A STORY OF PILGRIMS 24


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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About authorjim

I grew up in the country near a small Montana town, I have spent a lot of time in the outdoors, working, fishing, hunting and camping but have always been interested in mechanical and electrical things. Most of my life has been spent in the use, care and repair of things mechanical, electrical an electronic. After being retired for several years, I began writing and published my first novel at the age of 79. Now, at the age of 82, I have recently published my fourth noveland it is available from me or from the pulisher or book distributor.
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2 Responses to A STORY OF PILGRIMS 24

  1. Wow. Surprised they could do grafting back then.

    Like

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