Wednesday

I Was Willing to Shoot the Works

When Hitler and his murderers tried to conquer the rest of the world so he could do away with the Jews, the United States had to stop making cars and start making dangerous weapons, so we could help end such hideous goings-on. 

New cars stopped producing themselves in 1940. The old family vehicles had to be preserved for an additional six years. We had to make them hop along on rubber that was melted down from tires that had seen better days. During that period, new cars were not allowed to be made ‘til 1946. 

It is now considered that the 1940's was the halfway point in car history. This is, if you figured 1900 as the dawn of automobile evolution. 

Come on now! Don’t doubt me, as it would spoil my point. Let’s face it, at the turn of the century even Henry Ford didn’t know how to put a car together. Sure, a few were experimenting with explosive engines before that time to see if they could replace horses to get them from here to there. 

After going through some old car sales papers, it was interesting to refresh the mind what a 2,500 pound 1946 car cost: On January 4th, 1947, Hemas Chevrolet called up and said that a '46 Chevy Club Coupe had just come in from the factory with a price tag of $1,059.00 - plus freight and a $40 sales tax - and that was all! 

Hemas believed the car could be dressed up to suit my taste. After 36 years of living without ever owning a brand new car, I was willing to shoot the works and have them install some optional stuff. Since just a bunch of pressed together wire mesh sat over the carburetor to keep out flying gravel, it was smart to invest in a $5.20 oil bath air cleaner. It had just been proven after the war that an oil filter system made the oil stay clean. So for $9.27, I had them install that impressive oil purifier alongside the motor. 

Here was some fancy stuff that gave the new Chevy that snazzy look. The radio was the biggest jolt, costing 40 bucks. A two-tone paint job came from the factory, so was stuck with a flat out fee of $9.85. A couple of sun visors costing $3.10 really sharpened up the inside. A one dollar fancy looking heater switch also brightened up the control panel considerably. An exhaust extension that really did a neat job of kicking up the road dust, came to $ 1.55—The total optional charges set me back $72.05, plus $11.70 for installing accessories.  

Driving the new Chevy out to the ranch during the first week in January ended 10 days of holiday festivities. That, in those days, was exciting, as most of that certain ‘running around’ gang weren’t married then, so finding things to do came easy. The Rocklyn bunch put on two Christmas programs to overflowing crowds. One in town, for the Davenport population. Caroling the Rocklyn neighborhood became a tradition. A New Year's Eve party was thrown over at the Melvin Maurer’s, which included ice skating on a slippery pond. (continued)

"A Bit of Nostalgia 1940's Style" Kik-Backs, No. 3, p. 14

Walt Kik
"...some fancy stuff that gave the new Chevy that snazzy look. "

Tuesday

Words That I Get Squeaked On

The Days of No Computers, Part 2

Some rough neck pioneers would take a hard look if you didn’t pay your debts, and usually would knock the soup out of you if you didn’t. If you were a big enough wheel and was able to swing your weight around, you could order meals ‘on the cuff' at the popular Columbia Hotel. For those horse and buggy travelers, it was always best to carry a gold coin or two for eating, lodging, and livery stable expenses. 

All those early day Davenport restaurants boasted in ads of being close to the O.K. Livery Stables that was located on Morgan Street. This barn was known for the best accommodations in town: Large carriage space in front for parking; stable room was all shut off from drafts; Horses watered in the barn (how classy); fine rigs and saddle horses furnished night or day; drivers on hand (as chauffeurs), if wanted. 

Even 30 years later, and after the Columbia Hotel was torn down, pencils and paper pads were still being used in stores. There were five grocery stores in Davenport during the 1920's, Piggly Wiggly, Burgans, Allen’s Grocery, H.H. Granger Food Supply, and the Farmer’s Store, that was run by the Campbell family. In those days, most Davenport food outlets did not let you gawk around where the staff of life was shelved. 

When it came your turn to be waited on, the clerk would look over his glasses at you, with his ever-ready pad in hand and a pencil stuck behind his ear, and ask what kind of groceries you want to take home. If you said, "Three cans of corn," he would wet his pencil and write down three cans of corn and put the price down just to the right of his pencil. When you finished reading off your list to him, the clerk would walk around in different directions filling a box with your pre-dictated order. If you were not a deadbeat, you could pay for it later. 

Now, magic machines are taking over what once was considered a job for an educated figurehead. No more big ledger books, pads or pencils. At Davenport’s Safeway, groceries are zapped as the check out employees slide articles across the zapping machine. All that is left to do, is to glance at a calculating window and fork over some dough. 

Smart ones, with a lot of know-how, crammed 50,000 words into a microchip and put it inside our new typewriter. Now it squeaks when I misspell a word. It partly solves my terrible spelling. But I’m waiting for a typewriter that will tell me how to spell those words that I get squeaked on. 

"The Days of No Computers" Kik-Backs, No. 3, p. 44

Walt Kik
 Getty Images

Monday

Penmanship...of the Fanciest Kind

 A person can learn a lot how business was run in Davenport about a century ago. That is, if you happened to go to a certain garage sale, and buy a boxfull of discarded books that probably hadn’t been read since grandpa laid down his glasses for the last time. In the bottom of this box was a 11 x 16 inch cash and credit ledger. It had every 10 sheets sewn together until 200 pages was compiled, then bound between two heavy covers. Even though this ledger is over an inch thick, it could only hold store sales and outgoing expenses from January 1, 1897, to August of that same year. All because of the detailed description of records. 

It is a mystery whose Davenport pioneer business is in this book. The penmanship is of the fanciest kind. Every sales, cash or credit was recorded to the smallest monetary value that my eyes have ever seen. Judge Neal and Fred Baskie had charge accounts that went as low as 15 cents. Rev. Walker must have been a big spender. Nearly every day he charged things at this place that ran from 5 cents to 35 cents. The smallest outflow of cash was on January 2, 1897, when 5 cents was paid after a cash deal for eggs was completed. Due to bad bookkeeping, it didn’t state whether it was for a single egg or a dozen. Later in the spring, 20 cents was paid out for eggs, but again, the amount and size of the eggs was missing. 

In April, attorney fees for collecting a bad account came to a dollar. It cost Dr. Whitney 25 cents to get his pants repaired and altered. Big shots of that era like, J.W. Fry, E.J. McKee, C. Buck Jr., Moore Talkington, Spinning, etc., ran up bills that went into the double digit figures. The Columbia Hotel was this establishment’s best weekly customer. Bills ran from 10 cents to $27.50. The store also took in Davenport’s school district warrants and turned them into credits. A lot of business was done with the Davenport Brick Yard. Other buying power was handled through the Spokane Dry Goods, Spokane Soap Works, and the Wood Manufacturing Company. 

Daily cash sales ran only from $12.15 to $32.55. Credit cards weren’t invented in those days, yet charging things was very popular in that ‘gay nineties’ era, and was a three-to-one favorite. 

"The Days of No Computers", Kik-Backs, No. 3, p. 44

Walt Kik

Sunday

Waiting on the Cellar Hump

The Flying Model T, Part 3

Nick Mamer, the daddy of Spokane aviation, pioneered the air route between Spokane and Seattle with the two remaining Tin Geese. He named them the “West Wind I” and the “West Wind II.” 

Mamer’s brain storm got started at the wrong time. In 1929 the stock market crash didn’t help him and his backers one bit. The depression that followed was of no help either. 

When Northwest Airways moved in from St. Paul with a fat mail contract tucked under its arm, it put an end to Nick Mamer’s pioneer Model T air route. Nick then sold his two flying Fords, and got a job with Northwest Airways. Years later, the invaders became known as Northwest Airlines. 

During the height of Mamer’s flying glory, one of his Tin Gooses would fly over our house every morning at about 8:25. If dad and I hadn’t been boxing fans at that time, I never would have had a picture of the flying Goose passing over our ranch. 

My dad’s only sport interest was keeping track of all the heavyweight boxing champions that dated back to John L. Sullivan days, and up through Jack Dempsey’s fighting years. The mighty Dempsey retired after his last Tunney fight in 1928. In June 1931, Jack came to Spokane to referee a fight at the Natatorium Park. 

It was a must that dad and I go see Jack Dempsey in person, so we could look him over while he refereed. Don Frazer and another pugilist were pounding heck out of each other. That night I found out that boxing was a brutal and dangerous sport. But my dad had enough cave man in him to enjoy it. 

At the ringside, Dempsey’s side-kick announced that he and Jack were taking the West Wind plane in the morning to Seattle for more refereeing dates. 

The next morning found me waiting on the cellar hump with my Brownie camera. No, Jack Dempsey didn’t wave at me as the plane passed over our house. But he was sitting up there on a wicker chair, listening to the rattling sounds of the old Tin Goose. 

"The Flying Model T" Kik-Back Country, p. 78

Walt Kik


Walt Kik
Nick Mager Memorial Clock at Felts Field, Spokane

"...didn't wave at me as the plane passed over our house."

Saturday

A Noisy Bugger to Ride In

The Flying Model T, Part 2

In the years of 1930 and '31, an air passenger route was laid out. Those old planes flew low over Davenport, Rocklyn, south of Wilbur, Coulee City, etc. as they winged their way to Seattle. A landing stop was in order just before the plane flung itself over the Cascades. 

During the Hoover administration there were no appropriations handed out for emergency landing fields, so expenses were kept down to bare bones. Emergency landing strips were mapped out about every 40 miles. A guy with a car would stop in at a farmer’s place and ask if he could use a certain stubble field for such landings. When permission was granted, the flying company’s representative would angle his car and bounce across the field, stopping to pick up rocks that could be a threat to landing wheels. He then would sight across the field with his naked eyes and place red flags on each end of the instant-made emergency runway. 

By the Rocklyn corner, Fred Magin’s stubble field was laid out in such a fashion. These landing fields were on the portable side. Farmers’ summer fallow system caused that. 

Except for being in an overhauled condition, this early day airline used the same make of planes the barnstormers used, the tri-motor Ford. Even though times were tough in those days, the Tin Goose usually was loaded to the brim with 16 passengers. No cocktails were served, so everybody had to wait nervously ’til their destination was reached. Lunch was served from what you put in your overcoat pocket before you left home. 

Those corrugated sheets of thin metal made the “Tin Goose” a noisy bugger to ride in. However, for sitting purposes the plane had comfortable wicker chairs and a washroom that must have held a porta-potty. 

The three flying Fords that made their home in Spokane had rough and short lives. If a plaque had been erected for the threesome, the arrival date would have shown 1928 and the all-gone date 1933. The first Tin Goose only survived two weeks. [On] November 1928 it flew down to Colfax to help dedicate the new airport. Like the flying Goose that visited Harrington, it also took up paid passengers that day. 

The next morning the Tin Goose headed back to Spokane, where it found a lot of thick fog down close to the earth. The guy that was flying this rig got tired of waiting for the fog to go away, so he decided to plow through it. But he plowed the plane too deep, causing the Tin Goose to crumble and roll up into a pile. Two passengers lived by bouncing clear of the wreckage and were able to tell how the pilot took a chance and learned it was the wrong thing to do. 

"The Flying Model T" Kik-Back Country, p. 79

23 Nov 1928

Walt Kik





Friday

Belly Tickling Ride

While visiting with the Mielke brothers and Richard Hardy at the Harrington Barbeque, we got to talking about the Russians shooting down that big plane with a lot of passengers inside.* Finally the conversation drifted to the early day passenger planes. George told about the first sample ride he took in an enclosed aircraft. It was in a tri-motored Ford plane that came to Harrington to make a few bucks. The paying natives received the thrill of finding out what it was like to be lifted off the ground. 

This Ford airplane was the "Model T" of the airways 50 some years ago. It was made out of corrugated sheets of tin, cut to the right size, to make a plane that would hold 16 passengers. A motor was hung on each wing. The third motor was placed right in front of the pilot. This type of plane was nicknamed the “Tin Goose.” Carl Mielke said, “Everytime the plane returned to take up more sight-seers, the pilot had to put some oil into each of the motor’s reservoirs.” 

A few years before this aviation scoop at Harrington took place, this same Tin Goose took up thrill seekers from a stubble field near Davenport. The price for the Davenport plane ride was discriminating. The pilot and his helper drug out a scale, and charged one cent a pound for each live weight passenger. A skinny person could get on the plane for about a buck, while a fat man had to pay up to three dollars for the same belly tickling ride. 

"The Flying Model T" Kik-Back Country, p. 78

*Korean Air Lines Flight 902  20 April 1978

Walt Kik
Walt Kik

Thursday

Get His Brain Changed Over

An early day author of a novel and a Hollywood movie company were in our local territory at separate times years ago. They did a good job of using our natural scenery, but rather hectic stories emerged from their portrayal of our sacred wheat country, that we all learned to love so dearly. 

When I was a dreamy kid, I was forced to spend some of my choice teenage years in California. To relieve my torture, Lady Luck handed me Zane Grey’s novel, “The Desert of Wheat". It was concocted right after World War One. Zane spent part of a summer around the Almira-Hartline area, where he stimulated his imagination enough to create this special yarn. 

Homesickness would set in when I read his description of those long sloping summer-fallowed fields south of Almira, where horses and their loads of drag-weeders were making dust that would hang in long ribbons across the fields in the evenings around about quitting time. Obsession would set in when Grey described how the summer breeze would make acres and acres of wheat wave. The chapter gathered a lot of thumb marks. 

The IWW (International Workmen of the World), a rather nutty labor group, was raising hell in those days. They got into Zane Grey’s “Desert of Wheat” novel. He had these destructive characters burning wheat fields, and things like that all over the Big Bend country. 

In real life, stories got out that down in the Palouse Country the IWW’s were tossing lots of matches on top of wheat stacks (settings). Later when the “hoe-downers” fed the mixture of unthreshed grain and matches into the speeding cylinder, a destructive fire would set in. Later the Palouse farmers found out that they were just growing too much smut*. A striking cylinder tooth would explode the excessive smut, giving the same effects that the IWW’s were accused of. 

Many years later, when World War Two got itself over with, a movie company from Hollywood decended on the Connell-Lind district. Seeing all that wheat waving in the wind, they hurriedly unloaded their cameras and rounded up all the Massey-Harris self-propelled combines they could lay their hands on. 

“Oh goody," a bunch of us guys said to ourselves; a harvest story made in the northwest, using the same self-propels that a lot of us early buyers experimented with. The movie was called, “Wild Harvest”, starring Dorothy Lamour and Alan Ladd. Our thoughts ran illusive. Maybe we could learn how to harvest Hollywood style. 

When “Wild Harvest” came to Spokane, Sugar and I made it a foursome by taking Sugar’s sister and future brother-in-law. George wasn’t sold on self-propels at that time, so I thought this movie would be an excellent opportunity to get his brain changed over to accepting advance harvesting methods. 

When the popcorn sacks were half empty, it was apparent that this picture would not walk off with any Oscars. The only realistic scene that struck home, was the harvest crew eating their noonday lunch under the shade of the combines. A tired and bored housewife did kick up her heels and began horsing around with the harvest crew, causing stress to set in on the movie viewing farmers that took their spouses for granted. 

In no time, the wild stuff began making wild things happen in “Wild Harvest.” Combines were being pushed off of speeding trucks, with the idea of slowing down a rival harvest gang that was muscling in on their harvest brigade operations. Young Mielke went to sleep on his fiance’s shoulder. It just wasn’t the right “picture show” to convince George that he should change over to self-propelled combines. 

"Harvesting Hollywood Style", Kik-Backs, p. 26

*Loose smut is a seedborne disease that is caused by the fungus Ustilago tritici. (Link)

Walt Kik

Walt Kik

Wednesday

A Political Battle Broke Out

(In 1916 there were no steam plant projects to get excited over. Still things got pretty warm one fall afternoon at the Rocklyn General Store, when a political battle broke out. )

No physical violence occurred, but words flew thick and fast. George Sweezy appeared to be the only level headed farmer there. He tried to be the balance wheel of reason. My dad’s only defense for switching parties was that Wilson promised to keep us out of the war that was brewing in Europe. Mike Maurer who knew a lot about politics, tried to out shout everyone. Henry Kuch, the only registered Democrat there that afternoon, took a verbal beating. 

Most Rocklyn citizens left one at a time, after shouting their final view points. None stood long enough by the door to wait for replies. 

That night, several political signs were torn off telephone poles. The following Sunday at church, the flock was wondering who in their midst was the one that tore ‘Vote for Wilson’ signs down. The guilty one must never have figured it was a sin big enough to cause trouble from above. 

"Elections" Kik-Back Country, p. 76

Walt Kik


Tuesday

Inflammable Debates Ran Rampant

It’s neat to have political elections every once in a while. It stimulates the mind when local candidates come up to talk to you. Half of them make you feel funny when you know deep inside that you are not going to vote for them. 

One time Sugar fell for a nice guy that was running for a local job. At about the same time, I met and liked his opponent. It doesn’t make sense going our separate ways voting for these two, as we would be canceling each other out. What to do? I had ’til that Tuesday to decide whether Sugar’s reasons come first, or party loyalty. 

It was too bad that this Creston steam plant issue caused so much emotional steam. Inflammable debates ran rampant. I’m a nut about good environment. But you have to have proven evidence that fumes from tall chimneys will [not] hurt precious plants, and other living things. 

In 1916 there were no steam plant projects to get excited over. In those days, Republican presidents were treating everyone pretty good. If it weren’t for Henry Kuch, the Democrats would have become extinct out here at Rocklyn. 

Teddy Roosevelt had made people happy with his manic, free-swinging style of running the country. Big fat Taft was a harmless and likeable president. The only reason Democrat Wilson made the grade in 1912 was that the Republican party became split. Teddy ran on the Bull Moose ticket. That caused Taft to get too few votes. Wilson was then able to enter the White House. 

Four years later, Wilson had a scare when he ran against Charles Hughes. Election night Charles went to bed thinking he was President. But the next day, California sneaked Wilson back into the oval room. 

"Elections" Kik-Back Country, p. 76

Walt Kik

Monday

Overcharged Sugar's Talents

 I used to believe that some of my old friends were pushing their luck too far. George Gunning, at that time, had turned 73 on the time clock. When he told me he was planning on building a new house in Davenport, I said to him, “Golly, how come at your age?” George replied, “Yeah, I know. According to the Bible I’ve lived my alloted time, but I’m not intending to leave ’til I have to.” 

Then, years later, when I reached 75, I surprised Sugar by saying, “Let’s tear down part of our house, and build on something brand new. And wouldn’t it be fun to walk from the old house that has a history and go right into rooms that you have dreamed about all your life?” That was a dangerous way-out statement to make. It overcharged Sugar’s talents, and it left me with no room for backing out. 

I guess it’s worth it if for nothing else than just to see Sugar living on a manic high. But is it logical? Are some of us acting like kids, and don’t realize that the life cycle will soon be completed? Anyway, for the first time, I can understand to some extent why my older relatives, when they retired, built new homes in Ritzville. 

For practical reasons it’s best for us not to buy household equipment with a warranty over 15 years; or to build a house out of bricks that will soon be used mostly as a monument to someone’s past life. Anyone planning on what we did should, within reason, make a house that is suitable for either the very young or the very old. Unnecessary stairways and steps can be a hazard to your life. Slick floors and small booby trap rugs can land you in a wheel chair. 

By golly, I too am beginning to get excited about the new modern section nailed onto this old house. To make sense, it’s best that we start calling it: ‘Our retirement home.’ 

"Never Too Old" Kik-Back Country p. 92

Sunday

That "Old Man" Image

You old guys, when you were young, and watching a parade, didn’t soldiers marching down the streets with rifles over their shoulders look like full grown men? Nowadays, don’t they look like very young lads? I used to think anyone having some white hair sticking out, was supposed to take a back seat in life. 

In the early 1930s, Will Rogers made a movie titled, ‘Life Begins at 40.’ When I went to see that movie 50 years ago, I thought it was too late in life to start anything really worthwhile. My dad was in his 40s when he quit farming. As far as I was concerned, his peak had been reached. 

Years ago, there was an ad that sold some kind of snake oil for men suffering from prostate problems. The ad showed a rather shaky man all humped over sitting in a chair with a blanket across his lap. For those that remembered that ad, a caption under the picture read: “If you are 40 or older, beware of prostate trouble.” 

I used to think anyone over 50 was set in their ways, and over the hill. When a visiting guest preacher who was pushing 60 came to our house, mom told us kids to be nice and respect the old fellow. Upon arriving, and before the minister sat down in our well placed chair, he asked me how old I was. An audible "10" came out of my mouth. He smiled, and said, “In 10 more years, you will be 20.” (A brilliant calculation) Question number two: “Have you been a good boy?” A head nod said "yes." I then received a pat on the head from the sad-eyed minister as he started to sit down. 

After doing my Christian duty for mom, the outdoors looked mighty refreshing to me. Thank goodness, the ministers of today are not the boogie-man of long ago with that "old man" image. 

"Never Too Old" Kik-Back Country p. 92

Walt Kik


Thursday

Lots of Sweat, But No Tears

Now let’s go back three more years to 1916 when the railroad was put to use one Sunday evening without any trains being involved. 

Bishop Zaebel, every once in awhile, would check the Evangelical Churches in the Harrington, Rocklyn and Reardan circuit to see if everyone was still following the straight and narrow path. He was a fat, jolly guy. To us kids, when he led the services, the hands on the clock seemed to move quite a bit faster. 

Hounsberger, a fast-talking little guy, was the Harrington EUB preacher, also serving the Rocklyn church. On Sunday mornings, Hounsberger had to sit in his buggy about two hours waiting for his horse to pull him up to the Rocklyn church. This particular Sunday, Hounsberger’s buggy was leaning to the left and his horse was not trotting as he pulled up to the churchyard with our special guest, the Bishop. 

After giving his blessings at Rocklyn, the Bishop had another schedule that evening to check over preacher Streyfeller's flock at Reardan. Old man Boyk had a Haines car available for delivering the bishop, but, there was one problem. During this particular time the supply of gasoline had dried up all over the Inland Empire. Kerosene was available, but it made the car run funny, so it was a no-no. 

The arrival of the late Sunday afternoon train from Spokane always drew a crowd. Local folks would start arriving about one-half hour before train time for a chance to visit and watch the train come in. When we saw the conductor get off and place a stepping block, we knew a citizen or two would be getting off. The baggage door would open up, and out would come the Sunday papers, with all the Sunday mail. (Yes, mail on Sundays.) The storekeeper’s daughter was the post-woman, and she handed the mail to all that were there. 

A repeated scene of this kind was happening that Sunday evening, except for those few who had a car but no gas. Nothing was happening to get the bishop closer to Reardan. He looked rather pathetic standing beside his suitcase in his well-stuffed suit. 

By this time, there were enough young men who gathered around the store to cook up an idea on how to transport the stranded bishop. The section boss’s handcar came to their minds. It was a rig about 10-feet long with small boxcar-like wheels on the botttom of each corner, a gear-like things with a rod leading up to a teeter-totter that had four handles on it. 

Two guys would teeter, while the other two guys would totter. Four young guys volunteered to power the bishop out of Rocklyn. They placed the bishop on the back end of the handcar, so just in case he tumbled off, he would not get squashed. Then the four started pumping the rig down the tracks for about 20 miles, fearing no bull, because this was three years before the "train bull" dispute. 

With lots of sweat, but no tears, they delivered the man of cloth into Reardan just in time for the opening song. 

"A Bit Of History On The Central Washington Railroad" Kik-Backs, p. 23

Walt Kik

Walt Kik
Railroad Handcar / Wynooche Timber Company, Montesano
Clark Kinsey Photograph / Wikimedia Commons

Truman? What a Guy!

The Truman-Dewey contest, and the Eisenhower-Stevenson race to the White House were the last election night parties were held around Rocklyn. Just before the Truman-Dewey election night in 1948, we had just finished undertaking the first extension on our house. It was named the ‘front room,’ in memory of a room that was missing since the house was built. 

So a semi-open house, and election return party was in order. The placing of three radios had to be put in strategic places. Sugar scattered junk food throughout the house for nervous neighbors to chew on. Soon the house was full of Republicans, Democrats, Fundamentalists, and those that didn’t give a darn. 

For excitment, the Truman-Dewey contest for the White House was one show that was hard to beat. Most of our crowd that night loved Truman. He was a man of strong convictions. After doing what he figured should be done, he let the political chips fall where they chose. He not only countered a nationwide Republican swing, but had to overcome split-ups in his own party. 

Old Senator Thurmond didn’t like Truman advocating civil rights for blacks, so he jumped the fence, and dragged with him over a million and a half southern voters to the States Rights party. Also Wallace did the same thing when he ran off with the same number of voters to form the Progressive party. All because he couldn’t see eye-to-eye with Truman’s anti-Soviet stand. 

All those happenings caused Truman to jump on a back end of a train, and take his problems to the people. By so doing, he upset all those who had forecast his certain defeat. 

Truman? What a guy! No wonder Reagan and Mondale used him as an example of a great American during their political campaigns. 

"Elections" Kik-Back Country, p.76

Walt Kik

Wednesday

A Very Stubborn, Hot-Headed Bull

Seventy-five years ago over 100 folks from Wilbur took the passenger train to Davenport to spend the day at the County Fair. It was held in October in those days. I suppose the whole bunch took the train back to Wilbur that evening. 

This was possible because ever since the branch-line was built, and until about 1923, the passenger train would just set around in Spokane waiting until evening before starting its run through Reardan, Davenport, Wilbur and on to Coulee City. Then the choo-choo train would bed down for the night, and wait for the sun to come up before heading back to Spokane. 

All this reminds me of the great train wreck in 1919 just west of Davenport. On that eventful morning, this familiar and seasoned locomotive was busy pulling its load of things, and lots of happy people from down the line who were eagerly waiting to spend the day in the big city of Spokane. 

No one gave a thought that farther down the track was a very stubborn, hot-headed bull owned by Mike Tanner. This near-sighted bull figured the train was invading his territory. He gave his life for his cause. Tanner’s bull did succeed in knocking the locomotive and coal tender off the track. It landed on it’s side in some rocks and sagebrush. Except for a few sore throats from screaming, no one was hurt. 

All the passengers, including the engineer and fireman, had to walk about two miles into Davenport. The mail clerk had to stay with the baggage car to protect the mail from crooks. All the section-hands could do was wipe off the tracks what was left of the bull, and wait for the wrecker to come out of Spokane. 

"A Bit Of History On The Central Washington Railroad" Kik-Backs, p. 23

Walt Kik
1910 Railroad Map

Monday

The Devil Came Out of the Woods

 My pop and his brother had the honor of setting the largest prairie fire known, for their size and age, wanting to burn out just a small patch of dry bunch grass so Kitty and Sally could have some green dessert to chew on. Those two did have good success in starting the fire but stopping it became too much of a problem. The boys took their pants off and tried to whip the fire out, but the pants proved to be a poor substitute for a fire engine. The prairie burned a ten mile wide swath on it’s way to Medical Lake, where it stopped by itself. Not wanting a licking, they told their dad that the devil came out of the woods and set the prairie on fire. 

"A Pioneer Story", Kik-Backs, p. 6

Walt Kik
Gene Stuckle (Walt's renter) KHQ, Spokane September 2020


Fuel for the Superstitous Ones

The following week, while visiting casual like with a young reader of the Times, he asked, “How come you didn’t ask more than $15 an acre for that land you wrote about. Did someone put a curse on those acres?” then he added a happy, “Haw haw.” 

In fact, he could be right, that is, if you are a believer in curses. The land’s history does supply fuel for the superstitious ones. Everytime this land was sold, buyers didn’t keep it very long, and the owners would get it back. 

This questionable 100 acres was part of a 480 acre put-together farm. It was the only squared up piece of farmable land in this body of volcanic disarray. The rest of the space consists of rocks, and jig-saw patches of soil. 

For centuries this land didn’t do anything but grow bunchgrass and rock roses. Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, two half brothers, Homer Jones and Bill Nelson, married two sisters, Ruby and Mary. These two couples wanted to start married life way out here in Lincoln county, so they headed for Rocklyn. 

Jones and Nelson corresponded with three lazy homesteaders, who only broke enough ground to grow potatoes. One of them owned this 100 acres. They all wanted to sell out to anyone that would slip them the right amount of money. 

The Joneses and Nelsons complied. When the summer of 1909 arrived, they built themselves a rather cozy love nest. A dining room and kitchen downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. That way the two couples didn’t have to go very far to visit with each other. 

These adventurous couples brought with them the desire to start up a dairy herd of cows. So they sent to Wisconsin for the grass seed of their choice, and planted the stuff discriminately on this 100 acres, as well as the adjoining pot holes. But the grass seed was loaded with quack grass. The next year, the grass took on a sickly look, and the quack grass stayed healthy. 

Soon the two sisters got homesick for Wisconsin, and their husbands got sick looking at all that quack grass. In those days, there was no knowledge on how to get rid of quack grass, except pray for a seven year drought. 

So Jones and Nelson rounded up a retired minister, Rev. Hawks, who took the farm off their hands temporarily. But they sold their put-together farm as having grade one wheat land on it. When preacher Hawks saw the growing wheat drying up on the thin spots, and the rest of the crop being choked out by that evil quack grass, he sued for his money back. 

To help the Wisconsin bound folks out, neighbor Bill Chappell testified that the 100 acres in particular was number one land and the quack grass would disappear if they seeded wheat every year. The jury saw different, so the Reverend got his saved-up preaching dough back. 

Anxious to get back to Wisconsin, the Joneses and the Nelsons gave bachelor Frank Marcellus a crack at the land at much reduced payments. Frank wore out his mules before he could wear out the quack grass. So he dumped the place back to Jones and Nelson, who by now were making it big back in Wisconsin. 

The cycle selling of this place was now left to realtor Frazier. He found Ben Hall, who didn’t have a farm. Ben didn’t mind taking a stab at the land, with dreams of getting rid of the quack grass by plowing it in August. Not realizing that most of those acres were sub-irrigated, he too was forced to dump the farm back to the Wisconsinites. 

It was beginning to look like the land was jinxed, but that didn’t stop Fred Magin from trying to see if he could handle the place. But bad farming luck hit poor Fred right in the face. It forced him to throw the sales contract into the heating stove. 

Jones and Nelson were getting frantic. For all those years, their eastern Washington farm kept tumbling back in their laps. It got to a point where in 1933 they wrote dad and I, stating in so many words that we could have all those lake holes, the pretty weather beaten rocks, and all the places that grew lovely wild flowers as a gift, if we would please give them $15 an acre for what is farm land. Nothing down, no interest, just half the yearly crop as payment. 

Deals like that usually work. Sometimes it takes landowners that long to learn how to sell a farm permanently. I never did figure out why I sold the choice part of that farm for the same price I gave for it. I was never given any credit for trying to stop inflation. 

With all it’s trials and tribulations, this once quack grass laden field has now found a permanent owner. It’s starting to grow lots of 50-bushel-an-acre wheat. Truthfully, it did bug me a little when the new owner found a simple way to get rid of quack grass. 

"Returnable Land" Kik-Back Country, p. 5

Channeled Scablands
"It was the only squared up piece of farmable land in this body of volcanic disarray."

WaltKik.com

Friday

Second Prize...Two Quarts of Beer

 In a way, I never matured gracefully like other farmers did. This mental quirk gave me the excuse to play or take up hobbies that my farming friends wouldn't fool with. For instance, like getting the first load of wheat to the warehouse. In 40 years of my half-century of wheat farming, I did just that most of the time.

This hobby started when I found myself blessed with some of the best thin ground in Lincoln County. This skimpy layer of pre-Saint Helens' volcanic ash made it possible for the moisture to depart early, causing the wheat to be shocked into sudden maturity. So you see, part of my farm was "made to order" for early crop delivery.

The maiden voyage of trying to get the first load of wheat to town was no bed of roses. The day was a scorcher. The excitement of getting into the standing wheat left no room in our minds to stock the combine with essentials like plain ordinary drinking water.

The combine finally produced a truck-load of wheat a mile from home. The sight of the turning windmill in the distance added pain to my thirst, but the so-called first load had to be taken in without any delayed detours.

Upon pulling up to the warehouse scale, I was told that a guy from Sand Flats, where it was too dry to grow mustard, beat me in and took home the company's first prize - a large sack of flour. However, the second prize was two quarts of beer.

I never drank such stuff before, but there was no time to quibble. It felt so wet in my dry mouth. Soon a screwy feeling went across my shoulder blades, and I felt a strong desire to sit down.

I was taken on a guided tour to the downtown restaurant, where potatoes and other stuff diluted the beer. This made it possible to make it back to the combine and start the harvest season off in a normal manner.

"First Load of Wheat" Kik-Backs, p.71

First Load of Wheat

Walt Kik

Thursday

If it Hurts, You Don't Pay

Writing up this Harrington story, reminded me of the time I was living at Orange, California, and how terribly homesick I got for Harrington and the farm where I grew up. 

That sickness hit me while I was attending a matinee in 1923. The silent screen flashed on the Pathe news, and soon the lettering spelled out Harrington, Wash, (believe it or not). Then a flickering picture appeared showing a whole string of mules pulling a large combine, followed by a scene of Harrington that was loaded with more strings of mules prancing down main street. The event was called “Mule Day.” 

I swore when the day came for me to escape my bondage from the south, I would attend that exciting event. When my goal was accomplished, Mule Day had been phased out, so I had to wait for the first big pow-wow that Harrington sponsored. It was called Farmer’s Day, or something like that. Mules were replaced with prizes, friendly people, and Dr. Cowan, who put on a free tooth pulling show. 

In the middle of that day, good old David Cowan drove his made-over touring car to a corner on main street and parked the rig. He had a shed-like thing built on the back. He opened the doors and rolled out a dentist’s chair on his ready made platform. 

This clever guy was quite a salesman. His gimmick included a pair of pliers, a fast talking voice and a bottle of pain killer. He introduced himself by shouting about the specially trained tooth pullers he had in Spokane. His slogan was. “If it hurts, you don’t pay." 

Upon asking for volunteers. Herman Bursch from Rocklyn said he had three teeth in his mouth that weren’t worth a damn. “Fine,” said Cowan, “jump up here, it won’t cost you a dime.” The doc put his fist in Herman’s mouth in such a way he didn't even feel the needle. 

By the time Doc Cowan finished his commercial, farmer Bursch’s jaw had long since turned into a rock. It was rather amusing how the Doc held tooth number one up in the air, giving a speech to the Harrington crowd, then asking Mr. Bursch if it hurt. The bloody scene was repeated for tooth number two and number three. 

It impressed me that day to the point of letting the Peerless dentist pull my first adult tooth. It was painless alright, but it made me feel screwy. Since then I’ve had a fistfull of teeth pulled without dope. It’s only about an eight-second trip through hell, but then it’s all over, and I don’t feel screwy. 

"Reminiscing " Kik-Backs, p.74

Walt Kik

Wednesday

All That Down-Draft Feeling

Let’s go back to more than 60 years. It was on a late spring day in 1918, that a plane few over Lincoln and Douglas Counties, disturbing the air above the wheat fields for the first time. The light double-winged thing came up from a rest-stop at Wenatchee and passed over many a sky-gawking farmer as it wobbled it’s way to Spokane. 

On that cloudless day, we kids stared up at the sight of our first airplane, and so did Ben Hall, our neighbor. He unhitched his plow team early that evening and walked down to our place. Naturally, the first question he asked was, “Did you see that flying machine?” Ben got hooked on Bible prophecy, and had left the Evangelical Church for one that practiced “we are living in the last days.” Seeing his first flying machine overhead fortified his beliefs. 

Things really happened fast after that. Later that summer an airplane that must not have been put together very well, clunked out and had to land a mile southwest of Rocklyn right on top of George Borck's tallest hill. Riding on the thing were a father and son who were trying to air-hop over to the coast. 

My dad cranked up the Model T and we all went to where the excitement was. The old guy was the mechanic, and his son the pilot, [and] had his legs shoved into a couple of leather leg clamps. When he got close to the plane, he usually put his goggles on over his Eskimo-looking cap. By nightfall they gave up trying to make the thing fly. 

The plane spent the next three weeks setting in the stubble field doing nothing while waiting for repairs. It did have a lot of company on Sundays after church. The old Brownie cameras were popular among the farmers in those days. Posing in front of this crippled plane was a big deal. The father and son could have made some spending money by charging for their outdoor photo gallery. The front end looked like an old-time, long-nosed car with the propeller sticking out of the radiator. 

The George Borck family treated the two flying dare-devils like kings. Between rustling parts, they got free board and room. Finally the day came when all the bad stuff was eradicated from the motor, and good stuff was put in. The Borcks were promised a free ride in the sky. Bertha and her lifetime friend, Rose Bartlett, were the first brave ones to crawl into that rig. The open-air plane left a large part of their bodies sticking out into space. 

The goggled-eyed pilot pulled the plane high over Rocklyn, then the damned propeller shook off. All the two women could do was scream all the way down to earth. The pilot was able to squeeze his cargo and the flying machine between the Old Maurer house and the George Sweezy farm buildings. 

Supper was late that evening, because Mrs. Borck was a bit woozy from all that down-draft feeling. It took the sky-rovers over a week before they could find a place that had a propeller already whittled out for them. When the plane was able to hold together, they left, taking all the excitement with them, and leaving us with an empty feeling. 

About a month later, the Borcks got a letter from the pilot’s dad, stating his son lost his life while trying to train a future pilot not to fly into barns; which he did, killing himself and the trainee. 

"When Wings Were Seen Only On Birds" Kik-Backs, p. 64 

Rocklyn, Washington State


Monday

When the Steam Plant Plants Itself

At first, I was excited when Karen Dorn, news director for Channel 7, asked me if I would rustle up a few Creston citizens for an interview on how happy they feel about Washington Water Power making a steam electrical plant in their own back yard. Later she said a TV crew would come down to Creston. It was supposed to be aired nationally on Public TV this fall as a special. But it now looks like such educational funds have been cut off. 

Since visiting with Karen about all this stuff, the flair for excitement has left my mind. I wish the whole thing would go away like a bad dream, Yah, I know you’re right, we can’t and shouldn't stop progress, but I’m scared that our own local environment will be cluttered up. We are but a few that can still frolic freely in this beautifully-decorated spot that Nature has so generously provided for us. 

I don’t care where you look, one can either see exposed lava coulees, mountains that are not bare, rolling hills that are full of wheat and lots of ground just waiting to be seeded this fall. What fun it is to farm in such a neat place and help feed the world at the same time. 

....Let’s face it, it won’t be the same when the steam plant plants itself by Creston. Making electricity without using falling water, wind or sunpower is hard to do. Nuclear plants are kind of scary, so we may have to get used to acid rain, rambling coal trains from out of state and maybe funny smelling air. 

Washington Water Power may even mar out Creston Butte by sticking more stuff on it for sniffing sulphur and other dangerous things. More excitement, good or bad, will exist at Creston. Part of this burg could become known as the Creston Strip, if they start taking care of all the lonely workers after dark. Hard-rock citizens will just have to learn to cope with a swelling population. 

On the pride side, when the steam plant gets to puffing away, new road maps will surely come out with larger lettering for Creston. This slight gain or recognition won’t excite some of us too much. Oh dear, why couldn’t WWP place its power plant where it would improve some naked territory? There are a lot of God-forsaken spots that are just taking up space on our geography maps.

"Steam Plant" Kik-Backs, p. 59

Deb's Cafe, Creston (closed)

Friday

Sugar Drinks in the Heavy Music

There are two sides to most of us. Usually one side is the side we project, and the other side is the one our friends know about. Case in point: 

Until I got rid of all my farm machinery, a young lad from Spokane would come out to our place. He made at least a dozen weekend stays with us. Why? That’s a good question. His folks have a special room where a large harp-shaped piano stands alone in memory of music, and a violin is there to encourage this future protege, Billy Thulean, to pick it up and make some music, if his spirit so dictates. Keen environment. 

What did Billy-boy rather do? Come out to our place and learn how to operate farm equipment. All I have to offer him, since I retired, is two part-time robins and a couple of chipmunks that decided not to have any more babies. 

His father, Donald Thulean, loves children of every size and shape. Truly a humanist. I remember one time during a discussion at church, Don told how he, as a young music student, was broken hearted when he learned that his hero, Albert Schweitzer, figured a black person was not quite equal to us whites. 

Don also has two sides. On one side, he is an individualist, close to nature, and loves lots of body exposure during the warm weather. After a longwinded concert, he drops his tail suit and puts on something comfortable. Don encouraged me to hold my own with the shirtless scuffle I had in Davenport and up at Expo in Spokane a few years ago. He is also a health nut. 

I’m lending an ear to Don’s other side, as time passes; although Sugar drinks in the heavy music with more thirst than I do. Yet, it is sort of a thrill to see the opera house stage crammed tight with musicians. Some sawing on their large, and/[or] small violins. A lot of them are busy blowing into twisted horns, tweedlers, etc. All making music at the same time, to a tune of something that’s been concocted ages ago. 

Don Thulean is a great conductor and is not afraid to tackle something new or different. A little over three weeks ago, he conducted an excellent and novel arrangement called “The Planets.” All this exposure is a far cry from the days when I used to hum “Home On The Range” and “Red River Valley” out on the tractor. 

"We All Have Two Sides" Kik-Backs, p. 57

Donald Thulean

Tuesday

Swiped by Souvenir Hunters

Ruff is a town that’s nestled in a low spot. 24 miles southwest of Odessa. Three years ago reports came leaking out that dry land wheat down there was only making about four bushels to an acre, so Sugar and I took a spin that way during their harvest, and found combines trying to catch heads that were sticking slightly above the deep furrowed rows. Luckily the wheat had red chaff, making it possible for the operators to find their way around the fields. 

After interviewing an unhappy farmer, we got nosy and wanted to see if the drought had affected the town of Ruff. After all, part of my roots got sprouted down there through ancestral cross-breeding. 

Upon entering Ruff at that time, it was a shock to find almost a ghost town. There were a few poor people living there that had the habit of pushing clunked-out refrigerators and stoves to the nearest outside door, and using them for steps. A far cry from 63 years ago when my dad motored his family for a weekend at Ruff to visit with relatives. Those German-Russians were so tidy that if you were to put down their reading material in a slightly different place, you would spoil their decorative ideas, making them emotionally upset to say funny things in German. 

The friendliest bunch of little folks met us that day on their bicycles and gave us a tour of the town. The old standing church looked the same, except windows and doors were missing, and it badly needed a paint job and a preacher. A lightning strike caved-in the side of the old city water tank. The kids used the inside for their play jail. 

We noticed on that guided tour that there were new signs nailed on the old hotel, the livery stable and the old Ford garage, stating when each was built. Those poor folks also took an historic interest and researched into past records, then nailed their findings and population up at the edge of town. 

A little girl told us then, that there wouldn’t be 27 people living at Ruff until her mother had her baby that fall, so, barring a miscarriage, the true census stayed correct for a spell. 

An October Sunday, a couple of weeks ago, was a beautiful day. A good day to recharge that summer tan, so decided to revisit Ruff after a three year abstainance. Maybe the big crops since then could make the town of Ruff shape up. 

We were greeted by the sight of four large piles of spilled wheat, that partially hid the elevators and the business district of Ruff. After crossing the railroad tracks, one look told us it was a ghostier town than before. A sign still stood pointing to where the grocery store is at; an aid for the wandering tourist. 

Finding a parking place was no sweat. A sign on the door said “Closed on Sundays.” If service is needed, contact the big white house. After trying to spot anything looking white, a large lady came driving up from a yard full of kids and geese in a '59 gas-guzzling car. She was good enough to open up her store, so we felt obligated to buy something. Soon found out her frozen bars had more frost on the outside than ice cream on the inside. 

We found out the town’s population had dropped from 27 to 22. The store owner produced most of Ruff’s population. She has ten kids, counting the baby she just had in September. Her married son lives there too, and is about to produce number 23. 

The old hotel now stands empty, and the livery stable is still popular with camera fans. The city’s “Clean Rubbish Commission” is inactive, probably due to lack of funds, as we noticed some extra discarded stoves and refrigerators had been added to their outdoor inventory. 

Someone hungry for wood demolished the church, and the town sign of Ruff, that the former tenants put up, has been swiped by souvenir hunters. Since there is no hope of a coal-fired plant getting established there, the town is doomed. 

"The Razing Of A ‘Ruff'" Kik-Backs, p. 48


Photograph by J. Foust; courtesy of the Othello 
Community Museum and BigBendRailroadHistory.com