselle. You’ll find hand carved bears, novelty signs, trees, and one of a kind redwood murals, “imported” from Oregon. And when they get the chance, they venture back to their cabin in Montana for a piece of the old days.
Visit Morning Star Log Furniture in Chester, CA.