Malden and Pine City, Washington are the VanDyke family’s heritage home. The cultivated fields of this sprawling fertile land have been the livelihood and cherished home of generations of this family as well as many others in this beautiful area.
Traveling with his family from Wisconsin, John Wesley VanDyke settled on the Pine City bluffs above Pine Creek where the progressive railroad was bringing life to the West. Life was hard, but it was also very good. His son Paul started to farm in the area and the original place with his 16-year-old bride, Marie, and their eventual family of three boys. Sweet peas colored the yard in splendor. They often grew potatoes and vegetables for the crews of the ever-expanding railroad lines. The Pine City one-room schoolhouse provided early education. The trains chugged their way through the beautiful landscape spewing their embers across the countryside, burning their home to the ground—twice. But then as life experiences force change, the family moved five miles to the booming railroad town of Malden, the biggest railroad depot in the area. There they settled on a magnificent ranch where the next five generations of VanDyke’s would raise their families to this day. Uncles, aunts, and cousins all still dwell either on the ranch or in the town. There was no better place to live.
For the last 17 years, His Song, a group of 11 Eastern Washington men that all love God and worship in song, were invited through Ron VanDyke and the Pine City Historical Society to usher in the Christmas season at the restored Pine City Stone Church on the first Sunday of December. What a perfect way to get into the spirit of the season. The community came together to celebrate in song. In the early years, the group made the journey to the church even through snow storms, though there was no electricity or heat. The following years more restoration and creature comforts were added, but it was the worship and time of celebration of Christmas that everyone looked forward to!
In August 2020, the unexpected would alter the lives of these hometowns forever. With the ‘perfect storm’ of heat, high winds and ignited fire, the countryside was engulfed from northwest of the town of Rosalia through forests, pastures, hillsides, grain fields and sadly 91 homes, traveling 20 plus miles all the way to Malden and through Pine City consuming 18,000 acres. What was green, lush and safe became an engulfing inferno. Within 45 minutes, the countryside was devastated. All the beautiful standing pines, crops, homes, barns, shops, lifetime collections and vehicles were reduced to ash. As one cousin was saving his Mom’s home, he looked up to see his own home engulfed in flames, unable to save even a change of clothes. Another cousin tried to flee the advancing flames only to be driven across a hay field to Pine Creek to hide under the bridge as the flames roared past, taking with it a 3rd generation home and reducing it to only the standing chimney. All memorabilia gone. The horses were turned loose from barns and corrals with phone numbers written on their hooves for whoever were to find them having lost the barn, shop and fences to the roaring flames. The emotional toll will take years to overcome and many items will never be replaced.
Sadly, the cherished Pine City Stone Church also went up in flames. Those iconic windows that displayed the poinsettias and candles honoring the Light of the World with their luminance are no more. The bell that tolled the coming of our Savior and announced the His Song celebration in song for the community also lay in ruins in the ash. Our 7-year-old grandson cried saying, he would never be able to ring the bell or sit in the old pews to hear his Papa sing again. It is a historic and communal loss to everyone.
How to go on? Where to live? With no place to lay their heads they must find shelter and somehow rebuild. This will take time. Lots of time. But they are strong, It will be a process. It is their home. The thing about trials—“We never have more than we can bear. We are always able to endure the present hour. As our day, so is our strength. Each ‘trial’ is sent to us to teach us something, and altogether they have a lesson which is beyond the power of any to teach alone.” H. E. Manning
The lesson perhaps: to focus on what we do have and be thankful. It certainly gives you a fresh new perspective.
By April VanDyke