Interview With Joseph D. Benson, Sr.

From the interview with Joseph De Villo Benson, Sr. of Port Townsend conducted by Rae Tennyson at the Fort Worden History Center on July 7, 2002.  Mr. Benson worked at Fort Worden from 1959 to 1981.  His career spanned the years from the Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center era to Washington State Parks era.  He died recently.  In this segment of the interview, he described how his family arrived in Port Townsend from North Dakota:

“In 1927 during the drought, my dad said, ’Well, are you going down with the farmers?  Are we going to stay here and go down with the farmers?’ He was in the garage business, he had two garages and we’re going to move out.  The farmers didn’t like that because he was the only garage to help them out, but he didn’t want to go down with (them).

He had a wagon maker build a house, seven feet by fourteen feet, and he had it put on a Model T truck and we headed out of town.  We started moving west in June and it took us three months to come west.  There were seven of us, five kids and Ma and Pa.  That was an RV.  We had running water in the bathroom, a honey bucket, but still it was a bathroom.  We had running water in the kitchen.  We had a tank over top of the house that caught rain water.  We had a bird and a dog.  They lived until ’34.  We stopped in Yellowstone Park.  Grandma came with us in Yellowstone and stayed with us for two weeks.  …We came to the Oregon coast, Seaside, Oregon, and then we came to Seattle.  My mother’s sister lived in Seattle.  We stayed there for a short time and then Dad came around 101 and came into Port Townsend and asked if anything was going on here.

They said, ‘Well, they’re talking about voting the paper mill in.’  They voted it in and he said, ‘This is the place where I’m going to go.’  So we came here with the house car.  It involved the whole family.  The first night in Port Townsend we stopped at a spot down near close to the beach, and the next night we stopped at Chetzemoka Park.  That was when we heard the fog horns blowing and it sounded like cows—why don’t the farmer let the cows out of the barn?  We didn’t know it was a fog horn!  Then we moved to a spot on Landes Street and lived there a year.  My dad worked the house over and sold it to a man.  He was the head man at the mill.  Then, the next year, in ’28, Dad bought the building downtown, the N.D. Hill Building, the hotel.  He named it the DeVillo Hotel after me.  He bought that in ’28 and we lived there for eight years.”

Later, Mr. Benson recalled an exciting discovery at Fort Worden in February 1973:

“Bill Matheson, Gordon Trafton, Lance Cubley, and I were tearing a building down and we got to the main floor, we were taking the flooring off and we got down to the ground and Bill said, ‘I think we’ve found a Dinky.’ That was a little engine of the train that the Army had used to haul cement up the hills. I said, ‘Where, Bill?’ He said, ‘Right there.’ I felt and it was a wheel. We started digging it up.  It was buried down in the sand, underneath this building.  They (the Army) had knocked all the stuff off of it and then run the tracks out there so far, where they dug the hole that thing went into and it just rolled over.  That was back in 1911.  We dug it up and had a construction outfit come along and pick it up and set it down on the ground. …They picked it up and put it on this truck … I said, ’When they take that off there, just give it a push,’ and they did and it just went on the wheels.  It had been buried for 60-some years.  The 148th had come here every year to see if they could find that engine.

What we found was just the engine with the wheels, it didn’t have the steam stuff but my crew went down on the beach afterwards and they found the pipes that went in where there was sand. …When we dug it out I went up and got the park manager, Ang Taylor. I said, ‘Ang, I have something I want you to come down and see.’  He came down and he looked at it, we were shoveling then; and he goes back up and puts his work clothes on.  The power company and the newspaper were coming out then.  He puts his work clothes on and he goes down with a shovel to show that he helped find it.”

Note: The Dinky engine has been housed in the Motor Pool Building at Fort Worden, still awaiting restoration almost 40 years since it was unearthed.

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