By Bob Highfill
District 10 public information officer
Career prospects are not abundant in the tiny mountain community of Coleville, which sits at an elevation of more than 5,000 feet in the Antelope Valley of northern Mono County.
The population of the Census-designated place in the early 1990s was just more than 400 when four young men were teammates on the football field, baseball diamond and basketball court at Coleville High School.
Christopher Baker, Cody Collins, Josh Dixon and Matt Hussman – “the Coleville 4” – grew up believing they would be ranchers or take other occupations in their hardscrabble hometown. But in time, each found his way to Caltrans. Now, all four are maintenance superintendents in different districts making a difference by improving the safety of the traveling public on California’s roadways.
The uncanny coincidence four men who grew up together in the same small town would tackle fruitful careers within the same state agency and ascend to the same title is not lost on any of them.
“All I did was work for several different ranchers,” said Baker, who works in District 10 at Altaville/Sonora. “That’s what I thought I was going to do.”
Collins and Hussman also grew up working on ranches, and Dixon was raised on the Paiute Indian Colony of California in Bridgeport prior to attending Coleville High. None had much materialistically growing up, but they appreciated hard work and relished the great outdoors.
Their dreams and ambitions, spurred by their strong work ethic and competitive spirit, proved too large for Coleville to contain.
“It is crazy,” said Dixon, who works in District 2 in Quincy. “I think about it a lot because it wasn’t really something on any of our minds growing up. None of us said, ‘Hey, we’re going to work for Caltrans.’ ”
Big things from small places
Coleville High, with an enrollment of fewer than 100 students, competed in the Nevada Class A 8-man football league. Most seasons, the squad numbered fewer than 20 players. Baker, Collins, Dixon and Hussman were standouts on offense, defense, and special teams.
Road games involved bus rides six to eight hours each way. The Coleville 4 developed a tight bond and depended on each other to be successful. Each wanted to make a name for himself and help the team.
“It was a blast,” said Hussman, whose focus in District 9 is stormwater/material site coordinator in the Bishop area. “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Coleville High’s football team twice competed in the Nevada Class A 8-man football championship game. Each of the Coleville 4 earned numerous accolades in football, baseball and basketball.
“We always pushed each other, like in sports we were each other’s biggest competition, even though we were on the same team,” said Collins, who works in District 5 in San Luis Obispo. “You didn’t want them to outdo you. Everybody was pretty self-motivated and wanted to get better.”
Hussman graduated from Coleville High in 1994, a year prior to Dixon and Collins, and two years before Baker. Each chose a different path out of high school and eventually took a seasonal job with Caltrans. At one time, all four worked at the Caltrans Sonora Maintenance Station under now-retired Caltrans Supervisor John Vannoy, another Coleville High graduate.
Vannoy was a taskmaster who paid attention to the smallest detail. He often would drive home past work that had been done by his crew. If he spotted even the tiniest defect, he would have that person go back and correct it.
Dixon said Vannoy capitalized on the Coleville 4’s work ethic and competitiveness.
“That was one of the hardest crews in Caltrans; the way he demanded excellence in all of us and he would not allow you to stray off that path,” Dixon said. “He would send you back as many times as it took to get it right. Being local boys, he expected even more because he knew all of our families.”
The Coleville 4 have passed the lessons they learned from their mentor onto their teams.
“We demand that with all of our crews,” Dixon said.
Over the years, the Coleville 4 have demonstrated excellence in the field and have been promoted to lead crews in some of the largest, most physically demanding districts in the state, stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Sierra Nevada to the Mojave Desert.
Their work includes clearing mountain passes and scaling rock faces, duties many would consider dangerous. But for the Coleville 4, it’s their passion.
“I feel because we are competitive, we all are good at what we do,” Baker said. “We were all good athletes, and we always had a good work ethic, and we just carried on with it.”
The Coleville 4 keep in touch and take pride representing Caltrans and their hometown.