Crossing the Roza Canal was a challenge



Ted Escobar

Just about every time I hear news related to the irrigation canals in this Valley — legislation, drownings — I go back to 1952, when my family and I picked potatoes and produce for Ciriaco, Paul and Dalmasio Yadao, north of Sunnyside on both sides of the Roza Canal.

Then, as now, there were reports of drownings and warnings of the dangers of canals. They didn’t have to tell me twice. I couldn’t swim and was deathly afraid of water.

There were close calls that reinforced my fear. In 1952, maybe 1953, a couple of brothers who worked for dad, who was a labor contractor, drove a John Deere tractor from their home to where we were picking.

I believe their last name was Gonsleman or something like that. We often worried about them driving into the canal, which at one point was at road level, only 3-5 feet away.

One morning we pulled in behind the boys as they were traveling to the field. Nearing that extremely dangerous point, the tractor went of control and toppled over.

The kid who was driving fell asleep at the wheel. Fortunately, the tractor fell short of that spot and slid down into a field, and the boys escaped injury or death.

Years later, family friend Alonzo Marquez drove into the Sunnyside Canal at night. Quickly he learned that power windows did not work when the car was submerged. But he escaped drowning through a window opening one would swear was barely big enough for a skinny little kid.

“If you want to live, you make yourself skinny and get out,” Alonzo said back then.

The Yadaos were recent arrivals from the Philippines, and they had strong entrepreneurial spirits. They farmed in Kennewick later, in fields that are now the Columbia Center Mall.

The Yadaos raised potatoes on the north side of the canal They raised cucumbers and other produce south of the canal. After picking spuds until about 11 a.m., we jumped into our vehicles, back-tracked toward Outlook and took Independence Road to a route to the cucumbers from the south.

Wanting to cut out some of the wasted time, dad decided to use a rope-suspension bridge on the farm to cross the canal. The Yadaos were used to this type of footbridge in the Philippines, and they used it all the time.

Long heavy ropes were stretched tight across the canal between two anchors. Short ropes, probably three feet long, extended down to two other tightly stretched long ropes. They were tied together with crossing ropes of about three feet. On these were laid enough 2-by-10 boards to form a full platform.

I watched the Yadaos crossing the bridge in seconds, carrying buckets of produce. The bridge swayed from side to side as they walked. That was enough to convince me this was not a good idea.

Dad and the Yadaos urged me to cross. I couldn’t. All I could do was envision a 7-year-old boy who couldn’t swim falling through the widely spaced ropes into 15-20 feet of fast-moving water.

After some cajoling, I decided to try. I put my first foot on the bridge, and it moved. I backed off. After more encouragement — maybe 15 minutes — I tried again. This time I got both feet on and walked a couple of steps, gripping the top ropes tightly.

“Let go of the ropes,” dad shouted from the other side.

No way.

I looked behind me and thought about going back. But I was so far onto the bridge that one canal bank was as good as the other.

It took me about five minutes, but I made it, holding the ropes and hesitatingly placing one foot in front of the other.

We decided not to use the bridge route to go from the potatoes to the cucumbers. With me along, we didn’t save any time.

— Ted Escobar is the managing editor of the Daily Sun News and a life-long resident of the Yakima Valley.


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