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Spotlight shines on venerable pitstop

Native Sons honor Olivers’ place in foothills history
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Not your everyday, average gas station and mini-mart, Olivers in Clipper Gap is getting recognition this month by a statewide organization for its historical significance. Members of the Native Sons of the Golden West will converge on the distinctively independent business off Interstate 80 east of Auburn to dedicate a plaque marking its place in local history. The last surviving operational service station in Placer County from the days when traffic over the Donner Summit took a more winding course to its destination, Olivers was first a company store, then a gas station on the old Lincoln Highway, and a grocery store starting in the 1920s. For as long as longtime locals like Meadow Vista’s George Lay can remember, it has also had a bar component – giving the place a roadhouse feel that’s mellowed by its current status as a popular morning coffee hangout for area residents before the beer starts being served. Robert Sinel, Olivers manager, said the work by the Auburn Native Sons parlor to research Olivers has unearthed history he was unaware of. That includes records that date back to 1889 showing a powder factory was on the Olivers property for many years. Several explosions marred the time the Giant Powder Company produced explosives at the site. It was shut down in 1917 shortly after 22 people died in one of the explosions. The original store building had served as the company store and in the 1920s, it first saw service as a gas station and grocery store. Fire destroyed the building in the 1940s and the current store was constructed in its place 59 years ago. The store has continued under different ownership since then. It was renamed Olivers in 1982 and that name continues through the current ownership by Denise Sinel. “I bet most people don’t know this was part of a powder factory,” Robert Sinel said. “Since they brought the idea of the plaque up, I’ve learned a lot about this area.” Lay, a resident of the Meadow Vista area since the 1940s, said there are no other plaques or interpretive displays in Clipper Gap to mark its history. But there are still remains of the powder factory, including the concrete wheelhouse. “The evidence is still there,” Lay said. “The wheelhouse is about 100 years old now.” Lay also recalled frontier justice – mid-20th century style – being meted out by a store employee during an armed robbery. The robber limped out without the cash and got away after the employee pulled out a gun and shot him in the leg, he said. Dave Allen, an Auburn Native Sons member who also serves as third vice president with the statewide group, said the dedication of the plaque is part of the overall mission of the organization to recognize sites of historical significance. Some of the other plaques put up by the group include ones at Bloomer Cut, Auburn Iron Works, Auburn Drug Co., the memorial near Foresthill to the horse, Old Joe, Tsuda’s Grocery and the original Placer County hospital. The Auburn parlor will oversee the dedication. The 124-year-old chapter has been particularly active in the past 15 years, establishing artifact-filled parks, restoring several horse-drawn wagons, taking part in parades, and donating to local charities. The dedication will take place rain or shine at 1 p.m. on March 14.. Allen said Native Sons members will be converging on Auburn for the day as part of the larger organization’s 49er Days, a mini-convention that will bring members from as far away as San Bernardino and Ferndale. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.