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Rocklin documentary returns to air on April 10

Wealth of history unearthed from city’s granite quarries
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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When Sierra College professor Dan DeFoe set out to make a documentary about Rocklin’s granite industry, he uncovered a gold mine of local history surrounding the city’s formative role in California’s industrial development.

DeFoe’s 45-minute film, “Gold, Granite and Grit,” will air in a slightly abridged 30-minute version on KVIE’s channel 6.1 at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 10, having premiered on the network in November 2009 and becoming a popular sell at Barnes & Noble in Roseville.

The latest president of Rocklin Historical Society and a professor of history and communications, DeFoe said the film is the result of many years of research that began with a phone call from a student’s husband more than eight years ago.

Darren Epperson, the last private owner of Big Gun Quarry, was preparing to sell the property to the city in 2004 and wanted to show DeFoe it contained a story worth telling. With decades of experience in television and radio, DeFoe’s first reaction was to make a documentary.

“(Epperson) gave me a tour that was just unbelievable,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘This is amazing. I had no idea. This is the center of granite operations in California, and this is what’s left.’ So he said, ‘So what do you think, a few pictures?’ I said, ‘No, we have to do more than that.’”

Over the course of the next three years, DeFoe wrote, produced, directed and narrated a documentary, hiring vendors to supply a skeleton crew and working with the Rocklin Historical Society to track down archive photographs. He also got permission to film at many of the area’s 66 quarries, and did helicopter flyovers to show geographic context.

“The idea was to do something that would improve the historical record of the region … I’ve written a lot of history, I do a lot of writing, and I really felt this was something that had – HAD – to be told,” DeFoe said. “It’s been lost, to a large degree. This was the center of operations that began with the transcontinental railroad … We had lumber for the ties, and we had granite to bed the ties in, and that’s where it all began. And then following that, for years and years, granite was the building material of choice. It was a big operation.”

He said the film contains both regional and local history, including the widespread economic and social impacts of Rocklin mining operations becoming a hub of commerce for Northern California.

“We spent most of our time in San Francisco, because so much of Rocklin granite wound up there after then 1906 earthquake,” DeFoe said. “To a large degree, both infrastructure and some of the great, iconic buildings in San Francisco have Rocklin granite in them … including the quartz quarried at Big Gun that went to the top of the Transamerica building.”

Half the film’s $80,000 budget came from his own pocket after the city of Rocklin, the historical society and the Sierra College Foundation donated about $25,000 in startup money.

DeFoe said he continued tweaking the film after screening an early cut in 2007, and KVIE picked it up two years later, having worked with Sierra College on other projects in the “Tales of the Sierra Nevada” series.

Michael Sanford, the network’s vice president of content creation, said KVIE’s broadcasts reach 1.2 million households in 28 counties in Northern California – the largest geographic reach of any PBS station in the U.S.

“At KVIE, our mission is really to be the region’s storyteller,” Sanford said. “Primarily it was their creation, and it was a great collaboration. What a great way to get some great history programs essentially located within our viewing area.”

DeFoe is currently plotting a possible sequel that would pick up where the film leaves off, one that would explain the evolution of Rocklin with the quarry village and examine how to preserve the city’s heritage. He said he may decide to move forward with the project by the end of the year, but for now, he awaits the city’s decision on the fate of the Big Gun Quarry property.

“Sooner or later, that is going to be developed,” he said. “Myself and others with the historical society have been talking about this quarry village concept to capture the granite past of Rocklin, and it’s quite a story.”