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That reminds me of a story.

Which reminds me that reminiscences can be a sign of impending dotage; or, according to Sigmund Freud, symptomatic of hysteria. (Take your pick.)

Nonetheless, my persistent reading of daily newspapers provides constant reminders of old stories rattling around in the recesses of memory.

Take for example, the recent headliner about the use of stimulus money for the Napa Wine Train.

I cannot read any story about that train without thinking back 20 years to the glory days of the Sonoma Valley Wine Patrol, a band of merry men, led by Lance Cutler from Gundlach-Bundschu Winery. Wearing black Zorro capes and white masks, Cutler and his crew boarded the Wine Train in May 1990, armed with Sonoma Valley wines, which they poured liberally for surprised (and delighted) passengers, suggesting that they throw their Napa wines "out the window" and try some of the real stuff.

Then, four years later, in a burst of territorial enthusiasm, the same jolly crew -- augmented by a helicopter, a Jeep and a phalanx of motorcycles -- hijacked a tour busload of European wine writers in the Napa Valley and directed the driver to Sonoma, where they performed a "cleansing ceremony."

The passengers, on a tour sponsored by England's Virgin Airlines, took it all as good fun. Among them were Virgin's owner, Richard Branson, and his mother, Eve. Mother Branson told reporter Tim Tesconi, "This is wonderful. We are seeing dirt, dust and the people are so friendly. Napa was so antiseptic."

Richard Branson also took it with beyond good nature, saying, "It's been a delightful surprise. I think this is definitely the highlight of our day." He particularly liked the part where the patrolees performed the ritualistic "cleansing" of Napa's influence by pouring wine at the feet of a couple of virgins (as in airline) representing Sonoma's "purity."

"Of course, after all this, we will come to Sonoma on our next trip," Branson said, although there is no evidence that they did.

Cutler made a brief attempt to re-establish his promotional troublemakers in 2006 when they dropped printed cards protesting outrageous mark-ups on wine lists in offending restaurants. Nothing has been heard from them since.

I think it's time for the Sonoma merry men to regroup and hijack some of that stimulus money to the SMART train.

ANOTHER STORY that reminded me of another story was the late December news that developers are planning to put a hotel and restaurant in the classy old red brick building on Petaluma's Lakeville Highway that may be the most important historical structure in a town filled with historic homes.

The Georgian Colonial Revival was built in 1892 as the Carlson-Currier Silk Mills. Entrepreneurs like Adolph Spreckels were, at the time, exploring sericulture -- the cultivation of mulberry bushes for the raising of silk worms -- as an agricultural pursuit for Sonoma County.

While the silk worms didn't like our climate, the mill prospered well into the 20th century.

In 1940, Sunset Line & Twine expanded its fishing line business from San Francisco northward and grew its products to include specialized cordage for parachutes, life rafts and the Apollo spacecraft. Sunset, owned by the Agnew family, closed in 2006 and Petalumans have been seeking salvation for the building since that time.

That's background. The story I want to tell takes place in 1912.

The American Locomotive Company is an odd name for a pioneer truck manufacturer but in fact that is what it was. The Eastern firm was one of the earliest promoters of commercial trucking.

In 1986, when Petaluma historical researcher Lucy Kortum succeeded in placing the mill on the National Register of Historic Places, Sunset's John Agnew shared a 5-year-old issue of a magazine called Commercial Car Journal.

In it was a story of a most amazing journey undertaken by an American Locomotive Company truck. Eager to promote commercial trucking by making a coast-to-coast delivery, the firm seized on an order for Parrot Brand Olive Silk Soap, made in Philadelphia, bound for the Petaluma Silk Mills.

In order to make it literally from ocean to ocean, the soap was hauled to New York and then sent off westward.

The photographs in the magazine told the story -- pictures of the truck on a pass in the Rockies with no visible road; of camping in the desert; of the chain-driven rear wheels hanging from a broken bridge; of the driver constructing makeshift bridges to cross swollen streams.

It was 95 days from the date of departure when the load of Olive Silk Soap clanged and clattered its way into Petaluma.

It seems to me that this alone, being the destination for such a historic event, made it a cinch for the National Register.

I think whatever five-star hostelry runs the Silk Mill Hotel should find those photos and hang them in the lobby as a permanent reminder of the old mill's part in a real automotive drama.

FINALLY, THERE was the news story my videographer friend Sean Bressie spotted while browsing the Internet last week.

It came out of Caldwell, Idaho, and it came as a rude shock to Bressie, a dedicated member of the Sonoma County Historical Society.

Or, as he put it: "Say it isn't so!"

The Herald, an online Idaho news site, reported Feb. 5 that McDonald's officials were meeting with the Potato Variety Management Institute "to talk about potential new varieties of potatoes for french fries."

This could be very bad news indeed for the legacy of our Luther Burbank.

While Burbank didn't exactly invent the potato, he came close. As the potato-eating world knows, Burbank's russet potato has long been the chosen tuber for fries as well as baked potatoes.

So what happens to Luther's good name if he loses the fast-food market?

You see, the majority of russet potatoes harvested in this country go to make french fries and the largest part of those goes to McDonald's.

"It's the major way in which we consume potatoes, the McDonald's french fry," according to Jeanne Debons, executive director of the potato institute. And Debons apparently has it in for Burbank.

I don't think it's personal, but her plan, she told the Herald reporter, is to convince McD's "that there are several new varieties that are more sustainable and have better performance than the Burbank russet and the other varieties they currently rely on."

A decision to abandon the Burbank russet would be a real slap in the chops for Luther. It was his first claim to fame and his ticket to Santa Rosa.

He was still in his early 20s, fiddling around with plants on his small Massachusetts farm, when he noticed a seedpod, a rarity indeed, on an Early Rose potato plant. It was a stroke of very good luck. He planted the seeds and got 23 seedlings, from which he chose just two. His luck held. As he wrote in his autobiography: "It was from the potatoes of these two plants, carefully raised, carefully dug, jealously guarded, and painstakingly planted the next year, that I built the Burbank potato."

As his biographer, Peter Dreyer, said: "He could not in his wildest dreams have imagined how successful it would be." An offshoot of the original seedling, identical except for russet skin, he called the Russet Burbank. Now, 135 years later, it is still the most widely grown potato in the U.S.

And Jeanne Debons wants to put a stop to this?

In 1875, he sold the rights to the plant to a Massachusetts seed merchant who was a friend of his father's. He did Luther the honor of naming it for him. And he paid him $150, with which he bought a ticket to California and horticultural history.

So, listen up, Ms. Debons and your potato people. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the loyal volunteers at Luther's home and garden and the members of the historical society are already meeting to make picket sign to march in front of the closest golden arches, maybe even march on Caldwell, Idaho. Be careful up there. We're touchy about these things.

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