Patricia Elaine Weckwirth Ernst Solaegui Oral History
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Churchill County Oral History Project
an interview with
PATRICIA ELAINE WECKWIRTH ERNST SOLAEGUI
July 9, 1998
This interview was transcribed by Glenda Price; edited by Norma Morgan; final by Pat Baden; index by Gracie Viera; supervised by Myrl Nygren, Director of the Oral History
Project, Churchill County Museum.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewer and interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Churchill County Museum or any of its employees.
Pat was pleased to do an interview. She has a good memory and is very articulate when she recounts events. She has been in her present home for a long time as evidenced by the size of the trees that grow around the lovely yard. There is a big lawn and tall bamboo plants, large old evergreen and deciduous trees that surround the house and lawn and give a definite feeling of privacy for a very private couple.
They have a large cat and a not so large dog, and neither of them seem to know that cats and dogs fight. They lie on the couch very close together and take long naps. If Pat's husband, Joe, happens to sit beside them, that seems to be even better. Outdoors they have quite a few peacocks. Pat said at times they have had as many as fifty of the birds. I asked her about that noise they make, especially with that many, and she said she loved it.
In high school Pat was always a person who laughed a lot and when the student body assembled could be seen leading every one in the school song or something silly like Three Little Fishies or Mairsydoats. She still laughs a lot and keeps very busy with her painting among other things. She especially likes painting portraits and has many family portraits on her dining room wall. Her beautiful house is easily accessible with wide hallways and open spacious rooms to get around in her wheelchair, and she really zips around in it. Being wheelchair bound is something that she deals with very well, saying, "Things happen in life, but you go on."
Interview with Patricia Elaine Weckwirth Ernst Solaegui
ERQUIAGA: This is Anita Erquiaga of the Churchill County Museum Oral History Program. Today is July 9, 1998, and I am interviewing Patricia Wise Ernst Solaegui at her home at 4000 Bottom Road, Fallon, Nevada. First of all, Pat, I want to thank you for letting me come to your house this afternoon to do this interview.
SOLAEGUI: My pleasure.
ERQUIAGA: I know that you have some interesting things to tell us about growing up in Fallon. Let's start with you telling me your full name, date of birth, and place of birth
SOLAEGUI: Patricia Elaine Weckwirth Ernst Solaegui, November 3, 1924, Rio Vista, California.
ERQUIAGA: Were you born in a hospital?
ERQUIAGA: At home?
SOLAEGUI: We had a beautiful ranch in California, and it had a two-story gorgeous house built in 1856 all out of redwood, and my brother and I were both born there. Everything else happened at the Woodland Clinic-tonsils and so forth. It was only nineteen miles away.
ERQUIAGA: When did you come to Fallon?
SOLAEGUI: That was 1933. My mother left my father and married this man named Herb Wise, and I used his name, not legally, but I wanted to be like the rest of the kids. In those days you could, so I was known as Pat Wise. That was certainly shorter to write.
ERQUIAGA: (laughing) But you didn't have it legally changed to that.
ERQUIAGA: What was your mother's full name?
SOLAEGUI: Jovita Farmer. She had no middle name. J-O-V-I-T-A She was half Spanish.
ERQUIAGA: When you came to Fallon, was it just with her, or had she married Herb Wise?
SOLAEGUI: Herb Wise, uh-huh.
ERQUIAGA: How'd they happen to come here?
SOLAEGUI: I can't even guess. It was just an escape, and somebody in his family had heard of it, and the dam had been built, of course, and farmland was available. They lived here and worked for quite a while before they bought the Dunn place on Union Lane. That's where I grew up. We lived on Swingle Bench first and went to the Northam School.
ERQUIAGA: How big a school, and what kind was that?
SOLAEGUI: It was two rooms, and the teachers were Louvena McLean Chapman and Lillie Stark. Joe and I were both there in the third grade.
ERQUIAGA: That's a coincidence.
SOLAEGUI: Anyway, he says we were in the third grade together. I don't remember it, but Marie Gomes Rogers and Myrtle Atkinson Casey and I rode horseback to school every day. And there were rattlesnakes, and sometimes the TCID [Truckee-Carson Irrigation District] came with dynamite and blew them out of this hill going down into the school yard, so we got out of school that day. That I remember. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: There were a lot of them there.
SOLAEGUI: Yeah. A whole den of them. I remember those horseback rides every day and every night. It was really fun.
ERQUIAGA: Did you have a place where your horses could get water during the day?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, yeah. They had a watering trough.
ERQUIAGA: Did you have to take feed?
SOLAEGUI: No. I hoped the horses ate breakfast, and then they went home for dinner. (laughing) That was fun. Then we went to the West End School, and we had Adah Gerjets and . . . I remember all these teachers--Lucy Burton, and I have a pen that belonged to her.
ERQUIAGA: You still have it?
SOLAEGUI: Yes. It's beautiful.
ERQUIAGA: She was Lucy Grimes Burton?
SOLAEGUI: Yes, I think so.
ERQUIAGA: From that Grimes ranch down there near you?
SOLAEGUI: She was lovely. And a Hattie Peterson who taught penmanship or something. Anyhow, they were all great.
ERQUIAGA: When did you buy the place on Union Lane?
SOLAEGUI: I must have been twelve or so.
ERQUIAGA: How big a place was that?
SOLAEGUI: Eighty acres.
ERQUIAGA: So, Mr. Wise mostly made his living on that.
SOLAEGUI: It had a little dairy, and then he went to work for TCID. He was a dragline operator.
ERQUIAGA: Did they do anything else?
SOLAEGUI: No. My mother canned everything that grew or fell off the tree.
ERQUIAGA: She didn't work anywhere else?
ERQUIAGA: But, they used to pick those turkeys.
SOLAEGUI: That was before they bought that farm, and they were really groping, and you know it was Depression then. They had to work, so Minnie Blair--we lived in that little tiny house behind the Spudnut Shop. Cute little house, and, of course, when it came time to pick the turkeys there they were. I used to take care of Don and watch him. Terrible job.
ERQUIAGA: Do you remember anything about how they did it?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, yes, it was ghastly the way they killed them and then put that hook in their noses. The poor things would act like they were paralyzed, and their feathers would loosen. What'd they used to call it? Strip them or some crazy thing. The loose feathers came right out. It was the pin feathers that were terrible. Yeah, I didn't think that was swell at all.
ERQUIAGA: You didn't have to pick any pin feathers?
SOLAEGUI: No, (laughing) I was too little.
ERQUIAGA: They picked turkeys for us at least once, and remember those pin feathers.
SOLAEGUI: Yeah. Well, their method of killing them is pretty bad. I didn't enjoy that too much, but we certainly made lasting friends with Minnie Blair and Helen and Bill Millward.
ERQUIAGA: Do you have any special memories of them?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, yeah. When Jack and I built the Valley Equipment Company, we had lunch every day at the Spudnut Shop for years. I belonged to the Episcopal Church and so did Minnie. We were just good friends. Had a lot of fun. There was a family named Ferguson across the street from Minnie. Lottie Ferguson became a good friend of my mother's. They had two kids, Charlie and June. Charlie and June were older than I, but they sure taught me how to get in trouble Halloween (laughing) like tying a cow up on the lawn at the high school. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: Where did they get the cow?
SOLAEGUI: Probably from the neighbors. (laughing) I remember that so well. They were a lot of fun. We had some friends named Carl Wheeler, and they had six children, and my mother and the Wheelers and her became very good friends, so there were lots of dinners together. When those kids came, it was the highlight of our lives. Their oldest daughter was Lavita. She was Lavita Gladwill in later years, and she and I were good friends, and then all these "littles". We'd play hide-and-seek until dark. It was just the nicest part of my childhood was that family.
ERQUIAGA: Oh, that was nice.
SOLAEGUI: They were wonderful.
ERQUIAGA: Did they live near you?
SOLAEGUI: I can't remember where they lived now, but we were together a lot. Picnicking and swimming over here in the rapids. We used to call it the rapids. We had a lot of fun.
ERQUIAGA: Do you remember whether the Depression had any special effect on you and your brother, the children, or was it just the folks that felt it?
SOLAEGUI: We were far from rich. We always knew there wasn't any money to fool around. It did affect us in knowing that we were poor. Joe and I sit at night and try to convince each other that one was poorer than the other. He's (laughing) saying, "I was more poor than you." (laughing) We were the same. Yeah, the Depression wasn't much fun.
ERQUIAGA: Do you think it was better if you lived in the country, though, where you could have some food?
SOLAEGUI: We raised an awful lot of stuff, and we had cows which I had to help milk.
ERQUIAGA: Oh, did you?
SOLAEGUI: I had to milk cows before I could go to school and wash the separator after I cranked it. I didn't eat breakfast until I was twenty or so. Never had time Had to get in off the cow trail and get ready for school. We lived by the Harrigans and the Weavers. I grew up with all the Weaver kids, and that was fun, and all the Harrigan kids.
ERQUIAGA: And you rode the bus all the time?
ERQUIAGA: Did you ever drive bus?
ERQUIAGA: Or your brother?
SOLAEGUI: No. Don was seven years younger than I. He was two months when we came here.
ERQUIAGA: And they had conductors on the bus in those days. Were you ever a conductor?
SOLAEGUI: Huh-uh. Jack Ernst was.
ERQUIAGA: A conductor or a driver?
ERQUIAGA: I thought he was a driver. Did you have chores at home? You said you milked the cows, that’s your chores.
SOLAEGUI: My half got up to nine every morning, and that was a lot of cows for a kid to milk.
ERQUIAGA: That's right. You milked those before you left for school.
SOLAEGUI: You bet, and it eliminated any possibility for cheerleading or anything that took time after school. No way.
ERQUIAGA: Did your mother do that kind of outside work?
SOLAEGUI: She tried. She was always accident-prone. (laughing) Always had some terrible thing. Once she was canning a bunch of peaches, and she dropped a huge kettle of boiling water on her leg. It was terrible. That kind of thing. And I'm the same way. Every time I turn around I do something. She Tried. But every morning they had – and this was amazing during these times – he killed everything or slaughtered whatever they ate. He raised pigs, and he had chickens. Every morning we would have either veal cutlets, all this junk that I didn't even get to eat, gravy, potatoes, and homemade biscuits. My mother tried to figure out once how many homemade biscuits she'd made in her lifetime, and the figures got too large for her to . . . (laughing). They really ate well, and she was fabulous cook. The closest to a disaster we ever had was when she canned a whole bunch of asparagus, and the extension office sent a letter out about botulism, and boy! we emptied all those bottles and threw it all out. Hoped the pigs didn't die, and they didn't. (laughing) And the chickens didn't. (laughing) And we sure didn't eat that stuff, but she canned everything else. They even made their own sauerkraut. Big vegetable garden.
ERQUIAGA: Did you make butter or cheese?
SOLAEGUI: We didn't make butter. My mother despised homemade butter, and so do I, so we'd buy that. They had a creamery here then where they sold the cream. We just bought the butter there.
ERQUIAGA: Your family took your milk there to be sold?
SOLAEGUI: Yeah. Grace Perrier worked at that creamery. I can't remember the name of it.
ERQUIAGA: I believe it was the Fallon Creamery. How primitive
was your home? Did you have indoor plumbing?
SOLAEGUI: We had outhouses till we bought the Dunn place, and then we had a lovely, nice . . .
ERQUIAGA: That's the one you said was on Union Lane.
SOLAEGUI: Um-hum. Corkills had it. I don't know who does now. The house is still there. When we first bought it, it was interesting. It belonged to this family named Dunn, and the lady was a very elderly school teacher, and the man was an old miner, and they were both very independent, and so when they built that house one wanted a wood stove to cook on and one wanted electric, so when we moved in they had both (laughing) lined up together. (laughing) But it was okay. Then we had our own rooms. It was great after the way we had been living.
ERQUIAGA: Did your mother drive?
SOLAEGUI: Um-hum. She learned to drive a car in San Francisco. She was born and raised there. Her father was a car salesman when they were trading horses away to get cars. He really was a success, and she was very spoiled. I can't imagine what it must have been like for her to change from that way of life to this. They ate out every night in San Francisco in the best restaurants. Really had a life, you know.
ERQUIAGA: It does make you wonder how they ended up here.
ERQUIAGA: Did you go to Oats Park School?
ERQUIAGA: Do you have any special memories of Oats Park?
SOLAEGUI: Not only that, I'm painting it for my Christmas cards this year. I got a good, good picture, and the museum furnished some more pictures for me, so I have it all in here. Soon as I finish LaVoy's kids, I'm going to do that. Last year I did the courthouse. The year before I did the Fallon Christmas tree with the courthouse behind it.
ERQUIAGA: How did you get started painting? Has it been a long time?
SOLAEGUI: I had never had any talent. Adah Gerjets had nothing to work with but color crayons, and they were not inspiring by any means. I always got a failing grade in art. One day after I'd had two kids, I thought, "Gee, I think I'd like to learn to paint." I found out that all you have to do is want to. If you want to badly enough, you can. I taught myself to sew. Not well, but I can sew. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: What do you remember about Oats Park? Is there anything you'd like to tell about?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, I just remember those cement steps going down in the basement. I remember Theo Smart Sherman, and every year we went to home ec which we all had to do, cooked a dinner for the pitiful poor school board who were the best sports in America, and they came and they ate it. (laughing) And I do remember that. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: (laughing) Do you remember cooking anything different that you weren't familiar with at home?
SOLAEGUI: No, no.
ERQUIAGA: Your mother was a good cook, and you'd had it all.
SOLAEGUI: Yeah. She really was good.
ERQUIAGA: Do you remember when the boys used to play marbles? Or mostly the boys?
SOLAEGUI: I remember when Laura Mills used to beat the devil out of the kids with a poker or a stick that she pointed at the maps with. Bobby Mobley had been out with all the other boys playing marbles, and when he came in he did something. He walked too fast or he displeased her, and she took him in front of that classroom and beat that kid unmercifully until the dirt flew out of his pants, and we were all choking from this. I never forgot that. Never. And the embarrassment that poor kid, oh! Yeah, I do remember that. I remember once when one of the Waller kids belted Archie Safely and knocked him down the stairs backwards. Johnnie Waller, Beverley Waller. But we had a good class rooms and a good time. Cousie Nelson taught music. She tried to teach me to play the viola and the cello, and I might add she failed, but it wasn't her fault (laughing). My mother played the piano beautifully. She had had years of training, but I didn't want to learn from her. I wanted a real teacher, so here I am. (laughing) We always had a piano.
ERQUIAGA: But you didn't learn to play it.
ERQUIAGA: How about your brother? He was musical
SOLAEGUI: He's the musician of the century. He plays all woodwinds. Of course, if you play one, you can play them all. He played in a band for years. He was interviewed by Lawrence Welk and accepted until they told him how he had to live and eat and dress and behave, and he said, "No, thank you."
ERQUIAGA: He expected that of everybody.
SOLAEGUI: Oh, yes, he was a very strict task master. But Don still plays
ERQUIAGA: Do you remember those cantatas or operettas that Cousie Nelson used to present?
SOLAEGUI: Yes. We used to sing at midnight at the Episcopal Church. Had the worst time staying awake. We'd do the Messiah and all that stuff. Then we had a triple trio, I remember, in high school, and we sang everywhere all the time. I loved that. I went with Carl Coverston whose parents were kind enough to let him have the Chevrolet, and he carted me all over. Otherwise I couldn't have gone.
ERQUIAGA: Your folks didn't take you every place?
SOLAEGUI :We had a Ford V8. They did teach me to drive. When I was fifteen I got a license, but I still couldn't have the car. My mother had to take Herb to work real early in the morning and come back if she wanted the car that day. It was easier to stay home. We were not a two-car family.
ERQUIAGA: You probably didn't go to Reno shopping the way they do now.
SOLAEGUI: No. No. We always had guests from San Franciso. My grandmother would bring couples up all the time. All summer long, and we'd drag them to Pyramid Lake, and we'd drag them all over. I'd get to see slot machines and all that stuff in Reno. The rest of the time we never went.
ERQUIAGA: Did your mother sew?
SOLAEGUI: No, she couldn't thread a needle.
ERQUIAGA: But she was able to shop here in Fallon for what she needed?
ERQUIAGA: When you were raising your children, did you go into Reno to shop the way they do now?
SOLAEGUI: No, and still don't and never did.
ERQUIAGA: Did you ever ride the train anywhere?
SOLAEGUI: Yeah. When I was little I used to be put on the train with a lunch box and my name tag with a safety pin and mailed to my grandmother who would meet me and spend two or three weeks with her the year of the World's Fair. It lasted down there on Treasure Island two years, and I went all two years. I never enjoyed anything so much, and I got big enough then, like thirteen or something, she'd let me go all day by myself. It was safe then, and it was fun.
ERQUIAGA: And probably not too expensive.
SOLAEGUI: And then we always lived in a flat somewhere like Leavenworth Street or Page Street, and the cable cars were close by. Was fun. Fun summers.
ERQUIAGA: You have fond memories of having fun.
SOLAEGUI: Oh, yeah. My grandmother was charming. She was such a lady, and she sewed. She made my eighth-grade graduation dress which was very childish compared with what the other girls wore, but it was lovely.
ERQUIAGA: You didn't mind that it was childish?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, sort of, but I couldn't dare say anything. She worked her butt off on that dress. (laughing) It had a little bolero and ruching.
ERQUIAGA: Did she use a pattern?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, yeah. She was a tailoress.
ERQUIAGA: When you went into high school, do you have any special memories of high school? For instance, Mr. McCracken.
SOLAEGUI: Oh, God, he terrified me! He scared geometry into me.
ERQUIAGA: He was the principal.
SOLAEGUI: I was afraid I'd be called on, I'd memorize the whole chapter, and then I'd hide behind Hillis Weaver, and he'd see me do it, and he'd call on me. (laughing) He was really nice. (laughing) The only bad thing about going into high school--they had this weird program. We had an eighth-grade graduation mid-year like Christmas. So in January we went to the high school. They had nowhere to put us. We had two teachers, Della Renfroe Oats and Anne Berlin. I think it was Anne. We had English twice a day and algebra twice a day, and that was pure hell. The algebra. I never did get it. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: When did they discontinue that? Do you have any idea?
SOLAEGUI:I have no idea. I don't know, but I never made Alpha Lambda till I got out of that situation. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: But you were very active in extracurricular activities.
SOLAEGUI: Oh, everything. Even carried the drum in the parades when Warren Hursh was sick. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: With the band?
SOLAEGUI: Um-hum. Then we were in the orchestra in spite of poor Cousie. (laughing) One day in orchestra, Gene Bailey played the glockenspiel, and, of course, all the Williamses were musical.
ERQUIAGA: Do you remember the broom squad that they had for disciplining?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, gosh, yeah. I had to go to great pains to get on it, but it was a disgrace to graduate and not have been on it. (laughing) I finally got on it the last . . .
ERQUIAGA: What did you have to do to get on it?
SOLAEGUI: Break every rule in the place and skip classes, but I finally got myself on the broom squad.
ERQUIAGA: Oh, you weren't . .
SOLAEGUI: Pushed the broom and I was socially acceptable finally. Mollie [Downs] Allison was never off of it. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: I wonder how many girls were actually on it. What did your folks think about you being on that?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, they didn't care. (laughing) That really was fun. I had never ditched school in my life. I even had to do that to get on the broom squad. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: I didn't know it was an honor.
SOLAEGUI: Oh, gosh, yeah! I didn't want to be one of those nice kids. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: Did you know Jack Ernst in high school?
ERQUIAGA: Was he the same grade as you?
SOLAEGUI: No, he's four years older.
ERQUIAGA: Did you play sports?
ERQUIAGA: You were too busy milking cows for sports?
SOLAEGUI: He did sports. Yeah, I couldn't anyway. And there weren't any then for girls. I don't remember any kind of sports for girls then. I remember that Jack's sisters all had satin bloomers from when they played fifty years before that, but there were no female gym teachers or no showers.
ERQUIAGA: Did you have P.E. when you were in?
SOLAEGUI: No. What a blessing. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: Well, you were in high school during World War II. Did that have any particular effect on the students?
SOLAEGUI: No. They brought a radio when Franklin Roosevelt announced that we were at war. Remember the joke they used to tell? "I hate wah, Eleanor hates wah, and I hate Eleanor." (laughing) That's about as bad as it got.
ERQUIAGA: Do you remember that they used to have the scrap iron drive?
SOLAEGUI: Not very much. I know if my parents had owned any scrap iron they'd a kept it. (laughing) I just barely remember something about that.
ERQUIAGA: Did you go to dances and ball games during that time?
SOLAEGUI: We went to dances because my mother and Don and their little band played for dances all the time. We used to have dances at the Union schoolhouse.
ERQUIAGA: He was very young to be having a band.
ERQUIAGA: Who were some of the other people that you were in school with that were actively involved the way you were?
SOLAEGUI: Emmaline Pfaff, Shirley Lamb, Alice Lane, -there were 5 of us - Mary Phillips. We competed. The ones who could, for instance, play piano at all could learn to type just like this, which I am in still in that category. Emmaline Pfaff with all of her brilliance would stay after school and cry and practice typing so she could get an A. They all got into Alpha Lambda before I did, though, but Shirley Williams who played the piano and sang and everything, boy, she just pfft. Mary Phillips was so gifted musically she ended up as Dean of Women at George Pepperdine. For her thesis she had to write a symphony which the Los Angeles Philharmonic would play. She is a doctor- [End of tape 1 side A]
SOLAEGUI: Eleanor Williams, she played cello, bass viol. She was gifted in music. We were all the triple trio, and those girls were just wonderful. Andrea was a good friend. Gynith Whimple was a good friend. Allie Spoon was a very good friend and still is.
ERQUIAGA: And did you know Joe Solaegui?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, yes, but he was so shy you couldn't get near him.
ERQUIAGA: Is that right?
SOLAEGUI: Yes, very shy. Cute. (laughing) I have a rabbit Joey bought for nine dollars when he was in Germany during the War. He walked clear across Europe. He was in the engineers. I wish he'd talk to you. He'll hardly talk to me, so. (laughing) Oh, we had the most wonderful high school years on earth.
ERQUIAGA: You mentioned Alpha Lambda a couple of times. You should explain what that is.
SOLAEGUI: It was like a little sorority that you had to get A's in everything to belong.
ERQUIAGA: Do they still have that group?
SOLAEGUI: I really don't think so.
ERQUIAGA: What did you do when you graduated from high school?
SOLAEGUI: I went down to my father's in Rio Vista, and I got a job in Fairfield working in the court house and loved it. Then I went to San Francisco, and I worked for Leslie Salt, and I worked at Vallejo, Mare Island. I had a real good job there, and it was fun. I just enjoyed having my own apartment. Good life, good fun.
ERQUIAGA: When did you come back to Fallon?
SOLAEGUI: Let's see, Jack and I were married in 1944. I came back in 1943.
ERQUIAGA: You knew Jack before you…
SOLAEGUI: Oh, gosh, yeah. We used to go steady, and then we broke up.
ERQUIAGA: And then you came back.
SOLAEGUI: I came back and called him. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: And when did you get married?
SOLAEGUI: On December 3, 1944.
ERQUIAGA: And what was he doing for a living at that time?
SOLAEGUI: At that time he was helping his father farm. His father was alone and had no wife. Jack's mother died when he was fifteen. His dad was way up in years. Jack was the ninth child of that whole family, and so we lived out there for awhile, and that was not a get-rich scheme. So with Poppa's help Jack built the Valley Equipment Company, and that's when Jay Babb and he--Poppa wanted somebody, he thought, older and more mature should be with him, so Jay stayed for awhile and then they split it up. Jack ran it for twenty years until it burned up.
ERQUIAGA: Explain the connection between Jay and Jack.
SOLAEGUI: He was married to Jack's oldest sister, Marie.
ERQUIAGA: And where was this located?
SOLAEGUI: Where the Travel Lodge is. We owned all four or five of those lots.
ERQUIAGA: What kind of a business was it?
SOLAEGUI: Farm machinery.
ERQUIAGA: You sold it or leased it?
SOLAEGUI: Both. Jack pioneered several machines in this valley. He sold the first swathers. I think he did the first harrow beds. He was a Minneapolis-Moline dealer and an Allis Chalmers dealer and all kinds of other stuff. Farm Hand and all those names, you know.
ERQUIAGA: Did he have any special training to do this work?
SOLAEGUI: Just raised on a farm.
ERQUIAGA: Just what he learned at the farm.
SOLAEGUI: Um-hum. It's amazing what men can do who are raised on a farm. You know. Tony must be just wonderful with equipment.
ERQUIAGA: And where were you living at this time?
SOLAEGUI: In any place we could rent cheap in town.
ERQUIAGA: You were not working any place?
SOLAEGUI: I had to go to work for Jack. His business got so big, and he wouldn't hire anybody or he thought he couldn't afford to hire anybody, so I owe my life to Dorothy Cann. She took care of Merrie, my little girl, and I went to work for Jack. He started getting migraine headaches, and they were horrible. I'd come home from playing bridge, and he'd be banging his head on the wall, and I thought, "I have to do something." So I went down and answered the phone and sold the oxygen and the acetylene and learned the parts department.
ERQUIAGA: I was going to say, did you get to be the parts man?
SOLAEGUI: Yeah. Giving everybody the wrong parts. (laughing) And we had lots of fun, and there were lots of conventions. The funnest thing about going to a convention--this happened almost every time--we'd be riding in an elevator in the Biltmore in Los Angeles, and we'd have name tags on. Some man would look at me and say, "Your name is Ernst?" "Yes, obviously it is." He'd say, "Do you know Margaret Ernst?" I'd say, "Yes." He'd say, "She failed me." She was head of the math department in the Reno High School, and she was so strict, and she didn't use text books. She lectured, and if they missed class they just couldn't get it. And by golly, no matter where I went, "She failed me." (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: Everybody knew her.
SOLAEGUI: But she got kids ready to go to MIT and all the good schools, so she must have known what she was doing.
ERQUIAGA: Well, the Ernsts were very early pioneers in this valley, weren't they?
ERQUIAGA: Did they homestead that place that…?
SOLAEGUI: Boy, there's a lot of that I can't tell you for sure. I had a lot of books, documents, all kinds of things, and I gave them all to Merrie. After her father died I thought she should have them. She or Dave or both. Anyway, Poppa came here from Elko. His father was a legislator. He's in some history book, picture and all, of all the things he did. Actually, he was quite popular and famous. They had sheep in Elko. How he came to Fallon I'll never know, but they were in Belmont, Manhattan, all those areas. Charlie Russell was Jack's cousin. He was governor for two terms, I think. His mother was an Ernst. But their history is so long and there's so many of them, and I'd be afraid I'd get it all wrong.
ERQUIAGA: Are there any left here in Fallon?
SOLAEGUI: Dorothy Cann is. Ellen in Elko. Genevieve Ernst could help you a lot because she remembers dates and stuff, and I never knew them in the first place. My history was so completely different from theirs, and I wasn't even interested in my own until later years. (laughing) They're all big in family trees. Jack was the youngest one.
ERQUIAGA: You said that your business burned down. When was that?
SOLAEGUI: In 1966, June 6. Somebody was smoking and a cigarette got in some rags, we think. Our head mechanic smoked constantly, and we don't know that. But anyhow it caught on fire, and there were fifty-one bottles of oxygen delivered that morning that blew up and acetylene. Blew out half the windows in town. Terrible mess.
ERQUIAGA: And you lost it completely.
ERQUIAGA: So, then what did you do?
SOLAEGUI: He got interested in making some kind of huge equipment for mines.
ERQUIAGA: This was Jack?
SOLAEGUI: Yes. Then he got interested in traveling with the trailer behind the truck. We wore out five of those. I'll never cook again in another little sink as long as I live. (laughing) Oh, dear, I can't remember what they called those things, but they were immense. They were as big as this room, and they melted iron or some damned thing. I don't know. I don't know if it was a war thing or not. Gosh, I wish I could remember what they were. They were so big that they were frightening, and he had a contract. He just made a lot of these things. Then my dad died and left us the ranch in California. Six hundred and forty acres, so we went down there. We farmed it for ten years.
ERQUIAGA: Oh, you actually moved down there for ten years.
SOLAEGUI: Um-hum, but it was dry land farming, so we were here, too. The credit bureau--we were going to put new fire insurance on the house down there, and I wanted Glen's Falls, and they were nervous about us, so they had a credit check. This man who ran the credit bureau at that time told the insurance company that it was rumored that we were separated, and I blew sky-high. (laughing) And Jack thought it was funnier than the devil, and he said, "Well, we are." (laughing) Then I bought the dress shop from Marie, and he farmed down there.
ERQUIAGA: Tell me about Marie.
SOLAEGUI: His oldest sister. Marie Babb.
ERQUIAGA: She was married to Jay Babb.
ERQUIAGA: And what was the name of this shop?
ERQUIAGA: For Marie and Jay?
ERQUIAGA: Where was this?
SOLAEGUI: Right there between the two jewelry stores. Paul McCuskey's old office.
ERQUIAGA: What all did you sell there?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, girdles and bras and stockings and pantyhose and all kinds of that stuff and clothes. Every kind of dresses and sports clothes and coats.
ERQUIAGA: Anything that anybody wanted.
ERQUIAGA: When did you buy that?
SOLAEGUI: 1970 something. Maybe 1972.
ERQUIAGA: So you did kind of go back and forth then.
SOLAEGUI: Oh, boy, did we ever. Did we ever! He'd call up and say, "There's a wonderful dance at the country club in Napa tonight. Can you make it?" I always did.
ERQUIAGA: Did you both enjoy dancing?
SOLAEGUI: Yeah. He ended up farming two thousand or more acres before he quit, but I'm so glad. The realtor called one day from Walnut Creek, and he says, "Do you want to sell that ranch or not?" and I said, "Yes," and we did. We came home, and he got to do everything he wanted to do everyday for ten years before he got cancer. He restored old cars. He had one he worked six years on. It won a national prize, and I asked him please to stay with Fords so he could minimize the junk pile. "If you had a DeSoto I couldn't stand another junk pile." (laughing) We had seven old cars, and they're just darling. I have a railway express delivery truck. It's a 1922 and a center-door Model T that has just one door in the center and that's it, and we all have to get in that door.
ERQUIAGA: Do you still have them?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, yeah. They're all locked up out there. And my father's 1942 Jeep. It's pink with a pink fringe on top. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: Well, I was going to ask you. I remember that you used to drive around in a pink and white jeep. Is there a story behind that?
SOLAEGUI: It was one of the Kaiser ones during the War. I don't know how my dad got it.
ERQUIAGA: What do you mean by Kaiser?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, Kaiser Permanente. That big outfit over there had pink jeeps everywhere. Tee hee, hee, hee. Fun.
ERQUIAGA: Do you still have that one?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, yes. Jack died when we were to enter that car the third time, and I just had to do it. I just couldn't not do it, so my kids got together and we took it to the show which happened to be in Portland and it won a third prize. National. And then we put it to rest out here. It has a pure silk window shade in it. Beautiful. So that's about the end of my uneventful life.
ERQUIAGA: Did you continue with the dress shop after Jack retired?
SOLAEGUI: No, I liquidated it. Sold everything in it including the coat hangars and went to live with Jack. We had a ball down there. They had the best eating places on all those islands.
ERQUIAGA: How long did you stay down there?
SOLAEGUI: I think it was about five years before we sold it. I had to cook for the harvesters and take it all out to the fields. It was only seventy-five miles from downtown San Francisco, so the fog was terrible. You couldn't start to harvest grain until noon, and you had to go that night until the fog came in. Terrible hours. So, that's what we did. The best night of our lives down there was there the Carquinez Straits and the Sacramento River come together there's a dining place there that is fabulous, and that was the year that Nixon sold the grain to Russia. Every building on that ranch was full of grain. There had been no market, and they bought all of ours. We went over to dinner that night to the Riverside or whatever was, and these Russian ships came down that strait to get that grain, and I'll tell you we stood up and put our hands over our hearts watching that go out. Tons and tons of grain. The rats were terrible there. Came in on the ship
ERQUIAGA: Well, that's quite interesting that you ended up here. Did your children go to school down there?
SOLAEGUI: Merrie did when we had the dress shop in the beginning. She had to ride seven miles by bus. David was out of school by then. He would come down and help plow, however. They'd do shifts. Plow all night, all day.
ERQUIAGA: Is that right?
SOLAEGUI: Um-hum. Caterpillars.
ERQUIAGA: 'Cause there was so much rye to be cut.
SOLAEGUI: Yeah. David saved the old Caterpillars. They're out in back. Jack hauled them all home. We had Chinese cooks when I was a kid down there. All their names were Lee. Everyone was Lee, and my mother would have to drive to Isleton once a week to get their opium. That was fun. I wasn't allowed to play or eat in the cook house because they had fly spray and these old pump fly sprayers and the spray would leak in the custard pudding, and she'd just say, "Stay out of there." Well, the minute she wasn't looking, I was in there eating fly spray on the custard and having a ball licking all the pans. They taught me how to put nickels in my ears and make them stay. (laughing) It was really fun. We had a cook named Paisano once. He had rosemary in everything. Fried eggs, no matter what. Fried potatoes, rosemary, and soaking in grease. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: This Ernst Drive out here-
SOLAEGUI: You know, they don't ask you. They don't ask permission. That was the Baker place. Hamilton Baker, I think. We bought that in 1940, 1950, and we subdivided it. It was a nightmare. It was before subdivisions, and the rules were this and that, and not, and yes and no, trips to Carson, and I swore I'd never do it again, ever, and I won't. But, we finally got the damned thing subdivided and only recently sold the last two lots. They put a sign up that said Ernst Drive without asking anybody. I don't know who's in charge of that.
ERQUIAGA: But you were the Ernsts that were subdividing. When did you build out here, or why?
SOLAEGUI: Jack traded farm equipment for this place.
ERQUIAGA: The house was built.
SOLAEGUI: No, we built it. There was no house. There was a little orchard here and a little hand pump. We bought it in 1956, and we built the house in 1958. It's been remodeled so many times you'd never recognize it.
ERQUIAGA: Who did you buy it from?
SOLAEGUI: Jim Gladwill, but it was the Mareans', Peggy Wheat's parents.
ERQUIAGA: Where are your children now?
SOLAEGUI: Merrie's here. Married Jeff Robinson, and David's in Sacramento. He's a builder. He works for a huge construction company. He's a project manager. He's built seven hospitals in the east, and right now in the middle of the college in Sacramento some huge building that's housing McDonald's and Arby's and all those fast food places. He's been at that for about nine months. Just about finished. Has no kids.
ERQUIAGA: I was just going to say, do you have grandchildren?
SOLAEGUI: Merrie had three. One just got back from Belgium. He was an exchange student. This is Jon. Kate's in college, and so is Matt. Matt's twenty-three, and he's studying physics. Almost through. Wants to teach physics. Kate is in computers. [laughing] I don't discuss computers.
ERQUIAGA: Are you not computer-literate?
SOLAEGUI: Not at all. The kids bought me one and put it in the bedroom, and I've passed by it for two years. I'd rather paint. Don't have time for that.
ERQUIAGA: Sure, when you are able to paint.
SOLAEGUI: I don't have time to fool with that, and I have a typewriter that does beautiful tricks and a calculator. What else do I need? [laughing]
ERQUIAGA: Are there any others in your family that have this artistic talent that you do?
SOLAEGUI: The only thing my mother could do was cook. My daughter is a wonderful cook. David builds. [laughing]
ERQUIAGA: That may be artistic.
SOLAEGUI: Yeah. [laughing] He built that military hospital, the Air Force hospital in Colorado Springs. It's all glass. It's a showplace. Beautiful!
ERQUIAGA: You did have, I believe, an art gallery downtown for awhile.
SOLAEGUI: Yeah, after Jack died. I thought why not? It's in the rent-free district.
ERQUIAGA: What do you mean, rent-free district?
SOLAEGUI: Well, I owned the building. [laughing] I still had the building.
ERQUIAGA: From MarJae days.
SOLAEGUI: Yeah, yeah. I had been renting it. It was empty at the time, and I needed something to do. And I actually thought that maybe I'd have time to sit back in the back room and paint, but I got adopted by this man who used to come and visit every day and talk, and I never painted one stroke. And there ain't no art market in Fallon (laughing).
ERQUIAGA: Did you ever give lessons?
SOLAEGUI: No. I've helped a lot of people, but I don't give lessons. I love to paint, and I love portraits the best.
ERQUIAGA: When did you marry Joe Solaegui?
SOLAEGUI: November 10, 1988.
ERQUIAGA: And, of course, you'd known him since the third grade. What kind of work did he do before he retired?
SOLAEGUI: He was Helms. He was road construction.
ERQUIAGA: Did he ever work for Dodges or Drumm?
SOLAEGUI: Before, he worked for Drumm, yes, yes.
ERQUIAGA: That's where he started, maybe.
SOLAEGUI: Yes. He's full of old Andy Drumm stories.
ERQUIAGA: Can I ask you what caused you to end up wheelchair bound?
SOLAEGUI: Oh, I had three ruptured disks, and it was the damndest thing. It never hurt. I hated to walk, and I knew I hated to walk, and I'd avoid walking. Other than that my mind never settled in on a problem. I just didn't like to walk anywhere. Even for the mail. I'd do anything to not walk up there, and then it finally got so bad that I couldn't. So we went to the doctor, and I had three ruptured disks, and they operated, but by then the damage was all done, and they couldn't fix it. They said they fixed it, but the motor is gone. Whatever. It's been seven years, and I don't miss it at all. Don't miss walking. [laughing]
ERQUIAGA: Can you think of any particular person that has inspired you to continue to be upbeat the way you have?
SOLAEGUI: No, I have no problem. My appetite is superb. I love to read murder mysteries, and so does Joe. We belong to three book clubs. Our book bills are horrendous, and I do crossword puzzles by the gross when I'm not eating. [laughing] And I love naps and painting, and the days are too short. I don't have time to fool around with them. [laughing] Really! And I can load the dishwasher. I just did before you came, and I can take the dishes out. The counter's too high, so if I try to make a sandwich I always get up with mayonnaise in my nose, so he does that, [laughing] but, no, I'm just fine.
ERQUIAGA: That's so good!
ERQUIAGA: As you were growing up, was there anyone in particular that inspired you to do well? Did anyone ever tell you to do anything you want?
SOLAEGUI: Huh-uh. Things just happen. They just simply happen. I paint like mad, and I give pictures to everybody. Before I die I want everybody to have something I painted. He's fine about it until I put good frames on them, and then he gets a little . . . [laughing]
ERQUIAGA: Are they expensive?
SOLAEGUI: God, yes.
ERQUIAGA: What big changes do you see about you in Fallon from the days you were in school and growing up?
SOLAEGUI: I'm afraid to discuss it. I can't stand Wal-Mart's and Arby's. I can't fight about Kentucky Fried Chicken because I sold them the acre where they are. I hate growth. I'd like back my old dirt road to town. One lane. Really, these over here just worry me to death. All those septic tanks and wells and everybody wanting our water. That upsets me. And the junkies. My God! some of these yards are terrible. Twenty and thirty old cars. Nobody has any pride. This guy over here moved two junk cars in before he moved himself in, and he's had his first shipment of old fenders and car hoods. Boy, that's a full acre, and it borders its full length to us, so thank heavens for the trees and the hedge and the Russian olives and everything that hide it 'cause this time of year I don't have to look. Yeah, I don't like it at all. Our mail gets mixed up. They turn all their dogs loose at night. [End of tape 1, original transcript continues “It's bad. Terrible.
ERQUIAGA: That is.”]
SOLAEGUI: Oh, isn't that cute. Cotton. Awful stockings, and I'd meet the Harrigan kids and the Mathewson kids behind a big road sign on the highway where the bus came, and we'd all take off these hideous stockings and leave them in the dirt till the bus brought us back. [laughing] She never stuck me in long underwear, thank God, I'd a killed her. [laughing] It was fun knowing all those big families and all those kids and all those Weavers. There were so many fun Weavers. Rollie and Bob Weaver, the twins, belonged to Nellie and Leonard, and there was Ted's Ethel [Hall] and Ferla's Mary Ethel [Frederick]. Do you remember Beulah? [m. Allen Inman] There was Mary Harrigan and Louise Clayton. She's now Louise Mills. She's younger than I, quite a bit. And Phyllis [Corlett] wasn't Mathewson then. She house sits. We used to travel a lot, and she house sat for us all the time. Did a wonderful job. We just had to give up. . . well, I can't travel at all now. It's just too big a bother. I don't want to go anywhere anyway. But, having caretakers is a nightmare. We had so many caretaker problems.
ERQUIAGA: To take care of you?
SOLAEGUI: No, to take care of this place while we were gone. That was bad. Oh, to think what a childhood we had compared with these city kids now. They don't stand a chance. You know, they complain and whine all the time about kids have nothing to do. They have nowhere to go. My mother and Herb went for two weeks on a trip, and they told me I had to stay home and take care of Don, seven years my junior, and we were so busy that the two weeks went by in no time at all. We had no phone. Nobody had a phone anyway. Who would you call? I taught him to darn socks. We found a huge box of socks with holes in them in the closet, and I taught him, and we darned everyone of those socks. That was finished, so I said, "Let's wash the porch." so we got all of my mother's hairbrushes and we found some laundry soap and we washed the porch. It was a big porch. It went clear around the house. Well, they came home. [laughing] The socks were to be made into a rag rug. Herb wouldn't wear darned socks. They hurt his feet. Especially the way we darned them. And we used up all the laundry soap she'd been hoarding because there was a war on and you couldn't get any laundry soap. We weren't popular at all, but we were so busy. [laughing] God! that was funny. But we could always find something to do. J.C. Penney's then you could buy a quarter of a yard of material. Can you imagine doing that now? And go home and make doll clothes. Horrible looking doll clothes.
ERQUIAGA: Did you do that?
SOLAEGUI: Yeah, we made doll clothes by the ton. Leanna Shannon lived . . . her mother was my best friend, and they lived . . . The father was the Dodge Island ranch irrigator. I still correspond with her. She's ninety-three. She is in Iowa and her daughter is in Texas, and we still write. We made more doll clothes. [laughing] It was fun. We always found something to do without using anything. You didn't need a skateboard or a roller rink or a gymnasium. I don't know if it would still work if we didn't have so many people, but the guys who have farms and live on them, the kids are lucky. Even if they think they're worked to death, but kids are just marvelous. Chad is doing this new dairy thing, and Thaine [Ernst] has a harrow bed and just working himself to death paying for it. If he hadn't been raised on a ranch, I don't know what he'd a wanted to do, but all he wants to do is farm.
ERQUIAGA: When I was talking to his grandmother, she referred to the Surge business. Is that the dairy system you're talking about?
SOLAEGUI: They went to that school, I think, in Wisconsin. Both boys. They learned air conditioning and the milking equipment and keeping the milk cool and all the heating and the chemistry and keeping the milk clean and all that stuff. It's great for them, but they're so busy they're just nuts because they're farming now, too, and they have to go to California to pick up that awful stuff that smells so terrible that milkers smell like all the time, [laughing] and bring it back and deliver it. It's a very good business. Doing very well.
ERQUIAGA: We've not had anything like that in Fallon before.
SOLAEGUI: Never. Not that I know of. Of course, I don't pay too much attention. I live in my own little world out here.
ERQUIAGA: Well, if there's nothing else that you want to tell me about, we'll conclude our interview.
SOLAEGUI: Okay. I enjoyed.
ERQUIAGA: I thank you again for giving us this information.
SOLAEGUI: You're welcome. Useless information. I'm a wealth of it. [laughing]
ERQUIAGA: Well, this is the kind of information that people want to know and hear about.