Moses Lake Oral History

Narrator: Frank Koba (FK) and Mrs. Koba
Interviewer: Ron Pufahl (RP)
Date: November 13, 1995
Moses Lake, Washington

Tape 1 of 1

(Begin Side A)

RP: . . . Your parents were employed as mill workers?

FK: . . . Logging. . .

RP: You were born in Canada? . . . 1918. . . You moved down to Washington State in. . . 1921.

FK: . . . Then we stayed in Seattle for about three or four months and then we relocated to this logging camp in Napavine, Washington which is in the Centralia, Chehalis area. And then we stayed there about. . . six or seven years. And then of course the logging business went out because there was no logs to be logged and so, then we moved up north to Seattle, and then from Seattle we jumped over to this island, to Bainbridge Island.

RP: And you worked as produce farmers, basically.

FK: Yeah, berry farmers. . . My father raised berries and peas and things like that.

RP: How big of a farm?

FK: Oh, about sixty acres.

RP: And I imagine Bainbridge was, not too many people out there at that time. . .

FK: . . . There were quite a few people there, yes, uh-huh.

RP: How many in your family?

FK: Eight. . .

RP: And you were on Bainbridge Island until the beginning of the war. And you said that you were expecting to enlist.

FK: Expecting to all be drafted into the service. On March 28th, and the commanding officer, the officer in charge said, “Sorry, you just cannot go. You’re going with us.”

RP: And that was when you were sent to internment camp. And that must have been quite a surprise.

FK: Yeah, well, everything, when the war was declared, well we just couldn’t. Had to do everything in a hurry. We only had about sixty days to get everything in order. The farm in order and. . . We had about sixty days to try to get it all organized.

RP: Well, yeah, being on a farm, you can’t just walk away.

FK: And then crops were coming out in about three months. . . The Filipino people that were working there, well we just kind of turned it over to him to take care of it, and just give us the results when the thing was over. . .

FK: Boarded us on a bus. . . Greyhound Bus or whatever it was, and they took us four hundred and some miles northeast of LA.

RP: And they weren’t too ready for you at that time?

FK: No, they weren’t, nuh-uh. They had the barracks already built. . . for us. And then as days went on, then more and more people start coming, and more building went on. Boy they put those barracks up in a hurry, too. . .

Interviewer asks how people felt about internment.

FK: Well, we didn’t do anything wrong. . . And they took, well they’re taking us here. Well we just have to make the best of it. Sure there was a bunch of us who, well gee-whiz, why’d they do these things to us. You know, we have to give up our. . . our life to come here and you know.

RP: And they didn’t give you any inkling of how long you were going to be there, and you said there were as many as ten thousand people there.

FK: Yes. Ten thousand. . . I was there in Manzanar for eight months, yes.

RP: How did you get transferred to Idaho?

FK: I had to go through channels, you know. . . That was a whole group of us from Bainbridge Island wanted to be transferred to Minidoka.

RP: Did they feel that it was going to be better in Idaho, or?

FK: Because see, our relatives were there. See, most of the people from Bainbridge Island, well they had relatives in Seattle. And then we kind of spoke the same kind of language you might say. And it made a lot of difference. Californian peoples are a little bit, what? How do I put it?

Mrs. Koba: . . . I think the California people were more resentful. I think it took us Washingtonians just a little bit longer to, you know. . .

RP: Was it difficult to correspond outside of the camp, like to your people that were in Idaho?

FK: No, it wasn’t. . . At first I think they censored a certain, a lot of that stuff. They went through everything. But after a while, I guess they didn’t make any difference because we weren’t sending any signals here or there or anything else of that kind, so they just, mail was just. . . free flowing.

Mrs. Koba: I think at first they were escorted with guns and things, you know like that, and watched with you know, like that. But later on I think they got so they, they trusted. . .

RP: . . . To someone my age, the whole thing was so ridiculous anyway, you know. There’s a lot of other nationalities that we were at war with, but never, that this never happened to.

FK: Yeah, but, see but we were distinguished much more.

RP: Yes, that’s true.

FK: And that’s the whole thing, I think, that’s what. Because I noticed that in Seattle, the Chinese were wearing Chinese buttons, I am a Chinese. . .

Mrs. Koba: I think the California people were treated a lot worse. . .

FK: Yeah, I think so.

Mrs. Koba: They were bombed and persecuted. . .

RP: So, here you are in Spring of 1943. You come out to the desert, and you’re out Hiawatha Valley. . . wasn’t much in Hiawatha Valley at that time. . .

FK: The place that we stayed on. . . Chelan Okanogan Nursery, I think had it. And then the fellow that built this place was the former mayor of Seattle, Mayor Brown, I think. . .

FK: A lot of farmers were starting around the area there [in the early fifties], raising potatoes, and things. . .

RP: Was there a lot of talk and speculation about the dams coming in and the irrigation.

FK: . . . I wasn’t really into that kind of, you know. . . I was just carefree as ever, just here and there, just jumping around, you know, and I didn’t really seriously think about anything, what the future held or anything. . .

. . . We knew that maybe the irrigation type of farming was better than the kind of farming that we were doing before the war, see.

RP: . . . You were on one of the farms that irrigated itself at the time anyway.

FK: Now, you know, we got plenty of water and road and all this kind of stuff.

Mrs. Koba: They must have been building the dam about that time, though.

FK: What dam?

RP: Coulee and. . .

FK: Oh, Coulee, I think was already under construction. . . I think it was done. . .

RP: But it didn’t really get into the Basin until after ‘51, I think.

FK: Yeah, something like that. But you’re all living here. I never went up the dam.

RP: The way the roads were, that was a long ways away.

FK: No, but wait a minute, now we couldn’t go a lot of places, either, you know.

RP: Oh, you were still?

FK: Well we were still restricted. We couldn’t go to Wenatchee. We could go to that, the east end of it, or the east long side of it, and they would stop us there. “Sorry, but you can’t go across.”

Mrs. Koba: There was a lot of prejudice yet, then.

FK: And then we couldn’t go to Grand Coulee, but we never even thought about going to Grand Coulee. . .

FK: . . . Now when was the dam down here built? This Potholes Dam? . . . And then after the Potholes Dam was started, then a few buildings started to come up. I don’t know, can’t remember what year it was. And the a lot of buildings come up okay. . . and then gradually started coming, new businesses started to come. . .

. . . And we did have quite a bit of people come in. Well, air base personnel as well as the flyers and their families. But they lived all out on the base, I think, didn’t they?

RP: Well, I imagine so. . . It seems like, you go through the different neighborhoods of town and you see, everything seems to be pretty much dated as to when the areas were built. Like up behind the hospital and up in that area, it seems like that was maybe the early fifties and then you go over to Knoll’s Vista, that seems like early sixties in that area. And you can kind of tell the growth of the area by the ages of the neighborhoods. . .

(Interviewer asks about Japanese people in the area)

FK: After we came here in ‘43, there were about four or five families already here. And then the Yamamotos came.

Mrs. Koba: Then they, in turn, called other people. . .

RP: There wasn’t one particular industry that seemed to have brought everybody in. . . other than the farming at the beginning, other than that, it, everybody just kind of came and got into the community and.

FK: See a lot of them, see they left camp. And a lot of them didn’t want to go back to where they lived, where they left. They said, they’d just try Moses Lake, and I think Moses lake worked out pretty good for a lot of them. I think that’s the way it was.

Mrs. Koba: . . . they were all farmers.

FK: Yeah, they were all farmers, and this is a type of farming that they’d done prior to, before the war - irrigation farming, that’s, and see most of them are from the Yakima Valley. . . Very few of the Japanese are from the Coast, that really relocated out here. There’s several families, but most of them are all from Yakima Valley and that was their type of farming. . . irrigation and row crop potatoes and whatever.

RP: So, when did you get into the grocery business?

FK: 1952. . . It [population] wasn’t very big. . . nothing in front of us and there was just a few rows of houses up the street here. In fact, there was about five houses behind us here. . . . just farming land. . .

Mrs. Koba: I think the farmers kept us alive, though. . . We’d charge groceries to the farmers and later on they’d pay, at crop time. . .

RP: That was a pretty common practice. I know when I was young, that you’d go to the grocery store and you’d put it on your charge account.

Mrs. Koba: So you know we didn’t make much money, but we. . .

RP: But you kept your overhead down and you survived the hard times at Moses Lake.

FK: Yeah, boy we did. And when they shut down the sugar factory, boy everything just quieted, just thump-thump-thump, and that’s it. . .

FK: And then of course, you had to walk to your supermarkets. You couldn’t drive. Well, you could have drove, I guess, but then you just rode in your car, so. But no, it, I don’t know.

Mrs. Koba: We had people come on horseback. . . (Both laugh)

RP: Yeah, that was quite a time in Moses Lake. . .

Mrs. Koba: You somehow survive. . . You don’t worry about too much. You worry about getting the ash off, so you can go and carry on your everyday living. I think we were probably one of the few people that didn’t get compensated for anything. . . We had the business and the house. Our insurance did not cover it all. . .

RP: Coming to the Basin as early as you did, you have seen the community grow from the downtown area and kind of spread out a bit. It seems like growth never came quick to the Basin. It kind of. . .

FK and RP: in little spurts.

RP: . . . There seems to be quite a mix of people that come to Moses Lake, and (pause) there don’t seem to be a lot of natives that have been here a long time. You know you talk to a lot of people and they’ve been here, six, eight years maybe. You don’t see a lot of people that have been here twenty year. And you see fewer people that have been here forty years. The farming and the irrigation coming in was quite a shot in the arm for the area, but, I think, it must have been like the growth that I’ve seen, it’s come so gradually, you don’t really notice it from day to day.

FK: No.

RP: Until you sit back and you kind of look at it.

FK: But you know, like you see a lot of people twenty years. The older, older bunch is, I think the mix is, part of it that they’re all gone. . .

Mrs. Koba: I think the farmers probably have been here the most. You know, like the . . . and the Mormon people.

RP: Big families.

Mrs. Koba: . . . kind of go down the generations. They’re still around.

FK: I think that the longest people that’s been in the area here are the Japanese people. . . They stayed a lot longer than a lot of the other people have. Then like you say, the Mormon people, but then the Mormon people didn’t come till real late. And I think the biggest, well the oldest bunch are all these Japanese Americans that stayed from the start way back in what, 1950. And they’re still going. . . But then you take all these older people that did irrigation farming, they’re all gone, you know, they’re just gone. And then in some cases, they may have passed it down to their sons or something, but that’s very very few. What I would consider most of the older bunch are the Japanese people that have been here, that started and they’re still going strong. Of course, there’s a few that have retired and said, “Well, this is it.”

But not because of anything else, but they just, they get tired of it. They’re up in the ages and their family don’t want to carry it on either.

RP: The Basin is pretty diverse and it’s, it’s still pretty young.

FK: Yes, it is.

RP: You look around, and you’ve especially seen it, you’ve been here since the forties. I imagine how little was there at the time. One of the things that has struck me looking through as much history as I can find on the area, is the lack of vegetation back then. You know, the lack of trees. I saw a picture of the State Park area.

FK: Well there was nothing there, you know.

RP: Nothing! When you say nothing, it was nothing.

FK: Well there was nothing new there. . . This was a new area. They were just trying to get going and everything, you know. And it was hard. Like your theater building. I remember there was alfalfa growing right up on Third Avenue, there. In fact, our place here, there was alfalfa growing. . . Water was running out of the ditches and we had to go alongside the building to take the water running right down the street, the road. And right next door to us here, there was farmers farming potatoes, onions I think it was. And then up behind us there. . .

Mrs. Koba: That’s why they call it Potato Hill Road.

FK: Then behind us up here was nothing because there was no ground, well they could have cultivated, but nobody wanted to do it. And then no irrigation come in up here. Was it up here? Yeah. Some of the farmers got some ground up there and.

RP: East of town?

FK: No, no, right up, right around Pioneer there. The water used to come through there. . .

RP: I can usually date places by how big the trees are (all laughing). Because there weren’t a lot of trees. . .

RP: Do [the kids now] seem more bold?

Mrs. Koba: We’ve had the store. We never had a break-in till, what is it about.

FK: Five years. . .

Mrs. Koba: There was nothing till then.

FK: Then we had to ration. . .

Mrs. Koba: Put bars on the windows and. . . The kids are not quite as well behave as when our kids were little, I don’t think.

RP: I don’t think they ever will be again. . .

FK: But our biggest problem was when the air base was here. You know how that changes every so many months, you know, and they’d have a new group of people coming and the kids are all different. . .

[End Side A]

[Begin Side B]

FK: So it was really a lot better at that time to do business, than it is today. It’s really a lot harder now to do it.

RP: Do you feel that there are as many salespeople calling on you?

FK: Well, we don’t have anybody calling us now. . . Because we’re not a volume store. And these salesmen, they want to call on the volume, because that’s how they depend on their work. . . We’re just a small outfit and so, oh yes, it makes a lot of difference. And then when these bigger stores come in, well then competition and. . . I don’t expect people to come and buy a lot of groceries. They just pick up items that they forgot at the supermarket or, and then they decide to have this or that or whatever they want. And if we have it, well that’s the only way that we could survive, I guess.

Mrs. Koba: . . . Carry the oriental foods.

FK: Yeah, and that’s our biggest, is that we carry a lot of oriental things.

RP: Do you have a pretty loyal clientele?

FK: Yes, we do have. We have Japan Airlines here. . . And then we have a lot of, what do they call this? Asmi and takata. . . The head of those companies, there’s a Japanese running it, and then they have a family here. . . and the local Japanese people too.

RP: You feel that the percent of the population of the Japanese, I know that it has started to grow again, when did you see the growth happen again?

FK: . . . When Japan Airlines come in, especially. They brought in a lot of families here, as well as the pilot training students. . .

RP: How far back did that go?

FK: . . . Thirty years ago. . . And then we have students from Japan. . . and they like to have some of the items that we carry.

RP: . . . Speaking of the war, and being Japanese, and the prejudice that followed afterward, did there seem to be very much of it in Moses Lake area?

Mrs. Koba: I think at first there was.

FK: Yeah. You know, when we first came here, the first year. . . we had to dig, we dig potatoes, had potatoes and then this was during the summer time. During the heat of the day we couldn’t leave at all. We had to either dig early in the morning or late at night. Generally, we dug early in the morning, but not late at night, but in the mid-day we had to stop. But anyway, so we come, take our potatoes down to the warehouse there, and so, guy says, “Well, let’s go get a bite to eat.”

So I said, “Okay.” So we trounce downtown to Moses Lake, and then we see these signs, see. “No Japs Allowed. White Trade Only.”

So we says, “Well, gosh dammit, what are we going to do now?” So we go buy groceries and then, of course, then at that time, then we had rations, see. So we can’t buy a lot of lunch meats and things like that, so we had to, and then we couldn’t buy any butter. . . So we just bought bread and a few things and got. So then we finally got it resolved, though. We had a, some of our neighbors that we stayed out there with, they came and we told them about it, so they came down and, to each and every one of these merchants and straightened it all out for us guys, and so we were able to go back the next day.

Mrs. Koba: There was a lot of good people too.

FK: There’s a lot of good people.

Mrs. Koba: But I think that the trouble was, they didn’t know the Japanese people. And it takes time too. To learn. . .

RP: There’s not a whole lot of minorities of any kind, really, in Moses Lake. . . . You said that when you first got out to the farm, you were doing potatoes and that kind of stuff, was it a lot of hand labor?

FK: Yes. . . We picked potatoes by hand, we loaded by hand, and then when we got to the warehouse, or the spud cellar, we had to. . . and carry the sacks and unload it, and yes, it was all, practically all hand work.

RP: Must have made for long days.

FK: It did! (Laughing) . . . Especially when we harvested the late potatoes, we worked till two o’clock in the morning. . .

RP: Did Hanson’s have a pretty good size farm out there?

Mrs. Koba: They were kind of like homesteaders here. . .

FK: Oh yeah, we worked hard, boy, god! I can remember we worked till two in the morning, had to get those potatoes out of the ground. . .

RP: Yeah, it seems like Moses Lake had had, like you said, roots with Japanese people, that goes back quite a ways in the area. . . You don’t have that in a lot of communities, even a lot bigger. . . Moses Lake is kind of unique that way. . .

[End of tape]


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