this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)
COUNTRY VISITOR GUIDE
of the road
One of the most difficult
challenges that any self-employed business
owner is facing today is the rising cost
of insurance. In the towing business,
the recent industry-wide increases have
forced Pat O’Connell, the only local
towing operator, to quit that part of
an automotive business as that has been
a Three Rivers landmark for 43 years.
Landmark because since 1964,
Pat O’Connell has furnished nearly
every type of automotive service, including
repair, tires and service, batteries,
spare parts, gas and oil, propane, tire
chains, and so much more. But what he’s
best known for — and has a nomination
pending to the International Towing Hall
of Fame — is his incomparable mountain
towing expertise in all kinds of terrain
and along some of the most treacherous
roads on the planet.
Pat, who turns a spry 81
later this year, said he will really miss
all the folks he has encountered over
the years while towing their stranded
vehicles. But to renew his current insurance
policy, which more than tripled in one
year, just isn’t feasible.
“I hate to quit taking the tow calls,
but I just don’t generate the business
to pay the annual premium,” Pat
said. “It’s going to take
some getting used to not being always
To have Pat no longer on
call will leave a huge void in Three Rivers
that will never be filled. In more than
four decades, Pat has helped so many wayward
motorists, he could fill a book; it’s
impossible to even estimate how many folks
he has rescued.
Pat said in some ways it
will be a relief to no longer deal with
some of the physical strain of a very
“I’m not as young as I used
to be,” Pat confessed.
But there is an upside. Now,
he said, he will have more time to work
on his park-like four-acre landscape that
adjoins his shop and service bays.
Pat has seen a lot of changes
since he first opened his Three Rivers
service station 43 years ago. But one
constant that has never wavered is his
commitment to the community that he has
cheerfully served nearly all his working
“Even though I’m no longer
in the towing business, I’m not
going anywhere,” Pat said. “I’ll
still be available for lockouts, tire
work, most minor repairs and, of course,
a story or two, so come on in for a visit.”
Pat and Shirley O’Connell bought
their first Mobil service station in Los
Pat and Shirley moved with their young
sons to Three Rivers, where they opened
a full-service Mobil station, offering
gasoline, auto repair and maintenance,
towing services, as well as window-washing
and a check under the hood with a gas
The O’Connell’s Mobil station
became a BP gas station.
The gas station portion of the business
was closed due to federal legislation
that required antiquated underground fuel
tanks to be upgraded or removed due to
the probability that they were causing
soil and water contamination.
Pat O’Connell traveled to Northern
California to purchase a used tow truck.
As he attempted to pay for it, he was
told the debt had been satisfied. The
community of Three Rivers, he was informed,
had purchased the truck for him.
As of Tuesday, July 8, Pat O’Connell
will retire from the towing business.
Sheriff to Three
‘We’ve got you covered’
A standing-room-only crowd
gathered at the Three Rivers Memorial
Building last Monday evening to hear Sheriff
Bill Wittman deliver on his promise to
respond to law enforcement concerns that
were raised during the June 3 meeting.
Tulare County’s top cop, accompanied
by key staffers, began his remarks by
assuring all who attended that the Sheriff’s
Department has already committed some
additional resources and it was showing
Since the last meeting, Sheriff
Wittman said, deputies had issued 152
citations, mostly for illegal parking.
More than 100 of these were issued in
the Slick Rock area. In addition to the
resident deputy, Wittman said, several
other officers have made their presence
known around the popular swimming areas
during peak hours.
Wittman’s staff used
a brief PowerPoint presentation to show
that the actual cases for local criminal
activity remained about the same for Jan.
1 to May 31 when comparing 2008 with the
previous year. Assaults were down
while reported burglaries were up.
Statistics were not presented
for the summer months when there are a
greater number of calls. But to deal with
the added traffic and increase in visitors
during the 2008 summer season, Sheriff
Wittman said he has already requested
more CHP patrols and assigned extra deputies.
“When I heard recently that a Three
Rivers resident had to wait four hours
for a deputy to arrive after a 911 call,
that’s unacceptable,” Wittman
Several locals also reported
known gang members to be congregating
in and around the recreation areas of
Three Rivers. In response, deputies with
the Sheriff’s Department Gang Task
Force were also reported to have made
some periodic patrols to Three Rivers.
“We know these gang members come
up here, but so far there doesn’t
appear to be any effort to organize locally,”
Wittman said. “It’s a bad
situation here in Tulare County that’s
going to get worse. These kids will kill
each other over a red handkerchief.”
Sheriff Wittman said the
department’s gang unit will be back
and is committed to monitoring the situation.
“Be our eyes and ears, but don’t
try to confront these individuals,”
Bill Pooley, a local kayaker
who has long advocated river access, said
he has been threatened recently by a number
of these individuals who are congregating
around Kaweah River Drive. He said he
now supports a permanent closure of the
swimming hole near the Edison Company’s
Powerhouse No. 2.
The popular swimming hole
on Edison Company property will be closed
throughout the Fourth of July holiday
Other local river users reiterated
that closing river access is not an equitable
or practical solution to the seasonal
problem. The trespassing issue is made
even more complex when some riverfront
property owners grant access while others
“One thing we can do,” Wittman
said, “is to have a deputy up here
on Jim’s [resident deputy] days
Clancy Blakemore, a member
of the Sheriff’s Volunteers in Patrol
(VIPs) and chairperson of a committee
to encourage more locals to be proactive,
presented several ways to get involved.
“We can all be part of an informal
neighborhood community watch,” Clancy
said. “Simply raise your alert level
as you go around town day or night and
help us report any suspicious activity.”
Clancy said her core committee
of six to 10 people will be meeting in
the next week to plot strategies on how
to be more effective in assisting law
officers during the busy summer season.
To get involved, email Clancy at email@example.com.
1946 ~ 2008
John Kulick, second son of Harry and Rose
Kulick of Three Rivers was born Oct. 29,
1946, in the old, single-floor Kaweah
Delta Hospital in Visalia.
John attended Conyer Elementary
School, Divisadero Junior High School,
and Mount Whitney High School, all in
Visalia, where he was very active in many
school activities, including four years
on the wrestling squad, four years in
the high school band, and four years on
the Mount Whitney Pioneers football team.
He was voted runner-up for the coveted
Mount Whitney blanket.
He always commented that
his high school years were the best years
of his life. The Kulick family lived on
West Kaweah during those years, making
it convenient for John and his brothers
to be involved in school activities. It
was not until John graduated high school
that Harry and Rose moved the family to
Three Rivers, where they operated the
Kaweah General Store for more than 30
John was always known for
being tough, perhaps due to a high pain
tolerance. On occasion during wrestling
events, his knee would pop out. The coaches
would pop the knee joint back in and the
match would continue.
After high school, John attended
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, College of
the Sequoias, and Fresno State University.
During much of this time, he worked summers
for Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks
as a firefighter, primarily in Cedar Grove.
He later shared that he regretted not
pursuing an NPS career, which was offered
to him near the end of his last season.
All of his life, fishing
was one of his primary passions. John
was one of those special people who knew
how to fish and how to catch fish. If
there was a fish caught during a fishing
trip, more likely than not, John was the
one who caught it, from trout on the South
Fork of the Kaweah near Whiskey Log to
bigger trout on the Kings River to, later
in life, salmon along the Pacific Coast.
His love of hunting was equal
to his love of fishing. He especially
enjoyed taking game birds such as dove,
quail, and geese.
John eventually started working
for a company that manufactured artificial
Christmas trees in Fresno. Little did
he know, at that time in his life, he
would spend the next 40 years in the commercial
Christmas manufacturing industry.
From that first job, he moved
on to work for the Crystal Valley Decorating
Company, where he was involved in manufacturing
commercial Christmas decorations for malls
and casinos, as well as float-covering
materials. John eventually was named vice
president of Crystal Valley Decorating,
in charge of production.
John and his partner, Dan
Cowen, eventually bought Crystal Valley
and moved the company to Fowler. While
there, they began to operate the Fantasy
of Lights in Fresno’s Woodward Park
and, later, in Selma.
Three years ago, John moved
the company to Albany, Ore., where the
company continues to grow and expand in
a more favorable business climate. The
year 2007 marked the company’s best
John spent his last day —
Saturday, March 8, 2008 — enjoying
life with his Crystal Valley distributors
on a pheasant-hunting trip in Kansas.
John loved the sporting life and he died
with his boots on.
John was preceded in death by his older
brother, Harry Kulick Jr.
He is survived by his wife
of 20 years, Lorene Kulick; three daughters,
Monica Kulick, Natalie (and Cliff) Bohlae,
and Shandra (and Russ) Milstein; two stepchildren,
Tommy (and Julie) Collins and Tammy (and
Travis) Koll; his parents, Harry and Rose
Kulick of Three Rivers; two brothers,
Michael (and Cathy) Kulick and George
(and Debbie) Kulick (of Three Rivers);
nine grandchildren; one great-grandchild;
and seven nieces and nephews.
1920 ~ 2008
George B. Hartzog Jr., the seventh director
of the National Park Service, died Friday,
June 27, 2008. He was 88.
During his nine-year tenure
from 1964 to 1973, George led the largest
expansion of the National Park System
in its history.
During those nine years,
69 sites were added to the National Park
System, including 80 million acres of
Alaskan land that were set aside for national
parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness
areas. He was a visionary in this regard,
no doubt, but also in his stance on civil
In 1968, George appointed
Grant Wright to head the U.S. Park Police,
the first African American to head a major
police force in the United States.
Former Director Hartzog is
survived by his wife of 60 years, Helen,
and three children.