Until I left home in 1951, the 30s-40s travel was not easy. First we had no car, then when we did have a car it would be with dad and his cat working somewhere. Our first was a pickup of course. So anytime we went anywhere in our car my older sister and I had to ride in the back–rain or shine, cold or hot.
Then WWII imposed universal 35 mph speed limits and threadbare, rotten, but irreplaceable, tires threatened to kill anyone thoughtless enough to go more than 35 mph. Gas was rationed. Tires were WWII’s most rationed item. Most of our tires came from the car junk yards. and the driving force of standardized 16″ wheels was born. You had a car or a wagon with 16″ wheels then you had a chance, at least, in acquiring used rubber! Cars in the future would be engineered to where you could survive a blow out — but not that early, so driving WWII or before was always an adventure. A trip to Boise (35 miles away) meant that we fixed at least one flat.
Sure, New Plymouth-ites would go to Payette occasionally, but to us it was not a “big” city. Boise was a “big city,” and worth a whole day trip to go there. Payette was further than our normal merchandising. To me it was more the “peninsula” effect. You get to Gay Way Corners (we could never be sure whether to spell it with or without a space!), and even though the same distance, Ontario seemed much closer. Payette, while the same distance as Ontario (from our house), felt further away. I think that that effect was because the highway went underneath the railroad in a twisty inconvenient manner as it went off the bench and twisted and turned onto the Payette bridge, and often caused accidents (now eliminated in the new highway). People just didn’t want to slow down enough for the twisty nature of the road. In addition, back then, we had nowhere near the spendable or disposable income that would come later.
When given the opportunity, it was preferable to shop in Ontario–it always seemed more modern. At first it was not about the sales tax–as we just didn’t buy enough for that to matter. But, later merchants set up shop there on purpose because of the sales tax disparity. People back then preferred to shop locally if they could, because locals gave you credit. Every NP merchant had charge accounts to spread out farmers income thru the year.
In New Plymouth the Co-op was the major farmer supplier — collected for water shares, and sold most of the distributed gas to farmers — this was mostly due to a credit line that allowed charging items. Not all merchants could do that. Charging might, but probably not, be possible in Payette. I remember buying auto parts for cash in Payette. I got the baler and tractor — and parts in Payette and had a charge account then.
We all got our drivers license in the old Payette court house, where the highway used to turn after going thru downtown Payette. Now, it is easier, and preferable for most to simply zip over to Ontario. Also the Ontario merchants were much quicker to jump on the bandwagon of early discounters and mega stores. Payette and the smaller towns were way too locked into older ways and habits and saw Ontario, with their tax advantage “eat their lunch!” Example: the locals did not go out of their way to set up implement and car dealerships after WWII — allowing Ontario to gain a strangle hold on these basic commodities. Ontario was able to get to the “tipping point” quicker — where it was big enough to feed on its own growth.
There were implement dealers in Nyssa and Payette that helped stem the tide going to Ontario, but it was a lackluster effort. Nyssa survived for some years with large implement dealers at west end of town, and a major implement “junkyard” just north of town where you could find an old version of whatever you had, scavenge parts off it much cheaper than from a dealer.
Payette in early years “seemed” prosperous, but when you look at demographics and geography — it really was not going anywhere. Could not go anywhere. Even the Wherry brothers left Payette in 1939 and came and built their hardware store in New Plymouth, because they believed New Plymouth had the most prosperous future — and would have except for the sales tax issue.
Strategically, Payette had the barrier of the sand hills to the east (no people), and barely began to march over them in 50s (solved the problem of utilities up and over the hill). It was hemmed in on west and south by the close proximity of rivers, and railroad — with a plethora of sloughs at the time. The sloughs would disappear later as the upper Snake was dammed. And north ward, it was hemmed in by stockyards, river, railroads, and sloughs and lost the fight early with Weiser.
Payette survived early because of rail hub. Early settlers along Payette River and up both Willow Creeks were a big draw. It was 20 minutes by buggy from Pences or Falk to Payette straight up Birding Island. However, the Black bridge to New Plymouth and school consolidation drove the knife into the heart of that draw area for Payette. If you look at a map of the area around Falk, Big Williow, and the bridge to New Plymouth, had that bridge been over to Butte Road, then the traffic from New Plymouth would probably have gone to Payette. Instead NP traffic takes Butte traffic and directs one to Gayway Corners and Ontario.
There simply were not enough people locally to support merchants. And, when it comes to loyalty, Ontario-no-sales tax wooed them away. Weiser had its own draw area — but even people as far north as Cambridge and Council (hour drive) prefer to pass right thru Weiser and on to Ontario. The huge bedroom community of Fruitland sings this song to the heavens! Idaho legislature was the culprit — they could easily have made the local communities a free enterprise zone — but had Moscow and Cour D’Alene to contend with as well. They would demand equality. Idaho has been between a rock and a hard place on this.