Autobiography of W. E. Smith.

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Autobiography of William Edward Smith

Chapter 3, part 3, The Ranch

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This advent must have disturbed the solar system again and whether it was electrical currents in the atmosphere or some special brain food we had been eating or that our prestige had gone to our heads I cannot tell -- but I do remember Mother saying one day, "Will, I think we should raise the boys in the country." Bless her soul, whenever she spoke she said something, and this time she set the sparks a flying and started something which held death and disaster mingled with the greatest joys this life of ours possesses. We did some little looking around and I cannot remember however in this world we were led as we were. My recollection is Mother and I boarded a P.E. car for Santa Ana and got off at Cordonez. We were met there by a Mr. McClain who drove us to The Ranch. This turned out to be the round-table or the turning point on the pike in life's highway which led to adventures never dreamed of. As though by Providential guidance my grocery store found a ready buyer. My good friend and employee Will Doherty engineered the deal, I stepped out with an $1800 check in hand, a team of mules and a new buggy whip. The buyer, Mr. Postell, stepped into my tracks, took over my good will, bad debts, merchandise in trade, bills payable, etc., and I was free of business cares and responsibilities once again. And now for the farmer's life.

Again the trade-in custom came into the deal. McClain borrowed May's team and wagon. They loaded all their personal property on it. May drove the outfit to Hollywood and put up the team on our front lawn until morning. We all got up early and went to work transferring McClain's stuff into Smith's beautiful home and our furniture onto the wagon. We finished the job about 4 p.m. and that hay-rack drawn by four sturdy horses with May at the reins with whip in hand was ready to go. A case of our own eggs was perched on the seat beside him and the biddies which laid the eggs were in a coup tied on behind. That load was a masterpiece for packing. Punch and Judy, the surrey, and a new buggy whip were salvaged from the store, and it became my job to drive this team with the surrey loaded with garden plants, bird cages, suitcases and trunks, and other odds and ends which were left behind.

May took the lead; I followed behind. Those country horses of his were seeing things in Hollywood and Los Angeles they had never seen before. He kept them under control until we entered the Third Street tunnel. Between strange sounds and the funny little opening at the other end of the tunnel, the lead horses were somewhat dumbfounded and decided to turn around in the tunnel and go back. May, being a master horseman, slid down from his perched-up seat, forsook the case of eggs, and landed on one of the wheel horses' backs and laid his whip on those leaders, which must have persuaded them they were in the hands of good care and keeping, for they straightened out and we all proceeded gingerly through the tunnel. Punch and Judy, being more genteel and used to city ways, were more orderly and caused no trouble.

Will Doherty had a wonderful bull dog which had become disgraced in Hollywood and had to have a new home. Thinking that every farmer should own a bull dog, we adopted Nancy. She was my companion in the surrey. Our caravan made East Lost Angeles the first night. We pulled into a hay field on the side of the road and made camp on East 7th Street: six head of stock, a load of household goods, one loaded surrey, a bull dog and two men. About daybreak I heard Nancy growl. We were lying on the ground and Nancy did not like the approach of two men. I was about ready to release her when May grabbed a lantern. It went out, the robbers started to run, and that episode had no consequences.

We arrived at The Ranch about 5 p.m. that evening. The family had all arrived ahead of us. There we were: Mother, Grandma, five boys, the youngest of which was two weeks old, the eldest seven, and Elizabeth, nine. The old house had three rooms, no BATHROOM, a lean-to on one side for a kitchen, and another lean-to on the other side for a den. There was cold running water in the kitchen and no water heater. The house set down in between three huge pepper trees, one fig tree, an orange, and a persimmon. The pit containing the pump was at the kitchen door. It was a constant hazard for the children, but fortunately none of them ever fell in or climbed on top of the water tank or got tangled with the pump belt. The belt from the engine to the pump was a serious menace to young children. That old belt, how well I remember mending and piecing it with lacing and rivets and again and again how it would break at critical times. Well, we got a new one and paid for it. That engine was an old distillate burner. You would prime her, break off the sulphur end of a match, pull back the fly-wheel as far as you could, stick the piece of match in the little hole, jump up on a spoke of the fly wheel, hit the match, which would fire in the hole, all in one motion, and if you were lucky that fly-wheel would whirl forward and she was off and you would be too if your foot cleared the flywheel. Mine was always fortunate in so doing. A boot was known to have slipped through the flywheel with disastrous results. Often it required many primings, but then that old piece of machinery was getting pretty old and needed replacement. A few years later this old engine was replaced with a motor.

I believe that summer held the most hardships for this family that it has ever known. The Ranch had cabbage planted on it, thanks to the foresight of McClain, for had it not been for that cabbage patch there might have been a few starved Smiths. The neighbors also were very good. We had cabbage "biled," fricasseed, cole-slawed, in sandwiches, raw. In fact, we all looked like cabbage heads. The Ranch raised good cabbage. Having moved to The Ranch on May 15, 1910, it was a little late for early crops and too early for late crops. A piece of the ground had been cleared of some large eucalyptus trees. Here is where I shined in the art of blowing those stumps with dynamite. That is sickening stuff. I invariably became nauseated just handling it. I bored the holes with an old auger that had passed its day of usefulness, but I got 'em bored, stuck my soup7 in the hole after attaching the fuse, plastering it up with mud, sticking a match to her and SIZZLE-----SIZZLE-----SIZZLE-----BANG -- splintered stump -- sounds easy now but it wasn't, although dangerous and interesting.

7. An earlier version had stick of dynamite.
The $1800 had been invested in some more cows, house improvements, etc., and though it was in the early part of the 20th century, money had the habit of vanishing just as it has today, and ours was all gone again. Something had to be done.

Crops was the answer. The little mules had never plowed or cultivated. Neither had I. Dudley, a boy of seven, knew less about the business. I decided we would plant some corn. Good old corn. I love the sight of a corn stalk to this day. It stands so stately within its own bounds, boasting one good ear and maybe several nubbins. We managed to get a piece of ground broken up and the corn planted. It grew in spots but all the ground had to be cultivated. I know Punch did not like the job of pulling that cultivator. I didn't enjoy struggling along behind over the clods of earth and driving Punch. It did not work. So we placed Dudley on Punch's back, and it was thus we three became fast friends, for the corn grew in spots in spite of our efforts. And then there was a small patch of alfalfa which became the meal ticket for the cows. Irrigating alfalfa with six-inch pipes is not easy work. The gophers would desert their holes as the water came in. As the gophers went out I would step in the hole and many times went down nearly to my boot tops.

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