One of the more frightening memories from living in the Couche place in Wilsonville, was the earthquake of 1949. It happened April 13, at 11:56 a.m. The epicenter was in Puget Sound, between Tacoma and Olympia, Washington, but its effects were felt throughout western Washington and Oregon. Cleo was hanging clothes on the line outside the house, Boyd was in the field plowing, Dorothy was home sick from school, Monty and Gary were inside the house playing. As soon as it began, Cleo yelled, “kids come outta that house now!” Dorothy thought that her mother was banging on the outside walls of the house just to tease them. Monty ran out through the kitchen and remembers watching the old wood shed and tall trees around the house swaying back and forth. Boyd was in the field trying to figure out why the tractor wouldn’t stay down in the furrow. When it all ended and all were safe, Boyd came in from the fields only to be asked by little Gary, “Daddy, did you hear that big windshaker?”
For more information about the 1949 earthquake click here.
14170 Wilsonville Rd., Wilsonville, Oregon (now known as Riverview Farm)
There are many pleasant childhood memories associated with the Couche place, including harvest time in the orchards. Every year the children helped pick pears, apples, filberts, and walnuts. The walnuts in particular were memorable because of the special burlap sacks with pictures on them, in which the walnuts were place. The pictures were usually animals or birds and the children would carefully choose which sacks they wanted to fill first.
Lightning was common in the Wilsonville area and just in the few years the Fergus family lived there, a house across the road was hit and its wiring system burnt out. The pump house belonging to the Couche place was also hit with the same results. The night the pump house was hit by lightning, Darwin remembers being upstairs with Dorothy in the middle of the storm. They made up their minds to run downstairs and barely made it before the lights went out and the pump house was hit. The intercom phones between their home and Mr. Couche’s were also damaged. Ironically, six months after the Fergus family moved to Newberg, their former home on the Couche place burned to the ground after a lightning strike.
One day while detaching the mower from the tricycle tractor, the mower slipped away from Boyd and Darwin. It fell on top of Boyd, injuring his back. He was crippled with pain for many months as the doctors tried to diagnose the problem. During this time, Cleo and the children struggled to keep the dairy chores done so that Boyd could keep his job and not worry too much. The months of inactivity, pain, and relying on his wife and children too its toll on Boyd and he used alcohol to numb not only the physical pain, but the mental strain. Finally, a doctor in Portland diagnosed his injury as crushed vertebrae and operated, leaving Boyd in a body cast for the rest of the summer. The drinking, which eased his suffering, added to Cleo’s worries. It was only with great courage and faith that he was able to overcome it.
Eventually the dairy and Mr. Couche, proved to be too burdensome to handle so the family started looking for new job possibilities. One day in a Relief Society meeting Cleo heard about a farm in Newberg, where a man was looking for help. Boyd contacted the man, accepted the job and the family decided to move.
14170 Wilsonville Rd., Wilsonville, Oregon (now known as Riverview Farm)
The Fergus children had a very work-oriented relationship with their father. Instructions for chores were given and expected to be done. There may have been a lot of playing between times, but the job always got done. Many times the children would play tag in the dark and before long Boyd would be in on the game, chasing them. It was fun until he caught one of them because they were in trouble for not doing their chores.
One of the children’s many jobs at the Couche place was to kill squirrels and bluejays because they would eat the nuts from the trees in the orchard. Sometimes they shot them, other times they left poison barley out in the open, or they built traps or cages to catch them. Another one of the children’s jobs at the Couche place was to drive the tricycle tractor, called so because it had three wheels. Howard was often accused of trying to drive it up a tree. Usually Howard or Darwin, would hook up a trailer to the tractor and use it to carry the household garbage up the ridge to the end of the cliff overlooking the river. Their difficult and sometimes scary job was to back that trailer up to the edge in order to dump the garbage. It would have been so easy to slip over the edge of the cliff.
One day while the boys were working in the barn, they had an awful argument and got Monty into trouble. Monty had a habit of hiding when he was upset or in trouble, so after the argument he slipped into the house to hide. While everyone was out looking for him he got tired. He crawled into bed and pulled the covers up. The family looked and looked for him outside, never thinking that he might be inside the house in his own bed, sound asleep.
Life on the farm, while fun, could be fraught with danger for children because of the heavy responsibilities they had. They had their share of accidents and Monty in particular, seemed accident prone. One night, after a day full of pranks and setting booby traps in the barn, the kids were rushing around to get the cows and calves fed so that they could go to the movies (a Ma and Pa Kettle double feature). They had forgotten however, about one booby trap that had not been sprung; a covered rope strung between the calf pen and the hay. Monty came running through the barn, hit the rope, and stabbed himself with a pitchfork. He insisted on going to the movies anyway. During the wait in the ticket line, Boyd and Cleo had to ask if Monty could wait for them inside the theater because he was in so much pain. As they came inside, Monty was waiting for them on the stairs. He was sick through the whole movie.
The kids always knew how to have a good time together. Sometimes, too much of a good time. Once after milking the cows they started playing around and let the milk sit out until the calves ate most of it. To cover up their “crime” the kids added water to the milk to bring up the volume, and then took the pails up to the house. Cleo was so surprised as she tried to separate the milk and there was no cream in it. Another prank the Fergus children loved was throwing apples and pears at the chickens, knocking them flat, and then dunking them in the water trough to bring them back to consciousness. Apples could also be stuck on the end of twigs and sticks, preferably apple suckers which were supple. Then you could swing it like a sling shot and watch the apple fly. This brought trouble when they managed to hit the house.
14170 Wilsonville Rd., Wilsonville, Oregon (now known as Riverview Farm)
Shortly after World War II ended, Boyd was laid off from the shipyards. Even though it was inevitable, he was very nervous because he had never been out of work before. Boyd was always concerned with job security, due in part to childhood memories of his father’s frequent job changes. Providing for his family with a steady job was important to his peace of mind. Job changes were stressful. On Labor Day he went looking for work and when he came home he had good news for the family. He had found a job working on a dairy in Wilsonville. It was called the Couch place. The family moved to Wilsonville that same month.
Moving to the Couche place and managing a dairy were both difficult adjustments for the family. The house that they came to occupy was old, rundown, and very drafty, an unpleasant change after the well-kept Sattler house that they had rented in West Union. Many times the house would become so cold that the family would sleep downstairs around the stove in order to stay warm.
The new job brought a decrease in pay for Boyd and was very challenging because of all the record-keeping needed to track milk production and cow pedigrees for 20-30 cows. The cows were all milked by hand until a machine was acquired. Boyd had only finished one year of high school, and with the setbacks of illness during the first two years of grade school and the forced switch from left to right-handed writing, he tended to question his own abilities. Thus, the clerical tasks required by the hard-to-please Mr. Couch, were frustrating to him.
There are bright sides to every situation however, if you look for them, and this is what Cleo and Boyd tried to do. Boyd was grateful for the job security which paid $225 a month and Cleo thought the situation of the house, on a bluff overlooking the Willamette River, was beautiful. The Wilsonville area was blessed with deep snow many of the winters that the Fergus family lived there and the children have many happy memories of wrapping chains around their shoes to make tracks in the fields, and sledding down the hill towards the river. As much fun as it was watching the children enjoy the winter wonderland, Cleo could not help but worry that they would slide themselves right into the river.
17600 NE North Valley Rd., Newberg, OR 97132
1846 to 1953
Ewing Young School, the first school in the Chehalem Valley, was originally built in 1846. The student body included children from the whole valley. An 1865 map indicates the school was sited at its current location and known as West Chehalem School. A two-room wood-frame structure was constructed in 1914. Improvements and additions continued until 1951.
From 1914 to 1951 the second school building served the residents of this area well. In the early years the school served both elementary and secondary students. In 1941 the school joined the Newberg School District and was renamed Ewing Young. In the picture below you can see the new school in the background and the old school building in the foreground.
After the new school was built the old building was used as a play area. In 1953 the old buildings were removed and the current school was built. Many of the trees seen in both pictures here are still on the property. The bell from the original school proudly rests outside the school today.
For more about Ewing Young, early Oregon pioneer and his role in Oregon’s statehood click here.
8946 Dick Rd. Rock Creek, Oregon (formerly in West Union city limits, then Rock Creek, now incorporated into Hillsboro)
“West Union was the meeting place of early pioneers, trappers, and Indians. The name of the community comes from this meeting place or union in the west.” (Hillsboro Argus, February 12, 1976)
The third Fergus home in Oregon was located in West Union, near Rock Creek, Washington County, Oregon. They rented a farm here while Boyd continued to work in the shipyards. This home was very well kept with a big kitchen and a built-in back porch with windows. There were three rooms upstairs, one bedroom downstairs that was used as a living room, and a stairway in the middle of the house. (The old house itself is gone now. It was moved down the hill and later destroyed. In the early 1990s the old foundation still stood behind the present house.)
There was a bus from West Union to the shipyards and Boyd could walk home if Cleo wasn’t there to pick him up. It was while they were living here that little Monty had problems with a hernia. One night, after Boyd had left for work, Monty started having some terrible pains and began to scream and scream. Cleo was alone without a car, no telephone, and no close neighbors; no way to get help for her little boy. All she could do was pray. This seemed to have a temporary calming effect on her little boy and her prayers were soon answered because Boyd came home because of car trouble and they were able to take Monty to the hospital.
The doctors operated on Monty to repair the hernia and he experienced no trouble from it again. Cleo however, went into the hospital herself to bring another baby into the family. Gary Leon Fergus was born January 6, 1945. Cleo cried at first because she had wanted another little girl so badly, but afterwards felt so sorry for she would not have traded her sweet little blond-headed boy for anything. Cleo was once again in the hospital with one of her children, because Monty was still recovering from surgery. She could hear him hollering, “Good morning mommy, this is Monty.” In eleven days she took both boys home. Now the family consisted of four boys and one girl and it would remain this way.
Life for Darwin proved tough in the school department when they moved to the Sattler place. His friend George used to tell him awful horror stories as they walked home from the bus. Darwin would then tell them to Dorothy, and they’d scare themselves silly. Darwin also had a tough time with his new schoolteacher. When the family moved to the Sattler place, he changed schools. The teacher of his new (one-room) school liked to pick on him because he’d gone to “fancy” Columbia Academy. It was also at this house that the children contracted a case of the “itch” (lice) from friends. The doctor prescribed a real hot bath, a good scrub of the skin, and then special medicine. Boy, did that medicine burn. The kids would run up and down the stairs trying to get cool after their treatment.
Contact with the Church, particularly during wartime was difficult. The nearest branch at the time was in Portland and with gas rationing the family’s trips to church were few and far between. Boyd and Cleo struggled to keep their children close to the church by setting a good example and teaching them gospel principles at home.
Grandma Martha Peterson, came for a visit shortly after her second husband died and ended up moving to Oregon. She used the insurance money from her husband’s death for a down payment on a house in Hillsboro. Boyd went to Utah and helped his mother move her household. The Fergus family kept their washing machine at her house and as a result, visited her often.
36566 NW Harrington Rd. Cornelius, OR (formerly in Roy city limits, now incorporated into Cornelius)
Eventually, with the two new additions in their family (Dorothy and Howard), the little white house proved too small for the Fergus’ and so they moved to a farm in Roy, Oregon. This house, called the True place for the man who owned it, was large and square shaped. It was white originally, and sits next to the house were Mr. True and his family lived. The house had two floors and a porch almost all the way around it. Plenty of room for their growing family. They rented this house from Mr. True. It was at this house that little Darwin started school at the Methodist Church in Roy. It was called the Columbia Academy School.