Friday, January 20, 2023

Life In Smyrna

    Guest post by Dave Morgan.

    In the 1950's and 60's my folks owned the store and post office at Smyrna, having acquired it from F. G. Charbourne. The store was normally open only a couple of hours a day, but the folks would open it any time someone showed up, as it was across the road from the section house. It was on the south side of the road, and the old school was just west of it, and had a teachers cottage. Both the school and cottage still exist, and the cottage has been continuously occupied since then. Just west of the school, Bill Underhill had a small farm, about 15 acres, and was well known for the cantaloupe produced there.

    Bill Underhill worked also at the school, as a janitor keeping it clean, and also operating the coal stove in the basement to keep it warm in winter. He also was the person who took the mail, after it was bagged, down to the depot for pickup by the passenger train. He would pick up the mail the train dropped off, and deliver it to the post office the next morning. I remember this as always happening at night, so the mail was probably carried by trains 17 and 18, as they went by in the middle of the night.

    My mother in law now owns the property where Bill Underhill lived. The section house was torn down by Jim Booher, who by the late 60's had bought Nate Lewis's farm, and was living there. The old store still exists, but has been move about half a mile west, and now sits up against the base of the hill.

    Since there were no telephones until some time in the 50's, the store was the local gathering place for people to meet and catch up on the latest news and gossip. Dad commonly kept a running bill on a little IOU type pad for many of the local families, and they would pay periodically. Some had keys to the store, such is the Shrum and Chadbourne families. They might sometimes go to the store for food items when it was closed, and add it to their bills themselves.
    Trains 15 and 16 did not stop at Smyrna, but 17 and 18 would if there was someone to get on or off. People who arrived in the by train in the middle of the night would commonly come into the section house and go to sleep downstairs on the couch until morning. In the morning dad would go downstairs and find out who had arrived, if we did not already know who was coming.

    The school at Smyrna only went to grade 8, kids in high school had to board out to other locations to go to high school. I was the first in my family that did not have to do that in Smyrna. So my older brothers and sister, and the Chadbourne girls, had to go elsewhere to high school. The community was of course small, and everyone knew everyone. When the kids would write home from high school, it was pretty common to just address the letter to "Mom, Smyrna, WA". Mom, who was the postmaster, knew the kids handwriting, so knew whose box to put the letter in. Such was life back then.

    Another thing I wanted to mention, but forgot to write, was another job Bill Underhill had. When the school was closed at Corfu, then the kids from that area were bussed to the Smyrna school. Bill Underhill also was the bus driver. Then one year they closed the school at Smyrna, as there were only 4 students. I was in the 4th grade, and that year we all went to school at Beverly. Then in the 5th grade, with irrigation coming to Royal Slope, the population began to pick up again, and the school in Smyrna opened again. Work began on a larger grade school in Royal City, and that opened part way through the year I was in 7th grade. That closed the schools that had been operating in Smyrna and Royal Camp. I don't remember about Beverly. There was still no high school, but kids from the school district were taken by bus to Othello, in neighboring Adams county.

    I will tell how my parents came to acquire the Smyrna store and post office. It was owned by Forrie and Florence Chadbourne. They were at the house one evening playing bridge, and Forrie mentioned he wanted to sell the store. Dad inquired about how much he wanted for it, and then what sort of down payment. Forrie said he wanted $8 down payment. Dad thought he was kidding, and went and got $8 and gave it to Forrie. But Forrie was not kidding, kept that $8, and the folks quickly came to realize they now were the new owners!

    One time dad was working in a RR cut on the track between Smyrna and Beverly. In one day they killed 13 rattlesnakes. He had bad dreams about them that night.

    Then mom used to tell about Neil when he was young. He came back to the house from the store across the road, and had a dead rattlesnake with him. Mom asked him how he killed it, and he said he jumped on it. That would be typical Neil. When he was working the extra board out of Othello, he caught snakes and milked the poison to sell. One time one of them got loose in his car, and he did not know it. He was parked downtown, and gone getting lunch or something. The snake climbed up where people could see it, and the police got involved. He got instructed that he should not be bringing rattlesnakes into town.


Kurt Moose said...

Wow, what a great story, and a slice of everyday life back then.

Simpler lifestyles back then.

Thank you for this!

SDP45 said...

I love these kinds of stories.


LuAnn said...

David talks about some of the passenger trains not stopping in Smyrna. But if they had packages to drop off they would have to stop. Mom and a couple of her friends went to othello shopping and visit friends and family, then take the passenger back home. In order to get it stopped Mom put her coat in a box, wrapped it up and mailed it to smyrna. When the train stopped they got off. Eric Morgan

SDP45 said...

Good way to get the train to stop!