“Hi! I’m Huell Howser!”
For 24 seasons, Howser’s friendly introduction welcomed viewers on statewide PBS television stations to “California’s Gold.” This man-in-the-street interview program focused on the people, places and history of California. The show’s longevity and Howser’s mastery of the medium were such an iconic part of California culture that he was even parodied in an episode of “The Simpsons.”
Few people know, however, that before “California’s Gold,” Howser was an on-camera personality for a quarterly employee video news magazine at Southern California Edison called “Horizons.” From 1989-90, he hosted eight episodes of a special segment called “Crossroads” that featured SCE employees doing unique and unusual jobs.
One story featured a worker at SCE’s Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada whose job was to break up choking chunks of coal ash at the bottom of the boiler. This unenviable assignment entailed donning a full-body asbestos suit and being showered by hundreds of gallons of boiling water while poking a long metal rod into the clogging “clinker.” To help keep the worker cool, he was also continually sprayed with water from a fire hose held by another employee.
Another story featured a carpenter at the Sierra Kaweah Hydro facility who regularly walked the six-mile wooden water flume looking for leaks. And there was the story about a staff archaeologist who researched and documented artifacts from the Western Mono people in the Big Creek area.
Before his death in 2013, Howser established an archive of his shows and other artifacts at the Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University in Orange, California. As part of Edison International’s effort to preserve company history, digital copies of the “Crossroads” episodes have been gifted to the archive.
Chapman University recently hosted a dedication event at the library to memorialize the gift of videos from SCE to the archive.
“We at Southern California Edison are honored to share some of Howser’s early videos with the Huell Howser Archive at Chapman University,” said SCE CEO Kevin Payne. “It is important for archives such as this to exist and preserve our history for generations ahead.
“Huell once said, ‘If you have a good story, it doesn’t have to be overproduced. I want our stories to reveal the wonders of the human spirit and the richness of life in California, including its history, people, culture and natural wonders.’”
Charlene Baldwin, dean of Chapman’s Leatherby Libraries, noted that the programs are a welcome addition to the collection as they provide insight into the transition period between Howser’s early work and his later, better-known productions.
Former SCE employee Aldis Garsvo, who produced the “Crossroads” segments with Howser and supplied the digital files for the Chapman donation, said Howser was the same personality off- and on-camera — a friendly, curious person who found pleasure in hearing the stories of the people he interviewed.
During the time “Crossroads” was in production, Aldis recalls Howser talking about a new PBS show similar to “Crossroads” that he was developing.
“While traveling to Kaweah Hydro in Edison’s video production van, Huell told me about a new 30-minute show he was planning which, at that time, had no name,” he said. “In the course of our conversation, Huell spoke about featuring stories across California — people and places, the ‘gold’ of California. We looked at each other and Huell said, ‘How about California’s Gold?’”
Although considered “corny” by some, Howser’s engaging persona was authentic as evidenced by the continued popularity of his hundreds of PBS shows.
The “Crossroads” videos are available for viewing on the Huell Howser Archives website: https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/category/crossroads/