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Tracing Tracy Territory

Tracyites on the move revive connection with Boise, Idaho

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I’ve heard a lot of conversations these days about residents of our town considering moving to Boise, Idaho.

And then last week, the talk turned into reality. One of our Barista’s coffee sippers reported he had sold his home and was moving, yes, to Boise. Despite being the No. 1 housing market in the U.S., Boise still has less expensive homes and lower cost of living, he explained.

Of course, Tracy isn’t actually losing population. The local real estate market is also red hot. Several real estate people have told me that nearly all homes currently being sold are purchased by people willing to pay well above the asking price.

Many of the buyers for both new and resale homes are coming from the Bay Area. And they, too, are seeking less-expensive homes to buy, using the cash they’ve pocketed by selling their homes in the million-dollar housing markets in most cities by the bay.

As I was thinking about Tracyites leaving and the Bay Area folks arriving, I came across an article in the Press that told about people moving in the opposite direction from those heading to Boise and environs.

In the 1920s and 1930s, people were coming from north-eastern Oregon counties of Union and Wallowa, which are at or near the Idaho border. They weren’t seeking lower housing prices in those days, but better opportunities for business and professional success in a growing California.

The article in the Sept. 12, 1945, edition of the Press that I spotted told of the 15th annual Eastern Oregon Picnic at the Frank and Grace Fine home (where the corner of East Street and Beverly Place is today) on the Sunday before Labor Day, when it was always held. People from all over Northern California, including Tracy, were there.

I’ll have to report straight out that the story listed everyone at the Fine home that day and the list included familiar names such as “Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Matthews and sons Tom and Sam.”

We qualified for the Picnic, since my folks had lived several eventful years in La Grande Oregon, which is the county seat of Union County.

My dad, a native of Iowa, arrived first, I think in 1925, after living a short time in Los Angeles, to become business manager of the La Grande Evening Observer, the local daily newspaper. My mother, a native of Minnesota, came a year later from Pleasantville, N.Y., where she had taught history in the local high school for a couple of years.

One of the first things Laura Thomas did on arriving in La Grande was to attend a luncheon welcoming new teachers. Seated next to her, and not by happenstance I learned later, was the business manager of the local newspaper.

The rest, as they say, was history, and the luncheon partners were married Jan. 1, 1927, at my grandparents’ home in Lake Crystal, Minn.

The newlyweds lived in La Grande until 1930, when they moved to Ontario in Southern California and then to Tracy in 1937. So that’s how we wound up at the Fine home that day before Labor Day in 1945.

The hosts, Frank and Grace Fine, had moved to Tracy in the 1920s from Elgin in Union County. Frank had delivered horses to a farm near Modesto, and came to Tracy at the invitation of George Good, who had arrived here from the same town in Oregon, to open Good Lumber Co. Good was just about the most active guy in Tracy in those days, as president of the Tracy Chamber of Commerce, president of the West Side High School District Board of Trustees and president of the Tracy Hotel Corp., which built the Tracy Inn in 1926.

Anyway, apparently Frank Fine liked what he saw during his Tracy visit, and they moved here. Frank farmed, and Grace became an English teacher at Tracy High. Jon Fine, their grandson, who later became principal of Central and Hirsch elementary schools, carried on the education tradition before retiring.

But there’s another connection. In 1934, several years before our family arrived in Tracy, the family of Wayne and Ednabel Crow, came here from Livermore. They were both natives of Wallowa County, Oregon, where Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians had once lived. Wayne had taught a year in Livermore after earning a master’s degree in education at Stanford.

Wayne was hired as the new superintendent of the high school district and principal at Tracy High, but I believe Good had moved to Pacific Grove by then. Wayne served in that capacity during a period of enrollment growth and new campus buildings until retiring in 1962.

Also listed as attending the 1945 Eastern Oregon reunion were “Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Crow and sons Myron, Ken and Jerry.”

At the Eastern Oregon picnic, most people were interested in reliving the “old days” in Enterprise or La Grande and feasting on Frank Fine’s famous barbecued lamb. But the Crow and Matthews boys were a lot more interested in something else, riding the ranch’s horses. The horses were sturdy and slow-moving, and that suited us non-cowboys just fine.

Myron, one of my boyhood friends and in my class at Tracy High, went to Cal and then became an Air Force fighter pilot. He had the personality of a fighter pilot and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for aerial combat heroism in Vietnam. Ken became a dentist in Merced. Jerry has lived in Alaska.

After 23 years in the Air Force, Myron retired as a lieutenant colonel and went into real estate in the state of Washington. I last saw Myron at a high school reunion about three years ago. After regaining contact, we had several lengthy telephone conversations about growing up in Tracy — and riding those Fine Ranch horses. Myron died last October at the age of 87 — in Boise, Idaho.

Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracypress.com.

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