Moses Lake Oral History

Narrator: Harry Yamamoto, Jr.
Interviewer: Aleta Zak
Date: December 7, 1995
Moses Lake, Washington

[The following is not a verbatim transcription]

 A = Interviewer

Y = Harry Yamamoto

 Side 1

 A: Where were you born?

Y: Yakima Wa, 1941

 A: When did you first move to ML?

Y: Spring of 1943, too young at time to recollect. Came there because his parents looking for work. They eventually started in farming operation—dad a farmer before—found work with George Schuster and Bob Schuster, did potato farming—worked for them the first year and was then able to make it on his own.

 A: Ethnic heritage?

Y: Third generation Japanese American, grandparents were immigrants. He had three sisters and three brothers. Mother is Kimie, sister Paulie, brother Jim, Joe, Wayne living in Richland, one sister died in early childhood, sister named Kayko in Seattle. All kids went to school in ML.

 A: Live anywhere else besides ML?

Y: Low cost housing here in town, then moved to Cascade Valley, then Hiawatha Valley, all kids went to ML schools. Subsequently, when he was in service, his dad moved family to Warden. Dad farmed in ML ever since he came here.

 A: When did you start farming in ML?

Y: Graduated from ML high school in 59, went to WSU until 63, then in service for couple of years, and then came back and started farming in about 1967 or 68 . . . attended WSU from 59-63, got a degree in agricultural entymology (study of insects).

 A: Started farming in 1967?

Y: I guess 1968 . . . farmed with my dad—mostly row crops, did a little bit in cattle feeding, but mostly row crops—sugar beets, wheat, alfalfa seed, pea seed, onions, potatoes, and beans.

 A: How did you acquire the land you were farming?

Y: First my dad sharecropped, and then he was able to get on his own and then rent and then eventually purchase on long-term contracts.

 A: How about your neighbors? Names?

Y: Lived near Jack and Mrs. Lane, he was a cowboy type, had a few animals; Aunt and Uncle—Kay and Sue Matsumoro lived down the road from us; down the street were Kobas for a little while, and then they moved, some to coast and Frank to town; John Herald and family moved to other side of us. This is when we were kids growing up.

 A: You said that dad rented land first. Where?

Y: All over the place. He first got established where there was water—we weren’t really dryland farmers. I did do some dryland farming (chuckles), but basically were irrigated farmers, so need water. He started initially near ML and pumped water from ML before the Project was here, and it was the most economical way of starting because even though these skills become a lot less you could drill wells, but you had to have a sizeable investment before you could drill, so you pumped water from ML. First purchased property in Cascade Valley after he’d had a couple of successful years so he could invest.

 A: So you hooked into irrigation?

Y: Not exactly . . . they hooked into us, literally—my dad was able to grow, had his farm business grow, so he expanded to Hiwatha Valley are, bought a section of land there—there was an existing well there, and he drilled two more there, and he was told that the Bureau would never expand to that area because the local farmers had not agreed to it so they’d be left out of the Project so my dad went ahead and invested in some wells, and drilled some wells . . . and then later on we were told that the government owned all the water so it didn’t matter where you got it from, so he was forced to take the water from the Projcet, and then he capped one of the wells, and then we used the other one—well, there was two others, and we incorporated into the business. He was forced to cap the other one, don’t quite understand the bureaucratic requirements . . he was told he had to cap one . . .if they pumped out of it they might save some money, I don’t know. It’s just all economics and government malaise, I guess. Makes you do certain things and you just do them. <155>

 A: You mentioned that your dad had been told, or others had been told, that they wouldn’t be receiving water. Was he involved in the beginning of the irrigation?

Y: We were here in 43, and he started farming and used the existing water, and found where people had been successful drilling, and found another piece of ground that had water, and then he took a chance that he’d be able to find other well water. The Project . . . can’t remember when it was started . . . we didn’t get irrigation water until the early 50s . . .. he went where he could find the available water. At that time the state was allowing people to drill wells . . . they were a little more receptive to that then than they are now . . .it’s a finite resouce you know . . . so now there’s not enough water for the amount of people that want to put holes in the ground. So at that point he just went the path of least resistance for gov’t regulations and the economy . . . I can’t remember exactly when he had to cap the wells. The irony of the whole thing was that I think one well had cost in excess of $50,000—when the irrigation district came in and decided they were going to do the White Trail and Hiawatha Valley area, everything above us, and we were just on the border . . . they had to include us because part of the wastewater was coming down through our property. So it was cheaper for them to confiscate it, so to speak, and just say, "you know, that’s part of the thing," rather than saying that’s a private entity, and having to pay for bringing the water down through . . . . The irony of the thing was that some of the property was against the hill, and there was a big lake that formed out there, so eventually the gov’t had to come in and purchase some of the farmland back from him covered by the lake. So he came out ok. He didn’t try to fight it—he was a survivor, just tried to do what was most logical.<208>

 A: Did LAFB have an impact on you?

Y: LAFB was not . . . it was there, and was probably a positive thing for my dad because at that time this area was expanding quite a bit . . .there was the bracero program . . . migrant workers come in from Mexico, but there was very little skilled labor. The AF had people out there who were a little more educated and capable of doing a little more than the hard menial type of work. I remember there were a lot of guys came out and helped us with harvest . . it was a positive thing, and a lot of those people stayed here.

 A: Did you go to school with kids from the base?

Y: Oh yeah, I didn’t have any problems . . . it’s kind of ironic, today’s Dec, 7, Pearl Harbor day, but I didn’t have any problems because I was younger. My older brother had fist fights every day at school because of the war—Wayne—my sister never had to fight anybody, she wasn’t that combative, but he was—five years older than I am, in first grade going to school during the war . . . high tension times for our family. But me being younger I had the benefit of having all that groundwork done for me before I had to go to school. Most the people here were new . . .by the time I got ready to go to school there were people coming in all the time, so being a stranger or being different not a problem for my age group, whatever ethnic background.<248>

 A: How did the building of the Col. R. dams affect you?

Y The dam of course was the reclamation project to begin with . . .main thing, I understand, was that they needed electrical power. That wasn’t quite enough to get it through Congress. I understand that a big cloud of dust was blown about four or five hundreds of miles out into the Pacific Ocean . . .people out there actually saw the duststorm, and there were blackouts in Seattle because of lack of power, so that’s why Grand Coulee was eventually approved and built, from what I understand. Also there were a lot of work projects going on . . .CCC, etc. Need for more food production too, out west. That allowed for agricultural expansion, but that peaked out pretty quick when they developed a half-million acres there. Got water in 52 from the project, and it was supposedly just half the project . . . . Used less than 2% of the water flow . . . almost 90% of it is returned to the Columbia . . . .

A: Mentioned the dust cloud visible out in Pacific Ocean. How did building of dam, irrigation, change physical landscape?

Y: He understood that there would be a five to six-fold increase in economic activity with water, and it would bring agricultural dev., recreational dev., all the things that we see here around ML came true, and probably discounting inflation I think it probably did better than they anticipated . . . .the community is maturing a bit now, but I think it was a wise choice and use of the resources that we have. I know that they’re talking about trying to save the salmon and such but if they didn’t have the flood control and the control of the water down the Columbia it would be a tremendous waste of energy and water if we didn’t utilize it properly, and then if they allowed people to go out and drill wells excessively they’d use up all the groundwater and that takes many, many years to recharge, so it just makes sense the way they planned the development. It actually has worked out for the benefit of not only this area but for the whole country. A lot of the power has been exported to other states and Canada is a big part of the dam, because if they didn’t allow is to put dams above . . .then our dams wouldn’t be very efficient. They built half the powerhouse . . . they owned half the energy coming off the third powerhouse . . . now they want us to use natural gas and other sources of energy instead of electricity because costs are going up. I think we have some of the cheapest electrical rates in the world . . .that’s because of foresight, and everything was done soundly—everything from the engineering to the concept of using the resource.

 A: You’ve seen the physical appearance of the area change. Compare beginning of Project to now? Describe?

Y: Certainly a lot more infrastructure here—had the highway come in . . . we’ve got a four-lane interstate; the airbase had changed from a military installation to the Port district, the college, and a housing district . . . instead of tax chewer-uppers they’re tax generators for keeping up the infrastructure. Down town has changed—there are a couple of malls here. McDonalds and Burger King make many people feel like they’re part of the in-crowd now, but it still has a country flavor . . . the only time that it kinda reminds you of the city is when you get down there on Alder Street and get into a little traffic jam.

We’re pretty lucky that we haven’t had to deal with the political upheavals that you get in the city.

 A: How about population and ethnic change over that period?

Y: The dam was good because some of my best friends were kids of people who worked on the dam and they ended up in ML after the dam work done and they liked the area and stayed in the area . . . some of my best friends were folks who worked on the dam. They’re of all races—people came to work they didn’t ask them—if people had the skills they put them to work on the dam and in the farms. The wage was about a dollar and a half, dollar and a quarter an hour—manual labor on farms. So, that’s where the migrant workers came from Texas and Mexico, and they helped on the agricultural scene—many stayed and worked at processing plants, and those who stayed in school are doctors and lawyers now . . . so I think that the schools helped to make that a better place to raise their families. There wasn’t very many black kids in school that I can recall, but I can’t say why . . . that hadn’t changed much. I just recently went to a friends funeral, person who worked with my dad in early 1940s, and he was one of my dad’s best friends—but there aren’t a lot of African Americans here, and there weren’t at that point either. I don’t know what the reason for that is.<427>

 A: Other ways that the dams affected the businesses?

Y: McDonalds . . . big thing was being able to generate the electricity—needed the materials for the war effort . . those things came in line after the war but for the Cold War . .. if it wasn’t for good planning we might all be speaking Russian now rather than English . . . .so it’s pretty monumental what they actually did for us . . . one of the biggest things came in was the community college. When the legislature saw fit to increase the community college across the state of WA that changed the whole picture . . . allowed the state and country to do things other countries hadn’t done, basically through education. Allowed for a lot of the people to remain in the area . .. we’re lucky to have a community college in such a small community. On the CC board for about 18 years, also taught out there. Taught agriculture—taught group B of the Japanese Agricultural Trainees—JAPT (Japanese Agriculture Training program). See that was a bracero program too—started out after the war—they brought young workers over from Japan and they worked in the fields. That was the same time that the deal was with Mexico to bring young workers over from Mexico. JAPT started off that way too—they were in California; there were some ethnic problems there too . . . Four-H came to Big Bend, and Big Bend worked with 4-H for years, and tied education in with the [JAPT]. Bracero program would have been better off if they’d tied education in with work.

 A: Describe the way that the JAPT program worked?

Y: Picking of the individuals that they sent over here—individuals screened—motivated by the idea that they can come here and learn different agricultural techniques, and they would be ambassadors from their country. If it wasn’t for the help from the migrants from throughout the US and from Mexico we wouldn’t have the agricultural industry that we have now. Braceros didn’t have the adult education idea, but the JAPT kids had the education element . . . .more about JAPT. By not emphasizing education than you force people into other avenues of economic advancement—they go off to the fast buck and that leads to problems.

He is critical of California’s backlash against immigrants. Talks more about immigration in general.

 A: Work on dam itself?

Y: No—too young, but got all the benefits from it.

 A: Politcal involvement/

Y: On board of Sugar Beet Association for over ten years; was youngest member when he came on. Been on the FHA Loan committee board for three years. Also on board of college—appointed by three different governors. He doesn’t think that position is politician, but is to protect the community investment.

 A: Can you talk a bit about social, church involvement in community?

Y: He’s a member of the Yakima Buddhist Church, most of the Japanese families here came from Yakima Valley, and our families all had a stake in the church there in Yakima. We don’t have a real large following here—no Buddhist affiliation here in ML; most people belong to Yakima Church. So we go to church about two times a year—drive over—don’t have a set . . . .

 [ End side 1]


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