I have wanted to write about Chauncey Del French for some time, and I was reminded of his place as an Oregon author, after spending the last several days at a book sellers trade show in Portland, where other Oregon, northwestern, and national, authors were in attendance.
As far as I know, Chauncey French wrote just two books, one of which was published posthumously. But before I get to the story of his writing, let me provide a little background.
Chauncey French (and I far as I know we have no one else named Chauncey in the Robbins family, but I may be wrong), was the son of Henry Clay French and Minnie Elmira Francisco, and the grandson of Isaac Francisco and Sarah Catherine (“Cassie”) Robbins. Cassie came across the Oregon Trail from Decatur County, Indiana, in 1852 as a 6-year-old, with her parents James Anderson and Minerva Elizabeth (Hamilton) Robbins, her grandparents Nathaniel and Nancy, and other relatives.
Chauncey, also called Chat, was born in Portland in 1890. His father, Henry French, was a lifelong railroad worker, ending his career working for the Union Pacific in the Pacific Northwest. According to Chauncey, his father fled the Great Plains because he was tired of tornadoes. Though growing up in railroad camps, Chauncey got a good education, and was sent off to the Vashon Military Academy at a young age. He worked in the woods, he worked on the railroad, worked in fruit orchards, and eventually began to write.
Along the way he met and married a woman named Jessie Robbins. He knew he was a member of the Robbins family. His grandmother was a Robbins, and his great-grandmother, Minerva (Hamilton) Robbins, died when Chauncey was thirty years of age. But did he know he was his wife Jessie’s third cousin, once removed? Jessie Robbins was the daughter of George H. Robbins, and granddaughter of Marquis Lindsay Robbins (discussed in a previous post). Did they compare notes about their ancestry? or did they just think the names were an interesting coincidence? Both Chauncey and Jessie were descendants of Absalom Robbins Sr.
The couple were married in 1914 and they never had any children. Living most of their life in Salem, Oregon, Chauncey passed away there in 1967 and Jessie in 1970.
Chauncey French was said to have written for pulp magazines under assumed names, including Chat French, Chet Delfre, and Samuel Del. I do know he wrote a story called “Once Too Often” for Railroad magazine in 1938 under his own name. That same year, Macmillan Publishers in New York released Chauncey’s book Railroadman, a biography of his father, written by Chauncey but in his father’s voice. The book was a minor best seller.
H. Talmadge, the “Sage of Salem,” a columnist for the Oregon Statesman, wrote upon the book’s release:
I reckon that most of us at one time or another do things we should not do. And, by the same token, I reckon also that most of us do not do things we should do. Which reflection is prompted by the fact that I have read a book during the week—Chauncey French’s biography of his father, “The Railroad Man.” I said to myself, a bit patronizingly perhaps, when I picked up “The Railroad Man,” with a view to glancing at its contents, that I must be considerate of my eyes, which have been very good friends for a long time, and more faithful that might have been expected of eyes which have been compelled to look at things which were not entirely wholesome in their nature and have not always been given the rest spells that they deserved. Well, as usual, it being difficult for me to take advice. I visited that book continuously until I reached the cabboose end of it, and I reckon it is not necessary to say that I enjoyed it. “The Railroad Man” is a well-written story of a long and strenuous life—a close-up of a strong and interesting character.
In 1942, during World War II, both Chauncey and Jessie got work at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland and Vancouver. He began his memoirs of working in the shipyards at the same time. After the war, the couple returned to their home in Salem. The manuscript that Chauncey had written was turned over to the Kaiser Company.
It was later discovered by Ted Van Arsdol, a Washington State newspaperman and historian, and was finally published as Waging War on the Home Front: An Illustrated Memoir of World War II by the Oregon State University Press and the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission in 2004. And if I had remembered in time, while I stopped by the OSU Press table at the trade show, I would have thanked them for publishing this wonderful memoir about “war on the home front.”
(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-Nancy (Robbins) Robbins-James Anderson Robbins-Sarah Catherine (Robbins) Francisco-Minnie (Francisco) French-Chauncey Del French)
(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-John Robbins-Marquis Lindsay Robbins-George Henry Robbins-Jessie (Robbins) French)