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.
Excerpted from WOOL TROMPERS by J. L.Fuller