Tell Charley Spiller that his roofs look like they've been cobbled together from tin cans, and he'll thank you for the compliment. Spiller, a maintenance mechanic for California's Bodie State Historic Park, works in the ghost town of Bodie, Calif., on buildings that haven't been inhabited for a half century or more, and he wants them to keep looking that way.

At its peak in 1880, Bodie was one of the state's largest cities, a notoriously lawless gold-mining community with nearly 10,000 residents and more than 2,000 buildings. When the gold and silver mining boom collapsed, Bodie's population plummeted. A Depression-era fire that destroyed 90 percent of the town sealed its fate; by the end of World...

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