An Interview with B.M ("Duce ") and Helen Brooks
By Sharon Barthmaier
The Brooks grew up, married, raised their daughter Nancy "Scholze, " and lived on Skyline Boulevard until recently. The following two articles are a compilation of historical local stories told by the Brooks to Sharon. We thank Duce and Helen Brooks for sharing their stories and providing our community with a sense of local history.
Dances in the 30's and 40's
"Dancing at the Sauvie Island School" was a highlight of the social life in the 30's and 40's as people couldn't afford to go into town. Duce and Helen Brooks remember that it was a dollar for supper, coffee and cake AND music until I a.m. If the band was good and the night still ripe with possibilities, a collection would be taken up to help continue the music for an hour or two longer. The only problem with this arrangement was that the ferry from Holbrook (the former town on the river at the base of present-day Cornelius Pass Road) made its last run at 2 a.m.! Honking horns and blinking lights usually did not persuade the "ferry master" to deviate from his appointed schedule .
Many a young person spent the night sleeping in a car or in the bushes, according to Duce, awaiting the return of the 6 a.m. ferry. (I wonder if their parents believed that story!?) Helvetia ' also had its local dances. While Sauvie Island's was Italian music, Helvetia, naturally, had Swiss music which included the waltz. Helen says that bands could be local groups or from the big city of Portland. Occasionally groups would come from Switzerland staying two or three months in the area.
The dances were popular with young and old. The young ones would skate on the floor between dances, unless grabbed by Ma Radke who would try to teach them to dance . This was the way many a Skyline youth learned his first dance steps. Duce says there was a shortage of women on the hill, so when a man asked for a dance he had to wait three to five dances later to have his turn. To wile away the extra time between dances, the young men had their bottles of booze in the car or hidden behind a bush. "Good Schnapps!" and "Boy, that's good!" were the whispered compliments remembered by Duce. The Brooks recalled that liquor could be made from anything that was grown locally: apples, pears, prunes or grapes . The Skyline Barn Dances on Skyline Boulevard came a bit later and were usually western music.
Brooks Road, Brooks Hill Church and Skyline School ...of what do these local names remind you? Perhaps Duce Brooks and his delicious corn. Remember picking your twelve ears of corn and leaving the dollar in the bucket by the door? As all things must change, the corn is a memory, and Duce and Helen Brooks have moved into Hillsboro. But Duce and his memories of Skyline in the old days remain to be shared.
Duce's great-grandfather homesteaded this area on 640 acres in the mid- 1800's as did his great uncle who lived across the street. The Brook's homestead ran approximately from Cornelius Pass Road, along Skyline Boulevard, to as far as Quarry Road and then north over the hill. His great uncle's property was the mirror image. When Duce was growing up in the 1920's and 1930's, the family was self-sufficient; growing almost everything they needed, buying only flour and sugar. He remembers hitching up the team with his father and driving once a year into Portland to pay taxes. This was indeed a special outing, culminating in dinner on Third Street at the Golden Pheasant, a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. In those days Chinatown was primarily underground, presumably to shield from public scrutiny the gambling and bootlegging that was prevalent at the time.
Duce remembers sitting on the porch with his father, looking down into the valley, knowing who lived in each of the lighted houses. This was also the time when everyone up here was related to one another. There are some claims that at one point everyone in the school was family!
Helen (Freitag) Brooks also grew up in this area. Helen was from the Swiss and German community in Helvetia, although she eventually moved to Linnton and went to Linnton Elementary School. Being of Swiss heritage, when she and Duce married in 1942, it was generally expected that the coup le would have a herd of cows. However, as it turned out, Duce had to teach his wife how to milk a cow. They actually had only one cow for their personal family needs. Helen was not the anticipated milkmaid. She hated milking the cow and her efforts were mostly appreciated by the cats who dutifully gathered during her reluctant endeavors.
Duce and Helen were married in the Brooks Hill Church November 1942. At this time music was not allowed in the church. In order for Helen to have her friends sing at her wedding, she says the group had to stand outside in the vestibule to add their voices to the ceremony.
Duce's Uncle Joe Brooks, who married Emma Krueger, was the local postman who delivered over a 100 mile route on Sauvie Island, in Linnton and from Skyline to the Washington County line. The wear and tear on the "old Ford" necessitated a new car each year. Those were the days that if someone had a prolonged illness or emergency, they would leave money in their mailbox along with a grocery list asking Joe to pick up things for them in Portland. (And now we can't even leave our mail for the postman in our mailboxes.)
Ever wonder where the trees that originally covered Skyline hills went? The answer is to one of the seven sawmills in Linnton. Before the advent of logging trucks, the trees were felled, then sent on a flume from the ridge along the route of Cornelius Pass and then OVER Highway 30 to the river. The channel was clogged with log booms which necessitated caution for the ferries navigating from Holbrook to Sauvie Island and from Linnton to St. Johns. At this time Linnton was a thriving, bustling town of seven sawmills, a log flume, several banks, three to four grocery stores, its own trans it company (the transportation one used to get into Portland), and its own mayor!
Duce and Helen say the snows were much heavier then than they are now. Duce remembers his father, Mallory, making a wooden A-frame that he attached to his team and then ran up and down Skyline, clearing the road of the accumulating snowfall. During winter they would hitch up the horses, taking the sleigh down to Linnton. In later years, Helen recalled their daughter Schatze (Nancy) falling into a snow bank just as the snow plough was clearing the road. If it hadn't been for Jack Glazier, whose wife was the school teacher, seeing her fall and rescuing her, she could have been buried in a mound of snow.