MY DAYS AT AUSTIN
By: Bob Edwards
My memories of Austin during my younger years is somewhat vague. The first I can recall was riding on someone's shoulder from my father's store to our house. This had to be when I was small child at around three years old. I later learned that my piggyback experience was on the shoulder of who later became a life-long friend by the name of Bert Dustin. He continued to be my close friend until his death around 1938. Bert had worked for my father as a bartender during the old saloon days, and he later built a store across the street from my father's store.
My adopted father, Jack Edwards, and his wonderful wife, Donna, adopted my brother and I in 1920. We were both born in Portland, Oregon. My true father was Fred Tipton who passed away while I was stationed in Frankfort, Germany in 1945. Our mother, I met after 53 years in Portland, Oregon.
Getting back to our small but wonderful town of Austin, which by 1924 had cultivated three stores, a post office, a garage and around 600 wonderful people if you included the cats and dogs and threw in a porcupine now and then!
Like most children, we grew up with strong bodies and strong minds induced by a clean environment and the clean fresh air and our mother's good cooking. My mother was raised by a German family. I recall that most of the time for our school lunch we had hot buttermilk biscuits with scrambled eggs accompanied with succulent diced ham that only my father could create in his smoke house.
This small town was a wonderful place for the young people to grow up in. It's clean fresh air, broken only by the call of the meadowlarks and songs of the red-winged blackbirds, and once in awhile the call of a distant coyote looking for a mate. Towns like this one had to be the envy of other growing children that were less fortunate who lived in crowded cities full of stench and crime.
This town lay in what at one time may have been a large lake bed that left banks of chalk with is beautiful imprints of maple and willow leaves and sometimes life-like patterns of gorgeous fern. That left this young boy's mind in bewilderment as to how they were there. Like all kids, my brother and I liked to slide down these large chalk banks which resulted in the seat of our pants being covered with a white colored chalk which our father immediately removed from our pants with a board and us still in them! After the second time we discontinued using our pants as a skateboard.
Anyway, to get on with this chapter, I was told by some of the old timers that the land that the town of Austin was built on was donated to the early settlers which they named Austin after Minet Austin. However, this may not be factual.
However, this area was pioneered by the Austin's, Minet and his young wife, Linda, in the late 1880's. This couple chose a beautiful spot to settle on and built a ranch divided by the Middle Fork of the John Day river. On this spot they built a ranch house that was later turned into a boarding house and known as the Austin House. There were many salesmen and travelers that spent the night there. They offered a menu of anything from fresh mountain trout and venison along with beef, pork, and choice of five different types of pie covered with homemade ice cream. This was served family style in ample proportions. As I grew older I had the pleasure of eating some of her cooking when I helped during the haying season which took about two weeks. We filled two large barns and two hay sheds by use of hay nets and Jackson forks.
As a small child I would go into my aunt's General Store which was also a part of the ranch. I will never forget the wonderful sights of a large red coffee grinder with gold trim and two large wheels, a huge cash register and the wonderful aroma of various spices. In the small display cases built into the counter were all types of dried fruit, apples, apricots, prunes, dry noodles and spaghetti and macaroni. Then there was the large barrels of dill pickles and barrels of pickled pigs feet and pork in salt brine. The shelves behind these huge counters were filled with all types of clothing including Derby hats.
There were boxes of collarless shirts and other boxes with celluloid collars and gold plated collar buttons. Also shoes of all types including button tops that required a button hook to fasten. There was a large box of horseshoes and nails. A large scale stood in the back along with hay forks, tin buckets, bales of burlap sacks and sacks of wheat and corn. These sights were a wonderful dreamland of experience and I love to visualize the old store as if it were yesterday. But to remember things that happened just a year ago, in no way can I recall them unless they were real important, and anyway who has anything important happen to them at age 78!
As a small boy everything looked huge. It is no wonder as a small fry the dark corners of the store were frightening. However this passed when I arrived home. My mother always had a warm heart and a soft voice and beautiful black hair. She always knew how to bring a smile on a dusty tear-streaked face. Myself, I think mostly women are the most precious, beautiful and intelligent creatures that ever inhabited this planet. And she was put here to be cherished and to hold in reverence, because for one thing she is the center of our being here on earth. Our mothers are all of that and more. Let's don't forget our wonderful wives. My wife, Hendrika, has always been a beautiful and wonderful person all through our 50 years of marriage. I love her for all the time I came home from work, tired and sometimes grumpy. She always smiled and said that there were better days to come.
My brother and I helped our uncle Doc Edwards butcher three or four hogs in the fall. We had the job of scraping the hogs after they were removed from the scalding vat and placed on a table. You scraped the hogs to remove the hair. It was a heck of a job and it took us all day. I remember the great head cheese my mother used to make. I loved it and I still do, not that it tastes like my mother made.
I always looked forward to the evening. My father closed the store early and we had a ball grinding the sausage. And who do you think got the job of turning the meat grinder? Me, and the damn thing turned hard. My brother's job was to make the sausage into patties. My mother friend and placed them in a five-gallon crock. Meanwhile the lard was cooked and poured on the sausage to cover. Of course my father oversaw that all was going smooth. The sausage eventually wound up in the cellar. There was no electricity or refrigeration in our town so we had to either can it or pickle it.
Now to get back to the intent of this chapter. I would like to recall some of the people that I have fond memories of and please forgive this writer if I overlook any of you. There was a nice little person by the name of Jess Endicott and his sons, Joe, Emmet and Ruby. Emmet and Ruby were both locomotive engineers. Joe spent a large part of his time in Alaska. He would always amuse us by the poetry he would recite. One in particular was: "The Cremation of Sam McGee," written by Robert Service. Service had written several poems about the north including "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Spell of the Yukon."
Bill Heaton was another old timer who came to Oregon from Tennessee. Bill was a man that everyone loved. He made a living at various jobs. He cut wood for the school, for my father and for Mrs. Austin on the ranch. He also cut and put up large supplies of ice for Dad's store and for the Austin ranch. Bill Heaton was a fine person and as kids we enjoyed being around and listening to his stories.
Now these next two old coots were something else. They were about as friendly as California clam diggers at high tide and they are not too friendly at the best. Anyway, they were both old lumberjacks. Most of the time they drove teams of logging horses. One of them, a French Canadian, by the name of Jack Bass, and the other gentleman was Jim Bigham. I worked for them skidding logs off the side of the mountain down to Vincent Creek where there was an old log landing and an abandoned Oregon Lumber Co. railway grade. The trees were around 18 inches at the butt and 30 - 40 feet long. They were hand cut with a broad ax. These two men batched in a log cabin on Vincent Creek and never spoke to each other. Jim would say to me that Jack was a good man with a saw and ax, but couldn't saw butter straight.
One day I'm at the landing and had just put the nose bags on old Dutch and Jerry when I saw Jack Bass searching the hillside. I said, "Jim, what the hell is Jack doing?"
"Oh, the old fool is looking where he sat his lunch bag, but I'm not going to tell the old so-and-so where he set it." Jim always talked with clenched teeth and mouth closed tight. I went up the mountainside and between Jack and I, we found his lunch. He had covered it over with bark to keep the magpies from eating it. Old Jack cursed the whole time that we were looking. Those two horses that I was driving used to belong to the Oregon Lumber Co. and stayed in the lumber camps until my mother bought two teams. This one happened to be a bay team that our friend Jim used to drive and he was a good teamster. I was having trouble getting Dutch and Jerry to lay into the collar at the same time. Jim watched me for a little bit and came over and said that Dutch was always see-sawing the double tree. He asked me for the reins and said in a low voice: "Dutch - get in there." Dutch remembered the voice from years before so the traces went taunt and everything went swell. I worked for these men for about six months, skidding tie string and never heard either man speak to the other. Jim Binham always paid me. Jack Bass finally went to work on my mother's ranch.
Another wonderful lady was Bert Dustin's sister Kate Flynn. Mrs. Flynn ran the post office across the street from my father's store. The building in the earlier days was the Green Front Store. Kate raised two boys and two girls as I recall. She had a beautiful daughter named Zenith. As kids we played together.
Getting back to my dear friend Bert. My brother and I used to go over to Bert's house for breakfast and Bert was no slouch when it came to cooking a fine breakfast. I always pealed the potatoes and helped as much as a small boy could. If the truth was known, he would have been better off if I had stayed out of the kitchen. There never was a person that had a better friend than I had with Bert. As a 20 year-old-man, I wept at his passing away. I am sure that I would have had a less fruitful life had it not been for him. I know that all his family, Kate his sister and Zenith his niece missed him terribly. People are on this earth for a short stay and leave behind very fond memories that we retain until we are gone.
One day when coming home from school, Bert told me to look in his back yard. There I found a cute little lamb with a splint on it's back leg. I wanted the lamb in the worst sort of a way and Bert said that I could have it. He found the lamb hung up by his back leg at an old saw mill sight and the lamb's leg was broken. My brother and I raised the lamb and he got so that he would follow us everywhere.
Around Austin the sheep men ran several bands of sheep in the summer, and in the fall they would ship lambs out of Austin on the Sumpter Valley Railroad that ran from Prairie City to Baker and serving several towns between. There were stock corrals for loading sheep and cattle at the Austin depot. The railroad agent from Austin was a gentleman by the name of Elmer Stewart. He would notify Bert of the shipping days and Jake and I would load sheep in the stock cars. Sometimes there were two or three hundred thousand lambs being shipped. Each car held about sixty or seventy sheep. We would take our sheep with the bell around it's neck and lead the sheep into each car. The door was closed and another car was spotted at the shoot until we loaded the entire train. They usually ran 5 -6 trains in the fall. My brother and I would get four or five sheep that had already been bred for each ten cars that we loaded. A good ewe sheep sold for two or three dollars and we always asked for the black faced ewes. We favored that strain. After a few years we had around 100 head of fine ewes that we lambed in the later part of February each year.
Bert had about 50 acres with hog tight wire that seemed to support our sheep. We would buy hay to feed in the winter. We used an old barn to provide shelter in the winter. In a few years we sold our sheep since Bert was sick and needed the money. Bert's cousin Albert Ballance bought our small band and the money was turned over to Bert and we were only glad to be able to help. However, we missed our band of sheep.
As I said, Austin was full of fine people. Let me mention another wonderful person I knew -- who shaped my life as a young boy. That is Bill Heaton. Everyone liked Bill. He raised four boys and a daughter. He worked hard at cutting wood for my father and for the Austin ranch. He also put up ice for both places. I liked to ride the big bobsled when they hauled the ice from the pond where it was cut and packed in snow and then covered with saw dust. The ice would last all summer in the ice house.
I recall a man named I. T. Bowman who used to be the car inspector for the railroad and who lived close to the depot. Then there was Elda Cook and his wife who raised three wonderful daughters, Ernestine, Evelyn and Carol. Carol married a young man named Chester Johns. They still reside at Bates, Oregon (Editorial note: as of 2006). There is so very little of Bates and Austin. Both were thriving towns at one time. The main income was from lumbering and some mining. The railroad created some good jobs. Elda Cook was a locomotive engineer and worked most of his life at first as a fireman, then promoted to an engineer and served many years on that beautiful narrow gauge line. One of Cook's engines was built in 1920 at Schnectady. In 1940 it was sold to the White Pass and Yukon railroad. They renumbered her as No. 80. I saw the engine in Skagway, Alaska around 1980. The Sumpter Valley's wood burning Mikes (engines were numbered 16 thru 20 and were among the few new locomotives owned by the narrow gauge). They were purchased between 1915 and 1920. Elda Cook was considered as one of their best engineers and truthfully so. These engines weight without fuel and water was 202,000 pounds.
I previously mentioned that Elmer Stewart was the agent at the Sumpter Valley Austin depot. He was a wonderful person and always laughing. He smoked cigars and when they got too short to smoke, he would knock off the ashes and chew it. He always came to Bert's store each evening to buy a large candy bar. Some of you probably remember the bar with the big fat man on the wrapper called Oddle Bar. Us kids nicknamed him Oddle Bar Chew Tobacco Cigar Stewart.
Bert's store was a great hangout for the older men like Jim Bingham, I. T. Bowman, Dave Clark, and Elmer Stewart. They all gathered or congregated at Bert's store and there were always some old Model T Ford seats on Bert's front porch to sit on. These gentlemen gathered and talked about their past days experiences.
Bert had an old Model T Ford all fixed up and painted for Jake and I. I remember when he had an old Chandler with a new pickup bed painted green. The Chandler set high off the ground with beautiful red spoke wheels. It had an exhaust whistle on the floorboard that you activated with the pull of a lever and was it classy for two young boys to own such a beautiful car.
Anther elderly gentleman was Mr. Repass, a trapper. His younger years were spent as a government trapper. As I recall he used to trap cougar on open cattle range. He was now retired and lived in an old log cabin about two miles above Austin on the Middle Fork of the John Day river. This old gentleman came to town about two times a week. All the dogs started barking as he approached. He always walked with a staff and the dogs knew better than to get too close but they could smell the bait scent on his clothing. I used to gather the fresh water mussel for his bait. He opened them and put the meat in a large bucket and set them on the dirt roof of his cabin and let them get ripe. This scent was rubbed on the traps he used for catching mink and timber martin. He also tanned beaver and deer hides.
Getting back to Bert Dustin and trying to explain what a kind heart he had, here is an example: A wonderful old Chinese man name Ye-Sing was one of the old timers that worked the creeks for gold. Always placer mining, everyone knew and loved him including our friend Bert. Ye-Sing had a small operation on Vincent Creek. One day the old gentleman walked about five miles from his cabin to Bert's store and told Bert that the placer nozzle had stopped gushing water. This nozzle is supported by a forked stick making it possible to move the nozzle in an orbit to wash dirt and gravel. Bert loaded us down with groceries and we hauled Sing back in the old Chandler car. Bert also gave us about an ounce of gold dust to sprinkle in his sluice box, that way Ye-Sing would think that he had recovered it mining. Bert kept Sing in groceries so he wanted the old man to think that he was earning his way. Anyway, when we arrived at the mine and shut off the water, we found a large trout jammed down the nozzle. I guess that Sing had the trout that night for supper.
Elvin Endicott has a picture of Ye-Sing that his mother Mary took many years ago. The last time I visited Elvin and his family in Salem, Oregon, he said he would send me a copy of the picture.
There has been so many wonderful years in Austin that I can not express in this small chapter. It would fill a book. But thanks to each of you for the kindness and richness of association that exist with me after these many years. I would appreciate it if the author of this book would allow me to dedicate this chapter to the remembrance of my dear friend Bert Dustin and also to my wonderful wife Hendrika.