Those of us over 50 fondly (or maybe not so fondly) remember encyclopedias. Before you could find anything you wanted to online, encyclopedias provided a wealth of information contained in a set of voluminous books that required considerable shelf space lined up in order from A to Z.
Every school library had at least one set of encyclopedias, and door-to-door salesman were great at convincing (shaming) parents that every home should have a set if they wanted their children to be successful in life. My dad had a set that he so cherished that he built a bookcase to house them, which I have since inherited.
I often wonder what I should do with them as I never look at them, and even if I did the information is terribly outdated and not applicable to anything I would need. I would feel guilty if I threw them out, and I am sure a thrift store would pitch them if I placed (snuck) them into their donation bin.
Well, on a recent trip through California’s Panamint Valley, I discovered how somebody else solved their encyclopedia dilemma.
In the mining ghost town of Reilly there are many scattered remains of homes built primarily of native stone, which provided readily available building materials for the residents. One exception is a dugout which was hewn out of the sidewall of a gully.
Seeing the door to this home open, I thought I would take a look inside.
Peering around the door into the living room, I was surprised to see not one, but at least three complete sets of encyclopedias in the abandoned home! Two of the sets were in a bookcase.
While I don’t advocate abandoning personal property on public land, I can fully understand the thinking behind why this person did so: there was no guilt of sending them to the dump.
Given the aridness and heat of their storage location, the encyclopedias are likely to survive hundreds or even thousands of years.
And who knows, when the digital age that we are currently in collapses, these encyclopedias might become highly coveted documents like the Dead Sea scrolls when rediscovered in the future!
Of course the other possibility of why the encyclopedias are in the home is that the door-to-door encyclopedia Britannica salesperson was highly successful with the last resident!
The Panamint Valley is remote with limited communications and services. It can also be very hot in the summer. Carry extra drinking water and always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
You will find “downtown” Reilly at N36° 00.403 W117° 22.191
The encyclopedia repository is located on the north side of the wash that divides the town.
These are your nearest camping options:
- Boondocking: The pictured site is located at N36° 00.601 W117° 20.120 which is just down the hill from Reilly.
- Campground: The closest campground is across the valley at the old town of Ballarat. Click here for more information.
- RV Park: The closest RV park with hookups is at Panamint Springs.
Contemplating what constitutes trash or future treasure, just another adventure in RVing!
Dave Helgeson’s many roles in the RV industry started before he even had a driver’s license. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership before the term “RV” had been coined, and Dave played a pivotal role in nearly every position of an RV dealership. He and his wife Cheri launched their own RV dealership in the Pacific Northwest. The duo also spent 29 years overseeing regional RV shows. Dave has also served as President of a local chapter of the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), worked on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college, and served as a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. Dave’s reputation earned him the title of “The foremost expert on boondocking,” bestowed by RV industry icon, the late Gary Bunzer (The RV Doctor). When he’s not out boondocking, you’ll find Dave in the spotlight at RV shows across the country, giving seminars about all things RVing. He and Cheri currently roam in their fifth travel trailer, with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications to his own unit.
Douglas Moody says
HAha. This is the strangest thing I heard today! Encyclopedias in the middle of the desert. If the walls could talk, what would they say?
You didn’t say what the dates on the books were. Can you estimate how long they had been there?
Perhaps scroll salesmen had done the same thing with the dead sea scrolls as what happened to this guy!
Dave H says
Douglas, I didn’t think to look. They had a good coat of dust on them though! Dave
That’s funny!!! Scroll salesman….!!!!
The white set on the top shelf are World Book Encyclopedias. They were the centennial set 1976 (thus the reason they are red, white and blue). My father was a WB salesman starting in the 60s and forward. We have always had a set or more around the house and still do. Talk about tradition!
I guess it’s entirely possible that someday our civilization will become a thing of the past. No electricity, no internet, Think how valuable something like this would be after everything else is gone.
In 2000 I re-walked Colin Fletcher’s 1000 Mile Summer. I left the border of Mexico in March and walked across the Oregon border in Sept. While walking that trek, the “trail” if that is what you want to call it, is through eastern California. While walking south of Death Valley I found a toilet plunger in the middle of nowhere. I still laugh about that find.
Thanks for sharing Dave!
Jeff Schragg says
This is bizarre and fascinating. I read today that a cave was found in an Austin TX suburb when a water line broke because part of the cave wall had collapsed. Never know what you’ll find either accidentally or if you’re looking. Great article Dave, thanks for sharing.
It’s hard to find someone who will take an old encyclopedia set, Libraries and Goodwill don’t want them. Recycling places don’t want them either. I got lucky and found a local artist that wanted my old, inherited set but I’m betting that might be one of the reasons those are in there.
The Colliers Encyclopedia that I purchased in 1969, that served me, and then my children, gathered dust on a bookshelf in the basement. I seem to remember them costing about $600, twice my monthly salary. Man that salesman must have been good! Just last month, I loaded them into my trunk and threw them into the dumpster. And although I know all that knowledge is available on my cell phone, I must admit I shed a tear as I pitched the last volume into the trash……..
Vanessa A Simmons says
Our set of World Book encyclopedias was in the living room in a shelf daddy made. When we didn’t have a television set or it was broken (needed an expensive tube) reading these was our entertainment. If we were bored and had nothing else to read we were told to go read them. We fought over the yearly updates to be the first to look through them. When my dad passed away, just over 10 years ago at 85, I think he still occasionally picked them up and read them. When cleaning out the house my sister took them to put in the dumpster. When I visited her they were (and still are) in her house in various vignettes on side tables and dressers.
I remember we had them in our home in California in the 50s. (Still live In California)
I remember the salesman in our house. my sister and I gathered around watching the sales pitch to my Mother. We thought it was great ????, and boreing. But I remember using them when I was in Jr.high..and copying them word for word .
Of course my mother bought them, she wanted smart kids lol.
We had a special book case for them that my parents bought from Ethan and Allan, a furniture store that is still in business today, but now sell modern furniture..
Wonder what ever happened to our Books Of Knowledge!
Thanks for bring back these memories ????.
Hal Meadows says
Bought a set of Colliers in the 50’s so that my children would have them for their school work. The children were under 6 yrs old at the time. Being in the military the books were hauled from place to place before I donated them to some charity. Found an erroneous entry in one volume and wrote Colliers to let them know. The entry was corrected in later editions. I’m now 88 yr old and use the internet for all my lack of knowledge items. So many things have changed in my lifetime that it is hard to comprehend.
Be careful about picking up items found in the desert or any public lands. What looks like old junk or trash is considered an archeological artifact by the BLM, etc. Pretty hefty fines go with it.
Larry Mike says
Still have our Britannica set purchased in the eighties so our kids would have them for school research. They did not get used that much as I recall. Also bought the expensive annual updates for about six years before we woke up to the fact that most everything could be found online.
Pretty sure we have a healthy four figures in the entire collection… Micropedia, Macropedia, Index volumes, Atlas, and annual updates.
Can’t get myself to toss them.
I had something completely different. When I was growing up (in the late 60’s) I had a set of Childcraft encyclopedia’s.. I loved thumbing through them just to learn something new. I don’t ever recall using them for school work (though I must have). So much more fun than Google.
Dave, its always fun stumbling across things in our adventures. Thanks for the memories.
Someday… not tomorrow, not next year… but someday 1000 years from now these will be the NEW lost sea “scrolls”.