MEMORY TRACKS: The Diary of a Depot – Chapters 3 & 4 – The 1930’s & 1940’s

Editor’s Note: The story continues, through the decades of the Rockaway Beach Train Depot – the ’30s and ’40s are rough years. Missed the introduction, Chapters 1 and 2 – see below for links.

By Virgina Carrell Prowell
The Thirty’s were crucial years for the town as well as the nation. In the winter of 1931-32, bitter cold from the north swooped down on the town and made life miserable for everyone except the children who took advantage of the frozen Lake Lytle. Marion Hulse’s (Drollinger) dad put a pole in the lake which froze into the ice, then tied a rope to it and skated around it pulling all the kids on a sled. They called it their “Merry-go-round.”

Lumber mills were closing everywhere putting more men out of work; the depression was really beginning to affect this part of the country. If those problems were not enough facing the people, in 1933 the news of the big forest fire came over the wires. Although the fire was miles from the beach area, it wasn’t long before we began feeling the effects. The sky turned black with smoke and ashes fell all over the beaches. In places, it was 2 feet deep and ashes were even being reported by ships 500 miles out at sea. It was so dark, even the chickens went to roost in the middle of the day.
Many of the unemployed men went over the mountain to fight this terrible blaze that lasted 11 days. The opportunity to find employment was a shallow blessing and a tragic loss of over $100,000,000 to the State of Oregon. Tillamook County was the hardest hit with 82% of the burned timber. It was reported that 10 billion board feet of merchandise able timber went up in smoke. There were 90,560 acres of dead timber and 13,360 acres of green timber left.

It was just a year later that another fire, this one in our own town, struck havoc and fear that the entire town would go up in smoke. Early on the morning of August 31, 1934, fire erupted apparently from the bakery and spread southward and engulfed nine businesses. The entire town, awakened at an early hour, came to try to put it out. It was to no avail, however, because without a fire department, the bucket brigade was just not fast enough to contain the blaze of the all wooden structures. I’ll tell you, every splinter of my timbers was shaking in fear the winds would shift and the fire would set my wooden structure ablaze too. This was one of the worst Labor Day weekends ever for this city. The townsfolk were a sturdy lot and soon were all working together to clear away the burned debris and get on with life in general.
Mr. Monk, who had the grocery and dry good store, started rebuilding right away. Newell Olson, the barber, had his shop in Monk’s building too. He moved his barber shop into the Wood’s photography building until Monk got his building up. Part of Monk’s building was brick, so Newell and some of the other men around town helped Bill Monk scrape the bricks for the new structure.
It was the fall of the year when Bill started his building and of course with fall comes the stormy weather. He had just got pretty well under construction when one of those infamous southwest winds came along and blew over his new building; but like I said before, these were stout-hearted individuals. He started all over and finally got a good building erected before winter set in.
The people who had the bakery, Jack and Jean Treblehorn, moved back in 1935 and rented the old bootleggers building and set up another Rockaway Bakery. Of course, the building was just across the street from me and the fresh baked pastries filled the air with delicious aromas that beckoned the station master and baggage man nearly every morning.
This talk about the highway over the Wilson River has really taken on serious dialogue. H.T. Botts has been the main one to spearhead this highway. He seems to think the automobile is a better mode of travel. Some-times it’s hard to figure out what these smart people are thinking.
President Roosevelt is trying hard to get the nation back on its feet and is sanctioning a great many projects throughout the country. He has just signed a bill to appropriate money for the building of the Wilson and Wolf Creek Highways.
Here it is 1937, passenger train travel has certainly slackened off in the past few years. It is really concerning me and I can’t figure out if it is because of the auto-mobile or if it is the depression. Whatever the reason, there is definite talk of closing down the station. It seems only yesterday throngs of people were tramping over my platforms. The last 25 years have been good for the town and I’ve been proud to be a part of it. I hear the train coming. They say this will be the last passenger train to pass through here. It really saddens me and I wonder what will become of me. Certainly after a summer with-out the train, the Railroad people will come to their senses and put the train back.
It is 1938, still no trains except a few freight trains, but no one is stopping here. They must really be serious about keeping my doors closed.
Today they have come in to take away the benches, the old pot belly stove is going out the door too. They’ve been in the office all day sorting through things and packing up everything into wooden boxes. It looks pretty grim for me … OH NO! Not that! They have boarded up my windows!
The laughter and chatter I had become accustomed to have silenced and I only hear the splashing waves and the sound of the infernal cars and trucks. Once in a while a fellow down on his luck will take refuge under my structure for the night, but he is gone too soon and I’m left alone again.
Another year has passed. The cold winds beat against me all winter. There is no old potbelly stove to stoke up and keep my timbers dry. The paint on the out-side is fading and pealing. I’ll be glad when the warm spring and summer sun comes out to warm me up. Surely this year they will re-open the doors and put the passenger trains back. Maybe a fresh coat of paint inside and out would help me out of my depression. I know all my timbers are sound; I’m not ready for the torch or the wrecking ball yet.

Chapter IV-The 1940’s
This day started out like most of the rest … the traffic on the hi-way just keeps getting busier and busier. I just hate those automobiles. If it weren’t for them, I’d still be a viable part of this town and people would be scurrying around me, trains would be stopping and I’d know what is going on around town … and maybe they would put the pot-bellied stove in again. My depression was just getting worse and worse and all of a sudden, I noticed a big flat-bed truck drive up along side of me.
The truck had a sign on it that read M.S. Savage, House Movers. Two fellows got out of the truck and then another car came along side and two other fellows jumped out. The one fellow from the truck was a little older and the other three looked like they might be college-age young men.
The older man got a ladder and climbed up on my roof and examined me all over. I knew he could tell I was still in good shape … at least I hoped he could tell that. Then he yelled down at one of the younger fellows and told him to bring up that big saw. That really made my timbers shake … What was he going to do with that big saw?
“Measure from each end and we’ll cut’er right down the middle.”
Cut me down the middle? What in God’s name are they going to do that for?
“Botts said this old building was in good shape and he was right. I think we can cut’er right down the middle and move’er across the track that way. It wouldn’t be possible to move it any other way.”
Botts??? Oh no, I think that is the fellow that was pushing to get the Wilson River hi-way thru. He surely has been a sliver in my side these last few years.
They started up the saw … it made a deafening noise and it was relentless as they cut down thru my shingles, thru the rafters and on down thru the siding and floor joists. It wasn’t a pleasant experience but the old man kept saying how sound my structure was and that proved he knew quality when he saw it.
The older man was definitely in charge and the three younger fellows followed his instructions carefully. One of the younger men they called Wayne must have been the older man’s son. One fellow was named Bill and the other one they called Waldo.
It took a mighty long time to do all that sawing and then they started up that gas engine they carried on the flat-bed truck. It was on the road on the other side of the track. They got out some huge ropes and began tying them around my one half, connected it to that engine. The engine stopped for a while and then they put some big oak rollers under my floor joist and started the engine up again. The boss manned the engine and the younger fellows kept those big rollers going under me and I slowly began to move. Oh what an operation that was. A lot of men gathered around to see the spectacle but they stayed out of the way because that Mr. Savage was all business and he surely knew what he was doing. Those young fellows were certainly working hard … I could see the perspiration on their foreheads and the back of their shirts.
They got one half of me over the track and then started vigilantly working on the second half. The young fellows were really working hard and the Mr. Savage didn’t say too much but really kept them on the ball. The day was passing and all this jostling around was getting a bit tiresome. I was ready for them to take a break any time. The young men thought it might be a good time to stop since it was 5:00p.m. They had worked steady all day but old man Savage pointed out the fact that they had me right in the middle of the track and the train would be coming in a few hours. The men would have to work until they cleared my structure from the railroad track.
They all took a ten minute break for some coffee and a snack and then steadily moved me on to the other side of the track and just in time too because it wasn’t more than a half hour and the old engine came chugging down the track … blowing his whistle all the way.
Some how when that engine whistle blew, I almost felt like it was a mockery of my years of duty. Here I was … “On the wrong side of the tracks.”
It was a long hard day for these three fellows and I bet they knew they had put in a full day’s work; however, they were back the next day and the next and the next. It took them three days to move me to what seems to be my new location.
I hope they get me back together soon. I’m still not sure if this is going to be the new depot site or just what my future holds.
It has been years now, I’ve almost lost track. With no telegraph office, newspapers or telephones around, I don’t know what has been going on. I’ve just about given up hope. The freight trains have been rolling by almost every day and the traffic on the road seems to have in-creased.
It seems rather strange being in two pieces, but soon I’ll be put right again and we can get on with being a full-fledged depot. It is kind of wild looking here … no streets and a lot of brush. I suppose they will clear that all off and build another platform in the near future. I must be patient; this has been a long time coming so I can wait a little longer.
At last someone is coming. I hope they put some sort of foundation under me and take me off these jacks. The wind really whistles under my flooring. I’ll be so glad when they put that old pot belly stove back in and warm things up a bit.
All this pounding and pushing me around sure gets tiresome. It is a good thing I was built so sturdy to begin with, because most of these places would have crumbled under all this stress.
It has taken about a week or more but I’m finally in one piece. The railroad crews should be along any day now to revitalize me.
I don’t understand what has happened to the railroad crews. It has been weeks since they moved me here and no one has been around.
This seems to be more of a residential neighborhood. There are a number of children riding bicycles along the road to the west and occasionally there are horses with riders going by.
Time has passed slowly again. They haven’t come back to do anymore to ready me for becoming a depot. I just wonder what they have in mind. Oh, there comes a fellow, seems to have a key and is entering with a bed roll. He surely isn’t from the railroad, however, he does seem to have permission to stay in here or he wouldn’t have a key. I would think he would want to bring in a stove and warm things up a bit if he is going to stay for any length of time.
This old fellow has been here every night for a few months, but, he just stays at night and then leaves again. I can’t figure out what is going on. The railroad people surely are slow about returning to finish their job.
Summer has passed; the sound of children laughing and playing around is silenced by the arrival of fall. Winds and rain are beating against me again and the fellow with the bed roll moved out. Winter is just around the corner and I have given up hope of being restored this year.
It is beginning to look like spring, at least the cold winds have died down and we have had a few days of warm sunshine. Two cars have just driven up near the west end and stopped. A man and a woman are getting out of one and another man is getting out of the other. The larger of the two men has a key and they are entering the building.
“Yes, Mr. Martinolich, I think you could very well recondition this old building into a fine motel. The timbers are mighty sound and it would just be a matter of re-finishing the insides.”
Mr. Martinolich must have been the slighter of the two men. He just nodded as he looked all around. He had a small hammer that he tapped here and there on the walls.
“What do you think, Mr. Martinolich?”
“Well, Mr. Botts, Grace and I would like to talk it over and get back to you later in week. You would allow us a key to place so we look around more later?”
This Mr. Martinolich seems to have some kind of an accent.
“Oh I suppose that could be arranged,” Mr. Botts answered, “You come back to Tillamook to my office and we’ll take care of that and I’ll draw up some papers for you to look at. You know I also own those lots on each side of the building and would be willing to make you a good deal on those too. I’m only asking $1000.00 for them and would let you have them on time, say $100.00 down and $15.00 a month.”
The lady (Grace) and Mr. Martinolich looked at each other and nodded in a silent agreement. “Alright, Mr. Botts, we be there about 2:00 p.m. Why not give us key now so can look around while we are already here. Then maybe we make decision when we come in.”
“Fair enough, here you are, and I’ll see you at 2:00 p.m.”
I’m in shock. I can’t believe what I just heard. They are planning to convert me into a motel. What are they going to do for a depot? The railroad must have sold me to that Mr. Botts. I’ve heard his name before. He was the one spearheading the opening of the Wilson River High-way. This is incredible. The man who helped lead to my demise has bought me from the railroad and now plans on selling me to these people for a motel. Well, one thing is for sure, Mr. Botts knows quality when he sees it.
Grace watched as Mr. Botts drove away and then turned to her husband and said, “John, are you serious about buying this old building? I thought we were just going to look it over!”
“Grace, didn’t you hear what he said? He would sell us other lots on each side for only $1000.00, then we would have four lots here and that would be a great in-vestment.”
“Only? Only? John, I don’t call $1000.00 Only!”
“Now Grace, you leave finances to me. I know good deal when I see it, but now I want to look around this place a little and see just how sound the structure is. If it be as sound as he says, it won’t be such big job to get it in living condition by summer.”
“Oh, alright John, I know you are a good carpenter and I have faith in your judgment, so we’ll do whatever you say.”
John had a keen eye and he didn’t miss a stud or a partition as he took his hammer and tapped and pounded around my entire insides. Then he went outside and crawled underneath my structure. I knew he would be impressed with the good quality of my beams. Like I have said before, I was made to last.
John and Grace Martinolich drove away; I suppose they were headed for Tillamook to make a deal with Mr. Botts. I have mixed emotions about the turn of events. It is a great disappointment to learn I’m not going to be used as a depot. I’m relieved that my structure will re-main intact. Hopefully they will put the old pot belly stove back in and warm up my boards before they be-come warped with dampness and age.
It was only a couple of days before John Martinolich was back with saws, hammers, nails and all kinds of building material. I could tell he was an industrious fellow. He moved quickly and his mind was working as fast as his fingers. He had great plans for my restoration. He would tear out the chimney that was in because he was afraid it may have suffered some damage from the move. John was a native Austrian, proud of his heritage, and of his knowledge of masonry and carpentry as well as being a craftsman as a cobbler.
He soon had piles of bricks stacked in the yard in preparation of building the chimneys. He had plans to di-vide me into three parts plus an upstairs for living quarters in the summer time. He would build two chimneys, one in the original place on the east end and one about two-thirds of the way down that would service two units. This man was wiry and agile for his age. He carried those bricks and mortar up that ladder with the agility of a twenty year old.
His work drew the attention of an elderly man across the street who was of Latvian decent. Mr. Danin and his wife had cottages that faced the beach and the old man came over to inspect John’s progress.
“Ya, Ya, by golly, looks like big job you started there.”
“Ho, you tink so huh? vell maybe for somevon who don’t have great skill, but for person vit good knowledge, it is all in day’s work”
“Ya, Ya, you better be careful going up and down dot ladder, long vay down from up der.”
“No, no, just fools who be careless make mistakes.” With that John Martinolich turned his head and began laying his bricks. He was very particular and each brick was skillfully laid in an even and straight line. Mr. Danin stroked his white beard and chuckled as he shuffled back to his cottages.
As John built the chimney, he carefully lined it and made a smooth and sturdy surface on the inside of the chimney. It was good to see a craftsman like this working on me and adding quality work to my already sound structure. When the chimneys were finished, they brought in a nice wood cook stove and a wood heater. This was the day I was waiting for. It seemed like it took days for that heat to penetrate through my cold and dampened boards. I don’t know how many years it has been since I’ve felt heat from the inside but I think it is about 1946 or 47 now.
Time seemed to just fly by now that there was activity going on every day. Soon they were putting partitions in; plumbing and wiring were being installed. Mr. Martinolich insisted all the wiring be put through conduit pipe. The railroad had much of it done that way before, so long lengths of conduit pipe were strung throughout the attic and down the walls.
It is the beginning of the rainy season again but I hardly notice it now with the warm fires going on the in-side. John and Grace keep busy working on the other units now that they have their living quarters quite livable.
During the winter months, Anna and Leo Danin from the Danin Cottages across the street come over for card games now and then. Both the Danins are from Lat-via and have a delightful accent. Mrs. Danin is short and plump, and every inch of her is alive with kindness and good humor. Her gray hair pulled up in a knot on top of her head reveals the facial lines of time glowing with sincerity.
Mr. Danin, (Leo) has a twinkle in his eye that shines beneath the billed cap worn by European mariners. His white mustache and beard, that he keeps neatly trimmed and groomed, set him apart in any crowd. He has a slow and deliberate walk with a slight stoop from many years of toil in hand hewing lumber.
The Danins and Martins (short for Martinolich) be-came good friends along with neighbors, Bloomberg who had cottages up the street. They were all from the “old country” and had definite ideas about politics and social matters. At times the conversations got hot and heavy and often resulted in silent periods until the topics were forgotten or they cooled off.
All these people were extremely hard workers. The women all did their own laundry for their cottages. Every Monday was wash day and the wash tubs were placed on kitchen chairs near the wringer washer. Mrs. Martin heated her water from coils in her wood cook stove. Mrs. Danin, however, heated hers on top of her kitchen stove and carried the water out to her porch to do the wash. The clothes lines would reveal the weekly occupancy of each motel. During some of the busier weeks, the lines would be full twice a week. After drying the sheets on the lines, each couple would work together folding the sheets by pulling and popping them into neat folds. Many of the women never went to bed until each sheet was ironed and put on the shelf.
The beach front cottages and apartments always filled up first and then the overflow would come to the Martins seeking accommodations. Most weekends their units would fill up and frequently they had people stay the entire week. Their friends, the Danins and Bloom-bergs often sent people to them when their cottages filled up.
These last few years have been a big adjustment for me, but now I have to become accustomed to being a dwelling instead of a depot. It makes me feel good to have activity around and the trains still go by about twice a day. Of course, they are only carrying freight now but the gentle shaking each time they pass gives me a warm feeling of the exciting times of the past.
Now my excitement comes from the renters in the summertime. It is always an excited and happy group that comes to the beach for vacation. Occasionally John and Graces’ children come down to visit and they love to go clam digging.
One weekend when they were down to go clam digging, John told them to sleep upstairs, but he warned them to be extremely quiet in the morning so they wouldn’t disturb any of the tenants. Marie, Gus, Roger, Arlene and Sharon all bedded down very quietly in the upstairs bedrooms. They removed their shoes before going up and only talked in very low whispers. In the morning after they were dressed for their clam digging expedition, they gathered in one room to quietly put on their shoes. Four of them sat down on the bed at the same time and with a thunderous crash, the bed springs and mattress fell to the floor. Mr. Martin went tearing up my stairs to see what all the commotion was about and there sat four adults with red and apologetic faces.
Grace was a sweet, kindhearted lady and she loved flowers. Even though she did all her own washing and cleaning of the apartments, she still found time for her flower garden. She planted fuchsia, pinks, dahlias, calla lilies and some nice shrubs near my doors. The flowers flourished with her care and the most weather of the coast. All her tenants were impressed with the colorful garden.
I’m not sure just what year it is; I think it is about 1948. So much has gone on in the last ten years. From what I can gather from conversations about, it seems we have been through a big world war. They called it World War II. I guess all the time I was boarded up, the battles were raging both in Europe and Asia. President Roosevelt died and Vice President Truman took over. It must be election year again because people are arguing about who would be the best president.
The Republicans are running a fellow who has been Governor of New York State by the name of Thomas Dewey . . . Harry Truman is running for re-election on the Democratic side. The radio has been reporting the Gallup poll shows Dewey will win by a landslide. The Danins, the Bloombergs and Martins get into some hot arguments. I can’t figure out who is a Democrat and who is a Republican. In November everyone got the shock of his life when election results showed Truman had won by a landslide.
The Martins worked hard all year, always fixing, painting, making curtains and keeping everything in tip-top shape. In the spring of 1949, Grace was at my east end and John was at my west end when suddenly my timbers started shaking and gyrating something fierce. There was no train coming so both realized it was an earthquake and raced to warn the other. They were so excited, they collided with each other in the center of my middle apartment. After the ground stopped shaking, they had a good laugh at each other.
Most of the houses on the ridge were summer homes that stood vacant almost all winter. Summertime they all came alive and the street would be crowded with people, bicycles, horses and cars. The Schumans owned the Anchor Lodge, just across the street. They were Portland residents but came down quite often bringing their children and grandchildren. The Schumans were also hard working people and were always working on their place the entire time they were down.
The customers of the Martins were many and varied, from the quiet older couple to the family with several children. The children kept things jumping and at times could be a problem, like the time a child put a clam shell in the toilet. It acted like a valve, closing down and plugging everything up. When the plunger was used it would open up and let everything go down. The next time it was flushed, it was again clogged. In desperation, Mr. Martin removed the toilet, took it out in the yard and ran water through it backwards. The water shot right through, so he set it back in place, flushed again and water went all over the floor. He tried this again and again with the same results. He was getting more than a little upset. The third time he took it out in the yard, the clam shell dislodged and fell out on the ground.

Here’s a link to the introduction and Chapter 1 –

Chapter 2 –