Murray Smith, one of Prairie City's most affable and dependable town-watchers will be moving to Salem at the end of this week. "I'm moving to be closer to my son, states Murray adding, "but I'm going to miss some of the coffee drinkers here."

Murray is referring to his compatriots who meet daily at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. to drink a cup and talk about what has happened since the last shift. At 81 1/2 years old, and working for most of that, life continues to be punctuated by coffee breaks.

Murray has deep roots in Grant County. His folks were longtime residents of Bates and his son Gregg graduated from Prairie City High School. Murray lived in Bates from 1924-1941. "That's when I found out I was a foreigner," he claims. He was born in Nova Scotia, Canada and came to the western states at age two. It wasn't until he left Grant County at the age of 27 to work for Boeing in Seattle that anyone wanted proof of entry.

After an FBI check and the admission into the jig shop at Boeing, Murray thought he would be able to send for his wife and son, but there simply was no housing. "About six months after I started, I had to bunch the whole thing," remembers Murray.

Memories of his next job, machining the ship yards in Portland bring back vivid scenes of freezing outside on the job for $1.20 an hour. "The only way to get out of that was to get civil service work, "he says. "I tried to get to Pearl Harbor, but they shipped me to a submarine base at Vallejo, California." They checked up on his citizenship once more, and that was the end of that.

More machining jobs in Portland followed that stint, and also a management job for a national retailer. In 1950 a divorce drew the family apart. Murray's wife and daughter left together, Gregg went to live with grandparents still in Grant County and Murray began machining for Bingham-Willamette in Portland. He worked there until 1978, when he came back to Grant County to take care of his folks.

As a young man Murray remembers riding the "Loci" (locomotive) on the Sumpter Valley Railroad. And living for the dances every Saturday night. "We'd go as far as Dayville from Bates," he says adding, "It's a different life now, but you only go around once, so you might as well enjoy it."

He is very proud of his son who graduated from the University of Oregon and attended Johns Hopkins for two years. "Education is everything; always has been and always will be," he says. "But if you don't have something between your ears nowadays you really have to worry."

One of Murray's commentaries on life is that, "we don't remember how we got here and we don't remember leaving." That's true for the big entrance and exit, but we are aware of all the little moves in between. And for the people of Prairie City who have set their clocks by him and listened to his gentle laugh, the town just won't look the same.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

..... Return to Grant County, Oregon Home Page
..... Return to "A Place Called Oregon"