Leon Bly – Bad Karma?

Outlet of the Bly Tunnel, 1924. Courtesy of Lola L. Tanner
Outlet of the Bly Tunnel, 1924. Courtesy of Lola L. Tanner

On September  1923, an agreement was reached between Leon Bly, the Grant Smith Co. and two irrigation districts, Baxter and Tule that the tunnel and canal system was complete. There would be litigation about the tunnel, but that is another story. Of the $1.25 million project, $300,000 was Bly’s fee, the remainder was construction cost.

Instead of returning to Red Bluff, Bly for the next several years would make his home in San Francisco.  This decision no doubt influenced by Malvena Gallatin, one of his few close friends.  In 1928, Bly returned to Tehama County, and purchased a ranch at Paynes Creek.  He would spend much of the remainder of his life as a recluse.

By 1936, Bly’s health had detoriated. In 1938, Bly composed his last will and testament in which he left  his Paynes Creek property and $20,000 to his housekeeper/nurse Edith Rehban. The remainder of the estate he left to five close friends and/or associates, such as Susanville attorney J.A. Pardee. It  was these heirs who contested the will when Bly passed away in 1942 at the age of 65.  They concluded that Bly’s bequest to Rehban was excessive.  In court testimony Red Bluff physician, Dr. Frank L. Doane stated:  “Bly had the worst case of asthma that he had ever known about. For the last eight years Bly could not sleep in a bed but slept sitting propped up in a big chair so he wouldn’t choke to death.  Mrs. Rebhan during those years slept on a mat on the floor in the same room to be in attendance upon him any hour of the day or night. ” In addition, Doane stated, that Bly had to be given from 12 to 16 shots of morphine and adrenalin a day if he was to be kept alive..”

The outlet as it appeared in 2012. Courtesy of Barbara White

Very little is known about this civil engineer, who had such an impact on Lassen County. For better or worse, there is no doubt about the testament in his legacy of the Bly Tunnel that has been widely debated for over ninety years.

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