(Photo: Oil wells on the Coastside?)
Story by June Morrall (1977)
Coastside writer Peter Kyne worked at DeBenedetti’s General Street on Main Street in Half Moon Bay sweeping floors, running errands, and meeting the cast of characters that lived in town in the late 19th century.
From the start, young Peter noted the unhurried way of life that prevailed on Main Street. He was amused as locals in their buggies observed the daily ritual of swinging wide to avoid striking George Wyman’s hound dog, the lovable animal that always lay sound asleep in the middle of the dusty road.
The customers, who, all day long, walked in and out of the general store, often passed the time of day exchanging good gossip which also passed for the latest news. By the end of his first week, Peter learned that not all of the clientele spoke English. So Peter, the future world famous author, quickly picked up just enough Spanish, Portuguese and Italian to get along with everyone.
According to Peter, the two general stores were more than willing to extend credit to anyone–including Satan himself. And if he failed to pay, Kyne joked, they might even consider extending him additional credit.
Still Peter recalled the only time his employer instructed him to cancel somebody’s credit–and that somebody would be the later super-rich oilman Ed Doheny. Doheny stood out among these fortune hunters who drilled for black gold around Half Moon Bay in the 1880s and ’90s.
While Doheny boarded his crew, he bought dry groceries at DeBenedetti’s General Store on credit. But his wells failed to produce oil and soon Doheny’s funds dwindled. Besides already owing several hundred dollars, the best of the gossip said Ed Dohney was broke, bankrupt.
After another unsuccessful day in the Coastside’s “oil fields,” Ed Doheny headed for Half Moon Bay in his old battered buckboard. A tired grey mare pulled the dilapidated vehicle down Main Street until Doheny pulled to a halt in front of DeBenedetti’s general store.
He stepped out of the sagging contraption (if you didn’t get the idea by now that his carriage was a piece of junk), entered the store and was greeted by the future author Peter Kyne.
With his hands concealed in his pockets, Doheny asked Peter for a fifty-pound sack of flour. “And, please charge that to my account.”
Why was it left up to him to tell the older oil man that he’d have to pay cash…?…and, um, that his credit was no longer honored at the store on Main Street.
Doheny glanced at the floor, said nothing, turned and disappeared through the door.
At once Peter wanted to run after the luckless oil man, tell him to pull around back and he could pick up that badly needed sack of flour.
Doheny must have been quite impressive because young Peter even considered charging the flour to his own account. But when he thought it out he realized that a man Dohney’s age might feel uncomfortable taking charity from a teenager.
[Besides, a national depression, the 1892 Cleveland Panic, affected all Coastsiders, including the Kyne family of Moss Beach.]
So, on that day Ed Doheny left without the flour he needed. Peter stood in the doorway and watched him drive back to the oil well just as the last rays of sunlight faded from Main Street. When the oil man’s luck on the Coastside finally ran out, he loaded all his equipment on two big freight wagons and left town forever.
As the years rushed by, both Ed Doheny and Peter Kyne enjoyed international fame. While book publishers courted Peter’s favor, bidding for his stories, featuring a strong character called “Cappy Ricks,” The penniless headed for southern California where he struck oil in central Los Angeles, became super rich and president of the Pan-American Petroleum Corporation.