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
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
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