1005259378 RR district Kids selling fruit and cider at depot.jpg
Kids selling fruit and cider at the Ashland Depot in the early 1900s. Photo from the Terry Skibby collection

Ashland kids sold WHAT to train passengers?

Ashland’s kids took part in the town’s first decades-long economic boom, which started in 1888. Why the kids? How the kids? Think railroad. Think train passengers.

I will tell you the stories of just a few of our entrepreneurial, pint-sized early 20th-century citizens.

The stories start with the first passenger train from San Francisco to Portland on Dec. 18, 1887. Between 1888 and 1927, up to four passenger trains a day stopped at the Ashland Depot. Most of the passengers arrived hungry, thirsty and curious.

For hunger, there was the three-story Ashland Depot Hotel, with its huge dining room able to accommodate up to 200 train passengers who wanted to sit down all at once during their 30-minute stop in Ashland. To give you a sense of the scale of the original Ashland Depot Hotel, the historic depot building at the corner of A Street and 5th Street was originally the one-story kitchen connected to the hotel.

For thirst, there was William Powell, known as “the old apple cider man.” He lived at 462 A St., the current home of Wellness Pet Supplies, and grew his own apples.

For curiosity and thirst, there was a covered kiosk where passengers could taste the local healing Lithia water and learn about the wonders of Ashland.

What about the Ashland kids and the WHAT?

Here’s what: The pint-sized Ashland citizens were truly entrepreneurs in that they catered to all three of the passengers’ needs. Here are three stories told by older versions of the kids themselves, or by their descendants.

Hunger: “My brother and I had a lot of cherries at our old house and we used to bring them in little paper boxes and sell those to the people for 5 cents” (Albert Meyers).

Ashland was an agricultural town back then, so kids also sold peaches, apples, pears and vegetables.

Thirst: “I moved to Ashland with my family in 1919. My brother and I had a job delivering newspapers. We delivered down at the train station too. That was where all the activity was. Everything happened at the train station. Whenever a train came in, all the passengers would get off and drink some Lithia water, either liking it very much or not liking it at all.

“My brother and I had a good business going. They didn’t have any cups down there and the fountain wasn’t fixed like a normal drinking fountain, so it was hard to drink from. My brother and I bought some cups from the five and dime store. Every time a train came in, we’d sell them cups for 5 cents so they could get a drink. We had a great big long board that the passengers were supposed to put their cups on when they got through drinking the water. We would set them there to dry, and then, when the next 100 to 150 people came, we would use the same cups again. We made a good amount of money in several years just using used cups” (stories told by Albert Meyers, who was interviewed by eighth-grade student Laura Howser in 1978 for the book called “A Bit of Old Ashland,” available at the Ashland Library.)

Curiosity: Here’s where my story gets even stranger. After reading my WalkAshland blog about Albert Meyers selling cherries, Zelma Randles commented: “ My late father-in-law, Merritt Randles, born 1900, told of going to the train station with his brother, Guy, and selling chipmunks they had trapped to passengers.”

Lloyd Stone added to her story with additional comments: “I knew Merritt and Guy. They certainly knew a lot about old Ashland. But I never heard about them selling chipmunks to train passengers. Quite a story!”

Then he did hear about them selling chipmunks to train passengers: “I spoke with my niece, Merritt’s granddaughter, over the weekend. She said her grandfather and uncle would chase the chipmunks until they were too tired to run any more and then catch them. I can’t imagine anyone having enough strength to chase down chipmunks, but that is how they caught them. Then they would sell them to the passengers.”

I know what you are thinking: “Why the heck would a train passenger be crazy enough to buy a chipmunk from a kid during a 30-minute layover in Ashland, Oregon?” I can’t answer that question. So with that, let’s call it a wrap for now.

As his contribution to building community, writer and herbal health researcher Peter Finkle is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street. Visit www.WalkAshland.com to see and read about local people, history, yard art, architecture, gardens and more.

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