Mexican families who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad lived in what came to be known as the Ranchito — three brick buildings, each with eight two-bedroom apartments. 

Members of the Gonzalez family remember well the limited space in the brick buildings.

"One part of that section was a kitchen, dining room and had one large bed for mom and dad," said Ray Gonzalez. "The other section was just two bedrooms."

In those two bedrooms slept two of the Gonzalez girls and all of the boys, while the two youngest girls slept in the same bed as their parents.

Jose and Ylaria Gonzalez came to the United States from Mexico in the early 1900s.

"My mother was 16 and he was 32 when they married." said Josie Victorio, the youngest of the Gonzalez children.

There were 10 boys and six girls in the Gonzalez family, but only 12 survived to adulthood. Two boys and two girls died while still young.

"We had to take turns eating because we didn't all fit around the table," Victorio said.

"We used to have our ice box out on the porch," Ray added. "We didn't have room for it inside because our kitchen was so small."

Hunting helped put food on the table.

"We'd take our dogs — maybe five to 10 dogs — and we'd take our sticks and slingshots, so if we'd see a rabbit come out, he didn't know which way to go because we had the dogs and we had about six or eight of us ready with our slingshots," John said. "That's how we got squirrels, too."

The children brought their game home for the family to clean and cook.

"That's how we survived," John said. "It was rough, but we got along."

The responsibility for cooking meals was not left to their mother alone.

"My four oldest brothers used to get in the kitchen and help mother cook," Victorio said. "They all knew how to make tortillas."

Victorio remembers her father would make tortillas and have the children stretch them out so he could cook them.

Ray also recalls singing with his siblings as they made tortillas or did the laundry, with the children forming an assembly line of washing, rinsing and hanging the clothes to dry. In those days, washing was done on a washboard.

"We had to carry in water for them to do the dishes or wash clothes," said John Gonzalez.

Each housing section had two showers.

"We'd all get together and decide what day we wanted to take showers," Ray said. "Saturday was our day."

The communal bathrooms were in a separate building.

"They had eight toilets for the ladies and then a big partition and eight toilets for the men," John said.

The children took a flashlight or someone else with them when they visited the bathroom at night so they could be on the lookout for any roaming animals.

"We were always protecting the girls. Dad said, 'look after them,' so we did what dad said," John said.

The Ranchito was free of rats and mice, John said, because trash was taken away from the apartments by the railroad.

"They had an empty boxcar and everybody threw their trash in it and they'd take it away," Ray said.

In the 1940s, the men of the Ranchito built a wooden platform that served as a stage for musicians and dancers in the summertime.

"On Saturdays, we'd always have dances and sell food," Ray said. "Then the men would pick (the platform) up and lean it up against a building."

Winters also brought opportunities for play, and Ray recalls getting in a snowball fight with George Garcia.

"The Garcias lived right next to us," Ray said.

As their play time came to an end, Ray said his friend suddenly remembered he had forgotten to take care of the family's goat.

"That poor goat was on the ground — stiff — dead," Ray said.

The boys put the goat on top of a stove, hoping for the best, but it was too late.

"He thought he was going to bring him back to life," Ray said. "Did he catch hell when his dad got home!"

Wintertime also gave the Gonzalez boys a chance to work and earn money for the family. John recalls going to the bank and asking customers who were leaving if they wanted their snow shoveled.

"We used to go shovel snow on East First Street," John said.

Ray built up a clientele of around 10 customers and would spend hours shoveling snow, coming home with a pocket full of coins.

"Back in those days, we had winters," Ray said. "There was a lot of snow in those days."

The cold winters made for a long, miserable walk to school.

"From the Ranchito, we'd walk to the roundhouse," John said. "We'd walk in there just to get away from that snow and wind."

A bakery on Fifth Street was also a popular stop.

"Sometimes, they'd leave the door open and we'd sneak in and take a loaf of bread. Before we got to school, we'd have it ate up," John said. "Being kids, we were ornery."

When the nearby water tank overflowed, the children who lived at the Ranchito went to play in the water.

"It was cold, but we walked around the whole tank and enjoyed it," John said.

The siblings make a point of sharing their memories with each other and with the younger generations.

"When my brothers talk about what they used to do, how they used to entertain themselves, I hear all this and I laugh," Victorio said.

Not all of the memories are happy ones. John remembers seeing men dressed in capes climbing on that same water tank.

"It wasn't until the 1960s that I put it together — it was the Ku Klux Klan," John said. "They had them here."

Some people were not shy about speaking out against the Mexicans who lived in Newton.

"There was a lot of hate in Newton from the white people against the Mexicans and the black people," Ray said. "I heard one businessman say to another, 'It'll be a cold day in hell before a Mexican owns a business on Main Street.' Things like that, I don't forget."

Even churches were not always welcoming.

"We had one Catholic church, St. Mary's, but believe it or not, they didn't want Mexicans to attend their church," Ray said. "They would not allow Mexican kids in their school in those days."

For every instance of racism, the Gonzalez family also recalls times when they were supported.

"There were good people back then who we really appreciated," John said.

Through it all, the families of the Ranchito depended on one another.

"We had our own little city, you might say," Ray said. "We were all close to each other."

If you would like to share your memories and pictures of the Ranchito, call 316-283-1500 or email pmiddleton@thekansan.com.