Thursday, February 20, 2014

Day 20 - William Ogden Rhea (my grandpa)

Finally, an easy one. Well not really so easy. I knew my grandpa as a grandpa and not a person. I was 12 when he died.

William Ogden Rhea was born in Rural Hill, Tennessee on September 15, 1882. He was the 8th child of Martha Jane McCollum and John Carter Rhea. He was two years old when his father was murdered.

My grandpa was tall and never slouched. He was ramrod straight. He smelled like something I couldn't identify but he chewed tobacco all his life. I didn't figure that out until I was much older but I love the smell of chewing tobacco.

He was quiet and let Granny run his life. I will get to her later. He married late like all his brothers. I don't know where he met my grandma but have to believe that it was in Oklahoma. Laura had moved there and he must have gone to visit. My grandmother bounced all around Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas which leads me to believe Oklahoma is the likely spot.

He was devoted to his mother like the rest of his siblings. We didn't hear that from him but in a letter written to Victor after Jane died.

He married Mellie Farris on Oct 24, 1914. I don't know if they lived in Tennessee for a short time or if they stayed in Missouri where they were married. Granny apparently knew Jane or had a least met her. They moved to Montana in 1917. The bought land next to the Yellowstone River and started a farm. Ralph was born in 1915 before they moved. Howard was born in Billing, Montana in 1919 and my dad, Ernie, in 1921.

They farmed next to the river. It was a great place for the boys who talked about the fun times they had there. It seems to me that they were little more delinquent than they should have been and some of their stories would have gotten me a paddling. They all talked about their dog "Ring" and the horse that hated them.

Mellie, Howard, Ralph, Ernest (my dad), and William

They were still living on the river when Grandpa found employment. He was walking to town along the railroad tracks when a train came by. The engineer hollered out, "Hey Slim, you lookin' for a job?" Grandpa said he was and he worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad, retiring as foreman for 1947. The nickname "Slim" stuck.

My grandparents spent a lot of time traveling but not necessarily together. My grandmother would arrive at the Depot in downtown Los Angeles once a year and stay for several weeks before getting back on the train and heading to San Francisco to visit my uncle and his family. The depot holds lots of happy memories for me.

My grandpa had tuberculous and spent his winters in Mesa, Arizona. He had a tiny one room apartment in a park. I remember the smell of lard and chewing tobacco. We would go to Arizona and visit with him there. When my parents married, Grandpa and Granny came to visit. This photo, taken in 1947, shows Grandpa and my dad at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

Christmas 1961, Billings, Montana. The entire family. Grandpa died seven months later on July 1, 1962 at the age of 79.
In case you're wondering, I am wearing a white blouse, sitting next to Grandpa. Granny is on the end, next to the adorable Billy, my cousin. If I start naming the rest if the family, I will get sidetracked and do all their stories too.


  1. Marvelous memories of your grandfather and the pictures are a treasure!

  2. This is wonderful, Ann. So glad you took the time to write it up and share. I enjoyed reading your story and memories. I can see the you I've met looking out of that younger you, too.

  3. whoops, forgot to sign the above--Erin