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Gold Point: the Nevada ghost town that wouldn't die

Special to The Los Angeles Times

Gold Point, Nev.

Herb Robbins' home is in Las Vegas, a three-hour drive to the southeast of the dusty former mining town of Gold Point. On weekdays, he works as a wallpaper hanger. On weekends, he comes here to work as a carpenter, plumber and roofer, toiling to bring back this western Nevada town, which boomed when gold was discovered here in 1908 and went bust a couple of years later.

As the town prepares to celebrate its centennial, Robbins puts on his sheriff's badge and his six-shooter and proudly shows visitors the fruits of his labors: a ghost town back from the dead.

"People who come up here have a real enjoyable time," Robbins says. "They get a chance to walk around and see, visualize and imagine what this was like 100 years ago."

In true Nevada style, Robbins used a chunk of the $222,000 jackpot he won at video poker to restore five ramshackle miner's cabins -- which are now rented out as bed-and-breakfast accommodations -- and to transform the former telephone company offices into a saloon. Inside, liquor and local lore abound.

Robbins' Old West renaissance took off in 1979, when he and business partners Walt and Chuck Kremin each purchased a single lot for $500 apiece. Robbins had first visited Gold Point the year before, after touring several ghost towns that, over time, had almost vanished, thanks to Mother Nature and vandals.

"I said, 'You know what? I'm not going to let that happen to Gold Point, so I'll buy whatever I can and restore the buildings,' " he recalls. As he purchased more and "got more possessed by it, eventually there was nothing more for sale." He now owns about 30 historic buildings. "I lose count," he says.

Robbins relies on a small but dedicated group of volunteers to help with the restoration work. One of them, Dan Adams, tends bar when there are guests in town. Another, Cindy Overton, curates the memorabilia that has been gathered inside the former post office.

"I like to encourage people to embrace their history," Overton says. "I can do restoration here. I can leave my mark. It sounds corny, but it's not."

One weekend in April, Overton, wearing a pink-floral period dress and carrying a matching parasol, helped greet a curious mix of visitors outside the saloon.

The Beatty Cowboys -- a group of men from Beatty, Nev., who reenact gunfights from the Wild West days -- were already in costume and practicing their skits when about 20 motorcyclists from Orange County rode into town.

Once a year, the bikers visit Gold Point to slake their thirst and soak in the atmosphere.

"I love the place," says Ken Skolyan of Huntington Beach. "You know, you look for adventure and here it is."

The restored storefronts and cabins make a realistic backdrop for the holdups, brawls and shootouts that the Beatty Cowboys will stage over the upcoming three-day centennial weekend.

"I'm 56. I loved to play cowboys when I was a kid, and I love to play cowboys now," says Earl Seely, a member of the troupe. "We'll be sneaking around shooting each other all weekend."

Last year, about 600 people came to Gold Point for the Memorial Day festivities. Even more are expected at this year's centennial celebration from May 23 to 25. The Memorial Day weekend party includes a chili cook-off, barbecue and a raffle. Fittingly, the top three prizes are Henry rifles.

The proceeds will be split between the restoration fund and the local fire department, which has four antique but still serviceable engines. A true jack-of-all-trades, Robbins serves as fire chief.

Robbins admits Gold Point isn't for everyone. But, he hastens to add, "in our fast-paced society, it gives people the opportunity to get away from their hectic reality and get back to a time when things moved slower."

travel@latimes.com

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