Let’s Talk Clovis: The Williams’ 1910 ‘house’ wagon trip to Monterey

The Williams family split its home into two sections in order to transport it from Clovis to Monterey in the 1910s. (Clovis Museum)

We are sharing portions from a diary of a 1910 “house” wagon trip from Clovis to Monterey that was recorded by Mary E. Williams. She was accompanied by her husband Wesley and their eight children, John, Ross, Louis, Jess, Charles, Mattie, Ella and Vera.

It is believed that the family “cut” its house into two sections. They placed one section on a wagon that was pulled by their two horses.

The Williams family left Clovis on June 16, 1910 and arrived in Monterey on June 26, 1910. They returned to Clovis on July 11, 1910. Their cash expenditures totaled $61.43 for the 26-day trip.

A few of the expenditures: bale of hay ($1), 280-pound bale of hay ($2), apricots (25 cents), wood (15 cents), two horse blankets ($3), horses shod ($1.50), bread (25-50 cents), Mattie’s birthday dress (38 cents), three shirts ($1.50), socks (25 cents) and two boxes of crackers ($1.30).

They would camp near a supply of water each day: on a church ground in Fresno, in hog wallows, by a dam near Mendota, by an oil station, a river near Los Banos, a water trough, the Salinas River, the San Joaquin River, an irrigation canal and a dairy ranch.

Mary recorded: “I did some washing this morning in the river. Biggest wash tub I ever used in my life.” When they camped at the Mendota Dam, located 2.4 miles from Mendota, the boys caught over 42 fish. They were plagued by swarms of mosquitoes at the camp. It remains a popular fishing hole.

The horses required constant care. The Williams would buy barley and hay, new horse halters and “old tugs” (wagon brakes) during the trip. The family would frequently walk to lighten the wagon load (especially over the Pacheco Pass). They would all help the horses when the wagon got into a “cramp” (wagon wheels counter direction).

Prior to entering Los Banos, they saw a 250-foot long rick (pile) of Alfalfa hay that belonged to Miller & Lux. Their headquarters were based in Los Banos. They were the largest cattle ranchers and landowners in the United States with 1,400,000 acres during their peak operation.

Mary recalled descending Pacheco Pass. Their horse team balked and went off a 10 foot bank. The horses were slightly injured but the wagon suffered major damage.

Mary had the difficult task of preparing the family meals on a new stove. Some meals were bread, butter and pie. Their food supply was enhanced when son John shot his first rabbit. They would buy fresh fruit and eggs when they were available. While near Salinas, Mary stated: “Some people that were going to Los Angeles in an automobile gave us some Saratoga chips (originated in 1853 at Saratoga Springs, NY), cheesecake snails, crackers and olives that they had left of their evening lunch. A friendly rancher gave them a two-and-a-half gallon bucket full of apples.”

She described Del Monte Heights: “My, such a place. We would not have it as a gift.” The San Juan and Salinas grade was described as a road with many sharp turns laced with rocks. While descending the grade, a tree limb punctured the top of their “house.” A hatchet was used to cut the limb and repairs were made.

On Sunday July 3, she recorded that 144 automobiles and 27 motorcycles had passed their wagon while they camped in San Jose (population 40,000).

Mary described the natural beauty that surrounded them on their trip and “the thousands of acres of flowers and vegetables grown for the seed market in the Santa Clara and San Juan Valleys.”

Mary stated as they left Los Banos: “We traveled through the swamps for miles this evening. There are thousands of acres covered with water. There are lots of cattle in them. This was done on purpose by some one to make green pasture the year around.”

The Williams left us a rich heritage.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.