Thursday, August 24, 2006


In my book La Nostra Costa, I describe how, as kids ,we used to play 'rubber guns' on the Rodoni Ranch. I also talk about "Il Dumpo" (the City Dump) where we used to go to fetch discarded tire inner tubes to manufacture much needed "ammunition" for our rubber guns. (LNC: Pgs. 209-212.).

Gino Campioni has some interesting memories about "Il Dumpo" and "rubber guns." Notice his spelling for "Dumpo" . He spells it with an "o". Gino should know since he is in the process of constructing a phonetic dictionary for Italianized American words.Of course, he has a bias for the Tuscano pronunciation. Thanks for the memories, Gino.

Reading La Nostra Costa has awakened a lot of memories for me. I can remember a lot of the way "il dompo" appeared
in the early 1960s. The narrow, winding road was bumpy and dusty. On reaching the level of the main area of the
dump, the road curved first left, where one had to stop at an old wooden building where the size of the load was
checked, and the appropriate fee had to be paid. Then one proceeded to drive in a curve to the right, and then
back the vehicle to the edge of the pit, where all the trash was collected and subsequently burned or buried.

One had to be very careful not to back too close to the pit, as there was nothing to stop a vehicle from going over
the edge if one wasn't careful. I remember that I had to dispose of a Frigidaire washing machine that my mother had bought
from the TV and appliance store where I worked. It was the odd type of vertical pulsating agitator, and when it began leaking oil, it was not worth repairing. I pushed it off the truck tailgate, and it went "à ruzzoloni" end over end down that abyss. Another thing I discarded was a small banjo-type ukulele that had been given to me by my music teacher. After many problems with broken strings, parts coming loose, and finally a split in the white diaphragm of the thing, I flung it as far as I could. Clang! Bong! Splat!

I remember some of the people who lived close to the dump. My parents and I once had a fine meal of roast pheasant with all the "contorni" with Gianni Fambrini, his wife, and children Nadine and Raymond, with whom I later had 4 years of high school at Holy Cross. Those were the days, friends. I think that was the last time I ever had a pheasant dinner, but it was unforgettable.
Ivano, when making those rubber guns, did you ever make a rubber machine gun? I think Kenny Olsen and I used to make those. You would make a longer than normal stock, and cut saw-tooth notches in it, Then a strip of fabric, or some sort of strap was nailed to the front end of the notches. Rubber loops were stretched (in the proper sequence) from the front of the gun to the notches. When firing, the strap was lifted, and rubber loops were launched, either singly, or in a burst like a machine gun.

Didn't we have fun with simple stuff when we were kids? Nowadays most of the young kids I see don't know how to have fun unless daddy buys them a car or something. I have showed some of our boys my radios and let them make contacts. They were all "gung ho" until I told them they had to study a book to get a license. That was the end of their interest.

Regards, Gino

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


The following article by Katie Niekerk of the Gilroy Dispatch also appears on Craig Kille's Bonny Doon Website: .

'La Nostra Costa (Our Coast)' offers glimpse into older Italian generationSaturday, May 20, 2006 … By Katie Niekerk, Lifestyles editor for the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance, and Morgan Hill Times
Comments or questions for Katie Niekerk can be directed to (408) 842-9404 or

With the recent debates surrounding immigration, it can be easy to forget that those who travel here from other countries have stories, families and beliefs that have molded them into who they are today. But Morgan Hill resident Ivano Franco Comelli has made it his goal to share the personal histories of Italian immigrants who sought their American dream on Santa Cruz's northern coast.

Comelli, a retired San Jose police officer, is the author of "La Nostra Costa (Our Coast): A Family's Journey to and from the North Coast of Santa Cruz, California (1923-1983)." The true story begins in Nimis, a small agricultural village in the northeast region of Italy. Benito Mussolini had just seized power, and Comelli's father, Gervasio, had to make a choice: re-enlist in the army or seek a new life in America. He chose the latter.
"La Nostra Costa (Our Coast)" narrates Gervasio's beginnings in a new place, from his early days as a ranch hand to his return to Italy, where he met his wife, Valentina Bressani. The book goes on to depict the true stories of other Italian immigrants who settled and worked up the coast. Comelli also describes what it was like to live in Italy under Nazi occupation forces and what it felt like to be declared enemy aliens during World War II.

Comelli's life as an adult has also been full of adventure and life-changing experiences while working with the San Jose Police Department.

Comelli, born in Santa Cruz, lived in Monterey County for the past 11 years before moving to Morgan Hill about a year ago to be closer to his seven grandsons, all who live in Morgan Hill. His daughter and son-in-law, Madeline and Chris Fritter, are longtime residents of Gilroy.
"I had a lot of memories about the coast, and the prime reason I wrote the book is I wanted to put them down so that future generations will know about the coast as it was, especially coastal farming," Comelli said.

Sunday, August 13, 2006



I have arranged for a 'La Nostra Costa" book signing event with Jim Cochron (owner-manger) at the Swanton Berry Farm, at Swanton Rd and Hwy 1 (just north of Davenport). The date is Saturday, October 14 from 1pm to ???.

In the old days the Berry Farm used to be known as 'Il Rancho Grande' (the 'Bigga Ranch'). My father, "Bronco" worked there when he first came over from Italy. A picture of "Bronco "with a group of 'Amici della Costa" hangs on the wall of what used to be the 'Bigga Ranch' cookahousa.

Jim and I want this to me more than just a book signing event. We would like it to be more in the tradition of the old gatherings favored by the Ranceri and Amici della Costa. Jim and his staff plan to serve food. Maybe even some recipes favored by the rancere at the old 'cookahouse (LNC: Chapter 8, "La Cuoca" [The Cook]). However if you wish to bring a picnic basket, feel free to do so.

This should be a great day (maybe even 'paradisaical') filled with family fun and good old fashion nostalgia. With some encouragement the "Old Rancere" (he says he is going to be there)may even sing a chorus or two of "Quel Mazzolin di Fiori" . What a way to relive those memories of yesteryear ',-----walking the fields on a real rancio su per la costa.

Again, the date is Saturday, October 14, from 1 pm to ??. Please put this on your calendar. I will post a reminder as we get closer to the date. Website for the farm is: .

Added note: I have just learned that Cathy Brovia, the widow of Joe "Pino" Brovia, Pacific Coast Baseball League Hall of Famer (LNC: Chapter 11) and famous "figlio della costa" has had by-pass surgery. She is now at the Convalescence Hospital on Fredrick Street in Santa Cruz. Get well soon Cathy. I need you to be at "La Nostra Costa Day" on the
"Bigga Ranch"

'Con un Bacin d'mor', Ivano della Costa

Thursday, August 10, 2006


In "La Nostra Costa" I write about several interesting ranchers that I knew. One of most interesting and by far the most eccentric was a rancere, nicknamed Baffi (LCN- p.91-92) His real name was Guglielmo Roberto Campioni. After reading the book, Gino "Bobbie" Campioni, s0n of "Baffi" and Ada Campioni sent me the following information including some interesting history regarding "La Costa".

"Here are a few memories, mostly about Baffi, and in no particular order:

Baffi (Guglielmo) was born in May, 1887 in the village of Uzzano in Pistoia. As the townsfolk had some sort of grudge with the local schoolteacher, he and others his age were never allowed to attend school. Instead Guglielmo was sent to work at age 7. His first job was picking olives.

He may have also had some run-ins with other boys his age, as he told of a time that he was walking down the hill near his home, when he was hit on the head by a flat rock thrown by a boyhood enemy of his. It apparently removed a bit of scalp, and he had a bald spot there for life.

When John and Nancy Mitton took me to Italy in April, 1999, we visited Uzzano, and on starting the climb up the winding road to the village, I had the feeling that we were in the spot where that rock throwing incident happened. About half way up the hill, (Uzzano is built upon an extinct volcano) there is a flat area, In it are an abandoned Catholic church, an ancient castle, and the Villa Lavoratti, where Giacomo Puccini wrote the second act of his opera, "La Boheme". There is a restaurant there by the name of Bigiano, where we had the best meal of our entire European trip. It is operated by a fine gentleman by the name of Loris. I think he is Loris Lavoratti. John and Nancy had a fancy meal, but all I wanted was a panino ripieno di biroldo. I was in heaven then. As we ate, I remarked that I could feel the spirit of Guglielmo smiling down at us. Nancy said she felt the same thing.

On approaching maturity Guglielmo worked for a lake fisherman and other jobs. Then he moved to France, and worked at fishing at Marseilles. He learned to speak a bit of French there. I already told you of his trips to America and back.

He never drove a motor vehicle in all his life, since having been raised in the customs of the Old Country, he drank a half gallon of vino rosso daily, and thus had enough sense to trust the driving to someone else. He did, however, buy a car in partnership with Costantino Gemignani, who did all the driving, and Baffi paid for half the gasoline.

Augie taught me to drive that car when I was about 13. I don't think I ever went fast enough on the roads at the Golcio to advance to 2nd gear. The car was a Ford Victoria, probably built around 1930 or earlier. It was painted a rust brown color, or maybe the color of pattume, painted by hand with a brush. It was ugly but it ran. Later on Alfonso Oddone, who lived just East of us on Bay Street, just beyond the backyard fence, let me drive his pickup on West Cliff Drive. (with him in the co-pilot's seat, of course) I didn't even know that was illegal.

I had pestered Baffi to let me help him pick sprouts at the ranch. Finally one day he agreed to take me there. He showed me how to fasten the sack to my belt, and pick the sprouts by placing the heel of both hands against the tops of the sprouts, and pushing down to snap them off and drop them in the sack. I was there about 15 seconds, doing my best, when he roared, "Troppo adagio! Via di qui! Vai al cuccausse!" Thus ended my picking career. I amused myself the rest of the day looking at some fascinating things in the cookhouse. Dante Ramacciotti had some neat rifles there, and a German Luger, among other stuff.

Unfortunately, I probably imitated Baffi's attitude a bit when I had 3 stepchildren, and they were keen on watching me work on my car. It's not so much that they were bothering me, but that I was embarrassed at how little I actually could do with automotive work. Changing oil, plugs, and some minor parts replacement was all I knew about.

Upstairs in the cookhouse was where Baffi lived before returning to Italy to select a bride. He had attended some sort of Italian celebration in Bakersfield, and had won a raffle prize. It was a Victor Talking Machine with Victrola. This radio arrived to his place in 3 cartons. Having no knowledge of English, the assembly instructions were of no use to him. He assembled it anyway, and it worked on first try. It drew so much current, that when he operated it, the other radios in the cookhouse would not play. He was listening to the Dempsey Tunney fight, when the other ranch hands all came to his room to listen, as their radios had gone silent.
They made so much noise that Baffi stealthily kicked the power plug out of its socket, and his radio went dead too. When all the others were gone, he plugged it in again, and listened to the fight in peace.

When the war began, a pair of FBI agents visited the house on Bay Street. I was not there, but Baffi let them in. They had a warrant to search for spy radios. They thought we had a short wave set. Baffi told them that this Victor console was the only radio in the house, and to look for themselves. It had no short wave. Furthermore, if any one of them could lift it and carry it to the car, he could have it. End of search. I doubt the two of them could have lifted it.

As you know, during the war my parents could not legally cross Mission Street. Thus, I had to make any purchase in Youngman's Pharmacy or any of the stores on the far side of the street. I was even permitted to buy tobacco products for my dad. One winter day there was a heavy rain, and the street was awash from our front door sill to that across the street. I was ready to leave for school. Baffi said, “You can't go. You would be washed out to sea if you go outside." "But I HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL, PA!"
"OK, then I'll carry you." "You can only carry me to the center line!" "You watch". He carried me to the front of Bay View School, and set me down on the dry steps, and returned home. By the time school let out, the road was clear again. Nobody bothered us about his "breaking the law."

You mentioned a nice chap named "Jimmie" at the Gulch. Perhaps that was Jimmie Corno, who visited us on occasion. He was a tall and husky guy, and very pleasant, as I remember. Later when I was working in Portland, Oregon, I went past a wholesale produce place with a sign reading, "Corno Produce". I wondered if that were the same Jimmie Corno, but never had time to stop and ask.

Earlier, while working for Costella & Caiocca TV and Appliance, I had a service call to the cookhouse of the Pilipino workers on the Rodoni Ranch. There I met Mr. Ramon Trigo, the foreman. He was a very pleasant fellow to Gerhard and me, but I suspect he was tough with his ranch hands. The TV had been mounted right above the cookstove, and had become loaded with oil from the daily frying of fish. We had to replace the "flyback". (high voltage transformer) We told Mr. Trigo the TV had to be moved away from the stove, or it would need this expensive repair again. "He gone spoil again?" "Yes, Mr. Trigo. You must move it away from stove." I even remember the model number. Hoffman K1011. (black and white, of course. Color TVs were not yet developed then)

There was also a very nice Mexican fellow, who came to dinner one time. He was very homesick for Mexico, and asked if I could play La Comparsita, or Cielito Lindo on my accordion. I could not, but played something for him. Some Italian song. He wept a bit on hearing the music. I guess just about anything reminded him of his home. He gave me a ball point pen, and asked that I remember "the Messicanaccio" with it. I remember all but his name.

To this day I regret that I never fulfilled my dad's fondest wish that I could earn a good living with music. He had hoped that I could avoid the toil that he had gone through all his life. I had expressed a wish to play accordion because the neighbors next-door, Bartolomeo (Pete) Dogliotti and his wife Maria had a son by the name of Attilio. (popularly called, "Joe".) He could play the accordion like nobody else I ever heard. I wanted so much to be able to do that too. Baffi sided with me, saying that the accordion is quite portable, and not terribly heavy. Ada argued that if I learned the piano instead, I wouldn't have to carry a heavy instrument when I went to perform. Baffi and I carried the vote, and he got me accordion lessons with Joe Boggero. After a few weeks of that, he had Joe order me a full size accordion from Italy. Thinking back, I wonder how he paid for that expensive thing, but pay he did. I still have it, and whenever I play it, which is rarely, I weep a bit at how I disappointed my father.

Several events caused the loss of enthusiasm for accordion playing, besides my laziness:
1. Attilio joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, and after basic training, was assigned to bomber pilot school in Texas. Within a few months he was to have two weeks off, in which he planned to return to Santa Cruz, marry his high school sweetheart, Lina Braida and then return to active duty. His last assignment before the leave was to deliver a bomber to Mountain Home Air Base in Idaho. Crossing above the northwest corner of Arizona, the plane exploded. All aboard were killed. A funeral was held, and a sealed casket was all that was seen. Pete and Mary went into mourning for life. Out of respect, my mother never sang aloud again, though had she been able to have voice lessons, she could have been an opera singer. I also played accordion only when the Dogliotti were not at home, and even then, as quietly as I could.

Imagine the additional grief I cause Pete and Mary when I started to take flying lessons. Thinking back, I wish there could have been a way to keep it a secret from them. I had 8 hours of instruction, and soloed an Aeronca light plane. It was one of the most thrilling things I ever did. I gave it up though, as I knew I didn't want to spend much more on fun and games. Actually, the plane gave up on me, but that's another story.

2. One time I received a phone call. He said it was Joe. I thought it was Joe, my music teacher. He asked me to play for a dance with him at the Laurel Inn. I didn't want to do it. Baffi said, "It's Black Joe, the roofer. He's a good guy. Go with him and make a few bucks". That was the final blow. I only knew 2 songs. I played them over and over, while Joe played his "drums". (actually, suit cases, hat boxes, and other junk) Drunks would lean over me and say, "you play lousy, kid" "I know. I WANT TO GO HOME!" I was about 15 at the time, and probably looked to be 10. It was illegal for me even to be in that dive.

saluti da Gino"

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


The letter below was written by Hugo Bianchini. Hugo and his wife Maureen are the proud parents of "La Nostra Costa" editor Brian Bianchini. As the letter indicates Hugo's memories link him to "La Costa" in a different setting. Ironically, Hugo's father shared the same nickname as my father, "Bronco". The Bianchinis' presently live in Monterey:

"Dear Ivano:

I finished your family history.... your loving recollection, last week. I'm writing to congatulate and thank you for a very impressive accomplishment. It is a highly detailed and intimate look at the Italo-American farm families on the central coat, a history little known to Californians. It gives the reader insight into the hard but tranquil, and if I may add, the beautiful life, shared by those Italian immigrants and their children in the early 20th century, su per la costa, (and elsewhere in the state.) I was quite moved by parts of it, and seemed to recognize so much and so many in the story.

My family in Roseville lived in what I now fondly recall as an Italian "ghetto". It was so much more than the name implies. We had a closeness and concern and affection for each other, (and those on-going feuds), that was evident in your own story. WWII rationing of building materials put my father's home construction business into "limbo", so he rented 7-8 fertile acres along a lovely creek in the middle of town. He raised the finest tomatoes, corn, peppers, eggplant, and melons in the area.

My father grew up on a farm in Italy and he continued here, in the Rio Vista Area, until he was 26 years old. He still had that "green magic" in his fingers when he took it up again 20 years later. Naturally, (but possibly not too happily), my mother, three sisters and I were the major part of his field crew: planting, thinning, picking, sorting and packing for market and of course irrigating. I remember how proud I was when my father would go and leave me all alone to do the "watering" (only after long training.) So in reading your story I remembered my frequent difficulty and anxiety facing several acres of delicate, dry plants with only a "sciavola" to direct that raging main water ditch. (I was only 10 or 11 at the time). We had the produce farm for about 6 years, until conditions permitted my father to return to construction. I shall always treasure those years. In retirement, my father returned to farming 20-30 acres, alone. By then, the earlier joys seemed to be gone. My family and the Italian community was all married off and scattered, "gone".

Ivano, I relished the parts of your book where you described when family and extended family and friends got together for a truly unique Italian "peet-ta-nee-ka". As more "americani" came into our lives later, they were always amazed how the women could put on these incredible feasts out in "the wilds", on a picnic table or sometimes just on an elegant tablecloth spread out over the fresh cut grass: antipasti, pasta asciutta, roasts, salads and green dishes and on & on. And everyone even in these rustic surroundings was dressed in Sunday best. It was crazy, it was beautiful, and never to be forgotten.

Before I start crying in my beer, let me just say that all that community and fellowship in our immediate families (siblings & cousins) and among "our" people seems mostly "evolved away" now. Growth? Progress? Maybe a natural process, as we were discussing recently, but I believe that it has been a substantial loss to me, to many of our background, and to our American society.

So again, thank you for sharing your book with me and sharing all those dear memories. You did a wonderful job on this book; I hope you do others. All those friend and relatives (and/or their children) should be thoroughly thrilled by your story.

I hope we meet again someday to share dear memories. Maybe we can even try a chores or two of Quell mazzolin di fiori.

Tante belle cose: Hugo

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fallen Officer-Richard Eugene Huerta

Sunday, August 6 is the thirty sixth anniversity of the killing of San Jose Police Officer Richard Eugene Huerta. In everyone's life there is at least one adverse incident that stands above all others. Tragically, for me, Richard's death was that incident. What follows below is and excerpt from my book "La Nostra Costa" (Our Coast) .

"August 6, 1970, is a date forever ingrained in the annals of the San Jose Police Department. On that date, my best friend and one-time roommate Officer Richard Eugene Huerta, was assassinated by a lone gunman. He was only thirty-six years old. The incident occurred during that turbulent period of our history when it was common for radicals advocating : "black power" to extol the vitues of killing a "pig". Apparently (although no one will know for certain) one black male, Emile Thompson, then in his early twenties, took that message literally. As Richard sat in his vehicle, writing a citation to a third party (not involved in the crime), the lone assassin crept up from behind the car, and suddnly shot the unsuspecting officer in back of the head. This brutal and cowardly act killed Richard almost instantly.

Still in the early morning hours, I was awakened from a sound sleep by a telephone call. On the other end of the line was Officer Jim Emmons, a friend, who also happened to be a former roommate of Richard's. Jim, who was on duty at the time of the shooting delivered the message that haunts me to this day. "Richard has been shot".

Still half asleep, I asked Jim if Richard was all right. Jim responded in an unemotional and very controlled manner, which is very typical of a professional police officer under stress. "No, I think he is dead. I thought you'd like to know."

In a state of shocked amazement, I quickly put on some civilian clothes, grabbed by off duty revolver, and drove myself (I was living in Scotts Valley at the time) to the San Jose Police Station. Once there and still in off-duty clothes, I hooked up with on-duty Sg. Phil Norton. Together we joined the search for the assassin. It wasn't long before Norton received a radio call informing him that the killer had been found hiding in a back yard in the 500 block of North Thirteen. Sgt. Norton quickly responded to the scene and both he and I were present when the assassin was dragged from his hiding place and placed in handcuffs.

I guess you might say that I, as well as Sgt. Norton and the officers who actually made the arrest, acted professionally in not shooting Thompson in the head. This thought certainly crossed my mind and, at the time, I actually had my finger on the trigger of my snub-nose "38". Not committing the act certainly didn't make me feel any better or more professional. (Probably the only one who wasn't restrained by "police professional behavior" was the police dog on the scene. Without asking permission, he promptly took a bite out of the killer.) The murderer is now in his fifties, serving out his life sentence. I doubt if he spends much of his time thinking about the consequences of his act. Richard's death left two young children without a father. Marie Huerta was left alone to raise Leanne and Richard Jr."

The above excerpt regarding Officer Richard Huerta's death, is copyrighted by Ivano Franco Comelli, all rights reserved. It appears in his book "La Nostra Coast"(Our Coast) published by Authorhouse (2006), , 1-888-280-7715.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


In my book "La Nostra Costa" (Our Coast) I sometimes refer to those "Ghosts of the Coast". Well here is a story of one "ghost" who may have actually walked away from his grave.

Many readers have asked question about the "Gentle Giant" who appears on the front cover of the book. His name was Francesco Bragazzi, better know "su per la costa", as "Carabiniere". Carabiniere, who was part-owner of the Hotel D'Italia in Davenport, died in 1945. According to my father's God-daughter, Thelma (Micossi) Gill and her cousin Rina Micossi, Carabiniere was buried at the the Holy Cross Cemetery in Santa Cruz, California. Thelma, who was a teenager at the time, clearly remembers the funeral (she states that a special coffin had to be ordered because of Carabiniere's "gigantic" size). She remembers the exact spot where Francesco was buried, not too far from where her father, Frank Micossi is buried. Yet if you go to the cemetery today there is no marker for a Francesco Bragazzi. The records of the cemetery (according to Ed Patrone, Operating Manger) do not contain any indications that a Francesco Bragazzi was ever buried at the Cemetery.

What ever happen to Carabiniere? Did he simply get restless and decided to take a stroll. Thelma insists that he is still there and that another body was mistakenly buried over his grave. If so the cemetery records to not acknowledge this.

One explanation was told to me by Bill Sarrow, an "amico della costa", who is married to Gloria Bella, daughter of Charlie and Carmelina Bella, once owners of the Ocean View Hotel, which also was located in Davenport. (Both Hotels, Ocean View and Hotel D'Italia, were later consumed by fire, and are no longer there.)

At the last Davenport/Coast Road Reunion, I happened to show Bill the cover of my book. He immediatey exclaimed, "I know that man! He is the guy with the missing body!" He then went on to say that he once saw an aritcle in a magazine entitled, "The Man With the Missing Body".
According to Bill the aritcle was about Carabiniere. The explanation given in that article, according to Bill, was that Francesco Bragazzi's body was donated to a university for medical research. It was believed by some the Carabiniere suffered from gigantism, (excessive growth of the body as a result of oversecretion of the pituitary growth hormone).

If so, Carabiniere's body must have been exhumed. Why is there no record of this in Ed Patrone's records.? Certainly persons close to Carabiniere, such as Thelma and Rina, would have some knowledge of this.

Bill Sarrow's explanation certainly seems plausible. However; Thelma and Rina insist that the body is still there buried under someone elses grave. On the other hand, Carabiniere might have just got up one night and simply "walked away." In life he was an amazing man. Whose to say that this very special man couldn't do it? IvnO