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Dad’s Memoirs

The Recollections of Leon W. Berry

1989

Here goes!

After considerable prodding by my children, I am finally getting around to getting down on paper a few of the remembrances of my life. Most will be from memory and I will try to not rely on what might have been told to me. Born Feb. 26, 1908 at Summerville, Ore.

One of my first recollections was a boat trip from Portland to The Dalles when I was 3 or 4. We were moving to Enterprise by team and wagon but used the boat for the first leg of our journey from Portland to The Dalles. I have a very vivid memory of looking out the open door below deck where the wagon and horses were being transported and can still see the shoreline going by somewhere in The Dalles vicinity. We then went on to visit Grandpa and Grandma Wall at the flour mill at Early, Oregon, where Grandpa powdered my face with flour, and I had a picture taken. I can also remember fording the John Day River farther upstream with the team and wagon and seeing Fox, a colt we had with us, swimming the river. Probably six years later we were on another farm north of Enterprise and again had this same colt in a team we used on the ranch.

However, prior to this we were living in what I remember as the Leap country. It was at the time of Leona’s birth and the folks had to go to Hot Lake in Union County where both Mother and sister were being cared for. While there we almost lost Leona as she had contracted pneumonia -- the doctors had given up on her and handed her over to Dad, who ordered the nurse to get him some ammonia and started breathing into her lungs after giving her a strong whiff of the ammonia. She was soon breathing on her own, and we have always given Dad the credit for saving her life.

Several other interesting incidents are worthy of noting while on this Leap country ranch. One was when I persuaded my brother, Elton, to get in the pig pen with our old sow “Reddy” and join with her new litter at the dinner table! Elton was also the recipient of another foolhardy stunt when he was turned loose on a sled to negotiate his own way under a barbed wire fence without any sad results. He was only about 3 at the time and probably felt that he had somewhat gotten even when he ran into me with his sled and said, “Whyn’t you get out of the road, den, Day?” [what he called me].

I also remember, while Guy (who was about 11), Elton and I and a hired lady were making do while Papa, Mama and Leona were at Hot Lake, that I evidently turned a corner too close while going through a door and struck my head on the striker plate, tearing a hole in my scalp. It later abscessed and required the attention of father when they came home. Another incident at this time was when Elton and I were cutting across the field to meet Papa, Momma and Leona coming home from the hospital and were later told that we had been followed by a coyote.

From this area we moved to La Grande and lived on the corner of Portland Street and Cove Avenue when I entered the first grade. Much to my shame, I also remember the difficult times I had trying to get home from school without “messing” my pants -- as invariably when I reached a certain yellow house on the way home, I no longer could control matters and had to suffer the consequences. Soon, however, we again moved to a house on Fifth and C or D from which I entered the first grade at Central School. The teacher had her room divided according to reading ability, and naturally I was placed in the lower level. One day, however, when one of the pupils in the top sections could not read the lesson, I volunteered and was immediately placed in his seat. At mid-term I was promoted to 1-A and after a few weeks was moved into the 2nd grade and when school was out was advanced to the 3rd grade. However, again we moved to a place in the Durandlo [sic?] district north of Enterprise, but as our new house was not yet completed, we lived in Aunt Gussie’s barn on the outskirts of Enterprise for a couple months.

While there, Elton and I got into some more mischief, as we found a wagon broken down one day at a crossing near the barn and proceeded to spread the axle grease from the hubs on the railroad tracks to see how the logging train would fare with its load of logs as it came into the mill that night.-- It stopped the train and the engineer and fireman had to get down and wipe the tracks before proceeding. That was around 1915 or 16 and 40 years later while publishing the newspaper in Bingen, I found I was telling the same engineer about the episode. (Small world!)

We were farming about 1600 acres on this place and as Elton and I were around 7 and 9 years old at the time we weren’t much help to my father and Guy who did most of the work, operating plows, discs, combines and other equipment needed to sow and harvest the crops. (all with horses).

As we were living in the new house, we still had the old one and one day Elton and I found some matches in it which proved to be something we shouldn’t have done. On that particular day we and mother were the only ones left on the ranch so we took the matches and went up a draw to see what we could do. We did aplenty, as we soon had a grass fire around 50 feet in diameter burning merrily and spreading like wildfire. I immediately tried kicking the fire out with the soles of my shoes as I ran around the outside of the area and sent Elton on his way to get help from Mother. She arrived in the nick of time with a wet burlap sack and was able to beat the fire out without any disastrous damage. However Elton and I figured we would suffer the consequences when Dad came home that night. Luckily, he brought the contractor for the house home with him and as it was late when the contractor left, all was forgotten by the next morning.

Two events involving our dog “Shep” will never be forgotten. One night as I was doing my usual chore of getting the cows in from their grazing over the rolling hills and canyons with the help of old “Shep”, I found him barking at a certain clump of brush near a spring and without thinking, ordered him to “sic ‘im”. The next moment he came out of the brush with a nose full of porcupine quills and it became my job that night to milk all the cows while Dad and Guy relieved Shep of his quills.

Poor Shep must have died an agonizing death as he had come up missing and we later found him locked in one of our distant granaries where we had been cleaning and treating seed wheat several days before. He had been without water and food and had tried to gnaw his way out through the door.

Another time when I was bringing the cows, I encountered the neighbor’s prize Holstein bull who weighed in the neighborhood of 2400 pounds. He had gotten through the fence and was with our cows. My only thought was to get him back where he belonged and I had a hard time understanding Guy and Dad, who were probably a half mile away and were trying to signal me to leave him alone.

One day a large boar from a neighbor’s farm got into our place and was bothering. I took it as my job to get him out, so when he turned on me to object I let loose with a rock as big as my fist and floored him by hitting him right between the eyes. At first I thought I had killed him, but he soon got up and was more amenable to being driven.

Getting the cows in each evening seemed to be my biggest chore. One night during a blizzard I had taken longer than usual and Dad had come out to check on me. He almost scared “you know what” out of me when he came running and whooping down the hill when he found me, and the cows “hightailed” it to the barn because they were also frightened.

On this farm I showed a knack for building things as at Christmas time would build cradles, etc. for my sister.

We lived about 5 miles from our Hartley Cousins and dad and my uncle Al had installed a telephone system between the two places by using the barbed wire fences. Each of us kids had a certain ring of his own and many were the times when we used it to have races getting dressed or such.

One Christmas at this time my Uncle Al and family were spending the Christmas Eve at our home and all of us children had gone to bed quite early (all in the same room on the floor) and after a few hours I awoke and on hearing voices from another room, thought it was morning and time to get up and see what Santa had brought. But I was informed that it was only 10 o’clock and had to go back to bed.

While in the 4th grade, we then moved into Enterprise, where I finished that grade, 5th and 6th before again moving -- this time to a nice farm about 4 miles west of Enterprise on Alder Slope, where I attended school in the 7th grade.

One of the things I most remember was the fun we had playing in the orchard. As it joined the timber on the mountain, there were many pine squirrels in the orchard which we enjoyed shooting out of the fruit trees with bean-flippers. However a little time passed before we figured how to get them before they got down a ground squirrel hole -- that by plugging the holes with apples. And speaking of apples, that was one of the fruits we had to keep picked up, and one day as papa had gone to town, we failed to get the job done. When he got home we had to go out that night with lanterns to do that chore.

We also had a small stream running near the house and when it froze up in winter, we would skate down it over little falls and rapids, quite successfully. When I say “we” it mostly refers to Elton and I who were always together in our undertakings.

Another incident on the “Slope” was when papa had to throw out one of the kerosene lamps that the flame had gotten down into the bowl when he blew it out, and naturally it landed in the only pile of rocks in the yard with disastrous results to the lamp.

We next moved to Pendleton where we lived at Riverside and I finished the eighth grade and the first two years of High School at Pendleton High before moving again.

We were quite close together during our teenage years as we worked together in the fields and also worked together when we went to the neighbors to work in the hay and harvest.

While here we tried to learn to smoke (everything from porous tree roots to little cigars, Bull Durham, and the like) and also enjoyed swimming in the Umatilla River, playing workup at the school yard and riding our “shared” bicycle.

As I could find nothing better to do one day with my brother, Elton, I was playing with Dad’s 32 Smith & Wesson revolver, and accidentally shot myself through the left leg. This laid me up for about a whole summer and I missed out on most of my swimming.

Another incident I will always remember was the time I was experimenting with dad’s 32 Smith and Wesson revolver and shot myself through the left leg. To show how close we [Leon & Elton] were, the bullet went through my leg, hit the iron railing of the bedstead, and glanced off grazing Elton’s right leg as he sat beside me on the bed. Although it did not cut his pants leg, the bullet did cut a slight gash on his leg and drew blood, requiring the attention of the doctor.

Then, one Friday night in June of 1923 as the school term ended, Dad and I climbed aboard a freight car in Pendleton in which we had loaded our furniture and cow and chickens to start our move to a farm near La Grande. We boarded around 4 p.m. and were then shunted down the tracks to Reith where we sat overnight before moving out the next morning for La Grande. However, it seemed every other train had rights over us and we were put into every siding along the 70 mile ride and did not arrive in La Grande until Saturday night around 10 p.m. (a full 30 hours from our boarding time). This time we were locating on a 230 acre farm that had been planted to sugar beets at one time and was irrigable with ditches as it had a gentle slope for 3/4 mile. One of our early projects was to hand-dig a 2 ft. deep ditch 3/4 mile along and through the roots of a row of willow trees. This seemed to be never-ending and was accomplished by Dad, Guy, Elton and myself with shovels, picks and axes.

Our first crop from the place included thirty-odd acres of alfalfa (3 cuttings); 32 acres of new-alfalfa seeded with bald barley; 30 acres of oats and more than 100 acres of forty-fold wheat. We harvested around 150 tons of hay; 600 sacks of barley; 600 sacks of oats and 1455 sacks of wheat (all the wheat piled in one stack). I broke into the sack sewing business by sewing with a partner on the wheat setting and was able to handle the more than 2-bushel sacks that weighed more than I did. We all worked on the farm with Leona doing the derrick driving, Elton and I driving the hay wagons, Guy pitching in the field and Dad in the mow or on the stack. We also milked about 14 cows and had a barn that would provide stalls for 32 head of horses. Elton and I made our own money by working for the neighbors. I attended High School -- about a 3 mile trip on a bicycle or horse my Junior year and part of my senior year, having moved into La Grande on G Street for a time before we moved to Pleasant View Farm where I was living when I started to college. That fall, Kenneth Fleshman and I started afoot for Corvallis, I with only $50.00 in my pocket and an overcoat over my arm.

During the next three years I worked as a houseboy in a sorority and would never come home until the school year was finished, but would usually find my parents living in a different place than the one they were in when I left in the fall. I wool spend my summers doing farm work, principally haying and also including some milking -- could never accumulate very much, but by frugal tactics could manage to get through the years of college without having to borrow very much.

While in college, I would spend my Xmas vacation working and staying in the Sigma Kappa Sorority house while all the girls went home for the holidays. Part of the time was spent in getting in wood for the furnace so it would remain dry for the fire.

I was graduated from Oregon State College in 1929, a few months before the stock market crash, and was finally able to get some newspaper work on the La Grande District News where I worked and learned the mechanical side of the business before it gave up to financial pressure and I was involved in dismantling the printing equipment.

In June, 1929, Elton was the only family representative to attend my graduation from Oregon State College, having come from La Grande for the event. After graduation we pooled our money and bought a Model T Ford for $25 in which to make the trip home. We had only slightly over $7 left for gas and oil but made it home with about 4 cents left. This was accomplished even though we had ignition trouble near Irrigon on the Old Highway 30 and also burned out a front bearing on Cabbage Hill. We had to steal a quart of the heaviest oil we could find at a Meachem service station in the middle of the night to be able to limp on home to La Grande.

After this job had run out I was able to get some part-time work at Elgin, helping to put out the Recorder while the publisher was having surgery in the Walla Walla veterans hospital and during his recovery. During this same time I would sometimes go over the mountain to Wallowa to help get the paper out there and a time or two would come back to La Grande and go to the North Powder to help with that paper which was published a day later. All this traveling was at my own expense and the pay was a whole 50 cents an hour. However it beat farming at a dollar a day.

I must relate some of the events of my courtship with Betty who was in her second year at Eastern Oregon College -- a 2 year school then -- and would be qualified for teaching following graduation. However, as that was in 1931 and the first years of the Depression, schools were hard to find.

As I had purchased a used 1929 Chevrolet cabriolet with rumble seat I found it quite handy for double dating with her sister, Margueriette, and friend occupying the rumble seat.

We took many trips to Wallowa Lake and other interesting Eastern Oregon points during our 2 year courtship, one year of which I never missed a day without seeing her for a few moments.

I was working at Elgin at the time Betty and I were married on June 1, 1932. Upon finishing my work of getting the paper on the press one Wednesday night, I thought I could hitch a ride to my home in La Grande -- about 22 miles. After waiting for a lift for about 20 minutes, I decided to start on the road to La Grande. However, only two cars passed me that night and I had to walk the entire 22 miles in a slight rain, and I made the trip in a little over 4 hours. The next year Jim was born and at the time I had very little work except some occasional farm work. However, I obtained steady employment in 1933 working as a printer on the Eastern Oregon Review for C. J. Shorb, where I soon became the shop foreman and otherwise handyman -- all for $12.00 a week.(6 days)(9 hours)

As the years went by I worked up to a salary of $27.50 a week and for that I averaged about 110 hours a week for 3 months while we were putting out a tabloid daily along with our weekly paper and shopper.

In the meantime Betty and I had bought a home on Main Street in La Grande where we lived until after Peggy was born and in July of 1939, moved to Bingen, Washington, where C. J. Shorb and I had taken over the Mt. Adams Sun following the attempted operation by five different publishers in five years. After a year or more I propositioned Mr. Shorb to buy his interest from him, which he agreed to, and I then proceeded to pay off the indebtedness in a few years.

In 1944 Susan came along and had been thoroughly introduced to the printing business as her mother continued her work at the Linotype up until she went to the hospital for delivery. At about the time of her third birthday, however we were tired of paying rent and bought our home in Bingen Where we lived until 1975. It was a nice place covering 3 lots, and on which I made many improvements, such as sidewalks on the street and around the house, a cement patio, terracing, a fish pond, horseshoe pits, various fruit trees, carport, decks, driveways, a 200 amp. electric panel, board fences and many other things.

In 1973 Betty was diagnosed as having Colon Cancer and had surgery in Providence hospital in Portland. However, with the Chemotherapy she was required to take, she had very few pleasant days. It would make her sick and consequently she was unable to keep any food down. She was able to tough it out for 14 months before her death, April 7, 1975. In the meantime, though, we made a trip to Taiwan where Nick Richards was married to a Chinese girl.

After my second marriage to Helen Graham in 1975, I finally sold the property to an Indian [Native American] family and they have proceeded to let it go to ruin. I seldom ever go by the place anymore to avoid seeing what has happened. (A disaster!)

Going back a few years, we moved our newspaper into a new location on the corner of Ash and Humboldt in 1950 where I had bought a building, and after taking in a partner, Bernard Pollard, in 1951, soon added on to our building and expanded the paper. This lasted for 10 years, when economic conditions became such that one had to buy the other out, and since I was the most versatile and had been the original owner, I paid Pollard off for his interest and continued to operate as before until the Christmas issue of 1968 announced the sale of the subscription list and name to the White Salmon Enterprise.

I had been involved with the Klickitat County Port district since its start and had served as auditor all that time. After closing out the paper we continued a commercial print shop and a year or so I leased the shop to brother Pete and worked part-time for the Port District, handling the bookkeeping and taking care of maintenance, etc. at the Marina.

Pete and Betty then bought the business and building and had been paying off on that and other contracts. Right now, Pete has reached retirement age and has made a sale of the business after having successfully run it since 1983. -- This he has accomplished and is enjoying traveling.

During this time I was named to the Klickitat County Housing Authority and was involved in getting some property in Goldendale which we were going to develop, but red tape and other things delayed the project that we finally gave up and sold to a developer.

In January of 1982, after about 6 1/2 years, I lost my second wife, Helen, and found that it was a lonely way of life not to have a mate so started dating Edna Gevedon, who was also twice a widow. We were married July 12, 1984, after more than two years of courtship. I had know her for years and her daughter, June, and Peggy were classmates in high school, sharing the honor of being salutatorian and valedictorian, respectively. We have now completed 10 years of being happily married.

Since my coming to Bingen in 1939, it has been a busy time for me as I have been a member of the Bingen City Council for around 20 years, a member of the fire department for 33 years, a member of the Eagles, Elks, Masons, Royal Arch, Knights Templar, Shrine, Lions Club, Rotary Club, Toastmaster’s Club, Eastern Star, and have held offices in practically all of them for many years. At the present time (1989)(1995), I am on my 22nd 28th year as Secretary of the Masonic Lodge; my seventh term completed eight terms as High Priest of the Royal Arch; am working toward my seventh eight terms as patron of the OES and am now on my way to a 9th term; am Ad Board Chairman of the local Methodist Church as well as a trustee and head usher.

My golfing this year has been somewhat curtailed as I find it difficult to walk the course anymore and had been unable to get my cart fixed. The only playing I have had has been at outings of the Columbia - Blue Seniors and a couple times in California with June and Mike Sadlier (stepkids).

It is now In 1994 and I am was still playing with the Columbia Blue Seniors , but I’m about to give I gave up this sport in favor of bowling, which I seem to be more successful in, having won about 17 trophies over the years.

I had been quite successful at pitching horseshoes over the years and was responsible for contributing several hundred dollars to the Dollars for Scholars Scholarship program. I have been financial secretary of this program for more than 27 28 years and am now enjoying working on the Rotary Scholarship Committee at the same time.

To keep busy in late years, I have been involved in three highway litter clean-up crews as well as taking on the treasurer’s job for the community benefit committee. One of our jobs is distributing close to 75 food baskets at Christmas time after helping with a money-raising dinner just before Christmas.

In 1985 I was selected from 5 candidates for the Lifetime Service Award given by the Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce.

Some Odds & Ends --

As this was a popular column in my Mt. Adams Sun for years, I will use it to pick up some things I should tell about.

All through my newspaper life I was required to put in long hours and late one night as I was printing a run of the Shopping News in La Grande, I was awakened by a tap on the shoulder from my boss, having fallen asleep but not having missed a feed of the press.

During Jim and Susan’s early years I had the privilege of taking them fishing. With Jim, he kept me busy untangling his hook and line from some tree. Susan didn’t do much fishing, but was adept in finding rattlesnakes, which I had to kill.

Another time when the Bingen Lions Club was conducting a tour, before the Dalles Dam, of that area, viewing the old fish wheels, Indian slide at Wakemap mound and the petroglyphs in the area, she attracted the attention of all present by pointing out a rattler she had found.

In 1991 after discovering I had prostate cancer, I had surgery in Vancouver, with the growth slowed down apparently. But in late 1994 my PSA count had risen to more than 100 and I was passing blood clots and blood at times. Two cauterizing procedures were done in The Dalles along with laser surgery, but the passages seemed to then close up and it became necessary to wear a catheter off and on for almost 3 months, Now I’m about to be fitted with a self-catheterizing outfit and may not have to rely on the catheter and leg bag.

[Leon Berry died of cancer July 15, 1995.]

©2000 James L. Berry


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