December 04, 2002 11:00 pm
Patty Turner ().
Patty Turner ().

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

With pen in hand and an intuitive understanding of children in her heart, La Grande's Patty Burns Turner is filling a literary void.

Turner has written a new children's book, "Beside the Railroad Tracks." The historical novel describes life in Telocaset in the early 1940s. It is based on Turner's childhood experiences in Telocaset, nine miles east of Union.

Turner wrote the 108-page book because there is little children's literature about life in the United States during the World War II period.

"Books still have not been written for kids about this time,'' she said.

Turner, 72, lived in Telocaset until the late 1940s when her family moved to La Grande. She later worked at the La Grande Public Library for 27 years before retiring in 1992. Turner was children's librarian for 24 years.

The popular librarian gained an understanding of children which she put to good use when writing "Beside the Railroad Tracks."

"I had watched what children read and knew what they chose to read. I really knew what kids would want. I had an idea of what they could understand,'' Turner said.

Mini Boom town

Today Telocaset is virtually barren, save for a handful of houses. During the 1940s it was significant railroad point. Telocaset was a helper station, a place where engines assisted trains going up hills.

The town had at least 12 homes, most of which housed people who worked for the railroad.

Turner's home was about 50 feet from the tracks. She got a vivid look at the numerous troop trains carrying thousands of soldiers to World War II. Sixty years later their images remain vivid in Turner's mind.

"The soldiers looked so young and eager,'' Turner said.

The faces saddened Turner because she realized that many would be killed in


Trains filled with Japanese Americans bound for World War II internment camps also passed through Telocaset. Japanese Americans in the United States were taken from their homes to internment camps because the government viewed them as a security risk.

Unlike the soldiers, their faces radiated despair.

"They (the Japanese Americans) looked so sad. They didn't know what was happening,'' Turner said.

School expansion

Telocaset grew so much during World War II that its school enrollment grew to about 20 students. The school which served students in first through eighth grade, had to expand.

"We went from a one-room school to a two-room school,'' Turner said. The school already had two rooms but only one was used until enrollment grew.

The students Turner knew are among the many characters in the book who are a mix of real life and fiction.

Not all of the characters will resemble people who once lived in Telocaset.

"One character is completely made up,'' Turner said.

Writing the book forced Turner to reflect on many people she knew while growing up in the tiny community.

"Some were good neighbors I hadn't thought of in a long time,'' Turner said.

Everyone in Telocaset was poor. Turner illustrates this point with a true story about a chicken coup that the family wanted to convert into a play house. Her father said that nobody could play in it until it was painted. Ninety-eight cents was needed to buy the paint for the project. The money was not available.

A cup was put on a counter in the family's home to collect the money. Family members put spare change in the cup until 98 cents was reached.

The cup became a fixture on the counter top.

"It took a long time to save the money we needed,'' Turner said.

Still, the hardscrabble life did not prevent Turner and others from building a storehouse of good memories.

"We may have been poor, but we felt terribly lucky,'' she said. "...I wanted children (reading the book) to know that it was a good time.''

The author said she and others have positive memories of growing up in Telocaset because of the close-knit community.

"Family values were so strong,'' Turner said.

People were also drawn closer by the lack of distractions like television and computers.

"All we had was radio,'' Turner said.

Moving on intimidating

Telocaset students went on to Union High School after completing the eighth grade. This was an intimidating step for Turner and the others.

"The idea of leaving a school where there were two in my class and moving to a high school with 100 students was frightening,'' Turner said.

This is the first book Turner has written, but not the first put out by her family. Her husband John co-edited, with Richard Hermens, a photo book of La Grande's history which was published in 1985.

Patty Turner credits her husband with providing valuable support in her book-writing project. Her son Tony, a grade school teacher in Pendleton, also provided help for her. He read drafts of the book to his students to see how children liked it. Their response was encouraging, Patty Turner said.

Turner also credits her son Tim of Hermiston, her sister Peggy Cooke of La Grande and a friend Evelyne Fisher of La Grande with providing valuable assistance. Fisher did the cover painting for the book.

Patty Turner wrote her book for children but believes that adults who lived through the 1930s and '40s will also find it interesting.

"If you are young, you will relate to the kids and their problems. If you are older, you will shed a tear as you recall that time in your life,'' Turner said.

A book signing will be conducted from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday at the La Grande Public Library.

Copies of the book will be on sale at the library during the signing.

Turner also has copies of the book available at home.