Mary Ellen Allen Oral History
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Churchill County Oral History Project
an interview with
MARY ELLEN ALLEN
June 10, 1994
This interview is part of the socioeconomic studies for Churchill County's Yucca Moutain 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.
Interview with Mary Ellen Allen
ARDEN: This is Sylvia Arden, interviewer for the Churchill County Museum Oral History Program, interviewing Mary Ellen Allen, wife of Lem Allen, at her home at 1755 Coleman Road, Fallon, Nevada, and the date is June 10, 1994. I'm pleased that we could interview you, too, today. Would you please give us your full name and where and when you were born?
ALLEN: My name is Mary Ellen Allen. I was born at Boone Creek twenty-four miles north of Austin, Nevada. My birth date is March 10, 1912,
ARDEN: I understand the coincidence of Lem's mother and your mother growing up together as young children until their adult life in Virginia City. Can you tell me first your mother's name before she married?
ALLEN: Elizabeth Maude Triglone,
ARDEN: Can you tell me a little bit--I know you learned later about their childhood together. Can you just tell me a little bit about this long friendship of these two young women?
ALLEN: Only that they went to school together and…
ARDEN: Did you learn how his mother, and I believe she was Jessie Brown, did you ever learn how she and Lem's father, Lemuel L. Allen, how they met in Virginia City? Did you ever hear that?
ALLEN: I imagine they just met maybe at a social or a dance or something like that.
ARDEN: Lemuel would travel to Virginia City?
ALLEN: Yes, he took produce and stuff over from Fallon to Virginia City.
ARDEN: Did you know Lem's mother, or did you first meet Lem's mother when you were here in Fallon?
ALLEN: When I was here in Fallon.
ARDEN: Now, tell me how you happened to come to Fallon, Nevada, and when.
ALLEN: My older brother finished the eighth grade at Boone Creek, and there was no high school in Austin, so my father said he was going to bring his family where they could attend school, so he sold Boone Creek and moved to Fallon and bought a farm in Fallon. The first year my older brother stayed with relatives here and went to school, but he was very lonely. [tape cuts]
ARDEN: What year did your family move here to Fallon? Do you remember?
ARDEN: And how old were you then?
ALLEN: I was in the second grade.
ARDEN: Oh, a little girl!
ALLEN: Um-hum, I was a little girl.
ARDEN: And where did the family move?
ARDEN: They bought a farm next to the Cushman Ranch. You know where that is?
ALLEN: And we farmed there.
ARDEN: How many were in your family when you arrived in Fallon?
ALLEN: There were three brothers and myself and my mom and dad.
ARDEN: When you first came, do you have any recollections of what it looked like when you first came first to your ranch because we're interested in the results of the Newlands Project and the water and irrigation. How did it look to you at that time?
ALLEN: It was a very different situation because when we came from Boone Creek where we ranched, it was a creek, and we irrigated from the creek. Lister Creek they called it, and it flowed right down through our place, and we irrigated as we needed water.
ARDEN: Did you have any shortage of water at all when you were ranching there?
ALLEN: Well, not especially because it was meadow ground, and Dad raised lots of potatoes. Big blue potatoes. I've never seen them since.
ARDEN: (laughing) Never heard of them. So what did it look like to you as a little girl, and just as a little girl, but as you began to observe? What did your ranch look like? What was on it?
ALLEN: Down here?
ARDEN: Here. We're talking now in Fallon, now.
ALLEN: It was different from the farming we had done up in Austin, but it looked like home and the Cushmans were such wonderful neighbors. The first year that Dad hayed he had two mowers, and Cushmans had a big, big ranch, and they mowed with five mowers. That first crop they finished about ten o'clock in the morning, and they pulled their five mowers in and helped my dad mow our hay.
ARDEN: Aw. Now, when your dad bought that ranch, did he buy it from a homesteader?
ALLEN: No. This man owned the property and it adjoins the Cushman Ranch as it is now, and I think at one time it might have been part of the Cushman Ranch.
ARDEN: I see. What else was on the ranch besides the hay? Was that already there when he bought it? Was it already established?
ALLEN: Some of it was, and pasture.
ARDEN: What else was there? What kind of a house was there when you first moved there?
ALLEN: Just an old, old house that the first Cushmans built when they first came to the country. It was two-story. It had an upstairs, but it was very antique, really.
ARDEN: Did it have any improvements? Did it have inside plumbing?
ALLEN: Not until we came, and then we put in a bathroom and that sort of thing.
ARDEN: And how did you get water into your house for the plumbing?
ALLEN: We had a well right outside, the only water in the neighborhood that wasn't artesian. The artesian water was very sulphury, and this old well was a twenty-foot deep well, and the neighbors when they were haying would come and haul water from our well because the people that worked didn't like the artesian water.
ARDEN: Were there animals on the ranch, or did your father acquire animals on the ranch?
ALLEN: As I recall, we brought some. They had to drive them from Austin.
ARDEN: What did he bring?
ALLEN: Dairy cows, and then after we were established he had a small dairy. We separated the milk with a cream separator and sold the cream.
ARDEN: Were there any trees on the property?
ALLEN: Very old, old trees because it had once been the
Cushman home, I think, in the very early days.
ARDEN: Tell me, were you close to the irrigation ditches? Was that already established?
ALLEN: That was already established.
ARDEN: So you didn't have to worry about that. What was the town of Fallon like from your earliest memories when you were a school girl? What grade were you in then?
ALLEN: I was in second grade.
ARDEN: And where was your school?
ALLEN: West End.
ARDEN: Oh, yours was West End.
ALLEN: And it was very similar to the old high school. They were big brick buildings. They're no longer in existence.
ARDEN: What was the town like in that early period compared to today?
ALLEN: Well, the horse fountain was just out of courthouse in the middle of the street and had water where the farmers could bring in their teams, and they could water them right there at the .
ARDEN: What were the roads?
ALLEN: They weren't .
ARDEN: They were still gravel or dirt?
ALLEN: Uh-huh. That was about the only difference, I think.
ARDEN: Were there a lot of buildings?
ALLEN: Yes, the courthouse was there. Breaks my heart when I think they might dispose of it.
ARDEN: Well, the town was more limited though, wasn't it? Not spread out like now.
ALLEN: Well, it wasn't as large, yes, as now, but the Maine Street isn't too different. There are more stores and that sort of thing.
ARDEN: When your husband became postmaster, where was the post office then?
ALLEN: It was on [90 North] Maine Street, and just next door, actually, to the post office now [120 North Maine].
ARDEN: The current?
ALLEN: The current.
ARDEN: Across the street and next door. So right close to Williams. [tape cuts] When did you first get to personally know the Lem Allen family? His father, his mother, and his sisters. When did you first get to know them?
ALLEN: Well, I guess, right as soon as we moved to Fallon, but I was just a little child, and I knew them as friends of my parents. Then, Betty, the youngest sister, was just a year older than I. She had a birthday party, and we all went, and, Eunice, his older sister, was a teacher at the high school.
ARDEN: Oh, she was quite a lot older than you, then.
ALLEN: Well, she was two years older than Lem.
ARDEN: They started teaching young?
ALLEN: Yeah. Well, she was quite bright.
ARDEN: Now, since your mother and his mother were friends in Virginia City, did they pick up on their friendship pretty quickly when she came? Did your mother know she was here?
ALLEN: Oh, yeah, I think they knew right away that we here.
ARDEN: Did the families start seeing each other? Do you remember?
ALLEN: At parties, sewing bees, and stuff like that.
ARDEN: Can you tell me about his mother?
ALLEN: She was a very lovely lady. Beautiful woman.
ARDEN: Can you tell me a little bit about her so we have on record the kind of a person and her friendship with your mother?
ALLEN: Well, you know the farmers were all kind of busy in those days. They didn't visit as much. They had a lot to do, and they didn't do a lot of visiting, but they always visited in town when they'd be shopping.
ARDEN: There wasn't time to develop that personal kind of a friendship.
ALLEN: That's right, but they were friendly. Always glad to see each other. When we first came to Fallon, used to drive a horse and buggy to town to do your shopping.
ARDEN: When did you first become real good friends with Lem who was to later become your husband? When did you become close friends?
ALLEN: Oh, we just were always close friends. Yeah, we were always close friends, and we used to go to dances and things like that.
ARDEN: When did you start to go just the two of you together? Not just in groups of school kids meeting at a dance. When did you begin to know that you really liked Lem?
ALLEN: He was going to the university, and I was still in high school here, but we'd meet at dances first, and then we started dating.
ARDEN: When he went to college, were you engaged?
ALLEN: No, no, no, no. Hadn't advanced.
ARDEN: Uh-huh. It was just a friend.
ALLEN: Just friends.
ARDEN: And so when did you both begin to go together when you began to get more serious before your marriage in 1933?
ALLEN: About five years.
ARDEN: Was that when you came back from college?
ALLEN: I think we went together about five years.
ARDEN: When you went through high school, what did you do after you got out of high school?
ALLEN: I started at one end of the street with the Golden Rule and I worked for Lee Johnson.
ARDEN: Who was Lee Johnson and Golden Rule?
ALLEN: Lee Johnson owned the Golden Rule store, and it was located at the beginning of Maine Street across from the drinking fountain.
ARDEN: What kind of a store was it?
ALLEN: Oh, sold clothing. All kinds of clothing, and Miss Hannah, who was an oldtimer, was the head clerk. Shall I tell you a funny story?
ARDEN: Sure, we like them.
ALLEN: Lee Johnson and Hannah went to San Francisco on a buying trip. I was just a kid out of high school, and Fred Marsh was the man in the men's division. It was really funny 'cause I was just a kid, and these farmers would come in and they'd want to buy Levi Strauss overalls, and we didn't carry Levi Strauss, so I told this old fellow, "Well, these are"--I can't think of the brand--"and they're just as good as Levi Strauss, and they're a little cheaper." He said, "I'll take them." (laughing)
ARDEN: So, you were in charge of the store for a while. (laughing)
ALLEN: And then I moved up to the bank.
ARDEN: Which bank?
ALLEN: First Interstate, and I worked there until the banks closed.
ARDEN: When did the banks close? Depression?
ALLEN: Depression, yes. All the banks closed, and then everybody was in a bad way because their money was all tied up, and they didn't get much on it, but I worked for the outfit that liquidated the assets after the banks closed.
ARDEN: Did you take a business course in high school so that you could do all these things?
ALLEN: Um-hum. Then I think I went to work at Penneys. I worked my way up the street, clear up the street, and then the last place I worked was at the high school. I was seventeen years at the high school. Secretary to the principal.
ARDEN: During those years that you were working in all of these business places, where were you living?
ALLEN: At home out on Cushman Road.
ARDEN: And did you have a car later?
ALLEN: I had a car, and I used to pick up several of the neighbors and bring them to work with me.
ARDEN: How long did it take in those days to drive into Fallon?
ALLEN: Oh, it was only seven miles, so I probably spent maybe three-quarters of an hour by the time I picked up Grace Hillyard and Frank Harrigan and brought them to their jobs and then went to my job.
ARDEN: When were the roads, because in the beginning when you first arrived, I'm sure they were probably dirt or gravel?
ARDEN: Do you remember when they paved them or oiled them? When it was finally improved?
ALLEN: I couldn't tell you because I didn't notice any difference.
ARDEN: When you started to go to high school, were you able to use the family car to drive yourself?
ALLEN: No, no, no. I rode the bus.
ARDEN: So, then, let's bring us forward to when you began to go seriously with Lem, and bring me till you married.
ALLEN: Took me five years to catch him.
ALLEN: There were suppression times, (laughing) but we really enjoyed it. He had all those horses, and I used to go and ride the horses with him and all that stuff. We were just having a good time.
ARDEN: Were you going steady then? Just the two of you?
ALLEN: Well, pretty much.
ARDEN: But dating others?
ALLEN: No, I never dated anybody after I started going with him.
ARDEN: So, you'd ride horses with him?
ALLEN: Oh, yeah. We'd take a lunch and go for long rides. He used to gallop the race colts.
ARDEN: Would you watch him?
ALLEN: Oh, yes.
ARDEN: When did you decide to get married? I know he was appointed postmaster.
ALLEN: Well, it was just about that time. Everybody was poor. We went together five years. We were real good friends.
ARDEN: So you married after he got the permanent position for the post office. Where did you make your home together after you married? Well, first, let me backtrack a little bit. Tell me about your wedding?
ALLEN: We were married in the old Catholic church by the school.
ARDEN: Which school?
ALLEN: And I worked at Penneys till noon. The reason I did, Bud Powell--Birdie Baker was working at the… And-
ARDEN: Who was that?
ALLEN: Birdie Baker. Roberta Baker. She was married to Allen Powell, and Allen's brother, Paul, was killed that day, and so I ran home and changed clothes to go to my wedding. (laughing)
ARDEN: So, it was not a big wedding or anything?
ALLEN: No. It was a family wedding. We went to the church and then after the wedding my sister-in-law and broth- my brother, Clarence, and his wife, Pearl, had dinner for Lem's family and our family. That was our wedding. Then we went to Reno and spent the night and came back. It was right close to Thanksgiving and my mom was serving Thanksgiving dinner and all the family together--my family. They had their Thanksgiving, but all of the members of my family, the Eason family.
ARDEN: Where did you go to live when you first were married? Did you establish your own home
ARDEN: Or did you go back to one of your parents' home?
ARDEN: Had you already gotten a place before your wedding?
ARDEN: What did you do?
ALLEN: We rented a house right next to the park.
ARDEN: Which park? Laura Mills?
ALLEN: No. The big park. [Oats Park] It was a big brown house. I can't remember it, anyway we lived there until we bought a house. [Tape cuts]
ARDEN: When was Bonnie born?
ALLEN: June 23, 1936, in Fallon, and Buzz- Lem Sparks, was born October 11, 1938.
ARDEN: So, did you stop working then so you could raise your family?
ALLEN: Oh, I worked in between a little, but not…
ARDEN: I need your help with Lem's job in the post office. He was able to tell me all of the staff that he had under him, but I want to find out in the early years in the post office, and he said he'd get up real early and go to his father's ranch and do work on the ranch, so describe to me what his life was like in that early period with the family and helping at the ranch and in the post office. Can you tell me some things about that?
ALLEN: Well, we were both pretty busy because I had my family out the other direction. My mother was widowed, and my younger brother was all that was at home, so I was running out to my family, and he was running out to his family.
ARDEN: Did you have two cars so that you both could run around? How did you do that?
ALLEN: Probably drop him off at his place and then go on down to my place.
ARDEN: Did you take the babies with you?
ALLEN: Well, that was before the babies were born.
ARDEN: Tell me about Lem. Did he tell you much about his job in the post office? What time would he chase to his family ranch?
ALLEN: Well, he'd go early in the morning and get back.
ARDEN: What time would he have to get up?
ALLEN: Oh, maybe, five or six, and then he'd get back in time to clean up and go to his job about eight o'clock.
ARDEN: Did he tell you much about his job and the
responsibilities? Did he talk to you much about his job?
ALLEN: No, not an awful lot, I don't think. Just the normal talk that you talk. We were both so busy with our family's ranches.
ARDEN: Were there changes in his family's ranch? I'm trying to stick a little with the Allen ranch because of its historic importance. Were there many changes in that ranch 'cause that's trying to stick with the Allen part of it since that part is so historic. Was his father getting ill as time went along? What was happening? Why did he have more responsibility?
ALLEN: The father was aging. He was really getting old, and Lem used to get up very early in the morning and go out to help irrigate and all that.
ARDEN: Would he go weekends?
ALLEN: No, we maintained a good family life of our own along with . . . And then my father died. Dad was only sixty, I think, when he died, and my mother was a widow, and my brother was younger than I, so I used to run out there and help them.
ARDEN: So, what other changes on both ranches were either affected by droughts, or was it a hardship through the Depression? Did anyone lose any land or suffer from that?
ALLEN: I don't believe so.
ARDEN: Not many changes in that.
ALLEN: No. We lived simply, and we really thought we had a very, very good life.
ARDEN: Well, of course, your husband had a permanent job with the post office unlike just someone ranching or without it, so that was a good stable base. You were at this time living in the first home that you had purchased. How long did you stay in that house? What did you do, 'cause I know you then lived in town? How did you happen to move to town?
ALLEN: Let’s see… where are we in this thing? We first [tape cuts] Lem's aunt, Daisy, had three lots on Taylor Street, and Lem bought the three lots. We also owned seven lots behind the house that we sold part to the Kendrick family…
ARDEN: Behind the house you were living in now?
ARDEN: Your first house you bought?
ALLEN: Shut it off [End of interview]