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.”
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