We lived in Benton City, Washington while Dad worked on the McNary Dam on the Columbia River. I think I was in the 3rd grade then. We rented a house on several acres of land. Dad had an arrangement with the owner to pay for the rent by finishing the inside of the house. He would work a little each month in the evening and on Saturday. When we first moved in, the building was just one big room with a small enclosed porch on the back of the house which you had to walk through in order to get to the bathroom. In one corner there were kitchen cabinets, sink, refrigerator and electric range. We lined up all our beds along one wall and our living area was in a corner. This was just a temporary set up which was replaced by another temporary change.
Using a stack of blocks from the yard, We built walls of red blocks to form partition between the bedroom and the living space. After a few months dad replaced the blocks with permanent walls. When the permanent walls
went up, there were just 2 bedrooms. One for Mom and Dad and one for my sisters. I was moved to the mudroom next to the bathroom. There was just enough room for people to walk by my single bed on the way to the toilet.
During the summer It got very hot. We didn’t have money for air conditioning so Dad rigged up an evaporative cooler using only the things at hand. There was a nice breeze which blew through the back door and out the front windows, so Dad stacked a wall of concrete blocks just outside the back door. He stacked them on their side so that the wind could blow through their holes. The wall was about 7 feet high and at the top he attached the garden hose in such a way that a small stream of water would run along the top of the wall and then down through the wall so that as the wind blew through the holes the water would evaporate cooling the air coming into the house. I was very impressed and the rather unglamorous contraption was popular with the whole family.
Along the edge of the 5 acre, flat and treeless property, was an aqueduct. It was about 6 feet above the ground and was made of a half round steel channel supported by a wooden structure. The water stream was about 3 feet wide and 12 to 18 inches deep and the water had a pretty fast current. There were some willows growing along the fence line and the aqueduct. We enjoyed playing In these willows because it was about the only shade. We decided to build a club house and the wooden structure of the aqueduct was a natural starting point but we clearly needed more material to finish the job. We didn’t have much scrap wood ourselves so we began to widen our search. We liked to walk along the top of the aqueduct and about a half mile away we discovered a large pile of randomly shaped plywood. It had been used for concrete forms or something and we figured that it was just junk that was not needed my anyone but us. I came up with the brilliant plan to put some of these pieces of wood into the aqueduct and allow them to float down to our club house, but first we went down to our construction site and put some sticks in the aqueduct so the wood would not go too far. We then put 10 to 12 pieces of plywood into the water. There was a piece that was too large to fit into the ditch that we thought would be very handy for a roof so we decided to carry it. We walked along one in front and one behind. Having carried our treasure about half way, a woman yelled at us and told us to put the board back because it didn’t belong to us. After returning the board, we laughed as we thought about the boards floating through the aqueduct unseen by anyone.
We built a cool club house with a door hinged by 2 pieces of an old belt nailed to the jam and door. I buried a wooden box in the dirt floor to hide our treasures, if we should ever have any, and then most of the fun was over because building it was actually more fun than using it. I guess our unauthorized appropriation of the wood was extra legal, but it didn’t really concern us at the time.
During that summer we got an allowance of 50 cents each Saturday which we used to walk to the theater for the matinee. The ticket was 20 cents and we bought candy and saved the rest. Each matinee had a bunch of cartoons a serial episode and 2 features. My favorites were Tarzan and Jungle Boy. On the way home afterwards we walked on the top of rail fences and imagined swinging from tree to tree.
When we first moved to Benton City, we lived with the family of a man that Dad worked with for a few days until we could find a house. Their house was on a lot in town across from the park where the traveling carnival rides set up for a few days in the summer. In an attempt to keep the home owners from complaining they offered free rides the to their kids which I thought was great.
It was here that I learned to ride a bike,using one of theirs, and was soon begging for a bike of my own. Dad told me that I had to save my money for a bike. As I earned money I asked Dad to hold it until I had enough. One day he came home with a used bike. It was completely rusty but it was mechanically sound and I loved it. He explained that we could buy some paint and make it look like new again. After sanding off the rust I painted it red and white. Dad paid $20 for the bike which was much more than I had saved but he didn’t ask me to contribute any more. I used that bike to deliver papers years later when I got a paper route.
We had to take our trash to the land fill ourselves. When Dad did this chore I always wanted to go because I could go treasure hunting. It really is true that one man’s trash is boy’s treasure. I remember one time I found a perfectly good wheel that had been the front wheel of a trike. This was a real find and I knew I could make something with it. I also found a wooden cabbage crate which was a large light weight box that was reinforced with wire. It had slats on the sides and bottom with spaces between which I had to fill in with slats from another box. I located two 2x2s and with a little sweat and a few bruises, I had my very own wheel borrow. I used it constantly. I found it so handy, and felt myself so clever, that I actually made a new and improved model when it broke.
Another trash to treasure transformation happened when I found a quarter inch diameter steel rod about 5 feet long. It had threads on one end and a small loop on the other end. I think it was part of an emergency break leaver or perhaps a steering rod. When I saw it I saw a spear. I borrowed Dad’s file and laboriously filed the threaded end to a point and attached some feathers to the other. It was deadly. When I threw it at the wooden fence it pierced the wood and split it in two. I knew that it was hazardous and I was careful with it. When we moved Dad was hoping to leave it behind and suggested that it wasn’t a very good toy and there wasn’t room for it, but I found a place to hide it in the trailer where he didn’t see it. Several days after we had completed our move I removed it from it’s hiding place. We moved to Goldbar, Washington, on a small farm where Dad had made another deal to do carpentry in exchange for rent. This was a great place for kids and my spear was even more useful there since I had miles of woods to wander with my weapon. The only things that received a wound from my spear were trees. When Dad discovered that I was still using my spear he only commented on the fact that I had managed to get there.