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Historic Provo

Oral History of Lee Cox


WINN: Today is July 27, 1999. This is Jennifer Winn and I'm here with Lee Cox.

COX: My middle name is Taylor. My grandfather was Frederick Winegar Taylor. After he took his medical training in New York and Paris he came to Provo to practice in about 1892. His father's name was John Taylor. That is his picture up there. He married a woman whose name was Amelia Richards. She was the granddaughter of Willard Richards. Those are the two people who escaped alive on June 27, 1844 when the prophet Joseph Smith was murdered. That is my heritage also.

My grandfather, Fred W. Taylor was very very interested in literature and science and arts and did many things to promote those in Provo. He was a co-founder of the Provo General Hospital. This is a paper that I submitted to the Provo City Library with some pictures in about where it was. His neighbor was Russell Holbrook. Springdell was founded by the doctor and the mayor and druggist and financier, Jessie Knight and a few of the influential men of Provo including George H. Brimhall.

To get to my story, I was raised at 942 North University Avenue. It was property that was originally purchased by my grandfather from the Buckley estate and his older son Albert lived in that house. Then in 1928 he sold the house to my father and mother, who was his younger sister, and he moved to Grantsville. In the back of the house was a big chicken coop. My father called it a chicken hotel. He took all of the framing off that chicken hotel and made additions to the house. I described that in a different article.

About 1960 my father moved into Springdell into my grandfather's property and rented the house out to four or five students. People would sometimes say, "Would you like to sell your property?" He said, "What for? How much?" They said, "Twenty five thousand." Within a year it went to fifty thousand dollars and six months later it went up to seventy five thousand dollars. My father went to the bank president and said, "Why do they want the property?" They said, "They want to build an apartment house on your property." My father said, "Could we build an apartment on that property?" He said, "Of course you could. We're willing to finance it. You've got the collateral and you've got the land and it's worth up to $90,000 which would take care of all of the construction costs."

We built it in 1964. We got a twenty five year mortgage on the property and built an apartment house at 942 North University Avenue. We took the old house down and built an apartment house. In twenty-five years it was paid for. That's what happened to the house that I was born in. My sister kept the original window when they demolished the house. She has got that in her house in Vernal, Utah.

Another thing about building the house was that in the later 1940s, my dad said, "Why can't I put Christmas lights in ice." In the winter he put out lights. He used to be an electrician when he was first married. He was an electrician in the mines. He knew the nitty gritty about electrical work. He just wired up some colored bulbs and put them in a mayonnaise jar so the water wouldn't get into the electrical socket. Around Christmas time they would be all solid in ice and he would turn the lights on and he would get a mixture of ice colors from bright to light. Some of them were on steady. Some would flash. In the Christmas seasons in the late forties we had up through one hundred cars in front of our house looking at the lighting display that we had.

One year we did it a little different. Instead of having just ice, we had a big snowfall that year and we made an igloo out of snow. This gave it a little onyx type. The colors didn't diffuse as far, but it was different. We had an igloo all out of snow that we had sprayed with water so that it would not melt. We put the lights in that.

We only put the mayonnaise jars the first year on it, because we found out that when you turned the lights on it would melt the ice immediately around the lightbulbs and it would give you an air space. If there was any water in the socket and it shorted pretty soon there was a little bit of steam and a little pocket that wouldn't get any water in it. After that first year we didn't put jars around them. We did that for about ten years before we stopped doing it at 942 North University for a Christmas display at Christmas time.

I've written some other stories about the way that we irrigated. My father was a little bit ambitious. Anybody who has had a clothesline knows that after you put a clothes line up for three or four years, the clothesline would sag and you had to take some wire out to make it so that the clothes wouldn't drop on the ground. He took a wagon wheel off of a wagon and put some two by fours around the outside of this. And he put the wires so that they were like an umbrella. When they would sag they would tighten and slowly over three or four years they would sag. This way you could just put your clothes on the clothes stand and swing the wires around and hang everything up in front of you that went in a circle. All the clothes would hang. The more weight, the farther down it would get. You didn't have to tighten the wires every two or three years, you could wait four, five or six years until you cut the wires.

You could also stand in one place to hang your clothes and you didn't have to walk them up and down. We had a clothes line over a rhubarb patch and we'd water the rhubarb patch, but you didn't want to get your feet wet when you'd hang the clothes. We just pulled on the wagon wheel and the next line would come up. We'd fill that one up and off we'd go.

My father was quite inventive that way. My father was also into bees. We raised honey. There was a neighbor two blocks across that raised honey.

I've written another story about Depression wages and eating in the Depression time. We thought one of the best meals that we had was my mother would get bones from the butcher shop that had been picked clean with no meat on them. And yet there was the little bit of marrow in the bones. She would cook that up and put a little bit of sage and pepper in it. She would make a big pot of it. The first day we would have that soup over bread. The second day she would add a few vegetables and the third day she would put a dumpling on the top. We would eat that same meal. It would look different. We didn't know any better.

We'd walk down the tracks to the creamery. We had a five gallon milk can and we'd get skim milk which they just threw down the drain. There wasn't any market for that. If you're making butter then the skim milk has no value at all. We would get that skim milk. We could get it just for being there when they were through with their chores. We went down to the dairy on Second West and got it.

Another thing that nobody has ever written about as far as I know is the Orem Line. It was the Orem Electric Line that went into Salt Lake. My mother's cousins used to come on the Orem Line from Pierpont Avenue in Salt Lake. That was west of Third West and Second South. They'd get on it there and ride down to Orem. It was called the Orem because it went through Orem. When it came into Provo, it came about where the freeway is. It went from University Parkway in Orem, around the hill and came out on 820 North. Then it came down into Provo and up Center Street to where NuSkin is now. That was the depot for the Orem. It was another depot for the Heber Creeper. The Heber came up that same corner, up Second West. The Heber Creeper line is where the bicycle path is now. It followed all the way up there.

WINN: Did they ever have problems with the Heber Creeper or the Orem? Was going over the Point of the Mountain a problem?

COX: The railroad tracks go fairly close to the river. There are two railroad tracks. One goes around where the gravel pit is on top. There is another railroad track that goes around on the base, next to the river. One of them comes down to American Fork and Pleasant Grove, into town. The other one goes through Lehi and then goes to American Fork on a diagonal down towards Geneva Steel. The other goes on Geneva Road all the way to Pleasant Grove. There is an overpass for the railway on State Street in Pleasant Grove. You go through a little tunnel and around a curve. The railroad went straight south on Geneva Road and came in that way. That railway pass is still there and the railroad tracks still go that way.

WINN: Did you ride on the Orem?

COX: We couldn't afford the railroad in the thirties. The cars were coming pretty much then. I think in the late thirties, it ceased operation. That electric line didn't exist to Salt Lake after that. From 1911 to 1923 it was the main road up to Salt Lake. The cars didn't come around then. If you went to Salt Lake you generally stayed overnight in Draper. Finally in the twenties, the automobile could get up there in about four hours. In the twenties, generally you stayed overnight. You could make it in one long day. It would take you nearly twenty hours to get to Salt Lake before the Orem came into existence.

I had an aunt who lived on Geneva Road, about 700 North, north of the river. They used to let us go to their place and then we'd dare each other to drink their water. Their sink out in their wash room was just covered with iron. It was well water and it was covered with iron. It had a different taste. I think it was a little saltier too than what we would get. We would have a contest to see who would take the biggest drink before quitting. That was the macho thing that we did.

I worked at what is called Academy Square. When I was in the Sixth Grade my mother said, "We'll sign you up for BY Junior High School." The tuition was $10. She said, "You'll have to work out the tuition." There were lots of other people that went to BY Junior High working for their tuition also. We got ten cents an hour working for our tuition. We'd pull weeds, sweep, and pick up. We went into the old high school building and I went to school at BY Training School. They had a training school for teachers. They had them do all of their work at the training school. It was also on Academy Square. It was on the corner of Sixth North and First East. It was on the diagonal.

To get to kindergarten the people went down five steps. My teacher's name was Florence Fisher. It was in either kindergarten or first grade. She was an artist and a teacher.

We had a piano in our house so I tinkered a little bit. I never did learn how to play the piano, because if I could get somebody to play it for me, I had it fixed in my mind and I didn't care what keys you had to read. I'd just pick it out. I didn't ever learn to do the piano very well.

One noon time I was playing the piano. That was a no-no. She took a big foot long ruler, and she slapped me on the back. She cracked my knuckles with the ruler. That was standard. I was too macho to cry. I welled up a bit.

The only men's gymnasium at that time was on the third floor. It was kitty corner, so it faced north east. They had the kindergarten and the first grade on the lower floor. Then they had the offices for the education department on the second floor. The fourth, fifth and sixth grades were on the second floor. The third floor was the men's gym. It was a different building. They had a little balcony so the people who were watching basketball games could go up there. This was in the thirties.

WINN: When did they tear the building down?

COX: They just tore it down four years ago when they put the big fence around the Academy Square. They had the women's gym across the street. Originally they had it for a dance floor. They had springs on the floor so that when you did the waltz, the floor would go up and down. You would bounce a little bit up and down. It was one of the finest dance halls in Provo.

When I started at BYU that was the only place that we played basketball. We played basketball in the women's gym. They had made the springs so that it wouldn't bounce. They put shoring under the spring portion so it wouldn't bounce. I think that was made before 1910.

I wrote a bit about myself going down to University on my tricycle. That wasn't a big thing to do because our church house, which was the Fourth Ward is on Fourth North and First West. I had to go all the way from 942 North University down to Fourth North. When I was five or six, when I went down to University Avenue that was another four blocks. It wasn't that far of a journey for me to take, because I walked to church all the time. We didn't take cars to church. Nobody had gasoline to take cars to church.

WINN: Did people get there on time?

COX: Generally. I think it is better than now. You think all you have to do is go a little faster. You knew you had to be out of the house by such and such a time because you had so many blocks to walk. My trip down there was not a foreign trip. My grandfather's office was on 59 East Center Street. It was on the north side of the street. It was called Taylor Clinic. There were big long stairs above an office supply store.

WINN: Is it where the bagel shop is now?

COX: It's called the Bates building. You have to look on the top where it says Bates Building. It's two doors down from the Knight Block. The Knight Block is on the corner. That's Jessie Knight Block. There was a drug store in that one. Heckel's Drug was down on First West. If you look in the city directories you can see who the proprietors were and what businesses were there. You can find out where the Piggly Wiggley and Sentry stores were.

That's the way I wrote my stories to reminisce. The directories are in a cabinet in the northwest corner of the library. They've got locks on them. You have to get a key to get in to see the city directories. You can see it for two or four hours intervals. It's everybody who lived here and where they lived and who they were, and what their phone number was.

I lived right at the north end of town. There were only two more houses out in Provo that were really in the city of Provo. 1200 North was not in Provo.

WINN: When did that change? When did it go out further?

COX: It was about 1952 or 1953.

WINN: Why was that?

COX: They built more houses out there. BYU was expanding. Owen Baird's father had a chicken farm where the Joseph Smith Memorial is. You can ask him when they sold that. That would be when BYU expanded. They started to expand but they had the old football stadium before that, where the Tanner Building is. That used to be where the football stadium was.

WINN: Was that just bleachers?

COX: There were metal seats with wooden beaches and poured in concrete. It was built in the thirties. You can also go to the Bannion and find out about that. Someone reported that they were going to sell all of the land which had been donated on top of the hill. The Heber J. Grant Library and the Administration Building and the Maeser building were up on the hill. They were going to have a fund raiser and sell everything north and east of that building to raise funds for BYU.

Someone reported in a devotional just last year that the class president started his talk and choked up and said, "What are all these people doing? What are all those big buildings up there?" He was supposed to give a talk to pitch the fact that they should sell this land that BYU owned to raise funds for the university. When he gave his talk, I think it was Jessie Knight that got up and said, "I move that this vision be fulfilled." That was in a devotional this last year.

That's what happened. I've talked a little bit about the trip that I took and where I lived. The houses in my neighborhood were built in the early thirties. There was Dr. Clark's house on the corner. Next to that was Carl Eyring, whom the Eyring Center was named after. There was Balliff's and Egbertsens on my side of the street. Their daughter lived across the street.

Next to that was Frank J. Earl. Next to that was the guy who sold to Frank J. Earl. He was a baby doctor and delivered over 2,500 babies in his practice. In 1938 or 1939 he stopped and sold some of his property to Frank J. Earl. He worked for Standard Oil of California and had a distributorship for gasoline during World War II. There was a building on that property, which was called the Haws property. That building was a pioneer cabin which is now at North Park.

Then we had the tennis coach, Buck Dixon, across the street. There was a man that didn't come to church very much. We found his second wife lived there in the thirties. His first wife lived in the Manaboo Ward which was in a different stake.

There were two stakes. There was Provo Stake, which was east of University Avenue. Then there was Utah Stake, which was west of University Avenue. It was split down north and south. That was the beginning of the two stakes that we had in Provo when I was growing up.

After World War II, because the students were living in the area of town which I was living in, they made the Fourth Ward and the University Ward. When I was a teenager I was not able to do any basketball because all of these all-stars from Idaho would come and live in our ward. I think we only had two or three people on our ward team, who grew up in the ward. I was not an M-men because I couldn't play baseball or basketball. There weren't any university stakes at that time. They just took over the activities of our ward. We had a lot of them living in our ward.

From Eighth North to Ninth North and University we had doctors and professors and Professor Tanner lived around the corner. There was a Tanner Building for the biological sciences. They built the Knight Mangum Hall and the Amanda Knight Hall in our ward which were on the corner. The one on University Avenue and Eighth North was the women's dorms. They eventually both became women's dorms. They weren't women's dorms to start with.

WINN: What were some of the activities that you were involved in as a child in the community?

COX: One of the advisors at Provo High School became the principal. His name was Deb Tregeagle. He was an advisor. He's not related to Ethel's husband. Deb Tregeagle decided in about 1944 to start a scout ship as an explorer program. My brother was a charter member of that. He was in the Fourth Ward when they started it. When they divided us into university wards, some of the senior scouts went into the C scout. We built a boat and we went to California after World War II. I went two years and I've got pictures of that. We were really very active in the community with that.

Because of that I've got a different perspective. I didn't go into very many high school activities. I wasn't very active in high school. I was in the rifle shooting club, sponsored by the American Legion. I could never shoot as well as the instructor's thought I should be able to. It wasn't until I was 23 that I found out why. I had astigmatism. That means if you can see the back sight distinctly, then you can't see the target distinctly. If you can see the target distinctly, then you can't see the back sight. You've got the back sight, the front sight and the target. Everybody else with normal eyes can see the back sight, front sight and the target. I couldn't see it.

When I got off my mission and got glasses, I said, "Oh, those walls over there have individual bricks in them." I didn't realize that I was blurring out details. I wasn't a championship shooter.

Then from that I got into the World Wildlife Federation. I don't know when I got into that one. I was more active in that during my freshman and sophomore year in college than I really was in campus related events. I had this background with some of the people that my dad and mother knew very well. They took me under their wing.

I was an Eagle Scout. The best thing I learned from Eagle Scouting was that I had the ability to call anybody up to make an appointment for a scout merit badge. I would do that because I knew there was something that we had in common. That really put me in good stead because of the fact that I could converse as an adult in something that they knew something about and I knew a little bit about. It turned out that I never lacked a job or was unemployed because I would go ask people because I had had this experience in calling and talking to adults.

And yet my children have been out of work for a long time and have never gone to see about a job. If you know the mechanism to get a job today, it's networking. Anytime you ask for a resume you get two hundred, and which one do you look at? That really helped me to network. It didn't matter where I was, but I could always network and do things with other people.

When I was a teenager, we didn't have this house. We would come up here two days during the summer. Some of my cousins who lived closer to my grandparents came up here many many times during the summer. They had keys to the house. My cousins that I went to high school with came here all the time, but I didn't. The parents of my cousins who had the keys were the doctors. They had the access. I went with my father's family.

During the Depression he built a cabin a few miles south of here. He said the biggest expense on the whole cabin which you couldn't trade for on the barter system during the Depression was a hasp to put a lock on the cabin. It cost him a dollar and a half and that was the most expensive item. He would network and say, "If I clean this place out, will you give me that old stove you've got sitting in the back." "Yes, I don't need that old stove." That's the way he got it. Then he'd go up and say, "If I work for you with this, you've got that roll of screen wire that I need. Could I take that?" He bartered for things like that.

Then he got a job as a bus driver. They said, "Can you drive a bus?" He said, "Of course I can drive a bus." He shoved it from first to second and it was screaming. One of the passengers said, "By the way, if you put the clutch in first and double clutch it, then it won't squeal at you." You had to change gears going the right speed. He became a bus driver.

WINN: Did you meet your wife in Provo as well?

COX: Yes. And I think that there is more of an opportunity to meet wives here. These kids today don't have much imagination, either male or female.

When I got off my mission my wife was teaching school here in Provo. She went to the same ward as I did and we sang in the choir. I think that ward and stake choirs are great. The only thought that I had with ward and stake choirs in young adult wards was that I think the young people should insist on performing in the choir. That means they should go to other wards in the stakes and the non-student stakes and put on a program in that ward. They ought to once a quarter find a place where this ward or stake choir can perform. That would give them a much better commitment to say they're going to perform on that Sunday and they had better come to practice. Had we not been there, I don't think either one of us were outspoken enough to make the connection without the choir to help us.

WINN: What did you do for activities as dates?

COX: I was always a dancer. It came easy to me. But I didn't learn to sing until I got off my mission. I didn't know how to place my voice so I could not sing. I took private lessons when I came back from my mission. I didn't know how to keep my voice up. Sometimes it would go up and sometimes it would go down. When I learned how to do that and opened my mouth so it would stay down, then I could sing. My first son doesn't sing well at all. I told him about it, but he doesn't know how to do it. My mother didn't sing very well. My father sang all the time. My mother could sing, but she didn't know how to place her voice.

WINN: In your experiences with Provo through the years, what are some of the ways that you think it's changed?

COX: You've got to look at the thirties and forties in a different light. Cars were just coming in. Public transportation was the way to get around. From 1942 to 1945 public access to automobiles did not expand. You had to have a priority to get a 1943 or 1944 vehicle. You had to be in an essential occupation to get a new car. If you did have a car, then you didn't have gasoline, because everything was rationed.

Frank J. Earl's son was my age. And because of his Standard Oil connections, he had access to gasoline. They gave so much for gas evaporation to the distributors. He had some aviation gas that he put in his car. I remember it burned so hot and made the fuel so hot that it just kept running. We had to put it in gear against a telephone pole to stop it. It just kept running. We turned the key off. It was deiseline. The fuel would get so hot that any fuel which was in the cylinder would explode. That's what diesel does is explode. So we had to put it in gear so that it wouldn't allow it to keep going. It would self ignite. Every time it went around it threw more gas out of the carburetor so that it was a never ending cycle.

It was an old 1936 Dodge. We went through a puddle and the floor boards were so worn that it made a scoop. If we went through a puddle, the passenger had to lift their feet up. The weld had separated. It was round on the back and flat on the front. It was just like a scoop and it would just scoop the water up into the passenger's feet. This friend of mine always had access to gasoline during the war. He was selfish, so he did what he wanted.

WINN: Were you ever afraid of going into the war?

COX: No. I was seventeen when it ended. The classes before me in school went. They were worried about it. The war also changed access to vehicles. The returning sliders had been all around the world and they weren't afraid to go anywhere or do anything. Immediately after the war was over and cars became available, we never went with the girls in our neighborhood, we went over to Payson to see the girls. It changed.

This was the biggest change was that after World War II you didn't have any way of identifying anyone in your neighborhood any longer. When I was a kid you could go in any neighborhood and more or less they had heard the sound of your car and they knew who it was before you rounded the corner. When a strange car would come in the early forties, you'd look out the window to see who was going by. That's the way it was.

My situation was a little different, because I lived on University Avenue which was US 189. It came up the canyon here. We didn't have as much access. That was a true fact of life in the forties was that you knew who was there and you knew if you were either on foot or on bicycle.

You'd go to some neighborhoods and find there was some boy in there that was the kind of the neighborhood. You learned how, even as a five year old or seven year old who you had to walk softly around. But in the late forties all of that changed. The fifties was everybody feeling their own oats and knowing where to go before the sixties came on where things got a little rampant and rambunctious with Vietnam coming in. It was all the mobility of the people.

Because of that with people coming in and doing this and that, businesses became a little more transient. Employer loyalty went down.

WINN: Did your children have the same kinds of activities that you had?

COX: When I got married, my wife and I went. I got off my mission and I was on the train in April 1951 when they said the U.S. had invaded south Vietnam. I was on the train to Canada on my mission when that happened. I was exempt from the service in Korea for those two years. Then I got back in July of 1952 from my mission. I went back to BYU. I was drafted for the Korean Conflict September 1. I said, "Wait a minute. Everybody that has graduated from college is by law authorized an exemption to go to school for one school year." They cancelled that and said, "You've got three quarters." I then was inducted into the service in February. I had had summer quarter, autumn quarter and winter quarter. I happened to make the requirements for graduation. I was a senior before I went on my mission. I was able to finish. I am in the class of 1953.

I went into the service and was engaged to my wife. I took a weekend pass to be married in June 1953. We were gone then. I came back to BYU and got my masters degree and went to graduate school in Ames, Iowa in 1956. I went to Seattle and then back to Michigan. For twenty years I was not in Utah.

WINN: How had it changed when you came back after those twenty years?

COX: Provo was the largest city in Utah when I went. It became a race with Sandy. Sandy blossomed and there are cities all the way from Salt Lake. I can remember when in the forties Orem didn't have very many buildings. We had a nucleus in Pleasant Grove and a nucleus in American Fork and a few little places in Lehi. Then you got up to Midvale, which was the first city that you got to. There were businesses up and down State Street. When you got up to Fashion Place Mall, then you were in the city proper.

There were a few stop lights. Not like it is anymore. There were maybe two stop lights in Orem, and one in Pleasant Grove and two in American Fork and one in Lehi. There was one in Midvale and one by 7200 South. There was one at 45th and one at 33rd and one at 21st and at 13th South. They put stoplights at every street.

WINN: Thank you for sharing with me.

COX: In 1947 I was a C Scout and they had the centennial up in Salt Lake. They had the centennial scout camp in Salt Lake. They had a scout parade on the 24th. Our C scouts knew how to march. We did drills. I was the C scout that was chosen to be in the enviable C scout to lead 13,000 scouts down the parade route in Salt Lake. I was in the front to set the pace for the whole parade. If I walked too fast that was my fault. That was just after I graduated from high school. Everybody had to march as fast as I did. I didn't see a person walking down there. I had to make sure I was that far off the curb and didn't step in the gutter. I was very active in scouts.

Interviewee: Lee Cox
Interviewer: Jennifer Winn
July 27, 1999

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