Column No. 33

It was a prosperous little place

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

The most famous building in Ruby was of course the general store. After the two double murders of the store’s proprietors, the Fraser brothers in 1920, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pearson in 1921, Bert H. “Red” Worthington operated the Ruby mercantile for about two years. According to then youngster Charlie Foltz, “After the killings, they ran it by keeping the place locked up.” Worthington also served as the Postmaster.

With virtually no production at the Montana mine, the general store and post office closed down in 1924. Arivaca handled the mail for the few Ruby residents.

In 1928, when Eagle-Picher started operating the Montana mine, the store and post office reopened. The store now operated as a company store, with the name (on the sign over the front door) “Ruby Mercantile.” During Eagle-Picher’s initial mine production period, from 1928 to 1930, Mr. and Mrs. Nick Martinez ran the store. Frank Lerchen, Eagle-Picher’s main man in Ruby during that period, acted as Postmaster.

In 1933, as Eagle-Picher was getting ready to restart production, Dan and Constance “Connie” Cargill became the operators of the store. Then, in 1934, when Dan Cargill became office manager at the mine, Cliff and Emma Parsons became the store’s proprietors. The Parsons ran the store until 1938. Postmasters during that period included Erle D. Morton, the General Manager (Postmaster from 1933 to 1937) and William A. Davis (Postmaster from 1937 to 1940).

By 1936, in the middle of the Montana mine’s most active and productive period, advertisers added the now familiar Union 76 gasoline logo at each end of the “Ruby Mercantile” sign.

The mercantile sold all kinds of goods. Columnist Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon recalled:

“Vegetables were displayed in big containers in the center of the store. Canned goods filled the shelves along the walls. I remember a hanging scale in the middle of the store and an elaborate meat market, with a walk-in refrigerator.

“I can still hear the click on that big door they would open to go into the cooler and there was glass so that you saw the meat hanging and if you wanted a certain cut of meat you asked the man who was waiting on you to cut off a pound of whatever it was and he’d pick up this big hunk of meat and bring it to the butcher block table and cut it off.

“People lined up their purchases, to pay for them, on oak counters, with glass display-case fronts. When you entered the store, you were greeted by one of the proprietors to help you shop, and also the strong odor of ammonia used in the ice making process.

“I remember when my sister Mary was born at home in Ruby in 1933, my Dad spirited me away to the store managers’ living quarters in the back of the mercantile, to keep me away.”

Eagle-Picher issued coupon books to employees (deducted from their paychecks) for use in the mercantile. The use of coupons eliminated the need for large amounts of cash to be kept in the store, thus making robbery less attractive.

Ruby coupon books were 5 ¼ inches long and 2 inches wide. The first page was a receipt page, then five pages of coupons: one orange page of 50-cent coupons, one green page of 25-cent coupons, two green 10-cent coupon pages, and one pink 5-cent coupon page, for a total of $5.00 per coupon book.

Even with Eagle-Picher providing coupon books, prices in the general store were relatively high, since Ruby was so far from suppliers in Tucson and Nogales. Some Ruby residents with automobiles did at least some of their shopping elsewhere.

Mill superintendent Ed Crabtree admitted:

“We used to try to make a trip to Tucson about once a month to buy groceries since they cost much less there than they did at [the] store in Ruby. However, we were always apprehensive that [the store manager] might not feel so good about us not buying groceries at his store, so we would wait until after dark to unload our car.”

Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon remembered it differently:

“We bought groceries at the store, but trips to Tucson were to stock up and purchase clothing, etc., not available in Ruby. We also visited friends and relatives and took all day. We would leave Tucson in the evening to return to Ruby.”

Dorothy Gerrard Long’s father worked at the Ruby mercantile in 1937 and 1938. As a nine-year-old in the second grade, Dorothy put out a small newspaper called the “Hollywood News.” She tried to “report people coming and going.” Her mother typed the paper after Dorothy wrote it with her mother’s help. The newspaper had four folded pages; one page was “always art work she loved to draw.”

The mercantile gave her 25 cents for advertising in the paper. Dorothy “charged 5 cents but people gave her 10 cents.” She would sell the paper, then “go to the store, buy Boston beans for the family and a root beer for herself.”
The post office helped out Ruby residents on the financial side too. The postmaster cashed paychecks. Workers could buy Government bonds.

Diesel equipment mechanic “Red” Worth remembered:

“There was no welfare aid in the thirties in Ruby. It was a prosperous little place. We didn’t have a bank. You could always get a money order over at the post office there, but most of us banked in Nogales or Tucson.”

In 1938, Gilbert and Christine Cole came to Ruby. Christine Cole helped manage one of the boarding houses. Gilbert Cole, a butcher by trade, took over the management of the mercantile, working for Cliff Parsons.

Cole managed the mercantile until the Eagle-Picher closed the mine in 1940. Then he left Ruby to work for Cliff Parsons in Tucson.

The mercantile closed soon after the Coles left; the dwindling population of Ruby could no longer support a general store.

The final postmaster (or postmistress) of Ruby was Mrs. Esther L. Stamps (January 1, 1941 to May 31, 1941).

(Sources: Interviews with Charles Foltz, Dorothy Gerard Long, and Christine Cole; Edwin H. Crabtree Family History; Dan B. McCarthy, “The Return to Ruby,” Phoenix Republic, October 1, 1972; Postal History Foundation, Tucson; Union and Antenna Ball History)

Front of Store

In this front view of the Ruby store, note the Union 76 gasoline logos on each side of the “Ruby Mercantile” sign above the door. (Photo courtesy Startling Detective Adventures, March 1936)

Back of Store
This view from the back of the Ruby mercantile shows the wrap-around porch of the living area. There was room for storage below the porch. (Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon private collection, circa 1930s)

Next time: Law and Order in Ruby

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