Wartime Effort – WWII

My fellow Americans, I ask your help.  On behalf of all your fighting sons, brothers, and husbands whom I command in the Pacific, I ask that every skilled man and woman in America who can work in a shipyard volunteer immediately.”

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet

Kaiser Shipyards in Portland, Oregon at the height of WWII.

Kaiser Shipyards in Portland, Oregon at the height of WWII.

World War II started and Boyd Fergus was almost called to war.  He went to work in the shipyards in Portland, Oregon, and it was this important wartime job that kept him from being drafted.  During this time period the Kaiser Corporation built two large shipyards in Portland.  Changes in the shipbuilding process allowed the wartime shipyards to produce ships at unprecedented speed.  The use of welding rather than riveting to assemble the ships saved labor, time, and repair costs.  Welded ships were put together in large sub-assemblies,

Liberty Ship under construction at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland, Oregon.

Liberty Ship under construction at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland, Oregon.

which allowed much of the work to be done in fabricating shops at the shipyards.  The sub-assemblies (such as bottoms, deck, bulkheads) were then welded together on the ways (the structures on which the ship is built and launched).  These changes allowed the shipyards to hire workers who were specifically trained as welders rather than skilled craftsmen.  With the cooperation of the shipbuilding unions, the lengthy apprenticeship system by which a worker became a journeyman was replaced by training for specific skills.  Boyd was trained as a ship fitter which meant that he did the measuring necessary to get ready for welders and riveters.  He worked on Liberty Ships.  The Kaiser Company bus service began in 1942 to serve workers who needed transportation to the shipyards.  Buses ran 3 roundtrips daily, serving Forest Grove, Hillsboro, and Beaverton.

In addition to his work at the shipyard, Boyd also took his turn as a lookout on Pumpkin Ridge in Washington County, Oregon watching for enemy aircraft at night.  His son Darwin often went with him.  All over the Pacific Northwest, volunteer watchers were on duty day and night.  Their lookout posts varied from shacks on beaches, water towers, roofs of skyscrapers, or a high hilltop like Pumpkin Ridge.  Reports from the volunteers would help monitor the movement of aircraft.  They were called as aircraft watchers or local spotters and each one served a few hours a week at no pay.  By telephone, they reported the type, direction, speed, and height of passing planes to filter boards at information centers.

Wartime also brought rationing in the spring of 1942.  Tires, gas, sugar, coffee, butter and meat were all rationed.  Each community had a ration board made up of citizens who volunteered their time to administer the regulations, a thankless job.  Shopping required an elaborate system of ration stamps and red and blue points.  For example, one pound of hamburger was worth 7 red points.  Ration books were issued to individuals and it was against the law to sell or use another person’s book.  Stamps were often traded between friends, however, for items most in demand like sugar and coffee.

Another effect of war was the shortage of men to help with farms.  Women and children were needed to help with harvesting and Cleo took her children from the time they were small into the berry and bean fields.  It was hard work, especially for children, but they soon learned that the more money the family could earn, the more things they could buy, including clothes.  To get through the monotony of picking the fields they often played games and had races to see who could get the most done.

To read more about life on the home front in Oregon during WWII click here .

Little White House

Little White House - 1938

“Little” White House pictures – 1938

1938-1941

10789 Gordon St. North Plains, Oregon

“The Garden of Eden of Oregon: North Plains, a thriving town where things are doing…” (North Plains Optimist Aug. 7, 1913)

The first Oregon home for the little Fergus Family of Boyd, Cleo, and Darwin was in North Plains located in Washington County, near the county seat of Hillsboro.  The house had 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, and dining room.  Money was tight while they lived here, and Boyd and Cleo each only had one good pair of clothes.  It was while living in this house that they came in contact with some Mormon missionaries.  There were only two LDS families living in the area at the time.  Cleo was so excited to see the missionaries that she put her arms around them and gave them a big hug.  A branch of the church was soon started in Hillsboro and grew from there.  One of the missionaries at the time prophesied that there would be so many wards and stakes in his mission of the Northwest that they would be unable to count them.  This was proven true and Boyd and Cleo were involved from the beginning.

Darwin as a child, loved to throw the ball up against the house and catch it.  He also loved to follow his dad around while he worked.  One time Darwin was dragging a chain around trying to reach the railroad trestle that his dad was working on.  He accidentally drug it through an electric fence and instead of letting go he just hung on until his mother rescued him.  A very scary experience for both of them.

Two children were born to the family while they lived here, Dorothy and Howard.  In August of 1938, Dorothy Cleo Fergus was born with a struggle.  Cleo’s doctor was about to go on vacation and as a result tried to hurry the baby along by inducing labor.  Both mother and daughter had a very rough time and fought hard to survive.  Dorothy’s little feet were black when she was born.  At the time, the doctor advised Boyd and Cleo not to have any more children.  After praying about it, Boyd and Cleo did not feel right about it, so Cleo did not have the surgery which would have prevented her from having any more children.

Approximately 2 years later, Dorothy contracted pneumonia and was put in the hospital.  Cleo was pregnant with Howard at the time, and as she prepared to leave Dorothy at the hospital she went into labor.  So, with both mother and daughter in the hospital, another baby was born to the family on February 26, 1941.  They named him Howard Edwin Fergus.  This time everything went smoothly and easily and they were so glad that they had not consented to the surgery which would have limited their family.  While Cleo recovered from the birth of little Howard, she could hear Dorothy calling out, “Daddy, let’s go milk the chores.”  In those days you were not allowed to visit your children in the hospital and this was little Dorothy’s way of calling out for her Daddy.  When she was well and home she loved to wait for him outside on the ledge and then follow him around while he worked.

 

Little White House - 1993

“Little” White House on Gordon Rd. – 1993

Gordon House North Plains 3 - 2015

“Little” White House – 2015

 

 

 

Harvesting Filberts (Hazelnuts)

Filbert (Hazelnut) Orchard in Yamhill County, OR

Filbert (Hazelnut) Orchard in Yamhill County, OR

The Patton Place had 5 filbert or hazelnut orchards, one of which was 99 acres, the largest in the world at that time.  Two of the five orchards were started by Boyd.  This made for hard work and great responsibility for all members of the family.  The Patton orchards were regularly disked with a cultivator attached to the tractor.  The cultivator had big wheels (or disks) that would turn over the top 5-6 inches of dirt as it was dragged between the trees.  Then the orchard was harrowed to break up the dirt clods that occurred with cultivating.  And lastly, it was rolled in order to pack down the soil.  This process was repeated several times a year to keep the weeds and grass down.  In the Fall, in order to get the filbert orchards ready for harvesting, Boyd with the help of his boys, would disk several times, harrow to level it out, and then roll it over and over until it looked almost like a floor.  Then they prayed and hoped for rain to settle the dust and pack the soil down.

This process was done originally because the nuts, leaves, and husks were raked by hand.  Three to four hundred people called fruit tramps (because they would follow the harvest year after year) would be employed during the nut harvest to rake, pick up, and rub the nuts on grated tables to separate them from the leaves and husks.  This process would begin in early October, generally after hunting season, and could last until Thanksgiving time, depending on the weather.  Filberts are not shaken out of the trees, they are allowed to fall naturally.

As harvesting methods changed, the Mave Company in Newberg came to rely on Boyd Fergus for his practical knowledge and expertise.  As a result, the Patton Place became a test sight for new harvesting methods the Mave Company developed.  The first change came with the automation of the raking system.  A mechanical rake was developed by the Mave Company.  It had teeth and looked like a windblower with a hopper on the front (to keep the nuts from flying everywhere).  The workers would start raking in the middle of the orchard between the rows of trees.  With the mechanical rake they would sweep a path about 6 feet wide.  Then the only hand raking needed was at the base of the trees.  The next development was to reverse the raking process.  The workers began blowing the nuts from around the tree trunks and out into the middle of the orchard where they could be picked up.

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Then Mave Company began building machinery to replace the grated tables on which the nuts were hand-rubbed to separate them from the leaves and husks.  The machine was approximately 25 feet long with two engines, and was pulled through the orchard by a tractor.  The harvesters would dump what they had raked (nuts, leaves, and husks) into the machine which then sorted them.  The sorting process was accomplished by chained conveyor belts that let forced air through in order to blow the husks and leaves away.  What was left would then go into a squirrel cage about 3 feet around and 7 feet long; this helped get rid of the extra dirt clods and sticks.  Then, whatever was left came onto another conveyer belt which dumped the nubs out the back of the machine.  Aunt Vaud and Aunt Fern would then pick out any additional rocks and refuse before the nuts were sacked.  The bagged nuts were then hauled to a dryer.

Boyd Fergus and the Patton Place played a big part in the testing and development process for filbert harvesting and as a result simplified it for future farmers.  The last year Boyd and Cleo worked for Mr. Patton, the harvesting process required only 30 workers because the ground did not have to be disked anymore.  The whole process was automated.

Patton Place

photo taken by Fergie Fergus in 1978

2nd home built on the Patton Place. Photo taken by Fergie Fergus in 1978.

near present day 15195 Ribbon Ridge Rd. Newberg, Oregon

The Patton place originally consisted of an older two-story home with a big porch on the back, a garage, and a huge barn that was over 100 feet high.  The home itself was built at the intersection of two gravel roads.  One road came in at an angle and closely followed one of the two creeks that fed into the valley.  During years of excess rain or snow, the creeks would flood and change course, covering the roads.  Water would run past the house, flood the garage and back porch, and drain down into the old lake bottom used as farm land.  Boyd and Cleo Fergus always kept an eye on that lake bottom and how full it got.  Water never flooded the main part of the house because it was a good 6-8 inches higher than the garage and porch.  The kids loved it because they missed school when the bus couldn’t get through.  They never had to evacuate, but if they had needed to, safety was as close as the barn up the hill.

The Fergus children were very excited to move to the Patton place because it seemed like a mansion after their previous home, the drafty old Couche house in Wilsonville.  The children were too excited to sleep the night before the move and were up early in the morning on moving day.  Boyd and Cleo let them stay home from school and explore their new home and the Patton property.  After touring every inch of the place, they came home for hot chocolate.

For the Fergus teenagers life at the Patton place was full of hard work and responsibility; sometimes lonely work if they were driving a tractor.  The Patton place had 5 filbert (hazelnut) orchards, one of which was 99 acres, the largest in the world at that time, 3 cherry orchards, and 3 prune orchards.  The cherries and prunes were hand-picked.  The family also raised grain, mostly as feed for their own livestock.  They kept turkeys for a time, sheep, and then beef cows.  Boyd had worked with sheep in Utah, but found it a challenge in Oregon because of the wetter climate and dense vegetation in which predators could hide.  He kept 200-300 head of sheep at one time.  Later he switched to beef cattle which were easier.  The family raised most of their own food, cows for milk and meat, chickens, pigs, a large vegetable garden, and kept a berry patch.  Boyd was also a skilled horseman, just as his father was before him.  Some of the special horses he had at the Patton place were Rowdy, and Red.

 

Aerial view of George Packing Company, formerly the Patton Place.  Photo courtesy of the Yamhill County Assessor's Office.

Aerial view of George Packing Company, formerly the Patton Place. Photo courtesy of the Yamhill County Assessor’s Office.