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Farm On Stump Alley

by Helen Heil Rohlman

Member Helen Heil Rohlman who currently lives in Alaska, wrote the following two stories, one a recollection of her childhood on South Hill during WWII and the other, memories of the South Hill Home Craft Club. Her sister Mildred Dobbs, who lives locally, is also a member of our society.


The Heil house and farm on Walnut Road (today’s 83rd Avenue East).

Our little Heil farm of five acres was purchased in the early 1920’s.

Dad (Joe Heil) was a widower, after his first wife and infant son died during the bad flu epidemic of that era. He was left with one daughter, Margaret, so they left Chicago and were coaxed out to Washington by acquaintances he knew.

My Mom (Helena Heil) was divorced and had a daughter, Gertrude. The two of them met in South Tacoma when Dad worked at the Northern Pacific railroad shops.

They married on January 31, 1926 and three Heil girls appeared. First, Dorothy Heil Morris (Seattle), then Mildred Heil Dobbs (Puyallup) and last yours truly Helen Heil Rohlman (Alaska).

The folks had it rough during the Depression with seven mouths to feed. But they had a cow, pigs, chickens and always a large garden, so meat, vegetables and fruit were canned and even eggs were preserved by putting them in water glasses (I understand the whole egg was covered in a solution that would seal the pores of the egg shell and the eggs could be kept longer when the hens ceased laying).

Mom and dad picked strawberries, raspberries and blackberries every day during the season. They would have on older daughter pick berries with them, and the other would run herd on the three younger ones.

Mom said they made enough money picking berries to buy sugar, flour and other staples to last them through the winter.

Our house was on Walnut Street (now, 83rd Avenue East) behind the Fruitland Grange Hall. We girls would laugh and say “We live on Walnut Street…. all the NUTS live there!”

Before our road was formally named it was called Stump Alley because they had to remove about 50 trees and stumps to straighten the road. I believe this was a W.P.A. project for some men to have a job during the Depression.

My Dad blasted many stumps and used his “buzz saw” to cut the stumps in lengths for our wood stoves.

We had a very small two-story house and the kids slept upstairs. The only warmth we had was the heat from the wood stoves downstairs when the stair door was propped open.

The scariest time of my life was during World War II as you could hear planes passing overhead, day or night from McChord Air Field. Our family, like others, had to cover windows so no light would be evident from above.

During that time it was not unusual to hear a faint rumble in the distance and it would get louder the closer it came. It was a troop convoy from Fort Lewis, Washington, transporting soldiers to the East Auburn Depot (Milwaukee Railroad) for shipment overseas or to other bases. We kids would run from home to Airport Road (now 112th Street East) and watch the convoys pass. We would wave and yell “good-bye,” not knowing if the troops would return home.

The families on the home front made small sacrifices also. Gas rationing, food meat and sugar stamps. Old aluminum pots and pans were donated to the collection center on the island of Broadway and St. Helen’s Avenue in Tacoma for the war effort.

There were no fresh bananas, just dried ones, no pineapple, cocoanut, or chocolate. Anything good in a cookie was not available.

I still remember the Buck Private candy bar that was available during the war years. It seemed to be made of oatmeal, raisins, nuts and molasses with a light carob coating, not a good chocolate coating.

No tires, no new cars or bicycles—everyone just tightened up their belts and got along.

The best place to live was on a small farm on South Hill because the people were hard working and could manage to take care of their families.