Charles Frey Oral History
Oral History Item Type Metadata
CHURCHILL COUNTY MUSEUM & ARCHIVES
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
an interview with
Although this interview was not a part of the Churchill County Oral History Project, it has been transcribed because of its historical content.
Transcribed by Glenda Price; edited by Norine Arciniega; final by Pat Boden; index by Gracie Viera; supervised by Myrl Nygren, Director of Oral History Project, Churchill County Museum.
Interview with Charles Frey March, 1982. Done by Melissa Presnell and Jody Hyde.
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.
PRESNELL: Can you tell us about yourself and your family in Churchill County when you were a boy? What did your father do, and what kind of experiences did you have?
FREY: Well, my father came here in 1910, and he and Mother bought a ranch down in Stillwater. There were three boys of us, Joe, myself, the second boy and George the third. We lived on the ranch in Churchill County until 1923. Dad lost the ranch, and then we moved around for five or six years all over Fallon. Stillwater, Soda Lake country, and back again and back to Soda Lake again. And I finally bought a piece of river ground up there from Eddie Harriman and made a ranch out of that in 1936. We lived there for seven or eight years and then on the Hiatt place up there, and in 1939 I bought a John Deere tractor and started farming with a tractor then. Tall this time before I was using horses. I was just barely getting by. [Long pause] Anyhow, I think I got it down there better than I can tell it, really that is that part. [Inaudible] You know, if you read that, and then maybe we can get to talk about the whole, and I mean, if you read that you’ll know what I’ve said and then what out of that you take.
PRESNELL: Okay, so you want us to read that and then talk about what we want to change or-
FREY: More or different. Whatever you want to change.
FREY: It won’t take you too long to read that. Why don’t you just start in right now and read it and then see what- how it all fits, what you would like.
FREY: And if it doesn’t fit these questions altogether yet, I will answer the questions.
PRESNELL: Oh, okay.
FREY: So if you wanna read that, then maybe we can talk. [tape cuts]
FREY: [obviously reading from something] I started school while we were still on the old ranch in Stillwater and enjoyed my grammar school the most of all my schooling. Joe and I drove an old gray horse and cart to school. We picked up Ida and Eleanor Armas everyday and took them to and from school. When Ida and I get together, as we still do, I have a good time talking about those good old days. I think I was one of the first graders to go to the Stillwater School as I went to three different places in Stillwater proper before they got the present Stillwater School. Stillwater seemed a lot of fun to me. We were like one big happy family. There were Saturday night dances, masquerades, box socials, barbecues, baseball games, bucking horses and steers at the different ranches. Everyone had a horse, and we found a reason to go horseback somewhere; cat fishing and arrowhead hunting, to name a few. These were things that didn't happen everyday, but often enough to keep things interesting.
FREY: I graduated from the eighth grade with Edwin Osgood, Anita deBraga (she's Hiibel today), Evelyn Armas, Bill Straight, and James Baldwin, and Charlie Frey. The spring of 1926 I graduated out of the eighth grade and started high school the fall of 1926. During the winter of 1926 and 1927, I milked cows and stayed with the Osgoods' which was like a second home to me. This also made it so that I could play high school football. I started high school the fall of 1926, played four years of football and did very well. My fourth year I was an all-state end. Played every game of the 1928 and 1929 season. In 1927 my brother, Joe, decided he didn't want to be a farmer and left home to live in Reno and went to work for the Washoe County Road Department. I couldn't blame Joe for leaving since we were so far out in the sticks that it was real hard to get to any social functions at all. I helped Dad and Roy Williams put up the hay in 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930. It was a real uphill job trying to do anything in that sand that was knee deep. I graduated from high school the spring of 1930. Went to work for Eddie Harriman November 13, 1930, feeding cattle with a pitch fork and helping with the milking for thirty-five dollars a month and damn glad to have a job. I stayed here for three years. While I was here, Eddie sold me a piece of sagebrush river-bottom ground, sixty acres at twenty dollars an acre. No water on it, and I had to put a bridge across the river and flume the water across the river, but compared with Soda Lake country it looked like paradise to me. Trees, brush, and water.
FREY: In the spring of 1934, I rented the old Hiatt place, the first ranch on the south side of the river just above Diversion Dam. We gave up the Soda Lake place, tore the house down, and moved everything to the river. [long pause] That was one of the nicest days of my life. One of the first things we did was to dig a hole about twenty-five feet long and fifteen feet wide and put several big logs across it and a layer of willows and brush and then straw and about a foot of dirt for a top. This turned out to be my home for three winters. It was nice and warm, but the packrats made a lot of noise running around and knocked a lot of chaff down out of the wheat straw from the roof. This kept everything dirty. Then the gopher snakes moved in and did away with the rats. I couldn't make up my mind which I liked the least, packrats or snakes, so I just made up my mind to live with them both.
FREY: We moved to the Hiatt place February 25, 1934. I plowed about forty acres with the horses, leveled it and seeded it in wheat. We didn't make- Wheat and hay, better put that in too, cause it did make a difference. [Pause] We didn’t have much money that year, but it was better than working for thirty dollars a month, though, and odd times that summer we broke the brush on about twenty acres of my farm with teams borrowed from the Harrimans. By the time fall came in 1934 I had bought and traded for enough horses to have a six-horse team and an extra one. Dad and George and I burned brush off and on all summer. By the time fall came, I started to scrape dirt. I wasn't fast enough to get it leveled for the 1935 planting season but the TCID [Truckee-Carson Irrigation District] had agreed to put the flume across the river with the CC [Civil Conservation Corps] boys' help and some from me. Couldn't complete their job until 1936, which gave me another year to level that first twenty acres. During the fall of 1935, I plowed and leveled another forty acres at the Hiatt place. This, in turn, gave me some hay and grain to sell. I began to feel like I was getting somewhere, but you couldn't sell anything either. We sold big 1200-pound cows for twenty-seven dollars apiece. Pigs brought two and a half apiece.
FREY: In the early spring of 1936 I had Roy Williams and his six-horse team come over from Soda Lake and help me finish the first twenty acres of my farm. Dad and I moved an old timber highway bridge from Lahontan Dam down to my farm and cut the rotten ends off and set it across the river. That bridge is still there today. The TCID and the CC got the flume across the river three days before I ordered water to irrigate the first time which was oats and new hay. We cut this crop for hay and stacked it with a derrick. The winter of 1936 and 1937 was one of the coldest winters on record. The temperatures dropped to thirty below zero. I would climb a ladder up the side of the haystack to feed the cows and horses. The top of the stack would be covered with wild geese and ducks. They were so poor, they wouldn't fly. I fed them a couple of buckets of wheat everyday, but all that did was mean more ducks and geese. The fall of 1936 we started and nearly completed a one-room cabin. By Christmas I had the roof on and all the outside walls were up, and I had a stove. I figured I would have a nice winter. That thought no sooner ran through my mind than here comes Eddie Harriman. He was real sick with the flu, and his cows were falling in the river at their waterhole and freezing to death and going under the ice. He wanted me to see what I could do to fence them out. This took about two days. There was just one emergency after another until I put in a month for a fence. In the spring after the ice had melted, Eddie lost something like fourteen head of cows that had fallen into that hole and run under the ice. One went as far as two miles down the river under the ice. With a few more interruptions I got moved into my cabin in the fall of 1937. It wasn't much, but it sure was home to me. In the late spring and summer I made a stump puller out of an old car engine and a drum clutch out of an old dragline. This thing had power enough that we could tie a three-quarter inch cable and pull it right in two. One day we had a lot of stumps cut off about three feet above the ground. We pulled 140 some in 120 minutes. that was six to fourteen inches in diameter. [long pause] Real big trees. Sometimes three or four a day was a big day's job, but it sure beat digging them with a shovel. And that’s as far as I got.
PRESNELL: When you were a kid, was there anybody that you really liked a lot that you wanted to be around a lot?
FREY: Well, I don't know. It seemed like Stillwater was the place where we were at somebody's place all the time, and everybody was just congenial. We lived like a big family really. I didn't have any special friends until I got probably in high school, and then Eddie Harriman and Pete Cushman were really friends as far as man friends go and business friends, of course. I have lots of friends. Kewpie Osgood, Edwin Osgood. Like I say, we didn't clique around much in friends. We were just one big happy family that had a good time.
PRESNELL: It probably has changed a lot?
FREY: Um hum, it has changed a lot. That's one of the things that I can say that I liked a lot better in the good old days than I did now. Well, the way the kids came on, what they do and how they do.
PRESNELL: How big was Fallon then?
FREY: I don't just remember what the population was, but, right here, this was a ranch, and when we were going to high school there was about forty acres to the north of the high school that was the Verplank estate, and there wasn't any houses on that. There weren't any houses back where Doc Woodward is now. Why, his place was one and only as far as to the south on Taylor Street there. Well, until you got up to where- Of course you don’t know where Tom Kendrick's is, well, say, two blocks north of where Woodward is why there was just a line of houses along Taylor Street and there wasn't anything in the back until you came to West End School, and then it was right on the edge of town.
PRESNELL: How many schools were there then?
FREY: There was only . . . Oats Park was there. That was all . . . I don't know just what parts. See, I come from Stillwater. But Oats Park was there and West End was there, and they had what they called the old high school. It's where the Cottage Schools are now, and that, I think, was the kindergarten after that. It was plumb vacant for several years.
PRESNELL: Fallon sure has grown.
FREY: Yeah, it's grown a lot.
PRESNELL: Was there more agriculture then than there is now in Fallon?
FREY: I don't think so. It's just about the same size it is.There have to be more now than there was then. The ranches were just about the same, but each ranch had vacant ground that was sagebrush, just brush, and that's all been cleared since then.
PRESNELL: And did the farmers just raise crops to sell to other people as well as feed themselves?
FREY: Yeah, well, I wouldn't say most of them sold, but, at that time, there were a lot of dairies, well, even five and ten cow dairies. Everybody had a few cows, few sheep, and a few pigs. More so than now. Now you go out and there's three or four hundred cows. That wasn't even thought of in those days. Probably if you had thirty or forty cows, you had a lot of cows. Freeman ranch had something like ninety cows down there. Oh, they were a big dairy. Funny thing about the Dairy business… [tape cuts] Red Taylor worked for the Freeman Ranch for years, and then it started to have its bad times meaning financial problems. Finally went broke, and just before it went broke, why Bill Taylor took about 25 or 30 head of cows for the pay that he had coming and didn't get from the ranch, and he took them down on the Springer's field and started a dairy right down there. Right in the wide open. All he had was a barb wire fence, and he chipped the roots to an old cottonwood tree. He chipped them off and leveled it and then milked the cows and separated the cream, and he took the cream to Fallon and sold it. He took it to Stillwater and shipped around the state and sold it. The milk run out of the separator into the ditch, and you can imagine how sweet a smell that was along about the Fourth of July.
FREY: Well, I think that every year he milked those cows and let the milk right out into the ditch.
PRESNELL: How much were sheep then? Like you said, cows were about twenty-seven.
FREY: They weren't expensive. That's for sure. When you say 1927, they had a depression more or less that started in about 1927 and went through to 1934, and things were cheap, cheap, cheap. You worked for nothing and you got nothing for what you did either. I kept a diary for quite a little while, and I think I'm right in saying this. Along about 1934 or right around there, why I came to town and I bought a pair of Levi overalls and a Levi jacket and a shirt, and I paid less than five dollars for the three items. But, at the same time I was working for a dollar a day, so it took better than a week's labor to buy the three items. So things were comparatively cheaper.
PRESNELL: Not any more. (laughing)
FREY: Not any more. You don't know what you're going to need. I was way up here and [inaudible] was way down there, makes it hard to live with.
PRESNELL: And, do you like the way farming is today, or did you like to do it the hard way?
FREY: Well, I think I'm like most people. I like the good old days if you let me pick them out, but if you'd say another thing take it all the way it was, no, I like it today. The thing is, you stop and think about, well, maybe having to go out to the well maybe a hundred feet from the house or it might even be further than that, carrying water back in a bucket and you had a little outside privy, and it was probably 150, 200 feet from the house. You'd go out in the wintertime through the snow and things like that. That didn't whet your liking for the good old days. A lot of people don't think about that, but if you took the whole thing, most people would like their land now. They like their home. They like all the convenience that we have.
PRESNELL: Yeah. Out of all the things you did on the farm, is there anything special you liked to do the most?
FREY: I liked to ride horses and go get the cows. I didn't like milking, for sure. (laughing) It had to be done, so we had to do it. It's just the same things. Just like you kids in school. You can't like school, and if I said it another way, you'd better enjoy it, you'd be surprised how short a time you'll be here.
PRESNELL: Okay, that's about all. Thank you for coming. We appreciate it.
FREY: My pleasure.