WORLD WAR II. A HISTORY OF THE CENTRAL WASHINGTON STATE FAIR GROUNDS
“THREE YOUNG BOYS AND A FAIRGROUNDS”
The Creighton Family moved from their apple ranch in Terrace Heights to the, as it was known at that time, Washington State Fairgrounds. The year was 1941 when the United States entered the second World War. My father, Arch Creighton, was appointed Superintendent of the Washington State Fairgrounds. He was appointed to the position by Governor Arthur Langlie and the fairgrounds was under the direction of the State Department of Agriculture. The Director was Arthur Cox who was from Walla Walla. Hugh King was manager of the 1941 Central Washington State Fair and continued in that position until his retirement. He was succeeded by Greg Stewart. The fair association leased the facilities from the State and was in charge of the annual fair. Valley notables such as Perry Woodall, J.C. Penny, Damon Canfield and others made up the board.
My two brothers and I were very excited about moving to the fairgrounds. I was eleven years old and my brother David was ten, Alan, the youngest was eight, Sister Ann, was born in 1941. We lived in the apartment located in the Northeast corner of the Modern Living Building. At the time, it was known as the 4-H Building and was the newest building on the grounds. It was the only building, with the exception of the administration building, that was permanently heated. Two large boilers in the basement were coal fired and steam pipes and radiators ran throughout the entire building. The apartment was too small for our family, so Dad added three small bedrooms onto the back of the apartment for the boys.
We settled into our new surroundings in the early spring of 1941 and were able to view and see the preparations for the 1941 Central Washington Fair. I did not know it at the time, but it was the beginning of my lifelong career in the agricultural and worlds fair business. The fair was a great experience for three small boys. I have vivid recollections of the horse races, the six horse hitches, Captain Eddy, the high diver, and the great carnival. The agricultural building was filled with wonderful Grange exhibits. Our uncle, Frank Creighton, supervised the Fruitvale Grange exhibit and won first prize.
At that time, Ziegler Shows was the carnival. Charlie Ziegler owned the show and I remember his raspy voice and his wooden leg. He always gave the Creighton boys a roll of free ride tickets. We rode and rode. After the fair, the Ziegler Shows wintered in the horse barns in the Southeast corner of the grounds. All the trucks and equipment were lined up in the center aisle of three barns. Charlie gave us boys ten dollars each to “watch his show” and gave my sister a big stuffed animal each year. I believe Ann still has those stuffed animals to this day. Ziegler Shows continued to play a route during the war and came back each fall and wintered on the grounds. Later, he sold out to a fellow by the name of George Hislop. Andy Anderson bought the show from Hislop and renamed it Rainier Shows, and used to combine with Meeker Shows in order to have a large carnival for the Yakima fair. I believe they played the 1945 fair. During the years from 1942 through 1944, there was no fair due to the war. The only other experience I remember about carnivals was the fact that Miller Shows came to the grounds to play a date and did not do well enough to pay their rent. My father impounded the whole show and there it sat on the parking lot for about three months until Miller came up with the money. I do remember that my brothers and I had the “exclusive rights” to rake the sawdust after the shows pulled out. We did pretty well and added a little “pocket money” which we exchanged at Glesner’s Store for candy.
There was a small zoo on the grounds located where the metal building, now called the Goat Barn is located. My recollection was that we had a black bear, a cougar, a couple of raccoons and some other small animals. My dad gave us boys our first job on the grounds. It was feeding the animals. This wasn’t much fun as we had to get up and feed them before going to school. However, the zoo did not last long as the war effort built up. Dad made a deal with Woodland Zoo in Seattle and one day the zoo disappeared.
How could you live on a fairgrounds and not have your own swimming pool? Next to the Modern Living Building was a concrete water-filled Lilly pond. It was about fifteen feet wide and thirty feet long. It was located where the Shattuck Building is now. As I recall, it was about two and one-half feet deep. Out came the lilies, in went fresh water and, presto, we had a swimming pool. We rigged up a diving board, but one dive was all it took to find out that the water was not deep enough. Dr. Skinner patched me up. Dad and Mother sort of watched this with some concerns and kept an eye on the events we were staging in our new pool. Of course, our friends in the neighborhood found out about our pool and invited themselves over for a swim.
Another recollection were the ballroom dances held on Saturday nights in the Industrial Building which is no longer in existence. At the time, the dances were very popular and Vic Meyers, former Secretary of State, was the bandleader. There was no liquor to be served on the fairgrounds as it was a state facility. However, Sunday morning found us out in the parking lots picking up beer bottles and other assorted items. Of course, we sold the beer bottles and added to our growing treasury. Our school friends envied us as we always had money. As the war effort built up the dances were discontinued and we lost our beer bottle money source. However, various other sources showed up such as mowing and raking the thirteen acres of lawn, etc.
The fairgrounds housed a fire department with one 500-gallon pumper. This was located in the Machinery Building which is the brick building just East of the Agricultural Building. There was a small house next to the building and this is where the Fire Chief lived. It was a part of the county fire department. I don’t recall any fires of consequence on the grounds, but that fire engine was always taking off for a fire outside the grounds. The chief never blew the siren until he got off the grounds. This was nice and added to our sleeping time without being wakened by the noise.
As the war effort built up, things really began to change on the grounds and the whole place became a beehive of activity. We were too young to know what was going on with the war, but we were surely interested in what was going on with the fairgrounds.
The Kenworth Truck Company, located on Marginal Way in Seattle was the first big change. Fred Redmond and Frank Fairchild owned Redmond- Fairchild heavy trucking company in Yakima. They were contracted to move the entire Kenworth Truck Company to the fairgrounds. It was a huge moving job. Kenworth was next to Boeing in Seattle and Boeing needed their plant for plane production. So Kenworth came to Yakima. When the entire operation was up and going, they produced nine trucks a day. Three trucks a day were built for the trucking industry and were known as “conventional trucks” They were all the same build with the exception of the paint job. Six trucks a day were built for the Army. These trucks were especially built for duty on the Burma Road in China and Northern India. The Army trucks had big radiators and were built with open cabs along the lines of a semi-tractor. The finished trucks were gassed up and driven up to First Avenue in Yakima and loaded on railroad cars.
The area under the Grandstand was cleaned out and this is where all the steel was turned into truck frames starting at the south end and the completed frames ended up at the north end where the springs, axles and wheels were put on. The noise of the riveting went on day and night. It was interesting to note that there was an old streetcar under the grandstand. At one time, there was a streetcar track that ran into the fairgrounds from the Northwest corner of the parking lot to the grandstand area. Trolleys use to bring people out to the grounds. As some point, they ran the last streetcar out to the end of the line and built the grandstand around it. Of course, when Kenworth started building the truck frames, the streetcar disappeared. I have no idea what happened to it. Another interesting fact happened. There was a false ceiling under the seats in the stands. Over the years, people had dropped their peanut shells through the cracks. I don’t know how many cubic yards of shells had to be removed before Kenworth could take out the false ceiling and hang some of their equipment from the rafters.
When the frames were completed, they were moved a short distance to the Industrial Building. This building is no longer in existence. It was a long narrow building that housed commercial exhibits during the fair and was located where the South part of the SunDome resides today. There were two production lines in the building; one was for the conventional trucks and the other was for the army trucks. North of the building was the staging area for the cabs, engines and all the parts that make up a truck. It was an open area and was not covered. The equipment was moved so quickly that no one worried about rain or rust. Fork lifts were running from the staging area to the building as fast as they could move. Work went on day and night. None of the neighbors complained about the noise. Everyone did their part to help the war effort.
The spare parts operation was conducted in the Women’s Building, now called the Pioneer Hall. The parts were soaked in cosmoline. This keep them from rusting and then packed on heavy paper and placed in wooden crates. Each army truck had a big crate on it with spare parts. The thing I remember was the smell of that cosmoline. It stunk up the whole place, but again, everyone put up with it. You could do almost anything if you were involved in the war effort. Kenworth had their administrative offices in the Women’s Building, survived the smell, but their meetings were short.
The next big deal was the Army convoys on their way from Ft. Lewis to Pendleton, Oregon.
They would roll into the North parking lot with one hundred or more trucks at a time and fill the entire lot, this happened two or three times a week. The soldiers would set up their field kitchens and eat dinner and breakfast. The next morning they would leave and be on their way. At that time, there were race horse barns where the baseball field is located and the rest of the area was the parking lot. It was filled to the brim with Army trucks and equipment.
However, the government realized that people needed entertainment. The Ringling Brothers Barnum Bailey Circus came to town once a year with their big three ring tent circus. They unloaded from the railcars up on First Street and paraded to the fair grounds down Yakima Avenue with 50 elephants and all the rest of the show. The menagerie, two or three freak shows and the big top filled the whole parking lot. We saw every performance of that circus, of course, we had free tickets.
From the end of the 1941 fair until the 1945 fair, the fairgrounds was highly involved in the war effort. The activity really began to pick up around the first of 1942.
Charles McCallister at the Yakima airport had a contract to teach Navy V-5 cadets to solo in Piper Cub aircraft. The cadets were housed in the Modern Living Building. The interior of the building has been changed since that time, but the cadets bunked upstairs in the two wings. The downstairs was converted into a mess hall with a large kitchen in the Southwest corner. There was a recreation hall with ping pong tables, etc. and a laundry. The Northeast corner contained the office of the commander and his assistant. There was something like a hundred cadets plus officers. They would come and spend about six weeks learning the basics of flying. After they soloed, they would be off to who knows where.
Classes were held in the old administrative building now called the Shattuck Bldg. The building was located about where the new administration building now stands. The cadets were split into two groups. One group was in class in the morning and the other was at the airport flying. Then, in the afternoon they changed places. I remember there was a slide show in one of the classrooms where the cadets learned how to identify enemy aircraft. They flashed the plane on the screen for just an instant. I remember they used to let me and my brothers come over and set in the back of the class. It did not take us long to learn to identify each enemy plane. We would have been good candidates for the Civil Air Patrol but we were too young.
The Navy built a physical fitness track out in front of the grandstand. It was quite an obstacle course and we spent a lot of time out there swinging on the ropes and trying to climb the walls and crawl under the barbed wire. The Navy timed the cadets on how fast they could execute the course without making a mistake. We tried the same thing with a lot of mistakes and our times were not quite as good as theirs.
The parade ground was the lawn area between the Agricultural Building and the Sundome. They marched on the grounds every day. The commander was really a great guy and let us march with the cadets once in awhile. He even let us play ping pong with the cadets. We thought this was really something and spent time at school impressing our friends with what we were doing. We invited them to come down and participate, but Dad and the Commander put a stop to that. They did not think our school buddies were doing much to help the war effort, three kids were enough.
The Navy mess created a lot of leftover food simply called “slop.” Therefore, we got into the pig raising business with all that free pig food. As I recall, we kept about 10 porkers down in the last barn next to the street. Everything went well until the pigs started getting loose and crossing the street into the neighborhood. “The pigs are out, the pigs are out” became a message that was constantly brought to our attention. We had to go out at all times of the day or night and catch those dammed pigs. It wasn’t much fun, but when we sold them, the money was good and our cash flow continued to increase.
A fellow rancher and friend of my dad, Roscoe Claire, got a job transporting the cadets. They provided a nice new GMC 15 passenger van. When Roscoe was not transporting the troops, he was busy polishing and cleaning the van. It was the cleanest and sharpest looking vehicle in the whole City of Yakima. When he did not have a full load, he would take us out to the airport and back. It was great fun.
After the Navy, here came the Army Air Force. They set up shop in the Agricultural Building. The only thing that separated the Army and Navy was a small creek that ran across the lawn and tree area that was located between the Ag. Building and the Modern Living Building. There were times when a wall would have been better. The commanders had to remind the troops that they were there to fight a war and not each other. The army guys bunked in the South extension of the Ag. Building, both upstairs and downstairs. I don’t remember where they ate, but it was uptown or some place, there were no kitchen facilities. I think they had their classrooms out at the airport.
The Army Air force had two movie stars in the group. One was John Payne and the other was John Hall. John Hall played Tarzan in the movies and John Payne was a big star. John Payne was a really nice regular guy. He broke his leg and the commander asked Dad if there was something Payne could do while he was recovering. So Dad had him working in the greenhouse which was located where the Christian Life Barbeque is now. We would go over there and visit with him and he would tell us all about Hollywood. John Hall wasn’t a very nice fellow. He would sort of stay by himself. I remember when Saturday night rolled around, his wife, all dressed up in furs, would drive down in her new Lincoln and pick him up. The troops did not go for that and kept giving him a bad time. The last time we visited with him, he was cleaning latrines in the Ag. Building. He would say “hello” but that was about it.
The Army wanted a basketball gym, so Dad built one for them in the main part of the Agricultural Building where the Grange exhibits are located. Most people don’t know that there used to be a sunken rose garden under the current floor. Out went the rose garden and in came the basketball floor. The lights for the basketball court are still high up in the top of the building. We had a lot of fun playing basketball and Dad and the commander relaxed the rules enough to let us have our school friends down for a game or two. We probably organized the first “little league basketball” in the U.S. We had to get the whole thing organized into teams and collect enough money to pay for the lights. Dad would not let us play unless we had the money for the lights in advance. I think we made a little money for ourselves as I remember. It was a situation where we learned a little bit about a thing called the “surcharge.”
There were big war bond rallies in the grandstand. Once in awhile, on a Sunday afternoon, big movie stars would come to the fairgrounds grandstand and put on “war bond rallies.” Stars of the “forties” would show up, sing, dance and appeal to people to buy bonds. Adolf Menjou, Clark Gable, George Burns, Virginia Mayo, Spencer Tracy and others would come. The grandstand was packed and there was a place where the public could buy bonds. After the big show, the stars would stay around and sign autographs. Then, they would be off to the next rally in the Tri-Cities.
Another big deal were scrap drives. The government wanted all of the scrap paper, scrap steel and iron, tinfoil, aluminum and brass that could be found. School children were big participants in scrap drives. They would take the scrap to school and put it in the corner of the school yard. Our scrap yard was the Washington Junior High School. Contests were organized and the winners. for collecting the most scrap, received twenty five-dollar war bonds. The bonds cost $18.50 each and were worth $25.00 in 10 years.
The Creighton Boys had a bonanza. 180 acres to collect scrap. Dad told us “If we could lift it, we could have it.” He wasn’t thinking too clearly at the time. I don’t think anyone ever threw anything away since the beginning of that fairgrounds. Kenworth was off-limits for scrap hunting. Our mouths watered when we looked at the scrap they were producing. We picked up every piece of scrap that was loose and hauled it up to the school yard. My brother, David, was a specialist in collecting paper. He built a wagon to haul behind his bicycle and every day at school, he showed up with a load. As a matter of fact he got his picture in the paper, along with his bicycle and wagon, for collecting the most paper. As was expected, we collected our share of war bonds. Sometimes, we had to bring something back to the grounds. We found a big bucket of brass locks and keys. We hauled them off to the school, but the principal called Dad, and we had to take them back.
The National Youth Administration, commonly referred to as the NYA, housed themselves in what is now the maintenance building on the south side of the grounds along the street. Of course, workers were hard to find as the war had conscripted all the young men who were physically fit. Therefore, the NYA was made up of young men who were 4-F or were conscientious objectors. They learned carpentry, welding and other useful trades. They were on the grounds for the entire period of the war. The guy who ran the place was rather strict and it was off limits for us. We always wondered what really went on in that building.
Dad could never find enough people who wanted to work. The war had created real shortages and everyone that wasn’t in the service was working for Kenworth or had gone over to Seattle to work for Boeing. So, we three boys took up the tasks. We mowed and raked the lawns, watered the track, watered the lawn, hauled out the garbage and did everything else that we could do. We learned how to run all the equipment including driving the tractors, trucks and pickups.
I remember that we used to have stock car races on Sunday afternoon on the mile and one-eighth horse track. The government allowed this type of activity and allowed gas coupons for it. They realized the need for entertainment just as they did with allowing carnivals and circuses to operate. In those days, stock cars were truly stock. They were right off the show room floor or maybe somebody ran a family car. There were a couple of cars that used to always win. One was a front wheel drive Cord and the other a supercharged Graham. All the rest of the drivers had to chase them around the track. One driver went through the fence on the Southeast corner, drove on the other side of the fence, and came back in on the Northwest corner. The grandstand was always packed for these races. They sat there in the dust and dirt and really enjoyed themselves.
Midget races were very popular. Friday nights, everyone came. The grandstand was filled. Dad built a little quarter mile track right in front of the grandstand. The noise, the dust and the wrecks kept everyone thoroughly entertained. The midgets ran on a mixture of gas and castor oil. I can still smell them..
One of our jobs was watering the race track and we had an old Ford Model B. water truck and another old world war one Liberty truck with a big tank on it. If the race was on Sunday afternoon, we started watering right after we got out of school on Friday afternoon. We watered, watered and watered until we had the track so wet we would have to get a tractor and pull our trucks out. However, when the stock cars made about six trips around the track, it was solid as concrete. We kept on watering between events. It was so wet that we did not have a dust problem until about the 50th lap of the main event. Then it got so dusty, you could not see the backstretch, but people jammed the grandstand for those races. A fellow by the name of Brown was the promoter. He did not like the idea of having three kids watering the track. He had a talk with Dad and we never did stop watering that track. Dad could be a little forceful when the occasion demanded it.
Dad had a rule that we could not start driving until we were ten years old. When you hit the grand age of ten, you received your official Washington State Fairgrounds Drivers Papers. My brother, Alan, had to wait two years before he was eligible. He just got in the pickup and drove without any lessons. The first job, a newly accredited driver acquired, was taking out the garbage. We had a very large garbage pit just outside the Southeast turn on the mile track.
Alan really enjoyed his new job and he took very long routes in getting the garbage to the pit. One day, Inez Walters was out riding her Morgan horse on the track and she saw a pickup, loaded with garbage, going around the track. She went back to the barns and called my dad. “Arch, you’ve got a pickup going around the track with no driver!” Dad replied, “How is it doing on the turns?” Inez replied, “Well, it seems to be okay.” Dad said, “Don’t worry, it will find its way home.” Alan was pretty small. He could only see between the steering wheel and the bottom of the windshield. It is no wonder that Inez thought there was no driver
I don’t recall any of us having a driving accident, except when I hit the gas house with the old World War One Liberty water truck. It was a powerful old truck with brakes that were none existent. Anyway, the gas house and I survived. Not so for the truck, it was placed in early retirement.
However, our work and driving resulted in a problem. Miss Anthon was the editorial writer at the Herald-Republic and was a very respected writer. She kept her white horse at the fairgrounds in one of the barns along with the Morgan horses owned by Inez Walters and her husband, Harold. We got a dollar a stall for cleaning them. Anyway, Miss Anthon knew what was going on at the fairgrounds. She used to come down, pick up my sister Ann, who was about two at the time, put her in the saddle in front of her and the two of them would ride around the track. She had a first hand view of all the work we were doing and decided to run an article in the paper about the Creighton Boys and their contributions to the war effort, driving trucks, mowing lawns, watering the track, etc.
Somebody turned Dad in, as a result of the article, something about child labor laws. Dad announced that we had to quit working. Boy, was this a major blow. We were making good money and did not want to quit, besides it was a lot of fun. All I remember is that Dad took off for Olympia “on business.” When he returned, we went right back to work and nothing more was said. I often wondered what happened to the guy that complained, never heard another word.
All of the building, that did not have a specific use, were used for storage. We had one building full of new passenger tires. Ziegler Shows still had some of the barns for winter storage, but the rest of the barns all had something stored in them. The box stalls in the horse barns up by the parking lot were the only area that did not have something or other stored in them.
The war ended in the Spring of 1945. The Navy V-5 unit, the Army Air Force and Kenworth started moving out at the end of the war with Germany. Kenworth moved back to Seattle. Again Redmond-Fairchild had the hauling contract. It was a much slower effort than moving in at the beginning of the war. It was a close call getting the grounds restored for the 1945 fair, but it worked out and the fair was back in business. Hugh King, the fair manager, moved back into the Administration Building and did a great job of staging the fair and working around some of the war time efforts that were still in place.
Our years on the fairgrounds were wonderful. It was a great experience for three young boys and we will never forget the good times, the trouble we got into when we disobeyed our parents, and how we managed to escape from the proposed punishment.
Paul Creighton May 2003