Tobiassen – Last of Gold Rush legacy
(As families around Nevada County gather in celebration of the season, The Union offers as a holiday gift visits with several longtime local families, their history and where the years have taken them.) He is as unassuming as his family name is prestigious.
Looking inside his home, with a large elk head mounted on the wall, or outside where heavy earth-moving equipment shares space with mooing cows and friendly horses southwest of Grass Valley, Ronald Tobiassen seemingly lives a simple life.
Which is to say, much further in the shadows than his siblings and father, all of whom had a steady hand in shaping Nevada County politics and public service throughout much of the 20th century.
“I never wanted any part of it,” said Tobiassen, 61, a heavy-equipment operator for the Caltrans who traces his Nevada County lineage to 1874, when his grandfather, Niels Tobiassen of Oslo, Norway, jumped ship in San Francisco to seek his fortune during the Gold Rush’s postmortem. “I was born into (public service), but that didn’t mean I wanted to do it.”
While Ronald was busy clearing Donner Pass for motorists during the winter or running his excavation business during warmer months, his siblings were trying to change the world – or at least their corner of it, with varying degrees of success.
After Niels tried mining – “He quickly decided he’d rather be a farmer instead,” said Ronald -Ronald’s father, Carl J. Tobiassen, was Nevada County sheriff from 1932-44, later serving as a Nevada County supervisor for eight years.
“I was too young to really remember much,” said Ronald, whose father was 44 years old when he was born.
“I can remember them talking about the rivalry between the two towns” of Grass Valley and Nevada City, said Tobiassen.
The family homesteaded 160 acres off Cement Hill in Nevada City. Ronald married Tamara, his wife of more than 40 years, a Grass Valley girl, something that was considered taboo back in those day.
“As a Grass Valley girl, I wasn’t allowed to date any Nevada City boys,” Tamara Tobiassen said.
“My mother forbade me to see him. We ran off and got married – and I wasn’t even pregnant.” The couple eloped to Reno.
Youthful indiscretion aside, Tobiassen’s family built a dynasty, first in public safety, then in politics.
Of the six children in the fourth Tobiassen generation, only Ronald is still here.
The Tobiassens (from left): Annie, Annie (wife of Niels) with baby Carl (grandfather of Ronald), Andrew, Helen, Niels and Theodore.
Of the six, Nevada County residents probably best remember Elton “Bub” Tobiassen, who worked for decades as a manager of Nevada Irrigation District before becoming the county assessor for 16 years, until his death in 1982.
And the memory of Dave Tobiassen – who served on the Nevada City City Council and as the First District county supervisor until his death June 28, 1995 – still lingers in people’s minds and in a small baseball field which is named after him near the county library.
Dave Tobiassen’s wife, Sharon, who’s served multiple terms on the Nevada City City Council, is a former executive director of the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Ron’s sister Millie and brother Bill, who became a department store manager, moved away from Nevada County.
His oldest brother, Carl, worked in the mines before serving in World War II, where he was killed in combat.
Longtime Nevada County residents remember that Carl Tobiassen founded the Nevada County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse in the 1940s.
“You know, we’ve always been here,” said Ronald Tobiassen. “I’ve thought about going to Alaska, Idaho or Montana, but the thought never lasted too long.”
“There’s a lot of the old-timers who talk about the good old days, but I think there’s a lot more opportunity now,” said Tobiassen, whose grandfather started cutting timber once he realized nearly all the gold was gone or claimed.
“The gold would have been nice to have, but you never know,” said Tobiassen, whose memories of his early life include a war of words with cross-town rivals before Nevada Union High School was established and parties at long-gone Lake Olympia, where bands would play on weekends.
Of course, there were plenty of stories Tobiassen only heard, stories usually generated by his older siblings.
One of the biggest flare-ups still in the memory of Nevada County residents is a nasty libel suit filed against his brother Dave by Nevada City Councilman Paul Matson for a campaign flier distributed during the 1992 supervisors’ race.
The flier accused Matson of not paying $315 in parking tickets. The suit was left in limbo after Dave Tobiassen died.
But there are fond memories, too. The Tobiassen family stamp is seen everywhere, from the the Nevada County Fair, the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, police and water agencies, to many civic endeavors.
The legacy of the Tobiassen clan lives on, as two of Ronald Tobiassen’s grandchildren live less than five miles away from the 10-acre spread in southwestern Nevada County.
Tamara Tobiassen’s family came here in 1945, causing Ronald to chuckle at how, to him, that wasn’t so long ago.
“They’re a bunch of Johnny-come-latelys,” he said.
“You know, ours is a legacy that’s getting pretty thin,” said Ronald Tobiassen, who when he’s not clearing snow near Donner Pass has time to tend to his horses and think about his historic past. “I think it’s time to leave it to the next generation.”
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