ON TO OREGON
The end of the depression was approaching toward the end of 1935, but there still was the problem of money (when wasn't there?). So I watched the advertisements in the newspaper and one day there was an ad looking for passengers to share expenses to go to Portland, Oregon. I answered the ad right away and was lucky enough to get the last space.
The driver had some kind of sedan with 4 doors, not new, but was in good enough shape to get us there without any mechanical problems. The driver was a man in his 40's, a preacher of some lesser known religion. The two other passengers were middle-aged women. We stayed three nights in tourist cabins; the two women shared one cabin and the two males another. (Maybe I should explain what a tourist cabin was. Before World War II big luxurious motels, they really were called motels, were non-existent; but along the highways, especially close to towns or cities, there were clusters of accommodations for travelers. Most were one-room with bath, with nothing more than a double bed. Of course some were more luxurious; but the price was always less than a hotel room in a city; so they were popular. Now they are no longer called tourist cabins, nor are they inexpensive. At the time of this writing the lowest priced rooms cost about thirty dollars, and up, a night. The big chains like Ramada Inn and Holiday Inn charge around one hundred dollars a night. On our trip we paid about two dollars a night.
In Portland I had to take a bus down to Canyonville, which is closer to the California border than it is to the border of Washington. I got off the bus shortly before dusk and started the mile and a half hike up the canyon to Charles' house. The highway followed the creek and the farther I walked the darker it got. I started to get a little bit nervous and apprehensive that I might have to spend the night alone in the canyon when I heard someone shout, "Johnny, is that you?". There the three of them were, on the other side of the creek, probably waiting for me because they knew what day I would arrive, but not at what time; so you can imagine my relief when I heard Charles call.
I didn't think anything of it at the time, but they put me in their only bedroom; in the living room they had a double bed for themselves and a small bed for Rosemary. The arrangement must have worked out o.k., and I stayed 15 months.
Charles had one hundred beautiful acres of mountainous timber land; good to enjoy the scenery and to hike in, but impossible to use to earn a living. There was about one half acre of garden land; however there were so many deer it was almost impossible to grow anything to maturity before they ate it all. Charles had contracted tuberculosis in the army and was considered 25% disabled so received twenty five dollars a month from the government, as compensation. He figured that with this, with growing most of the fruit and vegetables, and with working in the harvest each year (walnuts and prunes) they would get along fine. He also thought he could shoot a deer, on his own land, once in a while so would have plenty of fresh meat. He never did shoot a deer and never got much out of the garden; but we did work in the prune harvest. Charles was six feet four inches tall, and strong, so he had a paid, hourly job shaking the trees so that the ripe prunes would fall and we could pick them up. We were paid a few cents a box and in a good day, when there was lots of ripe prunes, we could earn about two dollars. We worked hard and had a good time doing it; besides bringing home lots of prunes to can. They were so sweet we didn't have to add any sugar, and they were delicious! He thought it would be a good idea if we had our own milk supply so he decided to buy a cow. The problem was he bought a very young, unbred Jersey heifer; not realizing that even if she were bred we would have to wait until the calf was born before she would give us any milk. Her name was Bessy, and we dearly loved her, more as a pet than a milk producer. She never did give us any milk and I don't remember what, eventually, happened to her.
Our biggest job was to keep a supply of firewood on hand for daily use and for the coming winter, because we cooked with wood and depended upon the cook stove for heat. We cut trees down with a big, 6 foot, two man crosscut saw; then cut them up into 14 inch chunks with the same saw; then split the chunks with a big double edged axe. I am proud to say that realized my responsibility and did my share of the chores, without complaint.
I joined the 4-H club, sponsored by the county extension agent (branch of the Agriculture Department). This is a nation-wide club for rural kids; one objective was to encourage the kids to raise a lamb or calf (there were many more projects), and to eventually show them in the county fair. My project was to raise baby pheasants; after they were 3 months old the state would buy them from me and then turn them loose to restock pheasant hunting areas. Charles and I worked like crazy to build two pens, each about twenty feet square; surrounded and covered by chicken wire. Then we looked for a few broody Bantam hens to set on the eggs and raise the chicks. When all was ready the county agent came with the fertile eggs and we were in business. I can't remember how many eggs hatched or how much money I earned, but Charles and I both had a great time; it was a wonderful project.
Left: Staff of the school newspaper, I'm 4th from the left, Jimmy Rasor is next to the last.
Right: Basketball team - I'm holding the ball
It must have been taken for granted that I would enter school in September, at least I can't remember that Charles and I talked about it. Gym was not a required ( nor elective for that matter) subject so there was no problem about graduating.
For a school bus we had an old, dilapidated 2-door sedan that picked Rosemary and me up every morning and brought us home in the afternoon after school. It was always packed with 5 or 6 kids picked up earlier, up in the canyon. There were only 27 kids in the entire high school! Four were seniors, a couple of juniors, no sophomores and the rest were freshman. The seniors had only two teachers; a young lady, Miss Logsdon, and the young principal, James V. Blake.
There was no gym class to worry about, but out of necessity ( lack of players) I did agree to play on the basketball team. Being the tallest, of course I played center. We didn't win any games all season but I did manage to set some sort of dubious record: the center who handled the ball least in the whole league. So much for my competitive spirit.
I didn't set (nor tried to) any scholastic records in my high school career, but by pure chance ( or luck) I ended up as valedictorian and suffered through a short speech at the time of graduation. By having only 4 graduates, this automatically put me in the second 25% of my class; a question of fate that later was to cost me dearly.
Right after graduation I got a job on a construction team working to build us a new high school. My job was, with pick and shovel, to dig foundations. I can remember one hole so big and deep (to put in a septic tank) that we had to build scaffolding half way up. We would throw the excavated dirt up onto the scaffold and then on up to the surface of the ground. This job lasted 6 weeks and because my part was finished I was laid off.
[Editor's Note: John inserted his High School Diploma from Canyonville High School here.]
Charles had a good friend in Long Beach, California who bought a similar worthless piece of land near the small town of Looking Glass, about 30 miles from Canyonville. Through him I got a rest-of-the-summer job on a hay farm not too far away. In one sense it was one of the most satisfying jobs I ever had. I always have been a "country boy" at heart and here was a chance to work on a real farm, even if the only crop was hay for horse and cattle feed. There were no tractors on this farm, but there were two big, gentle draft horses, dark chestnut in color, and probably Belgians. I was hired for something less than $2.00 a day, board and room included, and I can remember several weeks later complaining to the boss that, since I was working as hard as any of the other men I should earn $2.00 too. He agreed that I was working hard, but he didn't agree I should be paid more. It was good work though, and I was in 7th heaven, up at daylight, ate a big breakfast, then off to the hay fields with a pitch fork. The hay had been cut and raked into windrows by the horse-drawn equipment, and my job was to pile it up into small shocks so it could dry some more before it was hauled to the barn. The shocks were 5 or 6 feet across at the base and a little taller than my head. Later, when it was dry so that it wouldn't mold, we loaded the shocks, a 2-man job, with one man on each side, onto a flat-bed wagon. Then I got to ride on top of the stack back to the barn. Once there we had to pitch the hay into the mow. I don't know why we didn't use a hay-baler, but it was probably because the farmer fed the hay to his own stock instead of selling it.
Lunch was always fantastic. The whole crew was there at the huge dining room table and the women of the house cooked just about everything you could think of. It was like Thanksgiving day dinner every day. The harvest lasted until it was time to move to Corvallis and Oregon State College.
I'm sure it was the principal who convinced me I should, or talked me into going on to college. During that last year of high school we talked about college often and I gradually got the urge to go. I would study animal husbandry and then have a big ranch and raise Morgan horses. I had $100.00 in my pocket when I got off the bus in Corvallis. This wasn't suppose to last me all year, of course, but it was suppose to last until I got organized and found part time work. Fortunately I avoided the fraternity houses and found a place for board and room. The woman of the house was the mother of my best friend in Canyonville, Jimmy Rasor. She had come to Corvallis expressly to take in boarders and thereby to help her son make his way through college. Jimmy comes into this account again a couple years down the road. There were 3 other student boarders, and I shared a room with one of them.
At that time in my life, horses were the most important part, so it was natural to enroll in Animal Husbandry, with the intent, after graduation, to own a horse farm. The practical side of this desire never entered my head. One of the good things about this year was that, by good fortune I was assigned Dr. B. T. Simms as my adviser. it turned out that he was a veterinarian and shortly after he left OSU he became head of the veterinary section of the Department of Agriculture.
Financially, things were pretty tough. I never asked my folks for money, but my dear sister Mary would send me $10.00 every 2 or 3 months and I doubt she ever realized how desperate I was when the money arrived. She came close to keeping me in school that year. Then Eleanor Roosevelt helped me more than anyone else. She had encouraged the president to push through congress the National Youth Recovery Act, designed to help, among others, college students. I was paid every month by the government, and fortunately was assigned to work at the State Office of the 4-H Club. I was paid 25 cents an hour and those wonderful people in the office let me come and go as I had time. They made work for me to do like filing, and stuffing envelopes, and sometimes running the mimeograph machine.
I have painful memories of sitting alone in front of a committee of professors trying to decide if the university would lend me $300.00 to finish out the year. It is strange that I can't remember if the university did or did not. I think it did, but I don't know why they did because my grades were so bad. It turned out that most of the classes were a drag and I barely passed; except for military science and physical education (what a laugh), both in which I always got an "A". The problem with the low grades was two-fold, the military and horses.
In the first two years of college, participation in the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) was compulsory for all male students. By my good fortune the ROTC at Oregon State College was all field artillery; the year I arrived, 1936, was the year of change-over from horse drawn artillery to mechanized (that is, trucks pulled cannons instead of horses). The change-over was slow, however, and the horses were still there! I just loved all of it, the classroom work and the drill; I got "A's" in all the examinations and even special recognition at the annual review of the corps by the governor of the state. (And I was a freshman, yet.)
I hit it lucky in another way too, in that although physical education was another required course, I was allowed to join the polo team, using the army horses of course, and I got full credit for Phys. ed. The laugh was that there was another round of A's for physical education (at least I got 2 good grades that year). The freshman didn't play polo, we just horsed around at it. (Pun intended). Our job was he privilege to take care of the horses! This meant we could ride anytime we wanted to. Each of the upperclassmen, polo players, was assigned one freshman whose sole responsibility, besides day-today care of the horses, was to assist him with his 3 horses during practice and during games. My senior was Hal Pangle, a one-time pro football player who decided to return to college. We got along great and I'm proud to say I think he thought he got the best deal, the best, most conscientious freshman in the bunch, to take care of his horses.
This experience was very good for me especially since it was here that I learned army horsemanship. I also earned the equivalent of a letter in sports for polo. Freshmen, then, were never granted letters; instead we got a set of numerals, 1940, (the expected graduation year), with a polo mallet running diagonally through them. We were expected to buy a black sweater and sew on the numerals. I never had enough money to buy a sweater, but sixty one years later I still have the numerals among some special souvenirs. The school year ended in June and I returned to Denver. Charles and his family had, in the meantime, moved to Portland.