Note: Robert Watt Ware is a grand uncle of Karen Halter. This memoir provides an interesting perspective of life in Southern California around 1900 and the early history of the area just north of Los Angeles. Robert Ware became Sheriff and Coroner of Imperial County in later life.
by Robert Watt Ware
1893 – 1974
Since it is evident that in the early years of my life, now extending over 80 years, there were experiences and a mode of life that is strange and interesting to the young people of today, I have decided to chronicle a few experiences of my childhood for the benefit of those now living and for generations to follow. I am also moved to do this because my genealogy studies have brought an acquaintanceship with ancestors who have been revealed to me only through public records. Nothing has been found in the nature of diaries or journals that would give an account of their daily lives generations ago.
My father, Lewis Henry Ware, son of Lucinda Watt Ware and Andrew Jackson Ware, was born October 2, 1861, on a farm east of New Somerset, Jefferson County, Ohio. His father, Andrew, died August 24, 1861, two months before Lewis’ birth.
As soon as Lucinda could settle her affairs, she took her family of 3 children, AMANDA JANE, ANDREW JACKSON, JR., LEWIS HENRY, and her sister Margaret, to Iowa where she settled on a 40 acre farm north of Janesville, near Cedar River. Across the road, lived Elizabeth and Robert Cunningham, Lucinda’s sister and brother in law, who owned a large farm which they had settled on when they arrived from Jefferson County Ohio in 1866? The Cunninghams had three daughters, but no sons. Uncle Bob set about bringing up Lucinda’s two sons in the proper manner. He was an ardent Presbyterian and a pillar of the community; somewhat strict in discipline, I imagine. His father was a Presbyterian minister. It was there in Janesville, under Uncle Bob’s control that Father grew to manhood, and it is very possible that Father’s method of raising his own children was that of his Uncle Bob.
Father was six feet, two inches tall, but became somewhat round shouldered in his late years. He had hazel eyes and dark, curly hair which in time, left a bald spot on the top of his head with only a fringe of hair to comb. He always wore a mustache which required some grooming after drinking buttermilk. We knew that Father loved us regardless of his strict discipline. He seldom gave compliments and would seldom say “you are a good boy”. He usually had a stubble of beard because he shaved only on Sunday, unless he was going to Fillmore. Safety razors had not yet arrived and the straight razor was sharpened occasionally on an oil stone, which is a whetstone treated with oil and used to sharpen cuttings tools on, especially razors. To put a fine edge on the razor, a strop (not a strap) was used which is a device made of a strip of leather with a fabric on one side, similar to canvas, and a leather side which was used last. The razor had to be stropped several times during the shaving period. As Father shaved, he wiped soap and shavings on a newspaper which he kept nearby. I do not recall his ever shaving without cutting himself, usually several times. Each time he did so, be would put small pieces of newspaper on the cut to stop the bleeding and by the time he was finished his face would be spotted with paper. He used a shaving mug and a camel hair brush with which he worked up a lather from a round, flat piece of shaving soap in the bottom of the mug. If a dry, East wind was blowing the suds on Father’s face dried up quickly and they would have to be renewed often. Father did not wear a full beard as was still the custom with some men in those days.
About the time that Father reached young adulthood, a great change was taking place in the west, more notably in California. Father, with four of his close friends: Will and Charles Johnson, Ed Findley, Randolph Moore and Father’s brother, Andrew Jackson Ware, Jr., came to California to investigate the working conditions being offered as a part of the “winning of the West”. At some later date, Mary Jerusha Burman left Janesville and came to California to keep house for her brother, George Burman, who was living in Pasadena. George was hired to take care of orange groves. (The city limits of Pasadena, at present, cover the area where the groves of oranges once grew) It was here that Lewis Ware and Mary Burman renewed their acquaintanceship and were married July 26, 1888 by Rev. Breesee, a Methodist minister, who soon thereafter, left the Methodist Church to found the Nazarene Church which still has its headquarters in Pasadena.
Father and Mother became the parents of ten children: Alice, 1889-1957; Frank, 1801-1953; Robert Watt, 1893-1974; Howard Stanley, 1895-1980; Charles Andrew, 1897-1926; Katherine, 1899-198_; Olive, 1901-1908; Lewis Henry, Jr., 1903-1944; Florence Mary, 1905-; Marjorie May, 1907-.
They first made their home in Los Angeles, later moving to Highland and then to Pasadena. Father had been engaged in the contracting business, building streets, irrigation systems, hauling lumber from the San Bernardino Mountains, etc., but there was a nation wide depression in 1893, so he cast his lot with the other Methodists who were pioneering in the pleasant little valley north and west of where Moorpark now stands. They named their community Epworth after the name of the home of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. In 1894, they built a church which they christened Wesley Chapel. Most of the new settlers set out an apricot orchard and Father cleared his 10 acres and set the whole place out to royal apricots. Black eyed peas, as well as oat and barley hay were grown. There was no alfalfa because there was no way to irrigate it. The farmer’s fortune depended on rainfall which was often so scarce it caused crop failure.
It is not known how much capital Father took to Epworth with him, but after developing his farm and building a house and barn, he could not have had much surplus. Father helped others who knew little about farming and after I reached the age of understanding, I recall several places that he managed for absentee owners who had gone back to the city to make a living. Several dry years were disastrous. Mrs. Norma Gunter, in her history called the “Moorpark Story”, writes that in the 1897 Methodist Conference it was stated: “The people of that area have all but perished from the force of the famine”. Our parents, having been raised under frugal circumstances on farms, were perhaps better equipped to endure the existing conditions than were those unacquainted with farm life.
Wesley Chapel was a social center as well as a religious center for the community. Those who lived in the outlying areas enjoyed the same privileges. We always looked forward to the Church Social with its food and entertainment. If a talented stranger happened to be visiting in the neighborhood, his performance was something to talk about long afterward. When quite small, I was taught a piece speak at a social. Mother coached me until I could do it perfectly. During the program, I went to sleep and could not be awakened. Enroute home, I asked when I was going to speak my piece and when I learned that I had missed my chance, I felt that I had experienced my greatest disappointment. I have never heard the piece since, so I set it down here for posterity:
Wood and Water, water and wood
I have carried them times and times;
The work is hard but the wages are good,
Cookies are bigger than dimes.
It seems to be typical of me that my earliest recollection would be that of receiving a piece of warm bread, fresh from the oven, while sitting in a high chair near the west window of the kitchen. I always ate heartily and felt hungry most of the time. Father used to remark that he could not imagine where I put all that food. At least some of it went to growth because I eventually became the largest one in the family, 6’ 1” tall. I was larger than Frank at an early age. Frank was always a tease and occasionally had me crying. When Father asked me what I was whining about, I told him that Frank was teasing me, and he said, “You are bigger than he, you don’t have to take it.” It had never occurred to me to offer physical resistance, because Frank was two years older, the eldest boy in the family, which gave him status and authority. He was supposed to know everything and I always took guidance from him. But when Father gave permission, I took a couple of strong pokes at him which made him lay off teasing me from then on. Frank was smart, had good judgment and learned quickly. He never nagged but when he saw one of us headed the wrong way, he would give a suggestion which was usually correct, though not always received in good grace.
We walked one and one half miles to the Fairview, one room school, taught by one teacher. The Fairview District, or community, was the western half of the little valley in which Epworth lay, and the two areas divided by the Grimes Canyon road. My first teacher was a woman of mature years named Hiss Howlett. I was afraid to go near her or even to school, because she used the whip on a boy whom I later found was the school bully and deserved a whipping just about every day. My fear and foreboding may have had something to do with my remaining in the first grade for two years. This led to an inferiority complex and Frank, realizing the situation, set about to raise my ego and standing with my classmates by teaching me to spell chrysanthemum, as we plodded back and forth to school. Whenever I had a chance to challenge my classmates, or those in grades above, I did so and took great satisfaction when they failed to spell chrysanthemum.
Alice, being the eldest child, made every effort to keep us younger ones lined up, but we did not pay much attention to her, because she was a mere girl and what did she know about what boys ought to do?
We carried lunch to school in tin cottolene pails which had contained shortening compound, favored by Mother, whose neighbors used mostly lard. With the trade name, our pails also bore the picture of a benign bovine animal, whether steer or cow, we could not decide. Occasionally, our lunches would contain a piece of pie which we usually ate when out of sight of the house. It seems that we always carried a sandwich spread with plan jelly or plan jam. We usually had a bowl of stewed plums on the dining table, called plum sauce. Plentiful plums were bought in large amounts each year from Joe and Lottie Stuart who had an orchard of assorted trees, as well as a small vineyard, at their ranch over the hill west of Fairview school and near the Long Canyon road.
Joe and Lottie Stuart settled on their tract of land in 1888 and undoubtedly, were of considerable help to the new settlers at Epworth. Mr. Stuart had apiaries distributed over a large area, and the bees produced great quantities of honey. He was also a good carpenter. Mrs. Stuart was a midwife and presided at the birth of all the children in our family from Howard down to Marjorie. When Mother thought her time was near, Father would hitch up the team to the spring wagon and away he would go to get Mrs. Stuart who was expecting the call. Mrs. Stuart had her bag packed and always got there on time. Once when she arrived, she had to wait a couple of days for the new baby’s arrival. Mrs. Stuart was a tall woman, competent, and took charge of the housekeeping. We all liked her. Mother corresponded with her after we had moved to Corona. When there was sickness in the family, Mrs Stuart would give advice on the treatment. To pacify a baby who seemed to be in pain and cried constantly, she would advise a dose of laudanum, an opium derivative, which doctors prescribed in those days as a pain killer. A dosage of the laudanum proved to be too much for the baby, and when Mother discovered it couldn’t be awakened, she hurriedly took the child to Mrs. Stuart who checked its eves and gave the opinion that it would come out of it before long, which it did. I think that baby must have been Charles.
Standard remedies kept on hand were turpentine for punctures, cuts, bruises and abrasions. For internal complaints, syrup of figs and castoria were given to the babies. For more severe digestive upset, Chamberlain’s Colic remedy, which burned as it went down, and probably contained alcohol and opium, was used. For bad coughs onion syrup was used. It was made by putting sugar on onions that were placed in a pan and baked in the oven. It was sort of sickening. A drop or two of coal oil (never called kerosene) was placed on a spoon of sugar and dissolved in the mouth. Heavy chest colds required lard and coal oil on a flannel cloth fastened to the chest. The poultice became very itchy if one got too warm.
Five of us had broken arms at one time or another which forced Father to quit work, hitch the mules to the spring wagon and hasten to Dr. Hinckley, a pudgy, foxy, grandpa sort of person whose office was in his home, situated in the orange grove on the south edge of Fillmore. My ulnar bone in my left arm was broken near the wrist when I fell off Elmer Macy’s Christmas tricycle onto some stumps which lay in a ditch. My arm looked frighteningly crooked and Elmer helped me hold it up as we went to the house, because he was afraid that it would fall off. The arm was badly swollen when we reached the doctor about an hour after the accident. Father held me firmly on one side of Dr. Hinckley’s dining table while the doctor pulled and twisted my arm from the opposite side, until the broken pieces were back in position. All this time, I hollered at the top of my voice. I made the most of that broken arm; posing among the neighborhood children as a suffering hero. The principle benefit was that I did not have to carry wood and water, feed the pigs, clean the stable etc. My brothers who had my duties added to theirs, were unhappy about the situation.
At the time of my accident, the Macys lived in the first house north, where the Ed Tucker family lived before moving to Saticoy to raise walnuts. Prior to this, the Macy family lived in the Gabbert Canyon, southwest of us. We could see part of their barn from our house. When Elmer was just a toddler he wandered into the corral and a mule kicked him, severely cutting his scalp. A strong Santa Ana wind from the northeast, called East Wind there, was blowing when we saw Mrs. Macy struggling across a plowed field, facing into the wind, carrying Elmer. Both had bloody clothes and Mrs. Macy was exhausted. Mother met her at the fence and took Elmer. Mr. Macy was away, so Father had to take Elmer to Fillmore. Fortunately, the skull of Elmer’s head was not broken.
Mother performed wonders on the cast iron wood burning stove on which meals were cooked, bread baked, water heated for washing and bathing, and it also heated the house. Sad irons were heated for doing the family ironing, and ironing in the summer was a hot task. In addition to our large family, there were hired hands sitting at our table. Father asked the blessing at each meal, almost always using the same words:
Kind Heavenly Father, we thank Thee that we can gather at this table and partake of this food which Thou hast provided. Bless it to the strengthening of our bodies. Forgive our sins. Lead, guide and direct us, and at last, bring us all together in Heaven. Amen.
We dared not make a sound during the blessing, but of course, there was usually noise from the little one in the high chair sitting between Mother and Father who would kick its heels against the chair, babble, splutter saliva on the bib, while waving a cup or spoon.
There was always enough to eat of good, staple food, with usually pie or cake. Good thick cream skimmed from pans of milk was there to put in coffee or tea, on mush or on fruit. I have seen Father put cake in a saucer and pour cream on it, which we children were not allowed to do. We churned our own butter and if there was a surplus it was formed into a roll and taken to the store, wrapped in a damp cloth. When a cow dried up (no longer able to give milk) and butter was short, we sometimes bought a roll of butter from the store or from a neighbor. If a fly leg happened to be noticed, it was pushed to one side and was considered to be “just one of things” that could happen to anyone. With so many animals about, there were always swarms of flies around the door waiting for a chance to come in and get at the delicious smelling food. Tangle foot, sheets of very sticky paper, were put here and there in the house and when a fly lit on one of the sheets, he was a goner. These papers got in the way and were not handy to have about. Poison bearing sheets of blotter like paper were put in saucers of water which were quite effective, and dead flies could he found all over the house. I doubt that these measures did much good in reducing the plague of flies.
Every summer, Mother used many quart jars for canning any kind of fruit that was cheap. One year she got a large quantity of muscat grapes from the Stuarts; canned them, and all, winter we ate canned grapes and grape pies which we ate with gusto, seeds and all. Elderberries which grew in the washes and canyons were made into pies. The dark purple variety, we liked very well. The light green, a favorite, appeared to have been dusted with white powder. Green tomatoes were used for pies which tasted somewhat like tart apple pie.
When hogs were butchered which had become pets, we were banished until the killing was done. By means of rope and pulleys, the carcass was dipped several times in a barrel containing hot water so that the hair could be more easily scraped off with sharp butcher knives. This was about the only time that we had fresh pork and we enjoyed it. Some of the meat was ground, fried in the form of patties, placed in a large jar and covered with hot lard. It kept very well in the cellar. Some chunks were stored in salt brine. Meat pie made with fresh pork was very good.
Father was a good shot with a gun; liked to hunt and he helped the food supply by bringing home rabbits, quail and dove. He loaded his own shot gun shells, usually on a rainy day.
Early one morning when the East wind was blowing a gale, Father and Vern Mc Fadden drove over, via Somis, to a lake on the Conejo road and came home late at night with many ducks. Father said the ducks were easy to shoot because it was difficult for them to take wing in the strong wind.
There was always a puddle of water where the wagons stopped to load barrels with water, and the quail and doves would come there, about sundown, to drink. Father would hide in the brush and when he thought they were bunched close enough to get several at one shot, he would fire his trusty double barrel sixteen gauge gun. The purpose was to get as much meat as possible as cheaply as possible. We ate jack rabbit only when the meat had been ground, made into patties and fried.
In summer, almost every day, there was a large bowl containing sliced onions, tomatoes and cucumbers, dressed with vinegar, salt and pepper. Oil was never used on salad. I liked them best when they sat over night. In all cooking, Mother used lots of black pepper because Father liked it that way. We never saw red pepper.
Very early in the morning Father would get up, light a fire in the wood stove, grind coffee, put the coffee pot on the stove, wake up his boys, take the milk bucket and go to the corral to milk the cows. If it was winter, we boys would dash out to dress by the stove; then go to the barn feed, curry and harness the horses, clean the stable and get back to the kitchen for breakfast about the same time that Father did. Every morning there were fried eggs and bacon with the rind still on it. The bacon had been cut from a slab of bacon then and there. Bacon drippings, called bacon grease, were put on pancakes, potatoes etc. I have spread it cold on bread with pepper and salt for a snack, and liked it. Following bacon on the pancakes, was sugar or occasionally honey. When we had pancakes, Mother had them all ready in a high stack, warming them on the stove when we sat down to the table. The bottom cakes were damp, thin and soggy when we got to them, but we ate them without complaint. If Father said anything was o.k., that was the last word. Breakfast was always early so that the workers could be on their way to the fields when day broke. I have seen the sun rise many times from the fields.
In rainy weather, when the wood box was about empty, we brought in wet wood and packed it in the oven to dry. The door to the over remained open, and when the wood got hot, it snapped, popped, and tiny jets of steam would come out of the ends. Most firewood came from dead trees but now and then, we brought a load of oak wood from the Strathern ranch where permission was granted to take the dead wood only. There were many arguments among us boys as to whose turn it was to cut the wood.
Hired hands brought bed rolls with them and slept on hay in the barn. When Father was pressed for help, he would hire almost anyone who came down the road with a bed roll, and we sometimes had peculiar persons sitting around the dining table. Many were the far fetched yarns they told as we children sat bug eyed. Some of those yarns must have been imaginary, but we believed them. No doubt, we hired a man, now and then, who was a fugitive from justice. During the noon hour and on Sunday, these men would sit on the sunny side of the barn and tell, outlandish tales about their adventures. From them we heard about the qualifications of various prostitutes in Oxnard. About that time, if Father had decided to tell us the facts of life (which I cannot imagine him doing) he would have been wasting his time. From the hired hands, we learned all the oaths that a mule skinner ever used on their mules.
About 1900, Father had business in Los Angeles, and Frank and I were privileged to go with him. He drove a span of mules and a spring wagon. The road we traveled went up the Santa Susana grade into Chatsworth and through the San Fernando Valley to Cahuenga Pass. I remember that the San Fernando Valley was mostly large grain fields. There were a few houses dotting the area; all had huge barns and only occasionally could an orchard be seen.
The road ran near the railways tracks and the steaming, hissing, rattling whistling locomotives scared us as well as the team. When the sight was too frightening to see, we would lie face down in the spring wagon, claiming to be sleepy.
By starting early in the morning and by joggoing the mules most of the way, we reached Hollywood about dusk. We put up at a livery stable about where Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Avenue cross today. We slept in the stable on baled hay, the first alfalfa I had seen and smelled. Our hay had always been oat or barley, the barley having the most feed value. The drawback to barley was the beards which packed between the horses’ teeth and sometimes had to be removed. Oat hay, the variety grown in those days, had a tendency to rust. It would not be fed to the mules and horses because it caused them to have heaves which is comparable to emphysema in man today. Our neighborhood did not grow alfalfa because there was no irrigation water.
After leaving Hollywood, we stopped at a livery stable in Los Angeles on Aliso Street, just west of the Los Angeles river. We walked with Father down town and enroute, he told us that if we got lost to ask a policeman the way to the Natick house and wait for him there in the lobby. Such a prospect was alarming and we stuck close to Father. He took us to the Chamber of Commerce where we saw many interesting exhibits. One of them was the form of a huge elephant which stood in the center of the room, completely covered with walnuts (no doubt their way of promoting the walnut production). We went to Harper & Reynolds hardware store on Main and Temple streets where Father bought us a 22 caliber Winchester repeating rifle, serial number 122,339, which Frank proudly carried back to the livery stable. At that livery stable I had my first experience with a flush toilet. Father pulled the chain without warning me, and the sound of all the gushing water was startling.
We drove to Pasadena and stayed overnight at the home of police Officer 0.J. (Swick) Reynolds who lived on Fair Oaks Avenue across the street from a water pumping station where machinery ran constantly. “Swick” Reynolds, a large man with Sandy hair, was one of the first settlers in Epworth and lived east of us, but left the farm and returned to Pasadena. (Reynolds finished his career as a Pasadena police officer and was well respected. In 1956, while talking with Clarence Morris, Chief of Police of the City of Pasadena, I learned that he had been acquainted with officer Reynolds.) At the Reynolds house, Frank and I slept in the front bedroom. We felt guilty when we slept until daylight, for at home it was dark when we got up. We quickly dressed and hearing no sound in the house, we attempted to go out the front door, but it was locked. To amuse ourselves, we stood at the front window and watched the people passing by on their way to work.
Enroute home, Father lectured us on safety in handling the 22 rifle. We must never point it at anyone, empty or loaded; we must never fire it until we were sure that no person or place of habitation was in the line of fire. He taught us how to sight the rifle. He stopped the team when game was in sight so we could try our skill. We walked many miles with that rifle and fired thousands of shots. Getting game brought words of praise when we brought it home.
Frank was hunting alone in the wash south of our place. On a sycamore limb, extending over the wash and above where Frank was soon to pass, crouched a wildcat. Frank shot it and after it hit the ground the cat jumped about so much that Frank went home for help. Some of us went down to the wash with Frank and Father. Father killed the cat with a shot in the head. No one blamed Frank for running home for help. He gained status among the neighborhood boys who had never had a shot at a wild cat.
Grandpa Shekel, father of Bart, Bill and Mrs. Will Macy, who often appeared in his Civil War uniform dress blues with brass buttons on it, also liked to hunt as well as add to his food supply. Being unable to walk long distances, he would stand motionless by cactus patches until he saw a rabbit move, then fire way. Getting a dead rabbit out of the cactus patch was accomplished by pressing a forked stick into the belly and then twisting it; lifting it upward and out. (We ate the red cactus tunas, first whipping the fuzzy thorns off with a twig bearing leaves).
Grandfather Shekel drove into our yard one night, called Father out, and told him that President McKinley had been shot. I could not understand why anyone would want to kill a president and we asked Father many questions about it.
Once when hunting alone, I saw a covey of quail stop behind a small bush. Although I could not see them, I knew they were bunched, so I sent a 22 bullet into the bush, shooting two through the head. This unusual feat was given credence reluctantly. When a neighborhood hunter asked Father if I really did it, he replied, “He says he did” which made me believe that maybe Father had his doubts. I would have liked his reply much better if he had said, “He sure did”.
As well as wildcats, there were coyotes, skunks and weasels, all of which looked our chicken house over at night. Occasionally, a coyote would grab a chicken in daylight. A skunk was under our house and to prevent it from making a home there and raising a family, Father shot it with the shot gun and had a messy job removing it. Our house smelled of skunk for days. Coyotes knew a ripe watermelon by the smell and often ruined one before we thought it was time to pick. They would bite a hole in it as big as their nose, right down to the heart of the melon. Although they ate a small part they ruined it all.
Father was working the ground on the old Morgan place when be captured a jack rabbit. How, I do not know. He tied its leg with a string and put it under a bush until time to go hone. He forgot it and when Frank went back to get it, he found it dead with a small hole bitten into its jugular vein by a weasel which drank its blood.
The trip to Fillmore every two weeks for groceries was an anticipated event and those of us who were permitted to go along with Father, felt fortunate. The steep Grimes canyon grade was an exciting part of the trip. The brake on the spring wagon had to be used all the way down, and enroute home, going up the grade, the team was allowed to stop now and then to rest and we boys would put rocks behind the rear wheels so that the continuous pressure on thE brake was not needed. The remains of the road can be seen off to the right today.
At the foot of the grade, at the narrows, against the north bank, was a seep spring which had collected grass, weeds and a bank of silt. Sunk in the silt was a box, hinged on top, which contained a bucket or two of water. It was understood by travelers that the owner did not want the water used except in an emergency and we never disturbed it.
After descending the grade, the sandy wash was mostly followed until we got near Bardsdale where citrus groves began. Crossing the Santa Clara River in wet weather was a adventure. No bridge was there then and we often encountered high water. It was quite a sight to see the culled, frozen oranges that were dumped in the riverbed.
In season, we would drive to a packing house and buy a field box of cull oranges which were sound, having only skin blemishes. Orange peel, which we dried was considered a delicacy.
Our groceries were bought from Richard Stephens whom Father always called “Dick” and to whom, I believe, he was always in debt. The other general merchandise store in Fillmore was Harminsons where we never traded. Stephens’ store was a treasure house of wonders with its jars of candy; barrels of crackers and pickles and on the counter, near a box of jerky was a big round cheese which was cut into wedges according to the amount the customer wanted. Also on the counter was a guillotine-like blade that cut slabs of Star P1ug Cut chewing tobacco into pocket-size pieces. The cutter that removed the tip from a cigar would remove your finger tip too if you were not careful. If we were lucky, we saw a train come in which alarmed small children and animals. When Herbert Walker, Stephens’ clerk, had our order together, he would fill a striped sack with hard candy and place it with the order as a gift. No one was allowed to touch the candy on the two hour trip back home; there, on the oil cloth covered kitchen table, Father made a pile for each child, with equal number of pieces in it. We were advised to hold each piece in the mouth as long as possible to make it last. This advice, when followed, did not have a practical result, because the fast eaters closed in on those who had some left for “just a little bite”.
One Fourth of July, the Fillmore celebration brought people in by train from as far away as Los Angeles. The Ware family attended and we stood there in front of Stephens’ store when the passenger train was greeted by a brass band. I had heard the Church organ music, a violin and a guitar, but never band music which I thought must be the “sweetest music this side of heaven”. Father rejoined us with a cantaloupe in his hand, about as large as an orange, which he said was raised at Rocky Ford, Colorado. Mother ordered us not to ask for any because it was too small to go around and she told Father to go away and eat it himself, which he did. We had never heard of a cantaloupe, but we were familiar with mushmelon.
I remember after the beans were harvested and sacked, Father took a wagon load, pulled by four hoses, to Fillmore. Arriving at the top of the steep Grimes Canyon grade, he stopped, unhitched the lead team and tied them to the back of the wagon. He then chained the rear wheels so that they would slide all the way to the bottom of the grade, because the brake was not powerful enough to hold the load.
Just below the summit of Grimes canyon grade, on a bench of land consisting of a couple of acres, lived a single man named Manuel Silva. I do not recall seeing a spring there and it is not known where he got water; nor do I recall him having any horses.
In the Grimes wash we picked up red chalk like rock which we cut with a pocket knife into “Indian peace pipes”. In later years, I noticed that this rock was quarried from the hill on the west.
Everyone in our neighborhood got water from the Epworth community well situated about a half mile southwest in a grassy flat. One day it was noticed that the flow of water through the loading pipe that led from the tank to the wagon, had decreased and when the neighbors gathered and took the pipe apart, they found the skeletal remains of a sparrow with a few feathers still attached to the wing tips. This led to the prompt covering of the galvanized iron storage tank. Neighbors took turns in climbing the windmill tower to grease the wheel machinery when needed. We hauled water in open top wooden barrels for the ten years that we lived in Epworth. I am sure that we never had enough money to put down a well. Years later, I heard that our ten acres had a well that produced enough irrigation water so that some was delivered to neighboring orchards.
While we lived there, 0.J. McFadden had a well drilled by Mr. Abbott who lived at the mouth of Grimes canyon. After a time, having received no effective results, Mr. McFadden ordered the work stopped because he could not afford further drilling. Mr. Abbott told Father that when Mc Fadden wanted the drilling stopped, he was sure that just a few feet more would have brought water. Apparently, he was correct for there is a good well on the place now and there are wells all over the Epworth and Fairview districts. The whole valley is now in citrus and not an apricot orchard can be found there.
When rain fell, we were happy and when the hot dry East winds came, we were sad, for the moisture soon left the soil. I still react to the rain and Santa Ana winds, happy when it rains, sad when the East winds blow.
Roy McFadden once led us to a grave on the mesa west of his home which impressed us because we bad never seen a grave. The marker was a 1” x 12” pine hoard, rounded at the top on which was the weathered lettering, stating “B. M. Roebuck, Our Ben died here – 18–. We wondered whether he was killed or died from illness, and if he really did die right there where the grave was located. We felt sorry for him lying all alone out there in that lonely location. “The Moorpark Story” relates that relatives came and removed his remains and took them to New Mexico.
When Epworth was being developed, a spacious store building was built on the corner, facing Broadway and on the street leading south from Wesley Chapel. It was empty most of the time. A man and his wife of Russian descent were persuaded to go into business there, but they did not remain long. Farmers were mostly in debt to Fillmore merchants, paying annually and the Russians were not financially able to operate on that basis. They amused the neighborhood by spreading the word that they had home made ice cream for sale, something that was an extravagant luxury, and which no one bought.
Adams Pepsin chewing gum was much sought after and the Ware children, when they had any, were allowed only a half of a stick each which was treasured and pasted on the bed post at night for safe keeping. The joke – “can I chew your gum for recess” actually took place and gum was loaned for brief periods, recovered and chewed again. This was just about as unsanitary as it was when all the children drank water from the same cup at school.
Artie and Ruby Fulkerson who went to Fairview ~school lived with their grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. William Rinebarger, in the Fairview district. Their mother lived in Oxnard but she came out and had a party at the Rinebarger ranch for the school children who were the approximate age of her children. The memorable thing about it was that each child received a complete package of Adams Pepsin gum all for his very own. Spearmint gum did not appear for many years afterward.
One year, our very able teacher was a man named Mr. Sidney V. Good who was patriotic and military in every respect. School would begin when the teacher stood on the step, rang the bell which he held in his hand, while a line of boys formed on the left and a line of girls on the right. Mr. Good would give the command, “Attention, right face, right dress, left face”. He would look down the line and when it was straight, he would command, “Forward March”. Our other teachers would say “Fourth grade arithmetic class, arise, advance”. Mr. Good would say, “Arise forward march”.
He taught us to revere the flag and to love our country. He later became Probation officer in Los Angeles for which he was well qualified. A song that Mr. Good taught the school children, and which we sang often, should not be lost to posterity. I have never heard it elsewhere. It was sung in march time:
Oh, who can tell about our flag of red and white and blue?
How it came to have so many stars and beautiful stripes so few?
Thirteen stars for the thirteen states that into the Union first came.
And each new state was added a star but the stripes remain the same.
Oh, beautiful flag. Oh, beautiful flag
True liberty’s Ensign, beautiful, beautiful flag.
About 1936 Mr. Good and his wife called on me in El Centro when I was Sheriff/Coroner of Imperial County. Mrs. Good, formerly Miss Ayers, had been my teacher in Moorpark and probably despaired of ever teaching me long division.
Miss Ruby Brusch, a plump young lady with florid complexion, was married in Wesley Chapel to a Los Angeles man who we had not seen. The whole community was invited and it created quite a stir since weddings were unusual in our community. Miss Brusch passed our house one day after decorating the church and Mother went out to the road and presented her with a wedding gift which consisted of a half dozen, fluffy turkish towels. It was seldom that we had such beautiful towels in our house and I thought Mother had gone overboard in giving away anything so elaborate. I thought “Why give her so many, she can use only one at a time?”
One year in order to get some cash, Father went down on the Las Posas Ranch and worked on a thresher during the lima bean harvest. When he was through he walked home, arriving in the yard wearing a beard, whereupon our bull dog, Tige, tried to chase him away.
Father seldom swore, never used God’s name in vain, and did not use oaths as part of his conversation. Where some would say “gee whiz”, Father would say “Jerusalem”. Once I was heard swearing and had my mouth washed out with soap. The same punishment was given when caught in a lie. It was a humiliating thing to undergo, but effective.
Father was a Republican and took an active interest in politics. I have been present when Father met neighbors on the road with whom he discussed politics for an unreasonable length of time, I thought. There was much tobacco chewing and spitting during the discussions. When Simi was the nearest voting place, Father would drive up there to vote, using almost a day. His political guide was General Harrison Gray Otis of Spanish War fame and publisher of the Los Angeles Daily Times. Mr. Otis’ daughter married Harry Chandler who later became publisher of the Times and a financial genius.
Father made us observe Sunday with reverent manner and after we had attended Sunday School and Church we could play if we were not too noisy. We always had fireworks on the Fourth of July, but if that date fell on Sunday, we waited until Monday to shoot the firecrackers. Cards and dancing were considered sinful. Methodism was the only route to heaven and we pitied a neighboring family who were Baptists. That family was in added jeopardy because they were Democrats while practically the entire neighborhood was Republican.
If called on to do so, Father would offer prayer in Prayer Meeting on Wednesday night in a low voice. I imagine he did not like to do it. He did not drink and would not allow it to he done on his place, though the hired hands sometimes showed up with a hangover after a week end away. Candidates used to make the rounds electioneering and would hand out cigars which Father liked. During our last year on the Louis Chick ranch at Fremontville, a candidate drove into the yard and offered him a drink of wine from a gallon jug. Father amazed us by going in the house, getting a tin cup and taking a drink of the wine. We thought the Devil might get him for that, but Mother explained to us that she thought it would make Father feel better. His health was failing.
When we could drive east from our place to go to Simi, we went through the Strathern cattle ranch where cattle subsisted on what grass the scanty rain produced. The cattle were the Texas Long Horn type and I recall seeing them during a dry year, eating cactus with thorns from the cactus bristling from their lips and noses, appearing too bony and thin to stand. Mr. Strathern, about that time, began to burn the cactus enough to destroy the thorns
One year Father raised a black eyed pea crop on land owned by the absentee farmer. It was on a small mesa situated north of Moorpark and south of the Southwest corner of the Strathern ranch. We had to cross the Strathern ranch to reach the tract of land. Father had told us to keep away from the long horns and we were firm in our determination to do so. One day Frank and I were going through the Strathern ranch on foot to where Father was working. When we got half way through the ranch, we saw a herd of cattle looking at us. Soon they started to trot toward us and we began to run for the south fence at top speed, not looking back until we slid under the bottom wire. When we were safely under the fence, we found to our amazement there were no cattle in sight. Probably the cattle started toward us only out of curiosity. Our fear of cattle was strengthened when Mr. Mellinger once took from the wall a polished pair of long horns which he said were from an animal that had tried to gore him.
Bean growing on that particular tract of land had its drawbacks, because rabbits would eat them and when the beans started to form in the pod the quail would shell them out. The place was too far from home to be conveniently farmed and when we worked there we had to take our lunch along. At bean harvest time, several more hands were needed and hired. Mother would bring a hot meal to the field each day at noon, setting it out on a table cloth spread on the ground. Alice or one of the boys accompanied her in the buggy. One dish that I remember and liked, was made by cooking a pot roast, shredding it by mashing it with a potato masher and a thick gravy combined with it. It was then served on boiled potatoes. I have since thought that a little meat went a long way in that dish.
When bean bushes and pods began to turn yellow, it was time to start the harvest which was done by a team pulling a sled with iron blades attached to the front and converging at the rear which uprooted two rows, leaving them in one row. This was done early enough so that the pods were not so dry as to shatter. Some of the vines would be greener than others. A pitchfork was used to fork the vines into piles where they remained until dry enough to thresh out. During this drying time the vines settled so that the piles were cohesive and compact. If the East wind blew a gale during the drying time, the piles would be lifted and blown across the field shattering out most of the beans. If there was an early indication that a wind was coming and there was time to do so, rock, clods or shovels of dirt were used as weights to anchor the piles.
A bean floor was prepared by running a wagon around and around over the ground which had been wet down, until the surface was hard and smooth. After it had dried the beans were hauled and placed in a circle on the bean floor and a disc, drawn by a team, passed over the bean vines until the beans were shelled out. The bean straw was then forked off to one side. This process was continued until the whole field of beans had been shelled out there on the bean floor. Then on a windy day, the material was winnowed until only beans, pebbles, chaff and dirt remained. A manually operated fanning mill was used to clean the beans which were then shoveled into burlap bags which held about a hundred pounds when filled. The fanning mill was operated by turning a crank at a constant speed so that the flow of air remained constant. This was hard work and several men took turns at it.
In gathering beans from the field, a wagon with a wide bean tight floor passed between two rows of the bean piles and a man on each side of the wagon forked up the piles of beans into the wagon, and the driver arranged them in a uniform load and tramped them down. It was hard on the shins due to the scratchy vines. Snakes made homes in the bean piles, and now and then, one would come aboard whereupon the loader promptly jumped to the ground, landing with a spine jarring thud. One did not wait to hear the rattle.
A Mr. Gatchell helped in the bean harvest on that tract north of Moorpark, and he kept the crew amused with his large store of funny stories. One day he ran out of Bull Durham smoking tobacco and complained loudly. Later seeing him smoking, Father asked him where he got his tobacco, to which he replied, “Oh, a little bean chaff, a little horse manure and a little tobacco”. Hilarious, we thought.
After the beans were all shelled out and resting in their chaff on the bean floor, one night the sky was obscured by heavy, dark clouds that threatened rain. With the beans out in the open even a light rain would have stained the beans brown from coloring in the chaff. Father harnessed a team, hitched it to the buggy and drove to the bean floor with Frank and I accompanying him. We pitched all the bean straw over the beans which would have saved them in a light rain. The night was pitch black and I feared that we might miss the culverts along the way, but the mules knew where to go. The whole operation must have taken four hours. Not a drop of rain fell.
Mother made our shirts, but she bought overalls for us. When the overalls were new we were allowed to wear them to Sunday School. How proud we were to go to Sunday School in our new overalls, each clutching an Indian head penny for the ”collection”. Mother always had us scrubbed, dressed and to church before Sunday School started. The Ware family had a reputation for always being on time and still does. In summer we wore no underwear and went barefoot until after frost in the Fall. In the morning we would stake the cow out in the grass, if there was any, using an iron stake driven into the ground and a long chain attached which would also be fastened to the cow. When frost covered the grass, our bare feet got cold and remained cold until the sun was high. Stubbing a cold foot on a stone is quite painful.
Coal oil lamps were the only lights we had. Their wicks were kept trimmed so that the glass chimney would not become covered by soot. Our front room light had smoked the chimney and Father told Howard to blow out the light and clean the chimney. After blowing out the light, Howard picked up the chimney before he realized that it was blistering hot. He held it uncertainly for a moment, and we expected him to drop and break it, but he placed it upright on the table without damage. Father said, “Howard, you have lots of grit”. (compliments were rare from Father and I longed to do a brave act to win Father’s approval) High on the wall of the kitchen, which also served as the dining room, there was a light with a concave mirror behind it, focusing its main light on the dining table, but gave sufficient light to light the entire room well.
The church had such reflector lights on the walls and a large ornamental light hanging from the ceiling by small chains working through pulleys so that the light fixture could be pulled down for lighting. “Parlor matches” were unknown, but the tiny sulphur matches, as large as a toothpick, fastened together at the bottom in blocks about two inches square, were in vogue. When struck, the igniting material would fume for a moment before flaming. When doing sweaty work in hot weather, the worker carried a row of matches in his hat band to keep them dry.
One evening one of the small girls was disobedient and went into a tantrum. When Father disciplined her with a spanking, Howard who was always even tempered, but fearless when angry walked up to Father with his fists clenched and said, “You stop spanking her” which could be compared to a mouse spitting in a cat’s eye. We were all surprised and expected Howard to catch it. Father was surprised too but said nothing and did as Howard commanded.
Huge California Condors, a type of vulture, were occasionally seen in the valley. They had white swatches of feathers beneath their wings, and soared at great heights. We called them eagles. One morning when we were walking to school we saw a number of them sitting on fence posts on the east side of the ranch that Mr. Paul farmed. There must have been carrion about, for it is their natural food.
In the Epworth district we found agates of various sizes, shapes and color, mostly gray, but occasionally pink or red – the most prized. They were found in sandy washes after a rain. Most every kid had a sock of agates. Another collector’s item was bird eggs, which were emptied by poking a small hole in each end then blowing the contents out. They were then threaded on a piece of string. Some were beautifully colored and the contrast was pleasing. I doubt that any parents in this day would permit children to engage in that hobby.
Saturday night was bath night and how we needed it. If the weather was cold the wash tub, containing warm water, was placed by the kitchen stove. The baby was bathed first, then on up until the eldest had his bath. The scalp was well soaped and I never was able to keep soap from getting into my eyes. Then came the ears which Mother painfully dug out with the head of a large safety pin covered with a soapy rag. After the feet had been washed, clean water was poured on the head and then the towel applied. The bath water was not changed while the whole family bathed. Water was scarce. After we went to live in the city of Corona, California, we learned that people who had bath tubs and plenty of water bathed only on Saturday night.
We had horses, mules, cows, calves, hogs, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys and guinea hens but not all at the same time. Mother’s favorite laying chicken was the black Minorca which was very much like the white leghorns, except in color. She did raise a setting of different breeds now and then such as Plymouth Rocks, Brown Leghorns, and the large, meaty Buff Orpington with feathers on its legs and feet.
Mother wanted an incubator so Father got Mr. Joe Stuart, who could build anything, to build one for her. When it was finished it was about four feet square with an exterior of tongue and groove lumber and had two drawers at the bottom for the eggs. Above the eggs was a metal water tank with insulation of sawdust and shavings all the way around it. There was a spigot to drain the water tank and a funnel at the top for filling it. Every morning Mother drained out the tepid water and poured in hot. Even by this method the eggs seemed to be provided with the proper temperature for the eggs hatched satisfactorily. The incubator was kept in the house and the boys were ordered not to roughhouse near it because the embryo which was forming might be damaged. After a week or ten days, Mother would “candle” the eggs in the incubator by holding them before the light, at the end of a tube made from rolled newspaper. If there was no “spider” the sign of a chick forming, the egg was discarded. There eggs were turned every day. After the chicks were hatched out they were taken from the incubator and placed in a brooder box with strips of cloth hanging from the top to simulate feathers. If the chicks got cold they would pile up in a corner of the brooder. As a result, some would smother and die. Eventually, a brooder with a coal oil lamp furnished the heat. With plenty of chickens around unexpected visitors were no problem for a chicken could be caught, dressed and made ready for the skillet in a few minutes.
Christmas Eve at Wesley Chapel was a joyous occasion for which women of the neighborhood made preparation days in advance. Popcorn was threaded in long strings to drape over the large Christmas tree; bags from red net, to be filled with beautiful striped candy and nuts, were made for each child. Children were coached on pieces to speak, then delivered bashfully with downcast eyes and much twisting and squirming. Sunday School classes were trained to sing carols.
On the eventful evening, the pastor made remarks which were ignored by the excited and expectant children as was the congregational singing. The tree was lighted with tiny red candles attached to twigs by clamps, which certainly was a great fire hazard. A rotund Santa Claus appeared suddenly dressed in a red suit trimmed in white, wearing a long white beard and having a voice strikingly like a neighbor. He distributed the candy sacks and presents that parents had placed under the tree to be given out by Santa Claus. Later, the distribution of gifts at the church were discontinued because it appeared that Santa brought nicer gifts to some than to others who had tried to be good and deserving.
On the Strathern Ranch was a small stream and reservoir called Happy Camp which was available to the public for picnics. It was a favorite gathering place for the townspeople. On one occasion a neighborhood family came with a young lady visitor from Los Angeles, who proved to be quite an athlete when she joined the men in baseball. She received compliments from the men but stern looks from the women, accompanied by whispers about her unladylike conduct.
Once when we were enroute to Happy Camp for a picnic we saw many rabbits and Father chose that time to ask Mother to shoot a rabbit which she did reluctantly. Her bullet did strike the rabbit and we all shouted our praise but Mother surprised us by saying “the poor little thing”.
Riding horses astride was objectionable for women, but sidesaddles were approved. Mr. and Mrs. George Grubb and daughter, Grace, who lived on the Gabbert ranch, all rode to church services on separate horses. Mrs. Grubb and Grace rode astride which was criticized by other ladies.
After dismounting Mrs Grubb would button the front of her split skirt and she appeared quite neatly dressed. Mrs. Grubb’s horse was dapple gray and the most beautiful horse around. He was named Old Prince. One summer when I was about nine years old, while the Grubbs were on vacation, I patrolled fences on the Gabbert cattle ranch on Old Prince and how proudly I rode from ranch headquarters to Walnut canyon and hack.
Father chewed tobacco as did many men. His favorite brand was Star Plug cut and it came in a slab shaped like a one inch by three inch hoard, from which was cut a piece to fit the hip pocket. When neighbors met, one would take out his plug of tobacco, dust it by hand to remove the hay or bean chaff, and offer to share it. The man would take it and~ if he was a gentleman, he would cut off a piece and put it in his mouth. If he had bad teeth the plug was returned in a rather mangled condition. All public places had spittoons and the railroad waiting room had a tail brass kind, artistically shaped like an urn. The homes had hand decorated china “cuspidors”. It was quite a hazard to ride with Father on a wagon seat when he spit into the wind.
Father told us we could taste tobacco when we became twenty-one years of age, but not before. Frank and I could not wait. We sneaked into the barn where the tobacco was stored, carefully peeled off some leaves, then secluding ourselves behind the barn, we proceeded to chew the tobacco leaves. We promptly got nicotine poisoning, with nausea and dizziness which made the horizon spin. Mother found us lying there, took us in and put us to bed where we lay expecting a good spanking when Father got home. Father said nothing, and I imagine their conversation was to the effect that “they were punished enough and will not do it again”. We never wanted to.
Cigarettes were hand rolled in brown paper and carried in a packet in the shirt pocket. They were filled with Bull Durham flaky, dry tobacco which was sold in small fabric pouches, closed at the top by means of a draw string. At the end of the String hung a stiff paper disc as large as a quarter, advertising Bull Durham tobacco. This, too, was carried, in the shirt pocket. Rolling a compact cigarette from this tobacco was an art that took time to learn. The paper wrapper was sealed by licking the edge. It was necessary to pinch the end up or the loose tobacco would fall out before the match was applied. I always liked the aroma of tobacco, but it is seldom seen nowadays. A person who smoked tailor made cigarettes called “coffin nail” was headed for an early death, and their moral life was under suspicion. Girls were forbidden to keep company with them.
About once a year, someone would put on an evening show at the school house where stereopticon pictures were cast on a screen. This was accomplished through the use of a “magic lantern”. The entertainer would appear in the school room and tell about the wonders he would show and the result was that each child did his best to promote attendance. The entire family would turn out; twenty five cents for adults and a dime for each child. The pictures were about the same as the ones seen in travel magazines today, but they were viewed then with exclamations of wonder. There were no theaters or motion pictures available in those days and this was thought to be very good entertainment. Doubtless, some of those fellows who claimed to have been on location and took the pictures themselves were guilty of fraud.
The Ed Tucker family who had lived at the first place north of us, had moved to a walnut orchard near Saticoy, and we all drove down to visit them. While there, we went to see the Methodist minister, a single man, Rev. G.W. Haffin who had been our minister at Wesley Chapel in 1896. Mr. Haffin amazed us by demonstrating his Edison Gramaphone which put out the sound of a human voice from a revolving cylinder of wax. (I am sure Mr. Haffin never could have afforded it had he remained at Wesley Chapel. Mother used to send us to the parsonage with a loaf of freshly baked bread).
We were permitted to make candy rather often which usually was fudge, butter scotch and vanilla and molasses taffy. Each one of us was permitted to pull his own batch of taffy and I recall how clean my fingers were afterward. We became experienced candy makers. First one and then the other was allowed to make it. We learned just how much cream of tarter to use to keep the taffy from “sugaring”.
Pumpkins for cow feed were grown between the rows of fruit trees and we boys did the planting of the seeds which had been soaked to get them off to a quick start. With a hoe, the dry top soil was drawn back and the seeds were planted two inches deep where the soil was damp; then the dry top soil was replaced and firmed with the foot. Father gave us just so much seed for the day, saying that we could quit when it was planted. We soon decided that if we planted six seeds to a hill instead of the usual three we could quit early. It did not take Father long to find out what was going on, and his emphatic disapproval was made manifest. To further embarrass us, Mother scolded too. When the pumpkins came up, six to a hill there was our sin staring us in the face. Frank, whose sagacity usually steered us away from such temptations, was in on this deal. When the pumpkins were harvested, they were chopped into small pieces for the cows. We dried the pumpkin seeds which we ate like nuts. Very good too.
Father kept quite a sum of money in the top dresser drawer to have handy when paying off the hired help. No house was ever locked in those days and money was never stolen. The coin mostly used was beautiful five, ten and twenty dollar gold pieces. When the hired help was paid, change was made to the nearest quarter, and at the store, change was made to the nearest nickel. Pennies were used to buy a stick of candy and for Sunday School.
One year, 0. J. McFadden operated an apricot pitting shed a short distance east of our place where Mother and other neighborhood women pitted fruit part time. Apricots growing too high on the tree were harvested by knocking them from the limb with a long stick and were then picked up from the ground. This required such stooping and squatting, and it caused my fat leg to exert more pressure on the one seam of my overalls than it could take. When I went down the road toward home, with the inside seam of my overalls ripped from bottom to crotch, I had to pass that same pitting shed where the women were working. It was a very embarrassing situation having those women laughing at me. Mr. McFadden caught us playing where he had told us not to, and he impressed me by saying “There are 10,000 acres out there for you kids to play on, now go and play on it”. I had not known there were that many acres in the world, so before leaving, I looked in all directions to see where they might be.
Enroute home from the Fairview school, boys from the Ware, McFadden, Morgan and Paul families walked together, sometimes stopping at the Penrose post office for mail. The post office was operated by the cute, elderly and popular Mrs. Peachy, mother of Mrs. Mellinger who, with her husband, owned the ranch on which the post office was located. One day we killed a gopher snake and decided it would be a good joke to drop it in the mail slot at the post office. We thought all women were a fearless as my Mother whom we had seen kill many snakes, and we thought this would only surprise Mrs. Peachy for a moment. But instead, she had hysterics and went to bed. The news of it filled all parents with anger. I am the one who did it and, may the Lord forgive me, I lied out of that one and the others professed ignorance of it. After I had investigated crime in later years, I learned that parents, in a number of circumstances, can be easily deceived, because they choose to think that their offspring could not have been the culprit; that it was probably “the boy down the road” who did not have the proper bringing up anyhow.
In 1903 we left the Epworth ten acres where we had lived ten years. Our parents did not tell us but we probably left because the mortgage was foreclosed. We moved to the Louis Chick ranch, west of Moorpark which was later known as the Everett North Ranch. We lived there, farming most of the 160 acres, until 1906 when Father died. Mr. Chick had tired of farming and followed his brother, Leroy, who owned land bordering his on the east, back to Los Angeles where “Louie” worked in a wholesale grocery warehouse. Father farmed the place on shares. He worked hard from before daylight until after dark, but due to the years of drought and the low prices in good years, he never seemed to get ahead.
At the Chick house, water was piped into the kitchen, a gratifying arrangement, for no longer did we have to carry water into the house for culinary and other household use. But the privvy was still out there, back of the house. Our well water was the softest in the area. The wells on the south part of the valley contained some alkali.
Our post office was Fremontville, located southeast of us, and was operated by John E. Smith and his wife. He was a retired minister, a farmer and blacksmith. They had two children, Philip and Hope who were attending college in Los Angeles. We went to the one room school located on the bench south of Moorpark in a place which was later known as Peach Hill. The horse, Old Jim, pulled our buggy to school and back. I think our teacher during the first year, was Miss Lynn, a sedate and fair lady. A chant which was heard on the school grounds, author unknown, was this: “Miss Lynn skinned her shin, riding on a big fat limb”. Very little goes on around school that escapes the teacher, but if Miss Lynn heard the chant, she never said so, which is to her credit. It did not make sense, but it had the right jingle to it, and furthermore, it ridiculed authority, serving to elevate our ego, which tendency seems to follow some through life.
Miss Cordia Umstead, tall, dark, placid and beautiful, was our next teacher. She never scolded, but she had good discipline and we adored her. She wrote a beautiful hand, bold, vertical and well rounded. We were switched from the slanting, Spencerian writing to vertical, but never quite made it, with a result that none of us became good writers. Enroute to school we picked up Miss Umstead at the place where she boarded, along Los Angelus Avenue, which necessitated one boy standing on the axle in the back. When we went up hill, approaching the school, the boys walked.
For years it had been our custom to begin the school day by singing such songs as “America”, “Oh Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean”, “My Old Kentucky Home”, “Old Black Joe”, and “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” until. we were tired of the whole lot. I do not recall which teacher introduced us to a new silly song, but it had a rollicking tune and it struck our fancy.
Once I was a sailor lad, a tale to you I’ll tell
Of all the wonders that I saw while down in the diving bell
While out on the ocean sailing, the Captain challenged me
To have the pluck to go and see the wonders of the sea.
Down in the diving bell, the bottom of the sea,
There is a pretty place a fisherman loves to see.
Down in the diving bell, the bottom of the sea
Nice little mermaids, pretty little mermaids, all came courting me.
I caught a pretty little mermaid, to kiss her was my wish
But like an eel she slipped away, you can’t hold onto a fish.
Her mother brought her back again and whispered unto me
That if I liked, that there we might, be married in the sea.
We were married in a pretty little hut, ‘twas made of oyster shells,
The parson wore a bathing suit, a codfish rang the bells.
We are married now, and happy too, all girls are in the shade
For none so far, can compare, although she is but a mermaid.
I have never heard this song elsewhere, which is probably just as well.
I saw my first automobile when I was about twelve years of age. Howard and I were picking up nuts under trees lining the south side of the ranch along Los Angeles Avenue. Here it came, bumping along, raising dust, traveling at an unbelievable speed, probably around 25 miles an hour. It had no top and two men were sitting in it. This was the major subject of conversation around the supper table.
The principal crop at Fremontville was apricots. All of the ranch south of the railroad tracks was in apricots with a small orchard east of the house. Apricot harvest was usually done with crews of Mexican men and women who came out from Los Angeles. The women worked in the pitting shed while the men gathered and hauled in the fruit. Before each pitter, a tray was placed on which the pitted apricots were spread to dry with the hollow side up. The pits were put into a box on the ground. Each pitter had a card which was punched when a box of apricots had been pitted. When the tray was full two men or boys would lift it onto a car which rolled on rails made of two inch by four inch lumber. When the car was loaded, it was pushed into an air tight building made of heavy paper. A bucket of sulphur was dumped in a hole beneath the load, set afire and the fruit was smudged over night to give it the gold color that sulphured fruit has. Unsulphured fruit turns dark. In the morning, the trays containing the fruit with cups full of juice were spread in a field where they remained until dry. The trays were then rolled to a bin where the fruit was scraped off. The apricot pits were sold to chemical producers, but one year there was no market for them and we burned them in the heater during the winter.
One year our pitters were all Japanese who came from Los Angeles. They were managed by a labor contractor whom I once drove to Moorpark to take the train. He bought me my first bottle of soda pop which was hard to swallow and it burned my nostrils when I belched. I decided that I never would drink any more of that stuff, but this resolve weakened as time passed.
The Santa Susana railway tunnel was being put through the mountains into Chatsworth and rails were being extended from Moorpark to it. Trains of ballast rock from the Camarillo quarry passed daily. When it was finished we saw the first train that passed through the tunnel, headed west, decorated with bunting. It must have been on Sunday for the entire family was sitting on the front porch as it went through. After the schoolhouse was moved to Moorpark we walked the rail road tracks to school when no horse was available to use. We would pick up chunks of coal that had fallen from the tender, take them home and burn then in the heater when the cold weather arrived. Empty whisky bottles were picked up too, the attractive labels read, the remaining drops smelled, then thrown away. We did not dare take one of them home, and if we had tasted a drop of the bottle contents the devil surely would have taken us then and there. We established a waving acquaintance with the train crews.
The trains would switch cars at Ternez siding, just west of us, and when they passed our house they had not yet picked up speed. One day Father attempted to throw a freshly picked gallon can of apricots into the engine cab as it passed slowly but he missed. The next day Father picked a five gallon can of apricots and was on the track when the train arrived. The engineer stopped the train, took the fruit and went on. Later a brakeman waved to us to come to where he was standing at the ice bunker atop a refrigerator car. He pulled out a large chunk of ice and dropped it off. We never had ice but we did have plenty of milk, cream and eggs, so we now were able to make some delicious vanilla ice cream. When the ice cream was sufficiently frozen, the dasher was lifted out and each one wanted to help lick the dasher. The “lickins” seemed to taste better than from a bowl.
For the first year, after moving to Moorpark, we drove back to Wesley Chapel for Sunday services, but before we left Ventura County, we were attending church services at Moorpark.
I became school janitor, staying after school to sweep and dust. Each month the school trustee, C.I. Dorn, paid me $5.OO which I received when I called at his store. I would walk down the railroad track alone when the cleaning was done. One day I had Old Jim to take me home in the buggy, but when I was putting the bridle on him, be broke away. I followed him with his halter in my hand, but when I neared him he would dash off, kicking up his heels. Old Jim was having fun but I was not. He went to the south edge of the valley, continuing west, then north through the Everett ranch and then home where I found him at the manger eating hay. I wanted to whip him but Mother wisely ordered me not to, saying that he would not know then why I was punishing him.
Frank and I punched wires on a hay bailer of a type not seen today. A man brought the hay in from the field where it had been drying in cocks, with a buckrake, sometimes known as a go-devil. It was a contrivance designed to function much like the fork lifts used today in lumber and brick yards. Horses were hitched to a small two wheel cart from which a long tongue or pole extended between the two horses, reaching well in front of them.
A cross beam, resting on two more wheels, was attached to the tongue. On the front edge of the crossbeam were poles with iron points on them. A man riding on the cart drove the team and manipulated the go-devil by means of a lever near him attached to the cart. As he approached the haycock, he would lower the fork and the iron points would slide under the haycock as the horses advanced. When three or four cocks of hay were loaded onto the fork, it was brought to the baler. When the fork was properly positioned it was lowered to the ground and by backing up the team, the fork would slide out and the cocks of hay would be deposited close to the baler. A man on the ground would fork the hay onto a table above the baler from where another man on top forked it into a hopper which flared up and outward on three sides. The remaining side would open to receive the hay. When the hopper was full, the man would grasp one side of the hopper and force the hay to the bottom by putting his weight on one leg.
The baler was powered by horses which were hitched to the end of a long ram shaft. When the horses, walking in a large circle, made a complete round, the press plunged against the hay, pressing it tightly and when released by a cam, it went loudly plunging back and out. One pressing would form what is known as a “flake” of hay. When sufficient “flakes” were pressed together to make a bale it progressed through the baler to the place where the wire puncher worked. At the proper time, he would call “block” and the man at the top, who fed the hopper would place a wooden square the size of a bale, in the hopper in an upright position, and when the press came around it would push the block into position where it would separate the bales and make them uniform in length, having a shape like building blocks.
Getting the bales tied with wire before they left the baler was quite an art. Frank and I would get there early and from a coil of wire, cut strands of uniform length, twisting a loop in one end of each piece. Frank would thrust the looped ends of wire through the three V-shaped grooves in each side of the block of wood at the end of each hale, and I, from the opposite side, would thrust the wire ends back through the grooves in the block of wood at the other end of the hale, then Frank would tie them loosely together. When the bale came from the baler, having been released from pressure, the bale expanded so that the wires were tightened. The man at the end of the baler weighed the bale and marked the weight on a wooden tag which he slipped beneath the wire. He jotted down the weight on a sheet of paper fastened to the scales which gave an account of the tonnage. The man who worked at the end of the baler where the bales came out of the shaft, was known as the “hay buck”. He kept the bales moving from the end of the shaft and then placed them in a stack. In all, it took seven men to run the baler.
When making a trip to the coast, we saw a twenty-mule team which were trained as well as circus animals, pulling two huge wagons loaded high with sugar beets enroute to the Oxnard refinery. Tinkling bells hung from arches extending up from the hames and harness buckles. They were ornamented with ivory rings of different colors. A cotton rope called a jerk line extended from the driver to the bit of the lead mule which was the best trained and most intelligent one. For a right turn, one jerk on the line and the command ”Gee” was given. For a left turn, two jerks and the command “Haw”. When turning the corner, the lead team made the turn, giving slack to the lead. chain to which all doubletrees were attached, while all the teams not yet reaching the corner, stepped over the slack chain and continued straight ahead. When the wheel team turned the corner, the chain straightened and all mules hopped nimbly back over it. The driver, or mule skinner, shouted much profanity to his mules, emphasizing his remarks with the loud crack of a black snake whip which was not ordinarily used to punish a mule. When the brake was needed, the assistant who was called a swamper, hopped on the wagon and pulled a rope which passed through pulleys and set the brake blocks firmly against the wheels. Harnessing and unharnessing, feeding and currying mules took much time.
While enroute to the coast, we passed two flowing wells which stood across the railroad track from the road. The wells which supplied the railroad engines with water were located on the railroad right of way. The wheels of the windmill that pumped the water, were broad in diameter, constructed of wooden slats, painted with circular stripes of various colors, and mounted on low towers so that the wheels seemed to almost touch the ground.
Nearer the coast the bean fields were all limas which thrived best where the air was damp. At home we rarely ate black eyed peas which we raised but we did like lima beans. We would glean them from fields where pods had shattered while drying in the field.
Mr. Bauer had a watermelon field near the rail road and when returning home from school we took an interest in the melons. We watched them grow to mature size and estimated when they should be ripe. One day when we were driving along the road that paralleled the railroad, I jumped out of the buggy and took a melon. When we arrived home, Father was not there, but Mother was and she expressed her disapproval. Mother’s practical sense triumphed and she got a knife, cut the melon and we all enjoyed the ripe, delicious watermelon. It is just as well that we didn’t travel the road as it lessened the temptation for the watermelons. When the road now known as Los Angeles Avenue was covered with drifts of sand deposited there by the east wind, we would use the road along the railway.
On a hill northeast of our house was a small spring which yielded enough water to keep a watering trough full most of the time. Nearby was a hive of bees that had made honey for a year or two without molestation, so I decided to get some of that honey. I had watched Mr. Joe Stuart harvest honey by pumping smoke into the hive with a small bellows attached to a canister of smoking horse manure. After the bees were quiet he lifted the top of the hive off; lifted out a frame or frames of honeycomb, brushing back into the hive with a whisk broom, any bees that were clinging to the frame. Mr. Stuart wore a veil extending from his hat to his shoulders but the bees seldom made any trouble. It seemed quite a simple thing to do.
I went to the hive with the smoker, knife and a pan. I smoked the bees, lifted off the top of the hive, and the whole swarm of bees arose and clung to my hat and veil, some of them sending home a stinger now and then. Probably I had not smoked them enough. I knew I could not run faster than they could fly so I got into the water trough and turned over several times until the bees were off, then I raced home. When Mother saw my condition she sat down and laughed, then she got some clean clothes for me.
After heavy rains, a pond would form in our front yard, extending to the railway embankment which dried up slowly. As the ground around the edge of the pond dried enough, we planted vegetables which supplied us with fresh vegetables until fall. When the large bean field west of us was harvested, I took some Kentucky Wonder string beans over to the cook house and sold them for a quarter. Mother sliced and dried some of our abundant crop of beef steak tomatoes. She hung them up in a muslin sack and made delicious tomato soup in the winter.
Hoboes followed the railway. Very little transportation was available on the road. Mother and Father fed all who cane to the door begging, but when the number increased they stopped it entirely. Some walked down the rail way counting the ties and when night came they spread their bed rolls beneath a bridge. There were no railway officers and tramps were kept off the trains by the brakemen who carried sturdy sticks which they used to give leverage when turning the brake wheel on top of the car. Nevertheless, we saw many men riding the brake beams, crosswise, in those days; their dirty faces peeking out as the train passed. Only once did I see two men riding prone on top of a baggage car with the wind whipping their clothes.
Father promised us ten cents an hour for hoeing weeds in the bean field and we kept records of the hours we worked. While working in the field, we kept on the alert for the white cloth in the window that Mother used as a signal to call us to lunch. After the beans were harvested, Mother explained to us that money was so tight that we could not he paid. We understood the situation and did not regret our loss.
Father’s health failure from tuberculosis came so gradually that we children did not know what was happening. In the winter of 1905-06, we planted oats for oat hay, on the mesa across the valley. Father operated the disc and Frank and I harrowed in the grain. At lunch time we noticed that Father was so exhausted that he had to lie down for a time.
One day, Father and Mother got in the buggy and went to see a doctor at Oxnard and remained away over night. When they returned there was no sign of the usual happy greeting as they drove in the yard. Father looked sick and tired Mother was sad. After Father had gone to bed, Mother told us that the doctor had told them that Father had a fighting chance of his life. Later I asked Mother why she wept and she said that she wished that they had enough money to send Father to Strawberry Valley, now known as Idyllwild, with Strawberry creek flowing though it. At that time, it was being promoted by doctors as a place to recover from “consumption” as tuberculosis was then called. None of Father‘s ten children contracted the disease.
Frank and I were using a walking plow in the orchard east of the house and were having trouble holding it when it struck a mat of bermuda grass. Father was watching us from his cot on the veranda and he became impatient and came to show us how it should be done, but he collapsed with a fit of coughing.
During the summer of 1906 Father continued to get worse and some nights he lost consciousness and talked irrationally. In August, Father’s brother, Andrew Jackson Ware, who was in the lumber business in Corona, came and took Father who was a stretcher case, home with him to Corona. They first went by wagon to Moorpark where they got in the baggage car and rode it to Los Angeles. There they transferred to a baggage car of the Santa Fe Railway for the trip to Corona. This trip must have been a hard one for both of them. Later we received a message that Father had passed away in Corona on September 4, 1906. Mother took the train to Corona to attend the funeral. After her return we began making arrangements to move to Corona.
We stayed on the farm until the oat hay, grown on the south bench was harvested. Due to sufficient rains, we harvested a good crop. It was baled and shipped in box cars. Most of the proceeds went to settle our account with Richard Stephens, a Fillmore merchant. A thousand dollar check came in from Aetna Life Insurance Company which helped considerably. By moving to Corona, Uncle Andy could help us find employment. Several couples wanted to adopt some of us but Mother would not consider it.
Father’s life long friend, Will Johnson a single man, came to move our belongings to Corona. They loaded everything on our wagon, with its wide bean rack, and hitched the two mules and two horses to it. Included were barrels of water and bales of hay. Mother and children took the train to Corona while Howard and I, our steady hired hand John McDonald, who was really not needed, went on the wagon with Will Johnson in command. Even with four sturdy animals pulling the load, the going was hard through the sand around Santa Susana and up the grade to the top of the Santa Susana pass where we stopped to feed and water the animals.
There were no paved roads and the going was slow. Stopping at noon to feed and water the animals took time. It took us five days and part of a night to travel the one hundred miles to Corona. The first night we camped beside a blacksmith shop in San Fernando where we cooked food over a camp fire. The second night we camped beside the road at Burbank. We were close enough to the center of town so that we could hear the Salvation Army singing every word of “Oh, Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight”. That night John McDonald went up town and came back drunk. The third night we camped in a small settlement called Savannah, just across the Rio Hondo river bed west of El Monte. The fourth night we camped beside an orange grove at Spadr just west of Pomona. The next day we reached Corona late at night. We stopped on Main street to inquire where Andy Ware lived. Mother was overjoyed to see us, having worried because it took us so long to make the trip.
With the family now settled in Corona, a new chapter in our lives was to begin. Without Father many adjustments had to be made. An interesting family history could be written about our lives there, but that will have to wait.
In retrospect, Father and Mother got along well. I never heard them quarrel or even argue al though they may have done so out of our hearing. They were never heard exchanging endearing words, for that would have been considered in bad taste those days. I am convinced that they respected and loved one another dearly, and I am sure that Mother mourned the loss of her husband deeply and silently to her dying day. I think she believed that one of Heaven’s greatest rewards was that she would be again with her “Lew”. Someday we shall find them living in one of his “many mansions”
Robert Watt Ware l974