By Nao Braverman
If you ever see a flash of yellow go by on Ojai Avenue it might be Barbara Mashburn.
The lifetime Ojai resident has frequently been seen driving a bright yellow electric vehicle around Ojai. It’s yellow now, but freshly decorated every season. On Christmas it has splashes of red and green, and on the Fourth of July it’s patriotic.
“For Halloween it’s going to have autumn leaves and pumpkin lights,” she said.
“It was just an old yellow thing when I got it,” she adds dryly. “But people were about to run me over, so I decorated it for safety.”
She says all this with a smirk that suggests she might know something that you don’t, but she isn’t about to tell you just yet.
If we’re lucky Mashburn will get dressed up as a bee for the holiday. But if not, her electric vehicle, dubbed “Barbara’s Hummer” as it says on her license plate, has its fair share of black-and-yellow bumble bee accessories. The contraption has a built in heater, powered by solar energy, and is always lit with solar powered lights that she put in herself.
“There are probably a lot of people wondering who’s driving around town in this little yellow hot rod, but don’t have the nerve to ask,” she said. “Of course the kids always do.”
Up until this year when the school district had to make budget cuts, the school bus would stop right in front of Mashburn’s house and the children getting off would stop to marvel at her eye-catching front yard display. The lawn is crowded with porcelain bees, stuffed bees, plastic bees of all shapes and sizes. There’s even a wrought iron bench covered in toy bees, and a wreath that says “bee happy”. Sometimes her manx cat, Bee Bee, wanders in and out.
“I used to hide in the carport and listen to the kids making comments about my yard,” she said. “But it don’t bother me.”’ The front yard is nothing, according to Mashburn, “You should see the back yard and the inside of the house,” she said.
People have been giving her bee toys ever since she acquired the nickname, “Bar-bee.” In high school there were seven Barbaras in every class, so they called her “Bobby Bean Pole” because of her tall wiry frame. Then there were too many Bobbys. So when she started to tend bar, Bar-Bee just stuck, she said. After getting so many bee gifts, she decided to add to the collection herself.
For those who have seen the Signal Street home that belongs to the “Duck Lady,” with an impressive toy duck collection in the front yard, strikingly similar to Mashburn’s bee garden, that’s one of Mashburn’s best friends. She was the one that Mashburn called on after suffering a heart attack several years ago, Mashburn said. And, of course, they shop together.
Mashburn says she’s lived in only two places her whole life. The first house in Mira Monte had a farm with pigs, cows, an old mule, and one of Ojai’s first organic gardens. As a young girl she climbed Mount Whitney with the Sulphur Mountain Girl Scouts and helped found the Frazier Park Girl Scout Camp. At 27, she moved out of that house into the home where she has been living for about 40 years. That was when Ojai was known for having a church, a bar and a gas station on every corner, she said.
Mashburn, who served Ojai’s oil rig workers at two of the valley’s oldest bars, The Hut and The Hub, claims to have worked her way down the streets of Ojai as a bartender and waitress years ago. Back then there was only one cop and he wasn’t even a cop, really, just a constable, she said. “He drove an old Ford Model T pickup. And he didn’t look like a cop but more like the Lone Ranger with a white hat and all those guns on his belt.”
Since then a number of establishments have changed names or closed down but Mashburn served plenty of drinks at the Elbow Room bar in the Arcade, which was next door to the Mighty Bite hamburger joint with a card room in back, and she also had shifts at the Hitching Post. She later waited tables at Boots and Saddles, a bar and grill where the Golden Moon restaurant now stands. .
After so many gigs, Mashburn designed a float for the Independence Day parade dedicated to Ojai’s veteran waitresses, called “Old Waitresses Never Die, They Just Lose Their Tips.”
Only waitresses who had served tables for 25 years in Ojai were given a place on that float which was adorned with T-bone steaks made of Styrofoam. Little kids would throw change onto the float as tips.
“We never planned it that way, but by the end of the day there was enough money for each of us to get a drink at the Elbow Room,” she said.
By the time Mashburn was managing the snack bar at the Soule Park Golf Course, she was raising her two kids, Icy and Kevin Mashburn. Icy is now a teacher at Mira Monte School and Kevin manages a Carrows in Camarillo. Icy’s real name is Isaline, she added, but since her grandmother was Isa for short, they had to give her daughter a different nickname so there was no confusion.
“I went into labor on my mother’s birthday,” said Mashburn. “I was supposed to have my daughter by midnight. But I didn’t, so to get out of the doghouse I named her after my mother.”
Mashburn also had a stint at the O-Hi Frostie. “I went to City Hall more than once to protest when the owner got run out,” she said. She knew owner, Rick Henderson when he was just a busboy at The Oaks at Ojai and she was a waitress. “I was his first boss,” she said.
The Frostie was one of the last remnants of the old Ojai that Mashburn remembers as clear as day. Back then, few people had fences and you could pick an orange or an apricot from their trees because they could get a peach from your yard, it didn’t matter, she said. You could also swim any day in the Ventura River because it never dried up. There was more for the kids to do back then, she said, with the bowling alley still thriving and a miniature golf course across the street where the fire station is now. When she first got a job at The Hub, it was owned by old-time Hollywood actor Rory Calhoun and his friend, Specks Edde.
Edde left the bar to his ex wife, Verna. Verna’s ghost was later blamed for anything in the bar that was missing, or wasn’t put where it was supposed to go.” But she also bought you drinks on your birthday,” Mashburn adds. Those were the days when almost every bar was owned by a woman, she said. Mashburn claims to have known everyone in town and said the only real celebrity visits, aside from Calhoun, were from actresses Loretta Young and Ann Miller.
For her last working years, Mashburn was an occasional care giver. She’s also done a lot of plumbing around the valley. As a single mother she laid the shingles on her own roof, and did all the handiwork herself.
“I’m also known around town as Josephine Plumber,” she said. “That’s my other nickname.”
Now it’s just her, her miniature cat, and a vegetable garden she tends to out back.
“How are you going to get almost 70 years in that little space in the corner of the newspaper?” she asked.
By Nao Braverman