Sunday, April 22, 2018


"Correct measurements are absolutely necessary to insure the best results. Good judgment, with experience, has taught some to measure by sight; but the majority need definite guides." Fannie Farmer
When Hero and I first married, I joined a cookbook-of-the-month club and bought a paperback copy of FANNIE FARMER'S COOKBOOK. I had no idea at the time that she had died decades before. I used many of her recipes. Now I realize how famous she was and continues to be. Although she isn't strictly "west of the Mississippi", certainly her influence helped cooks nationwide.
Fannie Merritt Farmer was born on 23 March 1857 in Boston, Massachusetts, to Mary Watson Merritt and John Franklin Farmer, an editor and printer. Although she was the oldest of four daughters born in a family that highly valued education and expected young Fannie to go to college, she suffered a paralytic stroke at the age of 16 while attending high school. Fannie could not continue her formal academic education. For several years, she was unable to walk and remained in her parents' care at home. During this time, Farmer took up cooking, eventually turning her mother's home into a boarding house that developed a reputation for the quality of the meals it served.

Fannie Farmer circa time she entered cooking school
Eventually she was able to walk again though she still had a limp she never lost. She decided to enroll in the Boston Cooking School at the age of thirty upon recommendation of a friend. Farmer trained at the school until 1889 during the height of the domestic science movement. She learned what were then considered the most critical elements of the science, including nutrition and diet for the well, convalescent cookery, techniques of cleaning and sanitation, chemical analysis of food, techniques of cooking and baking, and household management. 

Cooking School

Farmer was considered one of the school's top students. Two years after she graduated, she was kept on as assistant to the director. In 1891, she took the position of school principal.

In 1896, Fannie approached the publisher Little, Brown & Company with her book, THE BOSTON COOKING-SCHOOL COOKBOOK. They didn’t think it would do very well, so they only agreed to print a limited run of 3,000 books if Fannie would cover the costs. The book was an immediate success, becoming a best-seller across the United States and selling over four million copies during Fannie’s lifetime. Quite an accomplishment for what started as little more than a vanity press publication.

Farmer provided scientific explanations of the chemical processes that occur in food during cooking, and also helped to standardize the system of measurements used in cooking in the United States. Her cookbook introduced the concept of using standardized measuring spoons and cups, as well as level measurement. Before the COOKBOOK’S publication, other American recipes frequently called for amounts such as "a piece of butter the size of an egg" or "a teacup of milk." Hmm, sounds like my grandmother and mother's directions: "season until it tastes right", "stir until it looks right", "cook until done". Farmer's systematic discussion of measurement led to her being named "the mother of level measurements."  

THE BOSTON COOKING-SCHOOL COOKBOOK was a follow-up to an earlier version called MRS. LINCOLN’S BOSTON COOK BOOK by Mary J. Lincoln in 1884. Under Farmer's direction the book eventually contained 1,850 recipes, from simple to elaborate. Farmer also included essays on housekeeping, cleaning, canning and drying fruits and vegetables, and nutritional information. The book was so popular in America, so thorough, and so comprehensive that cooks would refer to later editions simply as the FANNIE FARMER COOKBOOK, and a revised version is still available in print over a hundred years later.
Fannie Farmer with proper
measuring cup
Fannie continued as principal for 11 years at The Boston Cooking School before she left to found her own school, called Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery also in Boston. In addition to teaching, she traveled across the United States giving lectures. She suffered several more strokes and during the last seven years of her life had to speak from a wheelchair.
She began to focus on convalescent diet and nutrition, and was even invited to teach the subject to doctors and nurses at Harvard Medical School. Fannie’s approach to convalescent cooking was innovative in its empathy and compassion. Farmer understood the value of appearance, taste, and presentation of sickroom food to ill and wasted people with poor appetites. She ranked these qualities over cost and nutritional value in importance. 
In 1904, she wrote a book called FOOD AND COOKERY FOR THE SICK AND CONVALESCENT. She felt so strongly about the significance of proper food for the sick that she believed she would be remembered chiefly by her work in that field, as opposed to her work in household and fancy cookery.

Despite her immobility, Farmer continued to lecture, write, and invent recipes. The Boston Evening Transcript published her lectures, which were picked up by newspapers nationwide. She gave her last lecture only ten days before her death. Fannie Farmer died in 1915, aged 57, and was interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The school she founded, Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery, stayed open until 1944. To many chefs and home cooks in America, her name remains synonymous with precision, organization, and good food.

Caroline Clemmons writes western historical and contemporary romances. Her latest is a western time travel set in Texas. The first two are TEXAS LIGHTNING and TEXAS RAINBOW. On May 25, book three will be released, TEXAS STORM.  Purchase link for TEXAS LIGHTNING is and for TEXAS RAINBOW is (hint, hint!) 

Follow her on Amazon here. Follow her on BookBub here. Subscribe to her newsletter here for updates on releases, contests, and giveaways.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Grand Island, Nebraska

When plotting my first book, Darlin' Irish, I planned for my characters to meet at the Union Pacific Railroad Station in Omaha, Nebraska, and travel west on the U.P. I wanted them to stop somewhere along the route and spend several days there, giving romance a chance to bloom. Having the hero get wounded protecting the heroine provided a reason for their stopover, but where to stage the incident?

After hunting up a train schedule from the period, 1872, I chose Grand Island, Nebraska, as the setting. The town was a dinner stop, allowing passengers about 30 minutes to purchase and wolf down a rushed meal in the nearby eating house. It was also located far enough along the route to make it dark out when my characters arrived, uh-hum, after a conveniently staged delay back in Omaha.

While preparing to write the section about Jessie and David's stay in Grand Island, I researched the town's history. My favorite source was and is a book titled The Town Builders by Robert N. Manley. I ordered it from the Sturh Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, located in Grand Island.

In 1857, 35 German settlers traveled into central Nebraska from Iowa. They settled on an island called La Grande Isle, meaning large or great island - likely named by French traders. It lay between the Platte River and a narrow channel that branched off the main river. They arrived there on July 4 and by September had built log houses out native ash, elm and cottonwood timber. Over the next nine years, the settlers faced hardships including blizzards, conflicts with Native Americans, and among the Germans themselves, some of whom scattered, staking squatters' claims in the Platte River valley .

During this period, advocates for a transcontinental railroad agreed that the most practical route should follow that same valley, the path so many covered wagons had rolled along. There would also need to be feeder lines connecting major cities to the main trunk line, and it was thought a good place for these lines to meet the U.P. would be in central Nebraska, where Grand Island lay.
Grand Island, 1867; wikipedia public domain

Eventually, Union Pacific surveyors laid out a town called Grand Island Station slightly inland from the island. Many settlers on Grand Island moved to the new town site. In 1868 the railroad arrived, bringing more business and settlers. By 1870, 1,057 people lived in the "new" town and in 1872 Grand Island was incorporated.

Grand Island never became quite the railroad hub envisioned by some or the nation's capital as other starry-eyed dreamers predicted. However, it did serve as an important stopping point for weary, hungry U.P. passengers, a fact I took advantage of in Darlin' Irish.


A sickle moon hung low in the blue-purple sky over Grand Island, Nebraska, as Jessie ambled along the tracks. This was their first meal stop, and they were late due to the delay back in Omaha. Soon it would be pitch dark. And thank goodness for that! With the onset of evening, the heat had finally begun to let up.
The aroma of fried meat carried on the ever-present wind, coming from the nearby eating house, which was crammed to overflowing with ravenous passengers. They only had thirty minutes to wolf down their supper. It must be a regular bedlam in there.
She and Tye had already eaten from their store of food, as had others with little funds to spare. Her brother now stood near their coach, deep in conversation with the two would-be miners she had overheard earlier. Tired of listening to talk of silver mining, Jessie had slipped away, needing a few minutes alone, especially after enduring David Taylor’s company.
Aye, and after he’d finally returned to his coach, she’d had to put up with Tye’s maddening prattle. He had teased her, accusing her of being “taken with” the insolent captain and laughing at her adamant denial. Worse still, he’d asked if David Taylor might be the man she searched for, the man in her fateful vision. Naturally she had scoffed at the idea.
“Impossible!” she muttered, swatting a windblown curl out of her eye as her thoughts circled around the captain. She kept seeing that look of pity he’d given her. It still raised her hackles, but it also made her wonder. Might that spark of humanity mean he hid a softer heart beneath his steely exterior? She had told herself over and over again that he couldn’t be the gentle hero from her dreams. Was she wrong? . . 

Caught up in her thoughts, Jessie was nearing the caboose when she suddenly became aware of footsteps behind her. Turning, she saw a large male form approaching her. “Tye, is that you?” she called, unable to make out more than the man’s silhouette in the deepening gloom.
When he gave no answer, her skin prickled with fear and her heart began to race. She spun around and attempted to flee, but she’d taken barely two steps when a rough hand clamped over her mouth, smothering her terrified cry. She was hauled against a foul-smelling, buckskin-clad body.
            “Surprise, sweetheart,” her captor rasped. “You lookin’ to meet that uppity bluecoat back here? Seems like he ain’t comin’. But Wolf’s here, and we’re gonna have us some fun, girlie.”
            Oh God! Not Gerard! Flooded with fear, Jessie kicked and twisted and attempted to bite his filthy hand, but he merely laughed as he dragged her around the caboose. Her puny strength was no match for him. She couldn’t even reach up to claw his face with his arm fastened around her like a vice, pinning her own arms to her sides.
Help me, someone! she screamed silently.
*  * *
            As he left the eating house David heard Tye Devlin shout his sister’s name. Jessie did not reply. Standing by the train, the Irishman peered back and forth in the growing darkness.
            “What’s wrong?” David asked, striding up to him.
            Devlin pivoted, his face grim. “I can’t find Jessie. She was here a few minutes ago. Then she was gone. I was talking to two other gents and I didn’t see her leave.”
            David clasped his shoulder. “Take it easy. Did you check your coach?”
            “Aye, but she’s not there. And I’ve a terrible feeling she’s in trouble. I know she is!” Devlin glanced wildly toward the tender, where coal was still being loaded. “I was about to look up front. Will ye check the back end?”
            “Be glad to.”
            With a quick nod, Devlin trotted off toward the engine, while David headed in the opposite direction, hoping the Irishman’s bad feeling was wrong.
“Miss Devlin,” he called, but got no response. Didn’t the little greenhorn even have sense enough not to wander off by herself in the dark? And she thought she could take care of herself. “Fool girl!”
Damn, what if Gerard and his pals had gotten hold of her? At the thought, he broke into a run.
            “Jessie!” he shouted. Still no reply.
Then a woman screamed. The sound was cut off, but it clearly came from the other side of the train. Cursing, he drew his gun and vaulted over the coupling between the last two cars.
            “Bitch! Quit your bitin’!” a familiar ugly voice snarled, followed by the crack of a slap and a pained cry.
            “Gerard, you bastard! Leave her alone!” Seeing the struggling figures in the deep shadows by the caboose, David charged forward.
            The buffalo skinner roared a curse and shoved Jessie aside. She cried out as Gerard rushed at David. Recalling the man’s knife, David raised his gun but hesitated to fire, fearing he might hit the girl in the dark. His hesitation cost him. Spotting the glint of moonlight on metal, he started to twist aside, but Gerard’s blade caught him in the chest and slashed upward across his right shoulder.
The impact sent his gun flying, and he cried out as pain lanced through him. Instinctively, he knocked Gerard off balance and spun away. Sucking air between his teeth, he clutched his shoulder, feeling blood ooze between his fingers. Gerard regained his footing, growled, and rushed at him again. David dodged aside, forcing himself to ignore the pain.
“Want the next one in your belly, blue-leg?” the buffalo skinner taunted, circling him. “Or should I mark up your pretty-boy mug first? Think that little Mick would take to yuh with a few scars?”
“You won’t get away with this,” David ground out.
“Hell, I’ll be long gone on this here train before they find yuh. Or the girl.” Gerard gave a guttural laugh. “I watched yuh jawin’ with her and that buck she’s with. When I seen her sneak off from him, I hoped you’d come after her so’s I could even the score. Only I figured on havin’ a might more time with her first.”
David wanted to throttle him. “You need muzzling, cabrĂ³n, and that’s what I aim to do.”
            “Why, you meddlin’ yahoo! Think you’re gonna wup me, do yuh?” Gerard lunged, knife slashing wildly.
Evading him, David grabbed the man’s knife arm and tried to wrench the blade from his grasp. He failed but hung on tight.
“You’re a dead man,” the buffalo skinner growled, hammering at him with his other fist.
David attempted to block the blows, but the pain was almost more than he could stand, and he was losing blood. He could smell it mingled with Gerard’s rank odor, and he was beginning to feel cold, not a good sign.
            Stumbling, the buffalo skinner fell, and David went down with him. He gasped in agony when they hit the ground but maintained his death grip on the other man’s knife arm. They rolled in the dust, ending up with Gerard on top, straddling him.
            “I’m gonna gut you like a downed buffalo, bluebelly,” he threatened, attempting to drive his blade into David’s throat. “Then I’ll have me some fun with your little friend.”
“Like hell!” David snarled. With a cry of pure rage, he heaved the heavier man upward enough so that he could jam his knee into the bastard’s groin.
Gerard shrieked and slumped forward. Gagging, he attempted to clutch himself. Still, he hung onto the knife, forcing it lower with his weight. Staving off pain and weakness, David tightened his grip on Gerard’s forearm and grabbed his wrist. He gave a swift, sharp twist and heard bones snap.
The buffalo skinner let out a bloodcurdling howl and dropped the knife. David shoved him away. Landing on his backside, Gerard cradled his broken arm and rocked back and forth, keening shrilly.
            Slowly, David levered onto his knees. His breath came in labored gulps, and he swayed precariously. Marshalling the last of his strength, he delivered a roundhouse left to Gerard’s jaw that silenced him abruptly. He toppled backward onto the hard earth and lay there like a felled log.
            David slumped over. Gotta tie the bastard up, he told himself, but he was used up. Dizzy and hurting all over, he collapsed near his unconscious enemy.
            Huddled against the caboose, Jessie could barely make out the two men lying still and silent on the ground. Quaking from head to foot, she gathered her courage and forced herself to move. She had to find out if David was alive.
            Dreading the worst as she approached him, she dropped to her knees and hesitantly reached out to touch him. When she felt his chest move under her hand, she released a cry of gladness. His face was a pale blur, but she thought she saw his eyes open.
            “Thank heaven!” she said in a reedy voice. “I feared ye were . . . .” She broke off, unable to say the word.
“Not yet,” he muttered weakly. “He knifed me. Have to stop . . . the bleeding.” He fumbled with a button on his coat.
“Let me,” Jessie said, finding his hand and gently pushing it aside. Her own hands trembled as she worked open his heavy jacket. She longed to weep, but that would do him no good.
“Help!” she cried as loud as she could, praying someone would hear. Why hadn’t she run for help before, instead of cowering like a terrified rabbit while David fought to protect her? And why had she stupidly put herself in danger in the first place? This was all her fault!
            “You shouldn’t have . . . left your brother,” David mumbled, echoing her guilty thoughts.
            She choked down a sob. “I know. I’m so sorry.”
            He grunted and lay silent while she unbuttoned his blood-soaked shirt. When she probed gingerly beneath it, he jerked and inhaled sharply. Jessie bit her lip, hating to cause him more pain, but she could barely see him in the dark, and she had to know the position of his wound.
“Oh God,” she whispered, finding a long, gaping furrow that ran from near his breastbone, diagonally across his right shoulder. With such a wound, how had he managed to best Gerard?
Hastily, she tore a strip of cloth from her petticoat, folded it into a pad, and pressed it over his wound. She tried to be gentle, but still he groaned. Touching his cheek, she found it cold and clammy, and she couldn’t contain a whimper of fear for him.
“Help! Please!” she cried again, still getting no response. What should she do? She had to keep pressure on the gaping wound, but she couldn’t just sit here while he slipped away.
Dear God, don’t let him die, she prayed.

Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and a pair of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, genealogy, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

Amazon Author Page: (universal link)
Newsletter:  Lyn’s Romance Gazette
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Long Journey In Death of Elmer McCurdy by Sarah J. McNeal

Elmer McCurdy

If ever a human being was born with bad luck it was Elmer McCurdy. I would start with the name, Elmer, but that was the least of his troubles. Elmer was born January 1, 1880 in Washington, Maine with ambiguous parentage and began his life surrounded by alcoholism, disease, untimely deaths, and tragedies.

It comes as no surprise that he struggled to support himself working odd jobs and was arrested at some point. He did make a move to better himself by joining the army when he was 27…and that is where he learned to blow up things with nitroglycerin and shoot machine guns. After he received an honorable discharge, his life took a disastrous turn.

Elmer decided to become a robber. He chose banks and trains as his targets, but his inept abilities using nitroglycerin led to some interesting results like blowing up the money and melting the coins into a solid heap. Even over a year of such mishaps, Elmer was not deterred from his desired profession.

In 1911, Elmer McCurdy heard about a train carrying $400,000. As was his usual luck, Elmer held up the wrong train and only got $46. A shootout ensued and Elmer McCurdy was found dead next to a bottle of whiskey with a gunshot wound to his chest. You would think this would be the end of his career, but fate was about to take Elmer on a very strange ride.

The mortician at the Johnson Funeral Home embalmed Elmer with arsenic, a method that would keep his body mummified. There he waited for someone to show up and claim his body so he could be buried…and most likely forgotten. But no one ever came. The mortician had gone to expense and trouble cleaning up the outlaw and dressing him properly to meet his maker and he wasn’t about to lose money after all that work. For a time the undertaker propped up McCurdy’s body with a sign that read, “The Bandit That Wouldn’t Give Up” and charged 5 cents for customers to see it. The nickels were placed in Elmer’s mouth until the undertaker removed them. I don’t even want to know how he did that.

Elmer McCurdy's Embalmed Body 

Word spread about the corpse of the robber on display until a couple of brothers who owned a carnival showed up pretending to be relatives, paid the undertaker, and took the body in 1916.

Elmer McCurdy’s corpse was put on display in the traveling carnival, The Great Patterson Carnival Show where lines of people paid to view and his sad and short career as a luckless robber was told over and over. He traveled with several side shows over the years with different titles and finally was shown at “The Museum of Crime” beside wax models of other criminals such as Bill Doolin.

In 1976, the company working for the TV show, “The Six Million Dollar Man” discovered the corpse at first thinking it was a prop, but then realized it was an actual corpse. The medical examiner was called and Elmer McCurdy’s mummified remains were examined and X-Rayed until he was finally identified as Elmer McCurdy. The story of McCurdy’s death and journey was featured in newspapers and TV and radio broadcasts across the country. Several funeral homes called the coroner’s office offering to bury Elmer for free, but the coroner waited to see if any living relative would claim Elmer McCurdy’s body, but no one ever did.

Finally, Fred Olds, who represented the Indian Territory Posse of Oklahoma Westerns, persuaded Dr. Thomas Noguchi, the Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner for the county of Los Angeles, to allow him to take custody of the body and bury it in Oklahoma.

On April 22, 1977, a funeral procession was conducted to transport Elmer McCurdy to the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma. 300 people attended the graveside service in which Elmer was buried beside the grave of Bill Doolin. In order to ensure Elmer McCurdy’s body would not be stolen, two feet of concrete was poured over the casket.

And so ends the short life and the long journey in death of the hapless robber, Elmer McCurdy. May he finally rest in peace.

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author who writes diverse stories filled with heart. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press and Sundown Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Singer Sewing Machines—The First Home Appliance

Consider the time consuming process of making garments for an entire family by hand, one stitch at a time. And most likely, that sewing took place in the evening when all the chores were done, supper dishes cleaned, and the children in bed. Sitting close to the fire, or possibly a coal oil lamp, she worked away, often into the wee hours. 

The first sewing machine was developed by Englishman Thomas Saint in 1791 to work on leather and canvas. It was never built. In 1830 a French Tailor, Barthlemy Thimonnier built a machine and had 80 in his factory where French military uniforms were made. Tailors afraid of losing their livelihood rioted and destroyed the factory.

These early machines used the chain stitch which were not very strong.

In 1833, Walter Hunt developed a lock stitch machine which used an eye-pointed needle, a shuttle, and stitched horizontally. The lock stitch was stronger than the chain stitch. There were problems with the feed. The machine had to be stopped and reset up. Hunt sold the machine without bothering to patent it. 

In 1842, John Greenough patented the first sewing machine in America.

Elias Howe patented his machine in 1845. His method was similar to Hunt's. He improved the needle and the material moved vertically. He traveled to England to promote interest in his machine and when he returned he found various people infringing on his patent. In 1854 he won the right to claim royalties from those using his patent ideas. The picture to the right is of Elias Howe's machine. Note the handle used to power the machine.

Isaac Singer, an engineer, thought the rotary sewing machine clumsy and designed the flying shuttle. The needle was mounted vertically and he added a presser foot, a fixed arm to hold the needle, and included a tensioning system. The machine combined elements of previous machines. He patented his machine in 1851. He was unable to patent the treadle as it had been used for some time.

Howe took Singer to court and won. Singer had to pay him a lump sum of $15.00 for each machine produced and Singer took out a license under Howe's patent and paid Howe $15.00 for each additional machine produced.
Before 1890, the idea of women having sewing machines to aid them with their work wasn't well accepted. The feeling was women weren't capable of operating machinery. They were too excitable and not considered to be bright enough.

When it was first suggested Singer design one, his comment was, "You want to do away with the only thing that keeps women quiet - their sewing!" But, ready to make money, he went ahead and designed one that had many features of machines today. The first treadle Singer machine was introduced in 1856. To aid in sales, he used women to demonstrate the machines.

Singer became partners with lawyer, Edward Clark, and thus began the first installment credit plan which made sewing machines available to more women, the ones who couldn't pay cash for them. The year was 1856. They cost $100.00 and for $5.00, a woman could take one home with her that day and start to use it. At that time that amount of money equaled to the price of a car today. Some families went together to buy a machine and shared it.

Women were at last able to make garments much faster than in the past. Ease in piecing quilt squares, mending, and other domestic sewing chores freed women up for other activities. Though men feared they'd spend their free time playing cards, gossiping, or gadding about town, most probably got a little more rest or took part in charitable activities.


Thanks for reading. For you ladies out there who sew, thank goodness for Singer and the other individuals who developed sewing machines. 


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Researching Oregon

 by Rain Trueax

Whether writing an historical, contemporary or paranormal novel, research will be involved. There are multiple ways to approach this. Whatever way, mining for information will be involved. Generally speaking, especially with historicals, the writer will learn a lot more than they can ever use. Such details set a scene because no romance is intended to be a history book-- even though historical nuggets are much appreciated by historical readers. The more an author knows, the more it can underlay the story without interfering. It deepens characters-- even minor ones.

My books, historical, contemporary or paranormals, have so far all been set in the American West, in places where I have either lived or spent a lot of time. A writer does not need to live somewhere to get information on what its like. Some very good books have been written purely on research. I find though for myself, having spent time there, I'll have small details, like what the air smells like, which add to my enjoyment in the writing and hopefully for the reader. 

An example of what I mean is my Oregon historicals. The fictional family's journey began along the Oregon Trail. As a native born Oregonian, who grew up in the Columbia River Gorge, I'd heard the stories all my life. Still, to write about it for a romance took a lot of research. The Oregon Trail is rich with journals from those who kept a record of their experiences. There are many history books and now with the internet, even more data can be acquired as to what it took to come to the West and what it might've cost the first families.

Since I live where some of the families had direct stories from their relatives, I had that for an additional resource. Although, I had first written the book when I was in my 20s, I kept rewriting it through my life as new things would come up, and I'd see further insights into my characters. 

One of the events I had described, I learned actually happened to the family who settled our farm in Oregon. I am glad I wrote it before I learned that, but learning it felt like an additional gift from the Muse. I was listening and on the right track.

To give the Trail more life, over the years, we had driven various sections. One such adventure, the Barlow Cutoff (at the time, a two rut, dirt, rock, and wagon road around Mt Hood) with an old station wagon, our baby and three-year old. Stopping to eat a picnic lunch along one of the rivers is the kind of experience you don't forget and again becomes research. Of course, there are museums in Oregon with details that further bring the pioneer's experiences more life. 

When the fictional family got to Oregon, I based the second romance in the Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon. The family next headed east for the two romances in the John Day country.

For me, the land is always an important character in my books. I want it to seem real to the point of feeling the storms, the sun, hearing the sounds, smelling the scents. Those details enrich my writing-- although I try not to let them overpower the stories.
 photo taken at Fort Dalles Museum

Eastern Oregon, where the next three novellas will be based (the first out hopefully this summer), is full of history, ghost towns, old forts, cemeteries, mines that sometimes are still active, small towns and the struggle some found to make a life in a rugged land. Some of the early pioneers built fortunes. Others found death or poverty. Researching its history can be difficult because so few people lived there. The maps are amazing with obvious guesswork long before satellites. Trying to find where a stage road traveled can lead to multiple maps and supposed paths. 

As a third generation Oregonian, I have lived most of my life west of the Cascade Mountains but vacationed extensively in the eastern part of the state. I also benefit from having a family history that involved Eastern Oregon. 

Grandfather's father immigrated from Scotland to Oregon where my grandfather was born. Unusual at it time, he and my great grandmother divorced. From what I know, she left and he remained in Baker City where he operated, but maybe didn't own, a tobacco and chocolate store. When he had a stroke, at only 45, my grandfather left his then Portland home to be with him. After a week, my grandmother, a fairly young bride at that time, followed. Their experience in Baker City colored their whole married life.

It was in 2007 that I had a desire to go to Baker City and find my great grandfather's tombstone. I felt he'd been estranged from everyone else, felt a little sad at that and wanted to pay my respects. With research, you can find such burial places with the internet. That was the same year that I also visited as many Oregon mining ghost towns as I could fit in. A bit later, I was contacted by someone whose family had known and liked my great grandfather, adding a few more details to the little I knew of him-- internet again. 

The next family stories involving Eastern Oregon began a few years after his father's death, when my grandparents took their three daughters to east. For his work, and her cooking for the big crews, they would get a cabin and the chance to own land in the Condon area. It was a hard scrabble time with the girls outsiders in a one room school, living in a cabin with a dirt floor and newspapers to line its walls. Still, the kids made the most of the experience, and I collected the stories.

Knowing the stories from a personal angle, whether its immigration, relationships lost, the kind of work that was available for ordinary folks, all finds its way into my books. Those little stories add enjoyment to writing, rather like taking a pan to a stream, shaking out the sand and ending up with a gold nugget. As an additional bonus, the details are those that no one else is likely to find-- at least in the same way.

Many people don't know much about Eastern Oregon's history, as it was sparsely settled and changed a lot. My experiences there have been enriched by camping as well as visiting ghost towns like Whitney, Shaniko, Bourne, Susanville, and many more. Those towns lived for a time. Some, like Whitney grew up providing a service-- it was a logging town, which had a peak of 150 residents and more or less died when the mill burned. Some of these old towns still have people living in the shacks-- and many were shacks even when the towns flourished. When there, you can feel the hopes and dreams, the disappointments, and sometimes the successes. Eastern Oregon is full of homes that were abandoned when bigger ranches took over smaller ones. Every one has a story, The ravens and magpies will try to tell you about them if you listen.

Surprisingly, some of the mining claims are not only active today but can be purchased-- sounds like a great idea for a contemporary sometime :).

Color photos all ours with black and white ones from my family albums.

I need to go back to the upper John Day for these next books, which will be set in the Blue Mountains and the 1880s. I will use everything I know from my own life in those books-- as I always do. Researching for any of my books involves family stories, travel, museums, books, and the internet. It's a writer's life, which I much enjoy, as it makes research necessary when it is also much fun to learn about others-- especially those who came before us.  

Amazon Links for Kindles and paperbacks:
Round the Bend
Where Dreams Go
Going Home
Love Waits  

Other Sale Sites:
Round the Bend
Where Dreams Go
Going Home
Love Waits

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Laundry in the 1800's by E. AYERS

As I face my own dreaded pile of laundry, knowing it will take up a good portion of my evening and probably part of the next day, I thought of a fun bit of trivia to share. Okay, anything is better than shifting those piles from floor to washer followed by moving to the dryer. Then as soon as the buzzer sounds we must run immediately to hang or fold everything, because we all know it will wrinkle in a matter of seconds or so it seems. We face that detested chore as a time crunch. But what did people do in the west, or in most of America, during 1800's?
Laundry doesn't seem to clean itself. The laundry fairies have refused to come to my house since the day I married, and that happened to all those gals back in the 1800's who left the comfort of the east and moved west. They had to do their own laundry. And one of the first things they learned to do was keep whatever they were wearing as dry as possible. So before they tackled the wet, messy job, they reached between their feet to the back hem of the skirt. Grabbing the hem, they pulled it forward and up where they tucked it into their waistband..Then they might put their smock over it.  That's not going to show in the advertisements because it wasn't very proper. and parts of their legs or ankles might show.

Since laundry swells daily, it needs equipment to keep it from becoming out of hand and multiplying too quickly. In the 1800's, that meant a laundry bat, a washboard, a tub, water, a fire to heat the water, and a bar of soap. Clothes were shaken to remove any dirt that might fall away from them and then they were dropped into the hot water and rubbed with a bar of soap before being rubbed on the washboard, maybe with more soap. If you were lucky you might have another tub to rinse them.
So what's the laundry bat used for and what is it? It's a stick that is flattened on one end - think of a very short oar. It was used for plunging the dirty laundry around in the very hot water and lifting the item out without burning your hands. Think about those sheets and other large items. It was also handy if the clothes were washed in the river or a pond. They could put those filthy pants on a stone and beat them clean with the bat.

You washed the least dirty items and unmentionables first in the tub. And those unmentionables were never hung in "public." Often they were placed on a rope that was hung in the house. And you hoped that hubby never saw them because a man, even a husband, should never see such things if you were lady. You washed the dirtiest last, otherwise you'd be depositing more dirt on the clothes then you were removing.

Monday became washday. It was a leftover tradition from Europe that went back to Roman days where often the women got together on Monday in the town square and at least tried to chat or have fun while doing this all-day chore. And of course, it was source of pride to have clean laundry, and enviable if yours was whitest.

Laundry soap became readily available in flakes around the time of the Civil War. It was just soap that was flaked from a large block of soap and packaged in boxes. But it was the names on the soap and the pretty pictures that captured the attention of women. Blocks of soap still remained very popular through the 1950's. Wouldn't it be nice to use soap with names like Sunlight? Having a catchy name on laundry detergent is still important today. And much like today, there were additives that could be placed either in the soap or the water such as starch or bluing. Permanent press had not yet been invented so they had to iron everything, and starch made everything look crispy and nice when it was ironed. Bluing made the whites look whiter. Although going back a few hundred years, they added a yellow color to the laundry soap to give things a creamy look. Apparently that was more in vogue than white.
Even in the 1970's, I can remember adding starch to the rinse water of my husband's shirts. Then instead of drying them, I would roll them up and place them in the bottom of the refrigerator to be ironed the next day. Ugh! What a chore.

Eventually women were lucky enough to get a new fangled tool called a wringer. Oh what a treat! Now they could feed that laundry though the wringer and get most of the soapy water out before going into the rinse water and then the wringer could be placed on that tub and it would wring the water out so that items could easily be hung. Of course, you didn't want your fingers caught in that wringer, also called a mangle! Fingers might get broken or horrendously squashed. You had to pay attention. Maybe that was easier to avoid when it was hand cranked, but technology wasn't too far behind.

Actual washing machines began to crop up in the later 1800's. But the earliest ones were hand cranked and were still in use through most of the 1900's anyplace where electricity didn't exist. But those city folks who had electricity could also use a home-style washing machine that ran on electricity - that I do remember. And I remember that the clothes had to be fed through the rollers. A grandmother had one. I was fascinated with it because what we had at home was a white metal box. And I remember my mom complaining when we were lacking electricity because snow had taken the lines down, and if she had kept her old washer, we could still wash clothes. That meant the chore would have fallen on my dad - I think I know why he got rid of it.