Sunday, February 2, 2014

52 Ancestors – #5 Alva Ashbury Tucker – A Family Devastated by Loss

Alva Ashbury Tucker  (January 8, 1892 - May 25,1927)

My grandfather died far too young (35 years old) and his loss was keenly felt by four generations. When my Great Aunt Calla died in 1981 and I went to her house to go through her things – under the glass on her dresser I found an article cut out from an old newspaper telling about the sinking of his tugboat and the loss on all hands. Calla had adored her older brother and was the last family member to see him alive. She missed him for the rest of her life.  Alva’s older brother Henry died a couple of months after he did leaving his father William with only one son remaining, the youngest Edwin, of four boys. 

His widow Effa Belle (Graves) was left with a 10 year old daughter Stella Belle, a seven year old son Arnold Virgil, a four year old daughter Elva Rosalie (Alva had wanted her to be named after him and Effa fought him for four months) and a two month old daughter Vina Louise. Newspaper articles said that he had never seen Vina but my mother remembered him taking her to the nursing home to visit the new baby. He asked her if she would mind him holding Vina and she told him that she would sit on Daddy's lap and hold the baby for him.

Alva had always taken care of everything and Effa did not even know how to write a check. They were buying a home on contract and she was forced out.

 Arnold and Elva Rosalie in front of their Aberdeen home in 1927

Alva had also invented something with a couple of friends – Effa never saw a dime. She moved back home with her parents and the neighbors got together and built her a house on their property. Effa was determined though that her daughters would never face the same thing so she raised them to be very independent and to know how to take care of themselves. 

By all accounts, Alvie, as he was known, was a wonderful father. I interviewed all three of the oldest children a number of times before they died and one thing really stood out – they each, independent of the other, said that the day they got the news – their world ended. He managed to spend real quality time with each of them and to give them undivided attention.  Each of them felt extremely close to their father. Alvie managed the children with a look or by pointing his finger at them. He was stern and strict but nice about it.

My mother was very young but when her mother would get mad and try and fight with Alvie – the dishes would fly (a trait that I recently found out that Effa learned from her mother.) Mom said that her father would grab her hand and say, “Elva, let’s go for a walk to the store and get a treat. When we get back home, Momma will feel better.” He was the sun, moon and stars to her. They all told me that he loved the Fourth of July and would put on huge fireworks shows for the neighborhood kids. He bought his own camera (not that common) and developed his own pictures. He loved to study engineering and reading books. He passed his love of reading books on to his children.

Alvie enjoyed good music and bought a hand wound Victrola and records. He loved to take his children to the movies. My mother remembers sitting on his lap and at scary parts she would hide her face under the lapel of his jacket and then she would peek out when he would tell her it was alright to look. Stella and Arnold both remembered going to see Charlie Chaplin in "The Tramp" and Stella also remembered a trip to the circus. Alva loved the beach and the mountains and going camping. I found an article in the Seattle Times where he had participated with a Swiss guide and four other climbers in the first climb of the season for Mt. Rainier on July 6.1921. They encountered exceptional quantities of snow and ice and there was a storm at the summit.

Alvie has been described as tall (6'1"), handsome and blue eyed with long dark lashes and brown hair. He was very soft spoken and hard to anger. He was very much his own man and did not kowtow to anyone and yet he was very kindly. Alvie  always loved to be going places and doing things.

Effa and Alva Tucker on their wedding day

Alvie had been farming with his father and Effa had been working as a teacher in Coulee City in Eastern Washington when they married on March 20, 1915 in Coulee City. Her parents Jefferson Thomas and Mattie (Riches) Graves were their witnesses. Alvie and Effa took the train and honeymooned in Tacoma with another newly married couple they had met on the train.

 The Tinkers and the Tuckers

Alvie was working as a rancher in January 16, 1916 in Coulee City when their first child Vera Louise was born dead with a broken neck - the doctor was leaving on a trip and was in a hurry. They had moved to Aberdeen by the time Stella was born on December 6, 1916.

The United States entered World War I on April 2, 1917. Alva enlisted in the army on June 5, 1917. 

He was sent to Texas after a stay in Vancouver, Washington to be shipped overseas. Before he could ship out he became sick and had to stay behind. The army had its first squadron in 1913 of nine planes and when they first entered the war they did not use planes. The army learned that he was very mechanically inclined so instead of sending him overseas they assigned him to the Aviation Section, US Signal Corps 866th Aero Squadron and had him working on building airplanes and then testing what he worked on.  

When Arnold was born they were living in North River out of Grays Harbor. Alvie was running a stage line between North River and Aberdeen and had a big Studebaker Touring car.

In October 1921 he build a gas station and garage at Mary’s Corner in Lewis County, Washington. In September of 1924 he and Effa purchased a home in Chehalis, Washington.

c1926 - Rosalie, Arnold and Stella

At the time of his death he was living with his family in Aberdeen, Washington and he was working as Chief Engineer on the tugboat Warren. Alvie was not even scheduled to work that night but his brother-in-law Vern talked him into taking his shift.  According to family, they had been testing a new type of 170 hp diesel engine.
Alvie is inside the pilot house

They left Seattle on Monday, May 23rd at 3:15 pm for Victoria, British Columbia. The Warren was towing a gravel barge from Victoria for building the ‘new’ Federal Building in downtown Seattle. It was a stormy and horrible night in the Strait of Juan de Fuca as they headed toward Puget Sound and Seattle.  In spite of the warnings, the captain insisted that they make the trip. A woman in Port Townsend, Washington happened to be awake at 2 am on Wednesday the 25th of May 1927. She heard one long shrill whistle, saw lights on the water, and then the lights went out and the whistle quit as the Warren sunk.  In the days preceding Alvie’s death the newspaper front pages were covered with the news of Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight.  The news of the sinking knocked it off the front page.  It was reported that the rope towing the barge had been cut – many different theories abounded about the Warren being deliberately sunk. The Coast Guard began the investigation which was, for some reason, then taken over by a Seattle tugboat company.  Five men died that night and the only body which was every recovered was that of the cook and it was found with a Giant Pacific Octopus, the largest of the octopus species, by a diver investigating the ‘accident’.

Upon hearing the news each of the children reacted differently -
Stella, age ten. She screamed and screamed - my mother could remember the sound 60 years later.
Arnold, age seven. "The whole world tumbled down around me. From then on I lived in fear, always of something. I had lost my hero"
Rosalie, my mother, was only four years old. She simply stopped speaking and didn’t say a word for over four months.
Vina, age two months. She grew up hearing stories about him and seeing his picture on the wall - and that was the only way she knew him. She was the only child, though, to get his beautiful, distinctive blue eyes and lashes.

The only items that washed ashore were my grandfather’s Mackintosh coat, two life preservers, and a food chest - and later on Whidbey Island some of the captain's papers. Stella remembered that someone hung the coat on the clothes line and her mother just couldn't deal with it so Stella went outside and pulled the pockets out and watched the sand fall to the ground. The pockets were just filled with sand. They had found a notebook in one of the pockets and the night before he died he had written something in it to each of his children.

Growing up I always missed not having a grandfather and by all accounts Alvie would have been a wonderful grandfather. In talking with my cousins, I discovered that they felt the same way.


  1. When I was 12, Grandma was visiting and I woke up late at night, hearing Grandma and Mom talking about Alvie. This was 35 years after his death, and the memories of his death and all that followed still brought her to tears. She told Mom it didn't matter how much time had passed; the love and the grief was always there.

  2. So sad. I can't begin to imagine how they all felt.

    Unrelated, but I just had to say - my dad looks like Arnold!