Chapter 3: Life at the Sandhills

The Farmstead

Threshing machine '20Russel and Mable left Spokane early one June morning accompanied by Mabel’s brother Cliff and his wife Babe, with all their belongings in the two cars. It was a long drive as it was poor gravel road from Lind to the Sandhills and dirt road for the final two miles. When they arrived at the Sandhills farm before noon, Emery Cline had cooked a large roast with potatoes for them. He had also bought them a Jersey cow named Peggy who gave good rich milk. Mabel wandered through the four rooms of her new home, the living room, a kitchen-dining room and two bedrooms. The kitchen had a pump for water and there was a back porch with the washing machine. To her delight, Mabel found carrots and onions, rhubarb and lots of strawberries in the garden. Emery was a master at gardening and produced so many strawberries that visitors were rewarded with buckets full in season. There was also the requisite chicken house and pigpen and Mabel fell in love with chickens.

They no longer need fear hunger even though this was only a small farm. The total farm included land rented from Emery’s neighbors, one section from the Watsons and 1/4 section from Bill and Nell Curry. After subtracting the land suitable only for pasture, there were about 300 acres in crop each year, not enough acreage for economic farming. Much of this land had been homesteaded about 1900 and the homestead allowance of 1/4 section was not adequate to sustain owners. This was a dry-land farm, meaning that acreage was cropped one year, and then left idle for a year to collect moisture enough to support another crop. The soil was low in nutrients, this being before the days of applying fertilizer and sandy so it did not hold moisture well enough for a prosperous crop. In subsequent years, properties were merged to become economically reasonable. While the farmstead may have been barren, the countryside offered some diversion. A couple cows and a steer were kept on a portion of land too rugged for farming. The area abounded in wild flowers and rabbit trails. Each evening the cows would be gathered for milking which was a happy exploration, especially since the old sheep dog, Rags did most of the work.

Out of doors the farmstead consisted of a large barn in traditional style, with haymow in the center, stalls on either side. The machine shop contained the variety of farming tools and served as a garage for the truck. The tractor and other implements stayed out in the weather. The garage was not much larger than one car width and partitioned so that coal could be kept inside. Also the chicken house, the pig pen and the outhouse. In front of the garage, an old poplar tree grew, a favorite climbing place for kids, and there was an elm tree at the entrance to the garden. A windmill filled the water tank for irrigation and a small cistern for house water. Water was precious, since the cistern was filled only when the wind blew. A root cellar for food storage was under the ground, roofed with timbers and covered with a heap of dirt to insulate contents from the heat of summer and frost in the winter.

When revisiting the farmstead in 2005, it was sad to discover that all of the farm buildings had collapsed or were totally gone and the farmland had been absorbed into nearby farms as only those large farms were profitable.

Emery Cline

Russel’s father, Emery Cline, was originally from Indiana.  In 1880 he married Malina (Lina) Godlove, the daughter of his next-door neighbor and In 1881 daughter Winnie was born. He moved to Walla Walla around 1887 and shortly afterward married Hattie Abbott.  A more detailed description of Emery is in Chapter 7.

Emery married in 1889.  One daughter was born in Walla Walla, two daughters born in Huntsville, WA, and two sons born in Kahlotus WA.

The following may be deleted as information is in Chapter 7

Emery worked the farm at Huntsville with an understanding that he would eventually become part owner. After it became clear that he would only be used as a laborer, the family moved to a farm of their own near Kahlotus in 1907. Primarily, Emery had worked as a day laborer for several years to provide income. On his farm, Emery kept a journal with a listing of labor hours, expenses, and income. But the journal is a confused random listing of finances and the first 50 pages have been removed. Surprisingly, the expenses in the journal do not identify any expenditure for his wife or children. Apparently this started as a journal of business expenses. It provides samples of Emery’s excellent script. The lack of organization of the journal suggests that Emery was a poor businessman and did not effectively manage the apple farm.

Seven children were born to this marriage. Florence was born Walla Walla in 1890 followed by Ralph and Ruth who were born in 1892 and died at age two. Edith Maud was born in 1895, Dorothy Dean in 1897 and Winfield Emery in Huntsville in 1903. The last child, Russel Thompson was born in 1909 in Khalotus. Hattie died while Russel was 8 years old and Emery spent the remainder of his life in the Kahlotus area where he worked at the grain warehouse, and later rented the small farm in the Sandhills.

In an effort to describe Emery’s live there are times when important milestones are lacking. Emery’s father Abraham Cline died owning farm in Indiana than had considerable value. The farm was willed to Emery and his two sisters. Emery always exhibited a meager lifestyle and never showed freedom to spend money. There should be some reason why his sister had full authority to sell the farm.

Emery and kids
Emery with his children: Russel, Dorothy, Emery, Florence, Edith, Emery

Adjusting to Life on a Farm

In the beginning, the move from the modern city of Spokane to a dirt farm was very difficult for Mabel, the city girl. There were no friends within walking distance, and her family 100 miles away. When she looked out of the window, she saw dry land without grass or green shade trees and the wind blew dust every day. Mabel cried every day and told Russel “I won’t stay here”. She had left behind a clean, modern home with electrical appliances to move into a small tiny farm house shared with her father-in-law. Mabel had to get used to an outdoor privy, water from a hand pump and life without electricity. Temperatures ranged from zero in the winter to over 100 degrees in the summer but home insulation was unheard of. Hot water for washing or cleaning came from putting a pot on the coal-fired cook stove and in summer months the heat from the stove seemed unbearable. Bathing was done in a large tub in the middle of the kitchen floor. The kids bathed first, then Mabel and last was Russel.

When curtains appeared in the windows of Emery’s house, the neighbors became aware that a woman had moved in. The farm community was always eager to meet new residents. The first to visit was Leona Watson, and who came very first day. As Leona’s husband Alec was too busy to come, Leona climbed on one of the big old workhorses and rode the five miles to the Cline house. Half a mile eastward down the road the Murphy’s lived. They were much older than Russel and Mabel but they made a delightful set of substitute grandparents. “Skinny” and Laura Krause lived further along the road. One day near harvest time Mabel asked Laura how one prepared a meal for a large harvest crew. Laura said to just “fill ‘um up” with lots of potatoes and meat. Other neighbors included the afore mentioned Watsons, Currys, Pasleys, Williams’ and Blairs. Most of these people remained good friends for twenty years.

Getting Along with Emery

Russel and his dad Emery had differences. They had initially agreed to share the cost and profit for the crops. In Emery’s eyes, however, the crop that he had already planted before inviting Russel, belonged to him, so Russel worked the first year for nothing. Emery was outwardly a likable person but with firm convictions of his rights. At least, Mabel was paid $15 for cooking for the harvest crew during harvest time which lasted 3 weeks that first year. This $15 turned out to be the only income Mabel and Russel received that first year on the farm. There was no returning to Spokane, however. After having to ration their food in the city, the farm provided an abundance of vegetables and fruit such as potatoes, corn, peas, strawberries and rhubarb, as well as beef, pork, chicken and eggs. In the second year, Emery kept an account of every cent Mabel and Russel borrowed to buy items from shoelaces to oil or parts for the machinery. Deducting this from that year’s income left little to live on. A low wheat price put additional stress to their financial problems. Previously, in 1931, the price of wheat had dropped to its lowest point, and Emery had to sell his crop for only 35 cents a bushel. There were 300 acres in crop each year with an annual yield of about 20 bushels per acre. Of the resulting $2,100 annual income, nearly $1,000 were needed to provide seed wheat, farm machinery, and fuel. Only the rest could be considered money for personal use which meant for Russel working for $1.50 per day.

Fortunately, Mabel proved to be the buffer that allowed Russel and his father to live together. On one occasion, when relatives came to visit, a trip to Palouse Falls was planned. After seeing the number of sandwiches his wife had prepared for the trip, Russel told Mabel that she had made too many, but she had prepared enough for Emery as well. Russel didn’t want to go if his father was going. However, Mabel remained adamant that both of them should go and convinced Russel to come along. On the way to the falls they stopped in Washtucna, and Emery bought beer for the group. This made Russel change his mind, since his father was contributing something.

Emery’s firm convictions also became apparent when Mabel washed his dirty overalls shortly after moving in with him. When he saw them later, he told her never to wash his overalls again because she allegedly had ruined them. Emery liked his work clothes starched and after buying a pair of overalls he never washed them so they would retain their starchy texture. At another occasion, Mabel got the better of her father-in-law. Emery wore long underwear, the old-fashioned one-piece union suits. When dirty, he pulled them off leaving arms and legs in a tangle that Mabel needed to straighten every laundry day. Finally, deciding that she had had enough of that, she returned them to him in the same tangled condition he had given them to her. After that they came to the washing neatly untangled.

Mabel’s Jobs as a Farm Wife

Those times, washing clothes was a carefully orchestrated daylong job. Water had to be heated on the wood stove, then carried to the machine which was powered by a small noisy gas engine. After agitating for an appropriate time, the wet clothes were lifted out of the hot water using a long stick which was faded from many wash sessions. Then they were fed through the wringer which was notorious for catching hair, fingers and other parts of a woman’s body and then moved into the first of two rinse tubs. The final rinse tub always contained bluing, a bright blue liquid that whitened the clothes. Clothes were hung outside even when the weather was cold. Frozen pieces were brought in a few at a time to thaw and dry on a small rack in front of the living room stove. Pieces to be ironed were sprinkled, then rolled and placed in a basket till the next day. Ironing was accomplished with a heavy sad-iron. Made of cast iron, units were heated on the wood stove and a handle was attached when the iron was used. Two garments were usually ironed at the same time, one that needed a very hot iron, and another that was ironed at a cooler temperature. Mabel had to skip back and forth, frequently returning to the stove for another hot iron.

The laundry porch was also the site of soap making. This was an activity that followed butchering since fat was necessary. Every scrap of fat was cooked or rendered till the fat had melted out of it. This produced the lard used for cooking and also, combined with lye and ash, it produced soap.

Keeping food with no refrigeration was a big problem so Mabel quickly became proficient at canning. She stored a wide variety of canned fruits on shelves in the root cellar as the underground area didn’t freeze in winter and remained cool in summer. She sterilized the jars in an enamel canning-kettle heated by a blazing cook stove. Canning meant hours of bending over a sink of hot water on a hot day, peeling hot fruit to be boiled on a hot stove. Remnants of fruit were stirred into jam. For kids who helped, this was much more fun than canning, as there was a sweet sugary pot to lick afterward. Mabel canned quart containers of rhubarb as this was Dad Cline’s favorite fruit. Sometimes he opened a jar and ate the entire jar himself. Emery also liked what was called “apple pie”, a piece of bread on a plate covered with a generous helping of applesauce. This “apple pie” remained a family staple for many years.

The farm’s chickens were another of Mabel’s responsibilities, as the family diet included the meat of chickens as well as beef and pork. Each spring 100 to 200 chicks were ordered from a hatchery in Spokane and arrived via US mail. All the farmers ordered baby chicks so the post office was filled with their cheeping during the early spring weeks. The hatchery sorted the chicks by sex so it was possible to order them sorted for eating or for egg laying. Mabel always chose half hens and half cockerels. That way there would be a crop of young hens for eggs and cockerels for the dinner table. She nursed the chicks keeping them in boxes in the kitchen on cold nights and studying each one for any sign of ill health. As they matured everyone began to yearn for fresh fried chicken and when they reached the appropriate weight the desire was sated.

Butchering chickens was a frequent activity. Farmer’s wives were not genteel. Mabel chopped off the head and and bled the chicken. The carcass was dipped into scalding hot water. If too hot the skin came off with the feathers, if too cool the feathers would not budge. Plucking had to be accomplished quickly as the bird cooled and the feathers were more difficult to pull. Finally, the bird was held over an open fire to singe off the pinfeathers. Farm kids were expected to help chicken butchering, they were familiar with life and death of animals.

Mable acquired a pressure cooker and preserved meat from the pigs and steers that also were butchered on the farm. Storage for items needing a dry atmosphere was in the attic. Here, hams were hung, homemade lye soap was cured, and the 100-pound sacks of sugar and flour stored. In the heat of summer, the attic became unbearably hot and walking there was precarious because only half of the attic floor had flooring boards so in much of the attic one had to step from one 2 x 4 to another. Even though, the little children would sometimes creep up the stairs to sample the sugar. But hard as they tried to deceive her, Mabel always spotted the telltale sticky fingers.

Mabel made a little spending money by marketing eggs and cream. Eggs were stored in the root cellar until a completed crate of 24 dozen was ready to take to town. The cream was separated from the raw milk and sold in one-gallon containers. A Spokane creamery would pick up the filled cream can and drop off an empty one.

The Children

Mabel took pride in the fact that her first born girl, Pat, was always dressed in white, even though they now lived on a farm. One day while gathering fresh peas in the garden, she placed Pat on a blanket nearby. After Mabel had put the first pan of peas on the stove, she quickly returned to the garden. She was horrified to find that a group of pigs had gotten out of their pen and were rooting around and nuzzling Pat.

Russel and Mabel had not planned the first pregnancy. They had followed the saying “First children can come anytime, the rest are planned.” But now they wanted a second child and planned for Dick. He was scheduled to arrive in early spring, however the delivery date turned out to be in mid July. As he would be born too close to harvest, it was decided to induce labor. Happily, this second child was a son and given the name Richard Winfield. This time, Russel remained at the hospital throughout the birth. During the subsequent harvest, they hired a young girl to help Mabel. Helen Harter, the teen-aged daughter of a Kahlotus family came to help in the kitchen. The girl couldn’t make pies and Mabel never asked if she could bake bread.

Emery, Pat, & Dick
Emery with Dick and Pat
R T Cline Fam '37 M
1938 Family outing at the park
Pat & Dick w cats modified
1941 Kitten Collection
Clifford Roning, Betty Roning (in Stroller), Dick Cline, Pat Cline
Clifford Roning, Betty Roning (in Stroller), Dick Cline, Pat Cline
Dick and Pat as Children
Dick and Pat as Children
Dick Cline First Photo
The first photo of Dick

The favorite destination for the children’s adventure was the Sandhills, just an easy half-mile walk to the West. The dunes were of gold sand as fine as any ocean beach, many of them standing 60 feet tall and 500 feet across. In technical terms, by Robert Verish, the glacial outwash during the Pleistocene produced huge volumes of wind-blown silt called loess.  Although loess is very fine-grained silt and can be widely spread by the wind, the coarser-grained silt and sand cannot be carried as far. Typically, the wind will “drop” these coarser-grained, suspended sand particles much sooner, as is the case here in the Sand Hills Coulee.

Returning home from a day in the Sandhills for the children meant a mandatory strip at the front door. Firstly to eliminate as much sand as possible and secondly to assure Mabel that no one had a tick. The dunes were the result of ice age glacial deposits, and were the site of occasional explorations by teams of college geologists. One group came to the Cline house for water, displaying the tooth of a saber-tooth tiger. Arrowheads also were occasionally discovered. In that dry country, the dunes were a water reservoir having a swampy area, and elsewhere a small pond. Russel, who had lived in Kahlotus as a boy, would tell of a homesteader in the dunes whose farm was devoted to raising produce.

When sheepdog Rags became too old for adventures with the kids, the family acquired Specks, a little white terrier with two black eyes. Specks was so cowardly that he hid under the garage if a strange vehicle appeared at the farm. Where Dick was concerned however, the dog was his protector. A hired man, playfully tossing Dick in the air, earned a bitten leg and a visiting cousin came sobbing into the house with bloody tooth marks on his chest after a playful chase. Even Russel was even reluctant to discipline Dick in front of the dog outside. As a companion for the kids Mabel never worried. Specks not only protected them, but he also found the way home when they were lost. Rags, the old sheepdog, continued to be held in high esteem by one person at least. When Russel’s sister Dorothy saw how much Rags was suffering from his age, it appeared to her that he needed a more comfortable bed. A package from California soon arrived, and when Mabel opened it she discovered a new blanket with instructions to make “dear Rags a good bed”. But no dog was going to have a better bed than the people in the Clines’ house, so Rags had to continue to make do with gunnysacks.

A Happy Social Life

At the time when Mabel and Russel moved to the Sandhills, Emery was active in the Odd Fellows lodge. He paid for Mabel’s membership in the Rebeccas and provided transportation to the meetings in Lind so that she could meet some of the local ladies. But it was a long way to town, so the community of farmers found much fellowship among themselves and formed close family-like relationships. There were the Blairs, for instance, whose two sons, Dale and Dean, were about the same ages as Pat and Dick. It was wonderful to have someone to play with, so the kids enjoyed the time spent with the Blairs as much as the parents. A typical visit with Clarence and Lila Blair began with breakfast. The men may have done some tinkering in the shop, but the main objective of the day was pinochle. A card game could last well into the night. During the fall of 1940, the Blairs and the Clines left their children with neighbors and visited California together. The Blairs owned a fairly prosperous ranch and were able to indulge in a higher style of living. Unfortunately, both Clarence and Lila had a short temper and this eventually led to marital problems. It was a sad day for the Clines when their friends decided to divorce.

The place most significant for the social life of the Clines was the Sandhills Grange. It was here that they gathered with the neighbors, the Blairs, Charley and Zelma Williams, Roy and Zora Kelso, Ken and Shirley DeVore, Ken’s brother Lloyd and his wife Ellen, Ruth and Harold Huse, Bill and Nell Curry, the Pasleys, the Watsons, the Davidsons, and over the years, many others.

The building used by the Grange had been constructed as the Delight School, before school districts were reorganized in the 1920’s. The building consisted of a small entry at the front that served as coatroom, then a large main room with a sturdy hardwood floor and a stage at the far end. The room’s school desks where were placed along the walls for seating. Beyond the stage was a kitchen that contained a wood cook stove and shelves with a generous supply of tin coffee cups. There was no running water but Zelma Williams could always be depended on to haul at least enough water for coffee. There was an ourside hand pump and sometimes vigorous pumping could get it working. A long table was always piled with goodies when the neighbors gathered for events. From this room a stairway lead to a small basement containing a furnace. There were two outhouses in the nearby sagebrush.

The Sandhills chapter of the Grange was chartered in 1934, with Emery, Russel and Mabel as charter members. It served as a farmer’s cooperative with twice-monthly meetings providing a forum to exchange important information affecting every aspect of farm life from crop insurance to the condition of the local roads. During the business part of the evening, there was often heated discussion culminating with letters to the state legislature as well as the Washington State Grange. The Grange dealt with all aspects of farm life, focusing on women’s activities as well, with contests for sewing and cooking. After Russel had served as an officer in the Sandhills Grange he served in the county organization. Then he proceeded to become a deputy at the state level.

The meetings were always a great social gathering. After business came food and fun. There was often a planned program with skits or memory work. Emery was widely known for reciting poetry. Kids were always expected to participate in the social program with poems, musical presentations, etc. The children who grew up in this environment, including Dick and Pat, were never intimidated by standing in front of an audience. Card games were also a routine part of the Grange meeting.

But Sandhills Grange was most famous for its dances. One reason for this was the fact that it was so far out in the country that there was virtually no law enforcement, so drinking could be enjoyed, and often over-enjoyed, regardless of age. The dances were family affairs. Originally, local musicians would play for a free-will offering. As years went by and the dances became more popular, groups were hired. They agreed to play till 1:00 a.m., at which time someone always “passed the hat” so they would stay another hour. No one ever went home before two or sometimes three in the morning. It was not the practice at that time to hire a baby sitter for the kids. They came along wherever the parents went. They played in the kitchen, slept on the benches, and sometimes even danced with their parents. The evening provided a wide range of dancing, including ballroom varieties, Two-Step, the Schottish, and of course, Square Dancing. Russel had never learned to dance, but since this had been such a favorite pastime of Mabel’s, she gave him lessons. He never became very enthusiastic for the activity, much preferring to gossip with the men.

Russel’s Jobs as a Farmer

In the beginning, horses or mules did the farming and it took a team of twelve or more horses to pull the equipment. Each farmer kept a small team year round but rented others for the brief harvest time when a large team was essential. Russel often started to feed and harness the horses at 4:00 in the morning so that field work could start by 7:00 a.m. Feeding the horses for 12 months was costly and the family typically ran out of money in the spring time, having to borrow until the next crop could be harvested and sold. Russel had no love for horses and as he recognized the need to modernize the farm, a diesel tractor, or ‘cat’, as it was fondly called, replaced the horses in the late 30’s.

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Typical Harvest with Mule Team

Russel usually could easily manage the farming alone. Harvest, however, even with the arrival of a tractor, required a crew. Typically the harvest crew included a tractor driver, header puncher, combine man, a jigger, and a sack sower. Sack sowers were the most critical as they need the experience to rapidly and accurately stitch the top of a sack and scoot it down the slide . The sewing often limited how fast the combine could travel and thus how long it took to cut the crop. A crop yield 20 bushels per acre allowed the combine to harvest about 40 acres per day. That produced 800 bushels of wheat filling 350 sacks. A harvest day was 10 hours long, thus there was less than 2 minutes between full sacks. After the wheat was cut and sacked, the sacks were dropped in groups of five and were lying in the field to be picked up after the harvesting was finished. If they remained wet awhile lying on the ground, the sacks were subject to spoilage. One fall day after a rain, Russel set out to turn the sacks to prevent spoilage. Mabel had heard that Leona Watson, her diminutive neighbor lady, often helped the men with farm chores like this so she wanted to help, too. However, she could not lift the 140 lb. sacks and Russel sent her back to the house. Picking up the sacked wheat demanded muscle as it had to be lifted up onto a wagon or truck bed. After the first layer of sacks it was four feet and then six feet high.

Itinerant workers began drifting into town about the time cutting was to begin, and Russel and the other farmers went into town, scanned the crowd, and hoping to find some experienced, reliable workers. For many of these men harvesting was their profession. They began in the rice fields of Texas, then moved on to California and wheat, proceeding northward and ending the year in Canada. Russel was particularly fond of one sack sower named Blacky, who returned to harvest for the Clines for several years. Then one winter Blacky wrote and said that he was in jail and in need of a loan of $10.00. Russel figured he would never see his $10.00 again but he sent the money out of appreciation for the man’s work. Although Blacky never returned to harvest after that, a couple of years later, Russel received a letter with the borrowed money enclosed.           The harvest crew brought their own bedrolls and slept on the floor of the implement shed. Cousin Bob Roning also worked as part of the harvest crew for several years. One summer he slept on a cot in the barn, where the numerous pet cats jumped on his bed during the night. One night he stroked one of them only to discover that it had a thin, hard tail which identified the animal as a large rat.

One year, Vern Conklin came to drive tractor for Russel and he was to return almost as many summers as Russel farmed, bringing along his two sons for some years. Vern and his wife Ruth became good friends, with many pleasant visits outside of wheat harvest season. They owned an asparagus farm at Sunnyside, and their crop was finished just in time to come to the wheat harvest. Mabel soon learned that Vern looked forward to two things, hot bread and pecan pie. She was careful not to serve both the same day, because Vern would eat so much he was likely to be sick the next day.

Another responsibility of the men was the butchering of large animals. This was a process done entirely on the farm. When a pig was slaughtered, it was shot and then scalded in a vat full of very hot water so the hide could be scraped of hair. Emery kept a pearl-handled 32-caliber revolver in the top drawer of the bookcase that was never touched for any other purpose than shooting the animal at butchering time. The children knew the gun was there, but faithfully observed the rule that they were never to open that drawer. The revolver was one Emery had found in the 1880s along the railroad track during his travel to Walla Walla. After scalding, the meat was cut into pieces on a large table, nothing was wasted. Hams were smoked and salted, then hung in the attic of the house, but most of the meat was preserved by canning which was Mabel’s job. On one visit, Russel’s brother Winfield was particularly taken with the meat they were eating and Mabel explained that it was canned pork. Emery, though, was not too pleased that his city daughter-in-law could not make headcheese. She also refused to learn to milk the cow. She knew that once you learn, then you have to do it all the time. Beef was butchered the same way on the farm. Both of these activities entailed the gathering of a crew of neighbors, and it was a rather festive occasion.

Fire!

One dusty, windy afternoon in April 1934, Mabel, Russel and Emery were relaxing by playing cards. When Mabel went to the kitchen to get a drink, she discovered that the roof was on fire. Sparks blown from a sooty chimney probably had started it. Baby Patsy was rushed outside and stuffed in an apple box, but being over a year old and walking, she did not stay. She was then put in the car where she found a wrench and began banging the car window. Mabel finally had to stop her fire-fighting efforts and sit in the car with Pat. The house and most of its contents were destroyed. Only a couple of pieces of furniture, the bookcase notably, five feet by six feet and filled with books, was rescued. Russel and his dad carried it out fully loaded with the books. A dust storm had so completely obscured the fire that the neighbors were not aware of the tragedy. There was a funeral for young Alec Watson that afternoon and some neighbors finally began to wonder why the Clines did not attend the funeral. Upon investigating, they found the distraught family. The Pasleys, who lived through the fields, about three miles away, realized there was something missing in their view, the neighbors’ house!

Mabel had kept her diamond ring in a drawer so it wouldn’t get dirty. She had removed it the morning before the fire while rolling out a piecrust and had placed it in the drawer which also contained the household cash. Underneath the drawer, a cupboard stored some heavy cast iron kettles. After the fire Mabel sifted the ashes for many days trying to find the ring. She found the kettles melted in a heap, so she knew where to search for her ring. Finally Russel could tolerate her pain no longer and trucked the ashes to a remote dumpsite.

The community quickly rallied to their support with a “shower” at the Sandhills Grange. Everyone was poor but they shared what they had. They were surviving the depression with meager resources but it was necessary to share with less fortunate. There were used dishes, used clothing, beds, even a kitchen cupboard. The cupboard was from a remodeling project at the Lind Odd Fellows Hall. It was used all the years the family lived at the Sandhills. Eunice Shimek brought a gift that was to become a treasure, a new blanket. Mabel used it only for special occasions and it was still in fine condition when she and Russel moved to California in 1962. Everyone contributed a little money. Emery decided that the money should be divided three ways and, when it did not divide evenly, he decided that Mabel should get the extra two dollars. From this outpouring of generosity, Mabel realized that Sandhills really was home, and she never cried again. During the year following the fire, the family survived in the garage/coal shed. It was an unheated building built only with exterior siding of a 2 x 4 frame. One night shortly after moving into the garage Mabel and Russel smelled smoke and fears of another fire came to their minds. A hasty search revealed the cause to be a smoldering in a pocket of Russel’s overalls, where the loose wooden matches had ignited when he had dropped the pants on the floor. Fortunately, the landlady hired her brother-in-law, a minister, to come and build a new house. He brought a helper to work with him and Mabel cooked for the extra men. The new house was built on the same foundation so they again had four rooms. One visible reminder of the fire remained, a 1-foot square spot on the garage roof was charred black, where flaming debris from the house fire had fallen.

The Clines had another encounter with fire in the summer of 1940. A wheat fire started to the west on the Pasley farm. Farmers all feared fire in the dry summer as there were no fire trucks to serve the rural areas. Farmers had to devise their own fire-fighting ideas. They kept a barrel of water and a pile of gunny sacks on the back of a truck, ready to go. When they saw smoke, they dropped whatever they were doing and rushed to help. As the Pasley fire burned toward the Cline home, several neighbors arrived and Mabel was told to start packing. She recalled Emery’s statement after the first fire, that everyone should set aside some bedding and a change of clothes to prepare for such an event. She headed for her new electric table lamps. When the fire was 1/4 mile from the house, the farmers started backfires. Then there was a sudden change in the wind and the fire died in minutes. The neighbors stomped out the backfires and life quickly returned to normal.

Daily Purchases and Improvements

Occasionally, salesmen stopped at the farmhouse intent on selling their products. In the depression era few people had money so the salesmen became adept at bartering. People spent money for necessities, usually not such things as magazine subscriptions. But when one day a traveling salesman stopped and tried to sell the Clines a subscription to the Saturday Evening Post, they bartered and ended up trading him an old worthless cowhide. At another time, a refrigerator salesman stopped at the house and accepted Russel and Mabel’s offer to trade the refrigerator for a cow. The kerosene-fueled refrigerator remained with the family for years even after the house was wired for electricity. The neighbors, Clarence and Lila Blair, were so impressed that they searched out the salesman and made a similar trade for a refrigerator.

In 1940 electricity finally came to the farm. The children Pat and Dick were instructed as to the risks of electricity. They played around the new electric pole but were careful to avoid touching the bright copper wire that ran down to the ground. A couple of days after the electricity was turned on, the power crew returned because there was an extremely large load at the farm. They discovered that they had made a wiring error and the copper wire going to the ground actually was energized. Parents’ instructions and cautious child’s play had paid off! Already in the late 1930’s Harry Kasper, the town grocer, had installed frozen food lockers in his grocery store in Lind and it immediately became the preferred place to store meat. The frozen meat retained much of the character of fresh meat. Also, it was much easier and safer than canned meat.

Russel, Dorothy, Emery, Florence, Edith, Emery

Clifford Roning, Betty Roning (in Stroller), Dick Cline, Pat Cline

1938 Family outing at the park

1941 Kitten Collection

Neighboring Towns

While Lind was further away than either Washtucna or Kahlotus, it was a larger community, offering four grocery stores, a variety store and a drug store, as well as farm implement outlets. There were tree-lined streets and cement sidewalks. The kids were also to go to school there so Lind became their home town. Still, Kahlotus, being nearby, was often the destination for necessities. Russel was well known there, as he had spent many years of his youth in Kahlotus. For the kids also, it was a favorite place as they still had downtown watering trough built for horses. Those times, Kahlotus still had a board sidewalk and hitching post in front of the grocery store. Church was in Kahlotus as well. When Mabel, who was raised Lutheran, wanted to go to church, she discovered that the Lutheran church in Lind had been founded for the benefit of the many German immigrants. Consequently, services were conducted in the German language. On the other hand, the little community church in Kahlotus was a warm and friendly place. The Clines’ church attendance was not regular, as Russel often worked all week, including Sundays.

Emery’s Final Years

Emery wanted to take two trips in his retirement. The first trip he wanted to take in the fall of 1935, shortly after his 75th birthday, was to visit the Indiana home his father had built. While he made plans for his travels, Mabel secretly organized a birthday party for him. She invited each of his children and one by one they arrived on the day of his birthday, November 10th. Mabel prepared a nice meal for them and Emery thoroughly enjoyed the day. A few days later he left for Indiana and stayed until March in the home his father had built as a long hard winter prevented him from returning home sooner.

Emery and Family 34
Edith Fitting, Peggie Cline, Emery with Pat, Dorthy Naether, Winfield Cline, Mabel Cline, Florence Hunt, Harry Hunt, Ray Fitting

The second trip Emery wanted to take, was to California to visit his daughter Dorothy and her husband Carl who he had never met. He made the trip in 1936 in company with his grandson Deemer Hunt and stayed with the Naethers until January 1937. On the day he was going to leave to return to the farm he was stricken with a heart attack and died. During his absence Russel had purchased an oil heater and installed it in the house so that Emery would not suffer so much from the cold. Sadly, his father never had the opportunity to enjoy the oil heater. The Cline brothers and sisters buried their father in Walla Walla where he had lived as a young man and where their mother was interred. They then gathered at the farm for reminiscing. The weather that day was as miserable as Eastern Washington could provide, blowing dust and tumbleweeds. Dorothy vowed that she would find a farm in California for her baby brother, and for years afterward peppered him with proposals. Poor as they were however, Russel and Mabel chose to remain with the wheat fields for the time being.

The Economics of Farming

Small wheat farms were barely profitable.  Machinery and repair were costly.  Seed wheat was essential.  Harvest season required payment for hired hands.  Yes there was need for food to feed the family.  As each year progressed the farmers cash reserve dwindled and it became necessary to borrow money.  Local grocery stores operated with charge accounts and allowed unpaid bills to accumulate for months. The local bank recognized that keeping farms operating was their main responsibility and their reason for existing so loans were available through the hard times.

Banks had problems.  In the late 30’s and early 40’s the nation was recovering from the great depression.  Money was scarce, purchases were delayed or avoided, stores closed, and manufacturers suffered for lack of customers.  Banks operate by keeping a small amount of deposited cash and investing the majority.  The failure of businesses forced many banks into deficit holdings and collapse.  When a rumor would spread about a bank weakness people would run to the bank to withdraw their money.  Even a healthy bank cannot immediately return deposits to a flood of customers as the money is invested elsewhere.  The run on a bank forced more into collapse.  The economic depression fed on itself.  Fortunately, the Lind Bank remained healthy and farms survived.

Years Later

Several of us visited the Sandhills farm in 2013.  All the buildings had disappeared into rubble between the weeds with exception of the old “machine shed”.  The photo shows that it was ready to collapse in the next windstorm.  This farm like many others had been absorbed into a larger farm.  The remaining useful scraps were removed and the teetering shed was a reminder of the effects of neglect.

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The Machine Shed (2013)

Another remnant of the past is the Sandhills cemetery just a mile from the farm.  The bleak cemetery is again testimony to neglect as the rural community shrinks.  The century-old headstones stand in contrast to a few from the recent times.  The scene is an echo of difficult and lonely farm life.

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The Nearby Cemetery (2013)

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