Seldom Seen Slim aka Charles Ferge

Slim's Treasure Maps

by Tom Davis

I read the article about Seldom Seen Slim by Lynn Bremner with great interest. When I was a kid, my Mom would get irked about me and my brother getting bored and underfoot during the long San Diego summers. Several times she and my Dad packed us up and dropped us off in Trona for a week or so at a time. My Granddad Ted Lang ran the Chevron station next to the Oasis restaurant at the time, and my Mom's sister (Aunt Bobbie) lived with him. We would help Grandpa as much as we could running the station. But it was so blasted hot that we relished it when Grandpa said "go get a block of ice from the machine across the street." With key and tongs in tow, I went over and sat down on the ice for a while. When Grandpa complained that it took so long, I told him the conveyor jammed.

Topo map showing Coolgardie Camp

A detail of the topo map that Slim carried with him showing the Coolgardie Camp area.


Grandpa had many friends in Trona, and one of them was Seldom Seen Slim. I was fascinated when Slim would come visit Grandpa, his faithful burros in tow. He would tousle my hair and say "Hey there, young 'un." Then he and Grandpa would go back to the darkest reaches of the gas station, amongst the dust, giant racy postcards and hanging fan belts. I was fascinated by this mysterious rendezvous. What they talked about they would never say, but Slim always had a topo map with him, and he and Grandpa would study it under the glow of a hanging light. After they got whatever it was straightened out, Slim would disappear back to Ballarat for months at a time.

Copper City on Topo Map

Another detail of the topo map showing the Copper City area.

When Slim died in 1968, Grandpa was a pall bearer. His picture is on page 48 of Tom G. Murray's book about Slim, which I have a copy of. After Grandpa died most of his things went to Aunt Bobbie, and after she died most of those things came to me. I have many artifacts of the Chevron station, but the one thing that stands out is the topo map Slim and Grandpa shared. Slim’s pencil scratchings can still be read on the back, and the map includes long-gone place names like Kramer Hills, Jimgrey and Coolgardie Camp, as well as long since closed mines like the Belmont, Cork Screw, Juanita, Buck and Owlshead.

Below is the back of the map, with a crude drawing and legal description by Slim. I think the legal description reads thus: SE 1/2 of the SE 1/4 of 7, NE 1/8 of the NE 1/2 of 8. 

Slim's writing on the back of the map.

Slim’s writing on the back of the topo map.


DesertUSA reader Santiago Panzardi also wrote in with the following account, and included the photo below.

I am standing to the left of Seldom Seen Slim. My friend Kip June, is standing to the right. In 1964 Kip and I were traveling to Death Valley and decided to take the jaunt to Ballarat. We had the great fortune of seeing, yes actually seeing, Seldom Seen Slim. As I recall he was very friendly and we enjoyed a brief visit with him. Thanks for the web page. It was very entertaining to read of days and characters of long ago.

Slim with visitors (below)

Slim with Visitors

Bob Keimach Write Many years ago in the very early 60s, I, and a couple of friends I dragged out the desert, had the pleasure of meeting Slim.

We had heard about him and were told he like a cold beer once in a while. Well, we got a 6 pack and put it in a cooler on the way to Ballarat. We arrived to find Slim decorating his so called Xmas tree and invited him to join us in a cold beer. He was sure glad to accept. Of course we started asking him questions about where he came from and how he got to Ballarat. I remember him saying he came to Rhyolyte (sp) and stayed a while before migrating to Ballarat. He told us about his 'claims' and of course offered them for sale to us. We declined gently.

He had just obtained his trailer at that time. He also wanted to sell us an old truck nearby which we also passed on. And then he showed us some rocks he had for sale. The talk ranged from his life in and around Ballarat which has been documented elsewhere to how he came to be in Ballarat. I took lots of pictures of him, his surroundings and the remains of Ballarat. While we were there the 'store' had not yet been built and most of the remains were gone.

What I remember is that the adobe walls had 'melted' and crumbled. I don't recall so many of the buildings that I see in later pictures and pictures don't lie, BUT some of those remains now pictured were little more than piles of rubble. To me, it appears that some of them had been 'rebuilt' for the tourists. When we went to Ballarat we drove on 'washboard' trails and not on any kind of roads. There was no fence around the cemetery and the graves were sure not so neatly outlined.

How I wish I still had all of my pictures going back about 50+ years. Unfortunately, in the late 90s all of my family pictures and travel pix were stolen by some varmints who for some reason wanted to hurt me somehow. They took the pictures, albums, my fishing stuff and all of my miniature hobby tools that I used to build model ships with including many still boxed model ship kits. They also scratched up some pictures and maps on brass. Yuh, they sure did hurt me. It was obvious it was not a common burglary as they did not touch any electronics which could have been resold or pawned. Sheriff never did investigate or even try to 'solve' the burglary. There are just too many burglaries in the Antelope Valley where I live.

But I still have my memories and with concentration can still remember many of those pictures. Not too shabby for a guy who is now 77 years old.

BTW, in those days a dirt road still existed going up to Panamint, the site of the silver mine and its remaining buildings including the one smelter chimney still standing. Yes, those pix are gone also. A few years later I made the same trip and while Ballarat was still there, the road to Panamint had been washed away in the canyon floods. The same flood that washed a lot of Panamint away including, some say, a safe containing something valuable which was never found.

There was an email address mentioned on one site related to Ballarat inviting stories, but I couldn't find it. So that is why I am sending this to your publication. You may print any part of or all of it as you wish and/or forward it to that Ballarat 'historical' site.

I do have one other story I have heard about Panamint. Seems that when the first shipment of silver was to be taken down the canyon to Ballarat, the owners were quite worried that it would be hijacked by some of the many 'desperados' that lived in and around Ballarat. Ballarat at that time had many, many bars and houses of ill repute and was supposedly quite lawless, but was visited by the local law occasionally.

Well, sure enough the mule wagon carrying the silver was stopped at gunpoint as expected. However, what the robbers did not expect was that the silver had been molded into very large ingots weighing hundreds of pounds. The crooks could not even lift and/or carry them away. And taking the wagon away from the wagon drivers would expose them to whatever law did exist in Ballarat. So the silver was safe and arrived at where ever the destination was. Some say Santa Monica where it could be loaded on ship(s) to San Francisco.

 

DesertUSA NOTE: Did anyone you know go out to Trona or Ballarat at that time? We welcome your stories!

Watch a video about Ballarat, Seldom Seen Slim and Shorty Harris

 

 

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