Column No. 28

Living Accommodations in Ruby
Suddenly there was a critical need for more housing

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

Living accommodations for the people the Ruby mining camp in the 1930s included adobe and frame lumber homes, boarding houses for the single men, bunkhouses, and because of the rapidly expanding population, tents.

The few adobe or solid frame houses in Ruby were generally for management people. Mill superintendent Ed Crabtree described his house:

“The company charged us $10 per month rent for our house, which included electricity and cold water. We had no bathroom, so Thelma wife would have to heat water on the stove, and then fill a large washtub and bathe the kids and then herself. Fortunately, I was able to take a shower over at the mine. We had an ‘outhouse’ which was down the hill, but after we got settled, I ordered a chemical toilet from Sears & Roebuck, which I installed on our back porch. This toilet consisted of only a seat and a five-gallon can with chemicals in it, so every few days, I would have to take the can down the hills and dump it in the outhouse. One night, in doing this, I stumbled and fell, and you can imagine what a mess I was.

“Typical of southern Arizona, we had black widow spiders, scorpions, tarantulas, Gila monsters, rattlesnakes, etc. We put the legs of the baby cribs in coffee cans of kerosene to keep scorpions and spiders from crawling up into the beds. Even so, there was danger of them dropping from the ceiling.”

The Pfrimmer home, where columnist Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon lived from 1929 to 1938, was a three-room adobe building with a large storeroom built of lumber. The home was located behind the Ruby Mercantile, on the north side of town. Cahoon recalled:

“Both Mom and Dad had been raised in much more lavish surroundings, compared to our Ruby home. Nevertheless, neither complained and we were happy where we lived.

“Dad built several pieces of furniture by hand before electricity had been wired into homes. … Some of the pieces included a desk for the living room, a kitchen table, a kitchen cabinet and a bedroom closet.

“Except for the splintery wooden floor in the storeroom, all of the floors were concrete. The kitchen and bedroom floors were covered with colorful area linoleum.

“My mother cooked on a kerosene/coal oil stove …later on my parents bought a Wedgewood stove that was converted from natural to propane gas for use in Ruby. Initially we heated with wood … [later] my parents bought an oil-burning heater.

“The living room was nicely furnished with a ‘raffia’ rug, a day bed that not only served as a couch, but also opened up for overnight visitors. A straight wicker chair and matching rocker provided comfortable seating. We children also had a small wicker rocker, given to us by an aunt and uncle. Except for the storeroom, where all the walls were bare wood, the walls throughout the rest of the house had been calcimined [white-washed] ivory in the living room and bedroom and very light peach in the kitchen … Mother made curtains by hand for all of the windows in our home.”

Some residents lined the inside of their houses with cardboard and then sheets of muslin to make the house as warm as possible.

A white-stucco adobe building, located just north of the mine pad and south of the hospital, became the Ruby Boarding House. Operated by Mr. and Mrs. Attebury (and later by Harvey and Minnie Parrish), it was here that many of the single employees, who resided in bunkhouses, ate their meals.

Miner Donn Bowman recalled:

“The boarding house resembled a regular house that had been converted with a large room, long tables and benches where the men sat to eat their meals … Three, good filling meals were served family style daily … Stews were served in bowls. Cost was $1 per day! This included sack lunches that would sustain employees during their shift at the mine or the mill. Breakfast consisted of bacon, eggs, and, perhaps pancakes or toast and of course, coffee.”

An additional boarding house was across Ruby Lake, east of main camp. Doña Ramona Badilla, who served three meals each day for the bachelors, managed this boarding house. Miner Leo Leal remembered that he “ate very well for a mere fifty cents daily!” Staples were frijoles and tortillas. Ramona also prepared brown-bag lunches to feed the employees through the lunch hour and for the remainder of the workday.

There were two large rectangular-shaped adobe bunkhouses, north of the mine pad and just west of the hospital. The Goldfield Consolidated Mining Company built the bunkhouses in 1917/1918, during their operation of the Montana mine. Bachelors who worked at the mill and the mine lived in the bunkhouses. Galvanized iron roofs protected the buildings.

The bunkhouses had individual rooms with four men per room. Miner Donn Bowman recalled that, “There was no charge to live in the bunkhouses.”

With the news of available jobs in 1934, the population of the mining camp began to explode. Suddenly, there was a critical need for additional housing. Eagle-Picher ordered that tents would be the solution. A new “industry” developed. The Company constructed over a hundred very large tents all over Ruby.

The tents were about 30 feet long and 20-25 feet wide. They had wooden foundations and wooden steps, leading to a wooden floor. From the floor, wooden front, back and sides rose about three feet. Above that, screen surrounded the four sides of the structure. Outside, heavy off-white canvas covered the screen and also served as the roof of the building. Later, multiple sheets of corrugated galvanized iron that would keep out the frequent afternoon summer rains and the occasional winter snows, covered the tops of the tents.

Inside, the frame of the tent lay exposed. Residents used screens or hung decorative sheets to partition areas for cooking, living, and sleeping. Several straight chairs to accommodate a large family might surround a large table in the center of the kitchen-living area. Tent residents used a wood stove for cooking and to provide heat during cold winter months.

Storage of household items in the tents was a challenge. Some tents had portable cabinets in the kitchen area to store pots, pans, cooking utensils, cutlery, plates, cups, and glasses. Other, less formal storage arrangements included using discarded dynamite boxes as cupboards, stacked one on top of another. Fabric hung from the top of the box opening, kept dust away from the stored items.

Eagle-Picher provided double tents of equal size for the larger families. These would be placed one behind the other with an enclosed breezeway-like structure in between. Some residents used this area as a broom closet and/or pantry.

(Sources: Interviews with Donn Bowman and Leo Leal; Edwin H. Crabtree Family History)

Pfrimmer House
The Pfrimmer home in Ruby was a three-room adobe structure with a large storeroom built of lumber. (Photo by Mary Pfrimmer Walling, 1967. Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon private collection)

Tents were the solution to Ruby’s population explosion. More than 40 large tents are visible in this late 1930s photo of the hills east of the schoolhouse, north of Ruby Lake. (Photo courtesy of Wynell Kisner)

 Next time: Health Care in Ruby

Back to List of Columns