Wayne and Annie Mills Oral History
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Churchill County Oral History Project
an interview with
WAYNE AND ANNIE MILLS
September 16, 1994
This interview is part of the socioeconomic studies for Churchill County's Yucca Mountain Planning and Oversight Program.
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.
My initial attempts to arrange an interview with Wayne Mills was not successful since he was reluctant due to impaired hearing. His wife, Annie Mills, agreed to be interviewed. Although she had important information on her life in Churchill County, she could not give us the information we needed from Wayne on the Newlands Project. Midway into the interview, Wayne came into the house from his chores irrigating the gardens. I enticed him to share his experiences on tape relating to the Newlands Project. Realizing he might leave if I stopped to end Annie's session and change tapes, I decided to immediately start his interview.
Wayne is a remarkably youthful 92-year-old with a clear, strong voice and a keen memory. He recalls when he was 16 travelling by train from Minnesota with his parents and six kids to Hazen, Nevada. Hazen was the main railway division point with a spur line to Fallon. His father's brother, John S. Mills, had homesteaded in the Sheckler District around 1908 and had been urging his brother Frederick to come to Nevada. Five or six carloads of relatives and friends met the Hazen train and drove them over sandy roads to Fallon.
Frederick started to work as a ditch rider with the Bureau of Reclamation who provided ditch riders with small furnished houses. Wayne often went with his father, and describes a ditch rider's work. Wayne tells about living several years with his family at the experimental farm where his father worked and his mother cooked for the employees. It was built to experiment with different methods of irrigation and farming, including sugar beets and Hearts-O-Gold cantaloupe.
When Wayne graduated from high school, he raised chickens and worked for the Bureau of Reclamation, building and cleaning drain ditches with a team of mules and a Fresno scraper. He also helped with the haying at his Uncle John's homestead. In 1926 he scored the highest in a civil service test for a job as rural mail carrier. He met his wife Annie on his mail route.
During World War II, while he was in the Navy as a radio technician, Annie, who had never driven an automobile, had to learn to drive in a hurry so she could take over his rural mail route. She also cared for their five kids and the farm during Wayne's absence. It was a happy reunion when he returned.
SA: This is Sylvia Arden, interviewer for the Churchill County Oral History Project, interviewing Mrs. Wayne Mills (Annie), at her home at 1140 South Taylor Street, Fallon, Nevada, September 16, 1994.
Good afternoon, Ann. I'm so pleased that you agreed to be interviewed since your husband isn't able to do an interview with me, I know that you have a lot of information that he can't tell us, so I am delighted. Would you first give us your full name and where and when you were born?
AM: My name is Annie King Mills, and I was born in Austin, Nevada, July 31, 1911.
SA: I first want to ask you about your maternal grandparents. Did you know them?
AM: I knew my grandmother.
SA: Did you know her so that you remember her?
SA: What was her name?
AM: Louisa [Wardle] Moss.
SA: And where was she born?
AM: In England--I think Manchester.
SA: Do you know her husband's, your grandfather's, name?
AM: No. Well, I know his name--his name was Joseph. But he died quite young.
SA: I see. Do you know your father's parents?
AM: Yes, I knew them.
SA: Do you know your father's parents’ names?
AM: What do I do about that? I just know his mother's name. Avis Martin King.
SA: And you don't know his father's name?
AM: Well, that wasn't his real father, see.
SA: Alright, we won't go into that. Now, how did they come from England, how did they reach Nevada? Do you know anything about that?
AM: My father's folks came by boat, by ship.
SA: And did they come right to Nevada?
AM: Yes, they came right to Nevada.
SA: Did you ever learn what brought them here?
AM: Yes, they were Cornish people--they came from Cornwall and they worked in the tin mines there, and they came to Austin to mine in the mines there.
SA: In other words, they heard about the mines in Austin.
AM: Oh yes.
SA: So somehow they got to that isolated area of Austin.
AM: Austin, yeah!
SA: Was it the same with your mother's parents? Did they also come for the mining?
SA: How did they come?
AM: They came by covered wagon across the United States to Austin.
SA: So first they came by ship to New York?
AM: New York, uh-huh.
SA: Were they with a party of people?
AM: Yes, they were with a group.
SA: And did they also hear about the mining? Did they also come because of mining?
AM: They didn't come because of the mining.
SA: Why did they come to Austin?
AM: I don't know. The lure of the West, I guess.
SA: Because Austin's so isolated.
AM: That's right, yeah.
SA: Do you know what year they all arrived in Austin?
AM: My father's folks and my father came in 1875.
SA: I see! So your father was a little baby then?
AM: Three years old.
SA: Three years old! Uh-huh. And they all came right to Austin?
SA: I guess there must have been a lot of people coming to Austin.
AM: There were!
SA: Did they know each other in England?
AM: They must have. They were married.
SA: No, I mean your father's parents and your mother's mother, when they came from England, your father was only three years old. Did the two families know each other in England?
AM: Evidently. They must have.
SA: You were born in Austin. Your father grew up there and stayed there all the time?
SA: Spent his whole life in Austin?
AM: Almost, except for three years in Fallon.
SA: When he was in Austin all those years, did he talk to you about his experience and what it was like? Did he ever talk to you about it?
AM: (chuckles) The only thing I remember that he told me was coming across the ocean, he lost his hat overboard on the ship, and that's what impressed him, it seems.
SA: What I want to know is about Austin, his recollections of his life in Austin. Let's say, before you were born--that's many years. Did he talk about. . . .
AM: Oh sure, sure.
SA: Did he talk about the mining?
AM: He worked in the mines there.
SA: Let's stay in his earlier years.
SA: When he was growing up, before he went to work.
AM: Austin was divided sort of into two different parts. All the Cornish people lived in one part, on the upper part of Austin, and down on Main Street, other people lived.
SA: So was there a colony of Cornish people for the mines?
SA: I see, so then word must have gotten to England. So there were quite a few families there?
SA: So they had like their own colony of Cornish people, that's very interesting.
AM: In upper Austin, yes.
SA: So then your father's family and your mother's family all lived in the same neighborhood?
AM: No, my mother lived down on Main Street.
SA: They weren't Cornish?
AM: No, they weren't Cornish.
SA: They came from a different part of England?
AM: Yeah, Manchester.
SA: Okay. Did he tell you what the town was like before you were born? Was it much different than when you were growing up?
AM: It had just gone into a decline about then. The mines had petered out, and it had kind of gone into a decline. But (chuckles), the funny part about the Cornish and the other people, the children used to fight all the time. They didn't dare go into each other's neighborhoods.
SA: They were taught by their parents. That's how children learn.
AM: Not to go into each other's neighborhoods.
SA: So how did he meet her? They came from different--like Romeo and Juliet. (laughter)
AM: That's right! I don't know how, but they got together.
SA: Did you father talk about when it was the bustling mining community, because I know there were thousands of people at one time. Did he ever talk about that?
AM: Yes, he used to say that when the men were coming off shift from the mine, that these Cornish people always sang all the way down.
SA: Really?! Oh!
AM: Cornish people have real good voices.
SA: Uh-huh! Let's get your mom and dad together. They probably went to school together. Did they go to school together in Austin?
AM: Well, my dad was about five years older than my mother.
SA: Oh, I see, okay. Did they talk about their meeting?
AM: No, I've never ever heard that.
SA: Did they marry in Austin?
SA: Do you know where you lived when you were in Austin?
SA: Where was that?
AM: Well, at first, when I was younger, we lived up where the Cornish people lived, up in a ravine.
- His part of the town.
AM: His part of the town, yes.
SA: Was it a little house?
AM: Yes, my grandfolks lived just down the hill below us, his folks.
SA: Anything more that he told you before I move to your memories? Or did your mother talk with you about her experiences in Austin? What did a woman do then as a young girl and a young woman?
AM: (chuckles) Not very much!
SA: Did she ever talk to you about her earlier life in Austin?
AM: Not really.
SA: So when you were born, there was already a bunch of kids in the family--four kids?
SA: What would your earliest memories be? Five, six, seven? When do you start to remember what your life was like in Austin?
AM: Going to school, there was always lots of snow, trudging through the snow to get to school.
SA: Did you live up on a hill? Did you have to go up and down hills?
SA: Was it the same house they lived in when you were born, or had they moved?
AM: No, we had moved. In 1917 my dad bought out a livery stable and wood and coal business and things, down on the lower end of town--the old Recend place.
SA: Because mining had ended?
AM: Yes, so they had to do something else.
SA: So was there a house connected with that stable?
AM: Oh yes, a big brick house. That's where I spent most of my life, was in a big brick house.
SA: Is that probably still there?
AM: No, it's gone.
SA: Now, from your memories, first of all, where was the school? Was it the old school that's still up on the hill?
AM: When I first went to school, it was the old one, but then they built the other one, and I went to that one.
SA: And how many kids were in your classroom as you were going through?
AM: Oh dear! (laughs)
SA: Well, go through elementary, up through. . .
AM: Not very many.
SA: Probably you had more kids in your family than.
AM: Probably! (laughs)
SA: Were you one of the larger families?
SA: Do you remember, at that time, were there enough stores in Austin to do your shopping?
AM: Oh yes.
SA: More stores then than now?
AM: Yes, I can remember my mother always sent me to buy the meat.
SA: Oh! They had a meat market?
AM: They had a regular meat market, and I can remember buying seventy-five cents' worth of steak for all of our family!
SA: Oh, for goodness sakes! (laughter) Now, what did you use for transportation in the early days?
AM: Foot! (laughs) We walked everywhere that we went.
SA: Since you had a livery stable, were you able to use the horses and wagons?
AM: Yes, but just about that time, automobiles were coming in, and my dad bought a White truck, and then we bought an automobile after that.
SA: Okay, so you were able. . . .
AM: We were able. But we didn't travel much in those days.
SA: You were all so busy?
AM: Well, Austin's quite a ways from any other place.
SA: Yes, very isolated. What did your family do about medical care?
AM: Well, there was a doctor there in Austin.
SA: Was there a hospital?
AM: Yeah, a county hospital.
SA: That little house?
SA: Did your mother have all her children there?
AM: No, no, at home.
SA: She had them at home. Did she have a doctor come in, or a midwife?
AM: Uh-huh, midwife. I was born in my grandmother's house, and that's still standing in Austin.
SA: And what about if there was some emergency? Was there ever any medical emergency in your family?
AM: Oh sure.
SA: What would they do?
AM: To Reno. My brother had appendicitis and they had to take him to Battle Mountain first, and then from Battle Mountain on the train to Reno.
SA: Oh my!
AM: He lived, but I had another sister that died from appendicitis.
SA: Because of the distance to get there?
AM: Well, I guess.
SA: Yeah, it's hard without good medical [care]. They have worse medical care now, because there's no doctor.
MILLS: No, there is none at all.
SA: When you were in Austin, what did the kids do for recreation?
AM: Not much! Every night, they'd all come down to our house, and we'd play kick-the-can or something or other.
SA: You were the center, because you had all the kids?
AM: Yeah. In the wintertime it was coasting, it was sleighing.
SA: Did the town change much? Of course you were young, but did it change much in that time when the town was declining without the mining? Did people leave, was it getting smaller?
AM: Oh yes. People had to leave, there was nothing else there.
SA: Now you said your family lived a little bit in Fallon?
SA: When did they come here?
AM: In 1927.
SA: Oh, the whole family moved in 1927. Did your family leave because there was no more work in the Austin area?
AM: No, my dad just sort of retired.
SA: Oh, he retired then in 1927. Okay, he was able to retire with that big family?
AM: Well, most of 'em were gone by that time. There was just about three of us left.
SA: I see. So was there a reason he came to Fallon? Or was it because it was the closest big city?
AM: I don't know, he just wanted to have a little farm, I guess.
SA: Had he heard about the Newlands Project and irrigation?
AM: Oh sure, he knew all about that.
SA: So then he could have a farm here. You can't do that in Austin.
SA: So where did you live when you came to Fallon?
AM: Out on Schindler Road they had it.
SA: How big a place did he get?
AM: Just a small place, I can't remember now what the acreage was, but it was not very big.
SA: But enough for a little bit. And what was the house like?
AM: Oh, it was pretty nice. It's been all done over since then.
SA: And there were just three kids left at home?
SA: Where did the others all go?
AM: Oh, they were married and whatnot.
SA: All grown up?
AM: All grown up and just gone.
SA: So then you moved to Fallon on a little place. How old were you then when you came here?
SA: So you were starting high school?
SA: What did Fallon look like to you? Had you been to Fallon much from Austin?
AM: Not very much. I had been here once, I think.
SA: What did it look like? Did it look like a big city next to Austin?
AM: Oh yes! (laughter) Yes, it did.
SA: So did you start high school?
SA: And where was the high school?
AM: Where it is now. That's the junior high now.
SA: Is that that building right on Main?
AM: Main, yeah.
SA: I'm going to move you along, because your family wasn't into ranching.
SA: When did you meet Wayne?
AM: Oh, around 1927, I guess.
SA: He wasn't in your class or anything?
AM: Oh no. No, he was my mailman.
SA: And you were living. . . .
AM: Out on the ranch.
SA: And so tell me how you met and how you started to go together.
AM: Well, we were going to town Saturday--me and my family--because everybody went to town on Saturday to do their shopping.
SA: The main street in town?
AM: Yeah, in Fallon, yes. On a dirt road out in the country we passed the mailman. He was going along this narrow road.
SA: What was he riding in?
AM: A Chevrolet automobile, delivering mail.
SA: Okay, he was a rural. . . .
AM: Mail carrier, yes.
SA: And he just drove a car, not a special mail [vehicle].
AM: No, no, just an automobile. And so, as we was going along this route, I got a look at him. So next Monday morning I was down at the mailbox when he went by. (chuckles)
SA: How old were you when you spotted him?
AM: Oh, about seventeen, I guess.
SA: How old was he?
SA: So he was a lot older.
AM: He was older than I was, yes.
SA: And so when you went to the mailbox, what happened?
AM: (chuckles) Well, we made some dates from then on.
SA: So you were the initiator!
AM: I guess. (laughs)
SA: Well, not the initiator--you "helped" him initiate.
AM: That's right.
SA: Had he been spotting you too?
MILLS: I don't know, I don't think so, because I would wait until after he brought the mail before I would go down to get it, you see. But this time. . . .
SA: You went first.
AM: I went first. I was there when he came.
SA: What did you say?
AM: I don't know. (laughs)
SA: Just some nice warm greeting?
SA: Isn't that cute! So did you start to go steady soon?
AM: Oh yeah, right after that.
SA: You married soon after?
AM: Yeah, about. . . . Well, I don't know.
SA: About a year, year-and-a-half after?
AM: Uh-huh, something like that, a year.
SA: Well, he was older.
AM: Yeah, he had a good job.
SA: Where did you both live after you married? Where did you start your first home?
AM: There was an apartment house down on "A" Street, right across from the post office where he worked, and we lived there.
SA: You rented?
AM: Oh yes, we rented.
SA: Did he tell you much about his rural mail route? Did he talk to you much about it?
AM: Oh sure, sure.
SA: Tell me some of the things about delivering mail. What was his route, how far did he deliver?
AM: It was almost eighty miles a day.
SA: All the rural areas of Churchill?
AM: No, it was Route 1.
SA: And what did that comprise of? What was in Route 1?
AM: All west and Scheckler and way down to the Beach District and all over.
SA: He drove in a car and went around?
SA: Did he like it?
AM: Oh, he loved it, yes! (laughs) It was a good job.
SA: When you came, you were old enough to observe, and you were living out in a rural area--did you get to know the neighbors, and did a lot of them come because of the Newlands Project? Were they developing agriculture?
AM: Well, most all around us had been there for a long time. The Bass Ranch is one of the old ranches.
SA: Yes, I interview him.
AM: Raymond, uh-huh.
SA: Yes, but I know the Project started in 1907, but I wondered if you learned, getting to know people. . . .
AM: Not a great deal.
SA: So most of it was all settled already?
AM: Oh yes, pretty much.
SA: There weren't new people coming in?
AM: Not at that time, no.
SA: But then things changed during the Depression, I know.
AM: (chuckles) Oh, did they ever!
SA: And I know a lot of land changed hands in the Depression when some land was taken away, because I've done interviews.
AM: Yes, it did.
SA: Tell me, first from your personal experience, how the Depression affected you and Wayne. You had quite a few children already.
AM: Yes, I had all of 'em.
SA: Okay, so you were a very busy mother.
AM: I was! (laughter) But we got along alright.
SA: Did he have his job? Was that still standing?
AM: Oh yes.
SA: So he had an income, unlike a lot of others.
AM: Yes, his mileage was cut down--I mean, the amount that he got for mileage was cut way down.
SA: Were you still living there, or had you purchased anything?
AM: No, we were still renting at that time.
SA: So you didn't have a mortgage and he had a steady job.
AM: Yes, that's right.
SA: How did it affect your family? (shakes her head "no") Didn't affect them, they didn't own a ranch or anything.
SA: Did you know anyone who did have ranches and who were hurt by the Depression?
AM: I can't think of any.
SA: Okay. It hurt some of the ranchers more.
AM: Oh sure it did, it really did.
SA: I did get some of those interviews. Now, did Wayne ever talk to you about his father's job as a ditch rider for the Newlands Project? Or did you talk with his father about it? Did you learn anything from his father?
AM: Oh, he was a good man, his father was, a real honest, good man.
- I'm interested in his work on the Newlands Project. That's what we're gathering.
AM: He took it very seriously and did it real well.
SA: Did he ever talk about the problems when there was less water?
AM: I really don't know.
SA: He didn't talk to you?
AM: No, I didn't get in on that.
SA: I wonder if Wayne knows. He never did talk to you about that?
SA: I'm interested in getting information on that. So did Wayne stay with the post office all his working years?
AM: Thirty-seven years.
SA: He, as a rural mail carrier, would be able to answer some of the things I want.
SA: I don't know if I can ever get that, because he would see the changes, going around in that rural area. That's the kind of thing that we want. How was Newell Mills related to your husband?
AM: Newell's father and my husband were cousins, so they were second cousins.
SA: Because I note that he was a dairyman and he wrote a series of articles. He was involved with higher production. Did you know anything about his dairy?
AM: Not much.
SA: You said he's still around, if someone can interview him.
AM: Oh yes!
SA: Now another thing that I noted is that Wayne was related to the schoolteacher Laura Mills. Was she one of your teachers?
SA: She was earlier?
AM: She was earlier, yeah.
SA: Did you know her?
AM: Oh sure, I knew Laura real well.
SA: Tell me about her.
AM: She was a wonderful lady. She taught school here at Fallon for thirty-seven years.
SA: Oh my!
AM: On the weekends she taught Sunday school on Sunday.
SA: She never married?
AM: No. And she always had children, taking them out to teach them nature things.
SA: Did she take your kids?
AM: Oh sure. One thing my kids say now is, ''We wish our kids had Laura to take them out."
SA: Oh, isn't that wonderful!
AM: It is.
SA: Did she live alone?
AM: No, she lived with her brothers out in the country.
SA: What about when she got older?
AM: Oh, she was still living out there.
SA: Oh, they were all out in the country? Where was that?
AM: Out on McLean, west of town.
SA: Did they have a little ranch there?
AM: Oh yeah, they had a big ranch.
SA: I know that the park is named after her, so her name is prominent here.
AM: It sure is.
SA: Anything more you can tell me about her as a person?
AM: I don't know. She was just a great, great lady, that's all. Always doing for somebody else.
SA: Oh, what a wonderful teacher.
AM: Yes, a wonderful teacher. She had discipline, I'll tell you! (laughs)
SA: Did your children have her as a teacher?
AM: Yes, they had her.
SA: I hear a lot about her reputation. [tape cuts]
AM: Her reputation, yeah.
SA: I'm glad the Depression didn't affect you as it did a lot. I'm happy to hear that. Now then when the war started, tell me how that affected first you as a family, and then Fallon and Churchill County.
AM: Well, Wayne didn't have to go to war, but he volunteered to go. He had a family.
SA: With all that family?! [gasp]
AM: Yes. So they were crying for radio technicians, radar technicians, and he was a ham radio operator.
SA: Was that a hobby through the years?
AM: Yes, that was his hobby.
SA: I see!
AM: So he went, and I took over his job on the mail route.
SA: You're kidding me!
AM: No, I'm not.
SA: Did you try to stop him from joining?
SA: You were one of those real good wives. Okay, so this is important. So how did you take over his route with this big, big family?
AM: Well, [laughs] I just did it!
SA: First, on a daily basis, I want you to give me a typical day, with your family, and delivering the mail--one typical day.
AM: One typical day.
SA: A typical day, from the time you woke up, until the time you went to bed.
AM: Well, I had to get up early in the morning and get my five kids fed.
SA: What time would you get up?
AM: About six, and get them fed, off to school. Waynette, the youngest girl, wasn't in school yet, but she was five years old. I had a housekeeper some of the time. Then I'd go to my work, work for eight hours.
SA: Describe it for those of us who don't know what a rural mail carrier does. Take us through the steps.
AM: Well, you have to sort your mail, put it in pigeon holes and then tie it up just like you're going to deliver it, and put it in bundles. And when you had Montgomery Ward catalogs, you really worked, let me tell you! (laughter) So then we'd put it in the car and I'd start delivering.
SA: What kind of a car did you drive?
AM: I had a Ford at that time.
SA: Did you have to drive your own car?
AM: Oh yes.
SA: They were giving you a little bit of mileage, not much.
AM: Yeah. No, we got more after the Depression--we got back more.
SA: Would there be another person with you?
SA: By yourself?
SA: Did Wayne take you around before you had to take over?
AM: Oh yes.
SA: So you would know where to go?
AM: Oh yes, he taught me.
SA: I hope you got some of the pay. (laughter)
AM: I did! I got it all.
SA: So take me through that day. What time would you get back to your kids?
AM: Oh, about five o'clock.
SA: Oh, my gosh!
AM: Then there was dinner to get. (laughs) And start all over again. Sunday was wash day. I'd have to do the laundry.
SA: And shop for food.
SA: Oh my gosh!
AM: I always tell everybody that I had a farm, a mail route, and five kids to take care of. So it was a hard time.
SA: Oh! Did you hear from Wayne, and were you sending letters?
AM: Oh yes.
SA: Did he get to do his radio and radar?
AM: Oh yes, he was a radio technician.
SA: And did you get to think, there he is, having fun, all alone, doing what he wants?
AM: Well, he was out in the South Pacific.
SA: Oh, they sent him over. Oh, so you had that worry on top of everything else! (gasp)
AM: That's right. He was in the Philippines.
SA: Was he sorry that he went?
AM: I think he was. [End of tape 1 side A] He could have been. He's never ever really come out and said that, but he was wishing he was home.
SA: How long was he away?
AM: Three years.
SA: Oh my gosh! (gasp) And you worked all those three years with the six children?
AM: Six children.
SA: That is unbelievable. Oh, you must have been a very strong lady.
AM: l had to be.
SA: How old were your kids by then? How old were the older ones?
AM: Well, when Wayne came home, Don was around thirteen, the oldest one.
SA: Still young.
AM: Yeah, they were young, they were.
SA: Young for so much responsibility.
AM: But they were wonderful.
SA: They helped with everything?
AM: They sure did. My two boys were wonderful.
SA: Now, on that rural route, over the three years, and it was during wartime, did you ever have a chance, did anyone do what you did, come down to the mailbox? Did you get to chat with anyone?
AM: Oh sure.
SA: Did you hear about any hardships out there in any of the ranches?
AM: No, not hardships that I remember of. I remember one old man that came down to the box one day and he had a whole armful of lilacs, and he gave them to me and he said, "This is for my sweetheart." (laughs)
SA: Oh! I'll bet it was unusual to see a woman delivering the mail.
SA: You were a young woman then.
SA: I'll bet you were wondering, "Why'd I go down to that mailbox?!" (laughter) Were there many changes in the three years out on the rural route?
AM: It just got bigger all the time.
SA: Bigger in what way?
AM: More people coming in. And the Navy base was out here.
SA: Alright, I want to ask you about that. During that time, of course the Navy base did start. Tell me from your observation and your just living here, when they were planning it, was there controversy? Were people glad it was coming in? What has happening in the community when that was being developed?
AM: Well, it's just like it is now. Some thinks it's good, and some don't, you know.
SA: How did you feel? Was it according to where they lived? If they lived closer to it, they were more disturbed?
AM: Undoubtedly, yes, when the planes flew overhead, and there's so much noise. But it didn't bother me. I lived a long way away from it, and so it didn't bother me.
SA: Did that start a growth in the town, because didn't they have contractors and building--helped the economy?
AM: Oh sure, sure, it did.
SA: So were they lifting out of the Depression now?
AM: Yeah, I think so.
SA: How did your kids feel when their father left and was away so long? Wasn't that hard, not having a father?
AM: It was hard, it was. But they were so great about it. I never had one bit of trouble with them, not once.
SA: Is there anything more on that rural route work that you did? Anything unusual, or that you saw, or anything about it that you want to tell about before we move on to Wayne coming back?
AM: [chuckles] No.
SA: Did you get to enjoy it a little bit?
AM: Oh sure. I know how happy I was the day that Armistice was declared. The war was over.
SA: Because your days were rush, rush, rush, rush.
AM: Yeah, and I knew he'd be coming home.
SA: Uh-huh, and have that job again.
SA: And it must have been lonely.
AM: Oh sure, it was lonely.
SA: I mean, you had the kids, but you didn't have a husband.
AM: No, I sure didn't.
SA: Was there a lot of correspondence? Did you keep the mail busy?
AM: Oh sure, he was great. I had an old man down in the country that he used to tell me that I was a "postal packin' mama." You know that song at that time? [Pistol Packin' Mama.] So he called me the postal packin' mama.
SA: I would imagine that people would come down to the mailbox, because people like you were looking for mail from their loved ones.
AM: Oh sure.
SA: So the mail was more important than ever.
AM: It was, it truly was.
SA: So what you were doing was really a war effort, wasn't it?
AM: That's right.
SA: Because they lost a lot of men. Were there other women carriers like you?
AM: Oh sure, there were other carriers.
SA: Were there other carriers that filled-in those jobs?
AM: Yeah. I know they worked there when I was there.
SA: How else did the war affect Fallon? Of course it affected it with the military base coming in. What other ways do you know? Any other things happening during the war period that affected it? Any stores open up or close?
AM: Oh, I suppose there was new ones, but I can't recall right now.
SA: You were too busy to go downtown and shop? (laughter)
AM: I was too busy. (laughter)
SA: Okay, so then how soon after the war ended did Wayne come home?
AM: Well, he was on his way home at that time. They were as far as Hawaii when the war was over. And so his commander said, "We're going right straight home, because if we stay here, they'll want us to work, bring troops home." So he said, "We're going straight home to the States." When he went over, his ship carried a thousand war dogs.
SA: War dogs?! What are war dogs?
AM: Dogs that went into the places to scare out Japanese.
SA: Oh, they were trained. I never heard of that.
AM: Trained, yes.
SA: So there must have been a whole training force to train those dogs over here.
AM: Oh sure.
SA: Never heard of it. Of course during the war you didn't hear a lot of things.
AM: No, you didn't know. But his ship had a thousand war dogs.
SA: Did he come home without any illness?
AM: Oh, he was fine. He's never been ill. (laughs)
SA: So tell me what it was like when he came home. The kids must have felt a little strange--three years is a long time. "Is that my daddy?"
AM: That's right.
SA: How was the reunion?
AM: Oh, they were great. They're good kids, really. They really were wonderful kids.
SA: Wayne must have been thrilled.
AM: Oh, he was thrilled to death.
SA: He didn't want to enlist anymore?
AM: He's always loved his kids.
SA: So then your life slowly got back [to normal].
AM: (laughs) Yeah. I worked for a while after he got home, and then he took it back over again.
SA: I'm sure he appreciated what you did, knowing what it was like. Of course when he did it, he didn't have to do all the other things you did.
AM: That's right!
SA: A woman has double duty.
AM: They sure do.
SA: We're going to do a portion of an interview now with Wayne who came in, and we’ll finish with Anne later. First, I want to ask you to give us your full name and where and when you were born.
WM: My name is Wayne Bryant Mills and I was born in Elk River, Minnesota, December 20, 1902.
SA: Tell us about your grandparents. The ones that came to Nevada, was that your father's side, your grandparents?
WM: It was on the grandfather's side, but they were here when we came. They lived here at that time.
SA: They lived here when you came. And can you tell us their names?
WM: …My grandfather was Edward… I should have gone over this first.
SA: That’s alright. Is it Edward Presley Mills?
WM: Edward Presley Mills. Grandmother was Stata Mills. I guess we didn't know her middle name.
SA: Where did they come from when they moved to Nevada? Where were they living, where were they born?
WM: I'm sorry, I don't know that.
SA: Did your grandparents live in Minnesota first?
WM: Well, on my mother's side, yes, they lived in Minnesota.
SA: Do you know what brought them to Nevada, to Churchill County?
WM: No, I don't know for sure. I know my grandfather served in the Minnesota Regiment in the Civil War, served with honors.
SA: Is that the one who came here?
WM: Well, they never did come here.
SA: Okay, let's stick with the ones who came here, because we want to deal with Churchill County. Did they come here to join other family members?
WM: Yes, I believe they came here to be with my father's brother, John S. Mills. He was my father's brother, and they were the ones that had been trying all this time to get us to come to Nevada.
SA: Oh, is that right?
WM: And they were here then too. I don't know just how long they had been here, but they were pretty old, and I don't know.
SA: Did they come because of the Newlands Project? Had they heard about the opening up of land and the irrigation project, do you know?
WM: I'm not sure about that. I think they came more or less because the family was kind of getting gathered together out here, it seemed like.
SA: Could that have been because they wanted to do ranching here, or the better weather?
WM: Well, they were too old for that. I don't know how old they were, but they died shortly after they came here,
SA: Now, what about your father? What was your father's name?
WM: My father's name was Frederick Mills.
SA: When did he come out here?
WM: He came in 1918 with the rest of his family.
SA: Was he married when he came?
WM: Yes, he was married and had about five or six kids.
SA: What was his wife's name?
WM: His wife's name was Flora Bryant Mills.
SA: When your father came, he came with your mother and some kids already born back in Minnesota?
WM: No, we were all together at that time. We all arrived at Hazen at the same time.
SA: Oh, you arrived in Hazen?!
WM: Yeah, we came by railroad.
SA: Did you come from Minnesota?
WM: No, we came from Minnesota to North Dakota; North Dakota to Glasgow, Montana; and Glasgow, Montana to Hazen, Nevada.
SA: Amazing you remember. How old were you?
WM: Well, let's see, 1918, I was about sixteen.
SA: Okay, so that's old enough to remember. What did Hazen look like when your family arrived there?
WM: Well, we arrived at about two or three o'clock in the morning, so we didn't see very much of Hazen, but as it was, at that time. . . . Well, there wasn't much there, but it's a railway division point, and that's what made Hazen. And then they ran a spur line from Hazen to Fallon.
SA: Was there a middle-of-the-night train, or did you have to hang around there the rest of the night?
WM: Five or six families met us there at Hazen--friends of the other Millses that were here. And they all had cars. A lot of our stuff came by train, but we didn't get it until the next day or later, I don't know. There was a train running from Hazen to Fallon, but I don't know how often it ran. I don't remember.
SA: Was that kind of an exciting trip for you at sixteen?
WM: Well, all I remember is the floods in Montana and . . . what do they call 'em? And they had those hot winds come. I can't remember what they call 'em. [Chinook winds]
SA: How did you feel about coming West? It was your first time, right?
WM: Yes, my first time. We were quite thrilled with it when we saw it by daylight. And of course we thought of Hazen as kind of a town--it wasn't. What would Fallon be, having a branch line coming from Hazen to Fallon?! But it turned out to be Fallon was quite a bit bigger than Hazen.
SA: So did you get to Fallon while it was still dark?
WM: Oh yes.
SA: Did you go to your uncle's house?
WM: Yes, we had quite a trip home from Hazen to Fallon that night. You see, there was nothing but a kind of a trail for a road, and sandy. You know, the cars weren't like they are nowadays. That's why they brought so many cars along, I guess. They figured one car could help another one. In those days, everybody helped everybody else, all their neighbors, you know, and everything. I don't know how long it took us to get from Fallon to Hazen, but I imagine it was, oh, maybe two hours. I don't know, can't remember now.
SA: You were kind of lucky to have such a gang of relatives here.
WM: Certainly was.
SA: When your family came, did your father have work lined up, or was he going to look for work when he got here?
WM: No, he didn't have any work, no. In fact, his brother and their family rustled up and got enough money to pay our transportation down there from Montana.
SA: How nice.
WM: And after he got here, he found out that the flour-milling business that he was raised in, or which he had his training for, wasn't available, because there was a flour mill here in Fallon, but it was already operating and they didn't need any more. But after that, why, he got different kinds of jobs working, driving tractor where they were leveling land and things like that.
SA: So that was during the busy part of the Newlands Project.
WM: First World War. Well, yeah. That wasn't the earliest part of the Project, no. This was 1918 when we came. But he found work, and finally got work as a ditch rider, as my wife told you.
SA: How many kids were in your family when you came, did you say?
WM: If I can count right, there was six.
SA: And where were you in that line-up?
WM: I was third from the oldest.
SA: Okay, so you were kind of towards the middle.
SA: So did your father rent a house for the family? Or what did you live in after arriving at your relatives' house?
WM: Oh, we found rental places, usually.
SA: Right in the city?
WM: Usually they were close to my father's brother's place.
SA: Where was that?
WM: Right about five miles west of Fallon, out by where it's now Sheckler District.
SA: Yes, so you were out a ways, and then transportation and roads weren't so good.
WM: Yeah, they had buggy roads and things like that, you know--few cars and Model T Fords and things like that.
SA: What did the town look like to you? What do you remember?
WM: Well, I don't remember too much about it.
SA: Out where you lived, was it barren?
WM: It was a town of muddy streets. Of course, they didn't have an awful lot of rain, but they had a lot more than they have nowadays. I don't remember too much about it.
SA: You weren't disappointed in what it looked like, or your mother?
WM: No, I was at the age that it was a new venture.
SA: When you came, did you go to school, or did you go to work?
WM: I didn't go to work that half year. See, we came in the middle of the school year, when I came here. And I went the year and I graduated from Churchill County High School. That was a brand new school then, it was just built.
SA: How did you feel, going to a new school in a new strange place? Were you a shy person?
WM: Yeah, I was always pretty shy--especially with the girls.
SA: [laughs] Until you met Annie! [tape cuts] Did you find it much different from your school back where you came from? Did you keep up with the subjects? Or how did it seem to you? Was it hard?
WM: Well, I hadn't been going to school very regularly, because we made three or four moves in just four or five years, you see. Of course, everyone was a little different, and some of 'em, I missed the school. I took employment as a Western Union messenger boy when I was in Glasgow, Montana. I earned enough money to get a bicycle.
SA: Oh, very ambitious! So you went one year to the high school? Did you graduate?
WM: Yes, I graduated in 1921.
SA: After you graduated, what did you do?
WM: Oh, I did a lot of different jobs. I was going to make a lot of money raising chickens, you know--mostly for broilers.
SA: Did you have enough ground around your house for chickens?
WM: That wasn't the problem--the problem was the money, you know, and getting 'em. That worked for a while.
SA: You did get chickens?
SA: On the grounds around where you were living?
WM: Yes. And, oh, I had various odd jobs. I worked not on the building of Lahontan [Dam], but I worked on some of the ditch cleaning and that, with a team of mules and a Fresno scraper.
SA: Oh my goodness! Describe the process. What was going on and where were you doing the digging of these ditches? Where was this? What was the land or ranch like? What was happening?
WM: Well, it was happening all over, it was building irrigation ditches. They had the water coming down from Lahontan and they had to have the branch lines, you know, to take the water to the different parts of the Project.
SA: Did you work for TCID doing that, or for private ranchers?
WM: Yes, it wasn't TCID at that time--it was the Bureau of Reclamation.
SA: Oh, okay, this is an early period. This is like 1922, 1923?
WM: Uh-huh. I worked for various parts of the Bureau of Reclamation. Had warehouse work. When they were building a drain ditch--you see, they had to put in drainage. They used irrigation ditches and drainage ditches. Where there was a lot of alkali, they had to wash the alkali out of the land. And that ran down the drain ditches, further down towards Stillwater and down that way.
SA: The alkaline water that they were draining off, where would that go?
WM: It would go out and spread out on the desert down there and evaporate. The water would evaporate.
SA: Okay, to land that wasn't ranchland or farmland.
WM: No, it wasn't. Alkali was what they feared. They tried to get all the alkali they could out of that ground.
SA: Is that mainly the kind of ditches at that time that you were digging? Was any of it on private ranches?
WM: Where I was working?
WM: Well, mostly for my uncle's family, because they had a farm, and they were putting up hay and things like that.
SA: Oh, where was their farm? Near where you lived at Sheckler District?
WM: Yes, it was in Sheckler District.
SA: Describe what kind of a farm they had.
WM: Well, they had originally had a farm, when the Project was very new, and at that time you didn't have to pay for the land, you just had to have money enough to establish crops on it. And they advertised it in the papers, you know, back in the Midwest.
SA: Had your family heard about it there?
WM: Yeah. I think that's how they got there in about 1905 or 1908, I'm not sure.
SA: Yeah, it started that early.
WM: They had such poor land that. . . . You see, people didn't know what land to file on. They could get the land free, but they didn't know what land to file on. So then they had two or three different places, and they finally. . . Then when their boys, Percy and Claude, got big enough to farm. . .
SA: Now who was that?
WM: Percy and Claude. That's J.S. Mills' boys. That's my father's brother's boys. And they were farmers from way back, I guess-they were raised on a farm.
SA: So part of your family came at a very early period of the Project.
WM: Yeah, that's pretty early--1918, see.
SA: But you said some were here in 1908 and 1909?
WM: That was that other family. That was J.S. Mills' family--"Uncle John," as we called him.
SA: That's very early in the Project.
WM: Aunt Anna was a great naturalist.
SA: Oh really?!
WM: Oh, she was a game raiser and things like that, you know, and stuffed animals and things like that.
SA: Oh, taxidermy?
WM: Taxidermist and things like that. But of course they never made any money out of that. But in those days, why, she just did it for fun, not for making money.
SA: Did your uncle's ranch become a pretty good ranch? Did it support the family?
WM: Well, they had several places. One of 'em, they were gonna have a big one, and they failed on that, because they just didn't have the money to keep it going, you know, but they made a living on that ranch.
SA: Now, did they homestead? Did the first ones who came, did they homestead?
WM: Yes, they homsteaded--they'd have to.
SA: What kind of ranches did they have? Did they have dairy cattle or alfalfa?
WM: Practically all alfalfa.
SA: Because that's easiest to raise, right?
WM: Yeah, that's what the land was adapted for. It was just good land for alfalfa. And they had to build it up over the years, you know, with fertilizers and stuff to get other crops on it.
SA: Were they pretty good farmers, the Mills family?
WM: Well, I know they worked like the dickens (chuckles), and if you work hard enough, you're a good farmer.
SA: Did you work with them?
WM: Yes, I worked with [them]. I wasn't much bigger than I am now [chuckles], so I couldn't do the heavy work at all, but I did a lot of the help in the haying. Everybody helped in the haying, you know--all the family had to.
SA: Did your father ever have a ranch or do ranching? Or did he mainly do other jobs, like the ditch rider?
WM: He didn't own any ranch property, no. Ditch rider was his main occupation.
SA: That was an important one in those days.
SA: Did your uncles, on their ranch--you were helping to dig some of these ditches--did the irrigation on their ranch become good so that they were getting the water they needed to raise the crops?
WM: Yes, they were in the business of land levelling--Claude and Percy. And that was a big business in those days. They used eight-horse teams and what they called a tailboard scraper to level the land so the water would run over it, the irrigation water. See, the land had to be fairly level in order for the [water] to cover all the land. Nowadays, everything is done by. . . What's the instrument they use? Anyway, nowadays it's a science. In those days it was just a lot of hard work. [Tape cuts]
SA: When your father was a ditch rider for the Newlands Project, did he ever take you out with him when he did that work?
WM: Yes. I could go anytime I wanted to, I guess. See, they used cars and I don't know what I was doing at that time, but I had various different kinds of jobs, but I'd go with him on his ditch riding sometimes.
SA; Would they call him when they needed the water? Was he one of them that they would phone and say, "I need water?"
WM: Yeah, they have a system of ditch riders--a ditch rider for each different area around.
SA: What was his area?
WM: Well, his area at that time was the old River District. It varied, see. One year it might be one district, and another year another. But the Bureau of Reclamation furnished their houses for 'em.
WM: Well, I guess they had to pay rent.
SA: Be set up with phones and everything, to be called?
SA: Where did you live?
WM: We lived what we called a ditch house, yeah.
SA: What was the house like?
WM: They were just a cheap house. They were just small houses, you know, big enough for a family, if the family wasn't too big. They were owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, they were furnished for the ditch riders.
SA: So that saved money for the family. Maybe the salary was less, but that helped the family.
SA: About how long was your dad a ditch rider for the Newlands Project?
WM: Oh, gosh, I can't tell you. He was a ditch rider for a long time.
SA: A long time, okay. And that was a salaried job?
WM: Yeah, it was a salaried job. In the wintertime they worked cleaning the ditches and burning out the weeds and the timber and the stuff, so they'd have water for the next season. And I guess he worked twenty years as a ditch rider--I'm not sure.
SA: That's a long time!
WM: I can't remember.
SA: Well, that was more steady than being a rancher in those days probably.
WM: Well, he had a lot of experience, you know, for ranching, by doing that. [End of tape 1]
SA: Before your father came to Nevada, did he have experience farming in Minnesota that helped him here?
MILLS: Not very much. All I knew about him in Minnesota was working in the flour mill. The farmers would bring the wheat in and the mills ground it up.
SA: So this was all new to him in Nevada, to learn how to be a ditch rider?
WM: No, there wasn't anything like that back there, because there wasn't any irrigation.
SA: So this was new, and they taught him what to do?
WM: Yeah, that was the first irrigation project, the Newlands Project.
SA: That's right, first U.S. Reclamation. So he stuck with that. Did he retire from that?
WM: Let me see. . . . [chuckles] Yeah, he retired from ditch riding, but I can't remember what year it was.
SA: That's okay.
WM: There's a lot of heavy-duty work to it, you know, pulling the flashboards out, directing the water to go in different directions in the different ditches and so forth.
SA: Tell me a little more when you went with him, what is the job? I know you said what he did in the winter, but during the heavy irrigation season, what were some of the things a ditch rider had to do?
WM: Well, they had to look out for broken ditches. You know, there was gophers and squirrels and things that built in the ditch banks, and after about so long, after they get so big or up so high, the water would wash them out and it'd get bigger and bigger until it was a ditch break, and then they had to report all those things, and they had to get crews out there to fix them.
SA: Otherwise they'd lose the water.
WM: Yeah, they couldn't use the water, the water was going to waste. Nowadays they'd have fits if they had to waste water like that.
SA: How big an area did he have to cover?
WM: Oh, I can't tell you that--they all varied. Some of the trips he had to take were ten or twelve miles. Of course in those days, that was quite a distance, and they were all dirt roads--either sand or adobe.
SA: Were they using cars then?
WM: Yeah, they used cars--old Fords and things like that. I can't remember whether they ever had any horses and buggies when we were there.
SA: From the time you first came, and when you were going around with your dad when he was a ditch rider and when you were digging ditches, did you see changes on the ranches and changes on the farms and changes out in the area where you lived? Was the irrigation promoting more cultivation? What was happening?
WM: Well, it was mostly getting more land. Every time you got an acreage, you wanted more, you know. If they made anything, they usually invested it in land.
SA: So there was land available at that time?
WM: Well, not from the government, necessarily.
SA: From other farmers who were selling?
WM: From some other farmers.
SA: [Other farmers] who might not be doing good and want to sell. Did your uncles, that part of the family, acquire more land?
WM: Yes, but they stuck with the one out there in the Sheckler District that's still in use out there.
SA: It still is? Is it in the family?
WM: It isn't in the family, no. It's still a farm or ranch or whatever you want to call it. The fellah that has it now is [raising] fine garden vegetables, and sells 'em.
SA: When you were going around--when you first came and you were going around--was there still land available for homesteading or purchasing? Was there empty farmland still around?
WM: Yeah, there was land available, but I don't think it was available to file on for low price, you know, because after all the work they do on it, leveling and that, well naturally it's worth more, because that's part of. .
SA: Was the homesteading finished by the time you were. . . I know that after World War I they opened it up, priority to veterans, but that was in that early period.
WM: I don't know how long they had it available, but I know they did have some. The railroad had land, owned part of the land. Bureau of Reclamation had part of it.
SA: I know that you're related to Newell Mills. How are you related to Newell Mills?
WM: Newell is my second cousin. Percy Mills is his father.
SA: Oh, you were telling me about Percy and Claude. So he's the son, he's younger.
WM: Yeah, Percy was his father.
SA: So does he own some of the land that we're talking about?
WM: Uh-huh. He always had a farm of some kind, or ranch, but his main business was land leveling--he and Claude had those six-and eight-horse teams that I was telling you about.
SA: Percy and Claude?
SA: And Newell is his son, so he's the younger generation?
WM: Yeah, Newell is his son.
SA: Does he own part of the family ranch?
WM: Now, you mean?
WM: Yes, I think a lot of that, that Newell is on, is some of their old land. See, people moved around so much, and they were always trying to find something better, or better land.
SA: Anything more about your father's work that would add to the information on the Newlands Project?
WM: Oh, no, except that. . . . Well, at one time, around 1918, around the time of the end of the First World War, he drove a tractor and was leveling land with a tractor instead of with a team. But that was a short job--it wasn't a steady job or anything like that. [Tape cuts briefly] This experiment farm was built. . . . I don't know whether it was part of the Bureau of Reclamation or not. It got to belong to the University of Nevada later on.
SA: What period are we talking about? Your father worked on the experimental farm. Was this after he was a ditch rider?
WM: Yeah, I can't remember the years of it. The experiment farm had several houses there, and their employees lived in these houses.
SA: Where was that?
WM: That was right out here where the experiment farm is now. You know where this junction of these roads is right out here?
SA: Oh yes.
WM: That's now owned by University of Nevada?
SA: Oh, it's where the rodeos and things are!
SA: Oh yeah, sure.
WM: Only it's on the other side of the road.
SA: Yes, I know where you mean. That's University of Nevada.
WM: They had houses for their employees, and my mother cooked for them part of the time. The employees were mostly bachelors, and they had a housing area there. And my dad was one of the employees.
SA: Is this after he was a ditch rider, after he retired from ditch riding?
WM: Well, it would be around 1920, I guess, something like that. I can't remember how long he worked there, or how long she cooked there.
SA: Was it just a brief time?
SA: And that was the University doing experiments?
WM: Yeah, that was the University at that time.
SA: Was it a year, two years, three years?
WM: Oh, it's been going ever since.
SA: No, no, no, when your parents worked there.
WM: Oh, I imagine they were there five to ten years.
SA: Oh, that long?!
WM: Yeah, they were there quite a while.
SA: Do you remember how old you were when they were there? That would help me.
WM: No, I don't remember. I can't remember. All I know there was a couple of university guys there that worked there, and they were always practical jokers and all this and that, you know, and they were always raising Cain.
SA: Was that when you were about seventeen, eighteen?
WM: I must have been around twenty, after I was out of school.
SA: Okay, and then later your father was the ditch rider.
WM: Yeah, that's right.
SA: Okay, I understand. Did he tell you anything about that experimental farming at all? Were you there, did you see anything about it? Is there anything to add?
WM: Well, I lived right there.
SA: Oh, you lived. . . .
WM: Yeah, the family lived right there on the experiment farm, yeah.
SA: I see. Did you do anything with the farming?
WM: Yeah, I used to hoe corn there for about a dollar a day, I think, or something like that.
SA: Did they have irrigation ditches from the Project to water there?
SA: Was part of that because there was the irrigation now in ditches, that they could do experiments? I'm trying to tie results of the Newlands Project.
WM: Yeah, that was the idea. That was what it was built for--particularly to experiment with different methods of farming and irrigating and that.
SA: Is that why the university came here, because they couldn't do that in Reno?
WM: Yeah, there wasn't anything like that in Reno. It was just a branch of the university.
SA: Yeah, but because of the Project, they were able to experiment?
WM: Yeah, it was just a branch, and these guys were getting training there for farming. Students were getting experience in farming and that. And of course they did a lot of silly things that these farmers around here thought was silly, because they were just new guys just out of college.
SA: They thought they knew it all? (laughter)
SA: So did your mother like working there?
WM: Yes, I think she did. And I think they liked her cooking. She got lots of compliments on it and all that. She'd never done anything like that, except cooking for the family.
SA: And she got paid!
WM: Yeah, she got paid. I don't know whether she got more than the rent for the house or not. We lived in one of those houses there.
SA: Well, that helped. Now, on the experimental farm, was it mainly growing different crops, or did they also have chickens or animals?
WM: I think they started out mostly with crops to see what would grow on the kind of land that was on the Project. They experimented, of course, with sugar beets and a lot of different things. Sugar beets went for a while here. They raised sugar beets and they had a sugar mill here.
SA: Yeah, the sugar beet mill. That didn't last. Wasn't it some bug or a disease or something that damaged the beets?
WM: Uh-huh. That was going for quite a while, but they finally decided that it wasn't good enough soil to raise sugar beets on--get a big enough crop to make it pay.
SA: Did they try the Hearts-O-Gold cantaloupe at the experimental farm?
WM: I imagine they experimented with it in those days.
SA: Or was that too early?
WM Actually, yeah, that Heart-O-Gold cantaloupe, I think originated here, as far as I know.
WM: I can't think of the man's name that started it now, but you probably have it somewhere there in your notes.
WM: But that had to be a certain quality of ground, you know, to grow that on. You couldn't just take it out and grow them on any kind of ground. Not too much alkali or anything like that.
SA: Now, did the experimental farm end when your folks left? Did that end?
WM: No, it was like any political project--it run for a while on one management, and then somebody else would take it over. I think it was a combination of the federal government and the University of Nevada.
SA: I see, just like the Bureau of Reclamation. The Newlands Project was a federal project.
WM: Yeah. They were just trying to find out. . . .
SA: Did they advise the farmers? Did they have meetings where they would share this and help the farmers know how to farm on this kind of a Project?
WM: Yeah, I don't remember too much about their meetings or anything like that, but I know it was a political thing. Every once in a while there'd be political guys come through and examine things and see how they were going, and give 'em orders of something else to do. I don't know. You know how politics is.
SA: Well I hadn't heard about that, so I want to thank Annie for telling us that. [Annie passed a note to Wayne to remind him to tell about the experimental farm.] After you finished the experimental, where did the family move then? Was there another house you rented? Was that the house out on Sheckler?
WM: Uh-huh, but I can't remember the order it's in.
SA: That's okay.
WM: Yeah, they lived out in Sheckler District for a while. [Several sentence fragments, tape cuts]
SA: So what happened after the experimental farm? He went right to ditch riding?
WM: Yeah, I think he went to ditch riding right from there, as far as I know. He had various different parts of the Project that he worked on, so that he had more or less of a knowledge of the Project around, you know. But I think most of the time, he was in Old River District--I told you about going down there. And that district is still going strong down there. It's down north, out this way.
SA: Do you remember when the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] came in, in the thirties, during the Depression and worked on the ditches, doing repair work and cementing? Do you remember that? Did you have any personal experience?
WM: Well, I remember them being in here, yes, but I didn't know too much about their work. I know they had a lot of work projects around, and I guess some of it was cleaning ditches.
SA: And they cemented a lot. Did you see them working, or in town?
WM: I don't remember. I think most of it was out in the country, in the farming area.
SA: Did your father ever mention them? Did he ever work with them? They were here for about four years, I understand.
WM: Yeah, there was a different time, though. I don't know, I can't remember.
SA: In the mid-thirties.
WM: It's pretty hard for me to remember about it.
SA: That's okay. Now, I understand that you're related to the schoolteacher Laura Mills. Annie told me a little about her. Was she your cousin?
SA: You want to tell me anything about her?
WM: Well, everybody knows about her, prit near, that ever lived here-that she was interested in animals and plants and kids. Every chance she got, she'd take kids out on weekends, you know, to study the land and the animals and the birds and everything. She was just full of it. Well, it was in the family--her mother was the same way.
SA: Is that right?
WM: That's Aunt Anna, as we called her, Anna Mills. Anna Mills' brother, that doesn't go with this, but he was one of the big shots in the naturalist service in the United States.
SA: What was his name?
WM: Vernon Bailey. Laura's mother was a sister of Vernon Bailey. And if you ever look in any naturalists' works, you'll find Vernon Bailey in there, and probably a lot of Laura. Laura's work was in there too.
SA: So you had quite a family, all of you here. Did the family all get together on holidays or Sundays?
WM: Oh yeah, that was the life.
SA: Tell me about it.
WM: Well, the main thing was, they'd get together and have sings around the piano, you know.
SA: They did?! Who was the musician?
WM: If they didn't have a piano, they'd have something else--an organ, you know, the old-time organ.
SA: They all liked to sing?
WM: Oh yes. That mostly came from my cousins. They were the ones that kept it going or started it.
SA: Which ones, Percy and Claude?
WM: Percy and Claude and May and Vernon and all of them. Faith and Grace. That was the big celebration. Then they'd go out on sleigh rides in the wintertime. We used to get snow there, you know, and we'd go out and have sleigh rides and things like that.
SA: Whose house would be the gathering place, at their place?
WM: Well, yeah, usually--whoever had the organ or the piano, you know.
SA: Did they dance?
WM: Well, they didn't have any dance floor. They didn't do so much in the line of dancing, I don't think.
SA: More singing?
WM: Yeah, just mostly singing.
SA: What kind of songs?
WM: Well, anything that was popular in those days. I can't remember what they sang.
SA: And on holidays like Christmas, would they sing Christmas carols?
WM: Yeah, they had the big time.
SA: Would they have the holidays together, like Thanksgiving and Christmas?
WM: Yeah, they usually got together on all the holidays.
SA: So that was unusual to have so many from one family here. That must have been wonderful. Did you all help each other?
WM: Yeah. Well, you put the two families together, you know, and you had a big crowd.
SA: You had a community!
SA: Did everyone help each other with whatever?
SA: So then when did you start your job with the rural mail route with the post office?
WM: I started in 1926.
SA: Before 1926, is there anything you might want to share before that time?
WM: Oh, I can't remember! I told you I raised chickens for a while and tried to make some money from it, but I never made any money from it.
SA: And you were digging ditches.
WM: Yeah, and I was working for the Bureau of Reclamation. They had several big dirt-moving machines, building drain ditches at that time, and I worked in the warehouse where they had the parts for these machines, and helped the truck drivers by filling barrels with fuel, you know, to take out to the dredgers around different places. We had two guys and an old Ford truck that took the gasoline or diesel or whatever it was, to the places where they were working.
SA: It sounds like this was a busy time for the Bureau of Reclamation and the Project, with all of this going on. Was this a real busy time when they were getting it in good order?
WM: Yeah, it was pretty busy.
SA: Was there a lot of water then? Was there enough water for everyone then?
WM: Oh yeah, they always had water, and they wasted a lot of it, and that's what brought on a lot of this trouble that we're having now, I guess. We always thought that they'd never run out of water, and they just used as much as they. . . . They'd waste it and everything else.
SA: Well, then the big drought--no snow and rain--is hurting.
WM: Of course that's all came. . . . Well, I don't remember that they ever had these drought periods like this, but I suppose occasionally they had one, but I know we usually had plenty of water, plenty of snow in the wintertime, and Lahontan would get pretty well filled up and carry over each year for the next season. It just gradually went down and down, and they finally discovered that they couldn't use all the water that they wanted to. They're throwing a lot of it away. They always complained about not having enough water, and they discovered later that actually alfalfa didn't need that much water, because the roots go down so deep.
SA: Well, let's hope that it starts raining this year!
WM: You see, here--well, even now, the actual rainfall is only about six inches a year or something like that. You know, that's not very much water.
SA: Right, that's the way it is in California.
WM: You have to depend on what comes down in the mountains in the form of snow and melts and runs down the Truckee and Carson Rivers and stores in Lahontan. That's what they depend on for farming. Now they're trying to take that away from us. (chuckles)
SA: Divert it to the big cities.
WM: I'd better not get into politics here!
SA: I know some of that that's happened. But that period when you were here, there was plenty of water, so they were doing fine?
WM: Uh-huh. I have lots of pictures of water flowing over the spillways on the dam. That was water that was going to waste. Well, a lot of it was going to waste, and of course a lot of it went down the canals to the farms too.
SA: What happened to this whole big family and all of you during the Depression years? That's later, the Depression years.
WM: That's around 1932?
SA: Yeah. Did your family's ranches suffer during that period?
WM I don't remember too much about it. See, I had a steady job, mail carrier's job.
SA: Okay, we'll move you into that.
WM: So it didn't affect me or my family much. But the people that didn't have work, of course it was pretty bad.
SA: Well, let's get you into your post office job. When did you decide to work for the post office? Tell me what your job was.
WM: Well, I started that when they advertised for a rural mail carrier. They had to give a civil service examination, and I took the examination along with about fifteen or sixteen others, and there's only about five or six subjects: spelling, writing, arithmetic, letter writing, and a few things like that. And they graded you just like a schoolteacher would grade it, you know, on a percentage basis. And I got the highest percentage rating of any of the sixteen.
SA: Oh, congratulations!
WM: See, it was a political appointment, and the person that had to provide the rural mail carrier, when there was a vacancy, was a politician. He was a senator, and he had to pick one of the top three of the examination.
SA: Oh, in other words, it wasn't the top one.
WM: No, it wasn't the top one--any one of the top three. And he would leave it up to the local Republican chairman at that time. It was the Republicans that were in power at that time. And you know, after we took this examination, we never heard anything from 'em or anything for a long time. Finally I saw this guy on the street. His name was Maupin, and he was the local government big wig. They called him "Duke"--I can't remember his first name. He saw me on the street one day and he said, "Did you want that mail carrier's job?" And I said, "Well, that's why I took the examination. I wouldn't have taken the examination...." He said, "Tasker Oddie has been after me for three or four times with letters, wanting me to name somebody from the top three for that job. If you want it, I'll send your name in."
SA: Oh, my goodness!
MILLS: He sent my name in, and in two or three weeks, I had the job.
SA: Now, first name Tasker. What was his last name?
WM: Tasker Oddie. He was the congressman from Nevada. He was a big Republican, and you know, these jobs were divided up among the different members, and his job was rural mail carriers-apparently one of his jobs.
SA: And he hadn't done anything about it!
WM: I hadn't known him, and didn't know anything about him. There was a lot of hard feeling over that, but then that's....
SA: Well, you got the top grade!
WM: See, some of them were ex-servicemen.
SA: Oh, and they were supposed to have priority?
WM: Even with their added ten points or whatever they got, they didn't get as high a grading as I did, and they thought they should have had the appointment, because they were servicemen. But they'd already had that credit added-in, you see. So I didn't get into that. That was none of my business. I didn't have anything to do with it--it was just luck that I got it, I guess.
SA: Well, it was more than luck, it was your being bright and passing high on the test, too. What year did you start with the post office?
WM: In 1926.
SA: 1926. Tell me, when you first started [End of tape 2 side A] as rural mail carrier, tell me what that entailed. Did they give you a training period?
WM: Yeah. I took several trips around the route with the guy that was the carrier then, and that's where I learned it. Two or three days, you could learn it. You had to learn where all the boxes were and where the people lived and all this and that. And then that's about all there was to it. (chuckles) There were two or three hundred--well, at that time, I guess two hundred fifty boxes, and probably about sixty-five miles of driving.
SA: Wow! What part of the county?
WA: Well, you tell me a part that I wasn't in!
SA: Oh, in other words you changed every so often?
WM: No, but it covered Sheckler, St. Claire, and Island District. You don't know these districts around here, so you don't know how it is.
SA: Yeah, I've been out to ranches interviewing. (chuckles)
WM: And then that was half of it. And then in the afternoon I was down in this other part: Union and all those down there--Harmon. There was about seven or eight different districts, you know.
SA: What were the roads like when you first started?
WM: Well, there weren't many roads. (chuckles) Dirt roads.
SA: Was it still kind of dirt and gravel?
WM: Very little pavement, and very little gravel road. If it rained, it was muddy. And, if it didn't, it was dusty.
SA: And the mailman has to deliver!
SA: Was there ever a day when you couldn't deliver, because of the roads or weather?
WM: I had days that I couldn't. Three or four days that I took a bobsled and a team of mules.
SA: You're kidding!
WM: No, one winter. And a local man loaned me a bobsled and a team of mules. I used half of my route. I couldn't get all the way around, so I got half-way around. And then we had a substitute, and he took the other half. He had an old Dodge car that could get around in the snow better. But that's the only time I ever used a team of mules on the mail route.
SA: Oh my! Now, over a period of time, when you were going around, what kind of changes did you see out in this rural area over the years?
WM You know, over the years that I was on there, I may have thought there was a lot of changes, but nothing at all like it is now. You know how it is now, how the land business is, and the real estate and the building and everything like that. I can go out on what used to be the mail route now, and I don't know the names of any of the people. Of course the families are gone, but the houses are different, houses are gone, the houses have been moved, or something. And it gets worse all the time.
SA: Let's go back to when you were doing it. Tell me what it was like then.
WM: There was nothing to it, except you go down in the morning at eight o'clock or whatever time they. . . . See, the mail came over from Hazen on the train, and it's sorted here in the post office, and each carrier had his part of the mail he had to sort, which is just like it is now I guess. You had to make out a schedule according to what you could do it in. Then you'd get in and you have racks to sort the mail in, you know--a pigeon hole for each family. And take it out and deliver it and put it in the mailbox and go on to the next one, and try to stay awake all the time.
SA: What time did you have to get up?
WM: Oh, it's nothing. I don't know, I got up at seven o'clock, I suppose. See, you had to figure on what time the train was going to get in from Hazen. The railroad had the schedule, of course, and it wasn't a very regular schedule. Sometimes it'd be an hour late, two hours late. And of course that made it hard on the carriers, because we got the blame from people for being late.
SA: Would a mail truck meet the train to bring the mail to the post office? If the train came to Hazen. . .
MILLS: Yeah, in those days, they probably had. . . . No, the railroad was running from Hazen to Fallon. It came out on the railroad.
SA: Okay, but they had to change trains in Hazen?
WM: Yeah. And that was it. It was just a job, that's all. It was monotonous and all, but it paid money and it paid good money, sure money. It wasn't like a farmer's income--he didn't know how much he was going to make.
SA: During that period did they ever have health insurance with a job like that?
SA: Not then. Now, of course, you do. But not then.
WM: No, we didn't have. Let's see, what did we have? We had a carriers' organization, National Rural Letter Carriers Association, that most everybody belonged to. And they tried to get in politics and get things through Congress that were favorable to the carriers. When there was a recession or something and Congress wanted to cut us down from. . . . Well, I think we were getting six cents a mile for maintenance on our car. Can you imagine that? Six cents a mile! (laughs)
SA: Had to use your own car! Not even a company car.
WM: And they wanted to cut it down to about three cents a mile, and boy there was an awful howl about it, you know. Oh, they did cut us down--everybody had to take cuts in recession time, and there's no reason why we shouldn't. But one serious thing--I don't want to get into politics either--but Mr. Florsheim--you ever hear of Florsheim shoes?
WM: They worked their head off to get the rural carriers cut way down to prit near nothing on their mileage.
WM: Just because they thought we were getting too much money, I guess. They said they were being patriotic, but I don't know whether he was cutting his funds or not, but he sure kept after it until they cut the funds of the rural carriers down quite a ways. So I never wore Florsheim shoes after that! (laughs)
SA: Good for you!
WM: But, you know. . . .
SA: Did you know everyone on the route in the early period?
WM: Well, not personally. You see, some of the houses were a quarter of a mile away from the road, or a half a mile away.
SA: From the mailbox.
WM: That was their lookout. I mean, that wasn't my. . . . If I had registered mail or certain insured mail or packages, I was supposed to deliver 'em up to the house if they lived within half a mile of the mail route. Otherwise, you'd just put 'em in the mailbox.
SA: Now let me ask this: Although you didn't know everyone personally, you knew the names that you delivered to.
WM: Oh, I had to keep a record of the names. Had a register book. They had to fill out a form and put all the kids' names and everything on it, so I'd have something [to refer to].
SA: Did the families in the early period stay pretty stable, or was there movement of leaving and new people coming in?
WM: Well, there was no moving like there is now. Well, after the war, there was always a lot of moving. It was just the nature of things. But for a long time. . .
SA: That earliest period, between the twenties and thirties.
WM: The earlier period, why, I knew practically everybody on the route. Once in a while somebody would sell out you know.
SA: Like during the Depression?
WM: Yeah. Oh yeah, the Depression naturally had hit, because they had to go wherever they could find any work.
SA: So there you had people leaving, but not coming in?
WM: Yeah, well, somebody usually came in to take their place. I guess there wasn't much market for selling land either, you know, because didn't have money to pay for it.
SA: How long did you stay with the post office? What year did you leave it? I know you went in the service, so let's not leave too quickly. So you were real busy with this job until the war started, right?
SA: Then tell me. I know we're not going to go deep into your service, because that's not part of [this oral history project], but then tell me what you did after the Depression and the war started. Then what did you do? Let's say 1941. What did you do during the war?
WM: I was in the service, and I was a radio technician. I didn't do a heck of a lot, but I was in there for two years and eight months. Annie took over the mail route at that time, and that's where she learned to drive a car, was on that mail route.
SA: Oh, she hadn't driven before?! She told me about taking over your route, but she didn't tell me she had never driven.
WM: No, she'd never driven before.
SA: Did you teach her before you left?
WM: No, I don't know, she may have had two or three days or a few days. She probably went around with me on the mail route for a few days.
SA: Yes, she did. When you came back [from service] you went back in the post office?
WM: Yeah, I was given six months leave, and then I could go back and take the same job or whatever. That's what I did, I guess, took the same job.
SA: So now, there must have been many changes in that time.
WM: Oh yeah, a lot of changes.
SA: What were some of the changes, getting back on the rural mail route, that you observed? This is like three years. What did you observe in changes?
WM: Oh, I couldn't remember anything about it now.
SA: A lot of new people?
WM: Yes, there were different people, new people--a lot of the old people still there.SA:A lot of new houses?
WM: Just lots of changes. So many changes, you couldn't hardly keep up with it.
SA: The military base had been established out here, the air base.
WM: Uh-huh. You know, if I don't get out there and take care of that water. .
SA: Oh, okay, you're irrigating.
WM: Everything's going to be mud out there! (laughs) I'm sorry.
SA: That's alright. Anything more that's important to add before we say goodbye?
WM: Well, I don't know of anything. You mean that would apply to Churchill County?
SA: Yeah, that's right. That's where we're staying.
WM: Well, I think you've got it pretty well covered.
SA: Okay. I want to thank you for sharing with us. I'm so glad that we've got you on tape. And I'm very glad that we were able to speak with Annie as well. Please extend my gratitude to her also.
WM: You're welcome.
SA: Just one more thing before we end. Where did you meet your lovely wife?
WM: Where? When?
SA: You don't have to give me a date. Where did you meet your lovely wife?
WM: I'll bet you know that already! (chuckles)
SA: I want to hear from you! (laughs)
WM: I met her on the mail route!
SA: What happened?
WM: Well, I saw this girl coming out, running, running, running. She thought she was going to be late with this. She had a letter to mail, I guess. And so I waited for her, and I took the letter and mailed it for her. About the next day, I guess she was out there again. It looked like it was gettin' to be a habit! Finally we decided to go out to Fernley to a dance, or something like that.
SA: Were you kind of pleased to see her that next morning?
WM: Oh yeah, pretty pleased to see her. That's enough!
SA: Okay. Well, on behalf of the Churchill County Oral History Project, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and remembrances with us. This is the end of the interview.