by Don Anderson, Escondido Legend Committee
ESCONDIDO — The Escondido Legends Committee highlights the life of Rube Nelson, the first of eight 2021 Escondido Legends.
With sponsorship from Jack Raymond, and the Escondido Legends Committee, (Don Anderson, Norm Barnhard, Teddy Borja, Mike Dietz, Robin Fox, and Tom Humphrey) each Legend will have a $1,000 honorarium presented in their name, to an outstanding senior student from a high school in Escondido.
Reuben T. Nelson, better known as the “Poor Ole Rube” or “The Nebraska Swede,” was born in Nebraska in 1906 and died at his home in Escondido in 1991, at the age of 84. He came to Escondido from Norfolk, Nebraska in 1926. During the depression years, Nelson first drove a bakery route around North County. This eventually gave Rube the impetus to get into the grocery store business. In 1937, Nelson joined his brother, Don, opening his first grocery store on the southwest corner of Washington and Broadway, in Escondido.
The first store was small; but a big success. Some years after Don opened the store, he partnered with his brother Rube in opening another store at 601 N. Broadway. Following that success, Rube decided it was time to develop his own dream store. He purchased the northwest corner of Broadway and Washington and began building “Rubes Country Corner.” When his dream store opened, it was the first real supermarket in Escondido, equipped with a coffee shop, bakery, liquor department, meat department, produce and a fully stocked grocery department.
Rube brought family members into his new enterprise. His wife Blanche, served as the brains, while daughter Carol, worked in the store, brother Don was in charge of the meat department, and nephews Donnie and George played significant roles as did his niece, Sonja Nelson Cosby.
He has been described as a “one-of-a-kind true character,” often seen driving in a vintage Model “A” truck. He regularly drove to the bank, with his weekly deposits in money bags on the front seat of his truck. That bank, which he helped found, was the Escondido National Bank on the southeast corner of Escondido Boulevard and West Valley Parkway, and today is Union Bank of California.
Rube was also known for his smile and for the infamous “trademark” cigar which never left his mouth. He was also involved in every parade the town hosted, driving one of his antique trucks down the parade route with employees throwing bags of candy to children. Nelson also hosted free pancake breakfasts at his store to bring in business.
Nelson was a very shrewd business mann though his demeanor fooled people. He always dressed in big denim overhauls, with a straw hat, boots and his ever-present cigar. But Rube was a fair man and believed in providing a product for a fair price. He was also known for the bulletin board in the front of his store, where all bad checks were posted in full view for the public to see. In 1983, he sold that business to the Albertson’s chain and retired a millionaire. Rube sold his store and property for $3.3 million. Currently Stater Brother’s occupies the sight.
Pore Ole Rube, he was not. His daughter Carol Nelson and sole benefactor, upon her death, bequeathed $12 million, which was all of the remaining family fortune, to Children’s Hospital.
The committee wanted to share one more tidbit about Rube’s Famous Country Store. Rube searched here and there for larger-than-life farm animals and a Statue of Liberty, that were mounted on the store’s roof. The colossal monuments became the talk of the town and San Diego County. Once again, this clever business man created a unique feature that brought potential shoppers to his store. Even his grocery bags featured a photo of the store, complete with all of the colossal figures and. of course, Rube himself all decked out in his Sunday-best denim overhauls, boots, hat and cigar.