09 Dec Ranch History Podcast: Episode 2
Episode 2: Jim Wood’s Childhood
Grandpa (Jim Wood) takes up his regular place by the river rock fireplace in the Great Room of the Log Lodge at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch. In his faded denim jeans, plaid button-up shirt and suspenders, he is a reassuringly predictable figure. Grandpa has worn that same combination of clothes for as long as I can remember. If the fire begins to die down a bit he is up adding wood to the fire. Opening the heavy iron doors of the fireplace that he himself made; twisting hot iron into decorative curls with hand-shaped arrowheads, hammering the cold iron to create a dimpled effect; he throws wood onto the fire and pokes at it with a fire poker, that he also made. When he is satisfied with the crackling warm glow, he settles back onto his cushion parked cozily close to the fire. “Well Grandpa, are you ready?”, I ask. He replies with a somewhat sheepish but eager, “I guess so”.
Danielle: 00:03 Hello, everyone, and welcome to this Episode 2 of our Ranch Histories podcast. Episode 1 was kind of an introduction to what we’re going to be talking about, who we’re going to be talking to. I’m excited this morning to introduce to you my grandpa, Jim Wood. He is going to be the first of two people, my grandpa and my grandma, that I will be interviewing here on this podcast. So I hope that you enjoy all that he has to talk about, all of his stories, his history, and I look forward to sharing this with you.
Danielle: 00:35 Grandpa, so you were born in 1929 in Topeka, Kansas, and then your family moved to Colorado. Do you have any memories of your time, your childhood in Colorado?
Grandpa: 00:47 Well, we went to a one-room school a great deal like the Gold Creek school, quite similar. There’s a few things about that school. Marbles was a big then, back in those days, playing marbles for us kids. The privy was outside just like up here at Gold Creek. We had to walk to school, but it was only about not much over a half a mile. Our teacher’s name was Miss Rivu [Rivu 00:01:29].
Danielle: 01:30 Wow, I’m impressed you remembered that. I don’t remember my teachers’ names sometimes.
Grandpa: 01:34 That area was kind of an Italian settlement. She was a local girl there in Carbondale. She was nice enough to me. I never had any trouble with anybody there. There was a teacherage at the schoolhouse just like up here at Gold Creek except that the teacherage back there at Carbondale was a little building out the side of the schoolhouse instead of up here-
Danielle: 02:05 You said a teacherage?
Grandpa: 02:08 Teacherage.
Danielle: 02:09 What’s that?
Grandpa: 02:11 A teacherage is where the teacher lives during the week rather than having to drive back and forth. And you want to remember, in those days, traveling was a problem.
Danielle: 02:23 Right.
Grandpa: 02:23 Because of the automobiles and the roads, conditions, and everything.
Danielle: 02:31 So you said you lived a half a mile from the schoolhouse. Compared to other kids, was that kind of close to the schoolhouse, or was that quite a ways?
Grandpa: 02:39 Oh, that was about the same, equal distance. There was some girls that lived closer, maybe, to the schoolhouse that I can remember. They weren’t very fond of me, and I was [inaudible 00:02:58] had a attitude.
Danielle: 03:02 So what was the name of the town again that you lived at in Colorado?
Grandpa: 03:05 Carbondale.
Danielle: 03:06 Do you have any memories of the town itself?
Grandpa: 03:09 Yeah, I do. I do. Saturday was our go-to-town day. There was a train station there at the edge of town, and that was always our first stop. The folks unloaded their cream at this cream station, and they always had newspaper, and the comics of that newspaper was a big deal to me. That was my first thing. There was two or three stores in town. I can remember the name of one of them was [Witchy’s 00:03:53], Witchy’s Store. And, of course, that was all, like I said, that was an Italian settlement, and I suppose that name was Italian. I can remember one time at Witchy’s Store, I was in the store, and I don’t know what happened, but the matches in those days was the stick matches with a red head that you struck on anything. It’d strike on anything that it touched, and somebody knocked that box of matches off the wall, and that whole box caught fire.
Danielle: 04:33 Oh, jeez.
Grandpa: 04:35 That was a little exciting there for a while. Must’ve been because I can remember. It impressed me. There was something like a dime store, and us kids usually got a dime to buy something with. We’d go in there and buy a candy bar. One of the fields that Dad was farming was up, oh, a quarter of a mile from the house and up on a rise. And Bob was up there working that field with a team of horses, harrowing or something, and a storm came up. Either Dad or Mom sent me up there to tell Bob to come back to the house, and I got up there just in time for that storm to hit. And lightning then was cracking everywhere, and I was hit by lightning to some extent. It felt like somebody hit me in the head with a club. It didn’t knock me down or anything, but it sure made an impact on my head. I don’t want what, if it was an electrical current or the noise of the thunder, but I really got whacked.
Danielle: 06:10 In Colorado, your parents leased a farm, right?
Grandpa: 06:17 Yes. Yes, and the owners of the farm lived in Denver. They had no interest at all in improving the farm in any way. Dad was, I think about 80 acres, Dad was leasing, and he was raising probably 20 acres of potatoes and some grain, wheat and barley. He also had a bunch of sows that he raised pigs with, and those pigs were raised up to about 120 pounds and then sold. They were what they called serum hogs. They’d kill them hogs, pigs, and take their blood and was making some kind of vaccination serum out of it.
Danielle: 07:13 Really?
Grandpa: 07:13 Yeah. That’s all I know about it.
Danielle: 07:15 Huh. That’s interesting. Remind me of your parents’ names again.
Grandpa: 07:22 Well, Mom’s name was Gladys, and Dad’s name was Riley.
Danielle: 07:27 Okay. So they decided to move somewhere that they could own their own property.
Grandpa: 07:34 Yes.
Danielle: 07:34 Do you know what the reasoning for that was?
Grandpa: 07:40 What the what was?
Danielle: 07:41 Why did they decide to do that?
Grandpa: 07:43 The circumstances of renting there in Colorado was very marginable for them. I have no idea what the rent cost them or anything, but the landlords wouldn’t put any improvements on the place like buildings of any kind. Dad cobbled together whatever he needed, sheds that he needed. He built a potato cellar that I can remember, and that was all at his own expense. And when he built that potato cellar, he knew that they weren’t going to be there very many years. So he didn’t build it with the intentions of it lasting very long. It had a dirt roof on it, a pole building with a dirt roof. That’s basically what it amounted to, dug into a bank because of course it had to be frost-free to keep the potatoes from freezing. And then the culled potatoes, he fed to them hogs. They had a few milk cows, but I don’t know how many. They probably milked 8 or 10.
Grandpa: 09:00 That’s where the cream came from, and the skimmed milk then was fed to the hogs. Also, Dad… There was some sheep growers in the area, and them sheep herds always had some bum lambs. A bum lamb was one that its mother wouldn’t take. Like maybe the old ewe had twins, and she only would claim one of them. So that left that other one as a bummer, and they would raise, oh, 10 or 15 of those bum lambs every year. Part of that skim milk went to them, help raise them.
Grandpa: 09:51 Water was a problem there on that place. There was no spring, no source of water on the place at all. But there was an irrigation ditch that did allow for some field irrigation, and there was a [inaudible 00:10:11] cistern, which was a big storage tank dug in the ground that filled that cistern when they could with that irrigation water. That was our source of water.
Grandpa: 10:26 I can remember one year, after sorting them potatoes and sacking them and tying the sacks… When I say tying the sacks, you have to whip the top of that sack with a sack needle in a certain way, which was labor-intensive. He hauled them to the railroad, which was down by Carbondale, loaded them on a boxcar for a $1.10 100 pounds. That was pretty good money at that time. Also, I can remember in Colorado, just like that getting hit with lightning, hailstorms. Hailstorms was something you had to really expect because it happened. I can remember one year, his grain was ready to cut. I don’t know. He probably had 10 or 12 acres of it, I suppose, or maybe more. And one of those hailstorms come around, and he lost every damn bit of it. That grain was just flat on the ground, just beat into the ground.
Danielle: 11:56 And you can’t do anything with that grain once it’s laying on the ground?
Grandpa: 12:00 No.
Danielle: 12:03 Why or how did your parents come to choose Idaho as their destination?
Grandpa: 12:08 Well, they were apparently getting a newspaper or magazines or something, and they kept seeing these ads put out by Humbird Lumber Company of cheap cutover land in Idaho. That was just what they was looking for, cheap land. So the summer of 1939, Dad and Mom, we had an old Oldsmobile touring car, a four-door, two-seated car. They came to Sandpoint to look at this cheap cutover land that Humbird was advertising. The land salesman, I can remember his name. It was Tom [Greer 00:13:09].
Grandpa: 13:10 They were here about seven days, and Greer mostly took them south of town, down in that gravelly jack pine country. Dad and Mom both were really disappointed in what they found, and they were ready to come back to Colorado, come home. And Greer said, “Give me one more day. I’ve got one more place I want to show you.” And he brought them up here on this place, showed them the meadow out here, two cricks running through it, a big, flat meadow. Of course, at that time, this meadow was only about half the clearing, cleared about half of what it is now. There was, I don’t know, 20 or 30 acres of that meadow was farmable, but the potential was there for what it is now. And that was just what they were looking for.
Danielle: 14:19 So it’d be safe to say that the ranch here was kind of the opposite of the farm they had in Colorado in some respects.
Grandpa: 14:31 Yes, yes, yes. Yes.
Danielle: 14:31 It kind of had everything that they were missing.
Grandpa: 14:35 That’s right. That’s right. So, while they were here that summer of ’39, they got acquainted with Bart [Engel 00:14:45] up here on Bart’s place just up the road here. And Tracy, which was Bart’s wife, took them huckleberrying over on Bart’s hill, and they had the experience of seeing the huckleberries.
Danielle: 15:05 Which is what we now call Huckleberry Ridge.
Grandpa: 15:08 Yes. Yes. And so Dad made a handshake deal with Greer that they would buy the place and come back, move here in 1940. This handshake deal was an agreement that they would make a down payment on the land, and the payment for the land, it was a half section here. The original purchase was a half section, which was 320 acres. And they would make a down payment when they came, when they moved here.
Danielle: 16:01 Do you know what they paid for the property?
Grandpa: 16:04 … Yes, $6,500.
Danielle: 16:07 Total?
Grandpa: 16:07 Total, yes. Yes.
Danielle: 16:10 That was a lot of money then.
Grandpa: 16:11 Yes, it was. Yeah, it was.
Danielle: 16:15 In February of 1940, your family left Colorado and headed for the property in North Idaho that your parents had made a handshake agreement on the summer before.
Grandpa: 16:29 Yes, yes.
Danielle: 16:30 So you were 10 at the time, right?
Grandpa: 16:32 Yes.
Danielle: 16:34 What was that journey like for you?
Grandpa: 16:35 Well, I can’t remember too much about it. It would’ve been a long, boring trip all right. My sister, Virginia, and I rode in the backseat with a mutt dog. I can remember that dog had a… Something was wrong physically with it, and it slobbered. And that damn dog was slobbering all over both of us. The trip was uneventful. We didn’t have any breakdowns or anything, but it did take us nine days.
Danielle: 17:16 Nine days, and what did you travel in?
Grandpa: 17:19 Well, this Oldsmobile touring car was pulling a two-wheel trailer. That two-wheel trailer was loaded with everything we could get in there, and Dad had a Chevy flatbed truck, about a 12-foot bed. And it was loaded with everything they could get on it, including about 500 quarts of fruit and vegetables that Mom had canned in Colorado.
Danielle: 17:52 Holy moly. Did that take up the whole truck?
Grandpa: 17:56 Well, it took up a lot of it. And then, Dad and Mom had bought a new cookstove a year or two prior to moving out here. That cookstove was Mom’s pride and joy, and it was in that truck, too.
Danielle: 18:21 Was there a lot of selling-off of stuff that you had to get rid of before you could make the move, or did you take most of your things with you?
Grandpa: 18:32 We had a farm sale, Dad did, had a farm sale in Colorado and sold the horses. He had at least three workhorses, and there might’ve been four, and a few cows and some machinery and whatever else they had accumulated that they could part with. When they left Colorado headed for North Idaho, they had $6,500. When they got to North Idaho, down here at Colburn Culver Road, or [inaudible 00:19:17] Road, whatsit called, at the end of it, at the south end of it, they stopped there and got in that car and went to Sandpoint and gave Greer $500 as a down payment. And that left them $150 to get by until next spring to when they could be doing something. And that $150 that I said they ended up with after making the land payment, I don’t know how much of that they had already spent buying gas.
Danielle: 19:59 Right.
Grandpa: 20:01 So I don’t know what they had to live on, and I don’t know how they managed.
Danielle: 20:06 But you lived off of your mom’s canned goods for the rest of that winter mostly, right?
Grandpa: 20:11 I’m sure that’s what we lived on. Yep, and remember this was in February when we come here. The roads were barely plowed. We had to chain up, of course, car and truck both to get up the hill here, get up [Gold Brick 00:20:31] Hill. When we pulled into the house, that road into the house was kind of [inaudible 00:20:42], and that truck wanted to, even though it was chained up, it wanted, as it spun in… There was probably 18 inches of new snow. It wanted to keep working down the hill, and there was a bank there at the edge of the road, and of course that was a hazard. So Dad took a piece of clothesline wire that was there from somebody else’s clothesline, tied it to a tree, and tied it to the truck to help hold that truck up on the road. But it must’ve worked because we got in there, and by that time, it was dark. And we had the perishable stuff in that truck that had to be unloaded, that fruit for one. We moved into that old shack of a house.
Danielle: 21:46 What was that shack like? What was that house like?
Grandpa: 21:49 It was three. It had a kitchen, a bedroom, and a living room. The whole house was probably, oh, 20 wide and maybe 25 feet long, and there was three rooms in it, and a porch. It had a little porch that was under the same… under the main roof.
Danielle: 22:15 I mean, that’s a pretty tiny house for a family of that size. I’ve heard that there was a bunkhouse, also, nearby.
Grandpa: 22:25 Yes. Yes, just below the house, about, oh, 50, 60 feet from the house, there was another building that has always been called the bunkhouse. It was enclosed. That’s where us kids’ beds were put in there. We slept in the bunkhouse and then waded through snow, new snow, however deep it was. I can remember one time it was well above the… new snow well above our knees. We had to flounder through that to get up to the house.
Danielle: 23:05 And that bunkhouse is still standing, right?
Grandpa: 23:07 Yes, that bunkhouse is still there.
Danielle: 23:08 Yeah. It’s down below the ranch house.
Grandpa: 23:12 Yes.
Danielle: 23:14 I heard a story once about your older sister. She was a teenager at the time, right?
Grandpa: 23:19 Yes, she was.
Danielle: 23:22 She wasn’t very happy about this move?
Grandpa: 23:24 Well, she would’ve been a senior in high school, and what you’re speaking of, I don’t remember anything about it. But I can very well imagine that that was true because she was the age where she was wanting something decent, and here we were moving into that little old house.
Danielle: 23:48 During that trip, the VbarX brand was created.
Grandpa: 23:51 Yes, it was. Over in Montana, we were camped overnight, and that’s what we did. That nine days that we were on a road, we either stayed in… Sometimes it was… Well, it was always… We never did spend a night outside under the sky. It was always some kind of a shack that we stayed in. And over in Montana, we were in one of these shacks I’m speaking of, and Dad and Bob… Of course, the big deal was we’re starting a cattle ranch. That was the big driving force. So what’s our brand going to be? So Bob and Dad went to whittling on an apple box with their pocket knives, and I don’t know how many brands that they had whittled out. And one of them, I think Bob claims the idea, but he whittled out on the apple box, V bar, and a bar is a straight line between the V and the X.
Danielle: 25:01 Like a dash.
Grandpa: 25:02 It’s a dash, yes. But he whittled out V-X. They both liked it. It looked good. It would be a pretty simple brand to use, and that is what they settled on.
Danielle: 25:19 So, to clarify, Bob is your older brother.
Grandpa: 25:21 Yes, yes. Bob was… He was also a senior in high school, but he was older than my sister, Anita.
Danielle: 25:28 Okay. And is there some significance to those letters, or was it just the…
Grandpa: 25:35 No, no. It doesn’t signify anything except that it was just a… Dad or Bob, whichever one of them come up with whittling that, they both liked it.
Danielle: 25:50 You traveled hundreds of miles from Colorado to North Idaho in the middle of February. What was the first order of business for getting settled into the new home and new life here?
Grandpa: 26:05 Well, of course, the first thing is, like I mentioned before, was they had to go to town and make that $500 down payment to Greer and Humbird. Greer was Humbird’s land salesman, and they had to make that payment and then get up the hill, which hadn’t been plowed. But they were able to haul their way up here. A fellow by the name of Claude Sylvester had been living in the house, and whether he did it to purpose or not, nobody ever knew, but he did leave a couple armloads of wood. So there was firewood in the kitchen to build a fire with.
Grandpa: 26:54 Then I can remember probably the next day, Dad and us kids went across the road down here in the brush there, just before you get to what we call the little house that I built, and went out in the brush and found some logs and sawed them up with a handsaw and scrounged firewood that way for a while. Now, I don’t know how long that lasted. I suppose it was a scrounging process for quite a while.
Danielle: 27:36 Yeah, just to stay warm.
Grandpa: 27:38 Just to stay warm, yes. Well, and of course when we got here, it was just before the war started. Then, after the war started, Bayview opened up, Farragut. The government started a handout program, and most of the people on Gold Creek were partaking of that government subsidy, but Dad wouldn’t. The only thing that Dad and Mom ever took from the government as a handout was that toilet.
Danielle: 28:24 The toilet?
Grandpa: 28:25 That toilet. That was a government-provided toilet.
Danielle: 28:30 A government-issued…
Grandpa: 28:32 And you’ve got the door to that toilet in the basement.
Danielle: 28:36 With Tulip on it.
Grandpa: 28:37 Huh?
Danielle: 28:37 With Tulip on it.
Grandpa: 28:38 Yes, yes.
Danielle: 28:41 Tulip the goat on the government-issued toilet door.
Grandpa: 28:44 Yep. Yep, that’s right.
Danielle: 28:48 Oh, that’s funny.
Grandpa: 28:51 And then our next order of business was to get to school. The Gold Creek school was up here about a mile and a half, or a little less. We had made acquaintances with the Sylvesters, which lived at the south end of the big meadow here at that time. They had a daughter, Betty Sylvester, that was also going to school up here, and she would kind of mother us kids along floundering through the snow afoot. Of course, we were walking champs. She’d kind of mother us along to get to school. The neighbors, the only one of the neighbors that neighbored at all was Bart Engel. I always had a world of respect for Bart. The rest of the neighborhood, they wouldn’t have nothing to do with us.
Danielle: 29:59 Why was that?
Grandpa: 30:00 Jealous, jealousy.
Danielle: 30:04 Because you had bought so much land?
Grandpa: 30:05 Yep. Yep, bought this meadow, and then people that lived on up there, they couldn’t help but their mouth watered over that meadow.
Danielle: 30:19 Because they were in the brush?
Grandpa: 30:21 Yes. I’ve always been so proud of this building.
Danielle: 30:27 It’s pretty incredible to think that you went from sleeping in a bunkhouse to building this. It’s pretty spectacular.
Grandpa: 30:38 Well, of course I didn’t do any of the log work. The [Beiler 00:30:42] boys did all that, but the planning and a lot of the work downstairs and all of the loft finishing, I did.
Danielle: 30:56 And the designing.
Grandpa: 30:57 Well, it was the designing that I think worked out so well.
Danielle: 31:03 Most definitely. Well, I think for now, Grandpa, we’ll call it a day. But the next time we talk, we’ll talk a little more about the school and what it was like living here on the ranch as a boy.