Stan Fahlgren sits in the living room of the house he built himself in 1945 and gestures out the window to the now bustling neighborhood near Bowdish and Sprague as he talks about how things have changed.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes,” says Fahlgren, 79, who came to the Valley in 1924.
He and his family arrived in true pioneer fashion - they made the journey from Trego, Mont., with their belongings packed into two horse-drawn wagons. The trip over poor roads took 17 days. The hills were occasionally so steep, they had to double-team the wagons. In other words, one wagon was left at the bottom of the hill while both teams of horses pulled the other up, and then returned to the bottom to repeat the process.
A high point of the trip was crossing the two-mile wooden bridge that spanned part of Lake Pend Oreille near Sandpoint. “That was a big event.”
“It was a great experience,” says Fahlgren, adding that it was just like camping out. “It was a beautiful time in the country.”
The family cooked their meals over campfires and rarely passed through towns. “You lived on what you took along with you,” he says.
When they arrived, they found the Valley filled with fruit orchards and small farms. The family started farming, growing hay and wheat.
One reason the Fahlgrens made the trip was that they had heard there were better schools here. “We left a one-room school and ended up in a one-room school.”
In Montana, young Stan had been in the third grade, but wasn’t taught phonics and was forced to start over in the first grade in the Valley. He attended the Lone Fir School in Greenacres.
Fahlgren left the Valley for North Dakota in 1933 and came back three years later to find work. He stayed until he joined the Army in 1940. Although Fahlgren expected to be away for only about a year, he ended up serving as a motor officer in a tank destroyer unit until World War II ended in 1945.
“I lost good friends,” says Fahlgren. He remembers walking in snow up to his hips, wearing boots that leaked. His unit fought in the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 16, 1944, a date engraved in his mind. “We knew what war was then,” he says.
He married his wife, Bernice, in 1943, and after the war they returned to the Valley. Fahlgren paid $600 for his 3/4-acre lot and spent another $4,500 building his home. “We’ve lived in the house ever since.”
At the time, there were only a few other houses on the street. Now there are apartment buildings next door and some of the busiest streets in the Valley are only blocks from his door. “I’ve seen the Valley grow, but I haven’t seen it take care of its own problems,” says Fahlgren.
Still, Fahlgren and his wife are content with their life. “We still live basic,” he says. “It’s a good way to live.”
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