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Cleaning the R

In 1913 a group of UR students made the strenuous hike up the San Bernardino mountains overlooking the University as a prank.  The area was surveyed and cleared of brush to design an R letter.  It has the distinction of being the second largest college letter at 415 feet tall and 275 feet wide.  As the area was cleared it's called a "cutout letter", the least common method of creating hillside letters.  It has the distinction of being the second-largest collegiate letter. Its GPS location is 34°11′00″N 117°06′17″W.

The "R" is part of the UR alma mater, "…That dear old U of R, whose emblem shines afar…" and our yearbook "La Letra," meaning "the letter," is named after it.

During the 1920's & 30's the UR tradition was to have the sophomores light the R on University day.  In later decades the freshman class was required by seniors to maintain the letter.  It was lit with flares at Homecoming so it shined in the darkness.

During the ‘60s and ‘70s the "R" was neglected, and the outline was barely visible.  But, in 1984, more than 70 years after the first group of freshmen made their trek up the hill, freshman Greg Horn (Kappa Sigma Sigma Spring 1984 pledge class Sparrow Hawks) spearheaded a massive effort to restore the "R" to its original glory. After 21 treks, he finished his task just before graduation.  Below is Greg's full story.

"In the fall of 1983, I was invited to dinner with a few other University of Redlands freshman at the home of Larry and Char Burgess.  In their restored Victorian home surrounded by acres of orange groves is where I first heard the story of the Redlands “R”, the then-dilapidated largest college letter in the world.  I was intrigued to learn about how the University’s first few classes had packed mules and walked up into the mountains for 3 and 4 day camping trips to clear the “R” and keep it maintained.  Now almost completely grown over, the “R” was only faintly visible on a very clear day.


I decided to go see it for myself.  The paper map (remember those?) did not show the “R” or a trail to it, but an old account I had read talked about coming in from the top at Running Springs, so that’s what I tried the first two times.  We ended up on the wrong hill facings both times, and since that route also involved trespassing I went to the Forest Service to ask them how to get there. They were not in favor of clearing the “R” and insisted that I would need a permit to do so.  But they told me the fire road to take to get to the bottom of the “R” and the forms to apply for the permit (which would turn out to be a yearlong process).


As I was waiting for the permit to be reviewed, the Redlands community caught on to this freshman’s idea to restore the “R” after 30-ish years of neglect.  Bob Weins, a trustee and the President of Redlands Federal gave a rallying talk on campus.  Marilyn Bonney offered alumni support for getting the permit.  And at last Frank Moore, owner & editor of the Redlands Daily Facts offered to show me the trail.  Frank drove me on the fire road access trail and headed straight up the hill, beating me handily at age 73.  The local coverage for the project started flowing and now we knew the way. 

At last, the permit was awarded in 1985, and we began planning our first of what would become many clearing trips.  Laura Jarvis Horn (my girlfriend at the time, now my wife) and I borrowed some walkie-talkies from the campus maintenance group and headed up the hill with paint and string.  Laura stayed on a lower ridge as I strung string around the outline of the “R”, which was undiscernible from the ground.  By then I was a proud brother of Kappa Sigma Sigma, and the fraternity took the lead in organizing the first big clearing expedition.  We bought dozens of picks, mattocks and shovels and made it a campus-wide event open to everyone including alums.  One prominent alum offered the laborers from his large orange groves to help, but we wanted to keep it a U of R project.  There were probably 50 people on that first expedition (including the entire active chapter), and we got about halfway cleared.  Later expeditions would finish the job.


There were 2-3 trips over the next year to get the initial clearing completed so that our emblem once again “shined afar”.  By my senior year in 1987, the “R” trips had become an annual event, organized by Kappa Sigma Sigma and open to everyone.   The “R” is the University’s most prominent and lasting symbol, and I’m proud that the brothers of Kappa Sigma Sigma have kept the tradition of keeping it shining alive and well."

Pics below show the comparison.  On the left in 1984 shows the R overgrown after 30 years of neglect.  And the right pic from 1987 shows the 1984-87 cleaning team results.

The crew photo is mostly Kappa Sigs.  It was very misty that day in 1986 and the low resolution picture doesn’t help, but some of those pictured include Kappa Sigs Randy Kaufman, Bob Tincher, Jim Castle, Jon Rains, John Olguin, Bill Smith, Kenji Coleman, Greg Horn, Rich Grew, Rusty Newth, Chris Ruhm, Todd Wakefield, Bret Marshall, Chris Bonney and others!

Other U of R folks include Laura Jarvis Horn, Susie Madler Marshall, Tina McCormick (all Deltas) and Steve Shatafian.

The 2007 Active Birds continued the maintenance

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