From its earliest days Ruston was a close-knit community. Some Ruston residents trace their histories back to the first days of settlement. While many came to work at the smelter, others set up businesses that were patronized by smelter employees.
Mary Joyce’s father and brothers came from Croatia early in the 20th century. They opened a grocery store, Kryllich Brothers. Mary remembers playing at the store and sometimes getting into trouble.
As a small child Mary was sent out to take orders which she would then deliver. She told us, “I can remember, at 11 years old, driving a car, even though I didn’t have a license, to deliver groceries!” She remembers that customers, many of them smelter employees, were allowed to charge their groceries. “Once a month or once every two weeks, when they got paid, the men would come in and settle their accounts.”
Besides selling groceries Kryllich Brothers had a boarding house upstairs for single men who worked at the smelter. Mary remembered:
"A lot of the people who came from the old country were single men and they would board with the family. And it was so crowded! I can remember my mother telling me that at one time there were so many people that they would have shifts. One guy would get out of the bed to go to work at the day shift and the guy who worked the midnight shift would go hop in the bed and stay there during the day.
By the late 1930’s Ruston had churches, fraternal halls, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and a pharmacy. Families settled in the community and bought or built their own homes. As Mary Joyce's her father became a successful businessman, he was often asked to help finance the aspirations of prospective homeowners."
Ruston had one school which the community’s children attended from kindergarden through 8th grade. The school was heated by steam piped to it from the smelter. Mary recalls:
"The school was always a landmark… a community center, almost. If we had a school program it was standing room only… whether you had a kid or not, it seemed like everybody was there. Everybody was either an uncle or an aunt or a grandmother or a grandfather to somebody in the program…you knew everybody and everybody knew you, and if you weren’t there, they’d say, “Where were you?” So it was easier to go! "
Ruston's school closed in the 1980's, amid concerns about about ASARCO's emissions.
Ruston's school was one example of the interdependent relationships between the smelter and the town. The company took care of garbage collection and paved the town’s alleys. The smelter whistle was also the fire alarm, and smelter employees acted as a volunteer fire department. Edie Tallman, a long-time resident, recalled, “If anybody had a fire they had to call ASARCO. And they would alarm it with their sirens.”
Sherri Forch moved to Ruston from Tacoma in 1963, when her husband got a job at the smelter. “It was a hard job; it was a heavy job,” she recalls. Sherri’s husband started at the arsenic plant “but he got badly burned up there, he couldn’t work at the arsenic plant.” The company moved him to the fine castings department, while she stayed home to raise their two children. Her husband’s work "paid very well; it afforded us some luxuries. We had a camp trailer, and a pick-up truck to pull it, and endless cameras...”
Sherri remembers Ruston as a good place to raise children and a supportive community, where people helped each other out. It was a safe place, where newcomers were welcomed, and a neighbor would always watch out for a child. Many of her memories of Ruston revolve around the smelter.
"We lived by the shift whistles…The whistles blew at 7, 7:30 and 8. And 3, 3:30 and 4. And 7, 7:30 and 8 again in the evening. Now I knew the kids would be coming home from school with the 3:00 whistle. Usually, I was down at the smelter to pick up a load of the guys to come home. And the kids could go outside to play. Then we’d call ‘em in for dinner and they could go back out and play until the 7:00 whistle blew. That was their come-in time. And by 7:30 they needed to be in the tub, and by 8:00 they needed to be in bed. Even in the summertime when it was still really, really light. They really, really hated it. But we pretty much lived by the shift whistles and it really precluded any arguments about what time it was."
Next: Working at ASARCO
Murray Morgan, Puget’s Sound: A Narrative History of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981.
Interview with Mary Joyce, Ruston, WA. August 2006.
Interview with Sherri Forch, Ruston, WA. July 2006.
Interview with Edie Tallman, Ruston, WA. August 2006.
Historical photographs of Ruston used by permission of Tacoma Public Library