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Starbuck Resident Recalls Dam-Building Boom Times

by Annie Charnley Eveland
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, March 5, 2013

Look up Columbia County and there are just two towns sited there -- Dayton, the county seat, and Starbuck. Wikipedia also lists Alto, Turner, Huntsville and Marengo, but little if any information is provided about these. I passed through the areas of three of them, and they're just spots in the road now.

Named for railroad official W.H. Starbuck, Starbuck was originally a junction on the main line of the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Co. A line the railroad built from Starbuck eastward to Pomeroy and Pataha City in Garfield County in 1886 operated until 1981.

Downstream from Lyon's Ferry, a bridge spanned the Snake River in 1914 that significantly lessened railroad traffic through Starbuck. A bridge originally built over the Columbia River at Vantage in 1927 was disassembled in 1963 and re-assembled in the area to give additional access over the Snake. Today Starbuck is an agricultural town with about 130 residents.

Zonia Dedloff of Starbuck wants all comers to know that compact as it is, her town's a going concern: it finally made the Chamber of Commerce's map, she said.

She and husband Jerry Dedloff brought sons Jerry and Zonie to the burg in the late 1960s for the construction of Little Goose Dam.

Starbuck and Dayton saw booms at that time, "yet neither of the towns welcomed the construction families beyond their monetary value," Zonia recalled.

Trailer homes popped up on every vacant lot and those without such abodes rented "little more than chicken coops" so they could be near the job site, she said.

Son Jerry enrolled as a fifth-grader in the school that taught students through eighth grade. The last memorable Elks dance was held during their first year in Starbuck, she said.

They called the store area Starbuck Mall for in its buildings were the post office, a Laundromat, a "hotel of sorts" and the grocery store. The Grange Hall provided a recreation center for Friday night roller skating for the kids, community events and grange meetings.

Once, a February ice storm caused the Grange Hall to become home to three families who lost power. A restaurant, bar and cardroom existed until it burned in the 1970s and was replaced by a rodeo arena.

Si and Earlene Davis opened a trailer cafe and groceries were sold from another trailer. "The grocer didn't have the gift of gab Grace Zink had and he didn't stay in business long," Zonia recalled.

A novelty for the construction men was Ester Lockard, who trimmed their hair as the town barber. Nettie Brookshire styled women's hair. Both had shops in their homes.

Of the two active community churches, one remains open and is pastored by Village Missions.

"Dick Jackson was Columbia County sheriff and he did a fine job. So far as I know, he never put anyone in our local jail and it remains empty to this day," Zonia said.

A new post office and school sprouted from the influx in population. "Our son Zonie has the distinction of being the first child to start school in the new building and graduate from it.

Five new homes were built to house permanent engineers when the dam was completed as they had to live within a certain radius of the dam for their jobs at the time, Zonia said.

A hot topic among news services was when Starbuck Cemetery plots sold for $5 each, Zonia said. "Jean Prettyman gets credit for cleaning up the Starbuck Cemetery. She had local kids and their families working several hours for weeks, pulling weeds and cleaning gravesites. To this day, the cemetery is maintained by the city largely due to her efforts to clean it up."

Lyons Ferry Park opened as a result of the dam, bringing "paradise in our back yard," Zonia said. Young people could get jobs as lifeguards and at the concession stand, plus there was a picnic area and boat launch for locals and tourists.

Although construction workers were not welcomed by the local folks, "the revenue we generated was." Jean McCargue, owner of Jean's Variety in Dayton, referred to Zonia as "that lady from Starbuck who wears the hats."

Zonia also recalls that Mrs. (Cletys) Dingle, owner of Dingle's of Dayton, followed her customers around the store "She was a good lady with a good business head and I mean no disrespect for her store policies." Zonia appreciated Mrs. Dingle's Diary, a 15-minute weekly radio show on which she shared life tips and recipes.

Zonia said a lot of the construction workers restocked in Walla Walla. "I remember the good trips to town with friends Loretta Bath and Sheila Bananzek when we loaded the kids in our station wagon and headed for the big city for groceries and whatever and came home with the wagon full to the roof with our purchases and our kids cranky from the long day in town."

And being called "those damned dam workers" didn't deter the Dedloff clan from choosing to settle and raise their sons there.

Little Goose Dam was completed in 1970, about nine miles northeast of Starbuck. "So when our employer, Continental Drilling Co. moved on to the next dam, for the first time in nine years, the Dedloff family didn't go with them."

Jerry worked out of his Operating Engineers Union until retirement. The Dedloffs left Starbuck just twice in 40 years of residency, once for a year in New Mexico and once for eight months in West Virginia.

Little Goose was the first project Jerry worked on from start to finish. "Then, with the completion of the dam, Starbuck quickly became the quiet community I have come to love."

Construction jobs around the area keep new people coming and going, she said. The school had 30 students as it opened its doors for the 2013 school year. The mall, which underwent changes by Mort Bishop, still stands. David McIlroy pastors the church, which is seeing major upgrades and enlargements.

There's no store, but denizens enjoy Huwe's Cafe, Darver Tackle and Rawhide Bar N Grill. Gasoline is available as well as a bed and breakfast.

"It's ironic that I am now considered one of the ‘old timers' here in Starbuck and I am comfortable with that. We invested heavily when those cemetery plots were going for five bucks apiece so my spot on the hill -- I will one day join Jerry there and never leave this community," Zonia said.

2010 census

As of the census[2] of 2010, there were 129 people, 73 households, and 38 families residing in the town. The population density was 614.3 inhabitants per square mile (237.2 /km2). There were 91 housing units at an average density of 433.3 per square mile (167.3 /km2). The racial makeup of the town was 90.7% non-Hispanic White, 0.8% Native American, 4.7% non-Hispanics reporting some other race, and 1.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.3% of the population.

There were 73 households out of which 13.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.5% were married couples living together, 5.5% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 47.9% were non-families. 42.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 20.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.77 and the average family size was 2.32.

The median age in the town was 58.1 years. 10.9% of residents were under the age of 18; 0.7% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 16.4% were from 25 to 44; 38% were from 45 to 64; and 34.1% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the town was 50.4% male and 49.6% female.

Annie Charnley Eveland
Starbuck Resident Recalls Dam-Building Boom Times
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, March 5, 2013

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