The Road West - 1936
The move from Minnesota to the state of Washington wasn't as long a move or as major of an uprooting as Poppa's parents and some grandparents had experienced. But, it was a big change for the Backman clan.
Living at Auntie Minnie's House - 1933 Poppa bought the property in the "Little Stockholm" part of Hawley, Minnesota
Doris - I said “Poppa, why did you pick Washougal? He said “Two things: It was close to power. It had good roads already. There were jobs because of the paper mill and the woolen mill. He figured that, because Donald was 12 or so old going on 13, it wouldn't be long before he would be needing a job. He was looking ahead.
Chris – So was the main reason to move out economic?
Doris - As much as anything. I think that he had some cousins – some Ericksons that were in Tacoma. There was sort of a westward movement. ... They were looking for available, cheap land. There was a little bit of the spirit of adventure there too. Mostly, it was improvement of their monetary situation. That's what brought their fathers over to America – because of the free land. I think that wanting to own your own property was a big factor for a lot of Scandinavians. It was a land of opportunity. Little did they know that, in a couple of years, they would have a dust bowl there [in Minnesota and North Dakota]. That was a disastrous time. Grandma Oberg's place out there ... Uncle Leonard survived, I guess, one reason or another, he had saved back enough money that I know that they had a big house – had been prosperous for a couple of years. That's the Oberg side. I was told, I didn't see this myself, that there were places that people had planted corn in rows and it came up and tasseled out before it was more than like six inches high. They let those little kernels that were on there mature. To harvest it, they just pulled up the whole thing. There just wasn't enough water there for awhile. Then, when the rains returned, those that had stuck it out turned out very well. It was nip and tuck for some of them. Of course, I was so young – it didn't make sense to me. After all, if you've got a farm, you've got a farm. You've got cows and horses. Not knowing that there was some money exchanged in there someplace.
Doris - Do you want me to talk about the trip out from Minnesota? Apparently my Dad had been talking about it for quite a while. He had even, that summer of 1936, helped a family (Mr. Gunderson, his wife and her sister) wanted to go out to someplace just above Spokane. Maybe Newport? It was on the border there. That's where some other family lived or something. My dad was asked if he could come along and be the other driver because neither one of the ladies drove. Not only was my Dad the relief driver but he was, of course, a mechanic.
Doris - When they were out in North Dakota, some place out west of Bismarck, there was a flash flood that had gone through the roadway. That was when highway 10 was just being built all the way from Minneapolis to Seattle. Apparently, in this one place, it washed out the road right at the time that somebody's car was coming along and there were down in the ditch off to the side. According to the story I got, my dad and another guy waded into this flash flood and saved two ladies. And so, what did they do? They went back to their car and went on their way.
Chris – When would this have been?
Doris - It would have to be (19)36 I think. You might be able to look at old newspapers from that era and see. But it would have been 36, I think. Because, it was not very long after that that Poppa announced that we were going.
Chris – So, getting back to the scouting trip with the Gundersons. After he reached Spokane with them, then what?
Doris - Then he took the SP&F – the Spokane, Portland, to Seattle train down to Washougal. I guess Earl must have met him there and taken him around. He even went down in the Willamette Valley but the property was quite a bit more expensive. This other seemed to be an appealing prospect.
Starting on August 11, 1936 (a Tuesday) the trip to Washougal took 10 days (including two spent repairing the truck) to cover the 1500 miles.
In Poppa's own words:
"Coming out, we left Hawley the 11th day of August, 1936. And, of course, with the loaded truck and all that we had to come by easy stages -- Valley City, the first stop because of a late start. From Valley City to Medora -- of course, that is spectacular Bad Lands -- Teddy Roosevelt's town. And from Medora to Billings where the weather was very hot and with the hot weather and lots of vegetation and irrigation -- it smelled like boiling cabbage
From Billings to Butte was the next stop and from Butte to Thompson Falls went very good. So from Thompson Falls we remember having dinner [noon] in Newport, Washington. And then in the afternoon we got as far as Ritzville. And from Ritzville we went down through Pasco and to Goldendale. But outside Goldendale, coming up a long hill, the pinion shaft bearing went out. So getting towed into Goldendale, it delayed us two days while I made the repair. And from Goldendale the final leg of the trip to the farm house on that ranch I had bargained for.
Deciding not to go through with the deal for the ranch, I went down to Washougal and bought a piece of land which was a very good move to make. In the late summer and fall I built the house which was ready enough to move into from the ranch so we had our first Thanksgiving dinner in the new house.
With our moving out here it made so many changes for many of us -- because Richard came with us out and , eventually, Winnie came out and they were married. And also, my sister Minnie and her Alice came to Portland. And with the many houses I built, it made a lot of changes for a lot of people.
Washougal, of course, is just a small town and it dates back from the time of Lewis and Clark. On their way West they stopped off before proceeding to Astoria. Washougal at the time we were there was not very progressive but they had a Woolen Mill where about a hundred and fifty people worked. And then many of them worked at the Paper Mill, just two miles to the west. So there wasn't much unemployment and that's why it looked good to me to settle there. Schools were quite good so they all got through the grades and high school and from there chose their own way to go."
Doris added a few memories of that trip:
We came out in a Model A and an aging Chevy truck (no cover on the back) that Poppa had bought just for this trip. Driving was either my dad, Dick Minor, Uncle Carl or, in an emergency, Donald. They traded off.
We stayed the first night in Badlands of ND - the first time I was in tourist cabins. Most of the trip was on Highway 10 which was just being constructed - lots of detours - sometimes miles long that jolted the teeth out of you. This became Interstate 94 through North Dakota and part of Montana and I 90 from there through Spokane. In those days it was called number 10.
Stayed in Billings - they were having a rodeo - first time I had ever seen a real indian. Stayed in a tourist cabin not far from the rodeo grounds - we could hear the shouting from the competition.
We tried to follow highway 10 across Montana. Poppa was told that the southern route was best. My dad didn't have much confidence that the truck could make it. We left behind a lot of good stuff because there was no way of taking it along. To spare the truck we went by routes with lower passes so went over a pass near Newport, Idaho because it was considered easier.
Up to this point we had been cooking our own meals to save money. So, we always stayed at tourist cabins - with kitchens. Poppa and Donald would have one bedroom, Dick and Carl would have another, Fred and I would be on cots.
After we left Newport, we went due south to Spokane. On a Sunday, around Spokane, we had breakfast in this place. It tasted so good - because we were eating out. Pancakes and berries - the fresh berries tasted so wonderful!
The next day, headed for Goldendale and something went wrong with the truck. We were in a tourist cabin park for a couple of days because my dad had to fix the truck. Seems to me he went ahead to Goldendale and ordered parts. Just like you would see in 3rd world countries - the mechanics working out in the driveway - that was my dad
I can remember that it was quite hot. There wasn't much for Fred and me to do. I can remember Fred and I wandering around wondering "what should we do today". It was hot - I can imagine how hot it was for Poppa working under this truck. With the help of Dick and Uncle Carl, they took apart the back end of the truck to fix it.
Everybody warned us about the Goldendale hill because it was so steep - make sure your brakes work - Poppa did a lot of downshifting, I'm sure.
Poppa got it fixed - Fred and I knew he could - we had great faith in his abilities. That windy hill coming down from Goldendale - I think Poppa went down that at about 5 miles per hour. Of course, that was our first view of the Columbia River. We were so excited to see the columbia River, the biggest river we had ever seen. Of course, it got even bigger as we wend downstream.
Goldendale was the last motel we stayed in. Apparently the Oregon side of the river was a straighter highway but we stayed on the Washington side. We came down the Washington side. We marveled at the size of the river. Up by Beacon Rock there were trees that were so big that we could hardly believe that they were real. He had messages from Uncle Earl telling what route to take. It wasn't very far from there to Stevenson, then Washougal.
Doris - I don't remember where we stayed when we first got to Washougal. Somebody had talked to these two old ex-prospectors, Bob and Walt Bedelle. They were related to the Baileys. Uncle Earl had discovered that there was this piece of property up on Forest Hill. Charles Bedelle owned it but because it was tied up in bankruptcy, Poppa worried about getting clear title. Poppa rented this place until the new house was built. My dad and Uncle Earl Bailey built the house in the Midland Acres area of Washougal and we moved in just before Thanksgiving 1936.