When Bruce’s father, Merritt, first arrived to Slaton. He said the land was lush and the prairies were green from the rain. However, when he moved his family to Slaton the rains stopped and he faced a drought lasting until 1919.
Merritt’s quest to Slaton was not easy to begin with.
Merritt worked for Pember Hide and Fur House, buying furs from various parts of the world in Onawa, Iowa. When the fur market fell, he was forced to sell his stock of skunk furs.
While in Slaton, Merritt took on various ventures in agriculture, real estate and even shipped bones out of Wilson. According to his granddaughter’s, Joyce Cheatham and May Belle Kern, Merritt also bought a Hart Parr tractor that pulled 16 discs for a 12 foot wide cut and contracted breaking out land. When the tractor broke down, he sent to St. Louis where a mechanic repaired. It is believed, by some, that this was the first tractor in the area.
“He started broke,” the Pember family wrote, “gave checks for first day’s purchases, took the goods to Lubbock, sold them and got the money to the bank in time to make the checks good.”
It took Merritt five months to save $1500. He worked as a real estate agent for a few years before buying a small insurance agency from C.C. Hoffman in 1919.
When Merritt bought the agency, the family was living in various rental houses throughout Slaton and even on a farm south of Slaton until eventually settling in a house at1025 West Garza Street.
In the book, Slaton Stories, Merritt’s son, Bruce wrote, “we [Pember household] weathered the big blizzard that hit in January 1918 or 1919, but barely. All our cattle and others’ drifted south until they hit a fence and then froze to death.” Bruce wrote.
It was also during the winter of 1918 when several pioneering Slatonites lost their lives due to a flu pandemic that was sweeping the nation. “Dad caught the flu,” Bruce wrote, “and we came very close to losing him.”
Between 1919 and 1928, according to Cheatham and Kern, Merritt was a fairly successful businessman. The 1929 depression, however, hit hard and he lost his equities in 5 farms and 8 rent houses.
Through hardships, difficulties and tragedies, the family, however, continued to persevere and Pember Insurance Agency remained a successful business for many decades. Today, Kevin Kern is the most recent owner-operator.