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Lodges and Huts

Letters of Peter Grubb

Read the letters

As the only remaining member of my family and the sister of Peter Grubb I was the recipient of these letters. This collection was written by Peter Grubb, whose name is memorialized by a ski hut built in his memory by the Sierra Club out of Clair Tappan Lodge at Norden, California near Donner Lake. The Sierra Club also named one of the mountains in the Sierra Nevada mountain range for him. Peter was born in 1919 and died, at the age of 18, in 1937.

These letter were written by Peter to his grandfather, Matthew Hall McAllister. They date from 1935 to 1937. In 1948 they were packed by his grandfather and stored in the attic of the house in Redlands, California where our grandparents lived and died. They were discovered unopened, with a quantity of other family letters and financial records, in May of this year (2004).

To read these letters you would think that this exuberant 18 year old did nothing but climb mountains and dream of the next mountain, but that is far from true.

During the same period Peter was attending Galileo High School, at the top of his class. He played the flute in the school orchestra, trained in the required ROTC, was very studious and worked hard toward his final exams, was very active in his Scout Troop and loved to tinker under his own model T Ford. I remember being told not to touch his home made skis, taking over the bathroom while the shellac was drying and the tips were being curled (slightly). He always had classical music playing by his desk while he studied. Thanks to our mother he also had a busy social life as she was forever having dinner parties, treasure hunts, boys and girls. Lots of fun and games for all ages.

His letters said almost nothing about his home life. But he was part of a small but very secure family. There were 5 of us in the immediate family. My father and mother, Peter, Ted (his brother 2 years younger) and me Betty (5 years younger) and 3 of our 4 grandparents, all very interested in their three grandchildren.

We lived in a comfortable San Francisco house on one of its many steep hills. We had a permanent live-in servant. Three meals were served every day. Except for lunch, the family ate meals together in the dining room every day. Our father was starting a very successful business called "The Pacific Scientific Company." Our mother was a very busy homemaker from a prominent San Francisco background that went back to before the days of the Gold Rush.

During the Depression she taught sewing at Hamlin's Private School for Girls, so that I could attend. Ted, was Peter's shadow. Peter's letters do not name "the boys" he traveled with, but most of the time they did not include Ted. Ted is only mentioned once. Peter's letter of August 30, 1935, the trip to Crater Lake (and included Yellowstone and Glacier National Park) was a family outing, the "we" were the 5 members of our family.

There is a lot of detail left out in his letters, but I know that at the same time my mother was writing to her parents, the same people he was writing to, but she was writing every week, so they usually got the full picture (as far as she knew it!) though it is true, occasionally, my Grandfather would write and ask Peter "who were you with?"

I regret that all the maps, lists and clippings were not found with the letters.

Our grandfather was 72/73 years old at that time and I am sure he wrote inspiring letters to both his grandsons. He loved the mountains and all the wild life that was there and couldn't get enough of it. He even took his bride on their honeymoon to Yosemite in 1888, which must have been a very rugged adventure for my proper very civilized dainty grandmother. We all called her Nannie.

Peter seemed to glide over places, often mentioning Fallen Leaf Lake, which is next to Lake Tahoe and the place where we, as a family, went almost every year of my mother's life. But Peter seem to flit by, even in and out of Sierra Club High Trips. Those trips became the absolute delight of my later teen age and adult life, as well as my parents and my brother Ted, who later became a leader of many of those outings.

Peter and Ted did have lots of wonderful times together, but as I was a bit younger I was never part of that. I do remember once when they and "some of the boys" decided to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge on its opening day. I was crushed that they didn't take me, but my two sons made up for it later, but taking me on the Bridge for its 50th anniversary.

Peter often spoke about the Shasta Lodge to his grandfather, because it was one of his grandfather's interests. Names Peter mentioned out of context were Mr. Balderston, who was my father's business partner and my godfather. Bert, who was my grandparents chauffeur. Harry, I have no idea who he was. Aunt Marion was our mothers' sister, our grandparents third child and youngest daughter who never married and lived in Redlands with them most of the time. My mother also had a brother, Otis McAllister, who founded the equivalent of the Sierra Club in Mexico and was a great mountaineer. Our grandfather had dogs "Beanie" was one, "Jerry" another and there were others.

Peter's death was a terrible shock for my whole family. He had always been so bright and healthy and robust, the eldest son and the star of the family. After high school graduation he and his friend, Bill Burd, decided it would be "fun" to go and explore Europe on their bicycles. Looking back I am amazed that anyone would consider such a trip in 1937, but the world did not realize the imminence of war, at least way off in California. Peter wanted to have one year of college in Munich.

All I know is that he went. He met his father's mother, Mrs. I. R. D. Grubb, (our other grandmother) at the Brussels Worlds Fair. Bill and Peter also explored the Alps. They went to Pompeii (where, we were told, he "got too much sun"). They then took a boat to Capri and there he died on October 2, 1937. This was back in 1937, before drugs. The doctors gave it several names, but we will never really know how or why he died. Poor Bill Burd continued on the trip alone and Peter's body was brought home. The funeral was held in November of 1937. He is buried in the family plot out in Colma, at Cypress Lawn Cemetery.

For Peter "Life was Grand." His time on this earth was very short, but he seemed to pack a long life time of living in those 18 years. His loss was terrible. Not until I read those letters and saw those dried tear drops on that last letter did I realize how terrible it was for our whole family. I believe the Sierra Club did a wonderful thing in building the Peter Grubb Ski Hut out in Round Valley under Castle Peak. It has been a joy to generations of summer and winter visitors for over 50 years. And I am proud to know that there is a Mt. Peter Grubb in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

-- Elizabeth Grubb Lampen, June 2004

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