Tag Archives: Irrigation

The Customary Celebration on Lower Crab Creek

The remains of Oscar Danielson's irrigation pipes lead to his fields and ditches from the site of the Danielson dam.

The remains of Oscar Danielson’s irrigation pipes lead to his fields and ditches from the site of the Danielson dam.

In a previous post I published a photograph of swimmers perched on the top rail of the irrigation dam Oscar Danielson built to draw water out of the community canal. This canal redirected some of the flow from Crab Creek towards a number of farms or orchards west of the watercourse. Around 1920 Oscar purchased surplus wire-wrapped wooden water pipes from the city of Seattle to tap into the canal, pumping water from the reservoir behind his wooden dam. His single-stroke gas engine is still hidden in the weeds near the ranch he later occupied on the banks of Lower Crab Creek.

Oscar Danielson on his Crab Creek farm in Grant County, WA, circa 1920

Oscar Danielson mows hay in a field watered by the pipes leading from the Danielson dam. The photograph is probably from the latter half of the 1920s.

The swimmers were part of a larger crowd gathered at the dam for a Fourth of July celebration. It was a custom amongst the farmers and ranchers Continue reading

The Return of Martin Paroz

Soldier settlement homes were modest in size. State records of each of the homes are kept in WSU archives. Hanford, White Bluffs, and Hanford Nuclear Site Images (PC 104) Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections Washington State University Libraries Pullman, WA

Soldier settlement homes were modest in size. State records of each of the homes are kept in WSU archives. Hanford, White Bluffs, and Hanford Nuclear Site Images (PC 104)
Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
Washington State University Libraries
Pullman, WA

Next month it will be one hundred years since the start of what became known as World War I, a misnomer that blinds many people to the far ranging conflicts practiced by men in earlier ages. And even though that particular war ended so long ago, each year in France and Belgium tons of unexploded ordinance from the First World War are exhumed from land where the battles were fought. Historian Alan Taylor recently published a sobering photo-history of the war in The Atlantic in which he shows the ravaged land, slowly being reclaimed by forests, where once villages stood until they were cratered out of existence. Sheep graze in unredeemed minefields; farmers plow up hand grenades and cannon shells.

Early in the war, governments of the British Commonwealth began planning for the return of their soldiers. Aware that the deluge of war-touched young men could not be ignored at the risk of destabilizing society, politicians began designing a program to reintegrate the soldiers through agriculture. Continue reading

Written in the Earth

A soldier of Custer's regiment uses his Springfield carbine as a club. Source of this painting is not known.

A soldier of Custer’s regiment uses his Springfield carbine as a club. Source of this painting is not known.

When you grow up in desert heat, at least when video games and television have yet to proliferate, one of the joys of childhood is playing with the garden hose. Personally, I enjoyed digging rivers and lakes into the earth of the wire enclosure where our chickens roamed. I remember the amazement of unearthing a living frog that had burrowed into the ground for hibernation, and that had narrowly avoided the blade of my shovel.

One of my maxims about the desert landscape around Saddle Mountain is that this earth is honest. When people pass through, the traces they make remain to be read by those who come after them. As I think back on the traces we’ve discovered on our farm alone, it amazes me that so much history is written in its sand and dust.

In the early 1960s my father hooked his tractor to a battered old machine he called the rototiller. He was in the process of rooting sagebrush out of a new field, and this machine would completely destroy the plants that grew there naturally. Continue reading

Then & Now

I published this photograph of the Lower Crab Creek Valley as viewed from the Taunton townsite in “Another Flood.” On a recent visit to the same spot I took the following photograph.

This summer I took a hurried trip through Eastern Washington, photographing sites I have written about. In this article I try to post old photographs alongside more recent ones. In some cases I have also provided views of places previously mentioned in my posts, although no older photographs are available to compare them to.

A view of the Lower Crab Creek Valley in 2012, more than fifty years after the previous photograph was taken, reveals the changing ecology of the formerly arid landscape. Irrigation and invasive species have radically altered the local habitat.

There is definitely an article to be written concerning the environmental changes that have taken place in the Lower Crab Creek Valley over Continue reading

To Glenwood for Christmas

The reasons for my father’s decision to abandon the Danielson Ranch on Crab Creek have never been entirely clear to me. I remember that when I asked him about it, he was very close lipped. Myself, I was ready to get away from the Central Washington weather by the time I went to college. No more of these sweltering iron-colored skies for months on end, Enough of these months of boringly gorgeous sunsets and clear nights so starry you could hike the hills without a flashlight even when there was no moon. My father lived in Glenwood long enough to marry and have children, but he moved back to Othello to take advantage of irrigation water from the Columbia Basin Project in the early 1950s.

I’m sure I’ll revisit the reasoning behind my father’s choice another time. But it’s the holiday season, and for me that always brings to mind my grandparents and their old home in the Glenwood valley of Klickitat County. These were the only grandparents I knew, since my father’s folks had both passed on by the time I could crawl. My mother’s parents seemed incredibly ancient from the very beginning, as if they were the living remnants of the rich family history they represented. And if I have any explanation for this urge to write down these stories, it probably ought to be blamed on my Grandfather Herman, who labored over his antique typewriter, one-eyed, pecking out the letters one by one and filling up pages of uneven type that eventually became several volumes of local and family history about life in Klickitat County. Recognizing his skills as a story teller and nurturing my own taste for history, I made it a point to find time to ask him questions whenever we visited, and I was richly rewarded with personal stories and the outlines of a family’s fortunes on the Washington frontier. I’ll be passing some of this on in later articles. I regret that I didn’t inherit more than a few of his marvelous old photographs, so I won’t be able to post clear copies of them to illustrate his tales. Most of the photographs I am publishing came from my father’s collection and were probably his own.

My favorite Christmases as a boy were those we had at Glenwood. Our home place outside Othello might get heavy frosts and the occasional dusting of snow, but Glenwood seemed like it always had a white Christmas. Continue reading

Adventures in Changing Sprinklers

One of my earlier jobs away from my home farm was changing hand line sprinklers on a neighbor’s ranch, perched just at the cusp of the hill above the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge on Highway 26. The sprinklers had to be moved twice a day, at sun-up and sun-down, and there were two fields to move so I had to make an early start of it. I was young enough that I wasn’t yet driving, so I’d ride my old red and white one-speed bicycle on the canal maintenance road down to the neighbor’s place.

The pipes were four-inch aluminum, thirty feet long. The first field was relatively flat, and when I’d cut water to the pipes there would still be a load in every pipe. I’d have to disconnect each pipe and drain it by lifting it gently in the middle until the water flowed out.

This field fronted on the highway, so I could entertain myself by watching the traffic pass by. But there was also a pond in this field, a pasture frequented by a herd of steers. The sprinklers had to be laid right through the pond. It was disgusting. The water was coffee brown with bovine wastes and it was deep enough that my boots would invariably flood. The sun climbed and the air grew oven hot. I’d spend the rest of my shift squelching around the fields with stinking wet socks.

The farm dog would often accompany me, a wiry blue-heeler with an attitude. He had his most fun on the second field, where the fenceline bordered on the wildlife refuge. This was a hilly field, and my sprinklers had to be laid right over the tops of some small ridges. One morning the dog spotted an intruder at the top of the first ridge, a scrawny grey coyote. Continue reading

Drilling for Oil on Frenchman Hill

An unidentified traveller in an unidentified location. As the age of the motor car increased demand for petroleum, the industry looked for resources throughout Washington, including in the Columbia Basin.

An information circular published by State Geologist Raymond Lasmanis in 1983 declares that Washington’s first gas and oil resources were spotted on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula as oil seeps in the sea cliffs and mud cones spouting natural gas. That was in 1881. With more than 16,000 feet of basalt flows covering potential petroleum deposits in the Columbia Basin, nobody was really expecting to locate anything there. It was farmland that appeared to be most valuable in that area, and that meant water would have to be supplied.

The early 1900s saw some pretty heroic efforts to bring water to what could become productive farmland. Canals were the favorite projects, luring money from investors from far afield. But in 1913 the Conservative Land Investment Company of Spokane began drilling a well for water on the north slopes of Rattlesnake Ridge. They had reached a depth of just over 700 feet when, to their dismay, it wasn’t water that erupted from their hole, but natural gas. They had no way to accurately measure it, so estimates of the flow rate range from 70,000 to as much as 500,000 cubic feet per day, forced out with a pressure of up to 7 pounds per square inch. You might think they would have tried to contain the flow, but instead the gas from that well and several others in the area was simply vented into the air until 1929. By the time commercial production was attempted, the pressure rate had dropped to around 2 pounds per square inch. Even so, over the next dozen years or so, the Rattlesnake Hills wells produced around 1.3 billion cubic feet of gas until it was shut down in 1941 when the Hanford Reservation was created.

With the Rattlesnake Hills field in production, investors began scouting for similar opportunities. Wildcat operations formed to exploit untouched gas fields hidden beneath the basalt.

Donny Boy Number 1 was drilled into the northeast flank of Frenchman Hill, from 1935-1939. The site is near the west end of O'Sullivan Dam. Photograph by Bror Gustaf Norberg.

People’s Gas & Oil Development Company was one of these wildcat enterprises. W. Gale Mathews of Ephrata was hired to run point in acquiring mineral leases. According to a 1974 letter from Floyd Harris, a local old-timer who witnessed the entire process, land owners on the eastern end of Frenchman Hill were offered ten cents an acre and one twelfth of the all oil found in a well drilled on their property. I had to wonder whether Harris was correct in specifying one twelfth of all the oil, since there weren’t many indications that any oil would ever be found in this region. Continue reading

Crab Creek Ranch

Danielson boys got around on horseback.

Oscar Danielson found out that making ends meet on his Lower Crab Creek homestead wasn’t the easiest thing to do. From the beginning, Oscar kept meticulous notes about his finances, even before leaving Renton to build his farm. His ledger is filled with minutia, and in addition to mundane expenditures for a growing family, the way the entries are written record Oscar’s assimilation into his new country. In the beginning his notations are mostly in Swedish, but over the course of several years, Oscar adopts more and more English phrases for his entries. Perhaps he had to share the book with a banker who didn’t understand Swedish!

There are a number of local history books that do a great job of describing life on an Eastern Washington homestead. One of them, Laura Tice Lage’s Sagebrush Homesteads actually mentions Oscar and his homestead. Ms. Lage relates a family story, probably learned from my father. In this tale the pioneers have decided they are losing too many crops to a plague of jackrabbits. My grandfather has an experience that demonstrates another unexpected problem concerning rabbits. Out in the field one day, with a young Walter perched on the seat of the buckboard, Oscar spots a jackrabbit. Continue reading

Crab Creek Homestead

Elmquists and Danielsons near Seattle, ca. 1914 Oscar F. Danielson holds baby Walter, front right. Edla stands near him, wearing the dark skirt.

In an earlier post to this blog (Illegal Immigrants) I introduced my grandfather, Oscar Fritiof Danielson. In this entry, I will sketch out the history of his farm on Lower Crab Creek. But first, a little about his background.

Oscar was born in a small town called Slatthog in southern Sweden in April 1885. A number of his brothers seem to have left the area, and Oscar followed. His arrival in America is shrouded in mystery. I found what appears to be his name on the 1910 census, as a boarder in a lumber camp at Avondale in King County. He is listed as a lumber worker, 29 years old. Continue reading

A Picnic to End the Dustbowl

Farmers and ranchers and their families mingled with promoters and dignitaries to hear about the progress being made. From the top of the mountain they gazed north on the desert lands that Grand Coulee Dam would make into a garden.

Farmers and ranchers and their families mingled with promoters and dignitaries to hear about the progress being made. From the top of the mountain they gazed north on the desert lands that Grand Coulee Dam would make into a garden.

They gathered on top of Saddle Mountain in the heat of August, 1927, on a patch of sand and basalt at the top of the cliffs that form the western edge of the landmark that gave the mountain its name. Every car and truck that arrived ground the powdery soil in the road into a finer dust that hung in billows over the hillside before drifting slowly away. As they arrived, the cars were directed to a makeshift parking lot, a vacant hillside spotted with small sagebrush. But the passengers were dressed in their finest clothes, as if coming to a wedding. And in a sense, they were.

The State of Washington would look a lot different today if Grand Coulee Dam hadn’t been built…something that probably couldn’t happen today. My purpose here isn’t to debate whether or not it was right to so dramatically alter the environment of the Eastern Washington desert (indeed, because my family has been so closely tied to the enterprise, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it). To get a brief history of the dam, you can find this excellent, pretty well balanced, article on HistoryLink.org.

It’s hard to imagine what the farmers who attended that picnic on Saddle Mountain were feeling. Over the years many of them had watched their neighbors and friends give up or fail on the lands they had invested so many years of labor to develop. Continue reading