Ask Me

Her ancestor’s careers included running a Clovis flour mill and a Fresno funeral parlor

James Wilbur Cate, on the far right in this family photo taken in the 1930s, ran a flour mill in Clovis for four years in the late 1890s before becoming a successful businessman in Fresno.
James Wilbur Cate, on the far right in this family photo taken in the 1930s, ran a flour mill in Clovis for four years in the late 1890s before becoming a successful businessman in Fresno. Special to The Bee

Q: I’ve seen pictures of a company on Clovis Avenue from the 1890s owned by my great-grandfather, James Wilbur Cate. I think it was a milling plant. Can you find out what became of that business?

Debbie Cate Wilson, Fresno

A: A biography of your great-grandfather in the 1905 “History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the San Joaquin Valley” by J. M. Guinn says: “Thoroughness has been the watchword of J. Wilbur Cate of Fresno in whatever he has attempted to do, so whatever of failure has attended his efforts has not been the fault of himself, but rather that of a combination of circumstances.”

After attending the Los Angeles Commercial College, James Wilbur Cate came to Fresno in 1893 and “with his father he entered into the milling business at Clovis,” the biography says. An 1896 photograph of the mill shows a sign that reads “Clovis Flouring Mill J.W. Cate and Son.” It notes the business was on Clovis Avenue but does not give an address.

Over three years Cate and his father improved and enlarged the mill “until they had a capacity of 100 barrels per day,” the biography says.

The following year the mill burned down in 1897 and was not rebuilt. That same year Cate went to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where he led an expedition of 27 men to find an overland route to the headwaters of the Pelly River. The party had 160 horses packed with provisions at a cost of $20,000.

“The expedition met with disaster. The horses died from exposure about 1,000 miles out,” the biography says. While most of the group hunkered down in “winter quarters,” Cate and two men made the arduous trek on foot back to Edmonton.

Cate returned to Fresno where he “became a vineyardist,” the biography says, and bought out the Fresno Undertaking Co. Fresno city directories list the business at three locations on J Street between the late 1890s and early 1900s. It was at 1027 J St. in 1898, then at 1154 J St. in 1901 and at 2033 J St. from 1905 to 1911.

Cate “met with success in this work, becoming widely known as a successful embalmer,” the biography says. He also became deputy coroner under Dr. G.L. Long. Cate sold the business four years later.

Cate’s father died in 1900. In 1902 Cate bought out the interest of I.G. Nees in the Moore and Nees real estate, loan and insurance company.

Cate married Jennie A. Coffman and they had three children, Clyde, Leroy and Alfred, the biography says.

“Socially and fraternally Mr. Cate occupies a prominent position in Fresno,” according to the biography. He belonged to at least five clubs and lodges. Cate also was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, president of the YMCA and “politically (was) a Democrat,” the biography notes. “Always interested in the advancement of the city’s prosperity, he is a member of the Chamber of Commerce.”

Census records show Cate in Los Angeles by 1910 working in real estate, as a Tulare County farmer by 1920, as a real estate broker in Covina in 1930 and living in El Monte in 1940. Cate died in 1951 and his wife died in 1957. Both are buried in Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.

Q: Obituaries for Mel Kampmann, a Philadelphia news director, say he did some radio work in Fresno. I recall he was also news anchor for Channel 24 in the early 1960s. Can you give us any information of Kampmann’s television work in Fresno?

Jim Wilson, Clovis

A: Television program listings published in The Fresno Bee in the early 1960s indicate that Melvin John “Mel” Kampmann worked as a late night movie host and a news anchor for Channel 24 (KSEE) – then KMJ – in Fresno. No other published stories about his time in Fresno were found.

According to his obituary on the website of Channel 6 (WPVI) in Philadelphia, after he served in the Air Force during the Korean War, Kampmann “became a radio announcer and late night television movie host in Fresno  before moving to Los Angeles where he began his (television) news career.”

After working in Fresno, Kampmann moved on to television news posts in San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia and Fargo. He earned an Emmy for his work at station WJLA in Washington, D.C., and is credited with creating the term “Action News” at the Philadelphia station. Later he was a news consultant in the Washington area for 27 years.

Kampmann and his wife lived for the past 10 years in Rehoboth, Del., where he died in July 2016 at age 85.

More about: After the answer to a question about the Visalia Stock Saddle Co. was published on Jan. 8, Norman Lambert of Fresno wrote to share his memories of the business and its iconic saddle design.

“I read your piece on Visalia Saddle Shop with great interest,” Lambert wrote. “I resided in Visalia off and on for 20-some years. When I moved to San Francisco to enter college in 1953 I was very surprised to find the Visalia Saddle Shop in a store front on South Market Street. I went in and chatted with the owner for a short time.

“Then, in 1978, I was in Oklahoma City and got to visit the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, and lo and behold, they had a Visalia Saddle Shop in a small replica town in the basement. I’ve never been back so I don’t know if it is still there.”

Today the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City is known as the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. A spokesman at the museum said the Prosperity Junction western town model is now on display on the main level. It still has a saddle shop, but is no longer named for the Visalia Stock Saddle Co.

However, a Visalia Stock Saddle is one of 125 saddles on display in the museum.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.