by Ann J. Vereschagin
Throughout the early twentieth century, groups of Doukhobors left Canada for the United States seeking warmer climate, economic opportunity and personal freedom. One of the most prominent of these was the family of Alex W. (1878-1946) and Virginia (1879-1930) Vereschagin. After the family was released from exile in Yakutsk, Siberia, they came to Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan in 1905. In 1907, they resettled to Cucamonga and later Los Angeles, California where they worked as labourers on fruit farms. In 1909, they and several other Doukhobor families purchased land and established a short-lived colony near Shafter, California. Then in 1913, they joined a much larger “Freedom Colony” of Doukhobors near Peoria, Oregon. They returned to California in 1916, permanently settling in Orland, where they worked together for over 60 years as a cooperative family unit, becoming outstanding builders and innovators in the fruit growing and retail-wholesale industry. Their story is documented in a 1999 family autobiography, “Spanning the Years”, written by Alex and Virginia’s Molokan-born daughter-in-law Ann J. Vereschagin (1910-2005). The following excerpt from the book is reproduced here by permission.
Father-in-law Alexei [Vereschagin] and family did not stay long in Blaine Lake. After two winters in Canada, father-in-law said that he had had enough ice and snow in Siberia. He decided to take his family to California. That spring (1907), the family moved to Cucamonga, a small town near Pasadena in Southern California. Why Cucamonga? Father-in-law Alexei had read about California while in Siberia. He read about it in a Russian newspaper printed in Los Angeles by a Russian immigrant named [Anton Petrovich] Scherbak. Scherbak lived in Cucamonga. The newspaper was named Tehia Akeyan (The Calm Ocean). I remember that my own father read the same newspaper. No doubt it was the only newspaper in America, at the time, that was written in Russian.
Alexei corresponded with Scherbak, inquiring about living conditions and the possibilities of finding work in California. He explained to Mr. Scherbak that he had a young family and that he wanted to live in a warm climate. Mr. Scherbak convinced Alexei that he should move to Cucamonga, and even offered a shack that was on his property for them to live in.
The American-Canadian border was pretty open at that time. Father-in-law Alexei and his family arrived at the border with the Peter Jericoff family. They were required to list all of their names in English. Imagine their frustration, knowing very few words in English. Mr. Jericoff probably knew the most. He translated mother-in-law’s name (Xenia) to Virginia, which is not a typical translation for a Russian name. The other names registered were: Alex (Alexei), William/Bill (Vasily), Martha (Malasha), and John (Ivan). Note: From now on, I will use the English names, and I will refer to father-in-law as Dad V.
(l-r) Alex W. (Dad) Vereschagin, William, John, Virginia (Mom) Vereschagin holding Jane, Alex and Martha, 1909.
The family lived in Cucamonga less than two years. Dad V. worked on a farm, digging irrigation ditches with a pick and shovel – 10 hours a day at $1.50 per day. The ditches were along an orange grove, with roots that were long and buried deep. Backbreaking work! William (8 years) and Martha (7 years) started school in Cucamonga. Jane (Nastia) was born there on her brother John’s birthday, August 1st in 1908. This date was recorded on Dad V.’s last page of his English-Russian dictionary. That dictionary shows a lot of wear, so I know that it was one of his favorite books.
Next they moved to Los Angeles where Dad V. was acquainted with some Molokan families. He wanted to live near others who spoke Russian. He knew some Molokans who were draymen. They made a deal with him to supply them with hay. Dad V. had a team of horses and a wagon. He would buy the hay from local farmers and load it onto boxcars which took it to Los Angeles. He then sold it to the Molokan draymen who used it for their horses. Bill and Alex would often help. They were too young to load the hay, but they stood by to hold the team of horses. Most any movement, such as a jackrabbit running by, would frighten and agitate the horses.
By this time a few more Doukhobor families had emigrated to California (Rilcoffs, Chernoffs, Durtsoffs and Poznoffs, to name a few). A real estate agent took advantage of them. In the spring of 1909, he presumably sold the group some land in Shafter (Kern County). After building small livable shacks, buying a cow and some horses, another man came and told the group that the land had not been for sale; thus, it did not belong to them; it belonged to the Kern Land Company. Note: I do not know when they were informed of this, but I do know that the Vereschagins continued living in Shafter until 1913.
In September of 1910, William, Martha, and Alex started school in a one-room country school house about a mile from where they lived. Most of the time they walked to school. If the horse was not needed for work that day, they were sometimes allowed to hitch-up the horse to a two-wheeled cart and take it to school. William was ten years old and was considered old enough to be in charge. One day when they were coming home, a jack-rabbit jumped in front of the horse. The horse got scared and took off on its own with the children hanging on for dear life. William was pulling on the reins as hard as he could, trying to stop the horse. Martha was sitting in the back with her legs hanging out and screaming for William to stop the horse because she wanted to get off. Fortunately, the children got home safely.
Martha was old enough to help with the cooking and the chores, besides helping to watch over the two little ones, John and Jane. One time John asked his mother where he had been born. She told him that William, Martha, and Alex had been born in Siberia, and that he had been born in Canada. He thought a moment and then said, ‘If I was the only one born in Canada, it must have been very lonesome for me.”
Life in Shafter was not easy. William worked with his father during the summer months. One day when they were eating their lunch out in the field, William asked his dad if perhaps tomorrow they could have two eggs, instead of one, for lunch. Years later when my husband told me about their early life in Shafter, the part about the eggs always brought tears to his eyes.
Leo was born in Shafter on November 11, 1910. He was named for Leo Tolstoy. Peter was also born there on June 27,1913. He was named for Mom V.’s dad.
As soon as Peter was old enough to travel and Mom V. had her strength back, the family packed up and left for Peoria, Oregon. They were forced to vacate their land, so decided on Oregon because there was quite a colony [the Koloniya Svoboda or “Freedom Colony”] of Doukhobors already living there (Vanins, Jericoffs, Popoffs and Lapshinoffs, to name a few) and my in-laws wanted to again live among their own people (Doukhobors rather than Molokans). As a group, these families had purchased a section of land. Upon arrival, Dad V. leased 40 acres from them.
Times continued to be tough. The families were all poor but they cared for one another. They helped each other to build living quarters, barns, tool sheds, and whatever was necessary for protection from the cold and rain in Oregon. They shared their produce and livestock as one big family.
Shortly after their arrival in Peoria and just as they finished adding on and patching the three-room house on the farm, the Dobrinin family [a Molokan family] arrived from Los Angeles. Having no house to move into, Dad and Mom V. invited them to move in with them. Imagine two families living in a three-room house, with no running water and no sanitary provisions in the house. The eight children had to sleep on the floor. (I wonder if this is what is meant by “the good old days.”) The Dobrinins lived with them for one winter until they accumulated enough money to get a house of their own, close by. Members of the two families continued to be very close friends throughout their lives.
My husband told me that their father once bought them a bicycle at an auction for 75 cents. The bearing on the front wheel was “shot” and there was no tire on that front wheel. Older-brother Bill had the idea to tie a rope around the wheel. It worked! Away they would go, until eventually the rope wore off.
The children started school in Peoria. It was a typical rural school with one teacher teaching all eight grades; most of the students were Russian. The Vereschagin children had to walk about two miles to go to school. The roads were bad, especially in winter when they were flooded. Luckily, there were wooden fences along the road. When the roads were flooded, they would walk on the fences; however, they couldn’t help getting their feet wet. John, being the youngest, often got his pants wet, too.
(l-r) John Vereschagin, Jim Vanin, William Vereschagin and friend, Peoria, Oregon, 1915.
Every morning during the winter, the family had a difficult time getting the fire started in the kitchen stove. The wood would be wet because it was stored outside, unprotected from the rain. The children had to take turns blowing on the flame to keep it going. Consequently, they often arrived at school late. The teacher would send notes home, complaining about their tardiness. The notes didn’t help because, as my husband said: “There was no way to make the wood understand the problem.”
Despite the poverty, John often went to the local grocery store during the school lunch hour and bought 5 cents worth of candy. The owner, Mr. Lamar, told Dad V. about it. Dad questioned John and asked him where he was getting the money. John told him that he didn’t need any money. He just told Mr. Lamar to write it down in the book. (In those days, when you bought groceries on credit, you merely wrote it down in a book.)
In addition to farming their 40 acres, the family had to go out to work for other farmers in and around the Willamette Valley. Dad V. bought an old horse-drawn baler and a couple of horses. He hired out to cut and bale hay. William often worked with his dad. The family also worked at picking hops around the Independence area.
On July 1, 1915, another blessed event! Walter, the last child, was born. Now there were eight children in the family. Unlike many families in those days, all eight children were blessed with good health.
During the winter of 1916, Dad and Mom V. decided to move back to California, where it was warmer and there were more opportunities to earn money. Dad got on a train to go to Shafter where his friends the Rilcoffs and Poznoffs were still living. On the train, he happened to meet a real estate agent named Harrigan. Dad told Mr. Harrigan, in limited English, that he was on his way to Kern County. He was looking for good land to farm, as he had six sons and a farm was the best place to raise a family. Mr. Harrigan told him that he should get off in Orland because there was a new irrigation project (completed in 1911) and prospects were good. Dad took his advice and got off the train in Orland.
In Orland he went to see George and Dan Sturm, who were in the real estate and insurance business. They showed Dad properties that were in the irrigation project. Dad liked what he saw, but still wanted to go to Shafter before making a decision. He told them that he would stop back in Orland on his return trip.
In a few days, Dad V. was back in Orland and made a deal to lease, with an option to buy, 27 acres (21 acres in the irrigation project). Six acres were already planted in alfalfa and about one acre had newly planted orange trees. Another six acre plot was along Stony Creek. It was very gravely, thus not suitable for fanning. There was a small old house and a barn on the place. The farm was three miles east of Orland on County Road 12. This turned out to be the final home for the entire family unit, and became known as “the home place.”
For their move from Oregon, they put all of their “worldly goods” in one freight train boxcar. In addition to miscellaneous household articles, they had a team of horses, one cow, a wagon and a hay baler – all in the boxcar. In order to take care of the animals, Dad V. and brother-in-law Bill were allowed to ride in the boxcar at no cost. The rest of the family came the next day on a passenger train, thus arriving in Orland after the arrival of all their possessions.
Orland was a small, but thriving town when the Vereschagins stepped off the trains in 1916. (Census of 1910 showed 836 town residents.) The dirt and gravel streets had many potholes and ruts. Horse-drawn carriages were still being used. There was a ditch that ran through town. A flour mill was situated along the ditch at Fourth and Colusa Streets (present site of the city library). Besides the train depot, Orland had the usual general merchandise stores, bakery, bank, barber shop, churches, saloons, livery stables, blacksmith and harness shops, etc. There was a theater, a hotel, a bathhouse, a Chinese restaurant, a large grain warehouse, a creamery, and a chicken hatchery. The Masonic Lodge was, and still is, Orland’s tallest building (three stories). There was also an Odd Fellows Hall and two bi-weekly newspapers. The Volunteer Fire Dept. had already been organized and the Glenn County Fair began that year. The Orland Opera House was on the corner of Fifth & Colusa Streets (demolished in 1920). There was an elementary and a high school. Note: Would you believe that in 1882, Orland College opened with about two dozen students? It changed to Orland Normal School in 1886, and closed in 1892.
When the Vereschagins arrived in Orland, they had about $26.00 in cash. This was hardly enough to start housekeeping and feed a family of ten. In order to earn money to help support the family, twelve-year old Alex got up enough courage to ask Mr. Lindstrom (he owned the neighboring farm where Erik Nielsen now lives) if he would give him a job irrigating his orange orchard. Mr. Lindstrom asked Alex is he could use a shovel and knew how to divert the water from one row to another. Alex told him he could handle the job. Not only was Alex hired, but Mom V. occasionally helped Mrs. Lindstrom with the housework. Martha got a job doing housework for another neighbor – the Root family.
As the alfalfa hay crop around Orland became ready to bale. Dad and Bill went to several farmers and contracted to bale their hay. That was the beginning of the Vereschagins’ first commercial enterprise in Orland and the start of many other business ventures that were to follow throughout many years to come.
It was not easy to bale hay in 1916. The process went something like this: A team of horses pulled the baler out to the hay field. The wheels on the baler were removed in order to keep the baler stationary while in action. The horses were then hitched to the drawbar so that they could go round and round, turning the plunger which went up and down, feeding the hay into the chamber where the bales were made.
Everyone and everything had to work in precision in order to produce even-sized bales. Leo, who was about six years old, had to sit on the drawbar and keep the horses moving, so that the plunger went at a steady pace. Riding on the turnstile was similar to being on a merry-go-round. Being so young, he would often fall asleep. His dad would waken him by shouting “hun-ee.” In Russian, this means “keep them moving.” Later, that word (hun-ee) became a joke among the farmers for whom they worked.
Mom V. and Bill would pitch the hay from a stack on the ground to Dad V. who stood on the baler and fed the hay into the plunger. Alex’s job was to tie the bales with three wires to each bale. Ordinarily, this was a two-man job: one man pokes the wire into the slot on one side of the bale, and the other man ties the wires on the other side. Alex would poke the three wires on one side of the bale, then jump over to the other side and tie the wires before the next bale was formed. John’s job was to pull the finished bale away from the baler, weigh it, and write down the weight. They were paid by the ton, and not by the number of bales, so each bale had to be weighed.
Fifteen-year old Martha had the job of cooking for the crew. Since they worked long hours, she would have to cook two or three meals a day. Once in a while, she came out to help move the bales or pitch hay into the plunger. Eight-year old Jane had the job of staying home and taking care of the house and the two young ones, Peter and Walter.
Hay baling season was always in the heat of the summer. It was a hot, dusty, and dirty job. Everyone was “dead tired” at night and there was no air-conditioning in those days to cool off the house at night. Were those really the “good old days?”
When there were no hay-baling contracts, the older children worked in the hop fields east of Orland (across the Sacramento River). They would camp on the bank of the river, close to the hop fields. They would go home once a week to pick up supplies and get clean clothes. There was one problem with camping along the river: John would occasionally walk in his sleep. How did they solve the problem? They tied one leg to the tent peg. Note: “Hops” grow on vines and are used for flavor in brewing beer.
In the fall, the children went to school. Sixteen-year old Bill was not required to go to school, so he stayed home and worked with his father. The rest of the children went to the Orland grammar school. At first, they rode in a horse-drawn, two-seater cart, just like so many of the other children who lived out in the country. They all graduated from grammar school, but only Jane, Leo, and Walter were able to go to high school. The older ones had to work. Note: Neither Jane nor Leo graduated from high school; perhaps Walter did, but I’m not sure.
Dad V. did value education; however, circumstances were such that the children had to work just to make ends meet. In the words of my husband: “Our father did have in mind for us to go to school as much as was possible so that we would be ready to face the world.” Dad V. had one summer of schooling while living in Russia. He taught himself to be fluent in the reading and writing of Russian. He was also self-taught in math and in the reading and writing of English.
Typical of all families, the children had their squabbles. I heard the following story from Jane, but John said that he couldn’t remember the incident. Anyway, according to Jane, the two children had a squabble. Jane ran into the house and slammed and locked the door in John’s face. The door happened to have a glass window. She was on the inside making faces at him. John couldn’t control himself so he punched her right on the face through the glass window. The window broke into pieces, but fortunately neither of them were badly cut. I never heard how they were punished, but I am sure that the parents were very unhappy with the unnecessary expense of replacing the window.
Dad and Mom Vereschagin, c. 1917.
The first autumn after their arrival in Orland, Dad V.’s oldest brother, Vasily, and his family (wife, Dunya, son Alex and his wife Masha, and their children William and Polly) came to visit from Blaine Lake, Canada. Alex and Masha stayed and bought a small farm. Undoubtedly, everyone was excited to have blood-relatives living close by. The next spring, Masha gave birth to another daughter, Elizabeth. The Doukhobor colony in Orland was increasing.
In 1917, the United States declared war against Germany…World War I. This war had been going on in Europe since the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Serbia, on June 28, 1914.
Alex and Masha decided to return to Canada for the duration of the war because they were concerned about Alex being drafted into the U.S. Army. (In Canada, the Doukhobors had a conscientious objectors status.) Also, Masha’s brother Nikita had lost most of his left hand in a threshing machine accident in Blaine Lake. Masha was eager to go back and help take care of him. There was also the possibility that the border between the U.S. and Canada might be closed, thus making it more difficult to later leave. The war ended on November 11, 1918, but Alex and his family never returned to California.
Shortly after the war, Dad V.’s sister Paranya and family (husband George W. Popoff, son Mike and daughter Hazel) came to visit from Blaine Lake. Paranya and George had recently lost a seven-year old daughter, Polly, due to a lightning accident. They thought that a change in environment would be good for them. Just like Alex and Masha, they also bought a small farm. Mike and brother-in-law Bill were the same age, as were Hazel and sister-in-law Martha. The cousins spent a lot of time together at work and at play. For some reason, they only stayed a year, returning to Blaine Lake in the spring of 1919.
That same year, the Vanin and Jericoff families came to Orland from Oregon. The Vanins rented a house on Walker Street. They planned to stay for only a short while and then go farther south in California. (They actually later returned to live in Canada.) The Jericoffs purchased a small farm a couple of miles north of Orland, across Stony Creek, in the Lake District. I do not know exactly how long they lived in Orland, but Mr. and Mrs. Jericoff are buried in the Orland Odd Fellows Cemetery.
Another Doukhobor family who followed the Vereschagins from Oregon to Orland were the Lapshinoffs. They also bought a small farm in the Lake District. They had a young teenage daughter named Irene. I often wondered if there was another motive for both the Vanins and the Lapshinoffs to come to Orland. The Vereschagins had sons, prospective mates for their daughters. In those days, parents had a lot to do with choosing their children’s mates. An ideal mate had to be of the same heritage: preferably a Doukhobor, or at least someone who spoke Russian.
In addition to farming the “home place,” baling hay, and picking hops, the older children found other seasonal work. As they got older, they packed apricots and peaches for the Anchorage Farm which was south of Orland. Alex learned how to nail boxes for shipping the fresh fruit. Martha packed the fruit into these boxes. Others in the family worked cutting peaches and apricots for drying. When the peach cannery opened for the season in Yuba City, the older siblings went to work there. Yuba City is about 80 miles southeast of Orland. The cannery provided housing for the workers who were unable to commute each day. They also worked in an asparagus factory in Rio Vista. One time, Alex broke his finger on the job, so he returned to Orland while Martha and Jane (nicknamed Jenny) remained at the cannery to work. During orange-picking season, Alex nailed boxes at the Orland Orange Growers Packing House. The nailers were paid so much per box. Alex figured out the most efficient way to assemble the boxes, with no wasted movements. He made more money being paid per box than if he had been paid the current hourly wage.
All of the money that the children earned for working went into one family account. Not one penny went to the individual who earned the money. As was the custom, Dad V. was the head of the household. He collected and dispersed the money as he saw fit. He bought the groceries, the clothes, and paid all the bills. There was no accounting as to what is “mine” or “yours”; it was all “ours.” No doubt they got an allowance when they got older, because they did have limited money to see a movie, buy a soda, etc.
Around 1918 or 1919, Mother V. had to make an emergency trip to British Columbia to see her sister who was very ill. Since Mom V. spoke very little English, she was apprehensive about traveling alone. She was also uneasy about crossing the Canadian border. It was decided that eight-year old Leo would go along as her interpreter. He could also help her to take care of Walter. Leo must have done a good job because they did return home without any major problems.
Sometime prior to this, Dad and Mom V. made a trip together to Brilliant, British Columbia to visit her ill mother. When they got there, they were informed by the leader of the commune that they could not visit her mother in the commune. She was too ill to leave her home, so Dad and Mom had to sneak into the house at night in order to see her. This caused them to have a lot of ill feeling and disappointment toward the Doukhobor leadership. The wound never healed during their lifetime.
There was a reason for the above incident. In 1912-13, when the Doukhobors, under the leadership of Peter Verigin, decided to move to British Columbia, some Doukhobors living on homesteads in Saskatchewan refused to give up their lands and freedom. As a consequence, they were ostracized from the sect by an edict proclaimed by Peter Verigin, who had been given the title of “Lordly.” He named these dissidents ‘Independents” and told them that they were no longer welcome in the brotherhood. Dad V. was not in sympathy with Mr. Verigin’s leadership or philosophy. He wrote letters and articles in the Russian newspaper, denouncing commune living. Dad said that he did not approve of communes in Russia and did not agree with commune living in Canada. He saw it as an exploitation of innocent people that would only end in disaster. He believed in personal freedom. So, when Mom and Dad arrived to visit her sick mother, Verigin said that they could not be given permission to see her in a commune house.
In 1921, brother-in-law Bill married Irene Lapshinoff. It was not a big wedding. They were married in the Willows Justice Court, with a family dinner following. A deal was made between the Lapshinoffs and Bill, that he could move right in with them. They were getting old and Irene was their only child. On September 24, 1922, a son was born to the newlyweds. They named him Harold (Gavril in Russian) after Dad V.’s grandfather. In time, Mr. and Mrs. Lapshinoff deeded the house and farm to Bill and Irene. The seniors lived with them for a few years, both passing away in the mid-1920’s.
Left of the gentleman with child: Alex A. Vereschagin, Mike G. Popoff, Jane and John Vereschagin, Hazel G. Popoff, William and Martha Vereschagin, 1922.
On or about 1923, the Vereschagins had their first crop of prunes to harvest. They had planted about 12 acres of prunes in 1918-19. With no previous experience in prune drying, Alex and Bill visited other prune farms in the area to learn what to do. They had to build a dipping shed and drying trays. In those days, the fruit was dried by the sun, not in a dehydrator. Space was needed to spread the fruit out for drying. They chose to build the shed at the lower end of the farm, close to the creek, where there were no trees to block out the sun.
The process for harvesting prunes went something like this: A roller went around the trees to break up the large clods of dirt, so that the fruit was less likely to be bruised when it fell. A large canvas was spread under the trees, and then the fruit was knocked off with a heavy wooden mallet. When needed, a long pole was used to get the “stubborn ones.” Since some fruit always missed the canvas, the younger members of the family followed and picked the fruit off the ground into buckets. The buckets were emptied into lug boxes and then taken to the dipping shed. There, the fresh fruit was dumped into a large tub of cold water, then put into a solution of hot lye water. This caused the skin to soften so that the fruit would dry faster in the sun. The lye would also repel bees and flies.
The prunes were then spread on the trays and laid out in the sun to dry. The drying time depended on the weather. Under ideal conditions, they would dry in about a week; however, if there was a threat of rain, the trays had to be stacked and covered with canvas, thus slowing down the drying time. When it was determined that the fruit was dry enough, it was then scraped from the trays and put into burlap sacks and kept in a storage barn until sold. Note: All the fresh fruit had to be dipped, spread on the trays, and set out to dry the same day as it was picked. There could be no leftovers. This made for very long days of hard work during prune harvest.
Rosenburg Brothers were the brokers for dried fruit at that time. I believe they were based in San Francisco. The prunes were shipped in boxcars to the Rosenburg plant. Shipping them in burlap sacks was often a mess. The syrup-like juice would run off the prunes onto the sacks, causing the sacks to stick together and even tear apart in handling. At the plant, the fruit would be packaged and then marketed throughout the United States and Canada. The price for dried prunes in 1923 was $ .01 per pound. In 1926, they got up to $ .07 per pound. (In 1996 the price averaged about $ .40 per pound.)
A tragedy befell the family in 1923. Brother Peter, age ten, was killed by a horse while he was feeding it. It happened during hay-baling season. At the end of a baling day, Peter and Leo had the job of feeding the team of horses. This one particular day, for some reason, one of the horses became frightened when Peter lifted up the pitchfork after feeding it some hay. It kicked him behind the ear on the left side of his head. Peter never regained consciousness and died a few hours later. Needless to say, everyone was shocked. The family remembered him as being a very sweet, cheerful boy. He loved to sing when he worked and played. My husband remembered that he sang very loudly when he milked the cows.
The next year there was a happy event. While working in San Francisco, Martha met Bill Boyko, a Russian from the Ukraine. After a short courtship, they were married in San Francisco on June 21, 1924. They lived in San Francisco for a short time; then they moved to Orland, buying a twenty-acre farm on Road MM, a mile or so southeast of Orland. They built a two-room house, then gradually added on rooms. Not only did Bill work on his own almond and olive orchard, but he also worked for other farmers in the area and for the Vereschagins. Whenever she could, Martha worked right along with her husband, picking olives and oranges, and working at the packing houses. A year later, on June 27, 1925, a son, George, was born.
Along with other farmers in Glenn County, for a short time the family experimented with cotton. They planted about ten acres. There was a cotton gin along the railroad tracks in Hamilton City. It turned out that growing cotton was not such a good idea for the area, so the cotton farms eventually disappeared.
About this time, there was no longer a need for work horses. The Vereschagins purchased their first tractor, a 3-wheel Samson. The hay baler was converted to engine power. The family even bought their first car, a 1918 Buick. Things were looking good. Bill and Alex convinced their dad that they should go to a mechanics school in San Francisco. They needed to learn more about motors and engines. They spent a couple of winter months in the city. In addition to going to school, they socialized with the local Molokans. Bill was married; however, Alex was single. Years later, he still liked to talk about his escapades during those two months.
During the summer of 1924, about five young families of Doukhobors from Canada stopped in Orland for rest and for information about relocating in California. They wanted to buy a piece of land large enough to start a small colony. They needed to be close enough to available jobs because they would all have to work until they got enough money to buy their own land. Orland didn’t have much to offer them, so they went farther south. They found work in the newly established vineyards around Manteca, Lodi, and Stockton.
They found a piece of undeveloped land not too far from Manteca and asked Dad V. for his advice as to the quality of the land and its possibilities for growing grapes. On his recommendation, they purchased one hundred sixty acres of good farming soil about three miles from the small rural town of Manteca. To prove to the new buyers that they were not making a mistake, Dad bought the first twenty acres. Each of the families bought their own twenty acres, and the Rebins even bought several twenty-acre pieces for their relatives still in Canada. That was the beginning of the Doukhobor colony in Manteca [i.e. the Russian Colony].
In 1924, when the Manteca colonists began developing their property, Dad, Alex, and John went to Manteca to develop their 20 acres; they leveled the land, prepared it for irrigation, and planted grape vines. Jane (16 years old) went to cook and do the other household chores. Alex (21 years old) designed and built a small house and a tank house. The house is standing and occupied to this day. Note: A water tank was placed over the domestic well and above the level of the farmhouse. Gravity would then force the water into the faucets in the house. Usually, a room was built under the water tank, hence the name “tank house.”
Since it was too far from Orland, the Vereschagins were not able to continue farming this Manteca farm. Instead, they rented it out to be farmed by others.
Uncle Gavril came to visit from Canada. Dad V. decided to take him to see the farm in Manteca, and visit other Doukhobors in the San Joaquin Valley. I’m not sure whether Dad had a driver’s license – probably not. He was not a mechanic; but he did know that a car needed gasoline and oil to run. While he and Gavril were on their trip, every time Dad gassed up he also put in a quart of oil. The engine was eventually so full of oil that it would not run. Alex took the train and brought the Buick home. I was told that the car was belching smoke like a freight train. Fortunately, the older boys were able to get it back in good running condition.
When Alex was building the house in Manteca, his good friend, Mike Shlahoff, got married. The wedding took place in San Francisco. While at the wedding, Alex met the bride’s younger sister, Jeanette Covolenko. Now it so happened that Jeanette came often to visit her sister who was living in Manteca. A romance developed. In 1927, Alex and Jeanette got married in her parents’ home in San Francisco. The newlyweds returned to Orland to live in the same house with Dad, Mom, John, Jane, Leo, and Walter.
The Covolenkos were not Doukhobors; they were Baptists. They and other Russian-Baptist immigrants (Dolgoffs, Commendants, Sclarenkos, and Bamuts) came to the United States through South America. They settled on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, where the Molokans had also settled. All were good friends with the Vereschagins.
In 1926, Bill and Irene had their second son, William. Unfortunately, when he was eighteen months old, he contacted meningitis and died. How sad!
Alex A. Vereschagin, 1927.
Whenever Jane was in Manteca, Walter Poznoff would come from Shafter to visit her. They were married in Orland on October 3, 1927. (Wonder if the two sets of parents had something to do with them getting together? After all, Dad V. and Walt’s father [Vasily Pozdnyakov] had remained very good friends since their days in Siberia.) Jane left her Orland home and family to live in Shafter with Walt’s parents and his one brother, Alexander.
That same year, Dad went to Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, to visit his brother Vasya and sister Parania. While there he visited with his good friend Fred Sokorokoff. Fred had a daughter, Tina. Dad thought Tina would make a good wife for his son John. When Dad got back to Orland, he told John to write to Tina. Being a dutiful son, John did.
Since the price of prunes was down, the Vereschagins decided to ship two boxcars of prunes, with some raisins and dried peaches, to Saskatchewan. One boxcar was to go to Yorkton and the other to Blaine Lake (two communities with many Doukhobors). While the boxcars were on their way to Canada, Dad and John were also on their way, in order to be there to sell the fruit. The trip turned out to be a huge success. Dried prunes were a rare commodity in their stores. The family made $.02 more per pound for the prunes than they would have in California and could have sold even more.
Another purpose of the trip was for John to meet his “pen pal” – Tina Sokorokoff. Needless to say, a romance developed. In June of 1928, John went back to Blaine Lake on the train. He and Tina were married there in a traditional Doukhobor ceremony. Tina’s parents accompanied the newlyweds on their train trip back to Orland. They honeymooned together! Meanwhile, Mom V. prepared a bedroom for the couple. They were to live in the same house with the rest of the family: Dad and Mom V., Alex and Jeanette, Leo, and Walter.
Things continued to look good for the Vereschagins. They were able to save some money. Dad V. was looking into investing in more land. His good friend, George Sturm (a realtor), had just the place for him. Dad bought a small farm on Newville Road, west of town. The land was in the irrigation project; it had the potential to be a future home for himself or for one of his sons. He deeded the land in his wife Virginia’s name. Perhaps he thought that she should have something in her name, just in case.
The newly purchased land needed to be developed for farming. They planted almonds and oranges. There were no buildings on the property. With this additional acreage, the boys no longer had time to work in the canneries, although Alex did continue to nail boxes for the Orange Packing House for a few more years.
In 1928-29, the “stork” was a frequent visitor to the Vereschagin clan. The babies, all born healthy, were: daughter Elaine (1/31/28), born to Alex and Jeanette V.; daughter La Verne (9/3/28), born to Bill and Martha Boyko; daughter Louise (2/9/29), born to Bill and Irene V.; son Vernon (3/23/29), born to John and Tina V.; and son Robert (4/28/29), born to Walt and Jane Poznoff.
Alex and Jeanette’s marriage was having difficulties. For a short time, they went to live in the house that Alex had built in Manteca. Still, the problems continued, finally leading to a divorce in 1929. Jeanette went to live with her parents in San Francisco, taking baby Elaine with her. Along with the rest of the family, Grandmother V. had become greatly attached to Elaine. The parting was especially difficult and emotional for Grandmother and Elaine.
Meanwhile, the family dwelling was not only “bulging out the seams,” but was in need of a major remodeling job. The decision was made to build a new house. Mother V. had lived in crowded quarters and old houses all of her life. She deserved a new home. Since Alex had already had the experience of building the house in Manteca, they were confident that they could build this one, too. With Mom’s help, Alex drew up the plans for the house. Everything was custom made on the premises, even the cabinets and trimmings.
The new three-bedroom home had many conveniences: a sink with running water; a cooking stove with a warming closet on top and a water heater attachment that heated water; a large living room for entertaining company; and a basement for storing canned goods and winter vegetables. The nearby tank house had a nice extra bedroom. Leo and Walter were the first to share the room.
Mother V. had been suffering from kidney stones for many years. The local doctor had been trying to cure her problem with diet and medication. In 1930, her condition became unbearable. The doctor was able to get her into the University of California Hospital in San Francisco as an emergency patient, where she was operated on immediately. The operation was a success, but Mother died from pneumonia a few days later. She was forty years old. In the words of my husband: “May God bless her as she had a heart of gold!”
Mom Vereschagin’s funeral, 1930. (l-r) Dad Vereschagin, Alex holding Elaine, Bill Boyko behind Irene holding Louise, Martha, Walter, Bill, Leo, Jane, Walter Poznoff, Tina, John holding Vernon, Young boys, Harold behind George.
Unfortunately, I never got to meet Mother V., as she died before I met and married Alex. The family always spoke fondly other, so I felt as though I knew her. They said that she was a shy person, unpretentious, and never stood out in a crowd. She had to have been a courageous woman…living in Siberia and then crossing the ocean to unknown lands. She had eight children within fifteen years. It was exceptionally sad that she had not lived long enough to enjoy her new home.
It took a long time for the family to adjust after Mother V. passed away. Dad spent a lot of time reading Tolstoy’s classics and writing letters. Tina became the matron of the house. Not only did she have a baby (Vernon) to care for, but she was in charge of the cooking, baking, washing, and cleaning for all her in-laws living under the same roof. The men were not much help because they were busy farming. Sister Martha helped with the baking whenever she could. For Dad V., home-baked bread was a must. Note: With so many living under one roof, bread had to be baked every other day.
Not too long after Mom V.’s death, Tina’s parents, the Sokorokoffs, decided to move to Orland to be near their one and only daughter. Her only brother William also made the move. They sold their property in Blaine Lake. Dad V. and John located a small farm, suitable for a small orchard, for them to buy on County Road N. There was no house on the property. Alex built them a garage with a bedroom and a small kitchen attached. This would be their temporary home until the main house could be built.
At approximately the same time, a larger piece of property was being offered for sale not very far from the Sokorokoff place. John and Tina decided that it would make a nice location for their home, sometime in the distant future. The Vereschagins bought it and right away the men planted almond trees and alfalfa.
It was apparent that Tina needed help with her household chores. Now that Alex’s divorce was final. Dad V. felt that he should be looking for another wife. They even thought that perhaps Alex should go to Canada and look for a Doukhobor girl. Before that trip ever materialized, Dad went to a funeral in Sheridan. He saw several young Molokan girls, me being one of them. Upon his return home, he told Alex that perhaps he should go to Sheridan and see if he could find a mate. Alex did. We met. We married on May 31, 1931.
Alex and Ann (Popoff) Vereschagin’s wedding day, 1931.
My Life Begins In Orland
When I woke up my first morning in Orland, Alex had already gone to work, baling hay. Tina was in the kitchen with Vernon. She told me that I could take my time and first get acquainted with the house. The work will come later. She showed me how the shower worked and where the outhouse was.
I spent most of the day organizing our bedroom. Before the wedding, Alex asked me what my favorite color was and how I wanted the bedroom to be painted. I chose mauve and a light green because of a picture I had once seen in a magazine. He painted the walls mauve, the ceiling a light cream, and the furniture was pale green. It was pretty – the nicest bedroom I had ever possessed! The room was not very large, but it was warm and cozy because it faced the west and there was a large shade tree outside the double window. I enjoyed spending time alone in the bedroom – reading, sewing, and thinking.
Gradually, under Tina’s supervision, I learned how to cook the foods that the family liked: borsch, lapsha, peroshki, vareniki, lapshevnik, and baked bread. I even learned how to fry bacon, because, for reasons previously mentioned, my family never ate bacon or ham.
It had been Leo and Walter’s responsibility to milk the cows, but it wasn’t long until Tina and I were milking them instead. There were usually two or three cows to milk. After milking, we used a separator (machine) to separate the cream from the milk. There was a crank that had to be turned by hand in order for the separator to work. Eventually, Alex got an electric motor to run the separator, which made the job easier. Tina and I were both pregnant at the time, so maybe that was the reason for the electric motor.
At first, Tina and I did the cooking, washing, and cleaning together, often getting in each other’s way. We decided to divide the chores into “inside” and “outside” jobs. One week I would work “outside” (milking, weeding the garden, washing clothes) while Tina would work “inside” (cooking and cleaning the house… except for our personal bedrooms). We would switch jobs every week. This division of work proved successful. We did it until John and Tina moved out and into their own home – about five years after my joining the family.
A few days after we were married, I discovered that my husband had another love. His love for “the shop” was something that I had to live with for the rest of our lives together. With that love came the perpetual smell of oil, grease, and carbon, not to mention the problem of getting the oil stains out of his work clothes. I had to keep reminding him to take his soiled clothes and shoes off before coming into the house. He finally started to wear coveralls, except in the summer, when it was too hot.
Alex loved mechanics and building things. He would buy scrap iron, used building materials, and old motors and engines. From these, he was always inventing and constructing things to make farming easier and better. It was many years before he could afford to buy anything new. Note from Virginia: One of my memories growing up was that no trip to San Francisco or Sacramento was complete without a stop at one of Dad’s favorite “junk yards.” He knew them all. “Junk yards” are never in the better neighborhoods. There was never any place for us to shop, so we would have to sit in the car and wait for him.
The “home place”, Orland, California, 1929.
Alex and a group of neighbors got together and constructed a telephone line from Orland, along Road 12, to Road P. This was common practice, known as a “farmer’s line,” which the farmers had to maintain. Telephones were mounted to the wall. Instead of dialing a number, you had to turn a crank to get the operator. (Sometimes several “cranks” before she answered.) You would tell her the number and she would connect you to the party you were calling. Each house on the line had its own special telephone ring. George (Boyko) remembers that their number was 6F13. The F stood for “farmers line,” the 6 was which farmer’s line, and the 1 and 3 denoted the rings – 1 long and 3 short. The “home place” number was 2F12 – 1 long and 2 short rings on farmer’s line 2. Everyone on the line heard all of the rings. You had to listen carefully for your own ring. Note: Listening in on other’s telephone conversations was common. News traveled fast!
It was wonderful when Pacific Telephone Company came to Northern California and replaced all rural telephone lines with new poles, new lines, and equipment. The wall phone was replaced with a desk phone and we were unable to hear our neighbor’s conversations anymore.
John was the entrepreneur of the family. When I came in 1931, he was in the chicken business. I remember him out in the chicken pen, feeding them. I don’t remember whether he sold any eggs or not, nor how much longer he kept the chickens. John also purchased some Trans American stock prior to the stock market crash in 1929. That was his first experience with buying stock. In later years, he became quite knowledgeable and successful investing in the stock market.
This is perhaps a good place to tell about my impressions of Dad V. What stands out in my memory is that you seldom saw him without a Russian newspaper in his back pocket, because he liked to read every spare moment that he had. In addition to the newspapers, he read books by Russian authors. He frequently read and quoted from the Bible. Dad also liked to write. He would practice writing his name over and over again, in both Russian and English. He wrote many letters to relatives and friends. He wrote articles for the Russian newspapers in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as the Doukhobor newspaper in Canada. Most of the articles were about the Doukhobors and the Molokans, and their respective philosophies. He wrote about his views on Doukhobor life in the Canadian communes. He was not in sympathy with the leaders of the British Columbia Doukhobor sect, and wrote many articles and letters expressing his views.
Alex W. “Dad” Vereschagin (1878-1946), c. 1931. British Columbia Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection, C-01894.
My father-in-law was a very convincing speaker and conversationalist. He could stand in front of a large group and talk for hours without notes. People liked to hear him speak, so invited him to many special occasions and celebrations where he would always have something to say. Russian politics was a favorite topic of his, as well as religion.
In addition to speeches, singing was also part of any Russian gathering, and Dad loved to sing. He encouraged us to sing with him. He enjoyed getting us together in the evenings, or whenever we had company, to sing his favorite Russian songs. I hate to brag, but we did have a good chorale when we were all together. Dad had a very nice voice, as did William V. Alex, Tina, Irene, Martha, and Bill Boyko. Note from Virginia: Mom had a terrific singing voice, too!
I remember evenings when the family would gather for socializing on the front lawn. The mosquitoes would be so bad that we had to light a fire in an old pail to keep them from attacking us. The pail was perforated for air. Some dry straw was put in the bottom, then it was filled with dry manure. Once the fire and smoke died down, we all went inside.
Our social life outside of the family was limited during the early years of our marriage. We made a few friends by joining the local Grange (an organization for farmers). We occasionally went to dances in town. We seldom went to the movies. Traveling to Chico, twenty miles away, was a real treat! Tina and I only went there when the men went on business and we were able to tag along and do a little shopping. Most of our shopping was done in Orland. The doctor and the dentist were in Orland, so why go to Chico?
We would also get together with friends at each other’s houses and play cards and other games. The children would go along with their parents (no baby-sitters) and have fun playing their own games until they got tired and had to be taken home. This might sound boring, but in those days, when we were young and did not have much money, it was the only thing to do. Note: Entertaining at home was not very satisfactory, because there were so many other family members living with us.
We had a radio. Amos and Andy, Gracie Allen and George Burns, plus the news and weather reports were our favorite programs. We also had a phonograph with a few records; these were mostly the “big band” music popular at that time. One thing that we didn’t have was television. That didn’t come for twenty more years, in the 1950’s.
I shall never forget our first trip (vacation) after we got married. In between the next irrigation and mowing hay, we took a few days off and went to Mt. Shasta. It was supposed to have been our honeymoon; however, Martha, her children (George and Laverne), Leo, and Walter went with us. We camped at what used to be the Southern Pacific Shasta Springs Park. That was the spot where all trains going north or south would stop to get water for the steam locomotives. Passengers would get off the trains while they took on the water. There was a little store, cafe, and gift shop where the passengers could browse and enjoy the fresh mountain air. A short distance up the hill from the tracks there was a lovely Victorian type hotel called Mt. Shasta Springs Retreat. When the diesel engines replaced the steam engines, the hotel was sold to a religious organization and the trains no longer stopped at Shasta Springs.
The first summer, right after I was married, I learned how to hull almonds. The trees were young, so there were not too many nuts. Tina and I hulled them by hand. Somebody built a bin (hopper) under a tree into which the almonds were dumped. The hopper had holes on the bottom. The almonds would drop through the holes and onto a counter. We sat at the counter, with a gunny sack on each side of us. One sack was for the hulled (outside hulls removed) almonds and the other was for the unwanted hulls.
We picked prunes in the orchard adjoining the “home place” which belonged to a Mr. Fox. At the time, we rented the property. The next year or so, we bought the farm from Mr. Fox with the intention of building a house on it. Dad V. thought that Alex and I should live there, because it was next door and close to the shop where Alex spent most of his time. Note: In 1939, we did build our home there, right across the driveway from the “home place.”
In the early 30’s, we did not have an electric stove. During the winter, we used a wood-burning stove. During the summer, we used a kerosene stove, which I was not fond of because of the smell. The cook stove heated the water for washing and for bathing. Our first refrigerator was an “ice box.” Big chunks of ice were put in it to keep the food from spoiling. Our Maytag washing machine was inside a shed near the house. There was no plumbing nor hot water out there. We had to carry the hot water from the house and the cold water came from a faucet outside the shed.
Alex and Ann Vereschagin shortly after their wedding, 1931.
In September of 1931, three months after we were married, Alex got away from work long enough for us to go and get our wedding picture taken. I was two months pregnant, and did not want a picture taken, but the family thought we should. At the same time, we went to visit my folks in Sheridan.
With the coming of fall, it was time to pick olives and then oranges. Tina and I were exempt, because we were both pregnant; however, we did more cooking because we had extra mouths to feed. Bill and Martha Boyko picked olives for us, so we had to prepare more food for them at lunch and dinnertime. We also baby-sat with Laverne, who was about three years old. I remember that she cried a lot when her mother left her with us. George was older and had started school in September.
Note: As I sit in front of my typewriter today (9/1/93), I am thinking of the past and the things that occurred during my lifetime. I believe that my generation has experienced more progress than any other generation in history… from “the horse and buggy days” to “walking in space.” I have also witnessed big changes in our personal lives. To remember everything is impossible. I am finding it difficult to write the events exactly as they happened and in the right chronological order. If I write an incorrect date, or an event is not exact, please forgive me. I do not want to “step on anyone’s toes.” I merely want to write a brief history of events that molded our family’s life. Please be patient and read on.
More About the 1930’s
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Democrat) was elected the 32nd President. He was the only president to be elected for four terms (1933-1945).
1932 was the dawn of a new era for the Vereschagin family in Orland. It was the beginning of farming expansion and business ventures outside of farming. Growth continued for approximately thirty more years and it required three generations to accomplish the dream.
Alex and John were firm believers in real estate for a long term investment. They had confidence in their abilities. They loved the challenge to try new projects and were not afraid to take chances. Alex learned how to weld so that he could make tanks and steel buildings. When constructing service stations, they both did the plumbing and electrical wiring. They were talented men!
John’s primary talent was husbandry. He knew about plants and trees. He liked to irrigate and supervise the hired help. He played an important role in getting the best price for the farm products as well as purchasing products. John and Alex worked well together. Each one respected the other’s endeavors; they trusted one another at all times. There were differences of opinion on many projects, but they always worked them out to the satisfaction of both. John spent most of his time out in the orchards and fields, while Alex spent most of his time in the shop.
In 1932, Leo was just twenty-two years old. He wasn’t married, so his thoughts were more on his social life than on work; still, he more or less agreed to whatever his two older brothers decided to do in the way of business. When they went into the oil business, Leo became the expert on the operation and maintenance of the gasoline transport trucks. He was good at keeping the Fageol and Kenworth trucks on the road for many miles and many years. This was important because it was the oil business that put us “on our feet.” From the oil business, we were able to invest further in the agricultural business, which happens to be our most productive business today.
The youngest brother, Walter, was sixteen years old; thus a bit young in making decisions. His work at the time was to mainly help his older brothers do what they told him to do. As he got older, he was given more responsibilities.
The spring of 1932 made a big change in my life. I became a proud Mama! Our healthy, happy daughter, Virginia Lee, was born on the morning of April 30th. She was named for her grandmother, Alex’s mother. Doctor S. Iglick, sister-in-law Martha Boyko, and my mother were in attendance at the birth.
Two weeks later, on May 19th, Tina had her second son, John. Dr. Iglick and Martha were also in attendance at that birth. (Note from Virginia: I was told that John and I were a bargain. Dr. Iglick delivered both of us for $50.00.) Now we had two babies in the same house. We had to make a plan as to who got the baby bathtub first. The feeding was easy, as they were both breast fed — usually in our bedrooms. Then there was the diaper washing. Fortunately, our men bought us a new Maytag electric washing machine that even had a self-propelled wringer on it. We felt very lucky indeed. Pampers and clothes dryers had not yet been invented, so the diapers had to be hung on the line to dry. We had a big clothes line, and it seemed that there were diapers fluttering in the breeze all of the time,
In one way, it was nice that we had two babies in the house because they always had someone to play with. They became very good playmates. We each also had a live-in baby-sitter. Whenever John and Tina wanted to go somewhere, Alex and I stayed home with the children. They stayed home when we wanted to take a few hours off. Alex and I didn’t go to many movies, but we did like to go to the dances at the Grange or Memorial Halls.
The men were busy building a large barn to house the hammer-mill for grinding alfalfa hay. The alfalfa that had been planted on John’s place was coming into production and the sale of baled hay was beginning to be very competitive in the Orland area. Alex and John decided to start something new and different. There was a demand for alfalfa meal as a feed for poultry. Mr. Macy, who owned and operated the Macy Feed and Lumber store, suggested to them that they should start making alfalfa meal. He was buying the meal elsewhere for the local poultry producers. At the same time, the local farmers were shipping baled alfalfa hay out of the county.
It was a major undertaking to build that big, high barn on the new property that was to become John and Tina’s home place. They not only had to work long hours, but their construction tools were often inadequate. It also took some dare-devils to volunteer to climb to the top. Miraculously, no one got hurt and the barn was built on time. Brother-in-law Bill had an old Victor grinding mill which he sold to the family, with the agreement that his hay would be included in the process of making alfalfa meal. The old Victor grinder was propelled by tractor-power that used stove oil: a new, refined product for use in tractors. After fixing a few mechanical “bugs” and changes here and there, the men were in business processing alfalfa meal for the local animal and poultry producers. Note: This business only lasted about three years because other opportunities came up that took their time and resources.
To run the new alfalfa meal business, we were buying diesel and stove oil from Mr. Edwards, distributor in Orland for the Shell Oil Company. He suggested that we should set up a tank (500 gallons or more) and take advantage of a break in price for fuel. I think the price of diesel at the time was about $ .06 a gallon delivered. If we were to pick up the fuel at the bulk plant in Chico, the price was $ .02. Stove oil was $ .12 delivered, and would be $ .06 at the plant. That was quite a savings. We took Mr. Edwards’ advice. We bought a used truck with a flatbed and put a two-compartment 500-600 gallon tank on it. Needless to say, the truck and tank were bought from some salvage “junk yard” in Oakland. The tank didn’t have a meter, so we had to pump the fuel out of the tank by hand.
Since we were now buying diesel and stove oil from the bulk plant for the alfalfa meal business, the next logical step was that we started selling fuel to other farmers in the area. This business started in 1932-33. The family bought a couple of used Southern Pacific gasoline railroad cars, one for diesel oil and the other for stove oil. The railroad tankers were set up at the “home place” for storing bulk fuel. We purchased a small tanker truck to be used for delivering fuel to the farmers and heating oil for homes. Since our truck didn’t have a meter, the fuel had to be gravity loaded into certified, five-gallon buckets. These filled buckets were carried by hand, probably two at a time and up a ladder, and then poured into the customer’s tank. For a break in price, rather than having the fuel delivered, some farmers would bring their own steel drums to the “plant.” Note: Although this continued to be called the ‘”home place,” once the gasoline storage tanks were installed, it also became known as the ‘”plant.”
I became the bookkeeper for our fuel business. I also helped the farmers when they came to pick up their own fuel. I had to pay bills and send out invoices every thirty days. I learned how to take inventory at the end of each month and how to balance the books. I had a used hand-crank adding machine and an old cash register that did nothing but open the cash drawer -when you turned the handle. (Three years later we bought a bookkeeping machine that posted sales and credits.)
This new bookkeeping job was in addition to my other household chores. Tina and I continued to share all our “outside” and “inside” jobs. We continued to hand-hull the almonds, can the tomatoes for borscht, make sauerkraut from the extra cabbage, etc. Perhaps the only thing that changed was that our two babies were growing older and were able to entertain themselves for longer periods of time.
By now, Alex and John were getting more and more involved in expanding the bulk plant. Alex built more gasoline storage tanks. John was looking into supplying large farmers and existing service stations with fuel. Walter was beginning to take his turn in driving the small tanker truck, delivering fuel to the local small farmers, homes, and businesses. By 1933, we were supplying diesel and stove oil in Orland, Willows, Capay, Hamilton City, and Coming. We eventually got meters and hoses for the large storage tanks and for the small delivery truck; it was no longer necessary to do the back-breaking task of carrying buckets up a ladder. We were growing and expanding!
In 1934 we bought our first used Fageol truck. It had to be fitted with a large tank (3,000 gallon capacity) and, in order to make the long trips worthwhile, it was necessary to add a large trailer, also with a 3,000 gallon tank. To save money, Alex built the tanks in his shop. To make the tanks round, he used an old outmoded, but functional, roller. He used an old welder purchased from a “junk yard” in Oakland. Alex, with some help from his brother Bill, worked long hours to design, cut, roll, and weld those tanks. Then the tanks had to be mounted on the truck and trailer; a metered pump had to be added; it had to be fitted with hoses; etc. etc. etc. I don’t remember how long it took to get the transport ready to deliver fuel, but I do remember that we didn’t see much of Alex during that time.
We had been buying gasoline and diesel fuel from the Shell Oil plant in Chico. Now we were equipped and ready to purchase a larger quantity for a better price directly from a refinery (Wilshire) in Bakersfield – 400 miles way. Alex was the only one with a truck driver’s license, so he made the Fageol’s first trip. (Besides, he wanted to make sure that everything worked properly.) Since the speed limit for tankers was 25 miles per hour, it took 32 hours to make the round trip. Once John got his trucker’s license, he and Alex took turns driving. The trips were frequent, because, besides stove and diesel oils, we were also now delivering gasoline to farmers in the area. Eventually, when the truck needed repairs and updating; Leo became the ‘^truck expert” of the family. In due time, he passed his truck operator’s license and started to take his turn at the wheel.
On one of my husband’s trips to Bakersfield to pick up fuel, he was asphyxiated. He was always in a hurry, hardly ever stopping to sleep. This time he stopped in one of the small towns between Stockton and Fresno to get a cup of coffee and rest for a short while. He left the engine in the Fageol running while he dozed off. Soon he felt like he was dreaming, yet awake. He was barely able to open the door before losing consciousness and falling on the pavement. The proprietor of the coffee shop saw him fall and went to see what had happened. At first, he thought Alex was drunk, but soon realized that he had passed out from the fumes that he smelled in the cabin of the truck. He called for an ambulance. Alex was very lucky! Of course, we were notified. John, Dad, and I drove down to see him, Alex was able to return home with us. John drove the transport truck back to Orland. From then on, Alex took the time to pull over and take a nap. He had learned his lesson the hard way!
Meanwhile, Mr. Stevenson, the local Shell Oil representative, suggested that we should also consider purchasing our lubricating oils directly from a refinery. He suggested that we contact Barkow Petroleum Company in San Francisco. They had an oil blending and packaging facility in Bakersfield, in the same area as Wilshire and other small refineries. We did contact them and became the first independent oil distributors north of San Francisco.
Note: The Barkow Petroleum Company was also a family partnership. It began with a father and his two young sons. When the father died, the older son took over the running of the office, and the younger (Milton) became the traveling salesman, Milton and his wife Jewel, who traveled a lot with her husband, became very close friends of ours.
The Vereschagins’ Fageol petroleum transport truck and trailor with Mohawk sign painted on side.
We also decided to do business with Mohawk Petroleum Company, instead of continuing with Wilshire. Why? Mohawk was a small refinery, struggling to get started, and anxious for a distributor in northern California. We were looking for a supplier that would give us a good deal, and Mohawk’s offer was the best. Our association with the Mohawk and Barkow Petroleum companies continued for a long time.
Now we had to have an official name for the business. The brothers liked using “Vereschagin” in the name, and also thought that they would like to included the initial “A” in honor of their father. They wondered if “Vereschagin” might be too long and too foreign sounding; thus, too hard to remember. Mr. Marston, one of the owners of Mohawk Petroleum, said that he liked using the name “Vereschagin.” It was “one of a kind.” Once you heard it, you wouldn’t forget it. He suggested that the name could either be “A. Vereschagin and Sons” or “A. Vereschagin Oil Company.” A decision was made; the contract was signed to read: “A. Vereschagin Oil Company.” Note: After Dad Vereschagin’s death, we dropped the initial “A” and our business name became “Vereschagin Oil Company.” This name continued until 1964, when the third generation took over the management of the business. The partnership holdings were first split into five, and then merged into three, separate enterprises: Vereschagin Company, Vereschagin Oil Company, and Plaza Farms. Vereschagin Company remained a partnership, and the other two became operating corporations.
The Fageol truck had to have the name of our company and a logo painted on it for identification. Since we were selling Mohawk gasoline, its logo was to be the head of a Mohawk Indian. This “Mohawk” logo had to also be added to our small delivery truck. Although I had painted the name on the small delivery truck, these paintings had to look more professional, so we hired an Orland painter (Mr. Sevisind) to do the painting and the lettering. He did a superb job and we had the flashiest trucks in town.
Since the truck and trailer transport hauled about 6,000 gallons with each load, Alex now began working day and night to make even larger storage tanks to accommodate the loads of gasoline, diesel, and stove oil. He coaxed his friend Mike Sklarenko, who was a welder in San Francisco, to come up on weekends to help him weld the tanks. Alex and John took turns driving the transport truck to Bakersfield and back. Exhausting schedule!
Note: After we made our first sizable profit from the petroleum business, we were able to repay some debts. We paid off the Federal Land Bank on the mortgage that we had on the “home place.” I believe the debt was about three thousand dollars. We were able to pay brother Bill’s mortgage of $2,500 and sister Martha’s debt of $2,500. This was more or less to even up the family inheritance. Later, other distributions were made to Bill, Martha, and Jane, particularly when they were building their homes.
Around this time, Tina’s brother Bill Sokorokoff and brother-in-law Bill Vereschagin became partners in a business. They opened an appliance and radio store in downtown Orland on Fourth Street. The partnership lasted for several years. After selling the store, Bill S. went into real estate and Bill V. continued with his other ventures.
After the fall harvest in 1934, the two younger boys, Leo and Walter, went on an unannounced adventure together. They withdrew the $500.00 which they had inherited from their mother’s estate, bought a used Ford convertible car, and took off. They didn’t tell anybody where they were going. I remember Bill V. disguising himself one evening and driving around Orland looking for them. It wasn’t until a few days later when someone thought to call Jane that they found out they were in Shafter. Well, when their money ran out, they came back home, chagrined and apologetic. They had had their fling and were ready to go back to work. Incidentally, Walter met his future wife in Shafter.
Also in 1934, John and Tina hired a contractor from Chico to build a house on the farm bought for them by the family. They hired a contractor because they were busy and it would take too long to build on their own. There was an urgency for them to complete their house. Walter was engaged to the girl he met in Shafter, Elizabeth Karyakin. John and Tina would have to vacate their bedroom for the newlyweds. When they moved, Vernon was about five years old and Johnny was about two and a half. I remember that Johnny did not want to move because he didn’t want to leave his big family, his playmate Virginia, and his bedroom. He cried and pulled away from his mom and dad when they were ready to leave.
The first exciting thing that happened in 1935 was that brother-in-law Walter and Elizabeth got married. They were married in the bride’s home in a traditional Russian ceremony. When the newlyweds arrived in Orland, John and Tina’s former bedroom was ready for them. Elizabeth and I were now the “ladies” of the house. We shared the household chores, much like I had with Tina. Walter started driving the local delivery truck, delivering fuel to the farmers. Elizabeth would often go along with him.
We had to find a better way to hull the almonds. Up until now, we were able to keep up by hulling by hand, because the almond orchard was young and the production was light. Now we no longer could keep up, so the men decided to buy a used Miller huller. The decision was made to install the huller in the barn at John’s place. That meant that the alfalfa grinding machine had to be dismantled or moved somewhere else. I think that brother Bill took it to his farm where he continued grinding alfalfa meal. If I remember right, it had been his project in the first place.
We only used the Miller huller for one season; then we bought a brand-new Fadie Huller from the Fadie brothers in Capay. They manufactured almond hullers in conjunction with their own almond orchard business. (In fact, years later, we also bought our second huller from them, after they had moved their business to Gridley.) In time for the 1935 fall harvest, we had a mechanical huller. With the increased production, we had to hire men to knock the almonds off the trees and had to hire women to sort the almonds as they came through the huller on a belt. We also made an arrangement with the Boykos to hull their almonds. Sister Martha worked on the huller, her husband Bill worked knocking almonds for us, and in return we hulled their nuts.
The summer of 1935 was very hot! I was pregnant, and the 110 degree heat, day in and day out, made me nauseous and dizzy. I remember passing out while waiting on a gasoline customer. Early in the morning on August 4, 1935, our second child, a son, was born. Since my husband already had two daughters (Elaine and Virginia), he was ecstatic that it was a boy. We named him Alex, after his father and his grandfather. By Russian tradition, his middle name was also Alex, because that was his father’s name. Remember – Alex, son of Alex?
When three-and-a-half-year-old Virginia woke up, her Dedushka (Dad V.) told her that she had a “‘brother.” Then her dad took her into the bedroom where the baby and Mommy were resting and he also told her that she had a “brother.” I’m not sure whether Virginia knew what a brother was, but she did start calling him “Brother.” From then on, until he became an adult, he was called ‘Brother” by all members of the family.
Alex Jr. and Virginia Vereschagin, 1936.
Shortly after Alex’ birth, I developed a serious problem: I was unable to breast feed and had to pump my breast every hour or so to relieve the pain. The doctor didn’t know what to do for me. He was afraid that I might have cancer so he sent me to Doctor Enloe in Chico. Dr. Enloe was a surgeon; he prescribed immediate surgery. He convinced us that we had no other choice than to have the breast removed. Back in 1935, they didn’t have the sophisticated x-rays, biopsies, and laboratory tests that they have today. Later, we found out that surgery had not been necessary. I did not have cancer; I simply had an infection of the breast (mastitis). Unfortunately, it was too late; the breast had already been removed. When I found out the truth, I was devastated and wished that we had gotten a second opinion. Note: My entire life was affected by this surgical mistake.
Little Alex Jr. was doing just fine. The change over from breast milk to formula did not bother him at all; however, I was depressed with my disfigurement. Fortunately, I had a husband who supported me with kind words and understanding. He made me feel that my figure did not change his love for me. I always respected and loved him for that.
Another blessed event took place on October 16, 1935. A son, James, was born to Bill and Irene V. They now had three living children (Harold, Louise, and James). I went to spend a few days with Irene, helping out wherever I could. Since Alex was just two and a half months old, we had two “little ones” to keep us busy.
Everyone continued working long hours, in both farming and the oil business. Dad V. sometimes helped to wait on customers when they came to get fuel. He would also entertain the children. Usually, he spent most of his time either reading or writing or visiting with the Sokorokoffs and the Wolins (another Russian family who had settled in Orland). They had a lot in common, so they enjoyed each other’s company.
In June of 1936, Dad decided that he wanted to go to Blaine Lake to visit his relatives. He also thought it was time that Leo got married. If he took Leo along as his chauffeur, then perhaps he could meet a Doukhobor girl to marry. Although Dad didn’t come right out and tell Leo his thoughts, Leo got the picture. I remember him telling his dad that he was willing to drive him to Blaine Lake, but he was not going to Canada to find a wife. Contrary to his resolve, when Leo arrived there, he met Irene Kabatoff. Dad later told us that when he saw Irene wearing Leo’s hat, he knew that Leo was “smitten.” They were married that July at the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Prayer Home in a traditional ceremony.
As soon as we heard that Leo had gotten married, Alex and I knew that we had to vacate our bedroom for the newlyweds. It was understood by our generation, without question, that the first son to get married was the first to move out. John and Tina had already moved; now it was our turn.
The question was, where to go? We had the property next door which had been designated for Alex, but we could not yet afford to build a house. So, in the interim, we decided to move into the small room in the tank house. The room was about 12×12, into which we had to crowd our bedroom set plus Virginia’s bed and Alex’s crib. I don’t think the room had a closet for our clothes. There were no bathroom facilities nor running water, so we still had to use the main house for bathing and dressing. Somehow we managed to keep our sanity for the two and a half years we stayed there.
In 1937, Alex developed a very painful case of sciatica in his leg and hip. It got so bad that he was unable to work or sleep. The doctors told him that rest was the only cure. In July we decided that perhaps the hot waters would help relieve the pain. Someone told us about Hobo Hot Springs, east of Bakersfield on the Kern River. We packed some camping gear, put the two children in the car, and took off. Alex was unable to drive so he stretched out on the back seat and I had both of the children in front with me. When we arrived at Hobo Hot Springs, we found that there was nothing there except a small hot spring, no bigger than a sauna, and one other camper. No stores and no ranger. I had to set up camp by myself which was not easy because I had never known how to pitch a tent nor start a campfire. We were right at the edge of the Kern River (not very wide at that elevation) and I worried all the time that the children (ages 5 and 2) would be swept away by the swift current. I practically tied them down at night. We stayed about two weeks. Alex took many hot baths in the spring and tried to rest. The children enjoyed the rocks and the little sand that was there. I practiced learning how to make a fire to cook our meals. Wish we had photographs to remember those two weeks, but in those days we did not take many pictures.
Alex didn’t see any improvement in his leg or hip, so we went home. The rest of the summer he continued to suffer with the sciatica. He would go to Stony Creek behind our place, taking Virginia along to bury his entire body in the hot sand, thinking that might help. He eventually got over the problem and went back to work in the shop.
Soon after Alex went back to work, we hired a man to help around the plant and to cleanup around the shop. His name was George. (I can’t remember his last name.) He was an elderly man, who came to us needing a home. The men fixed him up with a bedroom in the storage barn that was close to the house. He ate his meals with the family. After working for us for about a year, he had an accident and hurt his back. Now he was unable to work and had no place to go, so we let him stay and took care of him. Eventually, he left us. I’m not sure where he went; it may have been to a veteran’s home.
Leo, Ann and Alex Vereschagin. The old machine shop in the background, 1938.
After George left, we remodeled his bedroom in the storage bam into an office. Up until then, I had been working at a desk in the house. This new office was much better because there was more room for a desk; there were shelves for books and files, and a counter for conducting business transactions. The men installed a telephone and an electric heater. Not only was I happy with the new office, but Dad V. was happy, too. He now had his desk in the house back. Here he would sit for hours, writing his letters and articles to the Russian newspapers.
Note: When we outgrew this office and moved into another, the room became a storage room, but it continued to be called “George’s Room.” My son, Alex, who now lives at the “home place,” has a sign over the door that says: George’s Room.
Fred Sokorokoff, Tina’s father, decided to build a new house. The two-room garage was getting crowded. Son Bill needed a bedroom of his own, and Mr. Sokorokoff’s mother was also now living with them. She was close to one hundred years old and was ailing. In fact, she didn’t get to live in the new house very long because she passed away in 1939.
Mr. Sokorokoff asked Alex to design and build the house. It was, and is, a nice house with all the modem facilities of the day. It had a large glassed-in porch on two sides. Mr. Sokorokoff insisted on the best materials available at the time. He was extremely meticulous with his house, garden, and small farm. You couldn’t find even a feather on his lawn. He mowed the grass around the orchard that surrounded his home so that it, too, looked like lawn. He had a green Chevrolet touring car. He kept it in perfect condition. After his death, his son Bill sold it to a local collector of vintage cars.
To get back to the house, Alex agreed to design and build it. He had plenty to do for our own business, but he wanted to help Mr. Sokorokoff; which in return helped John and Tina. Alex also felt that the extra money he made would help the family company. You see, he did not put that money into his own bank account. It all went into the family pot, as usual.
By this time, each family was getting a small allowance for their personal use. I don’t remember the amount, but I am sure that it was not very much. All the big purchases and expenses were paid by the company with no accounting as to recipients. Likewise, all money earned went into the company account and were dispensed with no questions asked.
In 1938, the oil business continued to expand. Our one Fageol truck needed constant repair; thus was inadequate to keep up with the demand. Another transport truck was needed. We still could not afford a new truck and trailer, so Alex, John, and Leo decided to buy another used Fageol truck. Besides, a war was “brewing,” and new equipment was almost impossible to find. Fortunately, they were able to put new tanks and metered pump valves on the used transport truck.
When the second Fageol was ready for the road, we again hired the same local painter to paint the name, logo, and capacity, as required by law. We hired Leo’s friend, Ed Berkland, to alternate with Leo in driving the trucks to Bakersfield and back. We also had a relief driver by the name of Paul Blaine, to help with the driving when needed.
In the spring of 1937, Alex and I started to prepare the lot designated for our future home across the driveway from the “home place.” We first planted ash trees along the driveway and an umbrella tree on the west side for shade. We also planted a cedar deodara tree in what was to be the front of the house. To irrigate the trees during the summer, I had to tote water, two buckets at a time, from a faucet at the “home place.” The trees flourished and provided wonderful shade for many years. In fact, many of the original trees are still growing and providing shade to this day. Note: In Orland, shade trees were very important because in those days there were no air conditioners. A few homes had window swamp coolers, which were very ugly. The air coming out of a cooler was so strong that a person could not sit directly in front of it. Everything in front of the cooler, particularly papers, had to be secured for fear of blowing away.
On July 11, 1938, there was another blessed event in the family. A son, Donald, was born to Leo and Irene. Donald was Dad V. ‘s twelfth grandchild.
In 1938, Alex ordered a carload of lumber from Oregon and we actually started to build our very own home. It was a slow process because, to save money, Alex wanted to do most of the work himself. Building the house dragged on for almost a year. We had to work on our house whenever we could find spare time. Most of the time we worked way into the night under lights. I remember nailing the sub-floor myself because Alex was either driving the truck or working on a tank. We didn’t hire a carpenter until it was time to stand up the walls and the roof. Then we got Mr. Belch from Chico to help us. (He was the same carpenter who had built John and Tina’s house). We also hired more help when it came to making cabinets and window trimmings, and installing appliances.
After all the carpenter work was finished, I filled in the nail holes on all the cabinets, doors, and window trims, preparing them for painting. There were millions of nails and they were very hard to see. I would go back over and over to make sure that I had all the holes filled in with putty. Then it was up to me to paint. For best results, first time painting requires three coats of paint. The house had three bedrooms, a living-dining room, kitchen, bath, screened porch, and a service porch. It must have taken me months to complete the painting; and I was still having to do my share of the family chores plus the bookkeeping for the family business.
My sister Mary surprised us by going to Reno and marrying James Timothy (“Tima”) Loskutoff on May 21, 1938. His parents were unhappy that they did not have a traditional Molokan wedding. They insisted upon at least a church blessing and a small family reception. Sister Hazel was Mary’s bridesmaid. For some reason, we were unable to attend the festivities.
In the fall of 1938, while all the work on the house was going on, Virginia was ready to start first grade. (At that time, there was no Kindergarten in Orland.) Since she had spent her entire life surrounded by family, speaking Russian, I took her to school that first day, anticipating tears. She surprised me. She went right in, was introduced to her teacher (Miss Miller), who in turn propelled her to a few other little girls. Miss Miller said that she would call me if there was a problem I went home and waited for a phone call. Nothing happened. At two o’clock, when I went back to pick her up, she chatted all the way home about the friends that she had met and how nice her teacher was. Once she got home, she changed into her play clothes, and began playing school. After a few days of my driving her to school and back home, she started to go by herself on the school bus. Her cousin Johnny also started school in the same classroom. Perhaps their being together helped in the adjustment.
Alex was three years old, and he missed his sister. She was his only playmate at home; although she sometimes bored him by always wanting him to play house, with her as ‘”Mommy” and him always having to be the “baby.” Now Alex started to become more and more attached to Dad V., his Dedushka. They became very good friends, always speaking in Russian. (All of the children spoke Russian before they learned English.) Dedushka would take little Alex to “help” him work in the garden. They would go for rides together, either to oversee the orchard west of town, or to visit brother-in-law Bill and their son Jim. Jim was the same age as Alex, so they would have fun playing together.
Ann, Virginia, Elaine, Alex and Alex Jr., 1939.
Thinking of Virginia and Alex as small children, I just remembered the following incident:
One day, when Alex was about two and Virginia about five, Dedushka took them along for a ride. He put them in the back seat and took off. Fortunately, he never drove very fast out of the driveway. After crossing the canal and going down the road a bit, he turned around to check on the children, and didn’t see Alex. In Russian, he asked Virginia, “Where’s Brother?” She replied, “He fell out a long time ago.” Dad V. panicked, backed-up, and found Brother standing and crying on the side of the road. Alex and I took him to the doctor. After a thorough examination, the doctor said that all he had was a bruised shoulder and collar bone. At the time it was a scary incident. Now, humor has been added when retelling the story.
The fuel capacity of our old local delivery truck was inadequate. Whenever switching from stove oil to gasoline and vice versa, the truck driver had to clean out the tank. This was inefficient and costly. Furthermore, the truck was beginning to have frequent break downs. The men decided to order a new truck and chassis without a tank, pump, or meter. Alex was to build the tank himself.
There were wars going on in Europe: Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935; the Germans occupied the Rhineland in 1936; and Hitler marched into Austria in 1938. This turmoil in Europe also affected the United States. New cars and trucks were not readily available to the common folk; however, we put in an order for a new Diamond T truck. All orders were on a priority list, and it could take months, if not years, to get our new truck. We were fortunate. In June of 1937, a brand new red Diamond T truck arrived. Alex immediately went to work building the tank and outfitting it for delivering fuels. He rolled the steel, cut to shape, and welded the edges. I think the tank had three compartments for fuel. He installed the pump, valves, and meter. The finished product looked very much like a factory job. Alex was proud of his accomplishments, and everyone else was, too.
I remember Alex working late into the night on that truck. He would be banging on the steel, and the arc from the welder would light up the night sky, keeping everyone awake. Dad V. would open the window and yell: “Alex, please stop your noise and go to bed!” Alex kept going because he wanted to finish it before the Glenn County Fair, early in September. He made it! Walter and Elizabeth got to ride in the truck in the fair parade. After completing the Diamond T delivery truck, Alex changed the first Fageol truck to a semi. Now, instead of using it for the long trips to Bakersfield, the truck was used mainly to deliver fuel to big farmers and rice growers.
By 1939, we pretty well were phased out of the “livestock” business. Brother Bill V. had already taken over the hay grinding business. We women, who had been milking the cows and separating the milk, were having babies; therefore we had little time nor energy left for milking cows. Besides, we didn’t have a pasture nor the hay to feed the cows. So, we started to buy bottled milk. Thank goodness!
In February of 1939, we finally moved into our new home. It was such a relief to move out of the cramped condition in the tank-house. Although our house took a long time to complete, we were very happy with the outcome because we knew we had the best materials and good carpenters, finishers, and painters. One of our experts was my cousin, John Popoff. He installed all the hardwood floors and linoleum in the house. He was a professional, and we were fortunate to get him.
Alex and Ann Vereschagin’s new home on Road 12, 1938.
Most of our social life continued to revolve around the family. On Sundays we would meet at each other’s homes for spiritual needs, as well as a day of rest. In Russian you would say that we met to have a sobranya (a gathering). A traditional Russian meal was always part of the celebration. The adults would sit at one table, and the children got to sit together at another table. The children especially enjoyed these Sunday meetings, because they had an opportunity to play with their cousins. Occasionally, they were asked to participate in the singing of the Russian hymns. Note from Virginia: I fondly remember our Sunday get-togethers. I remember catching frogs at Fred Sokorokoff’s; lying on our backs in the front yard of the “home place,” watching for shooting stars; and the two oldest cousins, Harold and George, telling us scary ghost stories.
During this time, San Francisco was busy building Yerba Buena Island for the World’s Fair. It was a huge undertaking because the island had to be made bigger to accommodate all of the exhibits, administration buildings, parking facilities, etc. The “Expo” opened in 1939. In September of that year, John, Tina, Alex, and I took a whole day off from work and went to the fair. It was an exciting experience. We left home early and returned in the wee hours of the next morning. Later, Alex and I went one more time, this time taking our children.
In 1939, we sponsored a Russian immigrant, Mr. Byrak, to come live with us. Dad V. had corresponded with him while he, Mr. Byrak, lived in Russia and then immigrated to China. The sons felt that Dad needed to have a companion; besides, sponsoring him was a humanitarian thing to do. The Tolstoy Foundation in New York was instrumental in helping to get Mr. B. here. On our part, it took several trips to San Francisco and reams of paperwork to complete the process. He finally arrived and settled down in the tank-house bedroom. Unfortunately, he was not well when he arrived, and soon was diagnosed as having cancer of the throat. He did not live more than a few months before passing away. We took good care of him as long as he was with us. He died in the bed we provided for him. He is buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery.
In June of 1940, Dad V. got the idea that it was time for him to pay another visit to Canada, and he wanted to take some of his family with him. He not only wanted the companionship, but he also wanted his own choir of singers. (Remember – Russians sing a lot when they get together, both for religious reasons and for entertainment. At large gatherings, there are always lots of speeches and singing, especially between courses at mealtime. Guests are often called upon to sing their own special songs.)
Obviously everyone in the family could not go on the trip to Canada. Since the trip was conceived and organized by Dad V., he was the one who decided on his traveling companions. Those that went were: Walter and Jane Poznoff with their son, Robert; Martha Boyko with her daughter, Laverne; Irene with her son. Jimmy; Dad V., Alex, and I. Walt drove his car, and Alex drove our new four-door Chrysler sedan.
Alex and I left our two children (Virginia was eight and Alex was almost five) with my parents in Sheridan. It gave them a chance to get to better know their Dedushka and Babushka Popoff. Note from Virginia: Mom and Dad left enough dimes for us to walk each day to the nearby store for an ice cream treat. We could see the railroad tracks from the kitchen window, so got to count how many boxcars there were on the freight trains. We got to go swimming in Bear Creek with our Sohrakoff cousins. One time, Uncle John surprised us with a visit. He came on the transport truck. Best of all, I got to paint my fingernails – something my dad never let me do. I even painted Brother’s nails. Such fun!
Since this was my first long trip, I remember a lot of the details. I was going farther than I had ever traveled, and was meeting many new relatives. I remember that we ate five and six times a day in different houses. We had to bathe and change clothes often, because of the humidity. And how can anyone forget the mosquitoes? They were the biggest and fiercest I had ever seen!
I mentioned the choir. Walt Poznoff had a beautiful bass voice. Jane, Martha, and Irene sang alto. Dad V. was a strong baritone. Alex was also a baritone, and carried a tune pretty well. I was a soprano and started the songs. (Russian singing is all a cappella. The “starter” sings the first line to set the pitch and then the other singers join in. This happens with each new verse of a song.) That was our choir. We sang our songs over and over everywhere we went. In Blaine Lake, the people who heard us sing titled one of our songs as “The Vereschagin Song.”
These are but a few details from our trip: We spent our first night with the Dobrinins in Peoria, Oregon. Next we went to Medicine Lake, Washington, to visit Mr. and Mrs. Simchuk. Then we went to Shore Acres and Creston B.C. to visit some of Dad’s nieces. Everyone insisted on entertaining us, so it was exhausting. We were on a tight schedule, because we wanted to be in Blaine Lake for St. Peter’s Day (June 29th). It was cherry picking time in Creston. We all ate far too many cherries and suffered the consequences the next day. Another niece that we visited lived on a large wheat farm in Pincher Creek, Alberta, about fifty miles east of the Continental Divide. From there, it was a very long day’s journey to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We stayed in our first hotel, the King George (I think). The bathrooms were down the hall, so we didn’t have too much luxury. The next day was much easier, as we only had to go sixty miles to get to our next destination, Blaine Lake. There, we first stopped to visit with Dad’s sister Parania and husband George Popoff. They invited all of their children and other close relatives for an evening of eating, talking, and singing. We were assigned to spend the night in the homes of various relatives. We had to get some rest, as the next day was St. Peter’s Day.
What is St. Peter’s Day? The Doukhobors celebrate it every year on June 29th. This is the day, in Russia, in the year 1895, that the Doukhobors gathered all their firearms and burned them, protesting the conscription edict that all young men of military age must serve in the Russian army. It is the day to remember all of those who suffered and died for the cause. It was also Peter V. Verigin’s birthday, hence the name. It is a very important day for the Doukhobors. All work stops and everyone goes to the sobranya.
For many years on Peter’s Day in Blaine Lake, the church was not large enough to accommodate all the people, so they rented a large tent, set it up on a vacant lot, and held the services there. After the church service, everybody stayed for a family style picnic. There was never any shortage of food. Every lady tried to outdo the other. A special treat was the first watermelon of the season. They got their watermelons from Texas and/or Mexico. The shipment usually conveniently arrived around St. Peter’s Day.
The Vereschagin family, 1938. [top l-r] Irene, Tina, Harold, Irene, William, Martha, George, Ann, Walter, Jane, Elizabeth. [middle l-r] Leo, holding Donald, John, William, James, Dad, Alex, Alex Jr., Walter. [bottom l-r] Vernon, John, Louise, Laverne, Virginia, Robert.
After lunch, the older generation would all go back into the tent to listen to various choir groups perform and if there were guests from out of town, they would be asked to speak. Needless to say, we sang, and Dad V. spoke. Around five o’clock, everyone went home for chores and a rest, before returning for the evening sobranya. I remember sitting on the platform in front of the congregation, barely able to keep my eyes open. I had to stay awake, because we were expected to sing throughout the service. (To help me stay awake, I watched the huge mosquitoes on the ceiling.)
We spent the next week in Blaine Lake. To keep our social calendar running on schedule, Dad appointed his nephew (another Alexei Vasilyevich Vereschagin) to be our secretary. Alexei had to keep us posted as to where we were to go next. Without him, it could have been a disaster. He, and his wife Masha, went everywhere with us. It was hard to leave a house right after eating, but Alexei would keep us moving, so that we would be on time to the next house – and more food.
Next we had to go 200 miles farther east to Kamsack, Saskatchewan, to visit Dad’s friend, Gregory F. Vanin and family. Mr. Vanin was one of the young men savagely beaten by the Russian military in 1896. He had also been banished to Siberia. The Vanins had lived in Orland for a short while before World War I; thus, the Vanin children (Anna, Jim, and Margaret) had become good friends with William, Martha, Alex, and Jane.
It rained the entire day we traveled from Blaine Lake to Kamsack. When we got to the country road leading to the Vanin’s, it was very muddy and slippery. The mud had built up on our tires, so there was no traction. The wheels started to spin, and before we knew it, our car turned completely around and we were facing Walt’s car. Luckily, Walt was far enough behind us that we did not hit one another. It was so frightening that we actually started laughing. What an experience! That evening, I remember listening to Dad and Mr. Vanin talk about their lives in Siberia and the Doukhobor politics in Canada.
While traveling, we did not keep up with the international news. Because of the war in Europe, we had been warned that it was possible that the border between the U. S. and Canada might be closed. We didn’t take it seriously. We felt that the warning was merely to prepare us for a possible delay in crossing when we returned to the U.S. We thought that we had all the necessary papers, so we’d have no problems. We just went on our merry way; however, when we arrived back at the border, we ran into a lot of problems. The border had been closed shortly after we had entered Canada. Now, we learned that Irene and Martha did not have the proper papers and that they could not cross back into the U.S. They had to get the proper affidavits from Orland, etc., etc. We had no choice but to leave them at the border and go home to work on their release.
As soon as we got home, the paper work began. Fifteen-year old George Boyko, Martha’s son, wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, the President’s wife, asking for help in getting his mother home. Other affidavits and legal papers were wired to the border. Although Martha and Irene were comfortable in a hotel, they were anxious to get home. (Their children, Laverne and Jimmy, did not stay with them, but returned home with us.) Within a couple of weeks, they were released and returned to Orland by bus.