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A Funny Fiestaware Story

December 11, 2013
Fiesta cemetery

Fiesta cemetery

Lest you think I am totally Bah Humbug about the holidays, I should tell you that it’s not so much the gift giving or all the delicious food, lately it seems like the holidays have just become to many, a time to buy useless imported gifts.  Whether from guilt or just falling in step with all the media hype.  You have to admit that it can all be a little much.  But me turn down a gift?  Not on your life.  A confirmed pack rat, I love stuff, as long as it is stuff that I want, or can use.  Add in Made in America and recycled, you can’t beat it.  Fiesta fits in pretty well with that.   So for many years now, Fiesta has been one of those go-to gifts, vintage or new, I like it all.

photo courtesy of BryanPhotography.com

photo courtesy of BryanJPhotography.com

The story unfolds here at the Vista House at Crown Point.  I worked for the USDA Forest Service in the early 80’s and this was one of my duty stations.  Mostly giving directions, and answering questions about hiking, geology, highway history, or the flora and fauna of this unique area.

Me and my sis putting on a folk art demo at Vista House - 1983

Me and my sis putting on a folk art demo at Vista House – 1983

The Vista House which was originally built as a restroom for the Columbia River Scenic Highway had turned into a funky, junky gift shop after the river level freeway, I-84 was built in the late 50’s.  I was employed there during the transition from that gift shop to a visitor center.  This was a joint effort between the Oregon State Parks Department, USDA and a core group of volunteers.  I also worked as a volunteer in the summer folk art program, doing soap making or quilting demonstrations on my scheduled weekend.  Demos ranged from pioneer skills like shake splitting, using a drag saw (not pioneer) to quieter demos like wild herbs, and antique tool demos.   The folk art program brought in more amateur historians that had a lot in common with the volunteers and sparked some lively conversations beyond just the usual, “Where’s the popcorn machine?”  Or, “How do you get to the waterfalls?”  Visiting with the amateur historians that followed the folk art schedule always made my day go faster, as most of these folks were from Portland and were there to spend some time, more so than the tourists who were usually following an itinerary.

Proving to my co-workers that I really did wear a dress once in a while...5th anniversary 1983

Proving to my co-workers that I really did wear a dress once in a while…5th anniversary 1983

On a gift giving note, I have to say my husband is the most thoughtful gift giver/gift maker ever.  When a girl says she wants an axe for Christmas, he don’t mess around, he gets the perfect axe.  Or Fiesta, he’s always on the lookout for that.  I can always count on a piece of Fiesta on my birthday or Christmas.  Many times his coworkers were the suppliers, collectors of a feather, flock together, or something like that.

About the time we met and started dating, my sister and I were going to antique sales, shows, and estate sales.  In those days (late 70’s), the shopping malls would have an antique show made up of different vendors.  Many of those vendors had shops and were looking for a way to increase sales, or were on a traveling circuit hitting all the shows.  At one of those shows, my sister and I saw some Fiestaware, and there was a boatload of it.  We were really kind of incredulous because even though we had grown up with Fiesta, we knew it was no longer made and our mom had bought her set from the local hardware store during the war years.  You just didn’t see it much anymore unless you happened to get a glimpse of someone’s china cabinet.  We didn’t really expect to see it offered for sale.  We were looking for dry goods like vintage clothing and quilts.  I, of Bull-on-a-China shop fame, had broken the lid on my mom’s vintage light green sugar bowl, which if I remember right, was the ONLY piece of Fiesta she had that hadn’t been chipped yet by one of us kids.  Until then.  The worst thing was I was getting it out of the cupboard to show one of my nephews this rare and precious thing… .  If looks could kill I wouldn’t be here writing this post.

As we chatted up the vendor about the Fiesta, my sister and I realized just how behind the times we were.  His wife would collect one color and tire of that, sell it off and start on another.  I liked the cobalt and my sister liked the red.  Here was an entire table of both, plus a few pieces of the other 30’s colors.  Too much really for us to fathom, we had never seen so much Fiesta in one setting!  Pun intended.  We bought our first pieces and some salt and pepper shakers for our mom and we were off and running on the Fiesta trail.  If you’re a collector you know the hunt is the part of the thrill.  Collecting kind of makes me understand hunters…well, a little.

So enough back story.

The cast of characters:

Yours truly – faux Forest Ranger representing the Mt Hood National Forest, amateur local historian, rabid avid Fiestaware collector.

Hangdog –  soul mate at the five-year mark, still eight years away from making me an honest woman…, always on the lookout for Fiestaware and other assorted good stuff.

Gary – a co-worker of Hangdog, also a collector, amateur local historian, and seller of assorted good stuff, whom I only knew of, but had never met.

Each workday at the Vista House was pretty mundane.  Unlock the doors, stock the brochures and prepare for the onslaught of tourists and questions.  I was always a little stir crazy there, trapped inside on sunny days, with a gorgeous view and everyone doing something except me, at least at the Falls I could hike up and down the trail all day long picking up litter.   During our training sessions each spring, we were always reminded to not strangle the visitors for asking where the restrooms were located.  After all, it was the first time for that visitor to ask, they had no way of knowing that it may have been the 500th time that week.  So it went, mostly boring but sometimes you would get a very inquisitive visitor who would ask really engaging questions and if they had time, the sky was the limit on how long we, the Visitor Facility Guides could talk, that was our job.

One particular day a fellow and his wife took quite an interest in the photo display of Columbia River Scenic Highway construction.  They had tons of questions, and we talked and talked and talked about just what a feat that construction had been in the early part of the century.  We pondered the irony of all those mule and horse teams pulling fresnos to make a level roadbed for automobiles.  As the yakking continued, the subject of collecting tools, and other antiques came up.  Then the fellow told me he was a volunteer on the 4449, a Southern Pacific locomotive that was being restored.  That kind of made my ears perk up, because Hangdog had told me that a guy he worked with was one of the main volunteers on that project.  He had described him as well, very blond and kind of blinky because he wore contacts.  I thought to myself, “Hmmm, this guy was looking more and more like Gary.”  But I had no idea if it was or not, so I kept my trap shut.  We kept exchanging stories about local history and what not.  Then he ventured that, “Hey you should join the local historical society out here, and meet my friend who lives out here.  He collects antiques and knows a lot about the local history, like the logging and stuff like that…he’s really into old stuff, and he’s pretty cool.”

“Oh, really?  I already am a member of the Crown Point Historical Society, and actually we’re a pretty small group…”  I’m thinking to myself, there is not too many cool guys in our historical society, most were of the raisin variety and more Grandpa material, if you know what I mean.  And not to be facetious, but they are all into old stuff.

“Then you must know my friend, Loren.”

“Well, um, actually he’s my boyfriend.”

“Your kidding!”

“Nope, one and the same – small town you know.  I have been dying to ask you though, are you Gary?”

“Yes, man this is too coincidental.  Say, how did you like that Fiesta?”

“Uhhh, just fine…”  I’m thinking what Fiesta?

“Oh, we found some at an estate sale, and we knew he would want it, since Kathy (another co-worker who only collected 50’s Fiesta) wouldn’t want it because of the colors.”

“Oh, yeah that was nice.”  I remembered Hangdog had mentioned Gary sold him some Fiesta, so I didn’t give it a second thought really.

Thanks Gary!!

Thanks Gary!!

“Great!  Keep it coming, I’m always a sucker for Fiesta, in any color.”  As in the heck with Kathy, I dream in 50’s Fiesta colors, call us first!

We laughed and talked some more history stuff and then they were on their way.  Boy did I have something to tell Hangdog when I got home.  The story about the Fiesta purchase was even better than I thought, except I just couldn’t resist razzing him about getting fixed up with me.  That was pretty funny.

Apparently Gary had purchased a good-sized box of Fiesta at a sale, his wife collected some other kind of dinnerware so they didn’t want it, but they did know it had some value, and they wanted to sell it and make some profit to finance their collecting habit.  So he asked Loren if he wanted to see it.  He surely did, so Gary promised to bring the box in the next day for showing and possible purchase.  Gary couldn’t really remember what was in the box, just a bunch of plates, bowls, cups, etc.

Haggling and setting prices with among collectors is nerve-racking.  Everyone wants a good deal, buyer and seller.  Gary set down the box and opened it up.  Loren looked in, and tried to keep a poker face… whilst doing a mental calculation of the worth of what he was seeing.  Gary was watching him intently.

“How much do you want for it?”

” I dunno, how much will you pay for it.”

“Well, let’s see, how about forty bucks?”

“Wow!  You really know your Fiesta!”

At this point the poker face had to stay on because the four plates on top the stack alone in that bottomless Fiesta holding box were worth that!  I had no idea but the goods in that box had been getting metered out over time.  A teapot here, large serving bowl there, a gravy boat before Thanksgiving just because.  That didn’t count the egg cups, relish trays, dinner plates, luncheon plates, tea cups, saucers and dessert plates.  Forty bucks was a steal.  Gary must have gotten it for next to nothing, for him to think forty bucks was a good deal.

After the visit to the Vista House, Gary was worried he had spilled the beans, thinking maybe I didn’t know about the Fiesta at all, but I knew the teapot had come from him, so we both were kind of in the dark on that one.  That was thirty years ago but we still laugh about the “you must know your Fiesta!” remark.  I guess Hangdog really does know his Fiesta!

Fiesta you still got it!

Fiesta you still got it!

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. goingplacesbr permalink
    December 11, 2013 8:28 pm

    I wish I had known about the Fiesta Ware! They’re made in West Virginia!!! I could have hit the factory store!

  2. December 11, 2013 8:31 pm

    what a great story, and I love seeing the pictures of you all back in your younger days…

  3. December 11, 2013 10:37 pm

    Lovely story! So…. where’s the restroom? 🙂

  4. December 11, 2013 11:18 pm

    That’s funny 😄 – you actually sound about as rabid a fiesta ware collector as I am a cast iron collector…..the older the better! I think I could fill a truck with the cast iron I’ve managed to accumulate…..and yep – I use all if it.

    • December 12, 2013 6:19 am

      Val, you sound like my husband – he’s the cast iron guy here. Nothing like lugging a 30″ griddle out of flea market to build muscles. Lovely stuff to cook with! I don’t think I could cook without it actually…

  5. mims permalink
    December 12, 2013 6:43 am

    Thank you so much for takig the time to tell us this wonderful story! Was that Loren in the handlebar mustache in the 5th anniversary picture? or random stranger? Anyhow, I know all too well the joy of the hunt when you collect things. I was thinking you should start a broken plate garden. I have a bed of succeulents alongside the driveway and I put broken plates in there too, artfully arranged. My neighbors bring me their broken bits too. A conversation piece for sure.

    • December 12, 2013 7:03 am

      Yep that’s him. The thrill of the hunt is pretty fun – many older tools are so well made it is much better to find old than to buy new. I just got a nice pair of nose tongs for $10 including shipping, and new pair would cost at least $20 and metal just ain’t what it used to be anymore. From straight pins to bobby pins you name it, vintage is much better.

      I hope I don’t break anymore plates, but that is a good idea :p

  6. Bev permalink
    December 12, 2013 7:10 am

    Great story. Love the picture of you two, especiall your shoes. The picture of the Columbia Gorge is beautiful. I am happy to say we have been a part of the tourist scene in the past. I collect vintage milk glass. To find a piece is heaven. It has a slight blue cast to it . Have always loved Fiesta ware. All colors and yellow the best. Thanks for sharing.

  7. December 12, 2013 8:41 am

    like it. never heard of Fiesta before. I only lived in Portland for a summer. And we always drove west to the coast (Go west young man). like to go back and head east.
    like the pictures.

    • December 12, 2013 8:59 am

      E., that’s about as far west as you can get without falling in. We always head to the mountains, the ocean makes us crazy for some reason.

      I should say you poor thing, living in Portland…where at?

      • December 12, 2013 9:05 am

        some roach infested motel on Burnside mainly then some perhaps equally questionable location cross the river… the ocean couldn’t make us any crazier back then… poor thing indeed.

  8. Ben permalink
    December 12, 2013 10:46 am

    Great pictures! I think I may have asked about the bathroom location there once…

    • December 12, 2013 10:53 am

      Ben, I bet it all looks familiar 😉 Me too, if not there at least when I have been somewhere else for sure. Boy a couple of weeks ago, when I went down the hill, the river was like glass and the air was clear – of course, no camera with me 😦

  9. December 15, 2013 5:14 pm

    We went to Vista House several weeks ago. The wind was so high that I couldn’t shut the car door once I got it open. Gorgeous every time, though.
    I also “collect” Fiesta ware. I put that it quotes because I do actually use it pretty heavily. I’m also open to all colors and all eras–I just think it’s cheery, beautiful stuff. And sturdy to boot!

    • December 16, 2013 8:21 am

      Meg, it’s always hard to believe how hard the wind blows there, and just a little bit a way from that point and it’s pretty calm. The fir trees along there don’t grow many limbs on the east side.

      Love, love, love the fiesta – always a delight with the bright cheery colors!

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