Campfire Café: An Orangevale LandmarkJan 24, 2024 02:02PM ● By Cris Hall Gerard, Orangevale History Project
Nancy Pierce Myeron and Rod Hill stand by the sign they prepared. Photo courtesy of Nancy Pierce Myeron and Rod Hill
ORANGEVALE, CA (MPG) - A “landmark” is defined as an object or feature of a landscape or town that is easily seen and recognized from a distance, especially one that enables someone to establish their location. The Campfire Café is a landmark.
When was it built? Best guess is after the war, in the late 40s. I do know that it was sold to Noel and Edna Wilson by Harold and Gertrude Falkiner in June 1950. In 1951 new owners Louis and Dorothy Escola were reported. My grandparents built and lived in the brick house next door during this time.
The first records of landmarking are like this from the Folsom Telegraph newspapers. “Collapsible Camp Trailer...phone Folsom 262-Y-4 or call at the yellow brick house next to the Campfire. Café on Greenback Lane.” That went on for years. Sometimes we forget what times really looked like in the 1950s. I can’t pass up mentioning this ad from 1954: “Dynamite Blasting Powder -Wm Rumsey Ph YU 5-2082.” Yikes!
Researching the Campfire Café roots, the Folsom Telegraph in 1950 pulled out this: Three boys were sentenced to county jail for running down many mailboxes along Illinois Ave. Their sentence was suspended when the boys agreed to attend church on Sundays at least three times a month for the next year. They were paroled to the local pastor.
If that was not enough, their mom required them to replace every mailbox damaged. This case stemmed from the arrest of the operators of the Campfire Café and a bartender at Holmes Café for selling liquor to minors. The Campfire Café owners had only been in place for less than 6 months.
Rescued by Traylor’s
It was shortly after this, in 1952, when the Traylor’s era began. John and Leota were in Southern California when his brother, Art, living in Shingle Springs told John about this place. John had learned to cook in the military and already had experience of owning and operating the Trucker’s Café near El Monte, CA. The draw of Northern California not only included the restaurant, but fishing and the employment booms with Folsom Dam and Aerojet.
The Traylor’s changed the landmark from the outside of the building to the restaurant inside. The food was homemade. From bread and rolls to jams and jellies, maple syrup and pies, to everything that came out of the garden and off the trees was used to make things. Salle Brothers, nearby, provided fresh eggs daily.
The Daily Specials menu was typed on a typewriter daily by Traylor’s niece and the “red-headed” very shy waitress, Barbara.
The restaurant itself featured those 50s style dinette tables with Formica tops on the left, the big open campfire in the center and the lunch counter on the right.
The customers loved the food, the atmosphere, and the friendships made over time. When asking about memories I could feel the joy and fullness as fond memories poured out. Apple butter, pomegranate jelly, homemade biscuits and rolls, Cherry Coke and fries, hot roast beef sandwiches, Denver omelets and squash cakes. My heart smiled at comments like “best breakfast in town,” “ate there every morning,” “Leota: past master at making chocolate cake” and “my grandpa took me there”.
There are so many stories all filled with the emotion of fond remembrances.
On the inside
John and Leota had four children: Elaine, John, Rosemary and Glenn. All the children worked in the restaurant as did niece Barbara. Leota passed in 1985.
Long time employee Michelle Ridley Hetherington and I chatted recently. She got her first job there at 14 as a dishwasher and remembered it being the first job for lots of kids in town. Summertime had lots of work preparing all the fruits for what was to come for them.
We talked about my favorite memory, the chairs and with them not matching the tables. And the tables — not numbered like other cafes, but rather known as the “red table” or “big table” or “green table.” Michelle also fondly recalled a time when the roof would leak and there were buckets at various tables to contain the drips. Seating was then by “bucket or no bucket” tables. She worked there for 12 years, met her husband there, went through two pregnancies there and worked right up to the day it closed: John was like a father to her.
The Traylor family always supported the community. Lions Club met there, as did the Damsite Motorcycle Club and many other groups in town.
Do you remember when businesses would take out ads in the paper welcoming and wishing new businesses success and just wishing everyone a Merry Christmas? I found the Campfire Café did just that in the 70s. I wish we would see that today.
In the 80s, customers and a business owner who had a stretch limo ate there at least three times a week, maneuvering the limo among the pickups and jeeps. There was a wonderful write up in 1984 in the Orangevale News about the homemade food and the garden that contributed so much and what pride and care John took in it all. The soups also got a favorable rating from a columnist in the Telegraph in 1984.
John was interviewed in May of 1996 by the Orangevale News: Campfire Café has been his for 44 years. Through those words I can feel the country-like corner at Filbert and Greenback and the frontier style of up-front down-home cooking. I can see the regular patrons, now three generations worth, at the counter with a few others being welcomed in for the very first time. And I can see John and his family going about the business of food and friendships.
The Banner Reads Thank You John for all the Good Memories
He had a plan, and at the age of 77 and a bout with pneumonia, John knew it was time. The Campfire Café closed on April 6, 1997, after 45 years.
So, from all of us who remember, thank you John and everyone else, for those 45 years. The corner and the name will always be the landmark.