Wednesday, August 17, 2011

BINGHAM A FROG TOWN DURING the GREAT DEPRESSION by HOWARD TURNER


Lance Howard Turner
1927 Life in Frog Town and the Great Depression 1938
By Lance Turner  
Mother  Phyllis  Lance Max  Lance Sr.
After the birth of Phyllis and Max in Omaha, Nebraska the family moved to Bingham Canyon where my gestation was completed.  I was born 4 Jan. 1927 in Murray, Utah.  I spent the next eleven years on the rocks (Frogtown) and four years in grade school. 
Wolfe Yard was the first stop after my birth at the Cottonwood Maternity Hospital.  From there we moved to the Panos Apartments-two somber buildings with four apartments each- two up and two down in the lower part of Bingham Canyon commonly known by the locals as Frog Town. 
Life in Bingham
Bingham Canyon was narrow. It had just enough room for a two lane road and a railroad track.  Most of the houses and apartments were snuggled up to the hillside leaving little or no luxury space for grass or flowers or trees.  Shade was no priority since we lived like sow bugs in the continual shade of the canyon. 
Panos Apartments  Frog Town
In the Panos Apartment our whole family shared on kitchen, one living room, one bath, one bedroom and a very small closet.  By some comparative standards it now seems impossible that all of us could be packed into such a small space.  Since we had no comparison (as the every one in the canyon lived the same) it was okay and it was our home.  Each one of us had to wait for our turn at the bathroom, otherwise there were no inconveniences.   We entered the front door of our apartment through a small vestibule.  There was no main door to the four family vestibule so it wasn’t possible to insulate it it from the freezing winters and wind in the canyon.  That small cubical got so cold the cream on top of the bottles of milk left by the milkman would raise high above the top of the glass bottle with its cardboard cap riding atop.  It made a temping breakfast for the feral cats that hung around the apartment during the nights until Hogan Dairy supplied their customers with stamped metal boxes. 
The apartments wasn’t  insulated so we improvised by tearing long lengths of cloth and stuffing them around the windows and under the doors with a kitchen knife to keep out the cold.  It was by no means a space age solution, but it helped. 
The family kitchen, like kitchens everywhere was the heart of the house.  Our small gallery served a duel purpose.  When it was  fair outside it was used for cooking and eating.  In the hard winters it served as a laundry room when the sheets hanging clothes line would freeze so stiff and had to be hung in the kitchen form small ropes that stretched around the ceiling above the “monkey” stove and around the kitchen table.  This seasonal inconvenience was only a minor nuisance because of my family and the overpowering  smell of homemade bread, cinnamon rolls, cookies or cakes.  At the table Dad sat at one end, Mom on the other, Phyllis on one side and my best friend and brother, Max, on the other.   
The only drier was a wire clothes line.  It stretched between two posts that held up the porch on the apartment above.  After several years of hand washing on a wash board mother got an electric washer with a hand wringer.  In the summer months this antique Maytag washer was put outside and filled its roll there.  I can still smell the combination of hot water and hand-made soap which was a concoction of tallow, lye, and ashes collected over the winter from the monkey stove or the Heatrola.   One job I did not like was shaving those big yellow cakes into small chips so that they could dissolve into the hot water.  (When things were more financially stable my mother would use Oxydol soap granules. 
Lower Frog Town and smelter
Springtime meant spring cleaning.  That annual chore comprised of mom and dad painting the linoleum floor ( todays “Congolium”).  First they painted a background color and then dabbed the floor with various colors of sponges to give it a –I don’t know what kind of a look it was to be- but it was probably the switch point in any desires for more beautiful rooms in my life.  The coal stoves always leaked a little smoke and dirtied the walls.  Like the rest of the people in the canyon we cleaned the walls of their winter dinge with a Bennett Paint product the consistency of dry bread dough that you kneaded after each swipe.  Each pass left a decidedly brighter and lighter patch where you could actually see the wallpaper pattern and color beneath.   
Our living room was possibly 14 X 14 feet with space taken out of one corner for that Heatrola, which sat on a metal safety pan.  It had to be fed with a lump of coal- and like doing the meal dishes there was always a difference of opinion as to whose turn it was- Max or I – to fill the coal bucket witch sat beside it.  In the front room there was room for a sofa, a chair of some sort a piano where the three of us sat around nightly as mother read the cartoon pages from the Salt Lake Telegram or the books we would bring home from school.
Of course there was the essential Atwater-Kent radio.  Five nights a week we listened to Jack Armstrong- the all American boy (sponsored by Wheaties), Buck Rodgers, Little Orphan Annie (Ovaltine sponsor), Tom Mix the Cowboy, and later the Lone Ranger and Tonto as they tracked down the bad guys.  And I mustn’t leave out the adventures of Dick Tracy- the detective who always won over the evil gangsters- like “Flat Top”, “Prune Face” or others. 
The hours in that poorly lighted living room becomes very bright in my memory recollecting the warm family moments together listening to Amos and Andy, George Burns, and Jack Benny before bed time.  That same little radio helped mother wile away the sunless winter days in the tight canyon and the “soaps”  (“One Man’s Family” or” Ma Perkins”.  “Why Mother Goes Grey”, etc.)  were  part of the family dialogue among the apartment mothers. 
Ice House  Frog Town
My Dreams
A few small but not so insignificant incidents in my Bingham years were indicators of of malcontent, early pride, and higher than practical expectations from my parents.  Walking home from grade school in early darkness I could see Mr. Vietta, in a lounge chair, with his newspaper and a table lamp that looked so wonderfully comfortable and special ( rich might be a better adjective).  We used oil cloth on our kitchen table as did the other families in Bingham.  They were never classy, classic, nor unique.  They were what the Bingham Mercantile had to offer and everyone in town bought the same ones. 
In one of the weekly door-to-door  magazines I was selling (The Saturday  Evening Post and the Ladies Home Journal) were pictures of beautiful table settings with white table cloths beautiful china  and matching chairs.  This was quite a contrast to the not-so- exquisite plates, cups and saucers that came out of the Quaker Oats box at home.  Our dining table was a painted, drop leaf with a few chairs and two or three Hercules Powder Boxes with a cloth seat cushion my mother fashioned out of odd fabrics.  I think I remember some of the imprints as having come from the Lehi Roller Mills.
Lower Frog Town and selter
I had some grand old dreams they were never small.  But I lived on rocks and no grass in a narrow canyon that saw little sun and a lot of different languages and customs. 
But all said and done, it is only the family that matters nothing can balance a sweet inter-family relationship. 
Christmas Memories in Bingham
There was one narrow rectangular window on the East side and a large picture window on the South that was just right size for hanging our single Christmas ornament- an artificial wreath with an electrified candle in the center.
To my recollection, no one in Bingham trimmed their houses with multiple colorful lights, but imagine how beautiful the common wreaths in windows that shown above the bleakness of the white December nights with its brilliant stars and crisp cobalt skies!
Prigastis and Apostle Store
At Christmas we crowed the furniture into a corner which left just enough room for the real pine tree.  One holiday  season, Dad, Max, Gale Fransworth and I hiked in knee deep snow up a long steep canyon where there was a clump of pine trees.  This story sounds like a re-enactment of a traditional New England Christmas but those fairy tale pictures on Christmas cards never showed two men and two boys clawing their way up a near un-climbable canyon wall groping for an acceptable tree. 
I think Dad needed the fairyland experience of a New England type holiday too.  Financially things were tough and maybe that after dark treasure hunt took his mind off the worries of being a father and breadwinner in the midst of a depression.  Possibly it was an offset for the fact there was no money and if there was a little bit probably went for necessities.  But, Dad’s  kids were the real necessities and it was during this bleak period that dad became a cabinet maker, a skate maker and a wooden gunsmith maker, carpenter, plumber, auto mechanic, and what-ever else he could do to relieve stress.  Bless you Dad, for the experience and the teaching.  Few events stick out in our minds, but both Max and I still recall that night of frozen stiff “jingle bells”.
Our decorated tree was very traditional – the aging set of tree lights added upon with an assortment of odd sized balls, birds, children- made Christmas cards, paper chains and always lots and lots of icicles.  It was such a special time of  year and the ambience was dazzling against an unfriendly canyon.  The days leading up to the Holidays were exciting and filled with hope that Santa Claus had listened to all my reasonable requests.
Phyllis  Max   Mom  Lance Turner
Were their disappointments?  Oh yes,  by the Christmas stockings were they full (or not so full) were there precious gifts?   Oh yes, they are now he special memories in December prior to Christmas.  I don’t  remember what my worthless wishes were other than a BB gun, but now I have the rich recollection of what the excitement of Christmas Eve was like- getting up well before daylight , running to my “pile” under the tree, turning my long winter sock upside down to find a little treasure.   There were no chocolates, candy bars, or other expensive wishes but there were peanuts unshelled, hardtack candy, always an orange and/or an apple.  But the real treasure I was seeking in the sock didn’t come in in some material form but invisible,  timeless, now tangible, endless gifts of having been born of goodly parents who always struggled to make life better for us children.
Growing up in Bingham
Bingham was quite a different environment from that of my mother’s background.  She so wanted to civilize her children and seek the higher ground for her offspring.  The town was truly a tapestry  of many ethnic backgrounds and philosophies and young minds were shifted constantly.  For a moment let me try to paint a picture of a “Binghamite”.
In vernacular terms’ our associations were with Greeks, Wops, Japs, Chinks, Cleatamores. (???), Bohunks, Swedes and transient Gypsies.  (Translation; Greeks, Italians, Chinese, Poor English, Eastern Europeans and Bulgarians).  At the hey-day of Bingham over 34 different languages were spoken.  From mothers viewpoint there was no commonality of lifestyle, languages, personal conduct, churches and morals.  Yes, we all knew how to laugh alike and cry alike and share some feelings, but there was an “X” factor that was not there.  You know you have friends and associates but the most cohesive element was that we were “Binghamites”.
There were plenty of pool halls, beer joints, gambling parlors, fist-fights, cuttings, stabbings, and brothels, pink eye and the “itch” (scabies), measles, and scarlet fever, chicken pox and that was enough distraction that mom began plotting our move from the canyon to Midvale.
A few Mormons and many Catholics and some of the endangered species such as Methodists, and Episcopalians lived there.  The Greeks (who were really were the foundation of Bingham commerce and development) went to Salt Lake for their Greek Orthodox association but in Bingham, with the exception of the Asians who had their own enclaves.  Bingham  was not like cream of broccoli soup, but more like a lumpy mulligan stew.  If left alone the people of all color, religion and ethnicity can work and get along together, drink out of the same bottle of pop and share a Milk Nickel.
Considering mother’s background of a large house and many beautiful acres in South Cottonwood and the confinement and activities of the Canyon wore on her. Since Bingham Canyon was riddled with abandoned mines and mine shafts she was always concerned, and rightfully so- about where Max and I were and what we were “up to”.  It was rare, but occasionally boys venturing in those old mines cost them their lives.
Since there was little level ground in most of the canyon, Max and my time was spent somewhere on the bare side of the canyon where the arsenic levels emitted from the defunct smelters in Frog Town contaminated the thin layer of top soil and the permanently injured ground refused to put forth vegetation like the North face, except for a few elder berry bushes and an occasional tumble weed whose seeds had stayed from the Bingham Flats at the bottom of the canyon.
Bull-gang  Utah Copper
Elderberry flavor lived up to its name and choke Cherries to theirs.  Both made jellies of some sort, and surely outweighed its value, but moms are moms and ours rewarded Max and my meager pickings by making one or two little bottles of syrup for the pancakes we often had for breakfast.
Bingham was fun for boys growing up.  Our summertime was occupied with homemade scooters assembled from roller skates and a powder box mounted on a length of 2x4 salvaged from old wood piles or rubber guns with ammunition cur from old inner-tubes.  We fashioned our own “flippers” made from a crotch of a box elder tree and the “breach” was a patch of leather from the tongue of an old shoe ( and sometimes not from an old shoe, but from someone else’s that was not so old) plus a couple of lengths of inner tubes for fire power and rocks for ammunition. 
There was no 5 piece airplanes in plastic wrap.  In those days we bought model kits with printed balsa wood, a set of instructions and a few bottles of airplane “dope”, straight pins, razor blades and LePages glue we had to supply.  It’s sad that todays kids today do not have this opportunity.
Lance on the 728 electric engine
Baseball occupied o lot of our spare time during the warm days of summer.  We played at the ice- house across from our apartment some of the time.  The rules were if you hit the ball in the open sewer the batter had to dredge it out himself.  If you could make it around the short bases without stumbling on a rock and inheriting a new scar, you were lucky indeed.
Most of the summer mornings until three in the afternoon, the kids in town were picked up by bus and transported to Copperton, three miles down the canyon where we played baseball in leagues.  We were the Frogtowners.  Not only did we have the best caps but the best team.  Our stars were the Groves “kids” and surviving them from day to day was a feat in itself.  For instance; typically we would thump, Copperfield or Carr Fork.  The score would be 100 to 3, but if you struck out- in spite of the long lead- and Frogtown had to take the field, Bob Groves would whomp you because he had to go out onto the field in the hot sun.   I’ve never figured out why the three Groves brothers, Bob, Cliff and Bill were so damned mean.  Their dad was quite rough and their mother was a tough Argyle from Spanish Fork.  Her sister was no doubt one of my best teachers. 
But there is always someone to meet your match.  The groves met their occasionally from one of the short Wops or Greeks from Highland Boy.  Black eyes were quite endemic in the canyon. 
There was always a warning from my mother when she asked us to go to the grocery store where we had to pass “Crazy Flora”, poor thing but we had to pass the Groves who pounded us with rocks. 
Tree hunting in Dry Fork
I think God got tired of them when he send a flood of mud and rocks through the back door and out the front. 
There is a mixture of good and bad in most people.  The groves though bullies were the spark plugs that got the games and activities going in which most of the neighborhood kids participated. 
At one time the three of us, Phyllis, Max and I were in casts.  Mine from showing of on the swings at Bingham Central School where I attended four years.  Max broke his arm swinging from transfer pipes in the gas yard below the apartments,  and Phyllis managed to break hers roller-skating  on the concrete deck in the back yard.
Great Depression and being poor
In fact the entire Bingham experience served as an effective tutor; make good in what you do, have hope, innovate and be a good worker, or you may have to move back and work on the “Hill” ( the generic term for Utah Copper Co.). 
Phyllis  Mom   Max   Lance and father Lance  in Midvale
By todays monetary measure, we were poor, but never in activity, home, enthusiasm and hopes for a better place.  Any family with our income level today would be considered below the poverty level.  We were not alone in our community.  Most all suffered from the lack of means.  Utah Copper was essentially closed and dad worked perhaps a day or two a week.   The nation was in a major depression and people scrimped, relying on relatives who had farms or a little to share. 
The Mormon welfare reserves were stretched to the limits but managed to help its members by distributing sacks of flour to its members.  Dad promptly returned our 50 pound sack of flour because he thought it was his responsibility to take care of his family. 
I think my dad was relatively happy in Bingham with his friends and family.  He was well developed raconteur- often reflecting back to his youth and abuse that shaped his life.





No comments:

Post a Comment