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Ranch History Podcast: Episode 4

Episode 4: Jim Wood's Teenage Years through adult

Danielle: 00:01 Good morning and welcome to another episode of our history podcast where we're talking with my grandpa, Jim Wood. This morning, we are going to be kind of covering his teenage to young adult years. The last time we talked with him, we talked about his childhood and moving from Colorado to North Idaho here on the ranch that we live now. Grandpa, we're going to jump in here to start with and we need to amend something that we said in that first episode about when you guys, your families, made the trek from Colorado to Sandpoint. How much money did your parents have in their pocket when they left Colorado?
Grandpa: 00:46 Well, I think I made a mistake at the first go around then I said $6,500. It was $650 and $500, then I explained earlier, had to go into Sandpoint to the Humbird Lumber office for a down payment on the place before we drove up the hill.
Danielle: 01:12 Right. So, they had $150 or probably even less than that because they had spent money to get here, to live through the rest of the winter until they could start making money on something.
Grandpa: 01:23 Right, yes.
Danielle: 01:25 Got it. Okay, moving on, tell me about James [Hoffine 00:01:30] and his bees.
Grandpa: 01:32 Well, back in those early years after Humbird had burnt the whole country off after they logged it, the country came back with fireweed. This fireweed bloomed and the wild honey bees, a lot of at that time, would work on that fireweed. Virginia's granddad, Jim Hoffine, kind of had a hobby of tracking those bees to their hives and their hives would be in a rotten hollow tree somewhere. And the way he trapped them, he'd wait till them bees was on of a blossom of some kind and he would take a piece of a little downy feather from a chicken and stick it on the bees back. Then when they flew, he could see the bees, tracking them by that feather and he would follow them then to their hive.
Grandpa: 02:43 And I don't know, I was a teenager and he wanted me to help him cut a bee tree and this bee tree, of course, was where the bees had their hive and I helped him cut that tree. It was, oh, at least a 30 inch tree, rotten in the middle and they had their hive in that rotten wood, in that hole. And we fell that tree and, of course, that tree was rotten and it smashed pretty bad. But we had a wash tub that we had taken with us and we dug what we could of that hive out. And when I say hive, that's the honey comb and put it in that wash tub and then sorted as much debris out of it as we could and brought that wash tub to the house and to the Hoffine's house. That was the way they harvested their honey.
Danielle: 03:58 So jumping backwards, you talked about fireweed that had grown up after Humbird had burned over the country.
Grandpa: 04:05 Yes.
Danielle: 04:06 I've never heard of that before. Is that something that you still see around?
Grandpa: 04:09 Oh, yeah. Not so much in this lower country, but wherever there's a logging burn, nowadays even, that fireweed will come in. It grows about three feet high and it's got a nice purple bloom on it and apparently it's pretty rich in honey, in sugar, and that's what them bees would work on.
Danielle: 04:41 Does it have another name that you know of or am I…?
Grandpa: 04:46 Well, I'm sure there's some kind of a scientific name-
Danielle: 04:48 Probably.
Grandpa: 04:50 … but everybody just called it fireweed.
Danielle: 04:50 Huh. Interesting. Is that something that he did a lot where he went out and hunted bees?
Grandpa: 04:56 Well, it was a pastime for him and I don't know how many bee trees he had found, but this episode that I helped cut the tree was probably during the war. Uncle Andy was in the service, so he wasn't there to help and Grandpa Hoffine wanted me to help him saw that tree down.
Danielle: 05:23 We're going to kind of jump topics again. Can you tell me, and we're going to get into hunting, can you tell me about the first bull elk that you killed up Granite Creek?
Grandpa: 05:33 Well, Granite Creek was down on the Selway River and during the later 1940s, starting then, every fall there would be about six of us, my brother Bob, and my dad and a friend or two would load a truck with horses, six or eight horses and go down on the Selway River. We'd have to go into Montana to Hamilton and then back up Bear Creek to the Idaho Montana line and we'd camp there on the line and then we'd hunt down into the drainages down below and Granite Creek was one of those drainages.
Grandpa: 06:39 It would be a four or five mile hike to get into where we would hunt. And I had taken off by myself down into the head of Granite Creek. There was elk bugling, several elk bugling down in that area. I was kind of standing in an opening and this bull elk come charging out across this opening bugling and I shot it.
Danielle: 07:12 You were out on your own at that point.
Grandpa: 07:14 At that time, yes.
Danielle: 07:16 About how old would you have been at the time?
Grandpa: 07:18 Well, I would have been, oh, I'm guessing 18, 17, 18 years old at that time.
Danielle: 07:32 Okay.
Grandpa: 07:32 Now we went down in that country for probably 10 years until they introduced wolves into the country in later years. Nowadays, I've talked to people that have went down in that country and there is no elk at all in there anymore. The wolves have killed them all off.
Danielle: 07:53 So, that was kind of a jaunt from here to get down there. Did you go down there because it was just beautiful country to see or was it out of necessity or more out of recreation or both?
Grandpa: 08:07 Well, a little bit of everything, but we needed that meat to live on. Wild game was our meat source and them elk, it never failed that we would fill up. Everyone that went would get an elk. So, we had quite a little butchering job when we got home taking care of that meat.
Danielle: 08:30 And you went down there because there weren't any elk to be found up here?
Grandpa: 08:33 Right. Yeah, there was no elk in Bonner County at that time.
Danielle: 08:39 There's another story about you and your brother Bob killing a moose out in the meadow.
Grandpa: 08:44 Well, we lived on poached game, for the most part deer. And one day, up the road from where we lived about a half a mile, a bull moose had come out onto the county road and was hot-footing it up the road. And Bob and I had got together, we found out about it, that moose. Bob and I got together and went up the road and killed that moose in the middle of the county road, rolled it down off the county road into the grass and bushes out of sight and that's where we butchered that thing. Of course, it was poached. It was illegal, but that was no different than the deer that we lived on.
Danielle: 09:46 Was that poaching, at the time, was that something that people could get in trouble for or was it a little more loose?
Grandpa: 09:55 Well, yes, they could get in trouble. You bet. You bet. There would be a fine. We knew the game warden. He was more or less of a kind of a friend. We never did have a cross word with him and we never had any trouble with him. But, at the same time, we were cautious to keep it quiet.
Danielle: 10:20 But that was something that you did out of necessity, that's what you were living on?
Grandpa: 10:23 That's what we were living on, that's right.
Danielle: 10:26 You went to school through ninth grade, is that correct?
Grandpa: 10:30 Yes.
Danielle: 10:32 What was the reason for you not continuing on through high school?
Grandpa: 10:37 Well, Bob, my older brother, was drafted into the Army and Dad was alone on the ranch, taking care of the ranch, putting up hay, doing the farming and working cattle and he needed help. And besides the fact that I didn't like high school, the year I went to high school as a freshman, the folks found a place in town at the edge of town. I lived with them. I don't know if I did enough work for them to pay my board and room or if the folks had to pay them. I imagine the folks had to pay them to some extent.
Danielle: 11:33 And you found a place in town to live because the only high school was in Sandpoint and that's 16 plus miles from the ranch.
Grandpa: 11:45 It was out of the question to live at home and go to school, go to high school.
Danielle: 11:47 Right. So it was kind of out of necessity that your dad needed help on the ranch and that's why-
Grandpa: 11:56 That's right.
Danielle: 11:56 … you finished your schooling there and went to work on the ranch.
Grandpa: 12:00 Right.
Danielle: 12:01 Your mom, though, wasn't very happy about that.
Grandpa: 12:04 Well, I don't suppose she was. Mom was a school teacher to some extent and I'm sure that she thought schooling was more important than I did.
Danielle: 12:17 How did you and Grandma meet?
Grandpa: 12:21 Well, we both went to school together. When we came to this country, as I stated before, we walked to school. It was about a mile and a half and Mom, Virginia, Grandma, it was about the same distance from her. She was a Hoffine and we were in, a couple of years at least, I don't remember, it was at least a couple of years going to the same school together. She was a year ahead of me.
Danielle: 12:57 So you guys just, you kind of just always knew each other from the time that you moved up on the hill.
Grandpa: 13:04 Right, right, yeah. And I definitely wasn't attracted to her and I'm sure I wasn't attractive to her either.
Danielle: 13:15 When you arrive kind of at the driveway to the ranch, you drive right past what we call the V Bar X Barn, which is a great big red and white kind of iconic barn. When was that barn built, Grandpa?
Grandpa: 13:34 Well, it was built in 1942 and the lumber from it, Dad sawed on the saw mill that he had rented. It must've been built just before Bob went into the Army because I'm sure that he helped build, put the rafters up and stuff. But it's a big barn. It was a big job. The roof was split cedar shakes. Nailing all them shakes on that roof was a big job after the framework and everything was up and the rafters.
Danielle: 14:17 I can imagine. That barn is, big that roof is a long ways up there.
Grandpa: 14:23 Yeah, well, it is and nobody ever fell off of it. It would've been a lot of work.
Danielle: 14:32 What initially was the barn built for? What kind of things were in there?
Grandpa: 14:38 Well, the folks were milking cows. We had about, oh, 10 to 15 cows that we milked. There was an old original barn down on the meadow and it was just about past using and he wanted to build a barn up where it is now, which was across the road from the house and closer and handier. But that's where we milked the cows then, in that barn.
Danielle: 15:20 And when you got to the point where you were growing a hay crop up there, was the hay stored in the barn?
Grandpa: 15:29 Well, that hay mow was filled with hay every summer.
Danielle: 15:35 So, when you stand in that barn in the downstairs of that barn, the roof, the ceiling is really low I would say. And then when you climb up into that loft, it's just huge, hugely tall.
Grandpa: 15:50 Yep.
Danielle: 15:50 Was that just so you could fit more hay up there?
Grandpa: 15:55 Right, right. And that was the style of barns that was all over the country at that time. At this point in time, I can only think of one barn that is still standing that was built in that style and that's down here.
Danielle: 16:21 In the loft of that barn, up in the ceiling, there's a whole track system.
Grandpa: 16:27 Well, okay, to start with, we put up loose hay in that barn. Yep. That was before we got a baler. And after we got a baler, then that hay was easier to handle. I built a track system to facilitate getting them bales up in that barn. That was used to some extent.
Danielle: 17:00 You mentioned Bob going into the Army. Did he enlist himself or was he drafted?
Grandpa: 17:08 He was drafted.
Danielle: 17:09 Got it. And I'm going to jump back again because I have another question about that barn. There's a pretty good ridge of rock that that barn is built right next to.
Grandpa: 17:22 Yes.
Danielle: 17:23 I seem to remember a story about trying to move some of that ridge of rock with some dynamite.
Grandpa: 17:34 Yeah. Yeah. Well, when Dad built the barn, it was right against a bank that had been excavated there on that side hill. After a few years, things have progressed and that barn or that ridge of rock, the bank, was starting to cave in against the barn. So we had to get that bank dug back away from the barn. And by that time, we had a small Cat and that was what we was doing most of the excavating with. But there was a big rock about, oh, as big as a kitchen table, half as big as a kitchen table in the bank there and I couldn't dig it out with the Cat. It's too big to handle.
Grandpa: 18:32 So I talked Dad into blasting it with dynamite. The idea was to break it up, but we dug under it and loaded it up with dynamite and everybody had dynamite in that day. That's what everybody cleared land with, with blowing them stumps, shooting them with dynamite and splitting them up. But that night I loaded this rock, underneath this rock with a pretty good charge of dynamite to break it loose. We touched her off and that rock went up as high as the top of that barn, drifted over a little bit and dropped back down right back down through the roof.
Grandpa: 19:18 But fortunately, it went between two rafters, never broke the rafters up. That rock went through the hay mow floor and clear down onto the ground floor, where the cattle were, where we milked. And then we had to dig that, slide that rock out of that area. Yeah, that was our rock blasting experience there.
Danielle: 19:48 You mentioned that with that dynamite, you'd clear land, you'd remove stumps. All this country had been logged by Humbird Lumber Company and so there's lots of those stumps left. In fact, most places were called stump ranches.
Grandpa: 20:05 That's right.
Danielle: 20:06 I mean, there's a great big field below the ranch house now. How much of that was open and how much of it was full of stumps?
Grandpa: 20:14 Well, the higher ground on that meadow, we always called it the meadow, the higher ground had timber on it at one time, but the big flat part of it in the central part of the meadow and to the south end was beaver dams. It was wet, of course, and brush growed in it. It never had a stand of big timer. Between that was more of a brush, [00:20:48], alder, birch, that sort stuff, more brushy stuff, but there wasn't any stumps on it.
Danielle: 20:58 So, how did you go about if you had a stump that you needed to get rid of, how did you go about getting that out?
Grandpa: 21:05 Okay. We had a tool called the stump auger and it was built like a spoon on about an eight foot handle. The handle was metal and you'd dig around and find a place under that stump that you could get between the roots, dig out a hole, about as big as your leg and, depending on the size of the stump then, you would pack that hole full of dynamite from Florida, six sticks of dynamite and then touch it off and that'd split that stump in three or four pieces.
Danielle: 21:52 What size of stump are we talking about?
Grandpa: 21:55 Two foot to four foot.
Danielle: 21:58 Wow. And then, were you using like a Cat to pull it out or were you using a team of horses once you got that split?
Grandpa: 22:07 The old timers, before we come to the country, it was all horse power, but Dad bought a Cat during the war and right after the war maybe. I cleared many, many acres of land round all over the county in our area with that Cat working custom work.
Danielle: 22:37 So, you weren't necessarily just clearing stumps off of your own land. You were hiring out to do that as well?
Grandpa: 22:44 Yes, yes, yes. Yeah, I spent a lot of hours working custom work with that Cat clearing land and roads too. I built a lot of roads. And in the wintertime, I plowed the county road up in our country up [00:23:05] Creek area with that Cat, plowed snow. It was quite a few years before the county ever got enough equipment to plow them roads by the county.
Danielle: 23:15 Yeah, those are really rural roads. Well, I think we'll wrap up there for now and when we come back we'll kind of move forward into your adult years and talk about that.

Soundcheck Outtakes

So, I'm just going to do a soundcheck here at first, Grandpa, because I want to make sure it sounds all right. So, what's your favorite flavor of ice cream and why?
Grandpa: 23:42 Well, my favorite ice cream was whatever Ma puts in my plate.... I like the ice cream with the nuts in it.
Danielle: 23:51 Okay.


  1. I wonder what the model of the tractor was they powered The sawmill with and where did it come from prior to Grandpa Riley owning a tractor?

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Ranch History Podcast: Episode Three

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From teachers to chasing milk cows, solo horseback adventures to town and everyday living in between, this installment of Western Pleasure Guest Ranch's Ranch History Podcast continues with stories...

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Ranch History Podcast: Episode 5

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