Moses Lake Oral History

Narrator: Wanda Hanson
Interviewer: Andrea Stucki
February 19, 1996
Moses Lake, Washington

[The following is a verbatim transcription]

Tape 1 of 1, Side A

 Birthplace was Westlake, Idaho.

 WH: It was a little town, but itís no longer there. . . just turned into farming field, just disappeared.

. . .in 1933, my parents came to Moses Lake. We moved partly for economic reasons. We had had a crop failure or two. My father had bad luck farming and we had relatives down here and just decided to come down.

 AS: And was it because the farming was good here?

 WH: No, not really. Really, truthfully, my dad had what we called rheumatism at that time, and he had heard about Soap Lake and had some relatives who were having good luck with the Soap Lake water. And he wanted to be in a warmer climate and try the Soap Lake water, which did him a lot of good at that time.

. . . My mother was French-Canadian and my father was English. . .

. . . There were ten of us. I have three sisters and six brothers. . . Iím fourth. . .

 AS: What was your job? What was your profession?

 WH: Housewife, farmerís wife, until my husband got into politics and then I was a helper with him for nineteen years. And then, after our children were gone, thank goodness he didnít get the bug until our children were up. And then after he passed away, I finished off his term in the senate, State Senate. . .

 WH: Occupation and businesses owned was our cattle ranch. . . Spent thirty-something years doing that. . . We grew potatoes. We were the first potato growers that shipped commercially, before the dam came in. . . And then we grew the food for the cattle, alfalfa and oats and all that kind of thing.

 AS: So you were pretty independent then?

 WH: Well, I donít know. Nobody is independent, but we did operate the ranch totally.

 AS: How did you acquire the land?

 WH: A little bit at a time. Sometimes it was land that was being sold for tax purposes, and my husband would buy it. Then we leased a lot of property from the Bureau of Land Management. We owned a lot down here in the Sand Dunes, and leased a lot. We owned and leased thirty thousand acres at one time.

 AS: . . . Have you in any way been affected by the Larson Air Force Base?

 WH: Aside from the economic change it made in Moses Lake and in the surrounding area, we were not affected personally by it. We had friends. . .

. . . It caused it to grow immensely, and it also put our name on the map. Aside from that, I think that it brought a lot of people in who decided to stay. A lot of people came back here to retire. They thought they were at the ends of the earth when they first got here. But eventually, they, a lot of them came back to retire. . .

. . . Now we have it and the Port District has it. I mean when they left, they didnít take the airport with them, so we have the benefit of that now.

 AS: How did the building of the dam affect you?

 WH: I had a brother who worked on it. When we used to go up there and see it when. . .

. . . How did it affect us? We didnít irrigate with Columbia River water, never did. Because we were already set up with irrigation out of the lake here. And we were omitted from the canal district. May Valley here, was. . . By choice. We had to fight a little bit to get omitted, because they wanted every bit they had. But we already had our canals and we had our pipelines and so on, and there was no use for us to change, in May Valley. And our other ranch down by OíSullivan Lake, we irrigated out of wells, and we were already established down there. So we never did come under the irrigation water from the Columbia River. . .

. . . It was a [good choice] for us. . . We benefited because so many other people came and benefited from. . . the growth of the area, we benefited from that.

 AS: How did the dams affect the physical landscape of not just May Valley, but of Moses Lake in general.

 WH: . . . Itís just like an oasis now, that used to be blow sand, and sage brush, and now itís the bread basket of the state, if not the nation. . .

AS: Was the an increase in [diversity] with the dams?

WH: Iím sure there was. . . If youíre thinking about the Japanese, they came because of the Japanese internment, most of them did. And they had to get on the eastside of the river by a certain time. And we had a big influx of Japanese people at that time who have turned out to be valuable citizens in the area. . . That was in 1941.

. . . They didnít come because of the dam, necessarily. They came because of the time. . . I donít remember that there were very many [migrant workers] early on when they were building the dam and right after the dam, I donít remember very many. . . They came later, I think. But it was as a result of the dam, because of all the farming that was going on then, in comparison to before. . .

When the airbase came in, the schools were overflooded, and the school directors were going to Washington DC to try to get money to build more schools and thatís when all these schools sprung up. . . The farming area end of it came more slowly, more gradually, and stayed permanently.

AS: As a parent, were you involved with the schools?

WH: Some, a little bit with PTA and that kind of thing, but (emphatically) I was a busy farmwife and I didnít have a whole lot of time. . .

. . . When I was needed, I drove truck and just like every other farm wife, made lunches, fed hired people and my family. And I used to, like I said, drive truck in the corn harvest, potatoes. All farm wives do that kind of thing. I didnít have to milk the cow. . . I determined that if I did learn I would have to do that, and I wouldnít do that. But I did some irrigating when there was a shortage, you know, when somebody didnít get there in time. And I was a gopher,

G-O-F-O-R, you know. Like every farm wife is. And it was just a busy time. I cut potatoes for seed and. . .

AS: Have farmwives roles changed?

WH: I think they do a lot of the same things, but a good share of them now have to work outside the home. And we were lucky that only one that, well neither of us really worked outside the home. We were busy with our own ranch. Now it seems like a good share of the farms now, one or the other of them works outside the farm to make a go of it. But we were lucky that way, we didnít have to do that.

AS: Why do you think thatís changed?

 WH: Well the cost of living for one thing. And not only that, itís the cost of expectations. Their expectations are higher. They need more things which costs more money. And the standard of living is just higher now. . .

 AS: Is it partially because of the machinery that they need?

 WH: Machinery costs more, everything costs more now. . . and there are more to buy now. . . When I think of some of the machines that we kept going for such a long time. We should have gotten rid of them, but we didnít you know. We made do. . .

 . . . My husband got allergic to a lot of things that we had to use on the ranch, so he had to leave the ranch. And we sold our share. . . In March we moved off the ranch and in November of Ď72 he was elected to the House of Representatives and he served there six years and then went to the Senate for thirteen years. My role in that was as a helper to him, while during the interim, the interim is when youíre not in session. At home I was his secretary, his receptionist, set his time, scheduled the dates, and went with him a lot. . . When he went into the Senate he had a full time secretary, but still I had to do that at home, because she could not do it all from over there. He did a lot of his work by telephone. . . I still did that kind of thing for him, accompanied him a lot, moved over to Olympia with him, during session. . . (230)

We thought we were pretty well rounded people when we were on the ranch, but we realized how narrow our life had been when he got over there and we began to hear of peopleís problems and we realized we hadnít known what went on in the world. Everything from sick children. . . The whole gamut of problems that people could get into, they deal with in the state legislature. . .

 . . . The main role for a legislator is a go-between, between the people in his district and the agencies and government, to help them, thatís their main role.

 I remember his very first bill, when he was a freshman in the house. We had just had a series of fatal accidents on the railroad crossings in this flat, flat country around here. . .

He put in a bill that demanded that the first car, the first engine of any train should have this rotating caution light. Just like vehicles that move slowly. . . the railroads fought him and tried to get that bill killed, but it passed. . . within a few years the law was nationwide, and youíll notice that rotating light on the engine of trains.

 My time has been scheduled so tightly for twenty years, and now Iím enjoying. I even hate to make an appointment to get my hair fixed. . .

 Outside of having a greater population, I donít think theyíve changed. Weíre still a small town atmosphere. Aside from the after twelve oíclock at night things that go on, that are really kind of scary, you know. Aside from that, I think weíre still a friendly atmosphere, and I think that came to view when we had this terrible thing down at the school the other day. And that portion of it is what is different now, and thatís partly from the influx, I think. I donít want to blame it all, because, because the local people donít have to take up with that if they donít want to. . .

 AS: How have the businesses that have come in meshed with the farming community?

 WH: . . . I think theyíve meshed pretty good - I suppose each is battling for their own share in the way that businesses do, but I think theyíve meshed pretty good.

. . . I finished his [term], his one year - he had nineteen years and I had one, so between us we had twenty years.

 AS: What kind of experiences did you have in your one year?

 WH: I found out what it was like to be on the hotline myself, and to go to caucus and figure out a strategy. And also to have my committees. I fell into all his committees that he had left. And I got there late because, he passed away on the 29th of December in 1991, and the session started two weeks later. And on January 29, 1992, I was sworn into office. So I got there late and didnít have a chance to hear those bills in committee and see what they were about. When I got there, they were already being voted out of committee. So I simply had to rely on the people in the committee that I knew my husband would rely on. And thatís one advantage I had. I knew who he would have relied on. And Iíd vote accordingly, and then I would take the bill home at night and Iíd study it, to see what the bill was about, how it would, because that was just getting the bill out of committee and it would be going through the whole body. And Iíd have another chance to vote on it. I studied until midnight or better every night, trying to get caught up. . .

. . . I knew how stressful it was when they were coming up against cut-off dates. They worked from eight oíclock in the morning until midnight. Sometimes the House, especially, would go all night long. The Senate didnít do that. . . They have, but not when I was there. . .

. . . I had the same staff that he had. I knew the lobbyists, I knew the procedure, so. . .

. . . I was sworn in and taken back to my seat, and I expected to be treated as a freshman since I was new, and I thought theyíd take me to the back of the room like freshmans do. But they didnít, they took me to my husbandís seat, in the front row, middle aisle. And I could hardly make myself sit in that chair. . . When they took me to that chair, I was just all of a sudden aware of the big, big step I was taking. . . I knew where to find the bill that they were working on, so I looked and saw what page, found my right bill, opened the drawer and got a pencil. And five minutes after I was sworn in, I made my first vote. But, I was so lucky because they were working on bills that had gone through the Senate the year before that had not made it through the House. Now they were going through the Senate again. And I had listened to the discussion the last year, so I knew what they were. . .

. . . It also showed how each member had voted before, so I could vote like Tub voted last time. . .

. . . He was ranking minority member in Agriculture Committee and he had Transportation Committee as well as Subcommittees, and I was in those same ones.

[In the Agricultural Committee]

They deal with water issues, and water is becoming the one most important thing in the state. We look out and we see lots of it. But in some areas theyíre fighting over it, and itís a really big issue. . .

. . . With the Agricultural Committee, we had burning issues like burning the fields, the seed fields, that need to be burned, be shocked with fire so that theyíll produce next year. And then thereís the burning of stubble and so on, that some farmers like to do. And of course, the environmentalists donít like it. And of course there are people who have health problems that donít like it also. . . Sprays, using pesticides and so on, all of that comes in the Agriculture Committee, and in the Transportation Committee of course, you know that there are problems with overlength and overweight. We really had to fight triple trailers. Oregon has triple trailers, and those people like the truckers, really fought to get triple trailers in the state. But, theyíve not been able to make that work yet. Transportation also covers revenues for license. . .

. . . His pet issues. . . heíd been in lawsuits with the Transportation because he had cattle that he had to move back and forth across the highway at times. . . and he just had pet peeves as far as agriculture and transportation were concerned. And after he got in there and really realized how many more issues there were, he expanded. . .

Mine grew into the disadvantged people, like autism. . .

Weíd go somewhere and he would say to the people around him, ďIím thinking about running for the Legislature.Ē

And I would say, ďShhhh!Ē

. . . It was an unknown and Iíd heard lots of bad stories about it. But let me tell you that when we got in there and saw the kind of people who were there and began to learn about what went on, and what they were doing, our opinion of the people that were there, really raised. Because they were good people, trying as a whole, to do the best job they could to represent their people. And I still have that feeling. . .

. . . You just have to work for the majority of the people and not everybodyís going to like it. Most people donít really know the full story. How can they? . . .

[pause in tape]

. . . Dannyís Tavern is the only other oldest building standing. And I think itís such a shame to just wipe Old Moses Lake, or Old Neppel, off the map, by destroying that building [the old Neppel School]. And I donít think we need to restore it to what they have calculated it would take. I think we could restore it to the point that it would be usable and savable, and do it as a community project over a number of years. . . What we would like is to have it on the State Historical Register. . .

[End Side A]

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