Monday, September 24, 2012

Remembering Chester St. Clair

Chet St.Clair As We Knew Him

Chet St. Clair was a member in long standing of the ETI Corral 14 Western Wagons. He joined the group in 1989 and was an active member until his passing this year. He was Wagonmaster from 1993 through 2004. When Chet first started doing the Death Valley Wagon Train he was riding his mule Bertha as an out-rider with the Seale's wagon. After that first Death Valley experience I guess it's safe to say he was "hooked" He fell in love with everything about Death Valley and in 1990 built his own wagon, broke a team of mules to pull it and was ready for the wagon adventure. He was joined by his wife Pat and their 5 yr old grandson Willy on this first drive. In coming years his wagon welcomed kids and grandkids plus a few extras. Chet was a dedicated participant in the Death Valley Wagon Train. He worked tirelessly to improve relations between Corral 14, the ‘49ers and the park superintendent. One of Chet's proudest achievements was to have Corral 14 participate in the 1999 Sesquicentennial Wagon Train with a representative six wagons. As the wagon train pulls out of Wades Monument this year many will be thinking of Chet and all the times he called "Wagons Ho!".
by ETI Corral 14 Western Wagons Wagon Master, Norm Noftsier 
The Death Valley '49ers Fall, 2012 Newsletter 

Chester W. St. Clair, Wagon Master, Death Valley ‘49er, and friend to all, passed away August 15, 2012 at age 72.  The Death Valley ‘49ers wish to extend our deepest condolences to Chester’s family and friends.
Chester was born on May 26, 1940, in San Ardo to William R. St. Clair and Gladys Chloe St. Clair.  He moved to Arkansas in 1951 after the death of his father and lived with his grandparents.  His grandfather farmed with a mule team. There he learned to harness and drive horses and mules, which ever was available.
In high school, Chester was involved with wrestling, boxing and FFA.  He then joined the Navy in 1957 and was stationed in San Diego, before transferring to the USS General J.C. Breckinridge, a military transport ship, making 33 trips across the Pacific.
In 1958, Chester met Pat Hildreth in San Diego and married her in Nov. 1959 while living in Oakland, where they stayed until he was discharged in 1961.  He went to work at Owens Illinois Glass in Oakland. The couple settled in Pleasanton where their son Raymond was born in 1962.
After numerous calls from his father-in-law Bob Hildreth to take over the business in Ridgecrest, Chester and his family finally moved in 1963. He operated a tow truck and wrecking yard during the day and then went to work as a car salesman in the evening.  After Bob was killed in an auto accident in 1964, Chester took on the responsibility to operate Hildreth Motors, a Dodge Dealership and AAA Towing company with 24 employees.
In 1966, the couple had their daughter Theresa and their second son Thomas in 1969. In 1988, Thomas was killed in an auto accident.
In 1985, the dealership was sold and they changed the name to St. Clair Automotive, remaining a towing, used car lot and auto body shop.  First and foremost, he loved driving a one-ton truck and the business he had for 64 years with the Automobile Association Club of Southern California.
After a trip in 1990, Chester started a tradition to go to Death Valley in a wagon driven by mules, beginning in 1991.  They didn’t miss a trip until 2011.  He was the wagon master for nine years.  Chester was involved with the California Sesquicentennial in 1999 where he joined fellow wagon masters and had a 100-mile drive into Stockton with all original wagons.  In Ridgecrest, he hauled the Fair directors and Santa in the “old wagon” in the parade the last few years.  He loved seeing the kids react to Santa.
He is preceded in death by his parents William St. Clair and Gladys Chloe St. Clair and son Thomas St. Clair.  He is survived by his wife if 52 years Pat of Ridgecrest, son Raymond of Ridgecrest, daughter Theresa Knight of Ridgecrest, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  Services were held on Aug. 23 at 9:30 a.m. at Calvary Chapel, officiated by Terry Morrison.  He was laid to rest at Desert Memorial Park.
Excerpt from Death Valley ‘49ers Keepsake 49, Wagons Ho! Corral 14 — Its Living Heritage:

Wagon Master 1993-2004
Chet St. Clair experienced Death Valley for the first time in 1989. He rode his mule Bertha as an outrider with Cary Seale’s wagon. I guess it’s safe to say he was hooked.  The experience started a long time association with Corral 14 and Death Valley. Chet fell in love with everything about Death Valley and in 1990 built his own wagon and broke a team so he could participate in the drive that year. He was accompanied by his wife Pat and their five year old grandson, Willy. Chet has been a dedicated participant to this drive every year since becoming wagon master in 1993. He has worked tirelessly to improve the relationship between Corral 14, the 49er’s and park rangers. Chet and Pat are always part of the wagon train and have brought their children and grandchildren along to experience the wonders of Death Valley. In 1999 Chet was the driving force that put Corral 14 into the Sesquicentennial Wagon Train. He led approximately six wagons on this great occasion.