Continuing to dig thru my notebook of BRILES family info given to me by Mildred Barby, I found a photocopy of a ‘Mostly about People’ article written by Wally Trabing. This particular article titled, A Chat with Ray Briles, is like an oral history. Evidently Wally Trabing was a regular columnist in the Santa Cruz, California area. Fortunately, the Santa Cruz Public Libraries has a Local History page with links to 194 similar articles by Wally Trabing.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found a link to the Ray Briles article in the Wally Trabing collection. However, a simple ‘Ray Briles’ search on newspapers.com turned up the article in the 24 Nov 1981 issue of the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
Santa Cruz Sentinel
24 Nov 1981
“Mostly about People” by Wally Trabing
A Chat with Ray Briles
Ray Briles grew up in small towns in Kansas and came to another small town in California to live out his life — Santa Cruz. If you were around here when this burg was small (‘36), you probably came across the friendly five-foot-four man-about-town for he worked mostly in grocery stores — few of which exist now.
Lots of newcomers know him, too. He’s 67, belongs to all sorts of clubs and his trademark seems to be those packets of undersize U.S. coin replicas that he hands out. They are good for laughs, because you can tell people: “Look what happened to my money; inflation shrunk it!”
a fe of you, but just a few, may have heard of Scandia, Kansas. That’s where he was born. It’s in Republican County.
Ray went back there once tot ake one more look at the old house where he was born — as was his mother before him. But it’s failing now; mostly windowless and dark inside. It took care of a peck of livin’ in its day.
Ray’s dad got excited about the land rush in Florida back in ‘14 and took the family there, but it didn’t take.
“I think my mother got homesick and we went back,” Ray recalls. Later, Ray was to bring his mother ot California after he had settled here, but she was a Kansas girl through and through. He had to take her back home. Homesick.
During his sprouting years, Ray lived in Hutchinson and Syracuse, “’bout 17 mile from the Colorado border — that’d be just the other side of Dodge and Garden cities.”
The Depression years were looming. Ray and a buddy made their living capturing wild horses, breaking them and selling them for about $5 a head.
This buddy was his cousin, Fred Baker. He’s dead now — shot as a prison guard in Wyoming.
“Me and him lived in a sod shanty near the Colorado border. We’d scoot across and buy a gallon of whiskey for $1, then keep it under my bed in the shanty. Kansas was dry, y’know.”
“Because we were breakin’ horses anyway, we began ridin’ in rodeos for money. My specialty was ropin’ but I did some bull ridin’ too. IT was not like today. The bulls were brought in right off the pastures.”
Well it was the good life until the dust began, the big dust that caused the Dust Bowl.
“Those were awful times,” said Ray, cringing at the memory of it. “The sky’d become black. Dust covered the crops. I’ve saw horses chew on fence posts for food. The poor farmers’d cut up tumble week and put it up for hay.
Briles came out West because someone wanted a car delivered to a California town called Santa Cruz.
“I said I’d do it, but up to that time I’d only rode horses. Oh, I drove a bit of tractor. BUt I made it.” This was in ‘36.
It was duly noted, by me, that Ray has muscular hands, and for a reason. He milked a string of 26 Guernseys twice a day at the old Brown’s Bulb Ranch dairy for a long time.
He also did something very few people on this earth have done. He traveled to the World’s Fair on Treasure Island in the late ‘30s, with a prize string of milkfat cows from Brown’s and his job was to milk them there in front of EVERYBODY.
But most of his life was spent working in the local grocery stores. He first worked at a market called Two-Way Food Store that used to be on Pacific Avenue, between Maple and Laurel. Bill Wood was the manager. Briles made $2 a week.
However, Ray had a deal going. “I would sometimes take that 42 and go over to Chinatown on Front Street to one of the gambling dens. Roulette was my game.
“I would put small amounts on numbers not chosen by the big bettors and I seem to win a lot. I think the game was fixed and they were watching the big bettors. I usually came home with more money than I made at the store,” said Ray.
Briles worked for Purity Market for 15 years. He started in ‘46. It was located on Lincoln Street but it is no more. Ray remembered that it was manged by Cliff Meidinger. Ray also worked at Mid-Town Market, formerly Wilbanks’ Red & White Market, in Soquel. That building is now occupied by County Bank.
So then he went with Henry and Marge Stricker at the Shopping Baq in Soquel — now Dossett’s Fine Foods.
And then he retired. He keeps his blood whipped to a healthy frenzy by dancing. You name it and Ray will dance it — rock, fox trot. He even stomps at O.T. Price’s and to Dixie at the Dream Inn.
“When the Mrs. and I get to waltzing, folks sit back and wath. Me and NOra are real good waltzers.
He helps kids with coin collecting when he isn’t dancing. Ray knows some kids have to collect bit by bit from lack of funds.
He remembers like it was back in Kansas. He had a bike, but it came into being by buying second-hand parts bit by bit.
He’s been a go-getter through thick and thin.
“I came out of the Dust Bowl and then through the Depression and you know, I never once went on welfare.”