"I'd Rather Stay a Widow"

A Bachelor in the West, Part 2
(Part 1)
Now, let’s go back to Bill Chappell. Yeah, he did get down to business after he got back, by breaking out the rest of his land, putting a window in his shack, and getting a decent bucket for his dug well. Bill then undoubtedly wanted to get married to make it possible later to hear the patter of little feet. 

Bill advertised in a lonely hearts club magazine for a wife. This magazine was kind of like a mail order catalog, except you got real live merchandise. This procedure did short-circuit the process of romance. No eyeball to eyeball contact, nor all the other goodies. 

Chappell had luck, and a mail-ordered, future bride was on the way. The railroad was completed now. The Rocklyn store had changed hands, till finally Fred Grob and Fred Huesman owned it. Mr. Chappell was late to receive his parcel, so Fred Grob entertained her until Bill arrived and took her back to his homestead shack. 

This prospective bride did stay over night with Bill. Whether it was an Irish Wake or a romantic interlude, no one seemed to really know. She undoubtedly sized up Bill, his shack, and the bucket that hung on the well, and said to herself, “This isn’t for me”. The very next morning when the train headed back from Coulee City, she was up at the Rocklyn depot with her suitcase, waiting for the conductor to place the stepping block down so she could enter the passenger car with dignity. 

A lot of you old-timers around the Telford-Davenport area who remember Bill Chappell, knew he was a good-hearted and generous old soul. This habit eventually caused him to fall flat on his face, financially. Years before his failure, when Bill was still on fire, he enlarged his holdings to 560 acres of wheat land, finally built himself a house that looked like a house, a barn, and lots of sheds. To keep up with the “Jones”, he got himself a buggy that came equipped with lots of pretty string-like tassles hanging around the canopy part of the buggy. 

He then invested in a full-size heading outfit, including a cook house, and then went out and did a lot of custom cutting. 

All this increased his drive to make another stab at finding a wife. This time he advertised for a cook. A young lady that had a little boy answered his ad. (Something like Alice on the TV program). Since he was boss and owner of his heading outfit, Bill thought he had the inside track with the cook. But after harvest she ran off with one of the headerbox drivers. All Bill could do was brush his mustache and forget about his failures for awhile. 

The next year, up north, near the old Gunning farm, a husband made a widow out of his wife by committing suicide. He left his grieving wife with a field of standing wheat. To the rescue, and as a donation, Bill Chappell moved his outfit and crew over to this helpless widow’s place, and put all the standing wheat in nice round stacks, so the threshing outfit could move in and do their thing. 

Chappell’s heart was pounding for her, but when fall came, she said, “No thank you Bill, I’d rather stay a widow.” 

Since Mr. Chappell couldn’t spread happiness through his romantic tries, he started helping families that were in need. He donated a 20-acre corner of his farm to old man Scheffler and his wife. Then Bill organized a building-bee and extra hands, put together a cute little house for the aging couple that had retired from years of working for others. 

As money began rolling into Chappell’s pockets, he gave his brother lots of dollars so he could set up a farm in the Lord’s Valley country south of Harrington. 

Bill’s last screwed-up deal did him in. Big-hearted and acting like a blockhead, Bill let the new owner hock his farm for a pile of money, so he could get a flying start as a farmer. Chappell then settled for a second mortgage on his place, which wasn’t worth the paper it was written on when the depression came. 

The new owner went broke, and the only thing Bill could get out of him was a pig and a Model-T pickup. Bill then moved into a single-boarded shed that was no better than his old original homestead shack. Bertha the pig brought him happiness, but the Model-T was the cause of Bill ending up at the Poor House. 

One shivery morning when it was too cold to start the Ford without raising the rear end, Bill used his homemade jack that was made out of a long pole with a boulder strapped on the end for leverage. In the process of raising the back wheel up, the boulder tore loose and fell on his left foot, causing pain. 

By this time Bill was not winning any special awards from the sanitation department, so infection set in his foot. Bill refused to be taken to a doctor, so my dad had to call the sheriff, and he was taken to the Lincoln County Poor Farm where he died during the winter of 1932. [Correction: 1936]

I can’t help but feel guilty about how we handled Chappell’s last days. In those times there was no Social Security. All that was available was a kind of concentration camp for the poor and the helpless ones. 

"A Bachelor in the West" Kik-Backs, p. 20


A Mortgage-Free Prairie Castle

Migration to the west brought its share of bachelors as well as family groups, all of them looking for choice spots to stick their plows into peaceful bunchgrass sod. 

Reminders of the past are driven home as one jogs or drives past the skeletons of a vacant farmstead. Sad as it is, time will cover up all the traces of our first citizens. 

The prairie bachelors (usually not by choice) were an interesting breed. These singles settled in spots between the family farmers throughout the Big Bend country. Except for kids, they produced the same kinds of crops as their less lonely neighbors did. 

I grew up in the shadow of our famous Rocklyn bachelor, Bill Chappell. In 1882, Mr. Chappell began his adult career as a flunky and saloon bouncer in Denver, Colorado. Lots of saloon guys began giving Bill black eyes with their fists. It didn’t take him long to realize he was in the wrong profession, so he hit the trail for the open country. 

Within a year his wanderings and snoopiness took him to Harrington, where he regreased the axles on his wagon and bought an old walking plow from a homesteader. 

He headed north, swearing that if he could not find water after digging a 10 foot hole, he would move on to a better spot of land to pick for his homestead. Bill let some excellent farmland pass under his feet because his shovel could not bring forth water. 

Finally, the fourth day out of Harrington, Chappell reached the Rocklyn corner, Highway 2 and the Rocklyn road, where he struck water at about the length of his shovel handle, causing Bill to file a homestead claim at once. A wagon load of boards was then turned into a 10 by 14 foot homestead shack. He was now the proud owner of a mortgage-free prairie castle. 

The summer of 1884 found Bill Chappell wearing out his clod-hopping shoes by following the foot-burner (the walking plow). He broke out quite a chunk of sod. Then his prairie life became short-circuited when the call of the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska got to his ears. Gold fever then set in. 

His ponies were sold and a crossarm was placed on his homestead shack’s door. A boat from Seattle got him to the Klondike country. Finding no gold laying around that was handy to pick up, Bill began noticing a lot of wild-eyed, hungry-looking gold seekers walking around in every direction. It got Bill to thinking there could be more money in selling these guys something to eat, so he started a fast-food service. 

He found a frying pan where a miner was shot up in a dispute. A pit stove was made and Mr. Chappell was in business. He had the guts to charge those hungry miners $4 for three stove-lid size pancakes and a $1.50 each for a fried egg. When the eggs were in poor physical condition, scrambling did the job for the same price. 

Like oil, when the gold pooped out, Chappell wandered back to Rocklyn. Gus Deppner, from the Deppner tribe, invaded Rocklyn country while Bill was gone and jumped his claim. In order to get his homestead back, he had to buy Gus out. It took all the dough he made in Alaska. (continued)

"A Bachelor in the West" Kik-Backs, p. 20

"...the Rocklyn corner"


Where The Kiks Now Point Their Feet

Things were different when a lot of us older ones got born. There was no high technical equipment setting in the doctor’s office. When a call came in that a baby somewhere was about to be born, all that was available for the doctor to grab, was his little brown bag and a pair of pulling hooks if it happened to be an instrument baby. Then down the country road he would go. 

When I was a year and a half old, in the same bedroom where Sugar and I now spend about a third of our time, my sister was born. That blessed event of long ago happened near the spot where the Kiks now point their feet when they are asleep. Twenty four years later, sister Ethel gave birth to daughter Evelyn in the same bedroom, and I believe in the same bed that Ethel was born. 

So far, Sugar has never used the birthing room. 

At the tail end of harvest 51 years ago, time was approaching for me to become an uncle. When count-down started, my sister packed her things and came back to the place of her childhood days so she could make mother a midwife and grandmother at the same time. 

Late that afternoon when things began looking like motherhood was approaching, mom called Doctor Sewell. The doctor hurriedly shoved down an early supper, and drove out to the farm. 

Upon arriving, Sewell took charge by checking over the soon to be mother. He told Emerson, the father-to-be to keep his shirt on; that it could be quite a while before things around here would start to happen. The atmosphere calmed down and most everyone started socializing over some coffee with the doctor. 

Wednesday nights at the movie house in town were drawing nights for cash prizes. So I snuck out and went to see the movie “Wagon Wheels.” After watching a lot of Indians shoot arrows at some covered wagons, I was anxious to find out if the baby had arrived. It didn't take me long to get home when the last prize was drawn. 

As soon as I entered the house, I knew the baby hadn’t been born yet. Emerson and the doctor were discussing past football games. The front room was stuffed with cigarette smoke. “We are still waiting,” the doctor told me as he got up to check on sister. 

This time Doctor Sewell didn’t come out of the bedroom, instead he called the excited, soon-to-be-father in to help administer ether. Doctor’s theory was to put Ethel into semi-dreamland so she wouldn’t feel all the necessary pains of the baby being born. 

A lot of ether missed Ethel’s nose and traveled right up into Emerson’s nose. It caused future father to pass out, and he had to be helped to the upstairs bedroom. 

When the clock was close to striking midnight, the voice of baby Evelyn was heard. Emerson slept soundly through it all and didn’t learn ’til breakfast time that he had finally become a daddy. 

"Home Delivery" Kik-Back Country, p. 20

Ethel, Emerson and children in 1940 Census


The Doctor Took Dad for a Ride

The first automobile I remember seeing, was when sickness sent mother to bed. When mom refused to eat chicken soup, dad called in on our newly installed phone line and told the doctor to come out and see what’s the matter with mom. 

An hour later a cloud of dust appeared as Doctor Adam drove up to the porch. He was driving a large looking, rather top-heavy car, that held his wife and a friend. After a quick visit to see mom, the doctor left the house in a hurry. Since doctors are people too, he was excited to show dad all the features his new car had. After a close inspection, the doctor took dad for a ride to Rocklyn and back. 

Since we were pasturing his wife’s retired saddle horse, Doc Adam and his wife extended their stay by walking out to the pasture to see her old four-legged transportation. Because mom wasn't in such a hot condition, the doctor went in the house before leaving, to check her over for the second time. It was like getting two office calls for the price of one. 

"Two Old Time Doctors" Kik-Back Country, p. 19


Rattlesnakes Were Getting Jittery

Now let’s go back to the spring of 1933. The nation was in a heck of a mess. Wheat price at the warehouse was only 25¢ a bushel. Franklin Roosevelt was just getting things organized. Rumors were out that a big dam might be built north of Wilbur. I went to an anti-dam meeting where a speaker was asking us, “Who will buy all that electricity? Jack rabbits?” "Ha-Ha," came the sounds throughout that crowd. 

On January 26, 1933 the editor of the Davenport Times stated it would be a waste of money to build this Coulee Dam, and that it would be idle thinking that there would be a sale for this power. One must realize that it was no fault of this early day editor to think that way. The country was flat on it’s face, so planning a dam as big as the Coulee Dam just simply scared the wits out of most people. 

A story got out nationally that if they built Coulee Dam it could fill up with silt in about a hundred years. In answer to that tale of woe, Will Rogers said, “What if that dam does fill up with dirt? By that time the Republicans will be in power and we won’t need that dam.” 

Rumors soon faded as there were just piles and piles of people out of work and hungry. Sheriffs were busy kicking farmers off their farms, and something had to be done. Excitement ran high in 1934 down at the Coulee. Shacks were getting nailed together, people were walking around in all directions, and the rattlesnakes were getting jittery. 

That summer Roosevelt promised Dill he would swing around to the northwest and take a look at this project. So on August 7th I picked up my dad and neighbor, Carl Jensen, and beat it down to Grand Coulee where all the excitement was and to see in the flesh all those big shots who promised to bring paradise to our promised land. 

A large wooden shed-like stand was built on a sandy spot about a couple of miles from the river. Golly, it was a hot and dusty day. We all stood up like a crowd does at an auction sale, except all heads were pointing toward Ephrata . . . waiting. 

Finally we were rewarded with clouds of dust. All at once about a dozen cars popped through the haze. Dill was riding with Roosevelt, as was Senator Bone. Banks, Sullivan, and other promoters from Ephrata and Wenatchee were crammed in smaller open-top cars. 

Dill, before the main event, looked rather excited, and seemed like he could hardly wait to say something. Finally when his time came, he gave a thundering speech about Roosevelt, the builder. Finally he introduced the President. 

All this time, Roosevelt was able to stand up by leaning against a post just back of the speaker’s stand. I expected to see a long cigarette holder sticking in his mouth, but got fooled. I can’t remember what all Roosevelt said, I was too busy just gawking at him. His speech gave me hope. We all applauded when he said he was going to make the Nation “dam minded” (A slight bit of humor). 

Before driving back to Ephrata, Dill, Roosevelt and part of the gang drove down to the dam site and rode the cable ferry across the Columbia and back just for the heck of it. All in all, it was a day I’ll always remember. Can’t help but think how time takes its toll. Senator Dill was the last of the big wheels to cash in. He died on January the 14th, 1978.

"C. C. Dill And The Coulee Dam" Kik-Backs, p. 83

Walt Kik
University of Washington Libraries

Walt Kik

Walt Kik
Bust of President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Grand Coulee Dam, September 2005
Photo by Glenn Drosendahl / HistoryLink.org


Two Fat People or Three Skinny Ones

While most of us have picked the heavier traveled rat-race road of life, some didn’t. There is a fellow citizen in Mill Canyon that is years ahead of us in lots of ways. He is at peace with his environment. After he chose this spot, this guy tried making natural gas do its thing for him, and now is making electric juice from the sun to run his radio and other knick knacks. He is doing wonders by making solar heat work. If the wind could be steered downhill, I believe Rico would put the circulating air to work. 

Who is Rico? He is a handsome bearded guy with sparkling blue eyes, and his body has no weight problem. Rico Reed is active in politics, and is Lincoln County Democratic chairperson. He wrote numerous thought-provoking comments for the newspaper and a magazine on ecology. Is also a member and distributor for the Inland Empire Solar Energy Association. When it came to clean air, Rico had his own campaign going, long before the ‘Blue Sky Advocates.’ 

When this fellow is not busy laying floor covering for Warrington’s Furniture in Wilbur, he busies himself in his latest project, a two story, well insulated solar heated shop, where the mechanical part will be operated by steam power. (That’s a story in itself). 

What’s it like down in Rico’s world? Well it’s much closer to nature than the famous Duncan Gardens. Things are spread around a bit, making it easier to find usable stuff. This deep canyon holds a neat creek. Winter smoke curls from the neighboring homes, but not enough to cause smog. Cars are still allowed to be parked anywhere. 

Rico’s home is a rather modest, three-story, A-frame house, that has everything in it to make him happy, including a lemon tree that bore forth 40 lemons last year, and a greenhouse for living vegetables the year around. He made an indoor hottub, that will hold approximately four adults in standing position. When the sun refuses to shine, outside shutters can be pulled across the transparent house siding, by pulling an inside cable. A miniature swim pool with a slide for tots, awaits in the yard for summer usage. 

Rico’s first solar heating hose was laid in the sun in length long enough to shower two fat people or three skinny ones before the cold water caused a quick retreat from the shower head. He has now installed a collector and a heat retaining tank, making it possible to shower in sunless weather. 

Years ago, Rico gave Sugar and I a guided tour of his factory that made natural gas from “you-wouldn’t-believe-it stuff.” It turns things into liquid, then funny things begin to happen as it becomes gas. When Rico saw that I noticed the roof over his refinery was setting lopsided, he explained to us that the works blew up when he was setting in the other part of the house. Minor adjustments had to be made before natural gas was again flowing through pipes to lamptaps and other whatnots. 

Rico had held a one man solar display up at Riverside Park for the public to look at and ask questions. Harold Balazs is a sculptor-artist. His art adorns the interiors and exteriors of several Spokane banks and churches. He held an art display at our church. Seeing Sugar looking at some portrait sketches, Harold said to her, “You should know these people. They live out your way.” Rico and his friends did some modeling for S.F.C.C. art school, broadening their experiences between working and figuring out how to capture nature's energy. 


Electrical Juice Out of the Wall

It’s hard to believe that just a while back private power groups had a fit when they heard Coulee Dam might become a reality. Less than 50 years has passed since I attended a rather cooked-up deal out at Wilson Grange. A speaker for private power got himself invited to our lecture hour. In those days, it just took an alert speaker to make a dam of that size look a little silly. 

This guy spun a few jokes to get our attention. Then he came in sideways on his brainwashing scheme, stating that Roosevelt and his advisers are going to bankrupt an already broke country. When he got through making a lot of racket, he wiped his brow, and took a long drink of water. Finally in a low voice he asked us, “Who is going to buy and use all that power?” A snicker was heard. 

At that time, I guess, we were all primed to think zero. Some negative comments were making the printed matter. Scoop Hering, a likeable conservative news editor, expressed his concern when he wrote: “A bill has been introduced to appropriate $20,000,000 for starting work on the Columbia Basin Dam. This is ill-advised at this time. It would be a waste of money. The contention is that the basin power plant will develop large electrical energy which can be sold and thus making the plant self sustaining . . . it’s idle to claim that there would be sale for the power developed at the Coulee Dam plant.” Good old Scoop, he just happened to forget that kids do grow up and they produce more kids. 

It’s history now. Roosevelt, Dill, and other spirited guys did get the dam under way. After a lot of cement was poured, the Rural Electrification Act came on the scene. This caused some ambitious Lincoln County citizens to form the Lincoln Electric Co-op. Grange halls were used for the membership drives. The only electricity I had was in car and truck storage batteries. So a $5.00 membership was a big step forward to the day when waffles could be baked from electrical juice out of the wall. 

My ex-brother-in-law was anti-everything, that is, if new ideas happened to stray away from fundamental capitalism. He was afraid this Lincoln Electric movement might be a dangerous step toward socialism. Brother-in-law was more than eager to boost for Washington Water Power when they came out with an unheard of offer. Two guys with suits on did stop in to tell us, if we wanted electricity out here at Rocklyn, they would simply string a line to our houses - free of charge! 'Til then, private power wanted lots of bucks for such dreams. 

All this looked a little fishy, so a debate meeting was put together between private power and us guys that wanted REA to loan lots of dough to the brand new Lincoln Electric. The Davenport High School was to have been the setting. Old ‘stern-face’ Judge Nevins was appointed chairman, and time watcher. A bunch of us eager ones turned up expecting a wild and wooly evening. 

As the time drifted well past the starting time, it became apparent that private power debator could have chickened out. We knew for sure the show was over when Judge Nevins, setting on a wooden chair, pulled out the watch that was hidden in his chest pocket, took a quick look and walked off the stage. From that time on, it was mostly downhill for the Lincoln Electric Co-op. 

"We’ve Gotten Used To Electricity " Kik-Backs, p. 77 

A Hysterical Map of the Grand Coulee Dam