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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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In the spring of 1943 I was introduced to the sheep raising business. I took a job with a sheepman by the name of Sam Stoyanoff, a Bohemian who had a ranch down the valley near the mouth of Benton Gulch. I first went on a weekend before school was out to help with “tagging”. Tagging was done before lambing started and was quite simply a matter of clipping the long wool around the sheep’s eyes and from the area below the tail. The task was performed by two-man teams. One, man with a pair of power clippers, did the clipping while another man caught the sheep, one by one, and set them up in front of the man doing the clipping. In front of each team was a curtain made of large burlap bags that would otherwise be used to hold wool. Behind the curtain was a small pen about eight feet square. Beyond that was large pen full of sheep and some other men worked there, moving sheep from the large pen into the small pens so as to keep the small ones pretty well full at all times. I was the set-up man on one of the clipping teams and my work consisted of stepping through the curtain, catching a sheep by the nose, and pulling its head back and to the side while, at the same time, bearing down on its rear so as to make it sit. Then I would take it by the front legs and back out through the curtain with it. When the clipper finished “tagging” the sheep he was working on I would set the new one in front of him and step through the curtain for another. The pace was about two sheep a minute which didn’t seem to be too strenuous but, by the end of the day, I found that I was quite weary. It was an exercise that seemed to bring nearly every muscle into use. I had so many tired muscles that night that I didn’t rest comfortably. The next morning every move was painful. The first half hour of the second day was sheer agony but then the sore muscles began to recover and I finished the day in pretty good shape.
Sam asked me to come back and help during lambing and offered quite attractive wages, so I took the job. But, I soon found it to be discouraging. Sam’s operation was very sloppy and he had a disorder in his sheep that spring that caused approximately half of the lambs to die. We threw dead lambs over the corral fence every day and the pile grew steadily larger and more odorous. There maybe wasn’t time to dig a pit and bury them but they could at least have been hauled away from the corral and sheds. I wanted to leave the job but felt that I should at least stay until the lambing was done and perhaps conditions would improve. Lambing was nearly done when I drew the pay I had coming and discovered that I was getting paid exactly half of what I had been promised. That ended any reluctance I had about quitting the job.
For part of the summer I worked for Walter Buckingham, where my father was also working and for Walter’s brother, Fred. Walter and Fred combined their crews for haying that summer and, when we moved onto Fred’s fields, I was transferred to his payroll and remained with him the rest of the summer. Near the end of the summer, Fred sent me to help George Culler finish haying his fields along the foot of Tucker Mountain. George’s sister, Arta, was there helping him and the three of us were the entire crew. The war had taken Arta’s husband off to military service so she had come home to help George. It was on this job that I had my first experience in bullraking. The team of horses George had for the job were so well trained and experienced that they made my part of the job easy and enjoyable. In later years I bucked hay with a motor-powered bullrake and took pleasure in the work. But I can’t say that it ever equaled the satisfaction of pushing big loads of hay with a capable and eager team of horses.
The motor powered  bullrake was a machine that was unique to the northern Rocky Mountains area and was never produced by farm machinery manufacturers. They were all made either by individuals or in low production welding or fabricating shops. Most of them were made from old cars or pickups but a few larger, high production ranches had them built on brand new truck chassis. In any case, they were built on the chassis of a vehicle with the body completely removed. The rear axle was turned upside down to make it run backward and the operating and steering controls were modified for operation in the reverse direction. On the drive wheel end, a hay sweep was constructed and, with the steering now in the rear, it was a highly maneuverable machine, especially adapted to efficiently gathering hay from the fields and bringing it in to the  stacker.
Daddy got his first tractor in 1943 and the Newlan Creek School was permanently discontinued. Strangely enough, the two events were to converge into a single project. The tractor was a McCormick  Deering 15-30 that he bought from Walter Buckingham and later sold to Bill Mordan. In the meantime, he adjusted bearings in the engine and otherwise put it in top condition.

Fuller, Frank  1944

Frank Fuller with his 15-30 tractor in typical pose of filling his pipe with tobacco

Excerpted from WOOL TROMPERS by J. L. Fuller

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It was probably in 1942 that we got our first radio. Bill and I were both making money and decided to go together on a radio for Mama’s birthday, the seventh of July. We secretly sent an order to Montgomery Ward for a battery powered table model. Nearly all of our shopping at that time was done with mail order houses, primarily Montgomery Ward and Sears and Roebuck. It was very common to hear these two referred to as “Monkey Ward” and “Snort and Rareback.” Mail order shopping was popular because traveling by automobile was still slow and often difficult. Besides, mail service was excellent. We had mail delivery only three times a week in the summer and twice a week in the winter but we could put an order to Sears Roebuck in Minneapolis in the mail on Monday and nearly always receive the goods on Friday of the same week.
Passenger trains sped over an interconnecting network of rails that lay across the nation and included in most of these trains was a rolling post office. Inside each of these mail cars there were people sorting and date-stamping mail. At each station along the railroad, mail was dropped off for the local post office, as well as for nearby towns, and outgoing mail was picked up. Even at stations where the train didn’t stop, pickups and drops were made on the fly. Our rural mail carrier would pick up our mail and deliver it to the post office by early afternoon. There, it would be sorted and the outgoing mail put in a bag and taken to the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad depot in Ringling. The east-bound train would pick it up and deliver it to Minneapolis the next day. That efficiency can’t be matched today even with the mail going part of the way by airplane.
Anyway, the radio arrived before Mama’s birthday all right, but it wasn’t a secret any longer because the box the mailman set off had “Airline Radio” printed on all sides of it in letters big enough to be easily read from the house. From then on, we could listen to Fibber McGee and Molly, Amos ‘n Andy and The Grand Ole Opry but the radio was used very conservatively because the batteries were not rechargeable and were quite expensive.
That year and the next three, I spent most of the summer working in the hay fields. There had always been a demand for help during haying season but now many young men were going into military service so the demand was even greater. The summer of 1942 I worked for Fred Buckingham, a lifetime friend of the Fuller family. By this time, most people had an automobile of some sort but some were finding it hard to keep them running due to wartime shortage of gasoline and tires. Such was the case for Laurance Walter who was also working for Fred that summer. Laurance had a Hupmobile but he didn’t drive it very often. One tire had several repair boots in it and another had a long slit in the side that was laced up with wire. Inside of it was a smaller tire. Needless to say, it didn’t provide fast or reliable transportation but he would drive it to town once in awhile.
In 1943 I began driving to school. Previously, Bill had driven or, during the harder winter months, we had stayed in town during the week. It was necessary to do one or the other because our school district did not operate any buses. For the few who had to commute to school, a transportation allowance was provided that paid most of the cost of driving. Bill was out of school now so we applied for a special driver’s license for me to drive on until I became sixteen and could get a regular license. The car we drove to school was a 1927 Chevrolet sedan. Daddy had removed the four-cylinder engine, had it rebuilt and replaced it into the car so that the car was in top condition. It was a pretty good car for that time but most people today would probably find it impossible to deal with. For one thing, it did not have an electric starter which meant it had to be cranked by hand to start the engine. In warm weather this was not really very difficult but, as with so many other things, in cold winter weather, it became a challenge. Antifreeze was not yet in general use and was still too expensive for our family to use. So, during freezing weather, the radiator and engine had to be drained whenever the car was shut off for more than a short time. This called for some educated estimations on the part of the driver to determine how long it could stand without running or the water drained at various temperatures. Using water rather than antifreeze was an advantage, however, in starting the engine in extremely cold weather. The procedure was to take a bucket of hot water out to the garage and pour it into the radiator. This warmed the engine and made it start somewhat easier. Then you moved a lever near the steering wheel to retard the ignition so the engine didn’t kick back when you turned the crank. Another lever set the engine speed to keep it running until you could get from the front of the car to the controls inside. Then you pulled the choke knob (no automatic chokes then) out to the limit. Next, the crank had to be inserted in the front of the engine and the cranking began. When the engine fired and began to run, you had to make a mad dash for the controls to get the choke pushed in some before the engine choked too much and died. Sometimes you were lucky and everything worked the first time but usually you miscalculated the amount of choking needed or were too slow getting to the controls and had to crank several times before you got it running. One morning the end of my little finger caught the sheet metal that curved out in front to cover the end of the front spring. When I had the controls all adjusted and the engine running, I pulled my glove off to see if the finger was hurt. I found it turned straight up at the middle joint. I took hold of it and straightened it and it seemed to work okay. It was sore for awhile and the knuckle was large thereafter but, otherwise, it was fine. If the weather was freezing, the radiator had to be drained during the day while we were in school. After school I would crank it up and drive it down to the hot springs, about a block from school, and fill it up with warm water from the springs.

Image result for 1927 chevrolet

This is not the 1927 Chevrolet that I drove to school but is exactly like it. 

It was sometime during this winter of 1942/1943 that I installed a heater in the car. Daddy had gotten a couple of heaters somewhere and they were on a shelf in the garage where I would often see them. One day it occurred to me that I could probably install one of them in the 1927 Chevrolet so I bought some hose and fittings and went to work on it. I felt that I really should get permission from Daddy first but he was working away from home. Once I had the idea in my head, I couldn’t wait for him to come home so I could ask him. So, I got the heater installed and it worked fine. It certainly made driving to school in cold weather a lot more pleasant. In fact, it was so much nicer that, after Daddy used the car a time or two, he installed the other heater in the 1929 Chevrolet that we had.
The 1929 car was the “good” car or family car and I was not normally allowed to drive it. However, I do recall one occasion when, for some reason now forgotten, I drove it to town and back. I remember how impressed I was with the smooth, quiet power of the six cylinder engine.


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It was also somewhere in this period of time that Daddy got a “buzz” saw and we no longer had to saw firewood by hand. This was a circular saw with about a thirty inch blade. To power it he used a Model T Ford with the body stripped from it. The drive shaft was also removed and a belt pulley attachment that had been made for the purpose was bolted to the rear of the transmission. A belt from that pulley to the one on the saw carried Ford power to the saw. It usually took several attempts, however, to get the belt properly aligned and tightened so that it would stay on when the sawing got tough. Another problem was that there was no governor on the engine and, if the throttle was set open enough to saw through a big log, the engine would be screaming by the time the log could be moved up for the next cut. That was when I became governor. Since the body was gone, I had to sit on the gas tank and operate the throttle lever under the steering wheel. Big logs would pull the engine down until it would shake and shudder under the strain. Sometimes the combination of the shuddering Ford and wind in my eyes would make it so I could hardly see. I know we must have sometimes sawed wood on nice days but I, somehow, can’t bring one to mind.
Daddy kept this equipment and any other working and also the cars. Considering that he only had seven years of school, he was a well educated individual. He said that there was no reason for anyone who knew how to read to be ignorant and he lived as an example of that philosophy. He read anything he could find time for and was quite knowledgeable about things from scientific to political. His favorite authors were Jack London, Pearl Buck and John Steinbeck.
In 1939 I got my first full-time job. One evening in June, Bill Mordan stopped at our house to ask if I would come work for him through the summer. Bill had a little ranch on Smith River just above the mouth of Whitetail Creek. His wife, Bessie, had come to teach at the Whitetail School and then changed careers. Bill and Bessie lived in a little two-room house among a few Quaking Aspen trees near the river. He said he would pay me $20.00 a month plus room and board. A man’s pay for ranch work at that time was about $75.00 besides room and board. It sounded pretty good to me so my mother packed some clothes for me and I went with him.
Bill had two horses that you could say were general purpose horses. One was a mare that was a work horse that could also be ridden and the other, called Tanglefoot, was a gelding saddle horse that could also be used in harness. Since he only had the two, only one haying operation could be done at a time. I did the raking but Bill did the mowing, buckraking and stacking. When he was stacking he would put a load of hay on the stacker with the buckrake and then hook the stacker cable to the buckrake to throw the load up on the stack.
One day, when he was mowing near the house, he had some trouble with the mower and called to me to bring him some tools. When I took the tools to him, the two bum lambs followed me. He got upset about the lambs being there and proceeded to chase them away with the whip. This made the horses nervous and they started to go just as one of the lambs ran in front of the mower. The mower cut a hind foot off of the lamb. He was the one who left the mower in gear and the one who excited the horses but I was the one who got blamed because I let the lambs follow me. In fairness, I would have to say that most of the time he was easy going and reasonable. Late in the summer he had some grain ready to cut so we got the grain binder out and got it ready to go. The binder required three horses so Bill went and borrowed one. As soon as the field was started and everything working properly, he turned the team and binder over to me. Well, I can tell you, I was a pretty proud boy to be driving a three-horse team on a grain binder all by myself. As matter of fact, that was the only time in my life that I drove more than two horses.
It soon became obvious that Bill and Bessie didn’t always get along together and that Bessie resented having to cook for an extra person. One evening, while she was getting supper, and Bill and I were sitting around waiting, she began complaining about having to cook while we just sat around. She and Bill got into an argument over it that went from that subject to everything else they could think of. Bill had filled his pipe and was about to light it when the argument got going strong. He would strike a match and sit there holding it while he argued. The match would burn down to his fingers and he would drop it. He would strike another but, before he got a chance to puff on his pipe to light it, he would be arguing again. I found this rather amusing and began keeping a count of the matches he used. He finally got his pipe going with the fourteenth match. Another evening Bessie went out to the outhouse just as darkness was setting in. Next thing, she was yelling and screaming for Bill to come out. Without any appearance of hurrying, he got up and went out. He kept a fishing pole laying up in two of the Quaking Aspen trees and the end of the line had been hanging down so that the hook had caught her by the ear. I got blamed for that too even though Bill had been the last one to use the pole. But, I guess he got enough tongue lashing as it was without taking the blame for that too.
When the summer was over, I had nearly fifty dollars of my own money. I spent about twenty on new clothes for school and had all the money left to buy bicycle parts and 22 shells or go to the movies. Probably few people could understand the satisfaction and pride I felt from buying my own clothes with money I had earned.
I didn’t get a job the next summer, when I was twelve, but after that I worked every summer and many weekends. In the spring and summer there were nearly always jobs available on the ranches so, from then on, I usually had money to buy my clothing and for spending.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, there was special assembly called for the opening of the school day and superintendent, Paul Wylie, announced to us that the Japanese had bombed our fleet at Pearl Harbor the day before. Such an announcement would be unnecessary today but, at that time, many families, like ours, had no radio and no telephone. Many of us came to school that morning not knowing about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Few of us took the news with any great amount of concern because we were hearing adults declaring that the United States would subdue the Japanese, and the Germans too, in a matter of months. Well, in a matter of months we were realizing the seriousness of the situation. Young men in the valley were enlisting in the armed services and others were being drafted. And then came rationing. The government issued stamps to each person that entitled them to buy a certain quantity of each rationed item such as sugar, meat, gasoline and tires. We had to be a little conservative with sugar in order to get by on our allotment but we had no problem with gasoline or tires. We received a generous allotment of these because Daddy was in ranch work and we kids were driving to school.
Uncle John Short’s ranch was in a remote location and was often inaccessible during the winter so he always laid in nearly a year’s supply of staple groceries in the fall. The rationing rules did not allow for this type of situation when they instructed people to weigh the sugar in their pantry and, if they had more than 15 pounds, turn in the excess. Of course, 15 pounds would not have begun to carry John and his family through the winter but he insisted that he obeyed the instructions because they didn’t say anything about weighing the sugar in the storehouse.


Excerpted from ‘WOOL TROMPERS’ by J. L. Fuller

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In 1936 Daddy contracted with Art Buckingham to fence a section of land for him on the headwaters of Butte Creek and Copper Creek. He needed to get started on this job as early in the spring as possible which meant getting up there before school was out. I had missed quite a bit of school that previous fall when my leg was broken but had caught up by spring. Consequently, the teacher agreed to let me out early and provided my mother with a lesson plan to follow for home instruction. I believe Bill stayed with Grandma Fuller and Ned for the balance of the school term. Esther, of course, was not in school yet. Daddy borrowed a sheep herder’s wagon and towed it up there with the Gardner car. I guess the sheep wagon was probably the second form or mobile home, following the prairie schooner. It was also similar to the prairie schooner, but smaller. Wooden bows and a canvas cover were put on a wagon box and a bed, table and storage cupboards were built inside. With a camp stove set up in the front, next to the door, it became a home for a sheep herder out on the summer range. When the sheep had to be moved to a new pasture a team was hitched to the wagon and driven to the new location. This one was a real up-to-date model with rubber tires.
The Gardner was a deluxe touring sedan that was, by this time, old enough that my parents could afford to own it. It was as powerful as a truck with a four-cylinder engine that had pistons about the size of a two-pound coffee can. It readily towed that sheep wagon through the hills, where there was no road, to Copper Creek. We set up camp for the summer there, probably about a mile south of John and Ida short’s home. The Gardner had a steering wheel that folded and a front seat that the back could be laid flat to make the car into a bed. Esther and I slept there the rest of the summer. We usually ate at the table outdoors but inside a tent if the weather was bad, it was like camping out all summer. What more could a boy ask?
As soon as our camp was set up and the job planned out, Daddy went to town to hire an assistant. In those times, a town’s main street was the employment office. Men seeking work would idle away their time along the street with their handbag and/or bedroll close by, ready to pick up and go in a moment, if offered a job. Daddy found a young man of 19 from Iowa who was willing and able to work. Dale King was his name and he spent the summer with us, pretty much like a member of the family. He and Daddy cut down trees, cut them into fence post lengths, and peeled off the bark. Then they dug holes along the fence line, set the posts in the holes and then strung and stretched the barbed wire. I spent a considerable amount of time with them and developed a sincere friendship with Dale. Many times since then I have thought of him and wondered what his life has been like.
The following summer Uncle Ned and Art Buckingham did their haying together. With Art’s boys, they made up a good haying crew. One day while Ned was mowing, his team ran away. This was something that happened from time to time when working with horses but it was especially dangerous during haying or threshing because of all the other teams and machinery in the field. This time no other teams got involved but, during the runaway, Ned got bounced off the seat of the mower and his leg went down through the machine. His foot caught the ground and his leg was broken. He first was taken to the hospital for the bone to be set and a cast put on his leg. From there he was moved to our house where a bed was set up for him in the living room. Art and Mamie Buckingham loaned some bedding for the bed which was an act of neighborliness that several people would regret. Someone at the Buckingham ranch had used the same bedding when they had Scarlet Fever and the bedding had not been disinfected. The result was that Ned soon had a broken leg and Scarlet Fever. It wasn’t long after school started that all three of us kids came down with the disease. Ned didn’t seem to have any lingering effects from it but we kids all wore glasses the rest of our lives because of it.
As it turned out, this was only the beginning of Ned’s troubles because the bone did not heal. He spent the next two years on crutches or hobbling on a cane. It seemed, at the time, that nothing could be done for it and we had no idea how long he would be crippled. During this time others pitched in to keep the work done on Uncle Ned’s ranch. One winter, Daddy wasn’t working, so he fed the cattle and took care of the place. For a time, while Grandma Phoebe was sick, we all stayed there. One day when Daddy was crossing a ditch with a large load of hay, the double tree on the sled broke and, before he could stop the horses, he was slammed against the front of the hayrack, breaking two ribs.
Ned eventually heard of a bone specialist and went to him. This doctor did what he could but the break still didn’t heal so he consulted another specialist by the name of Vasco. Dr. Vasco took a sliver of bone from another part of Ned’s leg and grafted it across the break, fastening it in place with tiny screws. This procedure was successful and, in 1940, Ned began walking again.
That runaway in 1937 was one of four times that Uncle Ned felt he came close to an early death but, oddly enough, this was the only one of his close calls in which he was actually injured. The first incident was when he was about nine years old. He had gone with his parents to a dance at the Anthony’s. Anthonys, at that time, had the Riverside Ranch that was later owned by Lon and Bertha Hanson and is presently owned by their son, Elmer Hanson. At the dance, Ned and three other boys were playing in a bedroom upstairs and got into a pillow fight. Ned was sitting in the open window when he was solidly hit by a flying pillow that tumbled him right out the window. It was a long way to the ground and he was sure he wouldn’t survive the impact at the bottom. To everybody’s surprise, he got nothing more than a few bruises. Another time, he and Frank went with their father to get a load of sand from a sandpit up on the mountain near the Clint Walter ranch. On their way home with the wagon load of sand they would be passing a spring where watercress grew. When they came to the spring, Ned and Frank jumped off the wagon to get some watercress. The heavily loaded wagon was moving slowly so they had no trouble catching up again but, when Ned was climbing back onto the wagon, he slipped and fell in front of the rear wheel. The wheel of that loaded wagon ran right over his middle. His amazing luck stayed with him and he didn’t have so much as a broken bone. Then, a number of years after the runaway, he was crossing through a part of the Holmstrom ranch while on his way home with a wagon load of firewood. His route took him near a sheepherder’s camp and, as he approached the camp, the herder was standing by his wagon with a rifle in his hand. Ned stopped to talk to him and the herder said, “I almost shot you when you came over the hill there. I thought you were one of them and you were coming after me.” The herder had, just that day, returned to his job after being on a long drunk and was suffering from hallucinations which are commonly call “the snakes.” It was later learned that the herder went to the bunkhouse over at the ranch after Ned left and shot himself.
I don’t remember, anymore, the exact year but somewhere in those years, I had my first look at a city. In the summer my mother suffered terribly with hay fever and each year it got a little worse. It got to the point that she had difficulty breathing and her eyes would get so swollen and blurred that she could barely see. The local doctor couldn’t help her so she went to Butte to an allergy specialist. He administered a series of tests to find out what was causing her allergy and prescribed a serum to desensitize her system. She took me with her to Butte.
During the few days we were there I saw some things I had never seen before. One thing that impressed me at the time and is not seen anymore, was the system of handling money in a department store. There were no cash registers and the clerks did not make change. The cashier sat in a glass-enclosed office on a balcony overlooking the sales floor. From that office, there was line of fine cable stretched to each clerk’s station. A small canister hung from each line on a set of little wheels that let it glide back and forth on the line without slipping off. Paper bags were not used then, and of course, there were no plastic bags. Each purchase was wrapped in paper and tied with string. While the clerk was wrapping the items she would send the money up to the cashier. She would put the sales slip and the money into the canister and then, by pulling on a handle, send the canister scooting up the wire to the cashier. At the same time, she would call out her number and the denomination of the bill to be changed, if correct change had not been given. Even after all these years, I can hear, in my mind, the clerk calling out, “Number sixteen – ten.” The cashier then put the change and the sales slip that had been stamped “paid” into the canister and released it to glide back down to station sixteen.
Some other stores, at that time, had a similar system except that they had a network of tubes and the canisters fit inside the tubes something like a bullet in a rifle barrel. The clerk would insert the canister at her station and close a trap door over it. Air pressure in the tube would then whisk the canister away to some mysterious office hidden away somewhere in the building. Just when it seemed that you were never going to see any of your money again, there would be a whoosh and a plop. The canister would drop into a receptacle at the clerk’s station.

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

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I do not know where this story originated.  I saw it in Western Ag Reporter, a weekly newspaper out of Billings, Montana.

Over the phone, Jack’s mother told him, “Mr. Belser died last night. the funeral is Wednesday.”

Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood days. “Jack, did you hear me?” his mother asked.

“Yes, I heard you, Mom. It’s been so long since I thought of him. I’m sorry but I honestly thought he died years ago,” Jack said.

“Well, he didn’t forget you. Every time I saw him, he’d ask how you were doing. He’d reminisce about the many days you spent over “his side of the fence’ as he put it,” his Mom told him.

“I loved that old house he lived in,” Jack said.

“You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man’s influence in your life,” she said.

“He’s the one who taught me carpentry,” Jack said, “I wouldn’t be in this business if it weren’t for him. He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important. Mom, I’ll be there for the funeral,” he said. As busy as he was, he kept his word. Jack caught the next flight to his hometown. Mr. Belser’s funeral was small and uneventful. He had no children of his own and most of his relatives had passed away. The night before he had to return home, Jack and his mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time. standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment. It was like crossing over into another dimension, a leap through space and time. The house was exactly as he remembered. Every step held memories. Every picture, every piece of furniture. Jack stopped suddenly. “What’s wrong, Jack?” his mom asked.

“The box is gone,” he said.

“What box?” his mom asked.

“There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk. I must have asked him 1,000 times what was inside. All he’d ever tell me was ‘the thing I value most,” Jack said. It was gone. Everything about the house was exactly how Jack had remembered it, except for the the box. He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it. “Now I will never know what was so valuable to him,” Jack said.

It had been about two weeks since Mr. Belser died. Returning home from work one day, Jack discovered a note in his mailbox: “Signature required on a package. No one at home. Please stop by the main Post Office,” the note read. Early the next day, Jack retrieved the package. The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed years ago. The handwriting was difficult to read but the return address caught his attention. “Mr. Harold Belser,” it read. Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package. There, inside was the gold box and an envelope. Jack’s hands shook as he read the note inside: “Upon my death please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett. It’s the thing I valued most in my life.” A small key was taped to the letter. His heart racing, and tears filling his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box. There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch. Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover. Inside he found these words engraved, “Jack, thanks for your time! Harold Belser.”

“The thing he valued most was my time,” thought Jack as he held the watch for a few minutes. Then he called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days.

“Why?” Janet, his assistant, asked.

“I need some time to spend with a friend,” he said, “Oh, by the way, Janet, thanks for your time!”

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While there may never have been a better time to be a child, it was not so easy for a mother and housekeeper. I can recall my mother scrubbing clothes on a washboard in a tub. But even before she could do that, the kitchen range had to be fired up and water carried in. Since the well water was quite hard and the soaps of that time worked poorly in hard water, she usually kept tubs under the eaves of the house to catch rainwater for laundry. In winter we would often bring in snow to melt in the wash boiler on the stove in order to have soft water. Then would come the hours of scrubbing in the hot water and strong soap. The water was wrung out of the clothes by taking them in both hands and twisting. After they were washed, they were carried out and hung on the clothesline to dry. Laundry was an all day job. When I was still quite young, Daddy bought a washing machine that was powered by a gasoline engine. It was an unusual type of machine and I have never seen another like it. It was called ABC which stood for Altofer Brothers Company. The machine had an oblong shaped tub with a rounded bottom. Suspended horizontally inside the tub was a perforated cylinder with a trap door on one side. The tub was filled with soapy water and the clothes put into the cylinder. The engine then rotated the cylinder back and forth in the water. I think that was about the same time that Mama got a hand-cranked wringer that clamped onto the side of a laundry tub. Some years later this machine was replaced with another engine powered one of conventional design with a rotating agitator in the center of the tub and a power wringer right on the machine. At approximately the same time, laundry detergents came along and made it possible to get clothes clean in hard water. So, little by little, things got better for her but her children were grown up and married before she ever had running water.
Permanent press and wash-and-wear clothing was not even heard of at that time so most of it had to be ironed, without electricity. Earlier, I mentioned hot sad irons wrapped in cloth and placed at our feet in the cold bed. That was the secondary purpose of these old irons. Ironing clothes is what they were made for. They were something like a flat bottom boat about six inches long and made of cast iron. There was a handle that could be detached from one iron and attached to another, usually by just lifting up on a knob. On ironing day it was once again a time for a hot fire in the kitchen range. Four or five sad irons sat on the stove getting hot while Mama ironed clothes with another. When the one she was using got too cool to do the job, she would set it on the stove and transfer the handle to a hot one to continue ironing. Her first break in that chore came a few years later when she got a gasoline iron. This was quite similar in appearance to a modern electric iron except for a small fuel tank mounted at the back of the handle. The tank held about a half pint of white gasoline. The iron was designed so that the gasoline fueled a fire across the sole of the iron, providing a constant, controllable heat. Now, it was no longer necessary to have a roaring fire in the range on ironing day.
Another job that seemed never-ending and is not done anymore was darning socks. In those days before polyester or nylon, socks were made of cotton or wool only and perpetually had holes worn in the heels and toes. The holes had to be repaired by re-weaving the area with needle and thread. Mama spent many evenings working on this chore. But, other than darning, she had to do very little hand sewing. She had a sewing machine that was powered by rocking a treadle back and forth with one’s foot. This machine served her well for as long as she had need for one.
We lived beside a country road but there was not much traffic on it. In the earlier years there, what traffic we saw was just as likely to be horses as automobiles. Whenever a car did go by, we all stopped what we were doing to watch it go by. Often, if one of us heard a car coming, we would announce, “car coming.” So, perhaps you can imagine the excitement around our house when airplanes began appearing in the valley. Whenever someone heard a plane, he would shout, “airplane”, at the top of his lungs, and everyone would rush out to look. It was always an undeclared contest to be the first one to see the plane and then, we would all stand and watch it until it was out of sight.
As long as we lived there, the road was unpaved. In the early thirties, it was rebuilt and graveled under a W.P.A. project. This construction was all done with horse-drawn equipment. In those times, there was very little attempt made at snow removal on the county roads and I remember winters when the cars drove out through the adjoining fields as much as on the road, because the road got so badly drifted in some places. Then, in the summer when it was dry, if there was a breeze from a southerly direction, we would be engulfed in a suffocating cloud of dust every time a car went by. This got worse with the passing years as cars got bigger, faster, and more numerous.
I think that gives a fair representation of the conditions and our style of living during those times so I will now return to 1936 and continue the chronological progression of the family.


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

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