• “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. Dr. Suess

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Where did your father go to work every day and what did he do?
Journal answer ...
written about 2001 with comments inserted today.

My father worked as a carpenter, a sheep-shearer, managed the Ross Lake Community Pasture (also routinely called 'The Pasture'), maintained a small farm and did many other 'handyman' jobs as needed.

He also knew how to have a good time.  When he was about 50 years old he learned to downhill ski (one of my sisters took a class in college and invited him) - and then he took most of the family skiing so they could learn too.

That is very characteristic of my father, at work or at play.  He enjoys life, keeps learning and then shares 'all good things'. He is the greatest! We all agree!

It seemed he knew how to do everything.
I 'knew' he knew everything.

As a carpenter he could also contract the plumbing and electrical work. In later years he told me that he would take a job and learn how on the job - doing it and figuring it out as he went by counseling with his dad, brothers, or one of the Schaffers. He worked for Gibb Schaffer Construction for a number of years and was often gone for a week or two at a time to 'do a job' some place that was too far away to come and go, back and forth.

I don't know how mom manged - there were not only cows to milk and lambs, pigs, and chickens to feed, and eggs to gather, but sometimes hay to stack, 1/2 an acre of garden to tend, and 10 children to raise (without TV, videos or Internet).

We lived 10 miles out from 'town'. We usually only had one vehicle and he had it! Walking several miles was not a big deal - it is easy to walk anywhere you may want to go. Or ride a horse - we had lots of horses. For short distances walking was easier than catching and saddling a horse.

My father's father was a carpenter/handyman.  Many of his brothers worked in the construction industry also. Dad has shared many memories of working with his father and brothers.  Although he raised cattle, hogs, or sheep at various times carpenter work was a mainstay of income for our family. When children were old enough to safely obey instructions they were permitted to go to work building with dad and to the pasture.

Of course, the obedience part was well tested in the lab of home and farm life. I think my father knew the most important work he did was teaching and being an example to his children.

We have been able to record some of his memories of carpentry and ranch work as sound clips.

Shearing was also a significant source of income. He never particularly liked it but when money was tight he'd accept the jobs.  I did hear him turn a few down but money seemed to always be tight.

from Dad's 'job' photo album - a copy of a picture someone had

As a sheep-shearer he worked with several other men (often Floyd Stewart, Johnny Walburger, or a Cahoon brother - Edwin or Edward, and others.) I remember especially the big celebration and fuss it was when they could shear 100 sheep in one day. Later he got even faster. Time was money - literally.  Shearing tools were also a significant investment. He used an electric hand tool and a 'sling' to support his upper body.  This job is not easy on the back.

You can watch a clip of a fairly typical sheep shear here.

Dad paid us kids to sort, wash and scrap clean the combs and cutters for his hand pieces. He had dozens and dozens of them. They were extremely sharp and had to be handled with care.They arrived home with him - both (he and the combs and cutters) heavily coated with a waxy, dirty black, grease from the wool. It had to be painstakingly picked out of grooves on the back. He had a large jam can full of hot water and dish soap for each type. We would hang them on a wire to dangle/soak them and dip them repeatedly to 'wash' them. The wire also helped us handle them safely taking them in and out.  After the soapy water, scraping, and a rinse there was still the drying process.  A tool wasn't clean until it was completely 100% dry.

I would beg to do it without pay, even though they smelled truly horrible - if he let me help he paid me too. I was a girl and younger than 4 older brothers. They were faster and better at picking the hardened, packed filth out of the deep grooves. Helping meant I was a 'big kid'. There were five children and a foster brother that were 'little kids' - 3 boys and 3 girls. 'Little kids' never got to do 'big kid' stuff.

When dad came home from shearing mom would make him strip and bathe as he came in the door.  Yes, the water had to be pumped at the well, carried to the house, heated on the stove in a large oval boiler and poured into an even larger tin bathtub with one sloping end; it was so short that his bent knees were exposed (but it was large enough for 5 or 6 small kids to splash and bath at the same time).

Sometimes Dad had sheep ticks on him. Mom had a fit! His clothes stayed in the back entry until she could inspect and wash them. He'd come in the house in his long underwear to the tub in the large kitchen and we'd turn our backs while he got into the tub.

He would lay back in the tub of hot water and tell her about his day while she carefully inspected every inch of his head and back for ticks.  Seldom was a tick missed.  (Perhaps that is where the saying 'never missed a tick' comes from.)  Sometimes the tick was already feeding with its head buried and body bloated with blood.  That always caused some 'finnagaling' to get it to back out and let go of him (match to hind quarters). Usually they would just be found floating or crawling around.  We would sit on the floor furnace - a metal grid about three feet square - cleaning combs and cutters, and avidly listen to them talk. It was often late and 'little kids' would be in bed. No wonder I begged to help.

His adventures, and ours, at the Ranch/Pasture, taking care of the farm and erecting buildings are documented in other places. Each would be a post - or two - of its own.

That will be another day!