Stanley Dee Johnson Oral History
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Churchill County Oral History Project
an interview with
STANLEY DEE JOHNSON
April 14, 1997
This interview was transcribed by Glenda Price; edited by Norma Morgan; final by Pat Baden; index by Gracie Viera; supervised by Myrl Nygren, Director of the Oral History Project, Churchill County Museum.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewer and interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Churchill County Museum or any of its employees.
Stanley Dee Johnson's narrations of living and farming in Churchill County in the early 1900s and through his current lifetime gives the reader a colorful picture of "how it was" and a deep appreciation for the hardiness and fortitude of early settlers in this valley. Many of the stories he relates describe the experiences of his parents in homesteading and farming under somewhat primitive conditions. They are based on his recollections of what they told him when he was growing up.
Dee's description of the farm implement, the Fresno, and how it was operated and used by early-day homesteaders is enlightening to the novice. His stories about living without electricity or plumbing, of enjoying "home-made" and "home-grown" foods, of gathering wood to burn, and his father's experiences with physical injuries serves to increase one's understanding of the pleasures and hardships some early settlers experienced.
His short comments on his memories of the winter of the haylift (1948-1949) and the earthquake (1954) are interesting. They give a personal insight into those events that one does not capture in reading the traditional newspaper reports of what happened.
Dee's life has not been all farming. He has also been involved in construction, working at the Fallon Naval Air Station fire department and with his own hobby/business as a "deep-pit" barbecue cook, a skill he learned from his father. He is the author of a pamphlet entitled Basics of Underground Cooking.
Interview with Stanley Dee Johnson
ERQUIAGA: This is Anita Erquiaga of the Churchill County Museum Oral History Program. Today is April 14, 1997, and I am interviewing Stanley Dee Johnson at his home 3801 Lone Tree Road [Fallon, Nevada]. First of all I'd like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. We really appreciate it, and I'm sure you'll have some interesting things to tell us.
JOHNSON: Us old guys are always tickled to get a little attention. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: (laughing) Good. I'm going to start out by asking you your full name and your date of birth and your place of birth.
JOHNSON: Stanley Dee Johnson, August 12, 1937, Churchill County, Nevada. I was born in the old hospital that's down on Auction Road back of the Bonanza [Stockman's].
ERQUIAGA: Was that called the Handley Hospital?
JOHNSON: I'm not sure.
ERQUIAGA: I see. Your address is Lone Tree Road. What's the significance of that? Do you know why it's called Lone Tree?
JOHNSON: Well, the story goes that a Pony Express rider was being chased by a bunch of renegade Indians, and he veered off the original Pony Express Trail trying to get away from them, and he came over a sand hill. He knew that he was about to get captured, so he took the willow that he was whipping his horse with and either dug a hole or found a coyote hole, jammed the mail in there, caved it in and stuck this willow to mark the mail 'cause he didn't want to let that get away. He rode on and was captured shortly after, but the story is, and whether it's a legend or actually the truth, nobody has ever been sure, but that willow stick grew into one of the large trees in the local valley. Vern Austin thought perhaps it was on his place 'cause it was one of the oldest, largest trees there. So, anyway, this is where the Lone Tree District came to be and the story of the Lone Tree Road, the Lone Tree School and these things were named after that incident perhaps.
ERQUIAGA: I've never heard that before. Did they find the mail?
JOHNSON: As far as I know, they never did. However, years later, in fact it was like in the mid forties, late thirties, up where the Basses live, the senior Bass had a bunch of pigs in his pasture, and they rooted up some gold. Whether that had anything to do with it or whether that was something other, but it was gold coins that they rooted up. I don't know if the monetary value was very high or not, but, anyway, it helped him out at the time, and it was a fun find.
ERQUIAGA: I bet it was. It's interesting that the Pony Express rider, even when his life was in danger, thought first about hiding the mail.
JOHNSON: Evidently they were a little conscientious back in those days.
ERQUIAGA: When did your father first come to Fallon?
JOHNSON: My father rode out on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and sidecar right after he got out of the Army in 1918 or early 1919. He came out from the plains country in Colorado up through Wyoming, Idaho, and then into Oregon and was trying to find a nice homestead. He read a flyer inviting the people to come to the new Reclamation Project in Lahontan Valley, and so he turned and came through Jordan Valley, dropped down into Lahontan Valley and found him a nice little homestead where we presently reside. In 1919 he homesteaded that and developed it into his little ranch. He later met my mother who was teaching school back in First View, Colorado. They called it First View because as the pioneers came across the flatlands of Kansas and Colorado, this was their first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. He met her at a dance and they courted, fell in love, and were married and a few years later she came out here.
JOHNSON: It was an interesting story, too, when she came out after they were married--they were married for a year or two before she came out--and as she was coming, my father was working at the Pinger Ranch down in Island District, and then he would come and farm this place at night. My mother came on the train, and she wanted to get off at Hazen, and the conductor didn't want to let her get off because this was in the rough days. The conductor says, "If the Indians don't get you, the Mormons will." My mother still got off at Hazen, and she tried to call my father at the ranch where he was working, but Andy Drumm and another fellow were having a race. They chased Andy Drumm out of town, and he had a wreck at one of the telegraph-telephone poles between Hazen and Fallon and put the line out of commission. So she stayed in the hotel overnight at Hazen and then the next day she came in on the Fallon Flyer. This was the weekly train that did come to Fallon. When she came in she went to the Sagebrush Bar-Casino, and she wanted to use the telephone. The sheriff happened to be in, and he says, "May I help you, Ma'am?" She says, "Yes, I'm trying to get hold of my husband who's working down on the Pinger Ranch." He says, "Here, let me call," and he got hold of one of the cooks down there, and he says, "I'm the sheriff, and B.C. Johnson's wife has come from Colorado and is trying to get a hold of him." She hung up on him. She sent word to my dad that his wife had followed him clear from Colorado and he better get out, not realizing. I guess she thought because the sheriff was calling that my dad was on the run. So my dad came in town and got his wife and brought her out to the homestead. They started out. That's pretty much how they got together here on the ranch and started farming. They'd been married for, oh, a year and a half or so at that point, and they were together permanently after that till my father at ninety-five years old passed away in 1981. My mother passed away in 1992 at ninety-three years old. They both had long productive lives and had all of their physical capabilities right up until the time they passed away which the family was always grateful for.
ERQUIAGA: I read an article that they celebrated their fifty-seventh anniversary.
JOHNSON: Well, it was probably their fiftieth.
ERQUIAGA: Oh, it said fifty-seven.
JOHNSON: Oh, okay, fifty-seven. All right.
ERQUIAGA: What struck me was that neither of them were real young when they got married that they made it through that many years with no health problems.
JOHNSON: Yeah, my father was thirty-four years old when they were married, and he was fourteen years older than my mother. That would put her evidently at twenty years old. She had graduated from college and was teaching school.
ERQUIAGA: That's pretty good to be together that long.
JOHNSON: The day before my father passed, and he was still driving at that age, he had driven them over to Johnny Miller's to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Then he had come home, and he was sitting right next to the heater. He pulled Mom up on his lap and said what a great helpmate she had been and he loved her and so on. They embraced, and the next morning when he got up out of bed, he went to build a fire. It was February 1, and he went to build a fire there in the old Fisher fireplace, and she says, "Claire, is the fire warm there?" He says, "You better wait a few minutes." He stoked it a little bit and laid down in front of it. That was the last thing he ever did. He just went to sleep right in front of the fire.
ERQUIAGA: Is that right? What was his full name?
JOHNSON: Basil Claire Johnson.
ERQUIAGA: And hers?
JOHNSON: Her name was Mary Odessa, maiden name of Van Why and Johnson. She was born October 2, 1900.
ERQUIAGA: One of the things I'm curious about, you said your father came on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. What did he do with that motorcycle when he got here and started farming?
JOHNSON: Years later it was just set out there in the old garage out there, but he had a nephew come from Colorado, and he was really interested. I don't what year the Harley-Davidson was, but it must have been somewhere in 1908, 1910, and his nephew talked him out of that and started to ride back to Colorado. He had trouble after trouble with it, and he finally ended up near Grand Junction and traded the service station attendant something very small to get rid of the Harley-Davidson and bought a bus ticket and went on back to Colorado. I do remember that my dad had bought brand new a 1922 Chrysler, and this set out in the garage. He stopped driving it because it knocked his ten-gallon hat off all the time. I was a kid I used to go in there and play in it. He had it blocked up locked up in the garage, and that was my machine. I used to play in it, and about 1948, 1949, I was starting to get interested in putting it together which there was really nothing wrong with it but making it run. I was walking home from the Lone Tree schoolhouse, and I saw some drag marks on the road. The road never went past our ranch at the time, and as I followed the tracks, the closer I got to home, it started to dawn on me that when I got home the garage doors would be open, and that 1922 Chrysler would be gone. A fellow by the name of Willy Harrison was a, we called him a gypo trucker. He hauled or did anything to make a buck, and he had come over and talked my dad out of that for twenty-five dollars. It had leather upholstery, fuzzy headliner, wooden steering wheel. It was all just like brand new, and he'd pulled it off the blocks. It'd been sitting there so long that even though it was blocked up, the tires were rotten, drug it to his house, loaded it up and hauled it and sold it to Bill Harrah. Bill Harrah had it up [on display]. I used to go lean over the fuzzy ropes and look at that 1922 restored Chrysler and think that it oughta be in my yard. (laughing) But, anyway, I thought I got cheated, but I don't know if I'd a done anything other than tear it up.
ERQUIAGA: You said your father homesteaded this place. What exactly did that mean? Did he buy the land from the government?
JOHNSON: Well, no, the Reclamation had invited people to come in. They had just recently completed the Lahontan Dam and reservoir and through the federal government they had lots of land throughout the West, particularly, open for homestead. You come in and file on that and then over the next five years, I think, I'm not sure about the years, but they had to make certain improvements on this property, and after you had proved up on it, you got a deed that you had made final proof and the property became yours.
ERQUIAGA: And you didn't have to pay anything. It was the work.
JOHNSON: No, you just had to work it out, so that's how many of the people got their farms and ranches here earlier was through homestead. The Homestead Act enabled a man to file and prove up on 160 acres and his wife could do the same, so if they wanted to, they could have as much as 320 acres on this, but Dad only went for 160. His leveling was done with horse and Fresno. After he got it down fairly flat, then he finished it off with the horses and tailboard and flattened it out. He made his ditches with the Fresno.
ERQUIAGA: Can you describe a Fresno?
JOHNSON: A Fresno is kind of an open-sided box, and it has a handle on the back and round skids on either side on the front where they would hook the double tree or the unit in which--generally, a four-horse Fresno--four horses abreast pulling this thing. With the handle, when you raised up on the back end would put the cutting bit or the front blade into the ground and it would start to pick up dirt, and when the horses either could no longer pull it good or the Fresno or the box became full, they would push down on this handle, put weight on it, and then they would just drag it on its bottom until they came to the area where they were going to dump it. Then they would lift up on the handle and it would catch on the rolling skids and turn upside down and spill the dirt down out and then they would have a rope and pull the handle down and again ride the drag back to where they were doing the cutting. The tailboard, on the other hand, was a long, flat wooden, oh, it was kind of a half-moon shaped long board, and it had a board for the operator to ride on and another board that they would raise up to either cut or to spill and this was for their fine grading. The atlases and the drag scrapers that we used hydraulically took the place of this, but it didn't do much better job. Just a faster job. They used to do some beautiful field work with that horse-drawn machinery.
ERQUIAGA: And each farmer made his own ditches on his own place?
JOHNSON: As a rule. If he didn't make them, he had to hire them done, and there were a lot of people in the early days who were teamsters and freighters. They also had equipment and they would go around and do some custom work for farmers to keep their horses busy and to keep food on the table for their families. There was a couple of teamsters, freighters, Sam Miller who used to be our neighbor over here, and George Miller, and they used to harness up their team and they would drive from Fallon to Hazen the first day. Load up their wagons. The second day they would come from Hazen to Fallon and the next day they would go from Fallon halfway to Fairview or to one of the areas they were going to. The next day they would go the rest of the way and deliver their freight. Most of it was run out to the Fairview Mine. They did a lot of teaming these individuals out to the Rawhide Mine, and there were several dozen smaller mines up and down the Alpine side and the Dixie Valley side that they delivered equipment and supplies to. Then they would come on back empty. Sam would always make it back in town on Saturday night, and then he wouldn't go out again till Monday morning. A lot of his teamster friends would kind of make fun of him, that he was losing a day's pay. He says, "I'm tired and my horses are tired. In the long run it would pay off," and it didn't take too many weeks before he started to catch up and pass these guys even though they were working seven days. He only worked six, but he gave his horses a chance to take a break and rest up, and he had a better attitude and was nicer to his horses, too, I think. But, that was always kind of a lesson to me to give your animals a break and take one yourself.
ERQUIAGA: When your mother arrived, what kind of a place did she have to live here?
JOHNSON: My dad and a friend of his had built a basically two-room cabin. That's the one you saw out there that's just about to cave in now. As years went by, my dad added a little bit to it until he had a two-bedroom with a living room, dining room connected and a kitchen and then a path going up to the sand hill for the sanitary equipment up there. My mom said that shortly after she had come they found a scorpion that she was sure would fit clear across a dinner plate.
JOHNSON: They didn't have chicken coops right away, but Dad was kind of getting into the chicken business and the hens would go lay in the brush and one thing and another or wherever, and she says on a couple of occasions the nests weren't very good, and the chickens as they exit from the nests would kick the eggs and they would roll out. She picked up on a couple of occasions eggs that had laid out in the direct sunlight on the hot sand, and when they went to open them to have fried eggs they had well sun-baked eggs. They were almost completely cooked clear through. They were still a little soft in the yolk.
ERQUIAGA: Just from the sun.
JOHNSON: Yeah. (laughing) It would get about 120 degrees in that direct sunlight and that sand. Then it was hot enough over a period of time to do that to them. They had a feather comforter of some sort on the bed that Mom and Dad slept on right after she came. When my dad got up and went to work at the Renfro ranch which later became known as the Pinger Ranch, why, she unfolded the covers and was getting out of bed and found this strange looking creature in bed with her which turned out to be a medium sized scorpion. Didn't do her any harm, but she was quite surprised to have a third bedfellow with them.
ERQUIAGA: Was she familiar with things like that where she came from?
JOHNSON: I'm not sure. She was really familiar with rattlesnakes as she told a story of when she lived on the prairie country, and after her father passed away, her mother went to work, and it was her job to go down to the spring and bring in the water. She went down and got a couple of buckets of water, and on her way up one of the old cranky old rattlesnakes that lived under their house got between her and the front door. In fact, they only had one door, and so she skirted to the left and the snake feinted the same way and headed her off, so she went back the other way. No matter which she'd go, why, the snake kept between her and the front door. Finally she told her brothers and sisters to open up the door, and she went left or right and then she made it in, run around the snake, and the snake couldn't catch her, but she got in the house and slammed the door. The screen door came closed very sluggishly, and the snake had crawled up, was chasing her, and got between the screen and the main door. Of course, the kids didn't know what to do, but they finally remembered the story of the three pigs. So they boiled some water and passed the water out the window and then they went and poured the water through the screen down on the snake. They'd always heard that a snake couldn't jump higher than a man's knee, but they said this snake, repeatedly, when they poured that water made it clear to the top of the door. Anyway, he was still alive and thrashing, so the older brother who was my mother's--my mother was the oldest so Charlie would be just younger than she was, but, he walked three miles to the neighbors, and he came over with a shovel and chopped the head of the snake. They opened the door, and the snake came out boiling mad and on the fight. He just popped the head off, but the story was that a snake didn't die until sundown. Of course, it laid there and wiggled and squirmed, and my uncle Charlie took a garden hoe and chopped and chopped until that snake was nothing but mincemeat. They were really quite scared and really infuriated with that snake.
ERQUIAGA: And where was that?
JOHNSON: That was near Pierce, Colorado.
ERQUIAGA: When your mother was a child.
JOHNSON: When she was a child.
ERQUIAGA: So after that she should have been prepared for anything that she found in Fallon.
JOHNSON: (laughing) Really. Right.
ERQUIAGA: Did she have electricity when she first came here?
JOHNSON: I don't believe they had electricity for several years afterwards or telephone or any of the fun things. They cooked on an old wood stove and heated with a wood stove. Heated their water. 'Course they had a hand pump right out in front connected directly to the well, and they pumped their water. They lived quite primitively until the progress started. Like I said, the plumbing was what we called the old privy, the outhouse, the cozy hut, many other names, but I remember many a night, myself, scurrying up there with a foot of snow and in bare feet, but you couldn't slow down. You had to get there. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: Had to get back home. Well, when did they get electricity or plumbing?
JOHNSON: I'm not sure. It wasn't till later on that they got their plumbing. It was probably in the early fifties. I think my brother-in-law, Herb Broughton, had something to do with the plumbing, but the rural electrification in the late thirties probably brought the electricity in. I'm not sure just what year it would be, but I, growing up, never remembered the time when they didn't have electric lights.
ERQUIAGA: Your mother, I would assume, raised a big garden and all the things that the ladies did.
JOHNSON: Yeah, this was a joint venture. Mom and Dad both gardened, and they both planted. They both hoed. Mom did most of the canning and the preserving, but Dad was very active in gardening, and he always raised beef and/or hogs or whatever. My dad always processed our own meat. He would butcher and then he would cut and wrap the meat. In the days before we froze it, before we had a deep freezer, why, they would can it or he would cure it in some manner, particularly the hogs. He'd make hams and bacons, grind the sausage and stuff them in the native casings and salt it. The sausage they would have to can and preserve in the jars, but the hams, they could let those hang most all summer. He would watch them. I remember as a kid he would go watch them and check them and if any mold would form on them, why, he would take a damp vinegar cloth and wipe them clean and keep that mold stopped. We always had good food. My dad was very meticulous and very careful, and we ate good. When I graduated from high school and returned from the service I heard that a friend of mine used to come and visit them quite a lot, and they would like to show up about dinner time. This friend was trying to teach his wife how to be conservative and how to take care of food and so on, and he liked to come over to Mom's and Dad's place. When he'd leave, he'd say, "See, Joan, B.C. and Mary made everything they had on their table except their salt and pepper." That was always kind of amusing to me.
ERQUIAGA: A family joke, huh?
JOHNSON: Well, it was, and he laughed about it, too, but he really thought it was neat because he grew up, even though it was during the same time, they grew up differently. When they would bring their lunches to school, they'd have bakery bread, and I just thought that'd be the neatest thing, and they'd always have some Vienna sausage, and they'd always have bologna and mustard. We didn't have any of that unless my mother had made mustard or made the mayonnaise, and we would always have a piece of sliced steak or a piece of beef or homemade ham or something like that. I was kind of ashamed because the homemade bread would kind of crumb on you when you tried to eat it, and I thought everybody was looking at me laughing. I would have given my whole lunch for a sandwich with that baker's bread. I though that was the neatest stuff, but I never did get any of that. Years later, it was our ten-year high reunion, why, a friend of mine was telling me that I was probably one of the stingiest guys he knew because I wouldn't share lunch with him. I told him I'd of shared any or all of it for just a taste of what they had, and they would have done the same. Anyway we just never communicated on that, or I'd a traded my lunch and I'd a had some good eating, but I wouldn't trade anymore. I like that homemade stuff.
ERQUIAGA: Well, you said your mother might have made mustard. How did she do that?
JOHNSON: I'm not sure. I never got in the mustard or the mayonnaise, but she was pretty clever. She could make about anything that we ever had. She wouldn't buy the prepared mustard. I think if she made it she would probably use the dry mustard and then mix it with something. Maybe even mayonnaise or something to bring it out. We just didn't have mustard too much as I was growing up because it was a little harder work.
ERQUIAGA: Did she drive a car?
JOHNSON: Yeah, she drove a car and even shortly, well, it was after I'd graduated and went into the service, why, she got her chauffeur's license and drove the school bus for about three years, and she would park it here. She would make a little side money by driving the kids to school.
ERQUIAGA: Was that kind of unusual at that time for a lady to do that?
JOHNSON: No. About half of the drivers were either high school students or mothers and very, very few men because they didn't pay much. They only paid like thirty or forty dollars a month. If you had an automobile you could leave it there at the bus sheds or something like that, this was really good. It was a little side money. Thirty or forty dollars back in those days stretched a little bit, but it still wasn't good enough that a man would not want to work full time and instead drive bus.
ERQUIAGA : Did your mother have any children yet when she came here?
JOHNSON: She had one child that was born before she came out. Dad and her were married, and then he came back out to farm. Then he would go back and visit because he didn't have a place fixed up for her to come out. She had a child. She figured she had conceived over ten months prior and hadn't been to the doctor, and finally through my dad's urging she did go to the doctor. Sometimes towards the eleventh month the baby was born, and it was a difficult birth. Back in the early days they used to tell, "You're eating for two now, so eat good." My mother had gained quite a little weight. [end of tape 1 side A] It was long before the days of caesarean or any assist like that, and they just literally, with instruments, drug the baby out of the birth canal. My mother was so small and the baby so large that his ribs were crushed into his lungs, and he only lived for just a few days after that, like maybe four to five days and just was in a lot of pain. His birth weight was over fifteen pounds, like fifteen pounds, six or seven ounces. As I recall, he was an extremely large baby. The next time that she conceived was out here, and, because of her injuries or something, the baby was born premature. I think like five months, six months into her pregnancy, and the little girl only weighed about five and a half, maybe six pounds.
ERQUIAGA: From one extreme to the other.
JOHNSON: Um-hum, and so the third time she conceived was my oldest living brother, and she was pregnant for the normal nine months, and she said she cried every day of it because of the apprehension and the fear that she didn't know whether she could stand to go through another traumatic experience like the previous two or not. From then on she had five more children. My oldest brother [Ivan D. Johnson born February 9, 1925], my oldest sister, Laura [Johnson Broughton, born October, 1926] , and my middle brother, James F.[Johnson, born October 15, 1930], and Ellen June [Johnson Barrus, born June 11, 1936], and then I was the tail end.
ERQUIAGA: You were the youngest?
ERQUIAGA: And where did you go to school?
JOHNSON: I went for the first eight years over at Lone Tree School, and then I went into [Churchill County] high school for the next four.
ERQUIAGA: How did you get from here to the Lone Tree School?
JOHNSON: We walked every day two miles up hill in deep snow and walked home the same way, up hill and in deep snow. (laughter) Isn't that what I've told you? (laughing) We walked most of the time. When we got a little bit more able to coax Mom into it, why, she'd take pity on us and sometime give us a ride to school, but most of the time we walked or rode our bicycles.
ERQUIAGA: You said that your mother was a teacher at the Island School. When was that?
JOHNSON: It was probably 1923, 1924, somewhere in there.
ERQUIAGA: Do you remember any of your teachers' names from Lone Tree School?
JOHNSON: I think my first-grade teacher was a Mrs. [Kathleen] Barr. Then I had a Mrs. [Pauline] Lattin and Mrs. [Alice] Grieves, Theo Wightman, and a Miss [Mrs. Alberta] Merritt. Miss Merritt actually was teaching the younger group, but she was teaching with Mrs. Theo Wightman. There was a Mrs. [Lillie H.] Stark. The last year she taught was the year before I came in. I don't remember any of the other teachers names. In fact, that may have been all because some of them did double years.
ERQUIAGA: I read in the paper that your mother was the one that started the PTA group out here in the Lone Tree School?
JOHNSON: I don't remember much about that because I wasn't really interested in the parent-teachers' conference. I was just mostly interested in escaping the teachers, but my mother did have something to do with it, and whether she organized it, I'm not sure, but many of the people have given her the credit for it, so I suppose she did. She was always active in the Parent-Teachers locally and tried to work a happy medium so the teachers were happy with their job functions and we as children got a fair shake. But I think we all did anyway.
ERQUIAGA: Then when you went to high school, how did you get to school?
JOHNSON: I was able then to ride the school bus. They had school buses operating here, and because this was not a consolidated district, you had to have special permission to go to Oats Park or to any of the other schools, and I preferred to go to Lone Tree anyway. They were operating several [elementary schools] at the time, and we used to have the intermural type baseball games in the springtime with St. Clair, Harmon, and Stillwater. I think even at the time I had started Lone Tree School, they had already closed the Island School. I don't think it was operating, but years before that they had several other schools. The Union School over on Union Lane, and they had the Northam School clear up there below Lahontan Dam. Oh, and there was Sheckler. Sheckler closed about the time that I started going to school, too. That's be about 1942 or 1943 that they closed Sheckler, I believe.
ERQUIAGA: I also read that your mother was on the Churchill County School Board.
JOHNSON: That I can't talk about 'cause I don't remember.
ERQUIAGA: I was going to ask you if that was unusual. I don't know whether they had ladies on the Board very much, or if she was a pioneer in that.
JOHNSON: I don't know. I don't remember much about her being on the school board. I remember when I was in high school or shortly thereafter, she ran as an assembly woman.
ERQUTAGA: Oh, she did!
JOHNSON: It was a successful running, but she wasn't elected. Through her running she was able to get a lot of her points across that were, and I don't remember any of them, but she felt very fortunate that she was able to voice her opinion to where several of the things that she believed in and was fighting for were taken care of by other individuals who were elected to the state assembly.
ERQUIAGA: She was certainly active in everything, wasn't she?
JOHNSON: She was a member of the LDS [Latter Day Saints] Church and that's where most of her activities centered, but she was a member of the Artemisia Club. She was very civic minded. My father was a member of the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars], and she was a member of the VFW Auxiliary, the ladies' organization.
ERQUIAGA: I remember that your mother was active in the Republican women and all of those Republican activities.
JOHNSON: And she took an active role, and I think at one time, she was the woman's chairman of the Nevada State Farm Bureau. She was nominated for the mother-of-the year
ERQUIAGA: I read that she was mother-of-the-year for Churchill County. Who was it that nominated her?
JOHNSON: I don't know.
ERQUIAGA: What did you do for entertainment in those days when you were growing up?
JOHNSON: We had a television without a picture. They called them radios. (laughing) My dad had several old clunker radios, and my favorite station was CLINT. Clint, Texas. You send a dollar and you could get almost anything down at Clint, Texas. It was one of those big five thousand watt stations, and we could pick that up pretty good on our old clunky radio, and I used to like to listen to that. We weren't allowed to listen to the real fun programs like the squeaking door of Innersanctum. We could listen to Gildersleeves, Amos and Andy. They had a lot of other fun programs that we use to listened to. I liked to listen to the old cowboy twangy music, and they would play the Grand Old Opry on Saturday night, and I liked to hear that. Mostly we made our own entertainment. When we were kids we would go play in the desert. Play all sorts of games with the neighborhood. We thought we were having a lot of fun. Good clean fun, and we entertained ourselves, got good exercise. When we got a little older, why, we used to go out and go rabbit hunting and things like this, because out on the edge like we are here, we had lots and lots of rabbits that would come in and destroy our crops, so my father would encourage us to keep the rabbit population down. When I got a little older, we were working the alfalfa fields, and at the end of the day, a friend of mine and I would jump in his jeep and go up and jump in the canal and swim and wash the old hay dust off us.
JOHNSON: One night, I remember that we'd gone up--this was probably about 1951 or 1952--and we had been swimming and a little local storm came up, and it was thundering and lightning. I'd jumped up on a concrete block and bent over and was pulling on my pants, and Roger was standing back, and I see him lean over and almost fall back. It got really bright, and I could smell the hydrogen burning, but he said a bolt of lightning came, and he says, "It came to me and it was like a glass fish bowl was over me, and it came down and then went over and hit in the dirt right in front of me." We laughed about that and didn't think too much of it, but when we came home, the lights were off in the house and Dad was outside pouring a little bit of water in a easy chair that he had. He always sat in one chair and read the afternoon paper, and right on one side of it was an electrical outlet and on the other side was a telephone. He said he didn't feel like it this night, so he was sitting across the room, and he said a bolt of lightning came through that house like you couldn't believe and hit the transformer and came into the electrical outlet, jumped through this chair, the chair springs that he normally sat in, set it on fire, and went out the telephone ground. Blew up the telephone, put our electricity out, and would have set my dad's pants on fire or a little more had he not been across the room. But that was one night I thought that we were being watched over by the Almighty, that it wasn't our time yet.
ERQUIAGA: Did you ever go to the movies or dances?
JOHNSON: We did both, but I was such a shy kid I was afraid to stand within the same room with a girl all by myself. I liked to go to the dances, and years later I did like to dance. I never really liked to dance as much as I liked to hold the girls while they danced. We went to movies and baseball games, but going to the movies, they cost twenty-five cents a pop and Mom and Dad never held with me wasting money like that. I only got to go just a few times a year. It seems to have been enough. Most of our entertainment was right here on the ranch building things and playing, and, of course, Mom and Dad kept us active doing our garden work. We had a lot of farm animals. We put up the winter supply of feed. Then we had to put up our winter supply of groceries through the garden, too.
ERQUIAGA: Were you in 4-H?
JOHNSON: I was in 4-H. Most of the time my projects were beef and gardening. One year I did a project in entomology, and I thought that was quite interesting. I tried for a trip to Chicago, but I got my paperwork in just a little bit late. The Elgin Company gave me a brand-new gold wristwatch, but I never got to go to Chicago. However, my mother went as a chaperone on at least one occasion, I think two occasions that she took the kids back to Chicago to the national 4-H convention. We always thought that was neat. Mom was active in about everything, and she taught all the girls, my two sisters, to sew with the old Singer treadle, foot-operated sewing machine which is still here on the ranch.
ERQUIAGA: In high school were you in FFA [Future Farmers of America]?
JOHNSON: Yes, I was in FFA, and I really liked the ag shop where I learned to weld and learned a lot of shop courses. Also, we studied various things, the agriculture and beef rating and meat judging.
ERQUIAGA: In your high school yearbook, it said you were a state golden emblem parliamentarian. Was that part of FFA?
JOHNSON: Yes, it was. That was a lot of fun. We had a parliamentary team, and I was on that. Our team was the winning parliamentary team.
ERQUIAGA: What did a parliamentary team do?
JOHNSON: That was primarily where we would have debates, subjects given to us. One group of parliamentarians would take one side of the debate, and the other one would take the other debate, and through using the parliamentary procedure which is the procedure to hold and operate meetings successfully much patterned off the Senate and the Congress. We would rise to the point of order. We would try to stop their debates. We would try to pull things to vote back and forth and to win the debate and to be able to out shuffle them as it were with parliamentary procedures. It was always fun. One thing that I always enjoyed, too, and I never got out of the state with it, but I was a public speaker. We had to write our own talks and give them and then we would be questioned and answer about that.
ERQUIAGA: Do you feel that was good training for when you were an adult?
JOHNSON: I think it was excellent training, because both of those gave you self-confidence, and they gave you the ability to think on your feet and to outthink, as it were, the other party or individual.
ERQUIAGA: Another thing that I read was that you belonged to Old English F. Can you tell me what that was?
JOHNSON: Well, I don't really remember how Old English F came to be or why I was in that. That's been too long ago, but it was some fun project or I wouldn't have been there. (laughing) I don't remember, perhaps, this was because of the fact that I was in plays or something like that. I liked to participate in that, but I don't know if that came under the Old English F or not. I don't remember where that came from.
ERQUIAGA: And it said that you were in the boys' glee club and mixed chorus.
JOHNSON: Um-hum. We sang together. They let me sing in there for a number of years until they found out what was wrong with it. (laughing) We had a lot of fun, and we had a good group, and I did like to sing. It was a lot of fun.
ERQUIAGA: Did you play a musical instrument?
JOHNSON: The only thing I ever played was the harmonica. I have an accordion but I didn't become very proficient with that. They didn't have that in any of the school organizations. Most of my class work was with the FFA, and I was a State Farmer. I had the office of the State sentinel. We would go visit other schools, and we would go on state FFA conventions. I really enjoyed that.
ERQUIAGA: Did you learn a lot of record keeping in FFA?
JOHNSON: They tried to teach us a lot, and they did give us some real basic things which I was able to call on a little later. One of my problems was I hated desk work and hated school work. It wasn't until years later that I found out how important this was. Fortunately, some of these things had stuck with me. Most of the time I do my own taxes, but things are complicated enough, and I've had enough things go on that I've got a good man that takes care of me and my taxes. I just keep the records and try to keep things straight for him.
ERQUIAGA: What was the Greenwave League? It said you belonged to that.
JOHNSON: It was intramural basketball, and a lot of us who didn't have the ability or the time to be on the high school basketball teams and other teams, we had what we called the Greenwave League. That was probably about ten to twelve basketball teams that were made up within the high school, and we just played each other. We didn't go out of town. We just had our own little league, and it kept us off the streets and active in sports. A lot of fun.
ERQUIAGA: Then, did you go off to college after you finished high school?
JOHNSON: I never did. I wanted to, but because of my father's age, and at this point, he must have been close to eighty years old and was having difficult time with the farming. I started farming and I went to work for Andy Drumm Construction Company. I run equipment for them and then come home at night and do the irrigating or put up the hay and do the farming and help take care of the ranch for him. I felt cheated in a way because all of my brothers and sisters went away and did what they wanted, and I got stuck here. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: So that's how you ended up staying with the farm.
JOHNSON: I wouldn't be sorry about that at all except the local water troubles that we're having now, and now I feel cheated because I've worked so hard over the years building this place up so we could kind of slow down, and we'd be able to sell five, six hundred ton of hay off of it every year. Now with the water problems we're having a difficult time keeping the place going, and many are.
ERQUIAGA: Did you go on a mission for your church?
JOHNSON: No, I didn't, and it was pretty much the same reason. Because of my father's age, I felt it important to stay home and take care of my mom and dad, so I did that. Although I could have, and I probably should have, gone on a mission, but I didn't.
ERQUIAGA: Do you think you might do that when you retire? I know some people who have.
JOHNSON: Yeah, my wife and I both have an interest. Soon as we get all of the kids kicked out, why, we very possibly will go on a mission of some sort, maybe, a time or two for the church. We think that'd be a great experience, and we think it'd be something that we could share our knowledge with other people.
ERQUIAGA: Did you go to the service?
JOHNSON: I was in the Marine Corps. I had joined the National Guard here locally to play athletics with some of my friends, and then I got a good job helping build the hangars and the runways during the summer when they had Guard camp, and I was too busy to go, and because I failed to go, they were going to draft me. They'd pulled my exemption. A friend talked me into--he wanted to join the Marine Corps real bad--so he and I went together and joined the Marine Corps. He and I went to San Diego and then we both went over to the Far East, Japan and all the other countries. We kind of re-fought the Second World War, and we won again. It was a great experience, but I'm glad I'm home. I had an opportunity to go to officers' training and then to flight school, but I wanted to come home. I look at that with mixed emotions, too. It'd been fun to have had that sort of career. I've had a couple of friends who have recently retired with United Air Lines. They've had a tremendous career and things have worked for them, and they have the ability now to do what they want because of their really good retirements. In a way I envy them, but I'm really happy with my life.
ERQUIAGA: When you came home from the service, did you go to full time farming?
JOHNSON: Yes. Well, it wasn't full time, but I did come home. I had a small carryall, and I went to leveling up and making the fields bigger and better. But for forty hours a week or more, I'd work for Drumm running their machinery, and I'd come home and farm as a part time trying to build the place up and make it big enough to support me and my folks. At least until they went, then my idea was to take the farm. I went to work at the fire department at the Fallon Naval Air Station in 1967, and I worked there till 1992 when I retired. I was in hopes then that I'd be able to be kind of a gentleman farmer. (laughing) You know, just farm a little place and be relatively free to go here and there if we wanted to, but sometimes we're surprised, and we don't get our wishes carried out. You understand what I've been complaining about to you for the last several days. (whispering) Senator Reid. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: (laughing) When did you start in as a fireman out at the Base?
JOHNSON: Started in 1967.
ERQUIAGA: And then how long were you there?
JOHNSON: I was in and out several times. I started as a temporary and was using it for a fill in job, and then in 1970, I went to work as a career fire fighter and became a civil servant and worked there until, like I say, 1992 until I was fifty. Well, see, I'd be fifty-five years old, and then I retired, and then tried to be a full time farmer.
ERQUIAGA: When and how did you meet your wife?
JOHNSON: My wife's mother used to live on a little place right behind the ranch.
ERQUIAGA: Here in Fallon?
JOHNSON: As a young girl. Uh-huh. Her name was Jewell Hall, and the Halls and the Johnsons were very friendly. She married a young fellow by the name of Bill Buys, and they moved to Bountiful, Utah. When my folks would go to Colorado or to visit my sister who lived in Bountiful, Utah, would like to drop in and visit the Buys family. I used to date Leela's older sister a little bit, but I decided that I'd wait till Leela grew up and then marry her, and I did.
ERQUIAGA: When was that?
JOHNSON: We married March 11, 1966. We've been married now for going on thirty-two years. Just past thirty-one years.
ERQUIAGA: And where did you live?
JOHNSON: We originally bought us a house in town and lived there until we were able to complete our home here on the ranch, and then we moved out here. We've lived in Churchill County all of the time. I was working construction right up until the time that we were married, and I didn't see too much sense of getting married and then working out in the desert somewhere on a construction team, so I thought it would be nice if I just quit and got something around town and try to work the farm and do something else. This is one of the reasons why when I had an opportunity to work at the fire department, I went to work there. We were working seventy-two hours a week, but I would have every other day off. This was quite congenial to a farming operation. Allowed me to accomplish a lot here on the ranch.
ERQUIAGA: Tell me about your children.
JOHNSON: We were married approximately five years, and my wife was unable to conceive so we adopted our first child, Shane. It was a year and two months after we adopted Shane, why, she gave birth to our first daughter, DeLea. Then after that they came in rapid succession. Almost a year or a year and a half apart until we ended up with seven children.
ERQUIAGA: You still have how many living at home?
JOHNSON: We have the two younger ones living at home. Amber, who is a senior in high school, and Stanley who's a ninth grader going into high school next year, I guess they call it a sophomore now. We had four-year high school. He's in junior high right now in the ninth grade.
ERQUIAGA: I understand that you have or did have a barbecue business?
JOHNSON: I have played with barbecuing all of my life. My dad learned to deep pit barbecue before the turn of the century back in Colorado, and I used to be kind of his helper. I would always go clean out the barbecue pits and make them ready and cut the wood and get it ready to go into the pit. I would always help him prepare the meat, wrap it and season it, and then, of course, we had built a fire, put the meat in, take it out some seven or eight hours later depending on what it was he was cooking and how long he wanted it to cook, so I learned from that. Because of my fussy attitude, I've changed it a little bit and tried to capture the new things to save the juice and remember the old ways that they did to get the, I think, beautiful pit flavor from the hot earth and the smoke from the wood. I do some minor catering. [End of tape 1] Most of the barbecuing I do is on a volunteer basis, but I've gone and done some weddings. I've always really enjoyed that. Sometimes I just do the meat. A lot of times I'll do the whole thing for weddings, for retirements, and for things like this, but the biggest group I ever fed was about fifteen hundred people.
ERQUIAGA: How many people help you with this?
JOHNSON: Generally just my family. One or two of the kids. Whichever ones I can rope in right at the time, but I generally do most of the work myself, but I like to have a little help wrapping and seasoning the meat and putting it in the pit because I like to do this and put it in the pit and close it up just as fast as I can.
ERQUIAGA: Did you have a name for this business?
JOHNSON: I call my local business, and I got really good advertising and I really never followed through with it, but I got good advertising through the yellow pages of the telephone system here locally and, also, Bell, and I call myself Dee's Cowboy Catering. I get lots and lots of calls, but because I've never really set up for it, I do very few of them. Only those that I know well.
ERQUIAGA: One day when we were talking, setting up this time, you were talking about the Camel Back Mountains.
JOHNSON: That's the mountain range, this little short mountain range right directly behind the ranch. They call that the Camel Back Range and then the ones directly to the south, they call those the Desert Mountains. I was telling you that when I was a kid there was a road ran through the ranch on the south part. It came from what is now known as Curry Road and ran through the ranch and directly out to this Camel Back Range to an area they called Sand Canyon. There were three other roads that met it right in this area. One of them came from the Island District, and it came up over the top through what they called Rock Canyon. They called it because of the terrain to go up through Sand Canyon. You go up through the clay breaks and if there was much traffic, it really gets soft and tricky to get up on the top. Rock Canyon was much easier although it was very rough. There was another road this side of Island that joined in right at the what we called the Flats, and it would join in this area and go up Sand Canyon. The third road would come from Sheckler, and it would parallel the base of the Camel Back Range right up above the clay breaks and join in right at where they called the Sand Canyon, and they would all join as they went over the top and down the other side. This was where the early pioneers and the settlers would take their teams and horses and go cut their winter supply of wood or their fence posts. They used the cottonwood for fence posts, and some of them even got enough for fence rails, but most of it was just firewood and fence posts. We had some neighbors who found a way to get firewood quite easily. They would go find the dead ones, and they would set a fire at the base of the tree. Then they would load up their truck with whatever they had, and they'd come back the next day, and the tree where they'd set the fire on would have burned up in the tree quite a little bit, but the tree would have toppled down and that way they didn't have to fell the tree. They would just saw it up and the limbs and whatever they wanted, and load on the truck and they were really going to haul a lot of wood. As they were hauling one of their loads back to the top of the Camel Back Range, it got really hot in their cab. They looked in the back and one of the trees that they loaded on had rekindled and caught fire, and so they jumped out and tripped the binders hoping that they could dislodge the load and drive away from the burning woodpile. But when the logs rolled off, they rolled off and blocked the wheels and tires so they couldn't go anywhere and after they opened up the woodpile, the heat became such a burning inferno that they could just stand back until the gas tank caught on fire and burned the tires up, and they just stood back and watched the whole truck disintegrate in flames. That seemed to end their project.
JOHNSON: But most everybody, my father included, even when I was a young kid, would go over with a team of horses and the old tall iron-tired wagons, and we'd load on all the wood. We'd cut it with a two-man crosscut and load on what we needed, then haul it home and process it over the winter. Sometimes he would lay skids on the sides of the wagon and run a harness of sorts over the top of the wagon and we would roll the logs up on top of the wagon and let the horses do the work. But my father was always really careful not to hurt anybody. My father had what he called a powder wedge. It was a hollow wedge and it was long, and it was solid on the top. Where it came down to wedge shaped, why, it was open and it went up into a hollow tube to form the top of the wedge. Then near the top there was a small hole drilled, and the idea was to pour powder into this wedge, and then where these double holes were, the wedge portion, he would put paper wads in there and close it off so the black powder wouldn't leak out. Then he would drive it into this log and the idea would be to drive it down as far as you could, and then you would put a fuse down inside this hole into your black powder area. Then he would set the fuse on fire and it would split the log and open it up. So he was doing this one day, and evidently what had happened when he struck the match using the wedge for a striker, the match head went down alongside of the fuse and had pre-ignition and the wedge blew up. It narrowly missed his face, but it blew a chunk of the log off and hit him in the lower jaw. I looked out the window 'cause it was a real muffled explosion, what didn't sound right at all, and he was packing snow on his chin. I went out and I said, "What'd you do, Pa?" "Oh," he says, "I skinned my face." I pulled his hand away and his whole mouth gaped open showing his gums and teeth clear from just past center clear around towards to his ear. I says, "I think you're hurt a little bit more than you think." By this time blood was dripping off his elbow, and he went in and looked in the mirror and he started shaking. I says, "Come on. I'll take you into the clinic, and we'll get this taken care of." "No," he says, "you're not taking me there. I'm going to the Vets' Hospital. Don't cost anything." I says, "Get in the car. I'll take you." He wouldn't do it. He made my mother put a bandage on there with a big soaker on it, and then he had a big towel. I drove him quite rapidly up to the Vets' Hospital and we got in there. It was back in the old days and the hospital was very slow, but the lady at the desk didn't bother to look up. He says, "I'd like to see a doctor," as best he could with the bandage and so on. She says, "Is this an emergency?" He says, "You tell me," and he unwrapped himself and let that jaw gape open. It was quite a gruesome sight, and she finally looked up, gave a little scream, and took off running. The doctor and a gurney and two helpers came, and they loaded him up and hauled him up and sewed him together. Several years later he commenced getting a little bump on the lower portion of his chin. He was always rubbing that. One day it exploded in his hands, and a stick the size of a match came busting out of it. They didn't get it cleaned out very well. That was quite an interesting experience for him.
JOHNSON: One day I came home and he'd had Doc Woodward out. They were testing and vaccinating the heifer calves, and he was one short on the last go-around of having the alleyway full, and it was an alleyway that I'd built that just was the size of a good-sized cow, and these heifers were a little bit smaller. One of them crowded past him, and then they all tried to crowd past him, and they went to shoving on him, and they were on his back and shoving his belly against the old rough boards. There was a splinter probably about the size of a ruler only much thicker and came to a point, and they started shoving him and they shoved this right through his coat right into his belly. They shoved him and about eight or nine inches went into his belly and broke off. When I came home he held that up and said, "Look what went into my belly." I says, "My, word, let's look at that. We'd better get you in to a doctor." "Oh," he says, "I'm all right. I got it out." I showed him, I says, "Look what's on here," and there was feces from the livestock. I says, "That's where you get in trouble." So he allowed me then to take him in to the doctor. They cleaned it out and then packed him with gauze. He didn't mind that too much, but when they pulled out about ten feet of gauze when it was almost healed up, he did mind that. And again, several years later, why, he got a big spot on his belly that kept growing, and he kept rubbing it. He went up to the VA Hospital and the doctor lanced that and took out quite a large splinter that they'd left in and had worked outward. My dad was one of these old tough guys. He didn't spend a lot of time in doctors' offices anyway.
ERQUIAGA: (laughing) No, he didn't. Your mother didn't either?
JOHNSON: No. Neither of one of them did much doctoring. They knew how to take care of themselves.
ERQUIAGA: Um-hum. They had their own doctoring . When did you subdivide over here across the road?
JOHNSON: I started, I think it was about 1985 that I tried to-- that was my mother's piece of property--and I tried to subdivide. At this point we'd been in the drought for about seven years, and I tried to subdivide over there so that in Mom's last few years, she'd have a little bit of money if she wanted to travel or wanted to do anything. Anyway, in order to subdivide over there, it was necessary to re-zone because I wanted five-acre lots instead of ten-acre lots. There was a little neighbor that didn't think it was right, and she made a lot of trouble for us. It took several more years in order to get the subdivision taken care of, but she was able to get it into five-acre lots, but by the time I got them approved and sold, why, she wasn't around to reap the benefits anymore, and I always felt bad about that. I didn't want to subdivide anyway. I tried for years and years to get that water righted so I could farm it, but we all know what's happened.
ERQUIAGA: You're involved in the litigation the same as many other people, I guess.
JOHNSON: Yeah, we all are to a large or small degree, and we all have our lawyers or belong to the Lahontan Conservancy or one of the organizations which are battling this for us.
ERQUIAGA: Do you think you'll do anymore subdividing?
JOHNSON: Not right now, but they've kind of put us on the outside, but I would really like to stay farming. There's only outgo and not much income, but it's something I really enjoy, and this is my mom's and dad's thing. I've got a lot of heritage here. I grew up here, and I really like it, but if worse comes to worse, I guess I would, but I would like to stay in the fight and see what's going to happen with our water.
ERQUIAGA: You said that you had a fire at your house.
ERQUIAGA: When was that?
JOHNSON: It was 1993, I believe. I get my years mixed up, but I think it was September 1, 1993. I'd taken my daughter up to the doctor in Reno. She was having some ear infections, and when we came home, there was nothing to come home to. What had happened was, we had a television--it was seven or eight years old, but it was determined that the television, for whatever reason, had a meltdown and caught on an internal fire, then caught the rest of the house on fire. Of course, you'd always think if it was off you wouldn't have this, or if we'd of pulled the plug wouldn't have had that, but they have the transformer and what's that other unit in there that's called the? But, anyway, the transformer and this other unit allows the television to store for many, many hours thousands of volts. Maybe as much as ten thousand volts. This would be enough to start a fire all by itself. We couldn't determine--the house was so badly destroyed--whether the circuit breaker for this had kicked out, but even if it had of kicked out, it still had enough energy to keep this going and perpetuate a fire, this being right back next to wall, and went up between the studs into the attic. Caught the attic on fire, spread clear through the attic, and then fell down on the rest of the house and destroyed it. Any of these things--capacitor, the little word I was trying to think of--but anything can set a fire. Any electrical appliance that's plugged in. Like I say, the televisions are designed for a quick warmup, and the way they do a quick warmup is because they're basically on all the time, and you have electricity feeding these areas all the time. So whether they're plugged in or unplugged, they still have this capability. Your electric dryers, your electric washers, your electric stoves, your coffee makers, anything electrical has the capability. They don't all do it, and very few of them do it, but we happened to be the lucky ones that had a Zenith television that did this for us.
ERQUIAGA: Is that when you moved to this house?
JOHNSON: Yeah, we moved shortly after. We stayed in a motel, and I was in the process--my mother had died about five months previous, and we had a fellow living in this house and was kind of remodeling it. So we stayed in the motel for about thirty days and then we got this place cleaned up enough that we could move in. We've been here ever since and slowly rebuilding our home. We hope to have that completed this spring.
ERQUIAGA: Are you planning to move back to it?
ERQUIAGA: Oh, you are.
JOHNSON: It was way too much house for us because most of our children have left. The house is 1756 square feet on two levels. When we had seven kids rattling around, why it was probably a little too small, but now that most of those are gone, my wife and I talked and tried to figure out a way we could build half of a home on a full basement. But as it turned out, we went ahead with our basic construction as it was before with a few changes and just built it back like it was before. It was comfortable. It was nice, but it's way too much home for four of us, so what we'll do with it when the kids all go away I don't know. We might still live there. Her upstairs, me downstairs. (laughing) I don't know.
ERQUIAGA: Were you ever a hunter?
JOHNSON: I like to hunt a lot. When I was a kid we were hunting rabbits and all sorts of things. I used to go deer hunting every year, but there's something about it. As you get a little older, I would just as soon eat fried chicken or beef or something like this. I love to get out in the hills and I love to be active in the mountains, but I'm not really that fired up about killing wild game anymore although I don't see anything wrong with it. I just don't enjoy it like I used to, but I do enjoy the wilds. I love to get out. I used to duck hunt and hunt geese, but I never did enjoy eating them, so about all I would do is shoot enough to make my mom and dad happy because they really enjoyed eating the wild fowl like that. I used to like to go out. The way my dad used to make deer salami, I loved that. I can make beef salami just about as good as what he did, and don't have to tramp all over the mountains to do it, but I like to get out in the mountains. I think that's beautiful to able to do that. Me and my boys have had some good experiences doing this.
ERQUIAGA: Are you re-leveling this place?
JOHNSON: I think probably the last project of any size was this last year. I moved about thirty thousand yards on one forty-acre field and brought the grade up a little bit. It had five and a half tenths fall per hundred, and I slowed it down and also brought in a little bit of water-righted ground and made it a little bit more accessible for the irrigation where the water isn't racing down. I have one other small project which will be about ten thousand yards, then I don't think I'll do much more leveling on this place. I've moved a lot of dirt on this ranch here. I have probably moved about 250,000 yards of dirt. Unlike many of the ranches, our hills were taller, our sand hills were higher, and our valleys a little bit lower, so it took a lot of dirt to get those flattened out. A lot of people in the valley were pretty flat to start with, and all they had to do was rearrange it a little bit and go to farming. My dad liked this area, so this is what we have.
ERQUIAGA: Are there any neighbors around that homesteaded around the same time your father did?
JOHNSON: None of the original homesteaders are here. Even his closest neighbor whose name was Wadsworth, he was in the property that Earl Hiatt lived in for so many years, but he bought this place from the Wadsworths. I can remember--I don't remember the incident--but when Wadsworth left, why, he sold my dad his big derrick, and my dad drug that over with the horses and teams. The rest of the little place over there, why, Earl Hiatt farmed it and raised his family on it. He was there till he passed away. Boy, I don't even remember what year he passed away, but it was in the late seventies, maybe early eighties, but I think it was late seventies that he passed away. Then his son, Kelly, took the place and has done other things with it now. But, all the original homesteaders, there are others who have come into the valley, like Dennis Sorenson. He was the son of E.A. Sorenson, and then George Miller, I guess, homesteaded that place, and his son, Lowell, still has most of the place, but Lowell's about out of farming. The rest of the places, I think, have all changed hands over the years. No more original homesteads except for this one and maybe George Miller's place. I've never thought about that. I'll have to think about that some more.
ERQUIAGA: Do you have any memories of the Depression?
JOHNSON: I was born right on the tail end of the Depression. I didn't realize anybody was having any problems. We didn't have a lot of things, and nobody had a lot of things, but we all had some shoes, but we ate excellent. I can't remember anytime that I ate any better as I was growing up during the Depression, and then during the Second World War. Times were tough and we weren't able to get a lot of nice things like the sugars and so on which you need for canning the fruit, but I can't remember us really being deprived of any of the main things. The Depression was almost over when I was born. Of course, I tell my kids I remember it, and that it was tough times. (laughing) I had an interesting experience. A few years ago I taught a class in the community college called Back to Basics, and what I did was come up with about sixty subjects that I could teach anywhere from home butchering to curing to cooking underground to dutch oven cooking. Dutch oven cooking was always fun because we would talk about dutch ovens and how to care for them, how to buy them, what to do with them, and then kind of how to cook in them. The following week everybody would bring their own dutch oven with something in it, and we would cook it out in the parking lot. Always thought that was fun.
ERQUIAGA: What did you use to cook it on?
JOHNSON: At one time we had a barrel that was cut off halfway, and we filled it with wood. Let that burn down to coals and then we would take the coals out and set them underneath the dutch oven and then set them on top of the dutch oven to bring your oven up to the desired temperature. For working in the parking lot we found it easier if we would use briquettes. They've got a pretty good schedule. You have an eight-inch dutch oven and five briquettes under it and five on top of it will give you about 350 degrees. Depending on what size you had and what you have in there will tell you how long to cook it. Everything is a pretty good size. It wasn't like the old days. When my wife and I were first married, why, we had a pit dug out in the front yard out here, and when I'd go down to do the chores at five thirty or six, I'd build a fire in it. When I'd come back and we'd have breakfast and things kind of settled down and before the real day's work would start, why, my wife would either have a dutch oven full of bread or a cobbler or I would put a roast in there, or we would put a roast with vegetables, and we'd cook up something for Leela's and mine and Mom's and Dad's lunch. We did that several times a week all summer for several summers, and we thought that was kind of neat. It's kind like they did in the old days, but it's fun to us to do that.
JOHNSON: The first course that I would teach, I would give them a list of sixty things and ask the students to put their interest from one to ten on what they would like to study for this curriculum for the year, and then I would teach them. While they were working on that, why, I would whip out one of the books that I wrote that's called The Basics of Underground Cooking. We would study that, and I'd give them all one of my little books. I was a failure in English so me writing a twenty-page pamphlet's really something for me. (laughing) But I would give them that and they could take it home. Some of them have used it, and they've reported back how much fun it is. I've had others who, even though they had the book, wanted a little bit of hands on so when I would do a barbecue, why, they would make arrangements and come over and help me build the fire and go through the entire process with me from fire to taking it out. They would bring a roast with them, and we'd cook that and they'd take that home. I'd go the other way with what I'd cooked. We talked about a lot of different things. Home canning. Like you say, the butchering all the animals. We talked about the curing of hams and bacons and stuffing and making your own sausage. Handling the hide. We did some basics on leather making. It was just a general lot of fun class.
ERQUIAGA: When was that? How long ago?
JOHNSON: It was, oh, probably two years ago. I did, I think, three semesters, and then the last time there wasn't much interest and so the class was shut down. All I do is brag about it now. I don't do it anymore.
ERQUIAGA: And your wife teaches at the community college?
JOHNSON: She teaches at the community college. She teaches the deaf sign language they call American sign language or abbreviated to Am Slam. She does some see sign which is verbatim English, but most of hers is that she works with is Am Slam. It's kind of an abbreviated talk. For instance they have phrases they use rather than saying every word because that's quite tedious to say every word and to spell every word, so what they do is give sign names. They'll spell it and then they'll give a sign name whatever this is going to be. Like d might just be a letter d. For instance a phrase like, "You're too late," or "You missed the boat," but in Am Slam, it's just simply "train gone" which means you missed the train, too, but a lot of things like this. It's kind of an international thing. Those who have studied American sign language have gone to foreign countries like Japan and Korea and met people over there who were signers and although they weren't familiar with the American sign language or the Am Slam they could communicate very well, because the language is through the signs are very comparable. So they've had very little difficulty in communicating country to country with this. But she enjoys that. She's done some interpreting. This is kind of a tricky situation to be an interpreter because of the liability involved. Courtroom procedures or school procedures if you're not licensed and so on. It's highly unlikely, but a possibility, if somebody lost a case, they could sue the interpreter because they could say she did a bad job of interpreting. It's just a little bit more than my wife wants to become involved with, although she's probably good enough to do this, but she does very little of it. Kind of like me and the barbecue [business]. [End of tape 2 side A]
ERQUIAGA: Do you remember the winter of the haylift?
ERQUIAGA: Did that have any effect on you?
JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. We had a lot of fun. I was at that age where we had a lot of fun, and it was no problem, but I watched the reports, mostly listened to them over the radio, and it was exciting to see the old C119s fly in here. They were twin-engine double boomed aircraft with an open back fuselage, and they loaded those with hay. I was a little too young, I was only fourteen years old, and they wouldn't let me get on one because what they did was fly out over the open country in Eureka and Ely wherever they had a lot of open range with deep snow. The livestock were unable to get back to their feed stations, and they would kick these bales out on or near the herds and feed them. To me this was exciting. As I recall we had, here on the ranch, something like eighteen inches of snow which was no problem, but out in the outlying areas, why, I remember seeing pictures in the Life Magazine some of those areas where it was so bitter cold, and the snow was deep that livestock had actually frozen to death in the standing position. Because of the frozen conditions of their bodies, they couldn't tip over until it thawed. They'd locked their legs, and they stood there for weeks until it warmed up, and then they toppled over. It was really cold. I remember we had some weather that was close to thirty degrees below zero, but they had it like that with the chill factor and then absolutely no protection out where these cattle were suffering. Higher elevations never warmed up during the day like it did here. We would get like twenty or thirty degrees in the day and then cold at night, but out there it stayed sub zero all the time for several weeks. That was big thing to be recognized nationally and internationally, and particularly for us because we didn't have to put up with the hardships. Life went on as usual here except that the snow was a little deeper. The corrals were a little bit rougher to work in, but we did okay.
ERQUIAGA: Do you remember the earthquake in 1954? [July 6, 1954]
JOHNSON: I was thinking it was 1953, but whichever year it was, I was sleeping in the old bunkhouse, and I was milking cows for a small dairy. About four o'clock or there, I was starting to wake up just a little bit and dreading the fact that I had to get out of bed in a few minutes. The bunkhouse was sitting on a concrete floor which was quite rigid. The first thing I heard was the pheasants, and I didn't know there were that many pheasants in the whole valley let alone close to my ear, but they went to crowin' and hollerin' and then even the local birds went to crowin' and fussin'. Then I heard a low rumble and in the bunkhouse where I was, my mom had big cupboard where she stored a lot of her empty canning jars, and they went to rattling, and I sat up in bed about the time that the main roll came. I may have set up a little crooked, I don't remember, I don't know, but the next thing I know, why, I had fallen out of bed, or it had pitched me out of bed whichever, on the concrete floor. I thought, "Wow! Here it is!" (laughing) Of course, we all run outside in our underwear to see what was going on, and by this time there was nothing happening, but all the ground around us was honeycombed and cracked and opened. I fiddled around the ranch here till I was a little bit late for work, and then I was speeding. Lone Tree at this time was a dirt road, and as I was going to work, the neighbor kids come out and flagged me down. They said, "You're going too fast. That road is terrible." The Lone Tree Road from Huntsmans, and the Huntsman kids were the ones that flagged me down, had mostly caved off into the drain ditch, and it was honeycombed and cracked and opened up. I really had to kind of pick my way through there.
JOHNSON: Out in the neighbor's field, Vernon Austin's field, he just built a beautiful mile-long fence out of railroad ties and netting wire, and there wasn't hardly two posts lined up with each other anymore, and he had geysers squirting up out in his pasture. I supposed it had opened up and squished the water in there, and then when it closed back up, why, the pressure was making the water spout up there for about a half hour. He always had really nice corrals, and he had culverts. I guess because of the softness of the earthen ditch, there seemed to be a fault running down through the center of these ditches, and where they would come to a steel culvert, they would crack that wide open and sometimes push it back together too close and where he had wooden bridges, it would open those up. The bridges would fall in and sometimes close back up on them with one end down into the ditch. He had a lot of double swinging gates around his corral area, and none of the gates matched anymore. It either shoved them together or pulled them apart, and it was really quite a strange phenomenon that the valley had. There was no real damage, but it sure left its cracks through here.
ERQUIAGA: Is there any particular teacher that you feel influenced your life?
JOHNSON: Well, there was three of them. When I was in grade school I always felt a great, I guess you'd call it a love, but a respect for a teacher we had. Her name was Theo Wightman, and she was a good teacher. She was a no-nonsense type teacher, but every afternoon, if we were worthy of it, (laughing) during the day's activity, why, she would read us a portion of a book. The books that she read to us were uplifting and I thought very interesting, and it gave us kind of a break from the study and allowed us to hear somebody else read. I always liked her because she always seemed to have a real desire that we all succeed. It really instilled in us the desire to succeed. Two teachers in high school, Anne Gibbs, who later became Anne Berlin. She was always a great one because she had this same attitude, and L.C. Schank. L.C. Schank was always one who was no nonsense, but he knew when we needed to play a little bit, and he would loosen up and we would joke and have fun with him. He was a man that we could respect. He took the young boys that really wanted to under his wing and tutored them if they needed it. He always kept them going and encouraged them a lot. Those would be the three that I would remember for years to come. I would have thought a lot more of Anne Gibbs at the time, but I had very little interest in English. (laughing) But she was a good teacher, and even though I didn't care much about English she kept you going in it and kept you interested.
ERQUIAGA: You learned in spite of yourself.
JOHNSON: Yeah, really. She was a nice lady. She still is a great person. Then, Ed Arciniega was a good one, too, all though I was never in too many of his classes, but he was a good guy.
ERQUIAGA: You didn't take Spanish?
JOHNSON: I did one year. He was, I thought, a great guy and a good teacher. He had the ability to where if you'd stick with him, why, you'd really learn something. He was also an athletic coach which I worked with him a little bit in some of my athletics, but most of the time I came home and milked the cows instead of doing sports.
ERQUIAGA: Do you have any other interesting things you want to tell us about?
JOHNSON: I've got a vacant mind right now. (laughing) I don't know what more I could tell. This was always funnier to some of the people around, but we had this young lamb, and I was, oh, like nine or ten years old. I don't how old I was, but I used to like to play with the sheep a little bit. We would romp on the bales of hay. I got down on my hands and knees. I don't know if I was even eight years old. I was probably only about seven years old. Anyway, I got on my hands and knees and was hammering around these lambs with my head, and one day this--he was a little larger lamb. He was still a little guy. He only weighed about thirty-five pounds, but he backed off and squared off with me and hammered me in the head, and I found out his head was much more capable of ramming than mine was. Anyway, I started playing other games after that. (laughing) Wonder he didn't flatten my head. Dad laughed, but he sure chastised me for being so naive, and my brother-in-law just laughed. (laughing)
ERQUIAGA: Well, then, I think we'll conclude our interview.
JOHNSON: All right.
ERQUIAGA: I really appreciate it.
JOHNSON: Well, I hope it's something you can use.
ERQUIAGA: Oh, they'll use all of it. So, we thank you very much and we’ll conclude this.