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Camp residents treasure memories of 'Gold Miner'
By Michelle Rester , Staff Writer
San Gabriel Tribune, www.sgvtribune.com

  

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST

For nearly three decades, Joe Davison was the mountain man behind Follows Camp.

Scores of friends and families living in the East Fork campground above Azusa say the person they called "Papa Joe' and "Gold Miner' has given each of them a piece of heaven and endless grace.

But on Thursday, Davison died. He was 66.

The cop-turned Rolls Royce dealer-turned campground owner was found dead in his double-wide mobile home, which is surrounded by rose bushes, fruit trees and a vineyard. Breathing problems associated with several chronic medical conditions may be the cause, residents said.

On Friday, country music played softly in the background of the camp's rustic restaurant, known as The Fort. Many of Davison's closest friends sat at the bar and reminisced about the man most say saved their lives.

As they spoke, many glanced at the empty seat at the right end of the bar. The back of the seat had Davison's CB moniker, Gold Miner, on the back. A vase of flowers and a get-well note from a 6-year-old girl had been placed on the counter, while everyone echoed that they will always save his seat.

"His legacy, his desire for this place, is all about the people here,' said Davison's daughter, Terri Eagon.

And seemingly all the people at Follows Camp have a great story about how they came to meet Davison and how he's changed their lives. There's the 27-year-old woman with the long red hair who had been living in her car for nine months with her dog. She stopped at the camp one night and asked if she could park her car along the river to sleep, but that wasn't good enough for this man.

"He said, 'Honey, I've got a little cabin for you. No way you're going to sleep in that car of yours. Just come in and we'll work something out,' ' Kari Nicassio said.

There's the wealthy real estate developer and artist who said Joe changed his life and showed him that "chasing money' wasn't the happiest way to live. Many others have jobs in maintenance or at the camp's restaurant and live in trailers or mobile homes, all thanks to Papa Joe.

"He, unlike anyone else I know, always looks for and finds the good in people,' said Edy Cornell, who has lived at Follows Camp for six years and says she will never leave.

Davison once patrolled the streets of Beverly Hills as a cop and later sold Rolls Royces in Newport Beach. In the 1970s, he visited Follows Camp to pan for gold. He bought a cabin, then started buying up parcels, including property owned by two others.

He didn't think running the place with three owners would work.

"The old definition of a camel is a horse built by a committee,' the Pennsylvania native once said.

Davison improved the place, adding telephones, cable television and a bridge for residents to access their homes when the river rises in the winter.

Some still find gold in the mountains, but Davison would warn that it's no easy road to riches.

"There's an old saying that a gold mine is a hole in the ground owned by a liar,' Davison had said.

Besides his love of the people and places, Davison was an avid Studebaker nut and owned several of the cars, including one he drove to a Studebaker show just last weekend, said friend Steve "Salmon' Spalding.

Davison was also known for his other love a green, 1946 jeep. It was in that jeep that he flipped two years ago, sending him in and out of the hospital for nearly a year. His arm was nearly severed, and he endured six surgeries and other medical problems. Friends and family donated more than 76 pints of blood that helped him return back to the mountain a year later.

"He will always be the god in the green jeep,' said Kimberly "Amazon' Manning.

Shortly after he died on Thursday, nearly all of the camp's 200 residents climbed on top of wooden picnic tables and saluted Davison as the coroner drove away with his body.

Many fired several rounds of shots into the air, while one person rang a large bell and others cried, screamed and yelled, Cornell said.

Funeral services are pending.

A special meeting for camp residents is scheduled for Sunday afternoon to discuss the mountain community's future, although family members and friends say they're sure the place will stay open.

Staff Writer Ruby Gonzales contributed to this story. Michelle Rester can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2127, or by e-mail at michelle.rester@sgvn.com .
 
 

 

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