Making history with Ron McCloud

John Pitzer
Ron McCloud and Deborah Harton, co-authors of the book "Dunsmuir," had only one disagreement during its creation: who gets top billing? Harton said he should get it because he was so much a part of town; he said she should because it began with her, and her work in the field drove it home. He won.

“I’ve been kind of a history nut since I was a kid.” The voice is that of Ron McCloud, owner of Dunsmuir Hardware for three and one-half decades and one of the authors of the newly published history of Dunsmuir. He saw his love of history realized when he acquired the Dunsmuir business community institution in 1975.

“The store has been around since 1894,” he said proudly. “I would hate to see it ever disappear from the scene.”

Ron, selected as grand marshal for this year’s Railroad Days Parade along with his wife, Pat, grew up surrounded by the hard working lifestyle he saw in his parents. His father was owner and manager of a dry cleaning operation; his mother, a clothing establishment.

“They worked from sun up to sun down. I thought I’d be happier in an executive kind of position without all the worries of keeping a small business going,” said Ron.

“I worked at Crocker Bank in San Francisco for 13 years – and I didn’t care for it!” he reflected.

He and Pat had moved from the Mid-West in 1965 to find that better kind of profession. As their children approached school age however, they decided it was time to get out of the big city and back to the traditional American small town values that had been part of growing up in Nebraska.

“Pat grew up on a farm and I grew up around small businesses. I knew I had to work with tangibles – ‘nuts and bolts.’ We determined that there were three kinds of businesses we could handle.

“We wanted nothing to do with bars. Restaurants were not for us. Grocery stores were not our cup of tea. It had to be auto parts, sporting goods or hardware.

“I guess I didn’t realize that I was moving right back into what I had grown up in when we chose to move to Dunsmuir and take the reins of the hardware store that had been owned by a very respected partnership in town.

“We were naive. We could have gotten into any of a number of problems with buying a business but we forged ahead and with advice from my business consultants, my parents – we made the move, bought a home and a business, and never looked back,” said Ron.

Now, 35 years later, he has no regrets.

“I love working with people, supplying the things they need, and helping them to complete their projects. I look forward to each new day,” Ron said. “If I’ve helped people then it makes the day a delight. I’ve had very few bad days.”

Ron can be found at Dunsmuir True Value Hardware from 6:30 in the morning to 6:30 at night six days a week.

“Usually for lunch I grab a power bar and a cup of coffee so I can hide out in my office and handle e-mails and paperwork,” he said. “Then it’s back on the floor working with customers or dealing with inventory – ordering, receiving, processing, analyzing and planning.”

The great hall in which Dunsmuir Hardware resides is a gem of history itself.

Memories of a childhood visit with mom and dad are evoked the moment people hear and feel the wooden floor under their feet.

Antique tools and local memorabilia line the walls on an exalted level so that one must raise his sights to see them.

There are license plates in order by year from 1915, the horseshoe collection, all kinds of cans, bottles, radiator grills, farm implements and, essential to California’s Historic Railroad Town, train effects. The “WATCH YOUR STEP” sign on the back stairs is authentic – from an old Pullman Coach.

If you’re not careful, you’ll miss the large wagon up front – an old baggage cart right from the historic Dunsmuir railroad depot.

If you look carefully at the grand photograph at the back of the store, you’ll see captured, not only the big Southern Pacific “bulldog nose” locomotives of the 1950s, but also the famous roundhouse and repair shops standing proudly at this strategic stop along one of the most fabled railroad routes. It was part of the railroad heyday that was Dunsmuir’s.

And there’s more. A visit to the store will reveal the wood-burning stove (before which staff and customers alike huddle in the colder months) and for summers gone by, the platform above the front entrance holds old-time fans once used for cooling.

And, like in the days when catching the train was part of life, you’ll always know the time from the giant clock on the south wall.

It’s a hardware store, but there are music CDs, model trains, blue jeans, gift items, stationery items, fishing gear – it’s rare that a customer goes away empty-handed. The store just seems to have the very thing you need.

“If we don’t have a certain item, we try to suggest alternatives to the customer that will work instead,” said Ron.

Ron does not consider himself a hardware connoisseur. “I guess I’ve just learned a lot over the years and I love putting that knowledge to work for others,” he said.

Those others like what Ron is all about. The proof – Dunsmuir Hardware was the recipient of the Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year award for 2009, and this year he and his wife Pat will be grand marshals for the Railroad Days Parade June 12. “That’s very special!” Ron exults.

Ron has served on various committees over the years. He was one of the founders of the Dunsmuir Historic District and now is one of the Historic District representatives on the planning commission. He has been a member of the chamber of commerce for 35 years and served in various board positions.

He founded the Dunsmuir Merchants Committee and was its chairman for a number of years. He was Railroad Days chairman for three years and headed various committees in subsequent years. He and his son Ethan organized the Dunsmuir Centennial Auto Show in 1986.

He was one of the founders of the Dunsmuir Railfair and chairman for several years. He was president of the Siskiyou Flyfishers and also the Dunsmuir Rotary Club.

He, like other business owners, regularly contributes to the myriad of fund-raising efforts that always seem to be taking place. Ron was presented the Dunsmuir Citizen of the Year award in 1986.

Ron loves to write. His whimsical but informative monthly newsletter at the hardware store has a following. Customers as well as those who just drop in to pick one up, like the jokes, the “What the Heck is This Thing” feature with antique tools and houseware items, the helpful hints and informative articles, and maybe even read the ads.

He also maintains a website: and he has just completed a history of Dunsmuir with his co-author Deborah Harton. The book has been printed and will be ready for release for public sale on June 1.

“It was a lot of work,” said Ron. “There were many nights over the past year I was up to 2 or 3 in the morning working on the project. Deb and I worked very well together in spite of the pressures and stresses of researching, compiling, writing, organizing, working on layout, proof-reading and meeting deadlines.”

With a glint in his eye, Ron said, “We had just one argument and it was a big one. We couldn’t agree on whose name would go first on the title page, hers or mine. I won the argument – her name is first. It was Deb’s idea and I’m just very pleased that she asked me to partner with her.”

The book is named simply, “Dunsmuir.” It is a golden achievement for the two authors and a must have for anybody who lives or has lived in Dunsmuir, who has family here, has visited or vacationed here, or just has an interest in the town’s colorful past, fascinating stories, and the historical images it contains.

It is part of an existing series of over 5,000 volumes called “Images of America,” published by Arcadia Publishing Company. Each volume is a history of an American small town. And Ron points out with a smile, “They are printed in the USA.”

Online, go to and search for Dunsmuir. “Dunsmuir” will be available at Dunsmuir Hardware, of course, as well as at bookstores and other retail outlets in the area.

“There is so much to tell about Dunsmuir,” Ron said. “Many more photos and stories than we could get into one volume. We’re still finding more photos that are ‘book-worthy’ and hearing more stories and learning more history. Guess there will have to be a second book.”

But how long will Ron’s history continue with Dunsmuir Hardware?

“I’m looking forward to retirement, Ron said. “I’m not hiding it. I’m ready to step away from the business. I’ll be 69 years old this year and it’s about time – after 35 years.

Ron said with a big grin, “I could walk away from it tomorrow – maybe.”

He admits to having some concern about the institution that is Dunsmuir Hardware. He wouldn’t want to see it lose its respected place in the community. His pride in what the store has become over its 116 years makes him want the store to go on as the old time historic, but modern store that it is.

“Finding the right buyer could be difficult,” his quips. “Most people don’t want to sit in the back office with a power bar and a cup of coffee for lunch.”

So Ron McCloud is taking each day as it comes; another day to help people; another day to make friends; and another day to make history.

• Dunsmuir resident John Pitzer worked in radio broadcasting for 40 years until retiring in 2006. He and his wife, Marilyn, moved from Oakland, Calif., to Dunsmuir in 2002. John said he loves the town and the trains and enjoys writing, gardening, participating in the Growers Market and getting to know the people better.