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Saga of Buck Helm Shines Light on Town

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This little town in the Trinity Mountains has stepped into the limelight with its new-found miracle man, Buck Helm.

Banners and posters adorn the town’s streets and shop windows celebrating the rescue of Helm from the rubble of the collapsed Nimitz Freeway in Oakland after last week’s earthquake.

“This One’s for You, Buck,” says a sign in the window of the New York Saloon.

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And on Thursday, the Chamber of Commerce, the Red Cross and local officials staged a press conference seeking donations for victims of the quake and predicting that Helm’s fame would bring new visitors to this mountain tourist center.

“Any recognition doesn’t hurt,” said Trinity County Supervisor Dee Potter. “I think it has increased our business somewhat.”

The 57-year-old Helm, who works at the docks in Oakland during the week and commutes 250 miles to Weaverville on weekends, was pulled from the wreckage of the freeway last Saturday after spending 90 hours trapped in his car.

The burly longshoreman’s clerk remains hospitalized in Oakland with a fractured skull, three broken ribs, nerve damage to his leg and kidney problems due to dehydration.

Those who know Helm describe him as strong-willed, occasionally overbearing and even “ornery.” But he also has a reputation for generosity to his neighbors and devotion to his four children, Greg, 35; Marc, 22; Jeff, 16, and Desiree, 12.

Although many residents in this town of about 3,500 have never met him, Helm’s survival has made him Weaverville’s biggest celebrity. It also has helped draw the attention of the outside world to this Gold Rush town about 40 miles west of Redding and already a popular staging area for hunters and fishermen.

Normally, the town’s biggest event of the year is a Fourth of July festival that features a rodeo, parade and a destruction derby. But this year, Buck Helm is even bigger.

“Our Thoughts Are With You, Buck and Bay Area,” reads a banner hanging from the second story of the courthouse building.

On the marquee of the Trinity Theater, Helm shares the billing with this week’s movie: “God Bless Family Helm. Cheeta and Friends,” the sign reads.

Along Main Street, with its covered sidewalks and historic buildings, shopkeepers have posted handwritten signs in their windows to congratulate Helm--and indulge in a little self-promotion.

At the Mountain Marketplace natural food store, for example, a sign reads, “You’re a Natural. Hurry Home Buck.” And down the street at the Western Shop clothing store, a poster in the window says simply, “Giddy-Yup Buck.”

After Helm’s dramatic rescue, television crews and newspaper reporters swamped the town with requests for interviews. And many local businessmen and elected officials are pleased with all the attention Weaverville has been getting.

“We have a great tie with the tourism industry, and any recognition of this area that shows why people come here is advantageous,” said Supervisor Potter.

But some of the local townsfolk--who moved here precisely because it is so isolated--are not exactly thrilled with efforts to capitalize on Helm’s sudden fame.

“It’s bringing the town a lot of publicity,” said Nola Brimhall, a teller at North Valley Bank. “I’m not sure we want the word to get too far out there.”

To aid Helm and other earthquake victims, local residents have collected donations and organized fund-raising events. On Friday, for instance, “Nila’s Taco Feed” and the “Teen Center Earthquake Relief Dance” are scheduled to raise money for the disaster victims.

So far, however, Weaverville residents have not decided what kind of celebration they will stage when Helm finally returns home.

“I think Weaverville should certainly take every advantage to welcome Buck home,” said librarian Doris Callahan, who knows Helm’s youngest children because of their frequent visits to the library.

“I don’t know that a banner across the street is necessary saying, ‘Come See Where Lucky Bucky Lives and Eats,’ ” she said. “But I welcome everybody to the Weaverville community.”


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