SUMMARY: The Caywoods were among the young adults who helped tame the desert in and around Casa Grande. In a series of three interviews over thirteen years, both of the Caywoods share their observations of a town and an economic period that are recalled with humor and compassion. Those interested in the agricultural lifestyle will learn a great deal from Tommy’s experiences before and after World War II. His wife and he describe the trials and tribulations they experienced starting with their early lives in the mid-1920s.
INTERVIEW NUMBER ONE
Date of Interview: January 24, 1992
Interviewer: Mary Melcher
Transcriber: Merrilyn S. Ridgeway
Begin Tape 1, Side A
Casa Grande in the 1920’s
Mary: I’m with Sammie Caywood, Casa Grande, AZ, January 24, 1992 and this is being taped as part of the Casa Grande Education Project. OK Sammie, could we start by having you tell me when you were born?
Sammie: I was born in Casa Grande on Center Street in 1926.
Mary: Good. You told me that your Dad was working for the railroad.
Sammie: Yes. He worked for Southern Pacific and they were on outfit cars on the railroad tracks before my older sister and brother started to school. Then, when they started to school and my parents were expecting another baby in 1922, they settled in Casa Grande because then my Dad could still work between Casa Grande and Gila Bend on the railroad. He was a pump man. < ;br /> Mary: So you were the third or fourth child?
Sammie: I was the fourth. I was the baby.
Mary: And they lived here beginning in what year?
Sammie: We think they came here either in the Fall of 1921 or in the Spring in 1922.
Mary: You told me a few stories about how they lived out on the railroad cars from time to time.
Sammie: Oh, yes. They’d station them way out on the desert. I don’t know why this was, but a lot of times they were stationed way out on the desert just in this one little car off on a siding. My older sister and brother were just little kids and they’d play along the railroad tracks. Mother would be all by herself. I guess my Dad would catch a train going through to take him to whatever job site he was going to. He was the equivalent of a plumber on the railroad.
Mary: She had to get water from a river or stream?
Sammie: No, evidently those outfit cars were a forerunner of the motor home. They had holding tanks for water. I don’t know as they had indoor plumbing but they must have had some sort of thing.
Mary: What do you remember about your early years in Casa Grande?
Sammie: It was really quite carefree. She was a nurse and she would go out on maternity cases with the doctor. She’d stay with people for maybe ten days. At that time she’d be the chief cook and bottle washer and baby sit the other kids that were there and everything. She’d be gone for ten days. I don’t think we had a telephone in those days so she couldn’t check up on us. But my oldest sister and brother, well, my oldest sister practically raised the rest of us.
My Dad was a plumber here in town. Most people couldn’t afford to have plumbing done and he didn’t get paid as frequently as he should have.
Mary: That was during the Depression?
Sammie: Yes. When I started remembering things it was probably about 1930 and on. Times were really hard.
Nursing and Dr. Lehmberg’s Hospital
Mary: Was your Mom an LPN?
Sammie: No, she wasn’t certified as such. She took her training at the Hotel Dieu in El Paso, Texas. She trained for two years, then married and joined my Dad on the railroad. When she came here she got a lot of hands-on experience rather than going to school and everything. She did just about everything with the doctors.
Mary: Did she ever deliver babies by herself?
Sammie: She tried not to but once in a while it did happen. She had the first hospital here. It was over across the street from the high school. There was a Dr. Gunckel here who delivered me and he had a couple of beds in his office on, probably, Third Street. That might have been considered the first hospital, I don’t know. Dr. Lehmberg’s hospital was considered the first hospital.
Mary: She worked there all the time?
Sammie: Yes. After she quit going out with the doctors, she worked with him up here across from the high school. She went to work over there and then she said she’d like to open it up as a hospital. Mother was a very independent person. She wanted to get it on her own so she thought she could go down and get a loan. As it turned out, she couldn’t get one without a co-signer. So Mrs. Lehmberg co-signed so Mother could get set up, add a couple of rooms, and go on from there.
Mary: Did it have a name?
Sammie: Just Dr. Lehmberg’s hospital or the Casa Grande hospital.
Mary: But, really, your mother was the one who set it up and she had to have a doctor with her.
Sammie: Yes, he had his doctor’s offices in there. That had been his offices. When she wanted to have a hospital, she added two large wards. Mother was very independent…very capable. She thought she could do everything by herself. But when Mrs. Lehmberg found out she was having problems, she offered to co-sign the loan because she knew that it would be a good risk for her and for the doctor.
Mary: Was your Dad able to co-sign it?
Sammie: No, my Dad was kind of not a dependable person. Like I say, when he was doing plumbing he didn’t really make much money at it. So we didn’t have a stable enough income. It wasn’t until Mother went to work for Dr. Lehmberg that it was steadier, but they didn’t pay much for nurses then.
Mary: But that was why she wanted to start the hospital…to have a stable line of work.
Sammie: Right. She had to go off and leave us and most of these families were pretty well to do farmers. They’d have gardens, some beef, something like that--a lot of food. She said she could hardly eat because she wasn’t sure we had enough to eat. She would worry so much about us. Dorothy, my sister, was able to care for us and my brother was older than she was.
I remember one year when it was really rainy and Eloy wasn’t much of a town at that time, mostly just bars. Just west of town was a big area where they’d all pitched tents—in fact, Eloy was called Tent City—and we had all that rain and the tents were standing in water and the little babies were so sick. Mother had opened the hospital by then. They didn’t have any money to take the babies to the doctor. They’d wait until the last possible minute and then it would be too late so, when they’d bring the babies in Mother would take them in and they wouldn’t live. It was too late. A lot of babies died that year.
Mary: In the ‘30s?
Sammie: I don’t remember exactly, but probably around ’34, ’35, or ’36.
Mary: So your Mother would take care of them even though she knew they wouldn’t be able to pay?
Sammie: Oh, yes, Mother would never turn a patient away. She did lose a lot of money, but, the ones that would irritate her the most were the women who were going to have a baby. You know, they knew for nine months they were going to have a baby and then wouldn’t have saved a dime for the delivery. But she wouldn’t turn them away.
Mary: Too bad there weren’t antibiotics then.
Sammie: Yes. They used to use antiphlygestine—there’s a tube out there in a case in the Museum. Its very obsolete. They used to smear that on a cloth, put it in the oven to get it warm and then put it on your chest to break up the congestion. Or they’d use mustard plasters. Or they would use onion plasters. Anything that anybody said to try, she tried. At one point, Dr. Lehmberg had just come to town and Mother decided to try him. So he came out to the house and checked me. He said “There’s just nothing more to be done for her. She just won’t be alive in the morning.” So Dr. Reddin, he was an old horse doctor here—so rough and gruff—she went down and cried and he came and put packs on my chest, stayed with me all night, and pulled me through. I must have been maybe four or five years old. I can remember him being there. It was so hot. They fixed up cough syrups. She would take onion and sprinkle sugar on it to draw out the juice. Then she’d give me the juice to swallow to ease my cough. She’d give me a half teaspoon of sugar and either turpentine or kerosene (just a couple of drops) for a cough. Every year we’d go through sulpher and molasses to purify your blood. Everybody did that. Bless her heart, between taking care of me and having to work to make a living, I’m sure it was very rough for her.
Mary: How long did she keep that hospital?
Sammie: I’m not certain. After the war broke out, she closed it—turned it over to somebody else for a while. My Dad got a job in Sacramento and my grandmother or grandfather needed some extra help. So she went out. Then she came back and she took it over again. I probably have my dates mixed up. Mother was always trying to find a place where I would stay well and, at one time, she sent me to Sacramento to stay with an aunt. She came out right before Christmas when I got sick and brought me back to Casa Grande. I just don’t remember exactly.
Mary: If she was the first person to run a hospital, we’d be interested in that.
Sammie: There were two other ladies who had hospitals here, but they came along later. Now Garnita (?) Peart worked at the hospital for a while, worked for Dr. Lemberg. It seems like she took the hospital over from Mother at one time. Then Nile? Niel? Robson had a hospital down on Florence Street and then, later one, she opened one over on Brown. Mother had the first.
Mary: And she made a living from it.
Sammie: Yes. It was a pretty good income.
Mary: Did she come home at night?
Sammie: Yes, she had three shifts and, as long as she had nurses to work the shifts she could work one and then come home. But she was on call all the time. It was as bad as being a doctor. We’d just sit down to have a meal and she’d get a call and she’d have to go and take care of something at the hospital.
Mary: By that time you had a phone?
Sammie: Oh, yes. We had a phone early because she WAS a nurse. As soon as the telephone came in here, we got one. But there were a lot of years when she was going out on these cases with doctors that we didn’t have a phone. Our first phone number was 128. It was that for quite a while.
Elementary Education in Casa Grande During the Depression
Mary: Did she continue school, too?
Sammie: No, she married early, got a really good husband and they are quite well to do now.
Mary: What do you remember about grade school?
Sammie: I went to Central School over here from first to fifth grade. Then I went over to the Junior High. All four of us started at Central School.
Mary: So you would have been going there about 1932?
Sammie: Probably, when I was six until about 1937, through five grades.
Mary: What do you remember about the teachers? Do you remember any one in particular?
Sammie: No, I was impressed by all of them. We were talking about Mrs. Albrecht and you were asking…
Mary: Yes, I interviewed her.
Sammie: Did you really? Isn’t she the neatest person? She was married and, at that time, they didn’t allow married teachers. But they did something to get her in there because her husband was so ill.
Mary: Yes, she said because he was so sick they allowed her to work. And then he died in the ‘40s, I guess. So she was your teacher?
Sammie: Yes, she was my first grade teacher. She was really a neat lady. She always said that I named her son when he was born, Richard, but my sister Elaine says she was the one. I don’t remember anything about it so I’m sure it must have been Elaine. I tease her, don’t give her any credit for it.
Mary: Do you remember what the classroom looked like?
Sammie: No, not really. It was just row after row of desks. They were open desks where you could put your books and things in. Later on in the grades we had the kind where the top lifted up. But they were on a wooden track and bolted down to that.
Mary: Did they have any of your work on the walls?
Sammie: They would put it up over the chalk board because the walls were lined with chalk boards. But I don’t remember how they did it. Seems like behind the teacher’s desk there might have been an area where they’d put it up. We always saluted the flag every morning.
Mary: Do you remember any maps?
Sammie: It seems like we did, seems like she’d bring one out every now and then. I don’t recall one being up all the time. Maybe it was used by the whole school.
Mary: And the school provided your books?
Sammie: Yes, up until high school, first through eighth.
Mary: Do you remember Mexican kids being in your classroom in first and second grades?
Sammie: No, we were all mixed. Of course, they didn’t allow little Black kids in there and the Indians, I don’t think so. There were Mexican, Chinese or White kids.
Mary: What kind of school supplies did you have?
Sammie: We had a pencil and we were really impressed when we had an ink pen with an ink well. You know, the pen was just a shaft and then the ink pen went into it. We got our books and all of our paper. The teacher would pass it around and, if we needed a second sheet, we’d have to go up and get it off her desk.
Mary: So they provided pens and pencils?
Sammie: Yes, that was about the third or fourth grade that we got the pen and inkwell.
Mary: Any special memories of those first years in school?
Sammie: Well, I can remember going out and playing on the school ground. They always had monkey bars and they had a big slide and swings. They had a school nurse. I don’t remember her name in the early grades but later on it was Mrs. Bendixon. One time I slid down the slide. It was real hot and, I don’t know why I didn’t think about it. Before I got half way down I wished I had because I got blisters on my legs. I didn’t tell a soul. I was too embarrassed to tell anybody. I didn’t think that slide would ever end.
Mary: Oh, no. Did you wear dresses to school?
Sammie: Yes. And long stockings in the wintertime. You weren’t allowed to wear short—they weren’t prevalent at that time anyway—or pants. You got to wear those at home and on the weekend.
Mary: And you’d change your clothes when you got home?
Sammie: Yes, most of the time. We were supposed to ALL the time. I don’t think clothes got washed as often as they do these days. You had to get out there and heat the water. Your washing machine was outside with a couple of tubs to rinse them in. And, besides, we didn’t have as many clothes then.
Mary: Did you learn to wash your own clothes?
Sammie: Not particularly. Mother did everything she could to earn a living and, before she opened the hospital, she would take in laundry. So she was usually the one to do it all. I watched a lot.
Mary: Do you remember what kind of shoes you wore?
Sammie: I’m sure they were lace up except for our dress shoes that had a buckle.
Mary: Like a lace up oxford. What did the teachers’ wear?
Sammie: They were dresses, not really long dresses but mid-calf.
Mary: How were kids disciplined when they were bad?
Sammie: They got spanked with a ruler or with a paddle if they were really bad. Now, when my older sister, Dorothy, was in school, they wouldn’t allow you to chew gum in school. Well, she did. She was chewing it and he had her go around and gather up the gum off the bottom of all the desks and chew that gum. When Mother found out about it she went down to the school and raised Cain, but it was too late then. I was too shy to get into trouble.
Mary: Did they put the kids in a corner and use the dunce cap?
Sammie: No dunce cap, but I think they sat in the corner sometimes. The punishment was usually a spanking. If the teacher didn’t give it, the principal did: most of the time that worked. Usually the kids didn’t misbehave for a while after that.
Mary: Did they spank them right in the room or take them out?
Sammie: I can remember Mr. McCuller telling the boys to grab their ankles when they were acting up. That was in about the eighth grade. He had a board right there and he’d give them a swat right there in the classroom. Most of the time spanking was done in the Principal’s office.
Mary: Did you walk to Central School?
Sammie: Yes. We lived over here about three or four blocks. We just came down Center Street and crossed the street at the school.
Mary: Did you walk with your older sister and brother?
Sammie: No, I had a friend. We walked to school together. I was several years behind my sister. Elaine was born in 1922 and I was born in 1926. I can’t remember them being at school. They were in a different part of the school. By the time I got into the bigger of the two buildings they were off. They probably didn’t have time for me. I was too young, just a tag along.
Mary: Were your classrooms crowded?
Sammie: Seemed like there were a lot of kids, but there were a lot of desks, too. Seems to be there were 25 or 30.
Mary: Did you ever have classes in an auditorium? I read somewhere that they had classes in the Presbyterian Church.
Sammie: I can’t remember that. We only had the one school. Later on they developed two classrooms per grade, but there was always just one fourth and fifth. Over at the Junior High they had sixth, seventh and eighth and I think they only had one classroom for each grade.
Mary: I know that there was growth, maybe after you were out of school, but they said they were always trying to find more rooms in the ‘40s. They had a hard time. Did you go to school almost every day?
Sammie: I was sick an awful lot. In the first grades I had pneumonia almost every year. After second grade, I was healthier. My sister Elaine had a perfect attendance record for seven or eight grades. They used to give a certificate for every year you weren’t absent or late.
Mary: And she had several certificates?
Sammie: I think she has seven or eight.
Segregation and Social Morés in the ‘30s and ‘40s
Mary: I think you told me you knew Mexican kids at school but you really didn’t play with them after school.
Sammie: No, we didn’t. We just weren’t allowed to associate with them too much, but we knew them in school. They lived on one side of town and we lived on the other. I really don’t think my parents would have permitted us to have close friendships around in the neighborhood.
Mary: If you had dated a Mexican-American, would you have been in big trouble?
Mary: Do you remember if movie theaters were segregated?
Sammie: I know the colored people had to sit upstairs in the balcony. As for as the Mexicans, they were mostly people who had lived here forever. They were just like the rest of us. They weren’t segregated. But the Blacks were.
Mary: Do you remember hearing talk about the school for Black kids?
Sammie: No, I don’t. I just remember the kids went to school in that schoolhouse that sat way in the back in the SW corner of the schoolyard. It was all fenced off. We were given orders not to go over there. We couldn’t even talk to the little kids.
Mary: Did they ever tell you why?
Sammie: It was just an accepted thing. Everybody just knew that you weren’t supposed to talk to Blacks.
Mary: Really a lot stricter than Mexicans?
Sammie: Oh, yes. Like I say, in this town the Mexicans were on the same par with all of us. They were store owners and such. We just weren’t allowed to date them. My sister had a friend, a lovely girl, but my father just had a fit when he heard she was associating with her. I don’t think Elaine had much to do with her after that, but they remained friends. She lived just a few blocks from us. A lot of things that happened that I feel badly about. They suffered so much.
Mary: Did you learn any Spanish as a child?
Sammie: No, I didn’t, and I should have.
Mary: Were there kids around you speaking it?
Sammie: Yes, we could have learned if we’d been allowed to associate with them. My Dad could speak a little bit of it. He was raised in El Paso, TX, and he picked up some of it, not a lot.
Mary: Do you recall migrant kids coming in and out of the classroom? Being there for certain periods and then gone?
Sammie: Yes. There was an awful lot of that. They followed the fields and, when it was cotton picking time here they would be here a week or two, then they’d be gone. They go on to Yuma, maybe to California to pick fruit and start the cycle all over again.
Mary: Do you remember if it had an affect on how anyone learned?
Sammie: I’m sure they had a terrible time learning because they weren’t in the classroom long enough to learn much. I don’t think it had an affect on the other kids. We’d just make room for these other kids and they’d try to catch as much as they could before they’d be gone again.
Mary: Seems like there were some mention in the teachers’ meeting minutes about bringing the cotton pickers’ kids into school in the second semester, in January.
Sammie: I know the kids worked a lot. They had to bring in money so they could eat. A lot of them were White kids. It was during the dust bowl years in Oklahoma. Those people came in through here and were stopped at the California border. I don’t think they were allowed to cross. They intended to go out to California and get rich but they weren’t allowed to cross.
Mary: Do you think the teacher was ever harder on one particular group in school than any other?
Sammie: I don’t think any of my teachers were. I didn’t recognize it if that was the case. It seemed like they were pretty fair to everybody. Every now and then we’d have some kids come in that had lice. Those kids sat in the back of the room and kept away from everyone else. I’m sure that was a humiliating experience for them. But I don’t think they were sent home. Maybe they were riding buses or something and there was no way to send them home. They may have been told not to come back until they were free of lice. Every now and then, though, we’d have somebody.
Mary: During recess, did boys play with girls?
Sammie: I don’t think so. I think boys had one part of the playground and the girls had the other. But we’d all play with the swings and things.
Mary: Did the boys play ball and marbles and stuff?
Sammie: We played jacks. The boys played marbles. They played baseball, too. None of the girls played baseball.
Mary: Do you remember whether there was a difference between what the boys studied and what the girls studied?
Sammie: I don’t think so. It was all just open classroom.
Values and Education
Mary: So when you were in sixth grade you went over the other school?
Sammie: Yes, for sixth, seventh and eighth.
Mary: And it was called...
Sammie: South School. That was a long way to go, too, from where we lived. I can’t remember but I think we carried sack lunches. If our bicycles didn’t have a flat tire, we’d ride.
Mary: And you’d cross the railroad tracks? Was there a railroad crossing there?
Sammie: Just the road across the railroad tracks. We’d just cross where it was handy, not necessarily at the street. We’d cross down by The Popular Store at Main and Florence Street. There was a water tank for the trains and we’d stop and watch them fill the trains with water for steam.
Mary: And you’d sometimes crawl beneath the trains?
Sammie: Oh, yes. If we were the least bit late for school, we’d rather take our chances crawling under the train than being late to school.
Mary: No body ever got hurt?
Sammie: No. I imagine that the officials were kind of watching and, if they thought we were in danger they’d report it to the school. I crawled under it a few times. If it was standing completely still, we’d crawl under it. If they were still filling it with water, you could be pretty safe. We didn’t want to be tardy. Our parents wouldn’t have approved of it. That was the main thing we were afraid of it.
Mary: Do you think kids were more afraid of authority figures then?
Sammie: Oh, I’m sure they were. They had a lot more respect for it anyway. You didn’t do like you do now. We had a little patch of grass out there in front of Central School and we didn’t dare walk on it. You stayed on the sidewalk right to the playground. It never did grow good, but it was poor ground, not the kids walking on it. We didn’t talk back or sass the teachers or anything. We did what we were told. I wish it was more like that now.
Mary: One of the values was to respect your elders.
Sammie: Absolutely. I was listening to my grandson the other day. His mother called to him from the other room. He sat there and said, “What?” I said “Travis, do you have any idea what would have happened to me if I had just sat there and said ‘What?’ to my mother if she called me?” “No,” he said. “We would have been spanked or punished.” It didn’t impress him.
Mary: What other values did they teach you? Punctuality?
Sammie: Yes. That was important. Respect for your teachers and anyone in authority including your parents. Our clothing was always to be clean and proper. They taught some type of hygiene, like washing our hands. We were supposed to brush our hair and our teeth.
Mary: Was education considered important by your parents?
Sammie: It was to a point. We were expected to bring home good grades. If we didn’t we were in trouble. I can remember my Dad trying to help me with homework and it didn’t work because he was too impatient with me. Our Mother was always too busy. I don’t think I got much help with homework. We had quite a bit of it, too.
Mary: Did they want you to finish high school?
Sammie: I don’t think that was too important to them. My brother did. As soon as he graduated from high school he was out. We didn’t have too happy a home life. Every one of the girls married early in order to get away from it.
Mary: Do you remember Junior High? How was it different from grade school? What were the teachers like?
Sammie: In the lower grades, up to the fifth grade, we stayed in the same classroom. We didn’t move from classroom to classroom. In Junior High we did. We went from one room to another for different subjects. It made it a lot nicer. It wasn’t so boring. In grade school, the teachers taught all the subjects. In Junior High we had teachers who taught math, English, history or whatever. It was much nicer to move around.
Mary: Did you have an eighth grade graduation ceremony?
Sammie: Yes. I don’t remember how many graduated from eighth grade, maybe twenty.
Mary: Was that a big deal, a proud moment?
Sammie: Yes. All the girls had to wear a certain type of dress. The boys all wore white pants and white shirts. It was a pretty nice affair. I might have a picture of it.
Mary: Do you have any other records from the school?
Sammie: I don’t think so. I think they might have gotten lost along with way.
Going to High School in the Early ‘40s
Mary: What do you remember about high school?
Sammie: It was pretty much the same. I went down to Tucson to the Immaculate Heart Academy for a while. I was miserable. Mother thought she was doing me a favor by sending me down there. Things had gotten so bad at home with my Dad and her working all the time, but I was so miserable that I got sick and she finally brought me home. I probably was there only two or three months when I got strep throat. I’d already been through rheumatic fever as a small child so she brought me home.
Mary: So you went to high school here?
Sammie: Yes. In fact, I was Freshman Queen that year. It was quite a thrill for me. I’d never been away from home before except when I went to California to be with relatives and to Big Spring, Texas, a couple of times. The doctors would say “If you can get her out of this climate, maybe just a change of climate would keep her from getting pneumonia.” But it never did. So, I wasn’t gone that long.
Mary: In high school, how long were you there?
Sammie: Just two. Then I married my husband before my junior year. My sister, who had moved to California, graduated from high school the same year her daughter did because she went back and got her GED. My other sister didn’t.
Mary: Did you work while you were in high school?
Sammie: Yes, I worked in Martin’s Drug Store. I worked behind the fountain as a soda jerk. Worked there quite a while, then moved over into the cosmetics department. I helped the druggist help in the back. Then I worked across the street as a bookkeeper for Eddie Mason in the old B & L Garage.
Mary: Had you taken a commercial course at the high school?
Sammie: No, I just worked in the stores. I worked for the Office of Price Administration during the war mostly filing.
Mary: Do you remember if they had training for girls in typing and bookkeeping at the high school?
Sammie: Oh, yes, and shorthand.
Mary: Did you take that?
Sammie: No, just typing and bookkeeping. I didn’t take shorthand.
Mary: And the boys had shop and…
Sammie: Shop and aeronautics and, well, girls could take aeronautics.
Mary: What was that?
Sammie: Airplanes, how to build them, how to fly. But, they didn’t have vocational classes like they do now. They just skimmed over it. You couldn’t do much with it. You had to go out and further yourself.
Mary: Did you think the teachers were good in high school?
Sammie: Yes. I always had good teachers. I always liked them. There was one in eighth grade that I was scared to death of. He was the one who used to tell the kids to grab their ankles if he was going to give them a spanking. He liked to embarrass you.
Mary: Did a lot of people not finish high school?
Sammie: A lot of them didn’t. I don’t think there was a good graduation rate. A lot of them stopped to work.
Mary: Were there boys going into the Army?
Sammie: Yes. In fact, a lot graduated early because they were going into the service.
Mary: Like at 17?
Sammie: Yes. I was surprised during this past war that there were as many people who were as patriotic as they were. At that time, the thing was to go out and win the war. They were going out to join the Army or whatever. Most of them either finished school or went into the Army. I know they used to go out to pick cotton because all the people who worked in the fields were gone. They took us out of school, put us in school buses and drove us out to work in the fields. They didn’t have to go but we got paid. Some of them that had experience could get pretty good money and we got the farmers’ cotton in.
Mary: So they couldn’t get any migrant labor either?
Sammie: Right. Evidently those that didn’t go into the service got jobs in the plants that had sprung up to make supplies for the services.
Mary: So the schools cooperated with the cotton farmers.
Sammie: Oh, yes. We didn’t need to be told that it was a patriotic duty. Everyone was so worried about the men who’d gone to war and about the war. Everyone did their part on the home front.
Mary: Did you have gloves?
Sammie: Oh, I don’t recall gloves. Those burrs were so rough on your hands. They actually bleed. I was talking to a lady that came in one day who used to pick cotton as a child to help her family make a living. She said she could pick up to a hundred pounds a day. That sounds like an awful lot. I suppose your hands get calloused and they don’t hurt so badly. She was particularly interested in Casa Grande, so I guess she picked around here. She was interested in anything related to cotton.
Mary: Any other ways that the war affected the school?
Sammie: No, I can’t think of anything. I know, as soon as they were old enough, the boys were gone. They went to war.
Mary: You were married in 1942?
Sammie: No, in 1943. I worked. He wasn’t stationed here. That was my first marriage. We weren’t married long. He was stationed out at Rivers Relocation Center. He was lonely and I wanted to get out of the house. It was a typical wartime marriage.
Mary: So you lived out there?
Sammie: Oh, no. They didn’t have any facilities out there for families of the guards, just the Japanese. When we married, he moved into town.
Mary: Were your friends getting married, too? Was it pretty common?
Sammie: Yes, it was pretty common.
Mary: Is that one of the main reasons girls quit school?
Sammie: Yes, during the war there were lots of marriages. In fact, in those days it was considered the natural thing for a young person to marry.
Mary: And you were working?
Sammie: Yes. I had a couple of jobs.
Mary: Any extracurricular activities when you were a high school student?
Sammie: Just high school dances and football games, things like that. We had pretty good football teams and everybody turned out for it.
Mary: Were there girls’ sports, too?
Sammie: No, not too much. I don’t think there were any girls’ teams except, maybe tennis or girls softball. Just football, and there was baseball in the Spring, I guess.
Mary: Any other memories about school?
Sammie: No. I can’t think of anything.
Mary: OK. Well, thank you, Sammie.
INTERVIEW NUMBER TWO
Date of Interview: July 21, 1993
Interviewer: Sally Zink
Transcriber: Merrilyn S. Ridgeway
Begin Tape 1, Side A
The Caywoods and the Storeys – 1930s
Interviewer: Will you please tell us a little background of when your family came to Casa Grande.
Sammie: Tommy’s mother came from Uvalle, Texas. She had been married and had met Louis Storey when she was just a little girl. They wrote back and forth while he was in the service in World War I. He was very interested in music as was she. She would send him sheet music. They drifted apart, though, and she married Tom Caywood but he never married. Things got rough in Texas, so Louis, his brother J.R. and his mother and dad moved to Casa Grande. They lived and farmed at Eleven Mile Corner.
One day, Mrs. Woods, Tommy’s grandmother, was at the store and she came across Mrs. Storey. They hadn’t known the other had moved here. They got to talking and Mrs. Woods shared that Tommy’s mother and dad were divorced and that her daughter and grandson were living in Globe. When next the two were visiting Mrs. Woods, Tommy’s mother and Louis Storey got reacquainted and they ended up being married. In 1937, Mrs. Caywood, then Mrs. Storey, and Tommy moved back to Casa Grande from Globe.
Interviewer: Why did your mother move to Globe?
Tommy: Well, my dad was a mechanic by trade. He worked repairing equipment while they were building Coolige Dam. My grandfather also lived there. He was a barber. We lived in a big old Army tent. After my mom remarried, I finished high school here in Casa Grande.
Louis, my stepdad, and his brother were farming then. They had Storey Ranch. Jerry is my cousin by marriage and we farmed together, exchanged ideas, and we’ve seen a lot of change in farming. When Louis and his brother started farming in the ‘30s, they had a Farm-All with lugs on its wheels similar to the one you have here at the museum. Shortly after that they changed to ones with rubber tires. As time when on, they traded them in for the M-D, a diesel Farm-All. That would have been about the later 40s.
Sammie: The Storeys had the first ones.
Tommy and Sammie Start Farming – 1940s
Interviewer: Where did you start farming?
Tommy: I worked for the Storeys. I graduated from high school and put in two years at the University of Arizona. When the war broke out I went into the service. I fully intended to go back and get a degree but, after I was discharged, I worked on the farm for them. When it was time to go to school, I just kept working. That was back about March of 1946. I’ve been on the farm ever since. I worked for them for a couple of years and then they helped me get started with Jerry. They had been leasing a place known as the Blair Ranch near Eloy. It had an old beacon light on it at that time. I started there and then moved up to the Taylor-Lavers place near Casa Grande. The Grasty place was there. That’s where J.R. and Russ were farming. Jerry and I worked on that place, too. The Denney’s is there now. Where the Co-Op is, that’s where Jerry was farming.
As time went on, we got started. My stepdad helped me financially. We bought the place out near Stanfield and that’s where we farmed for nearly 30 years. Eventually we sold it to the mining company. It wasn’t Project land. Later, Mom and Dad gave me the land near Eleven Mile Corner. That’s where Sammie and I lived. It’s just east of the Fair Grounds. That is Project land.
Crops and Crews
Interviewer: When you were farming with the Storeys, were they farming just cotton?
Tommy: Cotton, alfalfa and grain. They had several places. When I first started working for them, the Nutt’s had it. Then they had the Blair Ranch and the Templeton place just east of our farm. They bought the place a mile north of Eleven Mile Corner about 320 acres where Sammie and I lived when we first got married. Then they had the place across from where the Casa Grande Regional Hospital is now, too—probably about 480 acres.
Interviewer: I thought that was the Singh farm.
Tommy: The Singh place is what Jerry had. Johnny eventually bought out what had been Taylor-Lavers and became Taylor-Dwan, just west of where the hospital is at Arizola Road. Janie was married to Kunion(?), I believe. Jerry leased that farm in there.
Interviewer: What they doing for labor?
Tommy: We did it pretty much ourselves.
Sammie: The chopping crews were brought in.
Tommy: We had some cement housing there. As far as large crews, we’d bring them in for chopping and picking.
Interviewer: Did you use folks from Oklahoma?
Tommy: There were a lot of Indians from near Santa Rosa. They’d live on the farm for a while and we’d take them back and forth for celebrations. Halloween was one of their big ones. I don’t know exactly what the significance is.
Interviewer: Did they use P.O.W.s during the war? I know you were gone.
Tommy: I don’t know if they did. I don’t think so. I think they continued with what they had.
Sammie: The German and Italian ones were used by other farms, but not by us. The high school kids were turned out a half day at a time. I don’t know that they did much good, but a lot of us decided we didn’t want to do that for a living. (Laughter.) Tommy: When you’re hand picking, if you had a two or three bale crew, that was pretty good. The average picker did about 300 to 500 pounds a day. They’d pull the sack and fill it, then take it in and have it weighed and put it in the trailer.
Interviewer: And then pay them at the end of the day?
Tommy: Some time they’d get weigh receipts and take them in where they could be cashed. I know that Dolly and Johnny Keeling had a grocery store in Eloy where they could cash them.
Sammie: It depended on the contract. Some of them were paid per dump.
Tommy: A lot of them were paid in cash.
Sammie: How much were they paying them at that time?
Tommy: Oh, I would guess close to $3 a hundred. It’s been a long time. Farmers are kind of a strange bunch of people. You’d have a meeting at times to set the price of picking. You had a good little crew and then, all of a sudden, you didn’t have one. They would have heard that so and so over here had raised the price a nickel a hundred or so. He had a big crew and you didn’t.
Interviewer: So the farmers would set the price every year?
Tommy: Not all the time, but sometimes.
Irrigation the Old Fashioned Way
Interviewer: Kind of a reverse union? (Laughter.) When you were irrigating, did you start out with ports?
Tommy: Yes. It was all ditches. You open the ports and try to line them up to keep them from canvass or something. Sometimes your banks were established with burmuda grass like at the Blair Ranch. Some were cement. We’d open up ports and divide the water up into 5-8 rows. If one was running too fast, you’d close it down a little bit.
Interviewer: Would one port be per row?
Tommy: No, it would spread out so that one port would irrigate several rows. Generally, you’d use tarps or canvass there. You’d lay limbs across the ditch and use sticks. After you had a trench out in front, you’d put the lip of the tarp over that rolling the tarp in from behind. Otherwise the water would catch it and unroll it. The water would spill over it into the next one. You’d adjust by unrolling it. We’d build the rows up with shovels and hoes.
Sammie: Next morning you’d go out and find that there was a gopher hole and all your water was somewhere other than where it should be.
Interviewer: When did they start to use the pipes?
Tommy: I guess we actually had some of the first ones. First they were aluminum. Then we moved to the rubber ones.
Sammie: The aluminum ones would fill up with calcium and get so heavy.
Tommy: Yes, we found out the hard way. As long as you were running clear water, you were okay. But if you were running NH3 in the water, that’s when they’d corrode up. Then they came up with something you could put in the water to reduce the corrosion.
Interviewer: When did they come out with the pipes?
Tommy: Aluminum in the early 50s.
Interviewer: What did you use for herbicides?
Tommy: Nothing at that time.
Interviewer: Chopping was all by hand?
Tommy: Yes, it was all hand chop. And insecticides were just coming in.
Sammie: Another thing they used to do was they’d plant a solid row in cotton. Then they got more sophisticated and they planters would plant every 3-4 inches.
Tommy: Yes, they started out with 30-40 lbs. per acre. Generally you’d thin it out later.
Interviewer: How old would the cotton be when you’d get in there?
Tommy: Probably two or three weeks, I’d guess. When it was six or eight inches tall.
Interviewer: Would they just pick the strong ones?
Tommy: Generally they’d just block it out. Everybody had their own ideas of what they wanted. I think it was usually 10-12 inches. Some of them wanted less.
Interviewer: What were you doing during those lean years with the San Carlos Project?
Tommy: They only way you could pump water on San Carlos if you had a well that wasn’t Project. You could pump but you couldn’t drill. You didn’t have any other source. You just sat there and tried to survive.
Interviewer: Would they tell you your allotment?
Tommy: Yes. I remember at the farm at Stanfield, we had about a half foot allocated to us. Jerry said he knew there wasn’t going to be enough because there wasn’t much water behind the dam. We had to hope for flood water. “We’ll have to transfer to the short staple allotment out there,” he said. We had a good well out there. The Pima cotton just burned up all year long. It was that bad. A lot of times the flood water has so much silt on it that it’ll just run right over and you get very little penetration.
Interviewer: What else were you raising out near Eleven Mile Corner?
Tommy: Some alfalfa and some wheat., but not much, some barley and maize.
Sammie: They used to practice rotation and alfalfa was part of that.
Tommy: That’s so expense. Even grain is the same way. You grow it and hope that you’ll make enough money to pay the taxes on the place and put a little humus in the ground.
The AAA Years
Interviewer: During the years of the AAA, how were you affected?
Tommy: I worked for that outfit when I was going to high school. I measured land at that time.
Interviewer: Were they measuring how many acres a farmer had under cultivation?
Tommy: Yes. We had to measure at least three sides of every field if it was regular. Then we’d scale the fourth side to see how close we’d come. If it was irregular, you had to measure every side. You’d stand up against the fence trying to figure out how you could do the measurement.
Sammie: What kind of tape measures did you use?
Tommy: A hundred foot tapes. I think I started out doing three and a half a day. That summer I was the rear chainman. The next year I was head chainman and made $4 a day. We’d do it during the summer vacation. When I was down at the University, I helped make maps.
Interviewer: Was AAA done through Extension Service?
Tommy: Well, it wasn’t exactly Extension. It was like the ASCS is right now. They changed their name to ASS, then decided it didn’t look good. (Laughter.) In the summer time, when I was making maps, Felton Hadnot and Francie Stein were helping on that. J.F. Story was the chairman. At that time, the Stanfield area hadn’t developed any so you just had to get some directions from somebody and hunt around for section pins to measure off of.
Interviewer: All the maps, are they at ASCS?
Tommy: I don’t know.
Working in the Field
Tommy: …..Later when the picking machines came in, we tried to green pick, but it turned out pretty bad. Then they came in with defoliant.
Interviewer: It sure pushed your season back far.
Tommy: As far as tractors and tillage, we used the old tumble-bug stock cutter to cut the stocks. We’d pull a two row disk behind it there so it’d be all one process.
Sammie: I thought we used to have a rotary hoe.
Tommy: We did, we’ve still got the thing. Then we used disc plows and plow in circles. It was quite an art trying to cut your corners and stay in the ground going around the field.
Interviewer: You’d do it in circles?
Tommy: Yes. Just like this table. You’d start in here and, when you’d get out here, if you didn’t have it cut enough the plow would jump out of the ground. That was an indication that you need to cut more in the corner. So you’d drop in and circle around and eyeball it to see where you wanted it. It took experience. It wasn’t the best plow in the world. If it was too wet, you’d have to get off and scrape off the blades.
After we got off-set discs, they had floats made of 3 x 12 runners to adjust to smooth the ground.
Interviewer: Everyone says the soil is tight here. What did you do?
Tommy: We had rippers. They helped a lot. Before I quit farming, I though it was best. You could see the ground move about 20” from each side of it. It kind of shattered it. Interviewer: After you planted your crop, when did you do your first irrigation?
Tommy: Generally, we wet planted. At one time, the stuff was dry planted and then you’d water it up. And then they came up with wet planting. When we first started wet planting, they referred to it as “down in the hole.” You had to use disc openers. You’d actually have a bed on either side of where your cotton was coming up.
Interviewer: What was the purpose for that?
Tommy: I guess they thought it was better. You got good moisture right away and then you’d start moving that dirt in toward the plant to cover up weeds and things. It was somewhat of a problem. Maybe you’d drag a harrow when the cotton was small and then you’d have a cultivator. At that time it was a front-end cultivator. You’d set your sweeps to push the dirt toward the cotton. So eventually it built up.
Sammie: When did you use the switch board?
Tommy: That was whenever we decided there was a better way of doing it. You’d make your bed, pre-irrigate, and then you’d work your bed down. After that, you’d take a third or even a half off, then plant in the wet dirt bed, and then fill up with three boards that dragged off the excess dirt. You’d let the cotton come through and hope it didn’t rain.
Interviewer: Were there always gins that you took the cotton to?
Tommy: Yes. My dad was the first press (?) at the Eleven Mile Corner gin. It was formed by a group of farmers…a co-op.
Sammie: There was only one Pima gin.
Tommy: At that time, people didn’t raise Pima cotton. It was hard to pick. There were a few who did, but the pickers didn’t like it. It was three locked bolls. It was harder on your hands and it would stain. You couldn’t pick as much. It wasn’t that popular. If the bolls didn’t open, they’d stick to the burr.
Interviewer: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me.
INTERVIEW NUMBER THREE
Date of Interview: April 9, 2004
Interviewer: Sara Turner
Transcriber: Merrilyn S. Ridgeway
Begin Tape 1, Side A
Coming to Casa Grande – The Late ‘20’s
Sara: I am with Tommy Caywood. We are doing an oral history for the celebration of 125th Anniversary of Casa Grande. I am going to start by asking Mr. Caywood some questions. You mentioned that, when you first came to Casa Grande, you lived with your grandparents. When did your grandparents come to Casa Grande?
Tommy: Probably about 1929, 1927-1929 I guess. They’d lived in Globe, AZ. I’m not sure why they decided to come here from Globe but they came down and built some little cement cottages there and had a bath house and restroom and a service station and was called Woods Auto Court. They rented out the little cottages and had their house in the back. That’s where I stayed when I lived with them. That was at Trekell and Highway 84. Now I notice there’s Cota Stucco there.
Sara: How long did you live with them?
Tommy: I came down here when I was nine years old. I finished the last half of fourth grade, fifth grade and sixth grade. Then I went back to Globe for seventh, eighth and ninth, and then I came back down here and finished high school. I graduated in 1940 and went down to the University [of Arizona] at Tucson. Sara: What made you want to come here?
Tommy: My mother was divorced when I was about five years old. My grand dad and uncles and my real dad—birth dad—all worked on the Coolidge Dam. We lived in a 16’ x 16’ tent while they were working on it. Later on, she was reunited with a person that she had known while she was living in Uvalde, TX. Both of them were single at the time and started going together. They were married in 1937. This person was William Lewis Storey. He was farming at the Eleven Mile Corner and so I finished my freshman year in Globe and moved down here and lived on the farm.
Sara: What was Casa Grande like in those times? The town, what was going on?
Tommy: It was quite a bit smaller than it is now. When I was going to high school I remember there was a little restaurant by The Paramount Theater. We had lunch there when we could afford it. We’d get a hamburger and a coke for twenty-five cents at that time. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant right off hand.
There’s been a lot of changes made in terms of the kinds of businesses. I doubt if there were over 2,500 to 3,000 people here. That’d be a guess. Some of the buildings we used to go into along Florence Street are not there anymore. The Popular Store, that was Serranos, down on the corner of Main Street is gone. I remember Jack Baty had a magazine and newspaper store down there. He was in charge of the drum and bugle corps here. I joined when I came back here because I’d been a member in Globe. We drilled all summer and made some trips. It was a lot of fun.
Military Service – 1942 – 1946
Sara: What were the dates of your military service and why did you join?
Tommy: I joined September 19, 1942 because I thought it was the thing to do. I had been attending the University of Arizona when the World War II broke out. But I wanted to complete the year if I could before going in, which I did. Then I enlisted in the Navy. After that I went to San Diego for four weeks of boot camp. I went to a radar school for two weeks. Then we went to the destroyer bases and we waited there for further transfer.
After a short period of time I was assigned to the U.S.S. Cimmaron, a Navy tanker. I caught the ship at Mare Island in San Francisco and we went on a shake-down cruise. We came down to San Pedro and then up to Bremerton, Washington. I was SO seasick. I was sick for five days and nights. I never did get over being sick. Sometimes I’d go out and feel just great. Other times, by the time we hit the swells going out of port I’d be sick. Then I’d get over it.
I spent eighteen months aboard that tanker. On Christmas Day of 1942 we were passing Christmas Island on our way to New Caledonia. From there we operated with the 7th Fleet over in the Guadalcanal area and different places after that. We were in a lot of the stuff in the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands and other places.
Sara: What was your job and rank?
Tommy: When I went in I was an Apprentice Seaman. Seaman Second, Seaman First Class followed and then I got to be a Disbursing Storekeeper Third Class. After that I was promoted to [Disbursing Storekeeper] Second Class and later when I was discharged I was a Petty Officer First Class. They offered me Chief if I’d stay in, but I wanted to go home.
Sara: When did you leave the service?
Tommy: It was about March 15, . I’d been in three and a half years.
Sara: Where did you settle once you left the service?
Tommy: I went home to Casa Grande and started working for my Dad and his brother, J.R. Storey, on the farm at Eleven Mile Corner.
Farming and Marriage – 1948
Sara: What year did you start farming?
Tommy: I believe it was 1947. Cotton was the principle crop but we raised other crops at that time, too—barley, alfalfa, and some wheat—but barley seemed to be the main grain crop. We raised some maize but very little corn.
Sara: How and why did you choose agriculture?
Tommy: I liked farming. Jerry Storey, my cousin by marriage, also had been in the Navy. After we got home, we just started working for our dads. There was no way he and I could have gotten into farming here without our dad’s help financially. They had to sign notes for us and stuff like that until Jerry and I were sound enough to borrow money on our own.
Our dads were farming a ranch about half way between Eloy and Eleven Mile Corner—the Blair Ranch, a real old ranch. They decided they’d let me have that one, to lease from Mr. and Mrs. Blair. They found a farm up close to town for Jerry to farm. It was Taylor and Diwan farm. Jerry and I worked back and forth, sometimes on our own farms but also for our dads. We were using their equipment. So we’d drive tractors on their land and then, maybe, they’d send one of their guys over to do something on ours while we were over there. It was several years later when we really got on our own.
Whatever they wanted us to do we’d do—drive tractors, irrigate, whatever else. They didn’t favor us over the other guys. In fact, it seemed like we got all the worst jobs--so they wouldn’t show favoritism, I guess. I can remember when we would be spraying ditches on a new farm they had. The Johnson grass must have been ten feet tall it seemed like. We couldn’t even see each other out there. When it would dry up we’d burn it. I guess they wanted to see if we’d burn-out! But we hung in there.
Sara: Where and when did you meet your wife?
Tommy: I met my wife, Sammie Darr, through my cousin Jerry Storey. That was the summer of 1948 and we started going together. We were married November 27, 1948 and have been married ever since.
Sara: Could you describe your partnership with Jerry Storey?
Tommy: Jerry had his farm and I had my farm. We weren’t actually partners but we used to kind of farm together. We’d ride around and look at our crops and discuss if they needed water or fertilizer or this and that. Then, whenever a head of water needed to be changed, we’d do it together, working back and forth. Times when we were driving tractors, we’d be on one farm and then the other. We were more like brothers than cousins by marriage.
Sara: What were some of the problems or concerns that farmers encountered when you first started farming?
Tommy: I guess pretty much the same problems as today. Hoping to make a good yield and hope you get a good price. But, you know, we didn’t seem to have as many bugs to worry about at that time. Or maybe we had them and didn’t realize the damage that they were doing. And we didn’t have any commercial fertilizers at that time but they were just coming in.
Other than hoping you’d get a stand of cotton, just like you do now, and—as far as the water is concerned, it’s hard to please a farmer. It never rains at the right time. You’d rather be able to turn it on and off when you want it. (Laughter.)
Sara: How many acres would you say were under cultivation then?
Tommy: No, I don’t know. I probably should because I worked for them—the Agricultural Adjustment Administration office. The summers I was going to high school I helped measure land. We had allotments then. Later on I worked in the office surveying and making maps with a plane table. Francis McNatt Stern also worked there. I was doing that the summer before I went into the Navy. I know in the Stanfield area there were very few farms and very few roads. In fact, we had to wander all over through the desert looking for a farm to map.
Sara: When you first farmed, who would you say was like a mentor to you?
Tommy: That would be my step-dad Lewis Storey, but I’d rather refer to him as my Dad. He was a really good farmer. He took time to show me how it ought to be done. If you were doing something wrong, he’d point it out that there was a better way to do it.
Mechanization of Cotton Picking
Sara: What was one of the most innovative concepts that occurred in agriculture in the ‘40’s or ‘50’s?
Tommy: At that time we weren’t sure how great it was, but that was when the mechanical picker came in. I remember that Emmett Grasti had one of the first ones. He had picked a field and Jerry and I went out to the farm and thought, “My gosh, it looks like a herd of cattle ran through that field!” (Laughter.) We didn’t think it was going to be here to stay, but it did and it changed the whole picture so far as cotton was concerned. We used to have the Indians, especially, who’d come up from the reservation and they would hand pick our cotton. In the spring, they’d thin it and cut the weeds out. Actually, the mechanical picker is what changed everything.
We had problems and breakdowns for a while, but it got better as time went on. Another problem was, with the hand pickers you didn’t need very many trailers at a time, but when we got mechanical pickers going they picked so much cotton in a day that you’d run out of trailers. They couldn’t gin them fast enough. We’d have to shut our machine down until we could get trailers. It worked its way out, though. Later on when the module builder came in, that took care of that.
Water and Agriculture in the Valley
Sara: What do you think today? Is there something that’s a great concept that has changed the agriculture business?
Tommy: Probably the Central Arizona Project. It’s definitely helped so far as water is concerned. It’s helped to bring the water table back up. For every acre foot of CAP water you receive, you have to agree not to pump that acre foot. It hasn’t been exactly cheap. There’s been a lot of problems there. There have been all kinds of different settlements and arrangements and things to bring the costs down. Agriculture is the low man on the totem pole as far as any firm water. Actually, the first people that have had firm water are the Indians. Next are cities and towns. Agriculture’s last. Eventually agriculture will be phased out. Right now in this county it’s called the Pinal County Active Management Area (AMA), and that’s a planned depletion area. That might be changed, but I’m not sure. They figured agriculture would be phased out over a certain number of years, here.
Sara: What would you say one of the biggest problems today that agriculture faces?
Tommy: Probably water. With the San Carlos Irrigation District we have faced that problem for years and years. Right now, as you’re probably aware, Coolidge Dam according to the Casa Grande paper has a little less than 30,000 acre feet and that dam will hold a million and a quarter acre feet, I think. That’s not much water. And they have to keep a certain amount in there for the fish and wildlife. There are approximately 100,000 acreas under the project, 50,000 acreas for the Indians and 50,000 acres for the non-Indians. With very little water in the dam, agriculture is suffering.
An Agricultural Leader
Sara: Over the years you’ve been very involved in community service, particularly where it pertains to agriculture. What do you think has done the most good for farmers?
Tommy: There are several different boards and each one has a different set of ways. I’ve been on the West Pinal Natural Resource Conservation District since 1961. It has been good in respect that it helps conserve water and improves your farms. We feel it’s done an awful lot of good in increasing the yields.
I like the Agribusiness Council of Arizona. I’m on the Executive Committee there. That board is pretty much a political-type thing. They try to protect the interests of agricultural businesses in general, not just farming. They play a pretty important role in the Legislature, lobbying for different things. There’s probably an awful lot of farmers that aren’t even aware of some of the issues that have come up and been solved that would hurt them. It’s been a worthwhile board and still is.
Then I serve on the Industrial Development Authority of Casa Grande and that’s been a board that definitely is in favor of any worthwhile agricultural project that might happen. So far, the one that we thought was going to come in was a plant for ethanol. Another one would have made pasta, but that didn’t happen either. The Council would have approved some municipal bonding for them if it had happened.
I serve on the Eleven Mile Corner Gin Board, a routine-type board that makes policy for the gin. I served on the Board of Directors for the Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce from 1979-1981. I’m on the Government Affairs Committee for the Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce. It kind of helps keep you up to date on the happenings around the city. It is really interesting.
I served on the Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation District Board for about nineteen years. I was in on trying to get the CAP water in here. We worked hard for years on that. Originally the CAP was designed for agriculture. But, I guess, we didn’t have enough political clout and money along the way to make it happen. Then, later on, the cities and towns joined in and they had the money—agriculture didn’t have that much money—to make it happen. Then there was a joint effort. We got the ball rolling and it became a reality. Then the Indians got involved in it, too. That was another reason why it happened. It was a long, hard fight and we do have CAP water in here so it’s definitely been an asset to the cities and towns, the Indians, as well as the farmers here in the Valley.
Then, I served on the board of Electrical District #1. When that district formed there were a bunch of us that were complaining about our high cost of electricity. It was terrible. I had a 400 horse electric motor and it was costing me $6,000 a month to run that thing. So we had talked about seeing if we could join Electrical District #3. Well, we couldn’t. They wouldn’t even talk to us and I can understand why. They had hydroelectric power and their rates were a lot cheaper. And if they had taken us in they wouldn’t have had enough power so they’d have to buy retail power at a higher price, and their bills would have gone up. At the time, we thought, it would be nice to get into a district. So we decided there was a possibility we could form a district. We got hold of the attorney for ED#3, Brock Ellis and Bill Baker, and they said “Yes, it would be possible.”
At our initial meeting we assessed everyone five cents an acre for seed money. We got the ball rolling. As time went on, there were a lot of hurdles to go over. We were buying our power from Arizona Public Service, our retail source, and they agreed to let us do it. The natural gas company also agreed. But in the process of forming that district we had to go through the Arizona Corporation Commission as well as getting approval from some of the other districts. We ran up against a snag with the Corporation Commission. They were asking some pretty good questions, mainly asking Arizona Public Service why they’d want to release us as a retail customer and sell us power wholesale. Their answer was that, if they continued the way they were, we wouldn’t be in business much longer. They would rather sell us power at wholesale and keep us in business. We finally got approval there. The District was formed in 1975. I ended up chairman of that district. I guess because I was the easiest one to find. (Laughter.) We were hoping to get some hydroelectric power. In fact, we went back to Washington, D.C. in 1975. But it didn’t do any good. I guess it wasn’t until ten years later that they upgraded Hoover Dam and there was some hydroelectric power available. We were allotted some of that and some power from Parker-Davis.
I used to attend all the Arizona Power Authority meetings and this one man from the Bureau, Tom Hines, and I would see each other. I’d ask him, “When might we be able to get some hydro-electric power?” And he’d say “You’re not eligible.” Until new allocations came up they couldn’t do anything. Later on we got a really good allotment out of it. “Well, if we can just get our foot in the door…” and we did. Then, through the Arizona Power Authority, we got a really good allocation so we ended up with 100% of our needs in hydropower. But the sad part of it was the farmers didn’t realize it. With the blend of the power in the pumping and the CAP water, you didn’t realize the savings on that. And that’s the story of Electrical District #1.
The Future of Farming in the Valley
Sara: You’ve gone through these agricultural changes over the years. What would you say now versus then? Are you still fighting the same thing or are things different?
Tommy: Pretty much the same thing. It’s probably a combination of everything. Actually, farming isn’t quite as funny as it used to be. You could make some mistakes along the way and get away with them. But, now, you can’t make many. It really costs you money. You really have to be careful.
Sara: You’re kind of still involved in farming with your grandson. Do you see the crops changing?
Tommy: There are more varieties. BT Cotton is a variety that’s supposed to be more resistant to boll worm. And there’s a shorter growing season. Cotton is different to farm.
Sara: Do you have anything you’d like to add, any advice you’d give to anyone thinking of going into agriculture and farming?
Tommy: It’s not like it used to be, but it’s still good. It would be nice to see some of the younger kids get into agriculture but unless they have parents or someone else farming that can help them it would be hard to do. Well, we couldn’t do it back in the ‘40’s alone. It’s just really tough. I hate to see it die out but there are more and more subdivisions coming in all the time. Robson is developing one around Toltec Buttes and it comes all the way up to Selma Highway from Highway 84. I looked at Mission Royale. Real estate developers are buying land out toward Eleven Mile Corner. There are folks who’ve been selling right along. I guess it’s just a matter of time until all our farm land is in houses. It’s sad, but I guess that’s progress. Some of the offers that are being made are out of this world. The interest off that alone would beat farming. I don’t know where farming is going.
Sara: Thank you, Mr. Caywood.