Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Firewood was Scarce/Joke Played On Bachelors

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 22 July 1962

The Tri-City region in the early days was lacking in heating fuel. Much of the terrain was covered with a small bush that bloomed with a yellow blossom in early spring. This bush was called rabbit brush by the early pioneers. The branches and limbs were so small that they flared up like kindling and burnt out immediately.

The early pioneers put their flat-top hay racks on their wagons and drove to localities that grew large sage brush. They grubbed it, cut out the small branches and loaded the heavier trunks on the hay racks and hauled it home for stove wood. They supplemented this supply with drift wood that they picked up along the river banks.

A few years after the railroad had been built through the Tri-City region, thc railroads began to replace the split and rotted railroad ties. The section bosses would not burn these ties. They left them scattered along the railroad track for the early pioneers to take home for fire wood.

Some of the ties were mill-sawed. Some were handhewn with broad axes. These hand-hewn ties were always used for fire wood. The better square mill sawed ties were construction timbers. The pioneers were happy when the railroad replaced its switch ties as these were quite long timbers. The pioneers always picked up all the coal that fell off of the cars onto the right of way. They were often accused by the railroad of helping the lumps to fall from the cars.

As time progressed, this supply of used ties increased. The pioneer made pig pens, chicken houses, fence posts and corrals with them. The pioneer bachelors floored, walled and ceiled their dugouts with these mill-sawed railroad ties. They papered the walls with old newspapers.

These pioneer bachelors' quarters were quite varied. Some were very livable. Its owner had helped himself to doors and windows of the ghost town portion of Ainsworth. These dugouts were quite cool in summer and warm in winter. The better house-keepers of these pioneer bachelors even maintained window curtains made from flour sacks. They had well-made bunks and small clothes closets. The mattresses were generally a large wool sack filled with clean wheat straw which was changed periodically. The bed covers were usually blankets which the clean bachelors washed in the river many times each year. The furniture was meager; a small cookstove and wood box, a home made stand or table, the top of which was covered with white oilcloth, a few home-made chairs, one a rocker. The cupboards were wall shelves containing tin cups and tin plates, a small porcelain pitcher and a syrup pitcher. A clean gallon tomato can with top cut out and partially filled with water was used as a cuspidor. There were no cigarettes smoked in these early days. A gallon crock containing the sour dough starter stood on the top kitchen shelf over the kitchen stove. Beside the wood box was a small bench on whose top was a tin wash basin and soap dish. A flour sack towel hung on a nail over the wash bench. The wooden wash tub was hung on the outside near the door. The steps down into the dugouts were also made from the mill-sawed tics. A couple of these ties were set in the ground about 40 feet apart for clothes poles on which to tie a clothes line.

Sometimes in the winter, the pioneer bachelor would dream that he was in purgatory and awaken suddenly only to find that some practical joker had crept up very silently and placed a board on top of his stove pipe, causing his room to fill with smoke.

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