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Barry Schrader


I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.


If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Tassajara School dates back to 1889

By Barry Schrader.................................November 17, 2005

(EDITOR’S NOTE: After today Barry Schrader will not have a column the next two weeks while he recuperates from scheduled surgery.)

Nestled in a grove of walnut trees a mile off Tassajara Road on Finley Road is the one-room Tassajara School, built in 1889. One of the few to survive after closing back in 1946 for lack of enough students, this school has been returned to its original state by the San Ramon Valley Historical Society, the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, and San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District.

Not only has it been preserved, complete with a bell and belltower, but a retired teacher Joan Kurtz and her husband Don lead a troop of volunteers who open the school each Spring to every third grade class in the San Ramon Valley district for a half day experience as pupils in a century old rural school. The kids come dressed in long skirts and bonnets (girls) and jeans held up by suspenders plus straw hats (boys), complete with packed lunches in cans or baskets. They memorize the 1890 version of the Flag (38 stars) salute, recite a Bible verse, and hold out their hands for a cleanliness inspection. Then out come the McGuffey Readers, old fashioned pens or quills that use bottled ink, and then the kids are taught to recite their arithmetic tables to the tune of the hickory stick. (They are in need of several old-fashioned school desks so if you have one to donate, call the museum.)

I was told about this school after the Murray School column two weeks ago and had to visit it myself to get a flavor of another authentic country school, plus the treat of seeing two privies out back, one for boys and one for girls. But they are only for show, not to be used. Other emails from readers described their school days in the 1940s and earlier. One is especially worth sharing here. It comes from Marilynn Calkins, an 81-year-old Iowan who moved to the San Ramon Valley in 1968. It is not really about a country school, but about Election Day back in the 1930s.

She writes: “The Murray School story and the election column combined to remind me of a story I would like to share. Originally rural schools were located two miles apart, on the township grid pattern.  A township was a legal entity, a grid pattern, six miles by six miles.  By law, rural voters voted at the school which was located closest to the middle of each township.

Voting began at 4 p.m.  In those ancient and marvelous days, school days began at 9 a.m. and lasted until 4 p.m.  Nothing about voting changed the daily routine.

“Getting ready to go to vote took a little preparation.  On election day, dad broke open a bale of straw (yes, oat straw, not hay—there is a difference) and spread it over the floor of a corn wagon.  Then he put several bales of straw in the wagon for the women to sit on.  He also took horse hide robes, which usually were kept in storage, and put those in the wagon for the women to lay over their laps and wrap around their legs.  Horsehide robes truly were cured horse hides.  The hair side was as beautiful as the coat of the living horse. Most farmers in those days wore heavy sheepskin coats, and the women dressed as warmly as possible for the trip to vote.  If a woman was fortunate enough, she had a heavy wool coat, but no long pants or insulated clothing.  The horsehide robes were very welcome to hold in the body heat and shut out the cold during the slow wagon trip.  Women also wore long wool scarves tied over their heads and around their necks.

“Voting took place at the township center school two and a half miles east of our home.  Dad raised Clydesdale horses.  On election day, he hitched a team of Clydes to the corn wagon. Shortly before 4 p.m., dad left home to drive a quarter of a mile west to pick up neighbors, then reversing directions, would drive east toward the voting place, picking up several other neighbors enroute.  The women sat on the bales of straw, and the men stood toward the front of the wagon around dad as he drove, everyone talking about elections, corn crops, school, and so on.  Farmers always were busy with chores in the late afternoon, but then people considered voting a privilege and responsibility---and they voted.

“Now nothing about this seems unusual except for one thing.  My parents were the only registered Democrats in the neighborhood!!!  It never would have occurred to them that they should travel alone to vote.  After all, my parents were going to vote. Dad had the horses and wagon already hitched, and everyone was going to the same place, and ‘We are all neighbors.’  Iowa farm roads were narrow, with deep ruts.  By November, the roads often were muddy, semi-frozen slush, or even covered with light snow.  Driving a car on those roads in the winter was difficult and quite hazardous.  The powerful Clydes could travel easily and tirelessly.  Why risk taking a car over those terrible roads, taking a chance on getting stuck in the mud-- and it would be dark by the time they had voted and were returning home.  But, as I noted earlier, people voted.  It was a given.  Every good citizen voted.”


The answer to last week’s history quiz: Robert Reid was re-elected mayor by the Pleasanton City Council after the April 1972 election, while newcomer Floyd Mori was made mayor pro-tem. In Livermore Clyde Taylor became mayor and Don Miller vice mayor. No one managed to get both city mayors correct.


There is no history mystery for the next two weeks.


The columnist can be reached via email at :


or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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