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Historic Provo

Oral History of William Ratcliff Jr.


MORRIS: I am Carla Morris. And I am interviewing William Ratcliff, Jr. This is July 19, 1988. We are at his son's home at 1764 South Main in Orem, Utah. Mr. Ratcliff, can you tell us some of the very earliest memories that you have of Provo?

RATCLIFF: I went to the Maeser School when I was six years old. That was a long time ago. The only other school was the Parker. The Parker School was pretty close. I went there for three years and I didn't have any business in going there at all because we lived halfway to Springville. We were outside the city. After three years, I was off to Springville but I did have the three years there. We lived about three miles out of town. It was very cold in the winter and I walked to school. I walked about three miles. And by the time I got to school my feet were very cold. We didn't have any furnace at that time at Maeser. We did have janitorial service. The janitors made us a fire in the little wood stove that had about three legs and was flat on top. It had a little lid on it. We used to cook eggs on there for Easter. If we asked the teacher, she'd let us fry our eggs. We stole the eggs by the way, but we said we had bought them from our neighbor. Everybody had chickens.

MORRIS: What did your father do?

RATCLIFF: He had a big ranch. It was almost three hundred acres. It was called Marn and Drake Ranch. I think he bought it without seeing it. It cost him $10,000 dollars. It was mostly just a dry grass field. But part of it was irrigated. Out there they had grazing for livestock belonging to about eight people. My father just let people pasture their cattle out there for so much a piece during the summer.

MORRIS: Tell me about your family life and lifestyle.

RATCLIFF: Well, there were no electric lights at that time. No electricity. We didn't have a choice, you see. The folks bought a big lamp and that lamp gave better light than electricity. It was a bright, white light. We called it a Mantle Lamp because it was column shaped. Touch a match to it and it would give a very beautiful light.

MORRIS: What do you know about downtown Provo?

RATCLIFF: You know it's a funny thing. Those stores, it's not like we have today. You didn't go in there with your car and gather up your groceries. You went with a list of what you wanted and the clerk in the store would get them one by one down on the counter and add up the prices that you paid. You didn't pick them up yourselves. He got them for you off the shelves. You just had a list of what you wanted.

MORRIS: Do you remember the name of the store and what it looked like?

RATCLIFF: Let's see. John C. Taylor was one of them. That's the one we bought at mostly. There were only about two stores. John C. Taylor and . . . I kind of forgot the other one.

MORRIS: Do you remember going to church as a child?

RATCLIFF: I didn't go to church. My father said, "You children grow up to make your own choice." So I never chose a church. I haven't belonged to one at all, ever.

MORRIS: After you went to Maeser School, did you go to a junior high school?

RATCLIFF: Yes, I went to Proctor Academy. It was just a little academy. Wasatch Goodwin, I think was the principal there.

MORRIS: Do you remember any of your teachers?

RATCLIFF: I remember George Roast. We were always in mischief. One day he caught me at my mischief and he said, "Unless you snap out of it, you'll not get through this year." But when I graduated I got the highest grade in the class. It was a fun building we were in. There was a big place where we studied, it was called Hughes Hall and it was an old building. There was a space underneath. I could get down on my knees and there was a knothole there were we sat and we studied. I put a little bell below that knothole on a string, and when I felt like it, I'd ring that bell with my foot. Right then the steward would appear down the hall. Well, I was a mischievous kid. I don't know why. For some reason I used to get a kick out of it, doing things, you know, that annoyed the teachers.

MORRIS: What about high school? Did you attend high school?

RATCLIFF: We had no public high school.

MORRIS: So you went to Proctor until you were how old?

RATCLIFF: About twelve.

MORRIS: So you were finished with you school when you were twelve years old.

RATCLIFF: I went to work until a little later. I went to the BYU for a while. They had one of the poorest teachers there anybody ever had. He was hardly a teacher at all, Amos M. Merrill. He taught a funny way. He had it all written down on paper. He just read this off his paper. He is long gone now. But he'd just read the same thing every year to each class. He was the only teacher I ever saw that did that.

MORRIS: After you attended BYU, what did you do?

RATCLIFF: I worked on the farm.

MORRIS: Do you remember some of the events that went on in Provo City, the Fourth of July parades and some of the celebrations?

RATCLIFF: I don't think we celebrated like we do now, not quite as much shooting off of these various kinds of things, like rockets. We had firecrackers. We used to buy a whole bunch of little firecrackers. When I was little we'd take them apart and light them. They would pop up. They cost about two for a dime. Anyway, they made more noise. But they cost too much money to buy many. I used to get about two of them and light them off. That's all we did was make noise.

MORRIS: Do you remember some of the resorts that were on Utah Lake?

RATCLIFF: There was a resort down there.

MORRIS: What was the name of it?

RATCLIFF: I believe just Provo Lake Resort, they called it then. We used to go down there and sift the sand, and in the sand, we'd find arrowheads. Indians used to go down there, I think, shooting ducks. But now [the lake] is higher now.

MORRIS: Do you remember the Indians in Provo? What was your experience with the Indians?

RATCLIFF: I don't remember having any Indian experiences, but we did have, at that time, a couple of gypsies came along. They'd come and if you put fifty cents in their palms, they'd read some kind of message for you. That's how they made money.

MORRIS: Is there anything else that you'd like to tell me about?

RATCLIFF: During World War I, I was in the army in California and I had the flu along with all the others. They used to get us up in the morning swab us behind the tongue. If you had a fever you would go to the hospital again. I got very tired and of course, I had a temperature. I went to the hospital. Every morning I would watch from my bed and see where someone had died. Millions of people died worldwide from that flu. I was so tired and just glad to be in the hospital. By some stroke of good luck I was sidetracked to what we called the exchange. Soldiers would come by and I would sell those Camel cigarettes. Camels were very popular.

MORRIS: Anything else you would like to add?


MORRIS: Thank you for your time Mr. Ratcliff.

Interviewee: William Ratcliff, Jr.
Interviewer: Carla Morris
July 19, 1988

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