Walk into the Mill, a store in Santa Paula, and you'll hear roosters and hens and the clomp of cowboy boots on the worn wooden floor.
You'll find wooden bins of chicken feed and a barrel filled with fresh ranch eggs. And there are stranger sights as well: a giant tortoise shell hanging from the ceiling, a life-size likeness of a cowboy on his horse or an ancient pickled pig in a jar.
The Mill is a slice of history. It was built in 1886, when most people in the county farmed or ranched. Riding a horse was part of the job, not a pastime.
The store, downtown next to the railroad tracks, was a drop-off place for farmers who brought barley, walnuts and beans to be shipped out by rail.
That was half a century ago. The number of farmers has dwindled, and they no longer bring their crops to the loading docks to be sold or traded. But the Mill is still a ranch and farm supply store, and to wander around the weathered premises is to glimpse a disappearing lifestyle.
"Kids love this place," said Charlie Hengehold, whose father, Louis, bought the Mill in 1954. He died five years ago. Today, his children, Charlie, Louis Jr. and Margaret Jump, run the store with their mother, Polly Hengehold.
Children like to see the farm animals--big roosters that sell for $10, baby chicks for 95 cents, doves, hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs.
In a back corner of the rambling store, they can watch Jim Kidd make custom saddles from scratch, mostly for ranchers, stock workers and people who show horses.
Kidd works intricate designs into the leather, an art he learned from his grandfather. His creations are in high demand--he's a year behind in his orders--and his customers have included Charlton Heston and Ernest Borgnine.
Kidd has worked out of the Mill since 1985, but in past years the store always has had someone on the premises who could do saddle repair. In the early years, it was a popular gathering spot. An old stove was in the front of the store, and every Thursday a handful of men called "old timers club" gathered to talk.
One by one, the old-timers died, and the store changed as farming and ranching diminished.
"Years ago, everyone had a dairy cow and a few chickens," Charlie Hengehold said. "We used to sell tons of dairy feed."
The store has branched out and sells gardening supplies, tropical fish and birds, along with the equestrian supplies.
But it offers something else as well.
"If someone wants a cow or a goat or a pig, we can usually send them in the direction they need to go," Hengehold said. In fact, a bulletin board in the store advertises everything from stud services to a pair of Peking ducks for sale.
And some people still insist supermarket chicken isn't fresh enough, he said. At the Mill, those people can buy a stewing hen for $3. "They're tougher than a board," he said.
And thanks to the collecting talents of Charlie Hengehold's father, the Mill is something of a museum.
"People would empty their barns and bring it here," said John Colla, who has worked there 20 years. "Lou never said no."
As a result, the old beams are weighed down with antique bicycles, old saddles and riding gear, a branding iron and an ancient washing machine. A stuffed horse, presumably a leftover from a movie production, stands tall in the back, not far from a bear skin someone had thrown in the trash.
But the walls contain a richer history. Mounted on wall after wall in the back of the store are pictures and documents from Santa Paula's past. They date back to the time the Southern Pacific railroad built the Mill and then later sold it to private individuals.
"Lou like everything old," Colla said, "and he loved the West."
WHERE AND WHEN
The Mill, located at 212 N. Mill St., Santa Paula, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Children are welcome.