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.
Oregonian April 14, 1949
Couche Place 1993 – This home replaced the original farmhouse that burned down after a lightning strike.
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.
Couche Dairy Barn 1993
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.