Elena Getto Cunningham Oral History
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Churchill County Oral History Project
an interview with
January 18, 2002
This interview was transcribed by Glenda Price; edited by Norine Arciniega; final by Glenda Price; index by Norine Arciniega; supervised by Jane Pieplow, Director of the Churchill County Museum.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewer and interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Churchill County Museum or any of its employees.
Elena Cunningham graciously invited this interviewer into her home for the purpose of this oral history interview on January 18, 2002. She lives in a well-kept older home that she and her husband purchased about forty years ago at 315 West Center Street in Fallon, Nevada.
The interview covers the arrival of her father and his brothers and partner to the Fallon area and their purchase of the farm that her brother, Robert Getto, now farms. Elena kindly provided the Churchill County Museum's Oral History Project with pictures of her family which are added at the back of this history. She also provided a copy of the bill of sale for the ranch dated 1911.
Mrs. Cunningham has a marvelous memory and told how her mother cooked for the hay crews and, generally, how ranches were managed in days gone by.
She worked in a retail store and for the Churchill County Clerk's office prior to her marriage in 1946. She gave insight into how things were done prior to computers and electric adding machines.
Interview with Elena Getto Cunningham
BODEN: This is Pat Boden interviewing Elena Getto Cunningham in Fallon, Nevada on January 18, 2002, for the Churchill County Museum Oral History Project. Good morning, Elena.
CUNNINGHAM: Good morning, Pat.
BODEN: Thank you very much for allowing us to do this. Elena, what were the names of your mother's parents?
CUNNINGHAM: Carlotta Berra and Gaspare Gillio.
BODEN: When and where were they born? Do you know?
CUNNINGHAM: Ivrea, Italy.
BODEN: Do you have any personal memories of them?
CUNNINGHAM: Didn't know them. Never met them.
BODEN: And the names of your father's parents?
CUNNINGHAM: I don't know my grandfather, but I can find out. My grandmother, I can get it later.
BODEN: Okay. Do you know where they were born?
CUNNINGHAM: Italy. Same place. Ivrea.
BODEN: Do you have any idea what he did for a living?
CUNNINGHAM: My mother's father was employed by the city of Ivrea.
BODEN: So, you didn't know either of your sets of grandparents?
CUNNINGHAM: No, never. All I know is what Mom and Daddy and the family talked about.
BODEN: Did your parents ever tell any stories about when they were coming across to America?
CUNNINGHAM: No, not really. Daddy was supposed to go into the service in Italy at the age of twenty-one, and he decided he didn't want to go. He had already spent some time in Switzerland and then came to the United States and arrived here in 1903, I think it is. He just ventured out. He thought he could do better by coming to the United States.
BODEN: Do you still have relatives in a foreign country?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, cousins. There's one left on my dad's side of the family, and there's three on my mom's side of the family.
BODEN: Do you call them?
CUNNINGHAM: My brother keeps in touch with them all the time because he's been to Italy two or three times, but I have never been there. There's only one that I met. When her husband retired, they came here and spent six weeks, but their son had been here the year before. He said that you travel from where the family lived to Las Vegas and you never took your foot off the gas pedal.
BODEN: [laughing] Are there any traditions that are still practiced in your family that they might have brought from the old country?
CUNNINGHAM: No. My folks became very Americanized. Let’s put it that way.
BODEN: Okay, what was your father's name?
CUNNINGHAM: It was really Giovanni Getto [born 24 December 1880], but when he got his citizenship he asked to have it changed to John Getto. My mother's name was Carolina Gillio Getto [born 30 November 1888], and she and my dad's youngest brother came together to the United States in 1912. My mother married my dad in Reno.
BODEN:Where was your dad born? In Ivrea?
BODEN: And your mother, too?
BODEN: Oh, all in the same area.
BODEN: She came over here then and met him here? Had he met her before?
BODEN: Was she here very long when they got married? Was there a courtship?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, there was kind of a little courtship in Italy, so she came. There was a family in Reno, who were also born in the same town, that my mother knew, my dad knew, and they were always in touch. So when she came, she stayed with them until they were married.
BODEN: What was your father's occupation?
CUNNINGHAM: He repeated the sixth grade twice because they had to be a certain age before they quit school, and he was so advanced that he had to repeat the sixth grade two years. Then his mother had to put him into a church school, and he decided he didn't like that, so he went to work for a factory that made pasta at the age of twelve. Then he went to Switzerland and spent time in Switzerland, and he worked in the coke mills in France, but I have no idea of the years.
BODEN: He didn't start out homesteading when he came to America, did he?
CUNNINGHAM: No. He was a laborer, and he also worked at Derby Dam with a Fresno scraper and a team of horses. He spent a lot of time in Tonopah, Goldfield, Silver Peak, Mary Mine, and also in Reno.
BODEN: How did it happen that he ended up in Fallon?
CUNNINGHAM: Because of the [Lahontan] Dam. He heard that there was going to be water and that they could ranch here. He decided that he'd kind of like to go into ranching. That's when Daddy and Mr. [E.D.] Frazzini came to Fallon, and they bought the ranch out there from a Mr. [C.W.] Foote who was the banker at that time. Then later Uncle Andrew came along, and then Mr. Frazzini decided he wanted to start a little furniture store, second-hand furniture store, so he got Daddy involved in it.
BODEN: They were all partners?
CUNNINGHAM: Yeah. They bought the ranch together. Mr. Frazzini decided to start a second-hand furniture store and involve my dad in it. Finally, my dad told him that he should take the furniture business, and Daddy would take the ranch.
BODEN: Do you have the bill of sale?
CUNNINGHAM: I have the bill of sale. So that's how the furniture business got started in Fallon and how my dad got started in the farming.
BODEN: And is still the farm that Robert's on now?
CUNNINGHAM: That Robert's on now. Part of it was across the [Carson] river, and then Uncle Andrew and Daddy acquired more property down along the river and then in later years, Uncle Andrew went across the river and he had his own farm and Daddy kept it. It was due to an accident that my father was in that they decided the south side of the river would be easier for him to farm. So that's how that came about.
BODEN: How long had he been here before his brother Andrew came?
CUNNINGHAM: I think it was about five years. I think Uncle Andrew came in about 1907.
BODEN: How many acres did they start with? Do you have any idea?
CUNNINGHAM: No, I don't.
BODEN: Farming was so much different then than it is now. He provided for his family well on that acreage, didn't he?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, he did. In the first years I think it was more on the bartering system because my mother always said that she'd never seen any money in her hand for many years, that it was mostly the barter system where they went to Kent's if they needed a pair of shoes, they charged it. Then the hay went to Kent's to pay for it. That's the way they did it.
BODEN: Fantastic. You told me one time how he did his potatoes.
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes. They finally built a potato cellar out of railroad ties, and that's where the potatoes were kept in the dark and where it was cool. I can remember him selling the very first potatoes where if he got three cents a pound, he thought it was great. And now they're fifty-nine cents a pound, and I keep thinking he could have been a millionaire raising potatoes. But they were diversified farmers.
BODEN: He bought that place. He didn't homestead it, did he?
CUNNINGHAM: He bought it.
BODEN: Describe the house you lived in as a child.
CUNNINGHAM: Actually, it's just a shack.
BODEN: Is that the picture?
CUNNINGHAM: That's the picture that you have. It was one big long room, and then it had little rooms, two bedrooms and a kitchen, and that was it. After I was born and was crawling around, they finally had to put linoleum on the floor so that I wouldn't get slivers. I can remember them building the house that's on the ranch now. I remember playing on the sub floor and I can remember them making the blocks. Mr. Frazzini, my dad, and a gentleman from Tonopah that they knew came, and they worked together to make the blocks. So the house, as near as I can figure, is eighty-four years old.
BODEN: What is your brother's name?
CUNNINGHAM: Robert Mike Getto.
BODEN: And do you have any sisters?
CUNNINGHAM: One sister, Elsie [Nevada]. She died when she was eight years old. Measles.
BODEN: What other buildings besides the house that you were born in at that time, did they have barns, outbuildings?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes. They farmed with horses so they built this big long barn, and they housed all the harnesses in this long barn and some of their equipment. The barn was torn down twenty-five years ago. The barn ended up being where they milked the cows, too, after the tractors came into being. Then they finally built a grade-A barn later.
BODEN: Did you ever drive the horses?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes. I drove the little cart for the derrick to push the hay up on the stack, and sometimes get on the wagon and tramped the hay on the wagon so that they'd have a good solid load of hay to use a Jackson fork to put the hay up on the stack. It was great when you could find a man that really knew how to stack the hay where it would repel the water.
BODEN: Did you have a yard fence? Did your mother flower? I know she was a marvelous cook, but did she have a garden?
CUNNINGHAM: They always had a garden, but the garden was always a little patch out in the field somewhere, never close to the house. It was some years later before we really put a lawn in because . . .
BODEN: It just wasn't necessary.
CUNNINGHAM: But in regards to our house, we were practically some of the first people that lived out in the country.
BODEN: Well neat!
CUNNINGHAM: -That had a bathroom in our house and running water because Daddy had made a tank house and the water was by gravity into the house. It was later that he wanted electricity, so he went out and bought power poles, and he was going to ask the city with his power poles if he could hook onto the city for power. In the meantime the city put in a well on the river just across the ranch and piped the water into the city, but they had to have the electricity so they brought the electricity out there. My dad went to the city and said, "You can have all my power poles if I can hook onto the city." This is the way we got the city [electricity]. We had city water which we still do out on that ranch. They had city power for years, but I don't know if they have it now or not. I think it's under Sierra Pacific. People were amazed that we lived out in the country and had city utilities.
BODEN: What room did you eat in?
CUNNINGHAM: We had a dining room. We always ate in the dining room. Then, in the summertime, the house was built with two big porches one on the east side and one on the west side. The east side was off the kitchen and in the summertime we just practically lived out on that porch. My mother fed all the hay crews, we had a long table. We fed all the hay crews. We ate out there, and finally my mom got a washing machine. On the one end of porch, way on the end of the porch, that's where she did her laundry 'cause Dad had plumbed in some water. Of course, at that time we heated water with a stove. The porch has a lot of memories because we used to raise beautiful watermelons, and our town friends used to come out, and we'd have watermelon feeds on the porch. We had oil cloth on the table, and we'd all sit around the table and just use the table as our dish. Then at the end of the evening they'd put a tub down at the end of the table and just scoop all the watermelon down. The next morning my mother would take a hose and hose off the porch because it was a cement floor. We had a lot of those. They were a lot of fun. The Frazzini kids and all my cousins. We'd all get together for a watermelon feed.
BODEN: I noticed in the newspaper that I was looking at that showed a lot of your family about twenty-five years ago, for many years ago, your father had a brother, Joe, and he came, but didn't stay?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, he came with my mother, and then he married Ethel Freeman of the Freeman family here in Fallon. He had Mario Recanzone's place. In fact, Daddy's sister and her husband homesteaded the ranch that Mario Recanzone is on now. They decided that they wanted to go back to Italy. They already had two children. At that time my Uncle Joe got married, so he bought the ranch. Then in later years, he decided that he wanted to go to Sparks and work in the railroad yard in Sparks, and he turned the wheels for the trains. That was his job there, and he continued to live in Sparks until he died.
BODEN: Was it the Brias that he bought from?
CUNNINGHAM: Um-hum, the Brias.
BODEN: And they are your mother's sister?
CUNNINGHAM: No, Mrs. Bria, Mary Bria, is my father's sister. When they came to the United States they were in New York, and they got a telegram that I had been born. [10 January 1914]
BODEN: The home out there was heated with what, wood? The home out there?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, until oil came along.
BODEN: Fireplace or parlor stove or whatever.
CUNNINGHAM: We had a fireplace.
BODEN: Wood and coal kitchen stove?
BODEN: Did you have to split the wood or do any of those chores?
CUNNINGHAM: No. I always had to bring wood in and the kindling in. That was one of my jobs. When Daddy kind of went into the dairy business, when we went home from school, Robert and I would have to go down and put the milking machine together, take the milk cans up to the barn, and sometimes we would even start milking and then Daddy would come and finish the milking. We would have to go and feed the cows. Pitch the hay off the stack and feed the cows.
BODEN: And your mom had to feed all the hay crews? Was that an all day thing all summer?
CUNNINGHAM: Breakfast, dinner, and the evening meal.
BODEN: I know my husband said she was a marvelous cook, and he just couldn't wait to get there to hay. [laughing] But she had chores, didn't she?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes. Once in a while she'd have an Indian lady from Indian town do some of the laundry until they finally got a washing machine.
BODEN: So, it was nice she had a little help, huh? When did you get a refrigerator, do you remember?
CUNNINGHAM: The first refrigerator was bought on the barter system again, and it was from Fallon Mercantile where Daddy used to take his potatoes and corn. It was a Crosley refrigerator. It had a shelf in the door. One of the first that had a shelf in the door. That was used for years and years.
BODEN: I was about to ask you about your water source, but it was city water there.
CUNNINGHAM: Well, they had a good well. But then when they were able to get the city water, why then they took the city water.
BODEN: What is your position in the family. Are you the oldest?
CUNNINGHAM: I'm the oldest.
BODEN: Were there any advantages or disadvantages to that?
CUNNINGHAM: I really don't know whether there were advantages or disadvantages. I think maybe it was an advantage for Robert because I think I kind of broke the ice in a lot of ways. Being of immigrant parents they were probably stricter and expected a little bit more from us.
BODEN: When did you start school?
CUNNINGHAM: I didn't start school until I was seven and a half because I didn't know how to speak English.
BODEN: You spoke only Italian?
CUNNINGHAM: A dialect of Italian. The Frazzini kids, Carson and Louisa, were already in school. They spoke English, so I spent some time with them so that I could learn a little bit of the English language before I started school. When people think about minorities, I think well, we were the minority at that time.
BODEN: Did you have chores that you did every day?
CUNNINGHAM: Set the table, help wash the dishes, fold clothes, did the ironing. I remember Mom always washed on Friday, and so there was always ironing to do on Saturday. I remember I had to get up early to get the ironing done if I wanted to go to the football game.
BODEN: Is that when you learned to cook, too, was helping her?
BODEN: You crochet and knit. Who taught you those things? Your mom?
CUNNINGHAM: Kind of learned them on my own and a little bit of help from Alma George, my friend, used to be Alma Walker.
BODEN: Did you have any childhood diseases?
CUNNINGHAM: Chickenpox, measles, that's about it.
BODEN: Any family pets?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, we had outdoor pets, cats and dogs, but my mother never allowed them in the house.
BODEN: What school did you start to when you did go to school?
CUNNINGHAM: The old, old high school.
BODEN: Across from the Methodist Church?
CUNNINGHAM: The Methodist Church where the Cottage Schools are.
BODEN: That’s where you started, huh?
CUNNINGHAM: That’s where I started.
BODEN: Did they bus you?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, they bussed us.
BODEN: How did your family spend its evenings?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, reading, listening to music. In those days people visited a lot. In the summertime we played outdoors.
BODEN: Did you get an allowance?
CUNNINGHAM: No allowance.
BODEN: Did you have to earn your spending money?
CUNNINGHAM: No, didn't have to earn my spending money, but if I needed spending money it was always given to us.
BODEN: When did you get your first job?
CUNNINGHAM: I went to Reno to business college. It was under a Mrs. Marshall who was a teacher at the high school and had gone into Reno and started this little business college. I got a job with the highway department, and it was the very beginning of the highway patrol. I was hired to type all the licenses in the state of Nevada, and we had to make ten copies on a brass roller on the typewriter. A girl from Virginia City was also hired at the same time. Then they assembled loose-leaf books with these copies for the highway patrol.
BODEN: Boy, that's one way to start, isn't it? [tape break]
CUNNINGHAM: And after I got those notebooks put together, I came home, and then I got a call back, and I worked for another three months with the highway department as a secretary because the secretary had been very, very ill. Then I came home again, and I was asked to work at Penney's. I worked at Penney's from about 1935 to about 1939 where I ended up doing the books, had departments to take care of like the ready-to-wear, took care of the office, did all of the filing, and also clerked. Then there was a change of managers, and I finally decided I didn't want to work under this one manager. In the meantime I was asked to go to work at the county clerk and treasurer office. John Hannifan had just been elected the new county clerk and treasurer. I had worked under Mr. Likes who was an elderly gentleman, and then when John Hannifan was elected, he asked me if I wanted to continue to work in the clerk's office which I did from 1939 to about 1948.
BODEN: Until you got married?
BODEN: Things have certainly changed there, haven't they?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh my, yes.
BODEN: How many were in that office?
CUNNINGHAM: There was three of us. I was the second deputy.
BODEN: And you allocated the tax funds and all that kind of thing?
CUNNINGHAM: Um-hum. I was more in charge of the money, the tax, distributing the taxes into their various accounts, and helped with all the other little jobs. Phil York was the first deputy, and he was in charge of the court. If people came in and filed papers, I filed those papers, but my job was really to distribute the taxes.
BODEN: Did they have electric adding machines in there?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, no.
BODEN: Did you work by hand?
CUNNINGHAM: All work by hand.
CUNNINGHAM: Well, at that time I think we were distributing maybe about four million dollars worth of taxes. I would say it was about that at that time and practically knew everybody that came in when they paid their taxes. In fact, my nephew, Bobby Getto, cannot believe that I could distribute all the county's tax money without a computer and without electric adding machines.
BODEN: Well, I don't quite remember the non-electric adding machines, but, boy, I do like computers. Did your dad raise hogs and chickens and cows and that kind of thing?
CUNNINGHAM: Yeah. He was into everything. He raised cattle. At one time he used to feed beef cattle in the wintertime. He and Mr. Mori used to go up into Elko County and buy cattle and have them shipped down. That's the way they would feed their hay and then sell the fattened cattle to buyers that would come around and buy them for the slaughter houses.
BODEN: Sell eggs and butter?
CUNNINGHAM: We used to sell a little potatoes, sold the cream. I can remember when the Navy base came out here, they needed milk, and there really weren't any Grade A barns during World War I [meant WWII], and the health department went around to the different dairies and examined the dairies. My folks' dairy was chosen as one of the clean ones where they could pick up the milk in cans for the Navy base.
BODEN: I can remember riding out there on my bicycle and getting milk from cans. Do you have any memories of World War I? I know you were really young then.
CUNNINGHAM: I can remember World War I because Uncle Joe was in World War I. The only thing that I can remember is him coming home, and he was dressed differently than anybody else. That's about all I can remember.
BODEN: You were just a little . . . I'm surprised you remember that. When your mother fed the hay crews, she didn't feed them breakfast, too, did she?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yeah.
BODEN: Oh, really? Were there any live-in hay crews? Did they come and stay?
CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, we had a bunkhouse. A lot of times we had to furnish a couple of blankets for one of the men. They used to go downtown and pick up the men downtown. They used to sit along Kent's deal. Along the sidewalk there. If they needed a man, they'd go early in the morning to pick a man up. Sometimes they didn't even have a blanket, so we used to have to furnish them a blanket and mattress. We had a little bunkhouse that they slept in.
BODEN: I didn't realize it was a twenty-four hour operation like that where they had to stay. I just thought they came in briefly.
CUNNINGHAM: No. Once in a while the thrashers and the hay crew would be there at the same time, and it was nothing to have maybe twenty-five men to feed.
CUNNINGHAM: We never looked forward to that.
BODEN: No, I can imagine. What did you do for entertainment when you were starting into high school? Did you go to the shows?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, I always went to the dances. Boy, that was the one main thing at Fraternal Hall. I used to pick up the Rice girls, Elsie and Ida, and the Lakings were living there, and I used to pick up Thelma Lakings. Isabel Tannehill was living over with the Franckes, Fred and his wife. Since I could drive a car, and my dad would give me a car, we'd all go to the dance at the Fraternal Hall and have a great time.
BODEN: Tell about the turkey.
CUNNINGHAM: When I was working in Reno, I came home one weekend, and I brought a friend, and we decided we were going to go the movies that night. So, she and I got in the car, and we motored into town, and the policeman, Walter Dexter, kept pointing to me, and I stopped. He said to me, "Elena, you have a turkey on top of your car." I really didn't know what to do, but finally drove around in back of Kent's where it was dark, snuck up, caught the turkey by its legs, and I made my friend hold the turkey. We rode back home and dropped the turkey off and came back and went to the movies.
BODEN: [laughing] Did you go to church much?
CUNNINGHAM: No, no. It didn't seem like it was ever convenient in our household to go to church. Then, too, at that time, the Catholic Church only met maybe once a month here.
BODEN: Was your mother Catholic, or your father?
CUNNINGHAM: My mom and dad were both Catholics, but Robert and I were never baptized. It just never seemed to be just quite the right time.
BODEN: Did your family entertain often?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, we always had people from Reno that would come in on Sundays, and we spent a lot of time with the Frazzinis and Mr. and Mrs. Macari. On Sundays we always had somebody that would stop in and visit, or my mom and dad would go visit like the Mussis and the Peraldos and the Capuccis and the Cristanis. Entertainment, wasn’t….
BODEN: The same as it is now, was it?
BODEN: They made their own.
CUNNINGHAM: Entertainment, I think, the occasions were few and far between, let's put it that way.
BODEN: How did you keep cool in the summer?
CUNNINGHAM: We were fortunate. Our house was situated east and west. There was a door on the west side and two doors on the east side that were open to the porch, and we always had kind of good cross ventilation.
BODEN: That’s pretty neat. Did you attend any youth camps, or anything of that nature?
BODEN: You remember any blizzards or anything like that?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yeah. I can remember walking down to the bus down the lane, and the snow would be frozen, and we'd be walking on top of the frozen snow and every once in a while you’d go down. It would break through and by the time you got down to the bus you were a little bit wet.
CUNNINGHAM: But, I think the winters were harder then. I remember one winter when it was seventeen below. That one morning my dad was sick with the flu, and Robert and I and Mom milked the few cows we had at that time. I can remember Mom would run out and stay out in the barn for maybe fifteen, twenty minutes, and then I'd run out, and she'd run in the house. We ended up getting the cows milked, and I remember not going to school that morning. Neither one of us, Robert or I, made it to school that morning it was so cold.
BODEN: When your folks retired didn't they live next to you here?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, they had that house built.
BODEN: Did your dad run a dairy, or did Robert do the dairy bit?
CUNNINGHAM: My dad ran the dairy with Robert. Robert was always on the ranch. He was born on the ranch and stayed on the ranch. That's all he knew.
BODEN: He seemed like he was mainly into dairy by the time I noticed him.
CUNNINGHAM: They did it together.
BODEN: Who were your best friends? Your playmates?
CUNNINGHAM: There was Ida Frazzini. She and I spent a lot of time together. There was the Rice girls that I was close to. They lived on beyond us from the ranch. Stachia Ludwick Wildes. Judy Frey was one of them. We used to spend nights at each other's house. I used to spend a lot of time with the Frazzinis in town. Liked to go to a movie.
BODEN: Did you learn to swim?
CUNNINGHAM: No, never did.
BODEN: Did you participate in scouts or 4-H or any of that kind of thing?
BODEN: What did you want to be when you grew up?
CUNNINGHAM: I wanted to be a nurse, but my mother was scared to death of blood. If anybody got hurt, she ran the opposite direction, and she didn't think that I could . . . that's back then when sometimes parents kind of decided things for you. Or an accountant. I was always pretty good with figures, and I thought well, I could always be a bookkeeper which I ended up being.
BODEN: How large were your elementary grades? How many kids do you think were in there?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, as much as fifty-five in a classroom. I remember at Oats Park this one room that I was in, Eleanor Toft's room, and I remember the desks practically wall to wall. There was just barely enough room between the desks to get to your desk. The classes were large. Always in the forties.
BODEN: And the classes then, the kids stayed in one room, didn't they?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, and the teachers. At the Oats Park, that's what they did. I can remember Mrs. Burton teaching me long division.
BODEN: Who taught Palmer Method?
CUNNINGHAM: Sedgewick?...No it wasn’t Sedgewick. I can see her. I have two or three awards for Palmer Method.
BODEN: Well, I'm glad they taught it, but at the time I really . . .
CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, I thought it was kind of . . .
BODEN: Did they have recesses?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, yes.
BODEN: And what did you do on your recesses?
CUNNINGHAM:Oh, the girls kind of hung around and talked. When we were little, naturally, smaller, there was a swing and the merry-go-round and that sort of thing. From the Oats Park on it was just kind of standing around and visiting. There wasn't much play.
BODEN: Describe the size of the town Fallon was in those years.
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, it was small. I can remember they finally put cement down the middle of the street which was a two-way, but from the cement to where the sidewalks were was mud in the wintertime. I can still remember the posts in the sidewalk for horses where they used to tie up their horses. I remember that.
BODEN: And that trough they had?
CUNNINGHAM: Where you used to be able to make the U-turn at the trough to go to the other side of the street. I can remember where the barbershop is on the east side of the street beyond Kent's right in there they were all wooden buildings, and I can remember a novelty shop there.
BODEN: Did the Laveagas have their ice cream parlor there?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, down where the law offices, Recanzone and Diehl, were.
BODEN: Oh, just past the theater?
CUNNINGHAM: Uh-huh. There were two theaters at one time. The Palace on the one side of the street and the Rex on the other side of the street. Our neighbors, the Rushbys, their youngest daughter used to play the piano at the Palace Theater. When she didn't have the roll music to go with the movie that was playing, she used to play the piano to fill in. And then my dad finally acquired that ranch.
BODEN: Did you go on vacations?
BODEN: Do you remember your first airplane ride?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, you bet! I couldn't wait to get on the airplane. That's all I wanted was an airplane ride, and finally one day my dad gave me three dollars and that was what you paid for a ride in the airplane, and I couldn't wait to get out to the airport. My mother thought that when I got up to the airplane that I would decide that I didn't want to do it, and I couldn't wait to get in the airplane. They gave me a nice ride over Lahontan Dam and around the valley. It was a neat ride!
BODEN: It was from here? I mean, it was a local…
CUNNINGHAM: It was somebody out at the airport that was giving airplane rides, and I couldn't wait. I had been badgering for an airplane ride for a long time, and finally my dad decided to give me the three dollars that it would cost for an airplane ride, and I couldn't wait to get out to the airport to get in the plane. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I still love to fly.
BODEN: When did your family get its first car? Do you remember it at all?
CUNNINGHAM: It was a Maxwell. That I know, but I couldn't tell you when.
BODEN: Isinglass curtains?
CUNNINGHAM: I don't remember any kind of curtains, but then I know we also had a Model-T Ford at one time. I can remember one time in the Maxwell, they went and drove to Reno. Aunt Mary and Mom had nice silk blouses on, and when they got to Reno, the blouses were practically worn out on their back from the rough roads that we had.
BODEN: Oh, my. Wasn't any pavement then?
CUNNINGHAM: No pavement.
When and where did you meet Chuck [Charles Russell Cunningham]?
CUNNINGHAM: Met him here in Fallon. He was home on a weekend leave. At that time he was stationed in San Francisco as a military police waiting to be discharged from the service. He had served in Okinawa and flew land-based planes searching for any downed planes.
BODEN: Did you have a long engagement?
CUNNINGHAM: No, not a long one. About a two-month engagement.
BODEN: When and where were you married?
CUNNINGHAM: We were married in Fallon out at the ranch.
CUNNINGHAM: June 16, 1946.
BODEN: Who was present when you got married?
CUNNINGHAM: Just family and two friends, Chris Tolas Bass and Alice Kim. Adele Maffi was my bridesmaid, and Chuck's brother-in-law was his best man.
BODEN: Did you go on a honeymoon?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, we went to Lake Tahoe, but the day before we were to be married, Chuck's sister and brother-in-law and their family were coming up from Richmond, and they were involved in an accident on the summit. So, when we started our honeymoon they had to get back to Richmond because his brother-in-law had to go back to work, so we had to take them back to Richmond.
BODEN: So, that was your honeymoon.
CUNNINGHAM: So, that was our honeymoon, and then when we dropped them off, why then we came back up to Lake Tahoe and spent a couple of days at Lake Tahoe.
BODEN: Where was your first home?
CUNNINGHAM: It was a little house on Maine Street back in the alley that Charlotte Towle Sanford owned, and we stayed in that about six weeks or two months. It had a wall bed, and it was chewing up my sheets, and sheets were at a premium at that time because it was the close of World War II. In fact, Mrs. Frazzini gave me one set of sheets, and Mrs. Mary Bell gave me the other set of sheets. Then we had the occasion to buy a little house that was furnished down on Humboldt Street, and we lived in that for about three years. Then my mom and dad decided they were going to have a vacation in Italy, so we moved out to the ranch to be with Robert because he wasn't married at the time. In the meantime we swapped houses because my dad had a house on Stillwater that was a little bit better house, but we had a little remodeling done while we were living out on the ranch. When they got home we moved into the house on Stillwater across from Margaret Kent's house, and we lived in that for quite a few years till we bought this one from the banker.
BODEN: What did Chuck do after he got out of the service?
CUNNINGHAM: He worked at service stations. Then he drove truck, delivered gas for Associated Oil. Then he had an opportunity to go for Fish and Wildlife, and he had went with Fish and Wildlife about a week, and since he was around service stations, this one gentleman from Texaco liked the way he handled the service station, and he told him told him that if anything good came up that he would contact him. In the meantime the Texaco bulk plant was available, and he delivered gas for eighteen years. We were in business with Texaco, and then we ended up leasing the service station that was where the Colonial Bank is now. There was an old, old service station there. Dan Evans had it at the time, so Chuck leased it from Dan Evans, but we had one year to build a new building on it. That was the first new service station that was built in Fallon for years, and we had the option to buy it. All the realtors said don't pay more than a certain price for it, and we made an offer, but apparently somebody else had a larger offer, so we relinquished our option to buy. Then he went into the motorcycle business, and we finally sold that out and then completely retired.
[Tape 1 ends].
BODEN: What was Chuck's occupation?
CUNNINGHAM: He worked for Bob Luce, he painted quite a while, laid tile. He was a very handy man, and then in 1967 we had an opportunity to go to Mexico with the Alcorn and the Kendricks because they had already been to Mexico several times. We went down, and Chuck liked it so well, the following year we went down for six weeks. We had the cycle shop but since it was in the wintertime there was very little business. Our son, John [Walter Cunningham], was going to high school, and he was about a junior in high school, and he would open the shop after school, and he would take care of it. Then later we went down, then John got married, and he entered in the business, but, really, it wasn't a business big enough to take care of two families, so John ended up going to Reno. He moved on to Reno, and we finally sold the shop to a gentleman from Carson, and he transported all the motorcycles and parts, the whole business, into Carson, and it just made his business a better business.
BODEN: Talking about John, was he born in Fallon or Reno?
CUNNINGHAM: He was born in St. Mary's in Reno.
CUNNINGHAM: October 7, 1948.
BODEN: We didn't have a hospital then, did we?
CUNNINGHAM: No, and most everybody went to Reno at that time.
BODEN: Do you have any memories of the War years?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes. Seeing all of my men acquaintances going off to war, and every once in a while you'd hear one of them wasn't coming back. To me it was a sad time in our lives.
BODEN: Do you remember anything about the rationing?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, where you were only allowed a pair of shoes. You were given a stamp occasionally for a pair of shoes. You were given a stamp for five pounds of sugar every so often. I can't remember if meat was on the list, but I know shoes and sugar were the two main things.
BODEN: And gas.
CUNNINGHAM: And gas, yes.
BODEN: Well, we always heard there was a black market running during the War. Do you know anything about that?
BODEN: No, I never really did.
CUNNINGHAM:I never really knew if that happened, but I was just wondering.
BODEN: I don't ever remember ever hearing anyone say that was a black market on gas.
CUNNINGHAM: Well, no, on anything.
BODEN: On anything, yeah. Probably not in a small town like Fallon at that time. Maybe in the larger cities there might have been a black market, but I never did.
BODEN: Everybody knew everybody's business here.
BODEN: You went a lot of places in a recreational vehicle?
BODEN: How did you start?
CUNNINGHAM: We started by going the first time to Mexico in 1967 or 1968.
BODEN: Did you have a camper?
CUNNINGHAM: We had a trailer. We had had a couple of trailers. We kind of progressed from a little one to a little bit better one to a little bit better one. At the time we went to Mexico we had a fairly nice trailer because we spent weekends out in the boonies. Since John and Chuck had motorcycles and they rode the desert with their motorcycles. I remember going with the Dayton and Alma George and their son. One time we went out to East Gate, and we had a little light plant, and Alma and I took sewing machines out there, and we made clothes. She made clothes for her granddaughters, summer clothes, shorts and tops. We used scraps. We put scraps together to make the tops. Used a lot of bias tape to finish them off. I made them for Chuck's nieces. He had three nieces. It was a ball sewing out there in the open with our little light plant going and two sewing machines. We used to take all our scraps and material out, and we used to cut out shorts and tops for the girls. We went a lot on weekends, and that's how we got started going down. Then Chuck saw a trailer which he really liked which was a Boles-Arrow, and we had that for about eight or nine years. We made all our trips. From then on every winter we went to Mexico for about eighteen years.
BODEN: But, you finally owned a big RV.
CUNNINGHAM: Yeah. Finally one day I told Chuck, you know I think it would be easier to get ready to go anywhere if we had a motor home. So then we went into a small motor home and then went into a larger one later on which we thoroughly enjoyed. Joined the Good Sams, made a lot of friends. Made a lot of friends down in Mexico from all parts of the United States, and there's still a couple of them that I keep in touch with.
BODEN: You belonged to Oasis Sams in Fallon, did you?
CUNNINGHAM:Yes, for quite a few years. I really don't recall when we joined the Good Sams. One year we went down with Alcorns and the Kendricks as far as Guadalajara. We went to a bull fight. We went to a place where they blew glass, and the glass was all recycled glass. Kids picked up glass on the streets wherever they could and brought the broken glass into this glass factory. In fact I have a few pieces of glass that I bought that was from recycled glass which was very interesting. We went to another place where they made all kinds of pottery items and out in the boonies in Mexico it was great.
BODEN: Have you belonged to any other organizations?
CUNNINGHAM: I belonged to the Pythian Sisters. After I came back from Reno and was working at Penney's, I belonged to the Pythian Sisters for quite a number of years until I joined Sorority, and Sorority and the Pythian Sisters met on the same nights. I decided I'd rather be with the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority than the Pythian Sisters.
BODEN: How long have you been a member of Beta Sigma Phi?
CUNNINGHAM: I am the last of the original charter members of Beta Sigma Phi which is sixty-three, sixty-four years.
BODEN: Do you remember the name of the chapter you started in?
CUNNINGHAM: Zeta Chapter.
B ODEN: Has it stayed the same, or has it changed?
CUNNINGHAM: It has sort of changed. We progressed in degrees, and Zeta Chapter just kind of went by the wayside. It seemed like it was difficult to get enough members to continue on. But it seems like there's Preceptor now. There's Exemplar. I am in Iota Masters now. I don't think that there is another level to it. We used to have as many as a hundred and twenty-five members here in Fallon of Beta Sigma Phis. A lot of them have dropped out. I think families, women started to go back to work and raising their families and having to work. A lot of them dropped out. And a lot of them just weren't interested in it after they joined.
BODEN: You've done a lot of things, but didn't you keep books for Chuck when he had the Texaco company and the motorcycle shop and that kind of thing?
CUNNINGHAM: I did all the book work, and I used to do all the quarterly reports for George Smitten. I used to do a little bit of book work for Percy Bailey at the drugstore at one time.
BODEN: And you worked for Pat Solaegui--it was Ernst then--some, didn't you?
CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, at the MarJae dress shop. I used to fill in whenever she needed, or a lot of mornings she'd call me. I had a key and a lot of mornings she'd call and ask me if I would go down and open up. I'd go down and open up for her.
BODEN: You enjoyed the dress business, didn't you?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, very much. I think I would have liked to have been a buyer at one time. In fact, at one time, other than wanting to be a nurse, I felt that I would have liked to have gone to a school where you designed and then later become a buyer. I was real interested in that. In fact I had located a school in San Francisco, but I never carried that through.
BODEN: And you volunteered a lot of time here and there. Where are you volunteering now?
CUNNINGHAM: Now I'm volunteering for the Community Service Thrift Shop [159 East Center] which gives scholarships. This year we gave four fifteen hundred dollar scholarships. We pay for people who are sick, their utilities. Sometimes it's only a one-time thing, but we try to help them. We donate to Domestic Violence, to Search and Rescue, to the firemen. We've even paid for prescriptions for people who are dismissed from the hospital, and they have no way of filling in their prescriptions.
BODEN: How do they make their money? Do people contribute old clothing or furniture or something?
CUNNINGHAM: We get furniture, clothing, toys, you name it. It's everything. We just get everything, and it's absolutely mind boggling what we get. To think we're one of about four thrift shops in this town. Then what we can't use, if it's got a little hole, if it's got a stain on it, but it's good, we throw it into what we call the bread basket which is given to a ministry out on Crook Road gives it free to whoever, and a lot of the people go out there. Like pregnancy [crisis] sometimes, they send people in, and we allow them to take maybe four or five changes of clothes for a baby free of charge. If there's a family that's really destitute, the welfare sends them in with a voucher. We let them pick out maybe two changes of clothes, shoes. We let them do that.
BODEN: And it's run strictly by volunteers?
CUNNINGHAM: It's run strictly by volunteers.
BODEN: It's amazing what they do.
CUNNINGHAM: It's amazing what we have done for the community. It's kind of heartwarming.
BODEN: Who are some of the people that work there with you?
CUNNINGHAM: There's Lois Saxton, there's Caroline Briggs, there's Marjorie Lister, Joanne Bumgard. She is the president of it and is a fantastic worker. There is Teresa Freitas, there's Oneida Mann, there's Dolores--I can't think of her last name--there's Gloria Hunt.
BODEN: Well, there's a lot of people that put a lot of time in then to make it go.
CUNNINGHAM: Yes, and the thing about it is it seems like that each person has their own little interest, and they do that particular interest and they do that particular thing which mine is the cards, the yarns. I peddle the rags. In fact I sold fifteen bags of rags for twenty dollars to Evans Drywall Wednesday. I'm more involved trying to keep the racks neat, and I've worked at the desk, also.
BODEN: Have you been politically active?
CUNNINGHAM: I used to belong to Republican Women, but I kind of got disillusioned, so I quit. I also belonged, at one time when the hospital was in the old building, to the [Hospital] Auxiliary.
BODEN: Which presidents have you voted for? Quite a few, I think.
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, I remember Roosevelt. I don't think I've missed an election.
BODEN: That's marvelous. That's a long time of voting. He won in 1932, I think. Have there been any monumental episodes in your life?
CUNNINGHAM: No. The worst thing in my life was when my dad's leg was broken, and they put a plate in it. It got an infection, and they were ready to amputate his leg. And my sister who was not well and died with a cold and measles when she was eight years old. No, I've had a very good simple life with really no great ups and downs in it. I count my blessings. I feel very thankful.
BODEN: What about all the changes that have taken place in your lifetime? Consumer goods, freezers, TVs, all of that? Do you like all of the new things?
CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, I like all the new things. Some of it's for the good, some is very much for the good, and there's a few that aren't so good.
BODEN: When you were working like in the clerk's office, did you have a problem being a woman in a man's world at that time?
CUNNINGHAM: No, I never did.
BODEN: They never treated you any differently?
BODEN: That's marvelous.
CUNNINGHAM: John and Phil treated me beautifully. No, nothing.
BODEN: Well, that's great.
CUNNINGHAM: Usually in those days, the men paid the bills, and they used to come right down to the court house to pay their [bills], and I always got along very well with all of them, and I think I knew a good three quarters of the men in the valley at that time because the valley was so small.
BODEN: What do you think in your opinion have been the greatest advances or inventions?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think the airplane has been one because it has made the world so small. We can reach any part of the world within a twelve-hour flight. I would say the washing machine is one of the best to make life easy. Although my mother used to say when she saw all these inventions she kind of thought that maybe some of the inventions that we had made a little extra work rather than help us because you had it all to clean up.
BODEN: [laughing] Like emptying the dish washer.
CUNNINGHAM: I don't know anything about a computer. I think the computer in some ways is great, but there are other factions of the computer that worries me. The ability of people to find out information that is not their business. That part of it I kind of worry about. Maybe it's because I don't understand the computer. But the thing that really gets me is when they mention something that is of interest, and they'll give you just a little bit of it, and then they tell you that if you want more you have to go on the computer. That is very aggravating since I don't know how to do a computer, but, on the other hand, to find out everything you want to find out, you have to live in front of the computer to do it. Of course, a lot of it is in the papers, too. You can read your magazines and you can read the newspaper, and you can get a lot of this information.
BODEN: Well, I think it's maybe like anything new, they're overdoing it a bit, huh?
CUNNINGHAM: I kind of think so.
BODEN: What things have given you the most pleasure? Family, home, possessions, career, what?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, I think family and friends are probably the most for me and of course prayer.
BODEN: Can you think of anything that we haven't covered that you'd like to add?
CUNNINGHAM: No, nothing.
BODEN: Well, it's been a marvelous interview, Elena, and I thank you so much on behalf of the Churchill County Museum.
CUNNINGHAM: You're welcome. It's been my pleasure.
[short tape break]
BODEN: We’re going to continue this interview for just a second. Elena would like to tell us what the buildings used to have in them years back on Maine Street.
CUNNINGHAM: Where the parking lot for the Nugget is now used to be a big rock building which was known as the Williams building and next to it was a night club and next to it coming south was a restaurant. On that side of the street at one time was the Palace Theater. There was the Palace Bar, the Sagebrush, the Lahontan Club, the Owl Club, and at one time there was also a grocery store on the west side of Maine Street which was known as Sewell's. On the east side of Maine Street was a grocery store which was known as Piggly-Wiggly and, of course, the Rex Theatre, at that time it was known as the Rex Theatre, and Laveaga's which was a confectionary store. Then there used to be a lunch counter, and I remember a Mrs. Walker running that one. There used to be a Tarzyn's tailor shop. Then there was another shop, a men's clothing, and I don't remember the name of the people that ran that. There was a lady's dress shop which was known as MarJae's and the Olds drugstore, there used to be a bank, Fallon National Bank and over the National Bank used to be law offices, and then, of course, Kent's. I can remember where the Palludan building is now it used to be Grey, Reid, and Wright. There was also a grocery store.
BODEN: The Penney's you worked in, was it that Penney's on the corner there?
CUNNINGHAM: On the corner, yes, on the corner of Maine and Center, and then later on Penney's moved over to the vacant Penney building across the street next door to the Frazzini building. Oh, there was also a clothing store on the west side known as Eldridge and Hursh, and they carried all kinds of yardage, clothing for everybody, had a shoe department. That was there for a good many years.
BODEN: Well that’s great. Think that’s it?
CUNNINGHAM: I think that’s it.