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Building Big Valley

In 2016 I was contacted by Cindy Yerger Kell, daughter of Paul Yerger. Paul Yerger is the builder and original owner of Big Valley. Cindy was kind enough to share her stories and pictures regarding the construction and initial operations of Big Valley. The narrative is choppy because it's composed of many different emails from Cindy. I pieced them together while keeping my own editing to a minimum. Further down is a collection of family pictures showing much of the ski area's construction.

Hello,

It was a blast from the past, stumbling upon your site that included pictures and memorabilia of Big Valley. My father Paul Yerger, built Big Valley Ski Area in 1968. We opened business for the 1969-70 ski season. I was 9 years old and felt like the luckiest little girl alive! My mother worked in the kitchen for 2 years making the best home cooked foods for the hungry skiers. My father incorporated in 1971 continuing on as president and manager. We lived in the ranch house just across from the lodge. The whole idea behind the ski area was my father owned 1,000 acres including part of the Pinnacle. He got information that the state was going take part of that land and turn it to state game lands. So, in order to not loose part of his property, he had to build/create a public facility. Next thing I knew our family was building a ski area. All new to us, we had never even been to a ski area!

My dad was a farmer and a lumberjack. Took all the trees out for the trails himself, with lots of help from his children and a worker or two.

After a massive warm rainy winter, the business took a drain on my father and he sold out what was left of his shares in 1973. I used to go back and ski when Hahn took over, but it was never the same. They reconstructed the lodge into a chalet which was something my dad would have never done. It was more about the conditions of the slopes and skiing than having a fancy building... LOL. I also have the Big Valley ski patch! My dad is now 92 [2016] and still with us.

After reading more from your website I would like to clarify the names of the original shareholders:
Paul Yerger
Harry Rennick
Bob Cummings
John Forry Sr.

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Click image for larger picture. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

Also, the pictures that have the buildings in the background are:

all the way to the left was our house

left bottom - the horse barn

center
[behind the chairlift house] - sawmill [subsequent maintenance building]

center back - sawdust and storage building

to the right
[behind the lodge] - the barn where we raised cattle and pigs and goats.

Again, it is awesome to see the pictures and read the stories of how much enjoyment this place brought to peoples lives.

Also, I want to mention in 1972 I fractured my back skiing the mogul trail (center trail, middle portion). I was transported down the hill to the ambulance on the Thiokol. Three ski patrol were there for me, but I would not ever be able to tell you their names. However I was with Mike Cummings when I fell.

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The slope to the right that ran under the chairlift never had a name [see reference photo above]. It was just part of the Big Valley T-bar hill. We did have brochures and names for most of the slopes. Back then there were 3 main slopes off the chair lift. The one to the right was the longest and easiest. The center was the black diamond and also a mogul slope in the center section. The one all the way to the left was the double black diamond, if I recall correctly. We did have a brochure with the trails listed. The slopes were primitive at the start with only a few crossovers to other trails. However, the trails were wide and provided a 500' vertical drop for the advanced skier.

Also, during our time we did not have the rope tow, only the T-bar and chairlift. Night skiing was offered from the first season and was popular on the weekends. We used paper tickets that were stapled on a metal T for your zip. We had color codes for each day and night. Alpine wooden skis were available to rent as were leather boots with snap buckles.

I remember watching my dad up on the towers checking the cables and chairs for safety. Snowmaking would start when the temperature would hit 28 degrees. All through the night my brother, father and brother in laws would be out getting the guns positioned to fill the slopes with fresh powder.

Over the summer one year my dad opened the lodge to host underage dances. We also would get the chairlift operating to give folks a ride from time to time.

The dam below the lodge, by the driveway was created in 1971 to provide more water for snowmaking, we had 3 dams altogether on the farm.

I do have pictures which I will pass on when I find them. So, your parents would have been ski patrol in the early '70s? [actually they were ski school] Your name sounds familiar, but I was just a kid back then too. You are 10 years younger.

I was just out there over the summer to see what the place looked like now. Sad to see it in such disarray, especially when Pittsburg Paint [PPG] had supposedly purchased it to turn it into a Christian retreat. Evidently that did not take place. Part of the roof [of the lodge] has fallen in. Still lots of good land there and still some valuable timber.

The sawmill cut all the trees up that came from the beginning trails. When my father sold his shares, he also sold the remaining property and eventually the house. We moved away the summer after to Schuylkill County. My father took all the sawmill equipment with us when we moved. The building then became known as the maintenance building.

I remember the ticket booth being downstairs, a ski shop, ski rental, my dad's office and the ski patrol area. Restrooms were also downstairs. I don't remember a pinball machine but I do recall a jukebox that played super cool music of the day... I Hear You Knocking... Stealers Wheel: Stuck In The Middle With You... My Sweet Lord... I could go on and on. Upstairs to the right was the kitchen and next to the kitchen was a room that was supposed to become a bar area, pending the liquor license. And the main area was filled with tables and chairs.

I had a talk with my father. He was eager to hear about someone still talking about the ski area. I found several pictures of building and slope construction. I only found one picture of the interior of the lodge and that was of my sister Judy's wedding reception. My father and mother (in the red dress) are to the right in the shot. The wedding photo was taken in front of what was to be the cocktail lounge. At this point Big Valley did not have their liquor license. The room was used for ski school, from my recollections. Upstairs was an open spacious area, filled with tables and chairs and a jukebox. The only closed rooms were the kitchen and ski school (tentative cocktail lounge). I do not know if a liquor license was ever obtained during our time. My sister Judy painted the first sign that was put up at the entrance. The colors were turquoise, white and black! The turquoise was the background Big Valley Ski Area was in white with black outline. I sure wish I had a picture of that to share! Pictures had to be developed back then and that cost money. Sad to say I had hoped for more.

My dad said and there is a article to the fact that Big Valley Corp lost the business to the bank and that is how Hahn made the purchase. After Hahn he said that the property was purchased by a woman named Emily Bowmatson of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company [PPG]. He said she was only interested in the land, nothing more. It is believed that Hahn sold to her. I have tried to research this lady and came up empty, maybe you might have more resources. I do not know, nor does my dad if she is even still alive. I also am not positive of the spelling of her last name. I lightly researched Pittsburgh Plate Glass but could not find lineage history other then the original owners which were not Bowmatson.

The lift shacks were both built at the opening. The chairlift hut at the top of the hill was built the first year as well.

Dick Mosser was around a lot during the construction phase and his family stayed occasionally in a rustic old stone house on our property. He was there the first winter. I believe there was a tentative partnership in the works but was later dismissed for a corporation that he was not part of.

After talking with my sister, I found out that my dad did not incorporate until the second season. He chose the name Big Valley from a TV show he used to watch.

Sincerely,

Cindy Yerger Kell

Click any image below for the full-size picture!

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Lodge construction. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Lodge construction. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Lodge construction. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Lodge construction. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Lodge construction. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Lodge construction. Paul Yerger in picture. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Lodge construction. Paul Yerger in picture. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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T-bar and pipeline construction. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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T-bar and pipeline construction. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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T-bar tower construction. Paul Yerger (left) and Ralph Wink. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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T-bar tower work. Paul Yerger and Dick Mosser in picture. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Chairlift and pipeline construction. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Installation of the chairlift's drive bullwheel. Dick Mosser (left), Paul Yerger and Paul's son (in the crane cab). 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Installation of the chairlift's drive bullwheel. 1969. Dick Mosser (left), Paul Yerger and Paul's son (in the crane cab). Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Chairlift prime mover. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

[Note: When I was a kid I would sometimes stand around and just watch how things worked. The above picture reminds me of such a time. The prime mover was mounted on wheels and rails and held back by a big concrete counterweight hung behind the chairlift house. The whole prime mover would roll back and forth a few inches when the lift was turned on and off under heavy load. Also, the lifts were electric, but the chair had an internal combustion backup engine for power failures. The backup engine ran the lift at an excruciatingly slow pace. But it was better than no lift. - Jeff-Z.]

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Chairlift tower construction. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Chairlift tower construction. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Chairlift tower construction. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Sawmill which became the maintenance building. Sawdust and storage building in the background at right. Horse barn in the background at left. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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A blurry picture of the finished lodge, but check out the well manicured snow in the foreground. 1969. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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An interior picture of the lodge main level showing the ski school desk. Mr. & Mrs Paul Yerger at right. 1971. Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Image courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Newspaper clipping courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Newspaper clipping courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.

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Newspaper clipping courtesy of Cindy Yerger Kell.