Wes Plunkett History

Confessions Of A Resort Brat

by Wes Plunkett


In the mid 50’s, the residents of Berryessa valley were being evicted from their farms and ranches. My grandparents had a summer home in Capell Canyon known as Rancho Tebepa that they would lose to the BOR. Seeing an opportunity to own some property overlooking the new lake, my dad bought about 600 acres in the area known as Spanish Flat. 

He chose a homesite and built his house in 1957 and 58 as the dam was completed and the lake began to fill. During that time my mom and dad met and were married. They shared a vision of building a family, a business venture and community there. My dad would say he was going to get Spanish Flat “on the map”.   

As soon as the house was done, they signed a lease with the BOR and started building the resort. There were 3 or 4 partners in the resort venture at that time, I remember Don McFarland and his family, they built a house in the woodlands. 

Mary was born in ’59 and I was born in ’60.  

During the next few years they had completed the resort and developed the Village Center, the Mobile Villa and the Water District and established the Spanish Flat post office. My mom became postmaster. They were also involved in the Woodlands subdivision. My mom used her architectural skills to design many of the buildings. 

Talk about some incredibly busy people! Mary and I were in tow through it all, one of my earliest memories is watching the Village Center being built and using scraps of lumber as building blocks. My grandmother (dad’s mom) lived with us and helped raise us, they wouldn’t have got nearly as much done if she wasn’t there. 

By the time I started first grade at Monticello Elementary, Spanish Flat was in full swing. Sunrise point was filling with mobile homes, the campgrounds were full every summer weekend and the village center was bustling. It was a fun, family oriented atmosphere. Growing up there I would meet people who would become my extended family and lifelong friends. Some still live in the area, or left and came back. Scott Young is now my boss at BV, Ruth Mcguines and her daughter Carol Fitzpatrick were my second mom and sister. Ruth worked in the store for many years and is still famous for her great food. Her pies are legendary. Carol worked at the marina in the 80’s and recently put together the Berryessa Valley exhibit. Once she gets on a mission there’s no stopping her.   

It was a great place to be a kid, we were outside a lot, playing and kicking around in the hills. I would cut weeds and rake leaves in exchange for rides in the kayaks and paddle boats that were rented at the marina. I must have caught thousands of bluegill fishing in the marina cove. Every Easter they would put on a huge Easter egg hunt in the resort. People came from all over to be in it. When we were little we participated in the hunt, then later on we became the “Easter bunnies”, and hid the eggs.

Another summer tradition was the outdoor movie theater. We worked in the popcorn stand and the ticket booth and eventually learned to run the projectors. They were cantankerous old beasts and the film usually broke right at the climax of the movie. But the real drama was in the audience as countless young Romeos and Juliets made their plays.     

The boom continued into the seventies, but it was dampened by the transition from Napa County management of the lake to BOR. The BOR tried to end the resort leases in ’78, it literally took an act of congress to get them extended. During that time BOR built Oak Shores and the free launch ramp, moves viewed by the resorts as unfair competition and a violation of their contracts. The gas crisis and a drought didn’t help either.

Still, as I got old enough to work in the resort the campgrounds were always full all summer and I worked on the gas dock pumping gas and renting boats, and at the gate house. The marina was a dream job for a teenage boy in the summer. At times it was pretty hectic and could be hard work but a lot of fun. I met new friends and water skied, played dock tag and hung out at sunrise point and the villa when I wasn’t working. 

Young Wes Plunkett

I would meet my wife Debbie on a dock at Sunrise Point, Steve Whan introduced me “This is Wes, he owns the lake.” She was not impressed. Several years later we shared our first kiss on the dance floor at the Spanish Flat Inn.

 In my later teens I learned how to work on boats from Tom Virden, a retired Navy man who maintained the rental fleet and was a wizard with outboards.  It was a career I would follow almost 20 years. 

Over the years there were some great people living around Spanish Flat who made it a fun and interesting place. Bill and Jean Barta managed the resort and village center. They helped out with the water district and post office too. There was a softball field where the senior center is now, and they put together softball games once a week in the summer with the help of Mike and Nina Crean, and barbecued hot dogs for everyone who showed up. There was even a local league and we would play Rancho and Moscowite corners. 

Mike Quecke did all the maintenance for the resort and water district. His wife Mary worked in the store. Mike still lives in the mobile villa. That guy could fix anything. He was my hero. When I broke my dirt bikes, he would weld them back together. He drove all over in a ’55 Willys that belonged to the water district. I used to steal the keys and take it four wheeling, he probably had to fix that too after I was done with it.  

Stan and Ella Klang had a trailer in the Villa, when they retired they moved to the lake full time. Stan managed the marina and Ella worked in the country store and lake store.

They were fun people, they always had a smile and a joke to tell. They were my second mom and dad in my teens. I became friends with their son Doug, we skied, rode dirt bikes and chased girls when we weren’t working.

Tom and Pat Turnpaw took over the Spanish Flat Inn in the late 70’s and ran it for 10 years. They put in an outdoor deck with a dance floor and stage and had live music. The restaurant and bar were jumping every weekend. I became friends with their son Troy. They had a bartender named Kenny Carter who was quite a character. He would put on a bunny suit for the Easter egg hunt in the resort- imagine a 300 pound 6’2” Easter bunny.

The resort was sold in ’82, and my dad died unexpectedly of a stroke in ’83. Unfortunately the guy who bought the resort turned out to be a crook, he defaulted a few years later and my mom got it back. It was tough times for her, but like a good strong Norwegian she never complained. 

She resold it in ’89, that time it stuck. From that point on she was able to enjoy her retirement fully although she still remained active in the water district, chamber of commerce and the community. The company who bought it, REL, has been great, they honored every agreement she made with them. Too bad this time around there is no Congressman Leo Ryan to save the day like in ‘78. 

In ’85 I started Spanish Flat Marine with my wife Debbie and Paul and Chris Roussopoulos. We closed after 6 years, due in part to the lake being 80 feet down. Those were hard times for all the businesses at the lake. 

Paul & Wes

I moved to Calistoga and got a “real job” but still spent a lot of time at the lake, visiting mom and old and new friends at the lake, and teaching my kids to ski and wakeboard. My in-laws bought a trailer in Spanish Flat, they spent a lot of time there and we visited as much as we could. I had as much fun there as I had when I was a kid.

As my mom got older, we slowly took over the village center. Mary and Gary Taylor ran the store for 5 years, and Debbie and I started Spanish Flat Storage. 

pKilkus@gmail.com                       © Peter Kilkus 2018