Thursday, February 18, 2016

1919: To Quay, Oklahoma

Some time in early 1919, George Potter went west to the Oklahoma oil fields to find work as a machinist.  The family followed once he had made arrangements in Quay.  My mother, Mary Potter, remembered the trip as follows, in her own words

Scan from Mary Potter Lavery memoir

So, Gladys with her three children aged 7, 5, 3 and less than 1, and a cousin took the long train ride from Erie PA to Quay, OK.  The "cousin Lillian" is probably the daughter of George's sister Bessie Potter Johnson.  Lillian was about 10 years old; her mother had died in 1918 and her father Charles Johnson sent her off with his in-laws.  Lillian's brother Walter (1911-1977) stayed with his father in Pennsylvania.

The train trip itself would have started on the New York Central railroad, connecting either through Chicago or (possibly) St. Louis with Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe lines running west and south.

New York Central Railroad map
Detail near Erie, PA ca. 1920
Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe
map detail near Quay, OK, ca. 1910

One could still take most of this trip on Amtrak; with current connections Erie PA to Oklahoma City OK via Chicago and Ft. Worth would take just short of two full days.  Sitting in coach, no air conditioning, with small children.

Quay had been an oil boom town a few years earlier, with the peak reached sometime during World War I.  Its wildest days were behind it by 1919.  It is now a ghost town, which a film artist posting as "Ghost Towns of Oklahoma" has documented in this video. (Audio may be loud, take care when clicking on the link:)

The Santa Fe rail station is shown in one of the shots in the video, plus photos of the town and industry as it was with cuts to today's ruins.

The Potters had a small house out in the oil fields:

"Our front door view" in Mary Potter's handwriting

...the door itself.

My mother always pointed out that although these and other photos of Quay look rough, the Potters weren't poor (yet).  There was money left over to invest and the kids enjoyed playing with one another.  Mother told me about helping her siblings with "fishing" for rats with pieces of stale bread on a string over the edge of the porch, which sounds at once rough and kind of fun.

Dorothy, George and Mary

(Added 21 Feb 2016): Census data provides a date "window" for the Potter trip to Quay.  Cousin Lillian Johnson appears in the 1920 census twice:  Once in Corry, PA with her father around January 10 and again in Tulsa, OK with George's sister Dora and her then husband on January 27-28.  The move thus happened in January, 1920 and so my Mother's memoir is off by a year.

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