The history of the Rio Abajo can be seen in the classified advertisements of the Belen News and Valencia County News-Bulletin.
(La Historia del Rio Abajo is a regular column about Valencia County history written by members of the Valencia County Historical Society.
The author of this column is a professor of history at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus. He is grateful to former News-Bulletin editor Sandy Battin and her terrific Century of News series that helped inspire this column. Several of the ads used here are from Sandy’s series.
Opinions expressed in this and all columns of La Historia del Rio Abajo are the author’s alone and not necessarily those of the Valencia County Historical Society or any other group or individual.)
People read classified advertisements for many reasons. Many read them to find jobs. Others look for goods and services to buy or sell. Some run ads if they have lost valued items or pets.
More and more people enjoy the sport of looking for amusing mistakes in ads, collections of which have become a popular segment on the Jay Leno show on Monday nights.
Although we seldom realize it, classified ads can also serve as a good source of information about the past. Ads can tell us a lot about the needs, interests, values and social norms of different times and places in history.
Ads in the Belen News and its successor, the Valencia County News-Bulletin, certainly tell us a lot about life in the Rio Abajo. Old ads are like old photos or small snapshots of everyday life, brimming with useful information about our colorful past.
With the coming of the railroad in 1880 and the building of the Belen Cut-off in the early 20th century, Belen became an important transportation center. Thousands of passengers traveled through town each year. Some had reason to stay for a night, if not longer.
Traveling acting companies and musical groups were among those who stayed in Belen, either to perform or to simply rest before moving on to their next destination along the railroad line.
We are left to wonder what happened in one such group that led to the following ad, placed in the Belen News on December 17, 1914:
WANTED—A young lady piano player. One willing to travel with Blanch-Walsh Co. Apply at Belen Hotel.
What had happened to the last piano player? Had there been a conflict in the group? Was she incompetent? Did she find romance in Belen and not want to leave? Was she ill or simply weary of travel? Was she homesick as Christmas approached that year? Did a talented “young lady” from Belen take the job and how did this small ad change her life?
In the 1930s, the United States suffered through a Great Depression when jobs were scarce and workers were often desperate for employment. This January 1931 ad in the Belen News represented an admirable attempt to match workers with employment, no matter how small or how temporary:
Any concerns or individuals wanting to employ men for work, either trained or common laborers, can call at the Belen News office or Highway Filling Station.
Some job hunters were relieved to read of work as migrant laborers in mid 1936:
Mr. J.A. Desgeorge representing the Great Western Sugar Company is in Belen and will be here for a short time. He needs 10 solos and 100 families to go to the beet fields. His shipment to go to Whetland, Wyoming, Monday, June 15, from Belen. Those people wishing to take advantage of this opportunity should see Mrs. Lindberg at the Relief Office at once. Transportation free.
Employment opportunities improved greatly by World War II when suddenly there were not enough workers for all the jobs available, especially in the lucrative war industry on the West Coast and elsewhere.
FOR ESSENTIAL WAR WORK!
Electric arc welders
54 to 60 hours per week, overtime over 40 hours
Union wage scale
Apply to Thompson Pipe and Steel Company, Denver, Colorado
Many Valencia County residents read these appealing ads and moved out-of-state, sometimes never to return, except to visit families or to attend annual fiestas in communities such as Belen.
As World War II ended, those who had remained in Valencia County enjoyed an era of increasing prosperity and leisure time. Everyone liked going to the Oñate Theater, although this News-Bulletin ad made it clear that not everyone need apply to work at the popular movie house:
We have a job for a neat, pleasant girl who can count and make change. Experience unnecessary but should be high school graduate. We can’t use a girl who is not dependable, who chews gum or repairs her makeup in public. Oñate Theater
Some ads were (hopefully) factitious, as in August 1945:
One who excels in making the worst of a bad situation preferred; must lack any desire to satisfy the customer and be a slave to the belief that any dish is appealing provided it has a little succotash, string beans and creamed cheese on it.
Bring own acids, tongs, sickles, hole-punchers, ripping devices and button busters. Good money and lots of fun.
Unfortunately, many employers of the post-war era were still sexist. This was clearly true of the Santa Fe Railroad, as reflected in this News-Bulletin sexist (and age-ist) ad that appeared in early 1959:
WANTED YOUNG MEN
17 to 26 years (of age) for railroad telegraph agent positions. Salary up to $400 a month, plus overtime, paid vacations, hospitalization, retirement benefits. Excellent opportunity. Short training. G.I. approved; also for this year’s boy graduates. Write to R.R.R.T.T., Box 27, Belen.
Of course some jobs could only be filled by females, as was certainly the case at the Rocko Inn in 1970:
WANTED: GO-GO DANCERS AND WAITRESSES
Must apply in person. Rocko Inn, Los Lunas.
With so many Valencia County residents living in Barstow, Calif., some male transplants pined for New Mexico girls, as suggested in the following ad in 1959:
WANTED: Waitress and bargirl for work in Barstow, Calif. Applicant must be unmarried. Will receive percentage of beer sales and food, also from coin devices. This person must be attractive, good personality, female. Living quarters furnished. Please send snapshot, application to “Red” Carbajal, Club manager, American Legion Post 663, Barstow, Calif.
Sadly, some employers were also racist, as reflected in these two ads from 1945:
Experienced Anglo sales lady. Apply in person at The Fair Store, Belen.
Spanish-speaking women and girls are wanted in our laundry and dry cleaning department in Albuquerque. Starting salary $18 to $20 per week…. No night work or Sundays. Excelsior Laundry Co., First and Roma, Albuquerque.
Goods and services
Many people also ran classified ads when looking for goods and services. Ads from 1913 to 1915 often reflected the modern transition from horsepower in the flesh to horsepower under the hood:
Good, gentle saddle horse, with saddle, by the month. T.G. Reynolds, large adobe house west of Santa Fe Reading Room.
FOR SALE OR TRADE FOR REAL ESTATE
One first class two-seat carriage and a No. 1 team of black horses. No better team in town. Apply at this office.
GOEBEL & SONS
Walter Goebel has his new Overland automobile, and is prepared to drive parties to any of the surrounding towns, or in fact any place, either within the county or out, on business or pleasure. He knows his machine and has the reputation of being a careful driver…. He promises reasonable rates for all trips. Leave orders at Goebel’s store or phone Red 14.
One of Valencia County’s first ads for used cars appeared in the Belen News on Sept. 23, 1915:
A 5-passenger Ford car, $250. In good running order. Inquire of R.M. Edwards.
As the biggest commercial enterprise in Belen, the John Becker Store (later Becker-Dalies) advertised on a regular basis in the news. A typical ad in December 1913 announced that the company was “ready with a store full of new attractive Christmas merchandise.”
The ad suggested a long list of possible gifts “for the ladies,” including such modern, if impersonal, items as coffee percolators, “gasoline irons,” oil cook stoves and sewing machines. Suggestions “for the men” included phonographs, pistols, safety razors and of course ties.
Gifts for children included checkers, doll heads, marbles, toy trains, saving banks and “mechanical toys,” few of which would have much appeal to youngsters today.
But even John Becker’s successful store felt the competition of national catalog houses such as Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, the e-Bay sellers of their day.
Meeting this challenge head-on, Becker ran a 1914 ad showing a weeping, disappointed mother and daughter. A sage but heartless husband looked over his evening newspaper to declare, “I told you not to order anything from the catalog house.” The rest of the Becker ad read:
Have you ever got anything from us that went wrong on which we did not make good? Not on your sweet life.
When we sell you, you see what you buy before you buy it. You know it suits you. You have no high freight to pay. You get it the day you want it.
Don’t buy from us “to keep our money at home” but because you can buy better stuff for less money than by sending away.
Like most newspapers of the early 20th century, pages of the Belen News were full of ads for “medicines” that could cure every imaginable disease.
Carter’s Little Liver Pills promised to relieve constipation quickly and painlessly. Leonard Ear Oil, at $1.25 a bottle, could help cure deafness and even “head noises,” whatever those were.
Personal testimonies were a favorite advertising tool, especially in ads promoting patented medicines. Mrs. C.B. Hubbard thus told of “suffering with feminine trouble” until she drank two bottles of Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription “and have felt fine ever since.”
In fact, three months after first taking the “prescription” Mrs. Hubbard “gave birth to a fine boy. I had practically no suffering and am all O.K.”
We must wonder about the contents of Dr. Pierce’s medicine that made it such a favorite. We must also wonder about its long-range effects on Mrs. Hubbard, not to mention her infant son!
Some medical ads announced the arrival of itinerant “doctors” with miracle cures. According to one ad, Dr. Gaines of Denver was scheduled to arrive in Belen on July 20, 1928, when he would be available at the Hotel Kuhn to treat patients suffering from ailments from appendicitis to stomach ulcers without “the knife.”
We’ll never know how many gullible patients Dr. Gaines saw at the hotel that day, no less the amount of money he pocketed before leaving town, never to return for follow-up consultations, no less refunds to uncured, dissatisfied (but uncut) customers.
New Mexicans share an understandable fear of rattlesnakes. Exploiting this fear, an ad in March 1926 asserted:
Don’t die just yet from rattle-snake bites, but order a snake poison kit … Complete directions of what to do until the Doctor comes, or if he fails to come. No touring, camping, fishing or other pleasure trip safe without this safety first kit. $1.50…. Write today the Sultana Co., Lovington, New Mexico
Dr. E.G. Brentari was a legitimate local dentist in the 1930s. Knowing that many potential patients lacked cash for dental hygiene during the Great Depression, Dr. Brentari regularly ran ads to announce “prices to meet the hard times.” This generous dentist offered “10 to 20 percent discounts on all kinds of dental work.”
Classified ads were also used to solicit goods, especially during World War II when there seemed to be a shortage of almost everything in the United States.
With no new cars produced during the war, readers found ads such as the following in a 1943 edition of the Belen News:
We pay top prices for late model private owned cars. Any make. Write or bring car in. Downtown Belen.
Other wartime “wanted” ads were much stranger:
Send your gun to war. $5 to $30 cash for your S&W Colt, Origies, Mauser, Luger, Automatic pistols and revolvers…. Send in for appraisal to… H. Cook, Sporting Goods Co., Albuquerque, N.M.
WANT 100 SLOT MACHINES
Regardless of condition. Give serial No., price and condition in first letter. Bishop, 1165 Linden St., Indianapolis, Indiana
Uncle Sam needs your new goose and duck feathers for Army sleeping bags…. Highest market prices paid. Immediate remittance. Ship to American Feather Products, 3221 S. Shields Ave., Chicago, Ill.
Perhaps the strangest “wanted” ad appeared after the war, in November 1955:
Fresh dead cows. Call 6662 if dead not more than 36 hours. Will pick up.
Valencia County grew considerably after World War II as more and more residents lived locally but commuted to work in Albuquerque each day. By the 1950s and 1960s the following ad was not unusual:
Need ride or riders. I work in Albuquerque, 525 Second St. SW, 8 to 5 p.m. Phone 864-XXXX.
Rio Grande Estates
The early 1960s saw the development of an entirely new community across the river east of Belen. Advertisements in newspapers such as the New York Daily News on March 26, 1961, promised “350 days a year of bright healthful sunshine” in the “most beautiful spot in the world.” “Spacious homesites” went for $199 per acre, with $10 down and $10 a month in payments.
Lured by these seductive ads, hundreds of out-of-towners came hundreds of miles to see and hopefully buy parcels of land and new homes in Rio Grande Estates, now known as Rio Communities.
The Belen Chamber of Commerce was flooded with calls and as many as 128 letters of inquiries in a single day.
Many came, including Eastern retirees who either stayed and enjoyed the Southwest or sold their property before ever settling down:
LOT FOR SALE
One acre in choice location, Rio Grande Estates. Must sell. Asking $695 for quick sale. Eastern owner. Write Box 11, c/o News-Bulletin.
Lots 1-2, Block 332-A, unit 8, Rio Grande Estates. Illness forces sale. Make offer. Les Parker 212 W. Palmer, Glendale, Calif.
Small town traits
But with all the changes that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, it’s good to know that Belen and most of Valencia County was still very traditional, with many small town characteristics, as reflected in this ad from August 1963:
GREEN CHILI FOR SALE
Inquire (by turning) left after you get to Frontier Station on Hwy 85 on a little road. Go down 3 houses to a green house.
Those who felt uncertain about their futures could always visit Sister Gaylord on South Main Street in Belen. Her ad in the newspaper ran in May 1969:
I give never failing advice upon all matters of life, such as love, courtship, marriage, divorce, business transactions of all kinds. I never fail to unite the separated, cause speedy and happy marriages, overcome enemies, rivals, lovers’ quarrels, evil habits, stumbling blocks and bad luck of all kinds. There is no heart so sad or home so dreary that I cannot bring sunshine into it. In fact,… I guarantee to tell it all before you utter a word to me. Open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and Sundays. Second house south of Baca Auto Sales on South Main Street, Belen.
LOOK FOR THE SIGN OF THE PALM
Pet and livestock owners might have turned to Sister Gaylord for help in finding their missing animals or, better yet, they might have run an ad in the local newspaper.
Bill Waid was so determined to find his black cocker spaniel puppy named “Thirty” that he ran ads in every issue of the News-Bulletin from July to October 1953. We can only hope that Bill stopped running his ad because Thirty had been found at last.
Other devoted pet owners have been persistent over distance as well as over time. The following long distance ad ran in the News-Bulletin just recently:
By Sipapu Ski (Taos) area. American Pitbull, blind, all black w/white neck and paws. Cash reward. 505-587-XXXX.
Happily, some animals have been recovered as a result of newspaper ads, as announced in an ad on November 4, 1949:
Three stray mares held four days at Police Station. One black, one white, one black and white. Owner may reclaim by paying costs.
We doubt that the Belen Police Department still has the time or the resources to provide similar services today.
Perhaps tired of dealing with stray livestock and lost pets, Belen’s police chief ran a “help wanted” ad in early 1958:
WANTED: DOG WARDEN
The position is non-paying from city revenue, but the warden will receive 50 cents from each dog license he sells. He also is paid $1 each for disposing of dead dogs.
Besides animals, many other valuable items have been lost, from gold watches in the 1920s to baby clothes in 1960s. Fortunately, lost items listed in classified ads have sometimes been found, with relieved owners even expressing their gratitude, as happened with a gentleman in April 1927:
Last Thursday I lost a gold watch which I valued very highly, as it was an heirloom. I immediately sent you a notice to insert in your paper, and waited. Yesterday I went home and found the watch in the pocket of my other suit. God bless your paper!
Other searchers, including Prescilla in the 1960s, have not been as lucky:
Would the person who took my clothes from a washing machine at the Speed Queen Laundry on North Main by mistake, please return it to manager at laundry as my baby is getting cold without her diapers and pajamas. Prescilla
In 1979 an unnamed mother appealed:
To the person who found my billfold containing $270. I hope you are enjoying it and after you hear this you might decide to return it. I am a mother of 6 and have to work nights to support them. I am not signing this because my name and address is in the billfold.
Classified ads have served to assist us, inform us, amuse us and even shock us over the years.
With the use of e-Bay, Craig’s List and other high tech means, classifieds may eventually go the way of manual typewriters, carbon paper, shorthand and other similarly outdated forms of communication.
But while they last, classified ads often reflect the human story as well, if not better than the headlines on the front pages of our newspapers.
As historian Sara Bader has written, “these brief notices offer rare glimpses into who we are, what we value and where we’re going.”
And that is exactly what the study of history is meant to achieve in the United States, in New Mexico and right here in the Rio Abajo.