A Selection of Scenes from the Tornado Annual of 1940

1944 – YelmThrough the Eyes of Edgar Prescott

Yelm in 1944

Introduction: Edgar Prescott recalled first coming to Yelm in this section of his memoir. This manuscript may be found at the Washington State Historical Society.

At last we were in Washington, land of big trees. They stood sky-high along the road between the towns—Vancouver, Kalama, Kelso. The highway ran right down the main streets, like in Colorado. Back then freeways hadn’t been invented.

Now and then, to our left, we could see a shine of water through the trees, and looking at our map we discovered that the Columbia River had turned west at about the point we did and was following along beside us—until just before we got to Kelso. Then it turned west again and was gone.

We marveled at the big double trucks lumbering past, loaded with logs, a lot of them six to eight feet in diameter, one with a single log, wider than the truck bed and it towered most of a man’s height above the cab.

Alice spelled out the names of places she saw on the map—Wahkiakum, Skamokawa, Puyallup, Kapowsin, Enumclaw—and tried to pronounce them. (What came out was nowhere near the way Washingtonians said them) She looked at the names of the towns up ahead—Napavine, Chehalis, Centralia. From Centralia it was only a jump on to Yelm. And when we got there, we decided it would be wise for us to stay the night, so that tomorrow we’d have a whole day to get settled.

A sign to the right of the road—It was only a two lane road—said: “Entering Yelm —Population 498”. Maybe a hundred yards farther on we paused at a stop sign and looked to the right and left down the town’s main street

It wasn’t a very impressive sight. In a beauty contest of small towns I’m certain that both Ault and Platteville would have come out ahead.

To our left stood a dilapidated theater with posters in front of cowboys and horses. Ahead, H. L. Wolf and Company, a large one-story stucco building, advertised groceries and general merchandise.

The street, when I close my eyes and number them off on my fingers, boasted four taverns, a barber shop, a beauty parlor, a post office, a drug store a jewelry shop, a meat market, several garages and filling stations and the Yelm Community Methodist Church.

A lot of the businesses were in individual wooden buildings, most of them needing paint, and the spaces between them were grown up with weeds and cluttered with rocks. And the farm buildings, the ones we saw, were run-down. We should have guessed that the farmers, along with most of the other town-folk, had postponed whatever they were used to doing and were gone to Tacoma to work in a shipyard.