Down Bald Hill Road to Elbow Lake and Moonshine Valley (June 21, 1964)

Down Bald Hill Road to Elbow Lake and Moonshine Valley

(Tacoma News Tribune and Sunday Ledger   June 21, 1964)

(Author’s note:  This article on the Bald Hills was part of series articles written for the Ledger which detailed interesting day trips for it readers.  The other two articles from four decades earlier provide an explanation for why an area in the Bald Hills was known as Moonshine Valley.)

FOUR CORNERS, Thurston County — Follow the Bald Hill Road to Elbow Lake, where true-blue Washingtonians laughingly camp in the rain . . . and on to Moonshine Valley, a hollow of enchantment beside the Deschutes River and once a haven for nudists.

Moonshine Valley owes its name to a thirstier, rugged era when homemade stills flourished on creeks and springs back in the tall firs and the wild brush. Later it was promoted as a spa for naked sun-worshippers, who collected from all over the country (some arriving by airplane on a private field) to convene in the raw.

But now some 130 acres of romantic Moonshine Valley are converted into a family resort, for weekend and summer pursuit of outdoor recreation. And it well could become a Palm Springs of the Northwest.

The Bald Hills are south of Tacoma, by way of Roy and McKenna, and the country is blessed with famous fishing lakes … such as Clear, known the state over for its plentiful trout, and Lawrence, which opened for the season this morning after a poison treatment restocking by the Game Department.

And the best sources of information, advice, history and what the future holds for this “last frontier” is philosopher-grocer Tom McMonigle . . . proprietor of the Four Corners General Store.

The most popular item in the store is free … a three – page Mimeographed map showing the routes to the many attractions of the Bald Hills. Tom said local teen-agers produced the map for him . . . and he estimates that already this year he has handed out 10,000 copies. (If this is hard to believe, don’t forget that the Game Department reported more than 10,000 fishermen hit Clear Lake the day it opened in April.)

A native of the area, Tom frankly admits he makes his living from the users of the lake resorts . . . and that the rains of tune are an economic menace and that his disposition is a weather vane, cloudy or sunny, depending on the complexion of the sky over his beloved home country.

The day of our visit was excessively wet. But the grocer, sensing a return of the sun, treated us with only respect and courtesy, We’ll say right here that Tom McMonigle puts out the best free map to be found at Four Corners.

And we ventured forth down the rainy road . . . met a 13-year-old capitalist. Young Ken Bean raises worms, sells them to fishermen and puts the money away for a college education. He is an orderly, determined captain of industry, who covers his worm bins with straw in the winter . . . and stands guard spring and summer against marauding birds.

He entered the worm business three years ago. Last season he had terrific competition. But he expanded his inventory to include red gold worms imported from Texas and which turn different colors under water, proving irresistible to finny creatures.

Ken has taken in his sister, Barbara, 11, as a partner.

Last spring their mother, Mrs. M. W. Bean, promised them $10 each if they could earn $100 apiece from their worms. She had to pay up. And Ken’s money went into a fund for the time he enters college to become a mathematician or a doctor.

The future Dr. Bean uses two front-yard signs to attract customers. If he is at home, his signs reads: “Honk horn for service.”

But if he is away for any reason, he relies on an honor system . . . and his sign announces: ”Self Service Worms—20 cents a dozen.”

Waiting for the Mail

Our first report on the good bass, crappie and perch fishing to be enjoyed’ at Elbow Lake came from two freckle-faced boys on bicycles. Brothers Pete and Roy Ehrlich, 13 and 11, were waiting for the mailman to arrive at their box on the Bald Hill Road.

“You can get about 18-inch bass out of Elbow,” Pete informed me.

They would have told us more, except that the mailman—a woman—suddenly appeared . . . and they were fast on their way home with the day’s delivery.

We turned off to Elbow Lake on the Piesner Road . . . near two old school buildings no longer in use . . . with broken windows and grass growing out of the roof shingles . . . the grounds haunted with ghostly figures playing hopscotch and kickball.

And we reached the lake by a meandering route and strict adherence to the several signs . . . and we could see fishermen in yellow slickers out on a raft. We were at Elbow Lake Park, a public recreation area provided by the Weyehaeuser Co.

Soon we were sipping coffee at a camp site occupied by two Tacoma families. They were there with tents and badminton equipment and spears for hunting long-legged frogs at night . . . and their own recipe for fun in a leaky outdoors.

The husbands—Don Lemon and Harold Greenwood — had gone fishing, hopeful of repeating their previous day’s success. The wives had the coffee pot on. Several boys were in a car, playing cards.

“There’s a technique to camping in the rain,” Mrs. Lemon confided. “You go to the library and get a stack of books like this’—she moved her hands far apart—”and you wear the latest from Dior, rubber boots, old riding clothes, you know.”

And Mrs. Greenwood chimed in: “Our tent smells like I don’t know what . . . Wet tennis shoes, I guess.”

Hypnotizing Frogs Mike Lemon, 17, explained how frogs are hunted for the legs that many people relish as a delicacy. A strong light is worn on a head band and focused on the frogs … which become hypnotized and are easy targets for long, three-pronged spears.

Despite the steady drizzle, Mrs. Lemon urged Don to set up the badminton net.

It was a magnificent display of the tenacity of the female spirit. We were ashamed for every complaint we had ever voiced about the blankety-blank weather.

We intend to travel up the Bald Hill Road again—under a blazing sun. But we don’t expect to find Moonshine Valley any more peaceful and hauntingly beautiful than it appeared with gem-like raindrops on the green slopes and in the branches of fir and cedar and spruce. Bob Thurston and Mike Johnson are the developers of the valley, nestled between Clear Lake and Deschutes Falls. When the property was a nudist colony a fence blocked the passage of unwelcome visitors

Now there are signs everywhere, pointing the way to Moonshine Valley, newly opened as a conventional resort . . . with a stone swimming pool . . . cabins and tent sites . . . a hall for snacks and dancing . . . and access to fishing in the river.

Thurston calls the Bald Hills country a “last frontier.” He and Johnson are betting on the increased leisure time of the workingman and on Tacomans’ and Seattleites’ great zest for the outdoors.

They have many definite plans and many sketchy dreams.

Dan Still Remembered November 27, 1977


Dan Still Remembered

By Dan Wheat  The Daily Olympian  November 27, 1977

YELM — Most towns erect monuments to city founders, mayors or other notable community leaders. Not Yelm. It has a monument to a man who came to town as a hobo and left 33 years later as a beloved legend.

Dan Maslowski wasn’t a typical tramp. Nor was he a city founder, but many say he was the top citizen of Yelm. He was a respected and trusted community member. His memory is lodged in the warmest spot of many a heart. Maslowski earned himself a niche as Yelm’s Mr. Clean.

Townfolk who remember the old hobo have their favorite stories to tell. And all have nothing but good things to say about their old Dan. Some resent him being called a tramp.

The drinking fountain ‘monument is in front of Yelm’s fire hall on Main Street. It reads, “Keep Yelm Clean. In memory of Dan Maslowski — 1971.” It was placed there a year or so after old Dan’s death in July of 1971.

Yelm grocer and former -state legislator Hal Wolf, and the late Bob Ellis, who once owned Bob’s Tavern, gathered donations for the monument. They sold bumper stickers that read, “Keep Yelm Clean For Dan.” Ellis’s son-in-law Jim Forrester, present owner of Bob’s Tavern, said some people thought the stickers were in reference to  Gov. Dan Evans. It became something of a joke to keep people straightened out on the matter.

Ellis and Mel Johnson spent hours installing the fountain monument. “There’s not many tributes in this town and this is the only one on Main Street. Nobody else got into the hearts of people here,” Wolf declared.

Wolf was a young man when Maslowski hit town. He remembers his dad and others liked to buy Maslowski’s breakfast because they were so pleased with the way he kept the town clean. “He read a lot and sometimes gave the impression that he’d once had a formal educcation,” Wolf recalled.

“Since old Dan died, we’ve had a real problem in trying to keep the town clean. We’ve never solved it. Whenever something needed to be done for the city, Dan would do it. This town hasn’t been the same without him There aren’t any hobos left today.”

As the story goes. Maslowski left his Wisconsin home at age 13 because of family problems He rode the rails across America until finding Yelm in 1938 He once told Ellis, “The first night I got to Yelm they didn’t throw me in the can. So I just stayed. It was the first place where they didn’t throw me in the can.”

His first night in town, he bummed a handout at the door of Martin Gruber, then co-owner of the Gruber-Docherty Lumber Company and later treasurer of Thurston County. But that was the last time he begged for food After that he swept floors, chopped wood, cut grass and did scores or other odd Jobs about town. in return people gave him meals or maybe some change.


At first he slept in a little house behind Gruber’s, then city hall was his home until Ellis gave him a room in his notes in the early 1960s, Ellis tore down the top story of the hotel and turned the first floor into a tavern and Laundromat.  Masiowski squeezed into a small room between the two.

That’s where he lived until his death except for three  months he lived at the McKenna rest home.

As the years went by street cleaning became his forte ‘He’d be up at four nearly every morning sweeping the streets whether it was rain,, snow or shine.” recalled Forrester.

“The town has never been as clean since old Dan died He swept parking lots, porches, sidewalks and not only Main Street but every street in town.

Others said he could often be seen outside shaking a fist at a horse rider going through town. if the horse dirtied the pavement.  After many years, the city finally put him on the payroll for his cleaning efforts. He got $25 per month.

Forrester said Maslowski was good at sweeping out Bob’s Tavern until carpet was put in “He didn’t like the carpet because he couldn’t sweep it. “

There’s not been many in the world that could smoke a cigar like Dan. He was the most contented, leisurely and relaxed smoker. But he had to quit drinking during his last three years because the doctor told him his heart was going bad. He obeyed doctor’s orders.”

Mrs. Evelyn Fall, who remarried after the death of her husband Bob Eilis. remembers she and Ellis were newlyweds when Maslowski found Yelm. “He stacked wood and picked strawberries for my mom and dad and all the little kids loved him. if everyone was as good as old Dan was, this would be a great world,” she said.

Maslowski was completely trustworthy. The Ellises often would send him to the bank with their earnings for the day It was common to see him talking to himself while working and he loved cats and plants.

He served many a night as town watchman and was especially helpful in that capacity during Yelm Prairie Days in the summers. City Clerk Roger Eide remembers giving Maslowski free haircuts at his barbershop. “I’d say have one on the house and sometimes he’d pay and sometimes he wouldn’t,” Eide said with a grin. “He very seldom would work for anyone who wouldn’t give him a meal.  And he’d eat enough for a week.”

Eide wasn’t the only one to mention Maslowski’s appetite. The fact that the old boy could eat is something all comment on.

Mayor Lora B. Coates remembers Maslowski helped her and her husband harvest Christmas trees. “He was certainly a legend. He was as typical a small town character as you could find. But he was part of a vanishing breed.”

Maslowski died of a heart attack July 26, 1971. The town was shut down for the hour of his funeral.

A Daily Olympian story about the funeral hit national and international news wires. Mrs. Frieda Young, of Selkirkshire, Scotland, thought she might be related to Maslowski and sent a letter of inquiry to Yelm. Mayor Coates sent all the information she had about Maslowski to Mrs. Young.

The two corresponded for about a year. and Mrs. Young last wrote that she positively felt she was related to him.

Mrs. Connie Turner is one Yelm resident who still thinks often of old Dan. She visits his resting place in the Yelm cemetery at least once a year. She planted shrubbery on the grave since Maslowski liked “anything growing.” And she still takes care of the grave.

Mrs. Turner says Maslowski reminded her of her father. So she sort of adopted him as a second fattier. One New Year’s Eve she got him on the dance floor, despite heavy bets that he wouldn’t. Most of the time he shied away from females.

It’s been said that no one ever captured the heart of Yelm as did Dan Maslowsi.  And no one had since.”













Yelm is Becoming Commercial Center Growth January 30, 2002

Yelm is Becoming Commercial  Center  Growth:  New Businesses From Surrounding area in North Thurston County

By Cecilia Nguyen  The News Tribune   January 30, 2002

Rural Yelm is acquiring some big-city amenities Yelm is at the center of much of the commercial and retail development in North Thurston County, with the construction of a Safeway grocery store, Rite Aid pharmacy and movie theater in the past five years.

Most recently, Starbucks opened a coffee shop off Yelm Avenue, the city’s main commercial and retail street.

Yelm is becoming the commercial hub for a lot of the rural communities in this area Yelm city administrator Shelley Badger said, “The big reason for the growth is because our location. We are the center of a very large rural area.”

Retailers who once traditionally looked retail centers in Olympia and Tacoma quickly realizing Yelm’s potential. In 1999, the Yelm Cinemas’ developers performed an area market study.

It identified a far larger consumer base than just Yelm’s 3,289 residents.  The study estimated 65,000 people within a 15-mile radius, 640,000 people within a 25-mile radius.

“What surprised us was the numbers were so high,” Yelm Cinemas spokesman John Thompson said.

Since the movie theater’s opening in December 2000, attendance has exceeded market study expectations, Thompson added.

“This is a growing area with an expanding economic base,” Thompson said. “Other businesses are starting to figure out that Yelm might be the place to locate.”

The additional tax revenue funded most of the city’s essential services last year, Yelm officials say.

In 2001, Yelm residents paid the city $555,000 in property taxes.  That same year, the city collected $727,000 in sales tax revenue and $480,000 from the business and occupation tax.

Sales and B&O taxes provide more than half- $1.2 million – of the city’s $2.3 million operating general fund budget, Badger said.

Badger commended past elected officials and the current City Council for their realistic planning approaches and foresight.

Officials prepared Yelm for the impending developments by upgrading the city’s infrastructure, such as increasing its wastewater treatment capacity, she added.

Yelm also continues to work on gaining more water rights and improving its systems to accommodate growth.

The next task for city officials, Badger said, is to address Yelm’s growing traffic problems.

The council is searching for a solution to address the high volume of vehicles that drive along Yelm Avenue, which turns into Highway 510. Constructing an alternate route to

bypass Yelm Avenue is one option, officials say.


Badger speculates as Yelm’s commercial core expands, more shoppers will discover they can accomplish most of their shopping locally.

“People used to have to drive to Olympia or Tacoma to get what they needed,” Badger said. “The choices are increasing here.”

City officials acknowledge hearing residents voice their fears that Yelm’s small-town atmosphere could diminish with added economic development. No formal anti-growth movement has formed so far.

“From time to time we hear people say, ‘It’s not like what it used to be Badger said. “But we also hear positive comments saying, ‘It’s nice to be able attend a movie and shop in town.'”

And Thompson believes Yelm’s close proximity to the smaller Thurston County communities meant the city was destined to grow.

“Yelm’s growth was inevitable -whether we wanted it or not,” Thompson said. “It’s just a matter of whether it was planned growth.”



Yelm, McKenna and Roy July 23, 1972

Yelm, McKenna and Roy

Small towns that make you want to sit down and stay

The Seattle Times  July 23, 1972

By Byron Johnsrud



This is another in the continuing series on communities in and around the Seattle area.

ROY SCULLY and I sat hunched over our coffee at the counter in Dottie’s Cafe in Yelm. Five men and women, all in their 40s, sat behind us having their morning coffee at a table.

“I don’t care if it’s here in Yelm, in Roy or McKenna or wherever, I like to give new things first,” a woman said.

“Yeah. If you can,” a second woman said.

We gathered they were discussing how to help the victims of house fires or other family disasters.

‘”It’s the kids that bother me most.”

In the mirror behind the counter we could see the speaker was a great hulking bear of a man.

“All their toys gone and they’re too young to understand.”

“At that age they forget quick,” one of the … women said,

“I know. But the kids still get to me most,” the big man said.

Now here, by happy accident, was a great start on what Roy, a baseball buff, had insisted on calling our “Tinker to Evers to Chance Expedition.”

In our continuing pursuit of life as it is lived and enjoyed in smaller communities we had chosen that day to visit Yelm, McKenna and Roy. Yelm was on first, and right off the bat we had run onto one of the heartwarming facts M small-town life — the neighborly rally-’round-the-cause spirit of helpfulness in time of trouble.

Not that an urban center like Seattle has a heart like a drying olive in a dirty martini glass. Look at Neighbors in Need.

But in urban centers, such enterprises require organization and leadership. They lack that person-to-person, one-on-one quality. In Seattle, help for the stricken requires a great deal of planning and thought. In Yelm — or Roy or McKenna— it’s spontaneous.

LEAVING the kindly party in Dottie’s we walked down the sun-washed street. A sign in the window of The Chief Tavern intrigued me.

“Female pool players wanted,” it read. The woman on duty explained.

“It’s for a bit of a tournament we have every Tuesday night. Maybe we can get enough good players to go to a big tournament in Seattle. You gotta make your own fun in a town like this, Mister.”

“How about the boys?” I asked.

“Maybe we’ll give them a shot on Thursday nights,” she said. “They’ve already asked if they can come Tuesdays if they wear miniskirts.”

I rejoined Roy and we strolled on down the the street until we spotted the office of The Nisqually Valley News, a weekly. Dailies are delivered from Olympia and Tacoma, but little communities like their own local newspapers.

Inside we met Don Miller, the editor-owner. He is a pleasantly round (not fat), youngish man who obviously enjoys his life.

“No,” he said in answer to a question. “I gave up job printing quite a while back. Figured a guy should have some time off.”

What’s the social life like in Yelm?

“It’s a great sports town,” Miller said. “We’ve had some really great high school teams.”

Yelm schools, kindergarten through high school, enroll more than 1,500 youngsters, which is more than double the town’s official population. The kids come from surrounding communities.

“Of course you can’t spend all your time going to high-school ball games,” Miller said. “Like any place else, we have our civic hassles now and then. Got to have something to keep the blood stirring.”

BEFORE coming down we had read a prominent Washington historian who wrote that the original name was Chelm, meaning “heat waves rising from the earth,” which, it was behev were sent by the Great Spirit to make the earth bountiful. Somehow those heat waves had made much sense to us. They didn’t to Miller either.

“OK,” he said. “But we always heard started out as Yelmum, which was Indian Prairie Flower, or something like that.”

Roy, a flower lover, insisted on making it the official version. Question settled.

We asked about an attractive log building had noted that housed the Lions Club and Chamber of Commerce. Miller told us the W erhaeuser Co. had donated the logs.

“And some they don’t know to this day they ‘donated,'” his assistant added.

Miller then sent us to see Yelm’s mayor, Mrs. Lora B. Coates. She operates a sizable antique shop that looks like a warehouse on the outs and a fairyland inside.

“I sell to people from all over the state a beyond,” she explained. “I’d go broke if didn’t.”

Our “heat wave” historian wrote that the area was settled first by the Longmire family  on “Yelm Prairie” late in 1853. No, insisted Mrs. Coates, the Chambers family came first, as far back as 1846 and the area outside town was a still is known as Chambers Prairie. But such is the way of the frequently all-too-sketchy Washington State history.

“Not that the Longmires weren’t important here,” she said, explaining that a different Longmmire family branch was the one associated with Mount Rainier.

“They were a very energetic family,” s said, “and in the old days expeditions wc formed up here to start for the mountain.”

Mrs. Coates, as had Miller, noted that Yelm in Thurston County, was surrounded on thi sides by Fort Lewis, Olympia and Tacoma. (It is sort of a bedroom community for the fort.)

Industrially, Yelm consists mainly of a sizable wood-fabricatin plant and the General Cable rewind plant. The wood-fabricating plant makes the big spools on which the other plant rewinds cable. The wood-fabricating plant also specializes in interior finishings for mobile homes. And, of course, there are the stores and other enterprises dealing in the usual goods and services required by all the residents, even those who work elsewhere.

It’s enough for now, Madame Mayor said. “We don’t want to be ruined as a comfortable small town by some big, rampaging industry.”

We agreed heartily and spun on down the highway a piece to see how things were doing in McKenna.

THINGS were very much all right in McKenna — meaning that life’s quiet, peaceful way had changed but little.

Yelm lies on a plain between the Nisqually and the Deschutes Rivers. McKenna sits on a wide, shaded bend of the road with the Nisqually chuckling cheerfully at its back door. Or the front door, depending on the direction of your approach. You can park virtually anywhere except the center of the road, and that’s nice.

Yelm and Roy (the town, not Scully), I’m sure, would be happy to agree that McKenna is the prettiest spot of the three. It spreads out on a fertile flat created by the Nisqually. Tall trees filter the sunshine and a knoll here and there dots the landscape. It was named after a man from Wisconsin who established a sawmill at the townsite in 1906.

Roy (Scully, not the town) decided the light and shadow at the moment weren’t the best for picture-taking. So we went into a place labeled with beautiful simplicity “Tavern.” The tavern’s shadows didn’t do much for us. The proprietor wasn’t sure his establishment was the former town hall or the old company store of Mc-Kenna’s early lumbering fame. So we left.

“Them newspaper guys come around every couple of years,” he said as we walked out.

He may be right. But The Seattle Times archives show that the last visit of any consequence by a Times reporter was by Alice Staples back in 1958. (Mrs. Staples recently retired from her latter-day post as real-estate editor.) Her beautifully sensitive account in 1958 goes just as well for today.

In the early days of McKenna’s lumbering activity, the town was “a jumping, jiving community where the lights never went out,” Mrs. Staples wrote. The depression of the 1930s hit the town hard. Why didn’t it become a ghost town as did many another in those days?

“McKenna was a good place to live and raise our families,” an old-timer told Mrs. Staples. The people here were like one big family and when one needed help the others pitched in.

“I can remember when there weren’t any jobs and our menfolk banded together and cut and sawed firewood. They hauled it to Tacoma and sold it and everybody got along. When some got jobs, they helped those who still didn’t have work.”

The spirit is much the same today. People stay on because “it’s such nice place,” although many now commute to earn their daily bread.

ONE REASON McKenna survived was because “the company had a heart.” In sore straits itself, it made things as easy as possible for its former workers, turning over to them the company-built houses on whatever kind of in-stallment buying the residents could manage. The company itself managed to pay off most or all of its debts and still maintains an existence of sorts.

The company originally owned the town’s water system and still does, although its liquidators wish the town would buy it up. There are no water meters. In 1958 residents paid a flat $2.50 a month. Now the monthly tab is $3.50. Ah, inflation.

Members of the Daskam family, as they have since its inception, still run the business of the water system for what’s left of the corporate life of the lumber company.

Most of the company-built homes still exist, many of them substantially unchanged.

“They ought to,” a descendant of one of the original families said. “They were built to last, made out of the finest lumber available anywhere.”

Some of the “civic” structures still are there, too. The old lumber mill bunkhouse beside the Nisqually River now is an old folks’ home. The original company store still exists, although the original town hall has burned down.

The Hull name is large in McKenna history. Members of the family live atop a knoll at the town’s edge. Edgar Hull is the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Hull. The elder Hull was the mill’s chief machinist. He came to town in 1912 when the mill was founded. Edgar was a child then. Glenn Hull was born in McKenna, as was Alfred Hull. Kirby Hull, a nephew, lives across the street from Edgar in a handsome old home shaded by towering trees.

But McKenna has its influx of new blood from time to time. There’s young Warren Lasher, for one. He’s from New York state. He works in the town’s only service station.

“I’ve been here a year,” he said. “And I’m going to stay. I like it. I’m sick of big towns for more reasons than I can say.”

But back to the Alice Staples 1958 account:

“The town, a well-kept, quiet little community, seems a world away from the hectic, pell-mell bustle of modern-day living. McKenna has a constable and a justice of the peace but neither has any business to speak of.”

That couldn’t be said any better today.  It’s a spot that says “sit down and stay.”  Several generations have.

But, since the sun wasn’t quite sinking in the west, Scully and I moved on down the road to Roy.

ROY, and Yelm as well, to a degree, remind the visitor of Midwestern villages, perhaps because they lie in a prairies setting of somewhat drier country lacking the lushly verdant qualities common to most Western Washington areas. But there are trees, hillocks and valleys aplenty to dispel any notion that one has been plunked down in the center of North Dakota.

We drove down Roy’s main street, turned the first corner and stopped to inspect an old, heavily weathered barnlike building. A time-dimmed sign read:  John Napora Horseshoeing.

A very old man with a cane was tottering up a slight rise in the road about 50 yards away. Scully and I wondered if he could make it and whether we should offer him a hand. We needn’t have worried. When he saw us examining the old building he came on like Riva Ridge and by the time he hit the downslope he was fairly flying, his cane scarcely stirring the dust of the road.

He turned out to be the John Napora of the weathered sign and a swell old gentleman he is.

He said he was 92. Later, others in town told us that 92 maybe was more than half of it, but not much. He said he had shoed horses and done blacksmithing jobs in Roy for some 70 years. But he had quit, he said, and wasn’t about to begin again for anybody or anything—this despite the fact that little Roy has a large fame for its annual rodeos, the next installment of which is scheduled for September 3 and 4.

A pretty young woman wandered up and joined the conversation. She said she wasn’t a native but had been “farmed out” to relatives in the town “every summer since I was old enough to have a memory.”

“So I feel like a native,” she said.

But now, freshly graduated from college, about to be married and move elsewhere, she had her mind on things other than Roy.

“Oh, but I’ve had some very happy times here,” she said just a bit wistfully.

She said she was interested in writing and pointed out Murray’s General Store across the railroad tracks. She said she’d taken lots of pictures inside and out and had written a piece on the place.

“It’s been in the same family in the same place since 1889,” she said. “Now that’s really something.”

Roy and I gave her some advice (probably bad) on selling her work and decided not to spoil her chances by concentrating overmuch on Murray’s store in our piece.

“Young talent should be encouraged,” we agreed.

WE CAN also get pretty lazy sometimes on these excursions, especially when clear running water goes rollicking by and a sweet, cool breeze frolics in the trees.

The water in this case was Muck Creek, only a few yards from where we were chatting. The creek isn’t mucky, even murky and we didn’t find out the origin of the name.  We did learn that an early-day land company had thought the stream needed more dignity and had renamed it the Douglas River. But pioneer honesty soon prevailed and it became Muck Creek again. The town, too, once was named Muck, but was renamed “Roy” after the son of James McNaughton, who platted the townsite in 1884.

Scully then spotted a tiny white church straight out of New England and we rushed off to get a picture of it as if it were about to disappear.

The Town Hall was just across the railroad tracks, and I strolled through its unlocked rooms and corridors unmolested. Not a soul could I find.

The upstairs, I decided must be the courtroom and the spot where civic decisions were made. The town jail occupied a small corner of the big downstairs room. The barred door stood ajar. Inside were two cots. They looked as though they hadn’t been used in a long, long time.

Next we took a look inside the Murray store and it was a good thing we had decided not to poach on our young friend’s writing prerogatives. The dark-haired young woman minding the store was much too busy to talk.

True, most of the customers in the cavernous old building were small boys and girls making their deeply thoughtful and elaborate choices of penny candy. But that can be a busy and important business, too, and the young woman transacted it with great good will and infinite patience. However, she did take time to point us the way to the home of Roy’s mayor, Leon (Chief) Rediske.

The mayor was away, at his paying job in Tacoma, but his wife did the honors—after we had surmounted certain hazards, the chief of which was a sign on the yard gate reading: “Beware. Vicious Dogs.” And there was a great amount of yapping going on. But Mrs. Rediske assured us it was all a joke.

“Our friends thought our dogs needed some status,” she explained. “One of them is Poodle and something or other else and the other is thoroughbred dog pound.”

No, Mrs. Rediske said, there wasn’t much industry in town. The most prideful is the Silva-seed plant.

“It was founded by Charles Manning,” she said, “He invented a new way to extract the seed from fir cones. Others use the same system now, but his plant here was the first.”

Another was the Sazik Lumber Co. beside the railroad tracks bisecting the town.

THE TERRITORY around once had been mostly farmland, she said, but much of it had been taken over by the Fort Lewis expansion. Now, she said, horse-raising and horseback riding were big and there still were some dairy farms, a big hop ranch and nurseries producing fir, pine and spruce seed.

We told her we had read in a history that many fine old buildings still existed in the area, and she sniffed a bit at that.

“A few,” she conceded. “But it’s a shame the way some of the fine old houses have been allowed to run down. And some of them have been ‘modernized’ until you wouldn’t recognize them.”

She reverted to the Fort Lewis expansion and the changes it had brought about in area life.

“But maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” she said. “I certainly wouldn’t want to see the town much bigger, anyway. I really wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. Just the way it is.”

That’s the way it is with small towns. Their people love them and they very seldom leave them by choice. It’s a way of life that seems to breed a happy philosophy for living.

But now the sun really was sinking in the west (wherever else?), as the travelogues say, and Scully and I had to set off for home.

That meant we had to miss Rainier, another little town in the same area. We regretted that. But there will be another trip another day, Rainier.







Deputy’s A Yelm Fixture November 19, 1979

Deputy’s A Yelm Fixture

by Dan Wheat

          (The Daily Olympian  November 19, 1979)

YELM – Charles S “Chuck” Donaldson is something of an institution in Yelm.

His father and uncle wen cops, and Donaldson has worn the deputy marshal’s badge in Yelm for 37 years Despite his fringe of silver hair and 75 years, the old law man is a familiar figure 01 the streets. He’s usually ii full uniform with a cigar stub between his teeth and his .32 20 caliber pistol at his side.

The gun is at least 50 years old. He has to special order its bullets from a firm back East. Small printing on the barrel indicates the first .32-20 were made in 1884; the last in 1926.

Donaldson’s uncle, Ave Hill, owned the gun when he was Sunnyside Police Chief and a deputy sheriff in Yakima County. Hill put one notch in the butt, a reminder of tin one man he killed.

His nephew has never added a notch, hopes he never has to, but says he’s no: afraid of anybody and will “plug” anyone who tries to get him.

Donaldson was born in Fredonie, Ky., and his family moved west to Zillah, a small town near Yakima. Donaldson finished high school and worked on his father’s farm. He married and moved to Yelm in the mid-1920s. After working on a farm, at a logging camp and a sawmill Donaldson began driving a Yelm school bus and serving as a deputy Yelm marshal.

He served as the town’s marshal several times, usually after another marshal left or had been fired. One was even shot on Yelm’s main street, but that was in the 1920s before Donaldson joined the department.

Dan Carew was one of the more famous marshals Donaldson served under. A man of short stature but much courage, Carew was known for packing a Colt .45 revolver on each hip.

Donaldson’s been a special Thurston County Sheriff’s deputy just as long as he’s served Yelm – since 1942. He still carries his commission cards from Sheriffs Frank C. Tamblyn, Lawrence Huntamer, Clarence Van Allen, Don Redmond and Dan Montgomery.

Yelm had gravel streets and few sidewalks when Donaldson became a lawman. The Yelm marshal and his deputies used their own cars on the job or walked.

“It wasn’t a bad town at all ’20s they made moonshine up in the (Bald) hills, and it was a tough town then,” Donaldson said.

He remembers during prohibition Sheriff Claude Havens once offered a Bald Hills moonshiner’s son a dollar if the boy would tell Havens where his dad was. The lad is said to have replied, “You give me the dollar now because if you go up there you aren’t coming back.”

“I guess Havens kept his dollar and left. He finally located the still later,” Donald-son recalled.

town’s old jail built out of two-by-fours that stood where the new Town Hall now stands. The next town jail was a iron cage in Brown’s garage.

Donaldson says he’s seen a lot of “awful wrecks” and helped successfully investigate two murders.

Yelm still is known for occasional bar fights. Marshal BUI Ruddell says he or another officer might have to wrestle someone to get a fight stopped.

“But, if I sent in Chuck all he’d have to say is ‘that’s enough’ and the guys would escort the troublemaker out.  Chuck has the confidence, trust and respect of everyone in town because he’s known most of them since they were kids. If I accomplish anything in my time, I hope it’s to gain half of that confidence and trust,” Ruddell said.

Ruddell says he never would send Donaldson into a barroom brawl. But, Donaldson, unpaid, still helps in investigations, funeral escorts, parades and football games.

And he brings an apple or a pear to the department’s dispatcher every day.














Colorful Citizens

Colorful Citizens


The Olympian

Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a series of stories intended to introduce readers to the people of the southern Puget Sound region.

Asked to describe Yelm, a former resident said simply, “It’s a town of extremes.” Scattered among its 1,440 citizens are a 77-year-old pilot who has lived in Yelm 39 years, a 75-year-old town marshal who has held county commissions under five sheriffs, and a lot of folks who remember the town’s legend —- a hobo who lived there 33 years.

The hobo’s memory is inscribed in everlasting stone on a drinking fountain in front of the fire hall on main street.

The deputy marshal, Charles S. “Chuck” Donaldson, is still in Yelm and can be seen walking the streets, his uncle’s old pistol snug at his hip, his cigar clamped in his teeth.

Floyd Phillips, the pilot is still flying.

The extremes crop up in Yelm when you take a close look at the old and the new.

To the uneducated eye the town resembles a thousand other small towns in America, each with its past and most at rope’s end as the world passes them by.

Although Yelm can boast that its first hotel still stands, it can also boast of new blood coming in. Yelm has experienced an influx of young people that has increased the population from 970 in 1979 to 1,440 in 1981.

This almost guarantees Yelm is not slated for the boneyard of old towns. Longtime residents prefer the status quo; young folks seek change.

An example is Jim and Elizabeth Slopak, who designed and built Yelm Frontier Village at the corner of Mossman Street and Highway 507. The young couple’s 10-shop center has been a major boost to Yelm’s economy, as have several other construction projects around town.

Virgil Baker has about completed an office and business complex just west of the main section of town, and ground is being broken for a new Maxwell station.

While new businesses are appearing in Yelm, old businesses such as Wolf ‘s Department Store, which has been in Yelm since 1922, are healthy and thriving despite the sometimes grim economic picture faced by businesses in bigger population centers.

The town’s tax base remains as solid as Wolf’s store, with a total valuation of $21.1 million.

Yelm raises money through a 3.072 millage rate per $1,000 evaluation, a 4 percent business and occupations tax on all businesses except Yelm’s independent telephone company, electric company and natural gas company.

There is nothing unusual about Yelm’s budget. Of the $647,456, the biggest amount, $138,238, goes to the police department with other departments cutting up the rest.

If one person has left her mark on Yelm it has been the mayor, Lora B. Coates, who has held the position for 13 years.

The first Coates came to Yelm by ox cart in 1889, and the family has lived there ever since. Mrs. Coates operated an antique store on the Rainier Highway for 26 years, helped guide the town through its growing pains and still oversees the five-member council.

A conservative, Mayor Coates has been a strong supporter of law and order, a fact that the younger and more liberal residents of the town seem to accept.

There are other old-timers who have left their mark on Yelm. Lee Edwards, Bill Mossman, Emmett Stewart, Rod Coates, and the first Longmire, Robert, who operated the first store in Yelm when the town was simply called Yelm Prairie and was little more than a railroad stopover for the Northern Pacific.

At times Yelm has needed a tough law enforcement agency. It has had its share of shootings, beatings, rapes and kidnappings, and many of its residents, loggers, farmers, day laborers and soldiers from Fort Lewis, live close to life in the raw.

Yelm: Biggest Little Town Around January 25, 1981

Yelm: Biggest Little Town Around

The Sunday Olympian   January 25, 1981    By Dave Hendrick

In 1970, Yelm had 632 people and an assessed property value under a $1 million; today, it has over 1,100 people and an assessed property value of $17.6 million. It is Thurston County’s fastest growing town.

“Watch it,” the passenger said to the driver as they passed the 35 mph speed limit sigh which stands just inside the Yelm city limits on Highway 510. “The cops will get you here.” The driver nervously chuckled, then tapped his brakes, slowing the car down from 40 to 35 mph.

The car had traveled hardly 50 yards before the driver spotted a police car which was tucked away on a driveway between a salvage yard and a sign bearing the words, “GET US OUT OF THE U.N.”

A mustachioed man in a policeman’s uniform was operating a radar gun from behind his patrol car’s steering wheel.

“Isn’t that just like small towns?” the driver said. “Speed traps everywhere.”

Although speed traps might be “typical” of some small towns, that is not true in Yelm. Only two speeding tickets were issued last month.

But Yelm is guilty of having a few “typical” characteristics of small towns. And one of the characteristics is that it is slowly (but too rapidly for some) changing from a small town to a large town — complete with shopping centers, higher taxes, rising property values, crime, traffic hassles, more churches and schools. About the only two things that haven’t come to Yelm in the last 10 years are better streets and more taverns.

Folks in these parts even have come to realize that Yelm no longer is a one-horse town that no one ever heard of.

“Anymore, when you tell people in Olympia that you live in Yelm, they don’t say, ‘Oh, you live clear out in Yelm?’ Yelm has come into its own,” said Roberta Longmire, president of Yelm Business Association.

Although Yelm remains one of Thurston County’s smaller towns, it is the fastest growing community in Thurston County, based on the 1980 census figures. And Thurston County is among the fastest growing areas in the nation, according to Yelm Mayor Lora B. Coates who was quoting a recent article found in the Wall Street Journal. The population had been stagnant for many years before 1970, when 632 persons called Yelm home. Since then, the population increased by 82 percent, to 1,152. A large portion of the growth has occurred through annexations of areas which later grew in population. In 1970 Yelm’s borders covered 246 acres. Today, it covers 642 acres. Its appraised property value in 1970 was $955,468. Today it is more than $17.6 million.

“I just liked it,” said Shar Isom, a Montana native who six years ago moved to Yelm with her ex-husband who was stationed at Fort Lewis. “I don’t know. I moved back to Montana once, then came back here. I like it because it’s a small town. It’s like the one I left in Montana. Everyone knows each other.”

Mrs. Isom works at the Top of the Box hamburger shop, a building which is in the shape of a cheeseburger. The building itself is a symbol of Yelm’s growth. Three years ago it was moved to the Wolf’s Shopping Center parking lot from Seattle.

Mrs. Isom hit on a common reason more folks are moving to the small, rural towns. The people in the small town setting feel they are a greater part of the community because everyone knows each other. But there are other reasons city dwellers are pulling stakes and moving to the hinterlands.  Among them – escape.

“The large towns have become too complex for them,” said Carolyn Bobbs, an urban planner at The Evergreen State College. “There is an increasing number of people who want to escape the ills of the cities.”

Small towns, she said, “have a completeness about them.” They are attractive because modern businesses and services are there, but the rush of the cities isn’t.

“It’s just a scale that is more manageable for them,” Ms. Dobbs said.

Long-time resident, fire chief and ARCO service station ‘ owner George Cowles goes along with Ms. Dobbs’ observations.

He says Yelm’s growth has gone in cycles. Back in the late 1920s when 7-year-old Cowles moved with his family to Smith Prairie, which is in the Bald Hills, Yelm was going through a period of growth.

When the depression hit, Yelm grew larger because umber companies were recruiting folks to move there from the Midwest,

Growth was slow but steady up until World War II. When he war ended, the sociological rend around the nation was a return to the cities. That says Cowles, was when Yelm’s growth became stagnant population stayed fairly constant.

Folks began leaving the large towns and cities, Cowles said the migrants mainly were young middle-class persons who had lived the good life with their parents during the 50s and 60s. He said the young people seemed to realize the “good life” wasn’t really very “good.” So they broke away from the cities and the middle class life. Some of those young folks found their way to Yelm.

Cowles calls the new migrants “latter-day pioneers.”

“Did you ever get the feeling in the spring that you needed to get out and work in the dirt? Work in the garden, even if it’s only for a few days? It’s instinct to work the land.”

It’s that same kind of instinct that attracted newcomers to the rural, pastoral setting of the small town, which lies just south of the Nisqually River near the Pierce County line.

“It (Yelm) is a little better,” Cowles said, “It’s a little easier … a little laxer in enforcing all the rules that are enforced, in places like Olympia and Seattle.”

One important feature about Yelm’s growth is that most of it is occurring outside the downtown area. Much of the main street looks just as it did 10 years ago. Storefront signs haven’t even changed much.

Businesses which have cropped up in Yelm during the last 10 years include Jayhawks Shopping Center, Pioneer Village (which contains a vacuum cleaner store, a restaurant, a chiropractor’s office, a jewelry store and a health food store),two new doctors, two attorney’s, and a couple of chiropractors.

“We’ve had a lot of new businesses come in,” said Roberta Longmire. “Ten years ago people shopped out of town, but now, they mostly shop in Yelm. The only reason they go into town now is for specialty items.”

But with the baby comes the bathwater. In Yelm’s case this means increased crime, the need for increased government services and more money to run the school district.

Although crime statistics weren’t kept in Yelm for eight out of the last 10 years, Yelm Mayor Lora B. Coates said the major growth strain has fallen on the police department. In 1970, the town got by with a one-person police department. But now, the department has eight persons, two of whom are dispatchers.

The most startling effect on the crime rate is the use of drugs, mostly marijuana, and burglaries.

“The growing pains are terrific,” said Louise Longmire, director of the Yelm Senior Center. “We’ve got a lot of problems with dope. We can sit here (at senior center which is on the main street and a few doors down from the police department) and see it going on. It doesn’t do any good to turn them in.” Mrs. Longmire adds there have been three break-ins at the senior center during the last year.

“We can’t be as trustworthy as we used to be,” said Fire Chief Cowles. “Most of the crimes are kids’ things.” He agreed most of the serious crime involve burglaries.

The city crew also has increased. The water and street department 10 years ago got by with one person. There were 187 city water customers. Now, there are more than 400 customers, and the department needs a water superintendent, a part-time water maintenance man and a part-time clerk.

The city administration 10 years ago only needed one clerk. Now it needs her, Lyla Eide, and a part-time clerk.

The school district, which includes McKenna, also has had to expand to cope with the growth.

According to school district records, the district school population increased from the 1,424 in 1970 to the present enrollment of 2,035.

In 1971 Southworth Elementary School was built, and in 1976 enlarged. The McKenna Elementary school was enlarged in 1977. The new Yelm High School was built in 1978.

Yelm School district also is facing a levy and three bond issues for 1981-82 school year. The levy is for $718,171 for maintenance operations, transportation and extracurricular activities. The first bond issue is for $3.7 million for a new elementary school and remodeling the middle school. The second, for $990,000, is for building outdoor sports facilities such as a track, five tennis courts, a football field (no stadium) and a baseball field at the high school. The third bond issue, for $700,000, is for a swimming pool at the high school.

In general, it is difficult to determine if growth has helped or hurt Yelm. That, as in beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

But as far as the mayor’s concerned:

“I hear a lot of people saying Yelm is growing too fast,” said Mayor Coates. “They say they wish things could be like they were 30 years ago. But we know that’s impossible … we’ve acquired fine people from growth, too.”


For Yelm: Growth Olympian December 26, 1979




For Yelm: Growth

By Dan Wheat

Olympian     December 26, 1979

In 1970, Yelm’s population was 632. Last April, it officially was 970, and undoubtedly it is over the 1,000 mark by now.

Along with that growth, Yelm built a new City Hall, new elementary school, new high school and has remodeled two old elementary schools.

The fire district serving- Yelm and the surrounding countryside built two new substations, and the town’s water system was updated in 1977 with the installation of a new water tank and water lines.

Among the new businesses opened during the last 10 years were Jayhawks Department Store, Herter’s Clay Pigeon Plant, a veterinarian clinic, a Bank of Olympia branch and a couple of small shopping centers.  Yelm gained a doctor, two chiropractors and three dentists.

In politics, Lora B. Coates was elected the town’s first woman mayor in the fall of 1969. She took office in 1970 and has served a full decade, being re-elected in 1973 and again in 1977, at age 72. Her present term expires in January of 1982.


In 1971, the arrest on vagrancy charges of six of the town’s better young people led to many complaints against Yelm Marshal Bill McCluskey. As the result of a Daily Olympian investigation, a budding bail-bonds racket was exposed, and the town attorney and town judge both resigned.

In 1976, Mayor Coates and the town council were miffed when the town’s three deputy marshals joined the Teamsters Union without first notifying the mayor or council. As a result, the council considered disbanding the Yelm Marshal’s Office and contracting with the county sheriff for law enforcement services.

However, the council decided to keep its marshal’s office because contracting with the sheriff would have been just as expensive and the town would have lost control of its law officers.

Perhaps Yelm’s most colorful figure in the 1970s was Joseph Agosto. Agosto built the Caravan Inn and Algiers Restaurant on the edge of town in 1972.

A short while later, Agosto was called by a federal grand jury to tell what he knew about the disappearance of some funds from Northwest Guarantee Savings and Loan Association. Later the Internal Revenue Service tapped his banking records, a car carrying his wife and children exploded near Ashland, Ore., (nearly taking their lives), and a car he was driving was shot at as he returned to Yelm one day.

In 1974, the Caravan Algiers complex burned. The state fire marshal said it was arson. Agosto had sold the business a year and a half earlier and opened the “Folies Bergere” show at the Tropicana Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas,


Prior to coming to Yelm, Agosto served a brief term in a federal penitentiary following a 1966 conviction for falsifying housing loan documents in Alaska. The US Justice Department, which says Agosto is an illegal alien wanted in Italy to serve a 10-year prison sentence for bigamy, has been trying to deport Agosto since 1968.

The 9th U.S. Court of Appeals ordered Agosto’s deportation in 1977, but then the U.S. Supreme Court heard his case and in June,1978, by a 7-2 decision, ordered that he be given a new trial. Agosto had last been seen in Yelm about a month before talking about opening a new bowling alley on property he still owned there.

Last May, Agosto was named in a FBI affidavit as a front man in Las Vegas for Kansas City and Chicago Mafia figures.




Yelm in 1946

Yelm in 1946

By James Mosman

Yelm, which is located in about the center of the prairie, was incorporated in the spring of 1924, has a population of about 500. The prairie has about 1000inhabitants. From the start of two stores, 1 dwelling place and a blacksmith shop, Yelm now has a large grade school, high school, four churches including the

Methodist, Lutheran, Assembly of God, and the Adventist Church and school, a railroad depot, 4 garages and filling stations, one department store, 2 grocery stores and feed stores, two large cold storage locker plants, one butcher shop, three eating houses, 3 taverns, a dial telephone exchange, a theater, a county tool house, Memorial Clinic with one doctor and one dentist, 1 jewelers shop, the Puget Sound Power and Light office. 2 hardware stores, one electric shop, Standard Oil Company delivery service, one real estate and insurance office, Odd Fellows Lodge, Rebecca Lodge, Masonic Lodge, Eastern Star, Rainbow Girls, DeMoley, Post Office 2nd class, 2 shoe repair shops, day and night marshal, fire engines and fire department, City Hall and library, water system with fire hydrants, paved main street, one bus line to Tacoma, 2 radio and television repair shops, one plumbing shop and one drug store.

Sunbirds closing in on Nisqually Plaza August 18, 2000

Sunbirds closing in on Nisqually Plaza

Nisqually Valley News August 18, 2000

By Seth Truscott

A Chehalis-based hardware store may soon be expanding into the old Rite Aid location in the Nisqually Plaza. The City of Yelm received an application for a business license from Sunbirds Shopping Center in the former Rite Aid next to QFC supermarket.

Also, a local sign company recently inquired to the city about assembling a sign for Sunbirds at that location.

Awaiting final approval, spokespersons for Sunbirds have, declined to comment on the move, as have the owners of the building, Barclay’s Realty of Beverly Hills Calif.

During a visit last week, city employee Gary Carlson said that Sunbirds staff told him that the old Rite Aid interior wouldn’t be seeing any major remodeling requiring a building permit. So far, their entry into Yelm has been quiet.

“They’re keeping it pretty close to the vest,” He said. A spokeswoman for Rite Aid Corporation finalized a deal with a prospective renter of the building. Rite Aid’s new building across Yelm  Avenue on Vancil Road was completed earlier this year, and Rite Aid moved in April 15, leaving the old building empty, its windows papered over. “We have subleased the space.” Rite Aid spokeswoman Sarah Datz said. “It’s going to be a hardware store”. Rite Aid acquired the lease to the building when it took over PayLess drugstores in 1996.

For a new business to occupy the old Rite Aid location, it must sub-lease the property from Rite Aid, until the old lease runs out in about a year. After that, a new lease will have to be conducted with Barclay’s Realty, the owners of the Nisqually Plaza space. Gus Salloum, a spokesman for Sunbirds, said earlier this year that the store is a general merchandise store that carries a variety of items, including hardware, tools, shoes, boots, and clothes. Sunbirds also sells sporting goods, gardening items, and hardware.

Currently there is only one other Sunbirds location, on National Avenue in Chehalis. Sunbirds’ Chehalis store has been open for 15 years, after closing for a short time in 1996 as a result of flooding. The former Rite Aid spot is considered desirable because of its ample parking and central location.

(Prepard by Brendan Young)