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Don was our typewriter salesman from Billings and his territory included mine. He had gotten wind of what was going on and, knowing that my work was very satisfactory and appreciated in the rest of the territory, sent a memo to Helena praising my work and expressing his confidence in me. Neither of us work for IBM any more but I will not likely forget what he did for me and I think of him as one of my best friends. Anyway, Don’s memo apparently promoted management in Helena to seek evidence beyond the tales carried by the data processing salesman. The winds turned to a more favorable direction for me. I was not aware of how serious the situation had become until our division manager from Seattle visited my territory and told me that he owed me an apology. By that, I knew that it had been serious enough to come to his attention and that his judgement of me had not been favorable.
Well, the air and my reputation were finally cleared but a bitter flavor remained. It was at this point that I began looking for a business that I could finance and operate myself.
In 1961 I was transferred to Billings and a more diplomatic fellow by the name of Conrad Berg took my place in Cody. We found a comfortable home in a suburb on the northeast edge of Billings called Billings Heights and settled in there. Our daughter, Bonita (Bonnie) started the first grade that fall, at the Billings Heights School, and Ron started there two years later.
Working out of the Billings IBM office at that time were two data processing technicians, two typewriter repairmen, two data processing salesmen and one typewriter salesman. There weren’t any office personnel. We all took care of our own office chores and an answering service took our phone messages. The office itself was in a single story two-room building. IBM occupied half of the building. Those of us who maintained and repaired equipment were called Customer Engineers and the two of us in data processing had a territory that extended west to  Harlowton, east to Sidney and south to Buffalo, Wyoming. Shortly after I went to Billings, Les Dyrud took an assignment in Germany and was replaced by Dave Bowman. Dave had only recently completed basic school and had very little time to gain practical experience when I left for a school in Rochester, Minnesota. The entire territory fell on his shoulders. This was to happen to one or the other of us several times over the next three years as new products required new training. The company’s policy of austerity kept manpower at bare minimum levels.
The first computers were coming out now and data processing methods were rapidly changing. The ability to print and read magnetic characters was being applied to bank checks and other documents, greatly reducing the need for punched cards. The computers were so large, physically, that one of them, with associated input and output equipment, would fill an entire room and required a large air conditioning unit to absorb the heat. The cost of renting or buying one of these systems was quite high, so most of those who did, made maximum use of them. This usually meant running the equipment two or three shifts. Since IBM in Montana didn’t employ enough Customer Engineers for more than one shift, we simply had to be on call night and day. Getting called out during the night became very common and, when one of us was away to school, the other one didn’t get a lot of sleep.
At one point, there were some problems in our Customer Engineering Department and I was put in charge of both data processing and typewriter Customer Engineers. This was not a career advancement but it certainly indicated a higher level of confidence than when I was in Cody.
From time to tine, we still had to deal with reckless promises made by our salesmen but this was an entirely different circumstance so it was never more than an irritation. Things were actually going quite smoothly but Dave and I were under an awful lot of pressure. I decided that, if I was going to be devoting my whole time to a business, it should be my own business. So, I again began looking for a business that I could make my own. We found what we were looking for during the summer of 1964. At the end of that year we moved to the little town of Whitehall.
The move soon proved to be good for all of us. A vilifying teacher at the Billings Heights school had nearly destroyed Ron’s confidence and enthusiasm. But, both he and Bonnie blossomed and thrived in the atmosphere of the small town school.
The business we had bought was a small motel combined with a small gasoline service station. It was very similar to the place in White Sulphur Springs where I had worked for Ray Compton 15 years earlier. At the time we took over, some groceries were also being sold there. In other words, it was what is now called a convenience store. Early in that first year, I went into automobile repair. At the end of the year we discontinued the groceries. The auto repairing and motel provided us with a good income, although, sometimes the days were long. In the summer, it was often like working a double shift.
I returned to Billings several times to take care of unfinished business there and, on one of those trips, I will have to say I was justly rewarded for any shabby treatment I received while working for IBM. Conrad Berg had transferred to Billings from Cody and I accompanied him one afternoon as he called on customers around town. I was warmly greeted by all that I had previously known. Where we encountered new faces, Con kept introducing me as “the legendary Jim Fuller”. It was actually getting to be a little embarrassing.

Image result for computer repairman cartoon

Excerpted from ‘Wool Trompers’   by J. L. Fuller

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By this time I had gained enough experience, and learned enough about automobiles, that I was becoming aware of their deficiencies and shortcomings. But, I was confident that they would continue to improve in the future as much as they had in the past. What I didn’t know was that, right then, in the 1950’s, I was seeing some of the best quality and easiest to repair automobiles that the industry would ever produce. As an example of easy repairing, I once, single-handedly, replaced the clutch in a Ford car in just two and one-half hours. During those years there was a true competitive effort to sell more cars by building better cars but that soon gave way to advertising. Television was an important factor in this development. The manufacturers soon learned that they could sell more cars by cutting on quality and putting the money into television advertising. The next step was to design so that repairing would be more difficult and costly. The intent here was to discourage repairing of old vehicles so that more new ones would be bought. This has progressed into the pursuit of a disposable automobile, one that can be assembled quickly, run almost a reasonable distance and be so impractical to repair that it will be discarded and replaced with a new one. This policy is pushing the cost of owning and operating an automobile ever higher but it will succeed as long as the public is willing to pay the sacrifice in order to drive a new car.
We still had no doctor or medical facilities in our town in 1957 when our son was born on the third of February. The cost hadn’t changed in two years either, it was still $200.
It was about this time that I made the decision to change occupations. My good friend, Harlo Patton, had been working for International Business Machines for several years and had encouraged me to apply to them. But, I had declined because their basic school was located at their plant in Endicott, New York. It was not just a case of the country boy being afraid to enter the big, wide world. It was a long way to travel and temporary housing in Endicott was scarce and expensive. Now however, IBM had opened a school in San Jose, California. So, I applied at their branch office in Helena and went to work there the first day of April in 1957. After a short indoctrination period, I was enrolled in a class at San Jose and, with a loaded two-wheel trailer hitched behind the car, we were on our way to California.
A few months later, I was back in Helena maintaining and repairing data processing machines. The punched card was the data storage medium at that time and most of the machines were for the purposes of punching, sorting and collating these cards. The cards measured three and one-fourth inches by seven and one-fourth inches and provided room for eighty units of numeric or alphabetic data. Just a name and address would pretty well fill one card and then each business transaction thereafter would probably take another card. That meant that thousands of these cards had to be stored and saved as long as there was any chance that the data they held might be needed.
The machines used in this system of data storage and processing would be classed as electro-mechanical. They were mechanical devices driven by an electric motor and their functions were controlled by electric relays, solenoids and other magnetic devices. In 1957 there was still one machine in Helena that was strictly mechanical. It was a model 01  verifier for double checking cards for errors after they had been punched on a keypunch machine. All printed documents had to be translated to punched card by an operator at the keyboard of a keypunch. Then, the process was repeated, on the same cards, by another operator at the keyboard of a  verifier. This machine compared what the operator keyed to what had been punched into the card as a means of detecting errors. Then, the cards were passed through sorting and collating machines until they were in proper order for the accounting machine. These accounting machines were nearly as big as one of today’s compact automobiles and considerably heavier. Inside, they were packed full of electrical wiring and  electro-mechanical devices, some of which were examples of engineering that made automobile engineering look crude and clumsy. These could read the punched cards, add, subtract, accumulate totals print accounts and cause an attached machine to punch summary cards. These were fascinating machines and the very best at the time. But, a whole roomful of them would fall far short of matching one of today’s desk-top computers.
This was the most interesting work I had ever done and I was pleased when, in 1958, I was assigned my own territory. Near the end of that same year I was offered a resident territory in Cody, Wyoming. This was, at the same time, a vote of confidence and a challenge. I eagerly accepted and the beginning of 1959 found us in Cody. I was meeting this new challenge with great anticipation, never suspecting that it was going to shatter my enthusiasm for my new occupation.
What this territory lacked in machines it made up for in distance and variety. It took in the entire Big Horn Basin, including Thermopolis and  Worland, both about 90 miles away. And anything that had IBM on it was my responsibility. This included typewriters and clock systems. There were only two or three clock systems and they weren’t complex. However, there were quite a few typewriters with precision that required sensitive adjustments. So, within a few days after moving to Cody, I was leaving my family behind and going to Lexington, Kentucky for four weeks of school. This was the first of a number of times that school would separate us. This trip to Lexington was my first experience with commercial air travel. Frontier Airlines served Cody with DC-3 aircraft and the larger airlines were flying mostly Lockheed Electra’s. The DC-3 used piston engines while the Electra was powered by turbo-prop engines. Both were noisy and the DC-3’s were small and easily tossed around by weather. Aside from the loud drone, the Electra was smooth and comfortable and cruised at about 450 m.p.h. it was capable of 600 or more but had a tendency to tear itself apart at the higher speeds.
Back in Cody, I was soon busy getting my scattered territory organized and the maintenance up to date. For a time things progressed quite smoothly, but then problems began to develop at IBM’s largest customer in the territory, Husky Oil Co. Before I left Helena, the branch manager had cautioned me about the possibility of this customer becoming demanding and advised me to resist the impulse to appease them. Unfortunately, by the time this became a problem, this manager had moved on and a new man was in his place. But, the seeds for this problem were planted during the period of selling and integrating of the IBM equipment, when certain Husky Oil people were wined and dined and promised anything they asked. I eventually learned that our salesman had let them believe that I was coming to Cody as their in-house technician and, therefore, would be serving our other customers at the whim of Husky Oil. My resistance to this scheme aroused indignation in the manager of Husky’s data processing department and a resentment toward me. Typically, when our salesman came to Cody, he treated the data processing manager to dinner and a night or two of partying. The manager began to use these occasions to tell the salesman various tales about me being lazy, inefficient and uncooperative. The salesman then dutifully carried all of these tales back to my manager in Helena. I was diligently trying to handle the territory in what I thought was the most practical and generally beneficial manner, never suspecting the sabotage that was being done behind my back. I really don’t know how far this would have gone had it not been for Don Baker. Don was our typewriter salesman from Billings and his territory included mine

Excerpted from ‘Wool Trompers’  by  J.L.Fuller

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However, when we arrived at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, our celebrity status vanished. We were swallowed up in the crowd. The Signal School there was full to overflowing and nobody there had time to give us any special recognition even if they had been the least bit interested. Our only purpose for being on this Signal Corp post was to learn and we were taught electricity, electronics and radar. Occasionally, students and instructors would talk about television repairing. The instructors said that we would all be able to repair televisions when we had finished the school. Having never even seen television, this was a little hard for me to believe.
Shortly after arriving at Fort Monmouth I went into Long Branch and rented a small attic apartment. The whole thing was not as large as most living rooms but it was the best I could find that could fit into the budget of an Army private. Then, I went to a telephone and called Fay with the message she had been waiting for. The telephone connection was not good but that was pretty much to be expected at that time. Today we have come to expect long distance calls to be just as clear as those across town. But, in 1952, a good long distance connection was a pleasant surprise. Anyhow, Fay got the message and was soon boarding a Milwaukee train at Harlowton for the long ride to the east coast.
Living off post involved more expense than just the rent. We had to have a car and gasoline too. So, it was necessary for Fay to find some sort of employment. She had been a waitress at a café back in White Sulphur Springs, so now, she went downtown in Long Branch to see if her skills were needed there. She found an opening at a restaurant at $3.00 a day. She was reluctant to take the job at such low pay but felt much better about it when she discovered that her daily total of tips was $10 or more.
From New Jersey we went to Huntsville, Alabama where I had another six weeks of school at nearby Redstone Arsenal. This school was on the guidance systems of guided missiles. There was a missile near company barracks there but none of us ever saw it because it was inside a tight building and under 24 hour guard.
During these months in classrooms, some friendships developed that have endured throughout the succeeding years. One of these was Harlo Patton from Golden, Illinois. He and Maxine now live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Another was Gene Cooley from Mt. Etna, Iowa. He and Mary Lou still live on a farm there.
Upon completion of school at Redstone Arsenal, I became a Guided Missile Guidance Components Repairman and assigned to 96th Ordnance Company at White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. There, we not only got to see guided missiles, we launched them. These weren’t intercontinental missiles or even intermediate range but it was exciting just the same. These launches were for research and training purposes and the distance covered was usually less than 100 miles. White Sands was a good place to have duty. It was a small place where everybody had a job to do, so there was a minimum of military routine and harassment. However, this only lasted a few months before the 96th was made a support company for an artillery battalion and moved to Fort Bliss, Texas. That ended my career in guided missiles.
During the time I was at White Sands, Fay and I lived in Las Cruces. She got another job there as waitress and, just like in Long Branch, was making far more money than I was. After the company was moved to Fort Bliss, we moved to El Paso and lived there until my discharge in January, 1954.
By April of 1954 I was back at Compton Motors. This time Fay and I rented the little house that had previously been the school hose on Newlan Creek School. Main street was the only paved street in town and some of the other streets would get some pretty bad holes in them about the time the frost went out in the spring. This was especially a problem in the lower areas such as the vicinity of Compton Motors. More than once we had to pull a vehicle out of a mud hole in the middle of the street beside the building. One spring day, a truck that was passing through needed some welding done and, since the street was in pretty good condition, I asked the driver to pull his rig alongside so as to be near the shop. What I hadn’t anticipated was that he would try to turn around on the open area of land across the street. The truck did not break through but the sod sagged under the wheels so that they were always in a depression. After he stopped to go into reverse, his driving wheels would only spin on the wet sod and could not pull out of the depressions. I learned then that the truck was loaded with 13 tons of eggs. It eventually took the county road grader, with chains on all four driving wheels, to get the truck moving again. This all took place approximately where the bank parking lot is now.

A variety of fuels were used for heating around White Sulphur Springs at that time. Coal and wood were used primarily but fuel oil and propane were gaining in popularity. Our little house was equipped to burn fuel oil only and, sometimes during the winter, we were hard-pressed to come up with the money to pay for it even though we were getting it at a discount from my employer.
On the 6th of March in 1955, our daughter was born. There was no doctor in our little town at that time so we had to go to Townsend, 40 miles away. Fortunately, the weather and roads were not very bad at the time. The total cost for prenatal care, delivery and hospital was $200.
Also, in 1955 Compton sold the business, on contract, to Don Reed. The good relationship that Ray Compton and I had enjoyed did not carry over to the new owner. Reed and I disagreed on several things and my refusal to yield led to me getting fired in the middle of the summer. He gave me my final check and termination at five o’clock in the afternoon. By seven that evening I had a haying job with Tom Coburn. That is a good example of the speed of the grapevine news system in a small town. Within the two hour period, the news of my discharge got to Tom and he called me to ask me to come help him with haying. Within two days I had been offered, and accepted, a job as mechanic at the Ford dealer’s shop. As soon as the haying was done at Coburn’s ranch, I went to work for Don Russell who was then owner of the Ford garage. The following year, ownership of the business went to Chuck Sutton and I stayed on with him until April, 1957. When I started at the Ford garage, it was the first time I had ever worked on commission but I was eager to try it. Don and Chuck were both good fellows to work for and kept their mechanics supplied with work. There were three of us there; John Gratz, El Julian and myself. But there was plenty of work so that I made more money than I ever made before.

Excerpted from “Wool Trompers”  by J. L. Fuller

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Are you breaking the law every time you drive your vehicle? Are you one of the many who regard a posted speed limit as a challenge? Do you regard it as a target to exceed?


If you are one of those, I ask you, “Why do you feel compelled to flaunt the law whenever you get behind the wheel?”  If you tell me you are short on time and have to hurry you are fooling yourself, not me. Let’s say the posted limit is 60 mph. If you drive 65, and nobody gets in your way, at the end of an hour you will be five miles farther than if you had stayed within the limit. Only five lousy miles! After a whole hour of stress and frustration!  On the other hand, if you had started five minutes earlier and driven the speed limit, you would have made those five additional miles in the first five minutes.

If you are not using the excuse that you have to make up time then is it pure and simple rebellion against authority? Are you pushing the envelope to see how much you can get away with? Or, have you been doing it for so long that it has become a way of life?

Seeding SignWhatever the reason, why not ease up a little with that right foot and relieve some of the tension you are causing for yourself and the others who are sharing the road with you? Deep down in your boots, you know that, in your haste, you sometimes pass another car under unsafe conditions. Maybe you were not entirely sure that you had enough time or that the car ahead of you wasn’t going to swing out to pass. How many times have you cussed out another driver for getting in your way when, in honesty, you knew that this little sign applied to you?

I am asking you to make our streets and roads a safer place by backing off to one or two notches below the limit and encouraging others to do the same. I am sure you will find  driving is less stressful and will likely get some satisfaction from the knowledge that you are making the roads a little safer.

You may be asking, “Who is this guy to think that he has any credentials for preaching to me?”  The answer to the question is, I have been there. I have been as guilty as anyone.



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After a couple of years, Mom and Dad knew that the rented farm was not going to be profitable and began looking for something else. They found a little place near the little town of Trego that had little to offer in the way of improvements or conveniences but it had its own little lake and came at a price that they could handle. They had no electricity and no telephone or running water. It was like stepping back 25 years in time but they had plenty of experience in living with such conditions. It fulfilled Daddy’s long-time desire of carving a living from his own place. It was not a bountiful living but they were meeting the challenge in their typical heads-up style until health problems began to undermine Mama’s determination. She had to undergo surgery early in 1954 besides being dragged down by the mental depression that has been previously mentioned. With doctor and medical bills piling up, they came to the hard decision that this dream, too, would have to be abandoned. So, once again, they packed up and moved. This time to Libby. At Libby, they had ready access to medical facilities and Daddy got a job as watchman at a lumber mill where he had a steady and reliable income. Mama’s health and well-being continued on a general decline until her death just before Thanksgiving in 1957, on the 26th of November.
Daddy stayed on there alone until 1963 when he sold his Libby property to Ray Spady and bought a house and a few acres on Deep Creek, 11 miles east of Townsend. With income from Social Security, he lived there in reasonable comfort and relative contentment through his remaining years. He died there, at his home, of a heart attack on June 3, 1973 at the age of 72.
This writing is probably as near as Frank and Ida Fuller will come to having their names go down in history but, in their own way, they did their part. While raising a family, they pulled through some hard times without putting a burden on society or anyone else. They carried their own weight through the sunshine and the fog of life, left no debts unpaid and generally left things better than they found them. They set worthy principles for their children to live by and encouraged self-sufficiency.
As mentioned earlier, Bill lived in northwest Montna for a short time and then returned to Meagher County. It was here that he and Lois raised their two sons and two daughters. Bill carved out a living in the timber industry. In the late forties and early fifties, hundreds of railroad cars of pulpwood were shipped from here to Minnesota. There were some who got into the business on a fairly large scale, hiring fallers, skidders, loaders and truck drivers. While on the other end of the scale were the one-man operations. Bill sometimes hauled for one of the larger operations but, more often, was one of the one-man operators. This meant falling, limbing and bucking, all with hand saw and axe, and then loading the hundred-inch logs onto the truck by hand. But, then came the gasoline powered chain saw and logging was never the same again. At other times, he operated his own sawmill or cut and hauled logs to sell at larger mills. He usually supplemented his income by hunting and trapping during the winter. He sold furs from coyotes, muskrats, beaver and mink for extra income and had the meat from deer and elk to reduce the grocery bill.
I continued working at Compton Motors until January of 1953 when I was drafted into the Army. Nearly six years previously, I had tried to enlist in the Army, Navy and Air Force but none of them would even consider me because of my eyesight. Now, however, the United States was fighting in Korea and suddenly my poor vision was unimportant.
I rode the bus from White Sulphur Springs to Butte and, from there, I rode a passenger train of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad to Fort Lewis, Washington. There were about 200 of us recruits in the company and 20 of us were chosen for Ordnance and sent to Aberdeen proving Ground in Maryland for basic training. We rode the Empire Builder, one of Great Northern’s best passenger trains. We didn’t have sleeping berths either. We had compartments! These first class accommodations were far different from the box cars that our military men were transported in during World War II. I later learned that my mother and father were in Eureka when our train went through and they saw the train but, of course, they had no idea that I was on it.
Military basic training probably has changed very little and will not likely change much in the future so I will not dwell on that subject. It was fortunate for me that most of the cadre in my company were Korean veterans who had no fear of officers and who didn’t go along with the unnecessary harassment that is commonly part of basic training. Our field sergeant worried that he was not adequately preparing us to serve in combat. He really needn’t to have been so concerned since, being ordnance, none of us were likely to see combat. Besides, the fighting soon ended in Korea.
Near the end of basic training we were given a series of tests to help determine what our military occupations should be. Then, at the next session, we were given the opportunity to name our own preferences of available occupations. It was at this session that one fellow asked if there was any way to get into the guided missile program. I had never heard of guided missiles and had no idea what he was talking about. The reply he got was, “As far as you are concerned, there is no such thing,” and the subject was forgotten. Two weeks later, twenty-one of us were ordered to report to the testing center again. There, we were told that we had been chosen for training in the guided missile program. Ironically, the man who had inquired about it was not among us. Since only twenty were needed, one of us could decline and one man immediately did so.
One fine, sunny day, after we had completed basic training, a bus arrived to take the 20 of us to our new post. A band was there to play for us and someone made a speech about us being the cream of the crop. We were amazed at getting that kind of treatment from the Army but it illustrates the pride they had in the Guided Missile Program.

Image result for guided missile corporal

Excerpted from “Wool Trompers”  by J, L, Fuller

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In 1948 Ray had an addition built onto the north side of the building , making a nice two-stall repair shop and converted the old one-stall shop into a parts room. With ranching and pulpwood harvesting, the economy of the area was on a high roll. We were turning out a lot of work in the shop and I was proud of it. I recall one day when I was repairing a rear spring on a truck for George Eierman. I put the truck in gear and turned the engine with the starter, using the power of the starter to line up the rear axle to the spring center. George complimented me for using my head and Clifford Shearer agreed and added that I was too smart to be working in a place like that. I knew he was paying me a generous compliment but, just the same, I was somewhat offended because I thought it was a good place and worthy of mechanics with greater ability than mine.
There was a Chevrolet dealer in town and a Ford dealer, both having been in business for a number of years. So, along with Compton’s stock, there was a good supply of parts available right on main street of little old White Sulphur Springs. In addition to that, there were salesmen from parts stores in Lewistown, Livingston and Helena coming here on a weekly basis, so the town was well served.
With gasoline and tires available again, people were beginning to travel. We were seeing people coming back to visit who had been gone for years. Clint Walter’s son, Ben, came up from California with his family that summer, with the intention of returning to California after a short vacation. But, their Buick broke down and they spent most of the rest of the summer here before they could get parts and get the car repaired. During that time, I got acquainted with the family and, especially with his daughter, Fay.
On the fifth of September that year, brother Bill married Lois Spady at the old Cottonwood Inn near Lewistown, where our mother and father were still living.
Later that fall, Pete Ransier, Charlie McKee and I decided to go to California. Near the 20th of November I put my 1936 Ford on consignment at a used car lot in Lewistown. The three of us loaded up Pete’s 1936 Buick coupe and hit the road to California. Highway traveling was not as fast then as it is now but there was a simplicity and charm to it that is definitely missing today. Everything a person needed along the way could be found at the roadside. As you approached a town, billboards would inform you of every type of goods or service the town had to offer. So, you could make up your mind, before you got into town, which places you wished to patronize. And the highways took you down the main street of each town so you didn’t have to choose an exit, search for the business district, survey the businesses, make your choice and then try to find your way back to the highway. Between towns there were often roadside businesses such as cafes, refreshment stands, motels, bars, gas stations and even zoos. They all had signs along the highway to let you know you were approaching one and what it had to offer. So, if you decided you wanted a bite to eat or a few gallons of gas, you could just coast into the place, get what you wanted, and then roll on down the road. Scattered along the highways of California, were refreshment stands that were shaped and colored to resemble oranges and bearing the name, “Giant Orange.”

Image result for giant orange in California

Another trademark of the times was the Burma Shave advertising that was found here and there along the roadways all across the country. Each one of them was a series of approximately five small signs spaced far enough apart to allow time to read them without reducing speed. On each sign would be a few words and the entire group of signs told a clever or humorous rhyme.
Two long days got Charlie, Pete and myself to Modesto. We began looking for work. After a couple of weeks it was obvious that jobs were very scarce in that area so Pete and Charlie moved on to the oil fields farther to the south. They got jobs there right away and then, Pete joined the Navy a little later. I chose to stay around Modesto because that was where Fay was. It wasn’t long until my money was running out so I took board and room at the Ben Walter household near Waterford. In return, I did whatever work I could for them. About the same time, I applied for unemployment compensation for the first and only time in my life. I drew $52.00 a week from it for about 4 months. The only work I found that winter was a little bit of orchard pruning and overhauling a little Avery tractor. On the tenth of April in 1949, Fay and I got married in Waterford and set out right away for Montana.
We returned to Lweistown where I spent the summer working on the Blackford ranch again. After the fall harvest, I got a job as shipping clerk at the Sears Roebuck store in Lewistown. I had a hard time keeping up with the work on that job. During the Christmas season, the store manager was pushing me pretty hard because I kept getting behind and having to be helped. Early in the spring of 1950 I took a promotion to department manager in paint and farm supplies. It was then that I learned from the other employees that nobody had ever handled the shipping department alone before. There had always been two and sometimes three. I soon found the same situation in department management. Inventorying, ordering, stocking and selling was done single-handedly and the store manager was constantly pressing me to do more.
Pete Ransier returned from the Navy that winter. On the 18th of June, he and Esther were also married at the old Cottonwood Inn.
Over the fourth of July, Fay and I went to White Sulphur Springs and Ray Compton asked me to come back to work for him again. By this time I had become fairly disenchanted with the job in the Sears Roebuck store so it didn’t take much persuasion to get me to make the change. Within two weeks we were resettled in White Sulphur Springs.

When I returned to White Sulphur Springs this time there had been a big change at the Fuller homestead. Electricity had come to the lower Smith River Valley. Dale McDaniel had done the electrical wiring in the house so Grandma Phoebe and Uncle Ned now had electric lights and a radio. Grandma was not opposed to change the way many older folks are and she readily accepted the advantages of electricity. In fact, she was a remarkable lady in many ways. She knew how to make people feel at ease and could carry on a conversation with a child just as readily as with an adult. She did not believe in saying uncomplimentary things about people, especially relatives. If a family member displeased her, she would express her displeasure to them in private but usually declined to discuss it with anyone else.
The teams of horses and mules were rapidly disappearing from the ranches now and being replaced by tractors or other power equipment. Compton’s Shell Service became Compton Motors and we were kept busy assemboling machinery, preparing trucks and tractors for sale, and repairing customer’s equipment. School buses were running to Martinsdale and to Ringling and Ray secured the contract for the Ringling bus. This resulted in Wally and me being part-time bus drivers.
In the fall of this year of 1950 my mother and father left the Cottonwood Inn and moved to a little farm they had leased near Eureka. Pete and Esther also moved there after having spent the summer at Hanson’s Riverside Ranch where Pete had been employed. Bill and Lois had been to that area before, with Bill having gone there late in 1947, but they soon chose to return to Meagher county. Esther and Pete moved on to Rexford in 1951 where they built a house and lived until the town was taken by Lake Koocanusa. They bought some land on Pinkham Creek south of Eureka and settled there. Pete worked for more than 35 years in the logging industry, mostly as a crane operator loading and unloading logging trucks. On Pinkham Creek they also had some timber land and raised Christmas trees. Their four children, two boys and two girls, grew up there and in Rexford.

Excerpted from ‘WOOL TROMPERS by J. L. Fuller

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SAGE GROUSE, and then there were none

A few weeks ago a pair of Sage Grouse came walking down our driveway and fairly close to the house. Forty years ago there were fifteen Sage Grouse somewhere around every day but, each year, there were fewer until there were none. So I was pleased to see this pair but disappointed to see that there were no young ones with them. That has become typical since predators such as Fox, Coyotes, Eagles and especially Ravens have been getting the eggs and the young ones. When I had watched for a few minutes, some smaller ones started coming in from a different direction and I was getting excited about the Sage Grouse having young ones after all, until I realized that the smaller ones were Sharp-tailed Grouse.  Then I was entertained by the Sage Grouse being curious about the Sharp-tails and  moving closer to them. This made the Sharp-tails nervous and they would sidle away. This happened several times until the Sharp-tails went under the pole fence and came into the yard. I counted seventeen of them. Next, eleven of the Sharp-tails flew up onto our stone wall to observe the Sage Grouse from that advantage point. I got a pretty good picture of them on the wall and the next day I got a picture of one of the Sage Grouse on the pole fence. There were a few anxious days when only one Sage Grouse showed up but, eventually, there were two again so I am holding onto hope for their survival and the possibility of young ones next year.  Life is interesting when you live in the country.

Sage Grouse on our yard fence. 2015

Sage Grouse on our yard fence.  August 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse August 2015

Sharp-tailed Grouse August 2015

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Instead, I went mowing hay the rest of the summer. Jack Coleman had bought a new Farmall model H tractor with a mower and had gone into custom mowing. It was much faster than the horse-drawn mowers that most ranchers were using and, with the shortage of manpower caused by the war, he found a ready market for the service. He soon had more work than he could handle alone and took me on as helper. He was cutting hay on the Lingshire ranch when I started and we went from there to John Carlson’s and then over the mountains to Townsend. I mowed approximately a thousand acres that summer.
The following summer I worked for Art Buckingham through haying. With his sons in military service, Art was hard pressed to put together a haying crew. My mother cooked for him so that his wife, Mamie, could work in the hayfield. With Johnny Ellis, we made a fairly effective haying crew although far short of a normal crew. Uncle Ned was doing his haying single-handed and entirely with horse power. There were smiles in the hayfield when the news came of the surrender of Japan.
Daddy went to the grain fields near Lewistown that summer where the pay and working conditions were more to his liking than what he had been finding on the local ranches.
1946 brought some changes to the Fuller family. Daddy had decided that the grain fields were the place for him and took full time employment with a farmer southwest of Lewistown by the name of Mel Blackford. Early in the sping he and Mama moved there and made their home in the old Cottonwood Inn, not quite a half mile from the Blackford home. Their property west of White Sulphur Springs, they sold to Ely and Gladys Johnson who had lost their home on Butte Creek in a fire. Esther and I lived in the bunkhouse until school was out, and then Esther went to Lewistown too. I graduated from high school at that time and then worked briefly for a fledgling and failing lath mill before, I too, went to Lewistown. I worked the summer there, returning to White Sulphur Springs in September. I worked for  Blackford the summers of 1946, 1947 and 1949.
The  Blackford farm was a diversified farm, raising grain, hay and beef cattle. The only horse power on it was a saddle horse. All of the other work was done by engine-powered equipment. However, many of the things that are common today were not found even on an up-to-date farm such as that one. All of the farm equipment was towed rather than tractor mounted and was raised or lowered either by mechanical device or manually. One tractor, an  IHC Model WK-40, had to be started by hand cranking. With the ending of the war, new equipment was becoming available. Early in the second half of 1946 Mel bought a brand new  IHC Model WD-9 and also a cab to put on it. We felt like we had come to the ultimate in working conditions with that cab to shield us from the hot sun or the cold wind. No radio and no air conditioning but nobody else had any better. Very few had as good.
My mother had an ever-increasing problem with arthritis. By this time she was suffering considerable pain from it so, when cortisone was introduced as the ideal remedy, she was a willing customer in spite of the high cost. That it brought great relief is not to be disputed but, after several years of constant use, all under doctors’ supervision, the side effects began to appear. She had the hunch back, the skin blotches and, most devastatingly of all, the extreme mental depression. From then until her early death in 1957, she consulted several doctors about the symptoms. But, not one of them ever told us that these were side effects of prolonged cortisone use even though these effects had become well known and documented within the medical profession. The depression contributed significantly to her early death.
After returning to White Sulphur Springs in the fall of 1946, I took a job as rural mail carrier for the winter. Since this was very definitely part-time work, I also hauled hay and fed the dairy herd of Dean and Hazel Anderson. The Andersons supplied most of the milk for the community at that time, delivering milk and cream in bottles to the stores and homes. Since I have previously covered the mail service of those times, I will not elaborate on the mail carrying job except to say that it was not always easy because most of the roads on the route were the type that today would be classified as unimproved. There were few mail boxes on the route. Most of the patrons had a post beside the road with a hook of some sort (usually an old horseshoe) upon which to hang a cloth sack. Each patron also provided several sacks with their name marked on them with ink or pencil. The mail was carried to and from the post office in the sacks.
The mail route was wearing my car out and not making me much money so I gave up that job early in 1947. Feeding the dairy herd was only part-time too so I quit that and took a temporary full-time job with Oakley Jackson, doing some spring farming. Then, Bob Lyng needed help for lambing on  the  Doggett ranch so I went there until lambing was finished and returned to Lewistown in June.
The second world war was being inked in on the pages of history and our lives were getting back to normal. The boys who went to military service a few years back were now men coming home from the war. Brother Bill was one of those, being discharged in the last days of 1946.
By October of 1947, the harvesting was done at the Blackford ranch and most of the fall farming, so it was time to reduce the size of the crew. I returned, again, to White Sulphur Springs and immediately got a job with Ray Compton at his service station and shop on the west end of main street. The business also included a little seven unit motel except that, in those days, they were called a “tourist court” or “tourist cabins.” It had not proven very profitable for any of the previous owners but Ray and Mildred were developing it into a thriving business. When I began working there, the service station was about the size of a two-car garage and there were two gas pumps out in front. Half of the building was a small single-bay service and repair area and the other half was office, sales room and rest rooms. But, the tiny shop was kept busy with servicing and repairing automobiles and ranch equipment. Ray had also started selling McCormick Deering and International equipment as well as Pontiac cars.
The pump out front for regular gasoline was driven by an electric motor but the one for premium or “high test” gasoline was tall with a lever on the side and a glass cylinder on top. The operator would push and pull the lever back and forth to pump gasoline up into the glass cylinder until it was full. Then, he would take the hose down and run gasoline into the tank of the car. The sides of the cylinder were marked to indicate how much gas had gone into the car.
Also working there at that time was Wally Ringer and he and I became lifetime friends. In the dead of winter, we sometimes played card games to pass the time but, usually, all three of us were kept busy because Ray was an aggressive businessman and his enterprise was growing. During the summer, we worked out a system of overlapping shifts so that the business could open at seven in the morning and not close until ten at night. If I happened to have the evening shift on Saturday night, I would sometimes return to work after supper in my new Levi’s and white shirt. I would be ready to go out on the town as soon as I closed the shop. There usually wasn’t much to be done on Saturday evening except pump a little gas now and then so it worked out all right. But, I sure took a lot of kidding about my fancy attire.

Compton's Shell Service Duane McDaniel & Jim Fuller Jan.1948

Compton’s Shell Service
Duane McDaniel & Jim Fuller Jan.1948

Excerpted from WOOL TROMPERS  by J. L.Fuller

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Saturday night was the time for going to town. Everybody worked six days a week and most ranch employees were expected to put in seven days. But, Sunday was their only hope for a break. This made Saturday the majority choice and the business people in town directed their efforts towards accommodating that choice. Most of the stores stayed open until 9:00 on Saturday night and the two barbers, Shorty Thune  and Jack Nott, worked as late as was necessary to get all of their customers trimmed up and shaved. There were times in mid-summer when that took until midnight. About the only business not having special Saturday hours was the bank. The Pool Hall saloon stepped in and filled that need quite satisfactorily. They had a big safe against the wall opposite the bar and seemed to always have enough cash in there to handle all the paychecks that came in with the ranch hands. Saturday night was also the time for visiting. People strolled up and down main street or sat in their parked cars along the street, looking for friends and neighbors to visit with. It was customary for the men to put on clean clothes for Saturday night in town but, if they felt like really dressing up, they put on a new pair of Levi blue jeans and a white shirt. A fellow usually had one pair of Levi’s that he kept just for dress-up until the time came that they had to be washed. Then, if he could afford a new pair, the washed pair would be put to every day use. The Levi’s were always bought at least two inches too long so that the bottoms could be turned up to form a white cuff.
Saturday night was not much different from any other for the town’s police force because the entire force was on patrol every night. The entire police force was Ovie Woolverton in his striped bib overalls, strolling the streets, checking for unlocked doors on closed businesses and ringing the curfew at 10:00 p.m. A rope-pulled bell on a tower by the town hall served as a curfew and fire alarm. The curfew hour was signaled by a slow, steady tolling of the bell while a rapid clanging called volunteer firemen to service. From time to time, some youngster would pump up his courage enough to commit the daring crime of sneaking to the tower and giving the rope a few pulls. And then, run for his life.
When the logging job ended, I was temporarily unemployed but it was sheep shearing time in Montana. I was called on to help with that job at the same sheep ranch I had worked at before. In those years, the shearing was done early in July and, depending on the weather, was often going full force on the fourth of July. Sheep were on the decline in Meagher County by this time but were still the major type of livestock. Only a few years earlier, they had been almost the exclusive type and wool had been shipped out of this area by the trainload. Today there are so few sheep in the area that you have to know where to go in order to see some. Evidence of the large bands of the past can still be seen in places where the thousands of hooves frequently passing over a ridge eroded the thin topsoil, leaving the ridge barren and bald.
The shearing operation was similar to the tagging that was described earlier except that each shearer caught his own sheep and, of course, clipped all of the wool from the sheep. At shearing time, crews of shearers traveled from ranch to ranch doing the shearing on contract. In earlier times it was all done with hand-operated clippers. By 1944 they were using electric powered clippers. Behind the shearers there would be someone going from shearer to shearer, gathering up each fleece as it came off, rolling it into a neat bundle and tying it together with paper twine. Then, he would toss the tied fleece up onto the bagging platform. The bagging platform was about seven feet high and was right behind the shearing floor. My job on this crew was that of wool tromper on this platform. In the center of the platform was a hole about three feet in diameter and there was a steel hoop just slightly larger than the hole. Another person, working on the ground, would have a couple of wool sacks laid out with the tops soaking in water and would hand one of them to me whenever I was ready for it. The top of the burlap sack would be put through the hoop and about six inches of it folded back down over the outside of the hoop. Then, the sack was lowered through the hole, making sure that the turned down top went through the hole all around. Because of the hoop being slightly larger than the hole, the sack was securely locked in place and the wet top helped to keep it from slipping. The bottom of the sack would clear the ground by ten or twelve inches. The tromper would begin by dropping three fleeces across the bottom of the sack and then two on each side of that row. He would then drop down into the sack and, with one foot in the middle and one against the wall of the sack, begin rolling the wool down around the outside. From there, it was simply a matter of reaching up and pulling fleeces down into the sack and tromping them in around the edge until the sack was full. At that time, I had no idea that I was performing a task very similar to the one that had given the family its name many generations ago. When the bag was full, the helper below would place a pole under it and lift it up so the hoop could be removed and the top sewed shut. Then it would be lowered to the ground and rolled away and a new bag put in place.
It was hot working right under the shed roof and down inside the wool sack. While not strenuous work, it was tiring but the pay was good. The shearers turned out a thousand or more fleeces a day and the  tromper got two cents for each fleece. Twenty dollars for a day’s work doesn’t sound like much pay now but, at that time, seven dollars was considered good pay. Only the faster shearers made more than I did. The shearers invited me to join their crew, and the pay made it tempting, but the nomadic life didn’t appeal to me.
Instead, I went mowing hay the rest of the summer.

Excerpted from Wool Trompers by J. L. Fuller


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There were no longer enough children in the district to meet the requirements for operating a school and no prospects of any increase so the district was consolidated with the town district, #8. The Newlan Creek School was abandoned. The school property, including buildings, was all sold. Daddy bought the woodshed and the teacherage. Since he was going to move them on skids, the moving had to be postponed until winter when there was some snow on the ground so they would slide over the ground more easily. Conditions turned quite favorable in December with enough snow to make sliding good but not enough to be a hindrance. He moved the woodshed easily enough with his own tractor but he had to enlist the aid of Turner Hanson to skid the teacherage the mile from where it sat to our house. The two of them raised the log building with jacks and got a couple of logs under it for skids. I happened to be there one day when they were discussing whether or not their  two tractors would be enough power to pull the building. I had learned some basic physics in school by this time and was inclined to do a lot of thinking about such things. After thinking this situation over I concluded that there would be a certain amount that they could pull and, if the building weighed even a pound more than that, they wouldn’t be able to move it. When I mentioned this bit of wisdom, they were both amused and, Turner especially, had a good laugh over it. The next day, while I was in school, Turner brought his big Case tractor with cross-mounted engine and, by the time I arrived home, the two tractors were there with the teacherage in tow. Turner told me that they hadn’t been able to move it at first so they knocked off a piece of mortar that covered the cracks between the logs. He said that, after doing that, they drove right off with it. I knew, of course, that he was making fun of my theory but I wasn’t ready to admit to having any doubts about it, even though I was actually beginning to see that such things were probably not so clear-cut and exact as I had perceived them to be.

Daddy soon had it ready to use and the Spring Creek Schoolhouse had now become a bunkhouse for Bill and me. We moved into it early in 1944 and our bedroom in the house became Esther’s.

Teacherage being moved

Moving teacherage to Frank Fuller home 1943

Bill didn’t get much use of our bunkhouse because he was approaching his 20th birthday by that time and not spending much time at home. He was drafted into the army in 1944. He had been deferred from military service up to that time because he had been doing ranch work which was considered essential, especially by some of the ranchers on the draft board. In 1944, he turned from ranching to logging which drew the disapproval of a ranch-owning member of the draft board.
For me, the high point of 1944 was getting my first automobile. Uncle John Short had gotten a new truck and it was decided that I could buy his old 1923 Star. Star was made by Durant Motor Company which also produced Durant and Rugby cars as well as several others. Like everything John owned, this car had been well cared for and was in very good condition in spite of its age. Daddy and I went up to Uncle John’s to get it in February which was quite remarkable because, usually, one couldn’t be sure of getting in and out of his ranch in February with a team of horses. Before we left with the Star, I promised Aunt Ida that I would come back some day and give her a ride in the old car. I am sure she was not serious about it but, even so, I fully intended to do so and always felt a little guilty for not having done it before she died the following year. I have called it a car although it was actually in the style of a pickup with a wooden box and cloth top similar to early Model T Fords. It was quite fast for its time, being capable of 50 miles and hour on gravel roads and 55 on pavement. And those were the speeds at which I usually drove it!

Fuller, Jim  with first car 1944

Jim Fuller as proud owner of 1923 Star

Billy and a fellow by the name of Casper Harstad were logging for Forest Chapman on upper Newlan Creek and, shortly after school was out, I went up there to work for them a few weeks. Their logging operation was on a small scale, simple and tiring. Each of us took a double bit axe  into the woods with us. Casper  and Bill did the falling and bucking so they also took a two-man crosscut saw and a couple of wedges, a hammer, a file and bottle of kerosene. The bottle was a whiskey bottle with pine needles stuffed into the neck. This kept the kerosene from splashing out but also provided very nicely for sprinkling kerosene on the saw from time to time to lubricate it and clean the pitch from it. The reason a whiskey bottle was used was because, at that time, nearly all whiskey bottles were in a flattened shape for carrying in a pocket or saddle bag. While they were falling and bucking, my job was to cut the limbs off the trees they had fallen. When we had a supply of logs ready, Casper  would bring the team of horses and skid the logs down to the skidway by the road where Bill would load them onto the truck and haul them down to the mill. During the skidding operation my job was to move brush and sticks out of the way to provide a clear, safe path for the horses. The truck was the only motorized equipment involved in this logging operation.
One Saturday evening we were going to town and I was ready to go a few minutes before Bill but he said he would catch me before I got down to the sawmill. The road from our camp down to the mill was mostly only one vehicle wide and all dirt. Definitely, it was not a high speed road but we were both too young to recognize that. So, I took off in my Star at the fastest pace I could handle and Bill was soon trying to catch me in his 1934 Chevrolet. I got to the mill without him catching me all right and had opened the gate there when the Spady family came from the other direction in their big old Dodge sedan. After we had each gone through the gate, they proceeded on up the road and had just reached the top of the hill beyond the mill when Bill came charging at them at full throttle. When they appeared at the top of the hill, there was no chance for Bill to get stopped and no room on the road to get by them. So, he plunged the car off the lower side of the road and, with a death grip on the steering wheel and his right foot clamped onto the brake pedal, went bounding down the slope toward the creek. He managed to keep everything right side up and the only damage was a bent tie rod and a broken spring. And some shattered nerves!

Excerpted from “WOOL TROMPERS” by J. L. Fuller

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