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