STANDARD, Calif.-It's a town without pity. Without people. Heck, pretty much without anything. Except a tire dealership.
Years back, Standard was just what its name implied: A bustling, run-of-the-mill little town, albeit a company town, owned lock, stock and barrel by a lumber company. As many of the sawmills closed down, and the workers-and most all the other businesses-moved away, the chugging of the log loaders faded away, too.
Now, the only sounds are the clanking metal-on-metal of ratchet on lugnut drifting down the lonely street from Doherty Tire of Sonora Inc. The commercial/retail dealership is in the awkward but unique position of being the only life in a virtual ghost town some 135 miles west of San Francisco, near Yosemite National Park.
But pity not this poor town, for it is likely to live again.
Bidders recently anted up, not because they owed their souls to the company store, but rather to snatch it up, along with other weather-beaten bits of historic Americana. For the right price, they could buy Standard from its current owner, Sierra Pacific Industries.
Along with Standard-named after the Standard Lumber Co., which in 1910 founded the town in the Sierra foothills-comes the aging 4,000-sq.-ft. leased building that for at least a quarter century has been home to Doherty Tire.
``In the last 15 years, there's hardly been anything here besides the sawmill and the Fibreboard office, anyway. And there was a doctor's office across the street for a while,'' explained Doherty's co-owner, Joe Francis, straining to talk above the cacophony of the busy-yes, busy-tire shop.
He was referring to Fibreboard Corp., the town's owner before Sierra Pacific bought the sawmill complex and surrounding timberlands a few years ago.
Standard used to be pretty big, he said, but basically, ``the town's been on its way out for quite a while.''
All that's left are a lumber office building, the former company hospital, a church built in 1915, the company store-which hasn't been open for business in ages-and an old, run-down railroad depot. It might be recognizable to fans of the old ``Little House on the Prairie'' TV show as a location in the 1970s series.
The whole package, including Doherty Tire's building, went on the auction block via sealed bids in early May for as little as $125,000 for small parcels of acreage, to at least $1 million for the entire town and 30 acres of land.
John Rosenthal, president of Realty Marketing/Northwest, which handled the somewhat distinctive auction, would only say that bids received on the town site have been put in escrow. ``We'll be glad to tell people who bought what in two months, when the deals close.''
He would not reveal how many buyers there were, or whether the bidding drew the anticipated prices. ``I never tell anybody that,'' he said, ``but we're happy-and the seller's happy.''
Despite the circumstances, Doherty Tire keeps chugging along, although the town's one-time staple, its logging, is a ``clearcut'' of what it used to be.
The dealership's two service trucks handle the ``trickle down'' tire maintenance work from some area lumber businesses, Mr. Francis said. ``There used to be a gold mine down the road a piece, but that's closed down, too. There just isn't all that much industry up here now.
``We do a lot of car tires. There's still a lot of people who live in the area,'' he said. ``And we service a lot of commercial accounts,'' such as for dairy and food products distributors.
While the town's dead, the county has an estimated population of between 50,000 and 60,000, and Standard lies within about a mile of Sonora, ``so we're not really sittin' up here by ourselves,'' Mr. Francis said.
He and partner Louie Njirich bought the dealership 19 years ago. They currently have six employees and for only the first time had to lay off a worker last winter because business slowed down.
Ironically, there is no shortage of competition. Mr. Francis noted there are seven other tire shops in the area, ``but we separate ourselves from competitors through the service we offer. That's what we try to do, anyway.''
And Standard may sometime soon rise yet again.
A Fresno Bee newspaper article said Realty Marketing's Mr. Rosenthal had some intriguing ideas on uses for some of the town's old structures.
For instance, the old office building-which resembles a bank, complete with three walk-in vaults-could be converted into a bed-and-breakfast inn, a restaurant or professional offices, as could the old hospital. Two nearby land parcels are suitable for single-family homes, apartments or an equestrian facility.
The area also is primed for industrial development.
This much is certain: After bids are unsealed, Doherty Tire will get a new landlord, but will stay put for at least seven years until its current lease expires.
And who knows, by that time the dealership could be smack in the middle of a booming municipality.