Friday, March 4, 2011


An auto repair garage in Noxon, circa early 1930s. The the location appears to be
east and south of Main Street (a store? in background) which would place it
across the street from Gordon's Hotel Noxon. Owner unknown. Courtesy William
Finnigan collection.
May 6, 1918
"Noxon is booming! A new garage right on the corner of Broadway and Front streets by C. D. Munson and Son."
This was exciting news to the settlers strung along the Clark's Fork valley. Men owned automobiles, true. But few knew the mechanics of even the simple Model T. Most were like Charlie Munson, a widower who had about a 1914 Model T Ford. Charlie also had a little mongrel dog that was always with him. And he had a couple of boys, Vern and Ed. Young fellas, mostly ready to leave home. Carmen Moore loved to tell stories about them.
"Old Charlie would go around and haul people out to different places and stuff, but every once in a while the old Model T Ford would quit," Carmen Moore said. " He'd get out and raise up the hood and look. Then he'd say, 'Boy, it never done that before'. "Eventually he'd find what it was wrong and he'd make it go again.
"The last I remember he tore the box off of it and made a bug out of it, a little racing car. Boy he thought he really had something then. Well, it was a lot lighter and went better than it did before."1.
With so few around who could "make 'em go again," a mechanic was almost as awesome as a magician. Thus, the new garage was heralded with fanfare.

The shake-roofed, pole constructed building was the proud home of Noxon's first mechanics shop. It was o nthe southeast side of Broadway, slightly behind Bill Finnigan's Saloon. It opened on the east side, on the street going to Gordon's Hotel.
"Vern's dad, Old Man Munson, had the first car, " Don Maynard said. "Then Charlie Maynard got a car. Jim Finnigan and Vern Munson were the mechanics. Munson charged so much for taking them up to the mine on Pilgrim Creek, Sam Holbert bought a Studebaker pickup, bringing it in over Tuscor Hill. But he had to learn to drive it first.
"Bill Finnigan bought a big Studebaker Six passenger touring car in Thompson Falls. He had to have it winched with blocks and tackle over Tuscor Hill to get home to Noxon. Henry Larson had a 1918 Studebaker and Jude Legault had gotten a Maxwell. C. R. Weare owned a bright blue Ford."2.
Vern Munson, who had acquired the nickname 'Flattail' for his success at trapping trapper, was becoming relied on as an auto mechanic. There weren't too many cars around yet. Munson's Maynard's, Mr. Thomson's, Holbert's, Finnigan's, Legault's, Henry Larson's and Weare's. Flattail's garage was in Noxon. This posed problems for auto owners. One time a guy came along with a car needing fixing but he didn't know how to back up so he had to circle the block to turn around.

Legault, a lumberjack, had a Maxwell and was always twisting the axle out and had to carry a spare. Few people hooked up the team to pull a sick machine to town and the mechanic. Instead, the mechanic had to travel to the automobile. In July, Flattail went up Bull River to repair Howard Ellinwood's car. Ellinwood had purchased Mr. Thomson's car.3.

Chess Greer, Tom Moonen, Irene  Bauer, Chess Greer's mother, Laura Greer, Alzier Bauer and Bill Greer with Greer's car.
Things mechanical had always fascinated Ellinwood. On his ranch he'd built the waterwheel, which powered a saw for him. Now, in an effort to make enough money to support his his growing family and pay the taxes on his homestead land, which, in spite of all efforts, wouldn't grow more than barely enough for his team of horses, a small flock of chickens, a garden and a cow, Ellinwood went to Noxon Saturday to take charge of the Munson garage, having bought a half-interest in it from Charlie. His family remained on their ranch for a time.4.

 Jim Finnigan, handy with most things mechanical or constructive, had married pretty Lottie, and was more interested in getting going on creating his own homestead than mechanicing other guys autos. Munson missed his help but Jim soon moved his little family to a homestead about 2 1/4 miles west of Noxon, anxious to settle in before their expected baby arrived.

Lottie had a thirteen-pound baby boy, born December 4th, at the home of Mrs. Anna Severson in Noxon. They named him Bill, after Jim's brother, the saloonkeeper. Loren "Lanky" Jamison and Alice Saint were also babies born in Noxon in 1919.

Even though the automobile was changing some things, living might be considered "the same" from homestead to homestead. Certainly some chores were the same no matter where you lived in the valley, but growing seasons, soils, and sunlight varied considerably. Growing seasons along the Clark's Fork valley was as much as three weeks longer than, for example, the Bull River valley, or up Elk Creek, Pilgrim Creek, and other areas of higher elevation in narrow valleys where the crowding mountains shut out the sun early in the afternoon.

On the Detwiller ranch, near River Echoes School, big gardens with carrots, potatoes, cabbage, corn, peas, beans, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, tomatoes and turnips were grown. But no rutabagas.

Cabbage kept through almost to spring in the well-ventilated root cellar. Big crocks of sauerkraut were also made, kids shredding the cabbage and parents salting it down.

Eggs were cured and stored in crocks using Waterglass. (Store-it-foods, .) They were ok for cooking, but didn't have a good flavor for eating.

At spring calving time, cows were milked on two teats, leaving the other two for the calves. Then they were turned out to forage on the mountainside, which was burned off of timber and had fair hay. The calves were kept at the ranch. Every evening the cows would return. But when weaning time came, the cows simply didn't come back so one of the chores was to go fetch the cows. Many times dark came on the kids before they returned with the straying cows but they were never frightened of walking then woods in the dark.

"We loved hay cutting time, stomping the hay in the hay wagon and the haymow," Ruth Dettwiler said. "At noon the kids had to ride the horses out to let them eat grass because hay was too precious and necessary for winter to be fed to the horses during the haying season."
There was no place in Noxon and the surrounding valleys for slackers and troublemakers. Bindle stiffs either worked or left. If they couldn't get along in the lumber industry it was unlikely they would make good ranch hands. Most of the ranches of the area were small one family affairs that seldom hired help. A man walking through during haying season might get meals and a spot for his bedroll in the barn in exchange for pitching hay. But that was all he could expect.

Charles Thomson with his gun, and his sister Ruth, with their horse and dog. Courtesty Hazel and Howard Ellinwood collection.
Wild hay grew on the Bull River meadows very abundantly in 1919. From July to September men hitched their teams to mowers about ten o'clock, when the sun had burned off the night dew into early morning mists that floated up the mountainside. By noon the cast iron mower seats were were eagerly exchanged for a seat at the kitchen table where a hot meal was washed down by cups of strong coffee. Turning and windrowing of the morning's cut of hay didn't take place until it had dried sufficiently. Usually the next day.

Afternoons were spent forking the windrows of hay cut two days earlier into a hay wagon, hauling it to the barn, hooking up the hay slings that lifted it into the barn and pitch forking it out to the corners inside.

By September the best prices for hay in the northwest were $25 a ton for number one alfalfa and $34.50 a ton for timothy hay delivered from Yakima, Washington. The wild hay from Bull River could not compete either in price or quality. Still, the mercantile stores would take a little of it in exchange for credit from the few homesteaders who had any to spare, and then sold it at a higher price.

Mechanizing labor and easier handling of the product prompted Mr. La Faun of Sand Point to bring in a new baler to bale his hay. LaFaun had moved from his homestead in Bull River country to Sandpont, Idaho, working out to pay taxes and try to keep the property. More and more homesteaders were taking the same action. Working out to keep the land they'd cleared with sweat and ingenuity, plowed their energies and dreams into and now were facing losing to overdue taxes.

Mr. And Mrs. Doyle sold their ranch on Bull River to Mr. Toothacre. "Mr. (Doc) Toothacre is also thinking of buying the Baker ranch." Toothacre drives a Mitchell car. He imported a carload of horses from Eastern Montana shortly bringing his cash and his dreams to the valley. (Mr. And Mrs. George Baker moved to the Voorhis ranch in January.)5.

By mid-1919 cars were competing with horses in more ways than one. Marion Larson pitted his horse against a car in a race at Noxon that promoted laughs and betting. The twenty-two Chinese men, some of whom lived in boxcars on the siding, some in shanties below the tracks and even "Sandy Charlie", a chinaman who had his bunk in a tunnel-like home dug into the banks of the river, cheered as excitedly as the rest.6.

The automobile might be fine for fun, but when serious work needed to be done, horses were still the preferred mode of transportation. Jim Bauer, Harry Wilson and Dan DeLong took a team and wagon up Bull River looking for hay, which was scarce around Noxon.

The governor urged volunteer labor efforts to improve traveling conditions by declaring a Good Roads Day in June 1919. "Get your shovel and donate a day to have better highways." Homesteaders gathered together, men wielding shovels while the women favored them with potluck at days end.7.

County roadwork stopped again the last week of July because it was harvest time. But B. B. Bunn found the river too high for loads to be ferried across so he could only spend his time getting ready to move his sawmill from Pilgrim Creek to Clarks Fork, Idaho. Automobiles needed better roads than did horses or wagons. And county commissioners were as enamored with the possibilities of automotive uses as anyone. Gradually they began replacing horse drawn road equipment with the mechanized machines. About two years after the first autos showed up, they began 'conomizing'. On September 18, 1919 the weekly newspaper reported,
"Two county owned tractors are to make road work more efficient during this time of economizing. J. J. Berray, Bull Road Supervisor and Jos. Bauer, Noxon District Supervisor, were directed by the county commissioners to do only repairs and maintenance work." No new construction was authorized.8.
Earl Lockman contracted to take out cedar on the East Fork of Bull River. Swan Swanson still had his crew sending hundreds of cedar posts down the same canyon every day. Although teams of horses still skidded loads of posts to decks along the Bull River road, now the posts were being trucked down the road to Noxon instead of floated down the river.
Ruth Thomson, Mrs. Lockman and Mary Watson, circa 1923 at
the Lockman homestead in Bull River. Courtesy Hazel and
Howard Ellinwood collection.

King Bros., cattle buyers from Spokane, drove up the dusty Bull River road trying to buy cattle from the ranchers; Mr. Swanson of Whitepine also made the trip through autumn's exhibition of brilliant reds, golds and browns up to his camp on the East Fork of Bull River in October, as did Marion Larson when he delivered provisions to Swanson's camp.

Mr. Horn was one of the last outsiders to drive up the valley before winter made the road impassible to automobiles. He was trying to buy logs for the Dover Lumber Company near Sandpoint, Idaho.9.

By the time fall rains and muddy roads gave way to winter snow, all automobiles were up on blocks, totally unable to get around. Horses and sleighs were still the dependable mode of transportation. When Mrs. Joseph W. Hammons, age 38, died at her home at Noxon on September 20, most mourners at her funeral came by horse and buggy, and it was a horse drawn hearse which bore her casket to the cemetery. She was born June 6, 1881, in Butler County, Kansas.10.

In January, Bessie, Alice and Kenneth left to make their home at Aberdeen, Washington and as winter weather chilled the mountains, wood was selling for $6 a cord for dry four-foot cordwood. Helena advertised for a rush order of twenty-five carloads; tuberculosis was being fought with a Christmas Seal campaign; the stock market shuddered through unstable conditions. Slumps followed small crashes of 5-25 percent declines. Few people worried about it at Noxon. None of them had spare money to invest anyway.

The winter of 1919 produced record cold, freezing even the swift water near the town of Cabinet. Young men and women took shovels and skates and enjoyed the very special treat. While the river was frozen over, one day little Tom Duffy walked across the river to Heron on the ice. Emil Dettwiler had gone to the river that day to salvage boards from a ferry that had smashed to pieces upstream, the debris floating to shore near the trail to the river which Tom had taken.

When Tom attempted to return, the ice broke out from under his feet, dropping him into the freezing waters of the Clark's Fork River. Emil quickly shoved one of the salvaged ferry boards across the ice to the child and rescued him. The only damage suffered was when his clothes froze stiff before they could make the half mile to the house.11.

Homesteaders worried, to be sure, as they tramped through the snowy twilight to barns, lighted lantern in one hand, milk pail in the other. But they always had the comforting feeling of a community made up mostly of relatives and friends; of living among people who could be counted on if help were needed. And in the barn, a favorite horse waited to muzzle oats from your hand. Only on a few ranches, cars huddled under mounds of snow, waiting to wheeze, cough, and backfire before sputtering to life - come springtime.

  1. Carmen Moore, tape-recorded oral history January 1988.
  2. Don Maynard, tape-recorded oral history February 1973.
  3. Sanders County Independent Ledger, July 17, 1919.
  4. Sanders County Independent Ledger, Sept. 18, 1919.
  5. Sanders County Independent Ledger, Oct. 2, 1919.
  6. Clifford R. Weare, tape-recorded oral history July 13, 1975.
  7. Sanders County Independent Ledger, July 17, 1919.
  8. Sanders County Independent Ledger, Sept. 18, 1919.
  9. Sanders County Independent Ledger, Nov. 6, 1919.
  10. Sanders County Independent Ledger, Sept. 25, 1919.
  11. Ruth Dettwiler McQuaide, oral history, April 19, 1988.

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