Settling Down in Pine Valley after WW II

This is to my father who safely guided his family through the challenges of War on the Home Front.

By Robert LaRue, b. 1937

A giant rock overlooks Pine Valley. We call it Granite Mountain. Gold was discovered there in 1884. Following that discovery, the Cornucopia Mines dominated the local economy until 1942 when the War Production Board’s Order No. 208 shut down gold mining in the United States.

Without the mines, Cornucopia became a ghost town and Pine Valley’s economy became completely dependent upon agriculture and lumbering. When we arrived there in 1945 the valley still contained four towns: Pine Town, Halfway, Jim Town, and Carson. Halfway was the commercial center. Pine Town and Jim Town consisted of a store and gas pump. Carson had no commercial activity. The distance from Pine Town on the south to Carson on the north was seven miles. The valley was three to four miles at its widest. Even so, Pine Valley was still the home of the Baker County Fair. And when the long-time announcer stood in his booth over the bucking chutes each fall and told us that “This is where the pavement ends and the West begins,” he spoke straight truth. We definitely lived at the end of the road.

Typical of a rural somewhat closed society, our arrival was regarded with a degree of suspicion by the local residents. Dad was unabashed. His experiences during the depression, on the road, riding the rails, and living hand to mouth had taught him how to assimilate into varying social situations. He quickly found a job as a farmhand. The job came with an old farmhouse near Pine Town. We moved into the house and Mom set up housekeeping. Mom had grown up traipsing around Arizona, following her dad from mining job to mining job. She was no stranger to household moving. When September rolled around I started third grade in my fourth school in as many years.

Pine Town school consisted of two rooms, two outhouses, and a belfry. The extra room may have been utilized in years past, but by 1945 all eight grades were taught in one room by one teacher. Rows of desks bolted down to board rails lined the room. Students were assigned desks with each grade occupying a row or portion thereof. I don’t know how she did it, but our country schoolmarm was perfectly capable of maintaining discipline and advancing the three Rs to eight levels of learning without assistance. Perhaps some of today’s class size negotiators could use a lesson from Mrs. Krego.

Bob ‘Lash’ LaRue as bull rider

The job Dad hired onto was for an elderly rancher, the descendant of a pioneering family. This gentleman no longer ran cattle but relied on pasture rental and hay sales to support his operation. When the growing season ended, so did the job. However, a neighboring rancher needed a man to feed his herd during the winter, so Dad took that job. We continued to live in the first rancher’s house.

Pine Valley has what some call its own mini-climate. Because of the way the prevailing winds create convection currents over the surrounding mountains, the valley receives an inordinate amount of snow. It is not uncommon to find four or five feet of the white stuff piled up on the valley floor during January and February. Cattle are completely dependent on harvested feed and forage for several months each year.

When we arrived in 1945, mechanized agriculture was virtually nonexistent. Horse drawn implements were the norm. Ranchers turned their cattle out onto the public grazing lands in the spring. They then spent all summer irrigating their fields and harvesting hay and some small grains for the coming winter.

Some of the hay was hauled in by wagon and stacked loose inside barns. This hay fed the horses, small dairy strings, and family milk cows kept on the farm. The bulk of it was stacked loose in the fields to feed the main herd. The last growth of grass was saved for late fall grazing when the cattle were gathered from the range, sorted by brand, and returned to their home ranches.

When the first snow flew, hay wagon racks were moved onto bobsled runners and the feeding season began. Dad’s job was to hitch a team of horses to a bobsled each morning and drive them out to a hay stack. The stacks were fenced off by wood panels. He would open a panel, drive the team and sled alongside the stack, and close the panel. He would then crawl up onto the stack and pitch hay onto the bobsled.

When the sled was loaded, he would crawl down, open the front panel, drive the team onto the field, and close the panel. He would then start the team across the field and pitch hay onto the ground in piles. The cattle would string out behind the sled, feeding from the piles.

As winter progressed and the snow deepened, the feeding area would become a circle. Each day Dad would scatter the hay onto the fresh snow of the circle’s perimeter. The cattle would feed off the fresh snow and then bed down on the hay they hadn’t eaten. Thus they remained clean and healthy.

The feeding area would expand outward until the haystack was finally exhausted. Moving to the next stack could be challenging. When the snow was deep, Dad would hitch a four horse team to the bobsled. He would load the last hay from the exhausted stack and head the tandem team to the next stack. The lead horses would lunge through the snow breaking a trail while second team would follow along pulling the sled. The cattle would follow the sled, tramping down the snow and creating a path to the new stack. Dad would open the new stack and the  process would start all over again with a new circle.

For Eldon LaRue, this was a large departure from the dairy in Baldwin Park, California. Even so, he was again doing something he loved. He had escaped the clutches of the machinery of war. He was once more working with cattle. When thinking of an epitaph following his death, the best l could come up with was: “He was a herdsman by nature and damned good with cattle.” RIP to my father who safely guided his family through the challenges of War on the Home Front.

 

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5 thoughts on “Settling Down in Pine Valley after WW II”

  1. Both sides of my family grew up in Halfway ( born 1926 and 1927). My most cherished childhood memories are the times I spent there with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. (I was born1945 in Halfway) I was 12 when we moved to Washington state, but I still visit Halfway whenever I can, I love it there. x

  2. Tom, are you thinking of Mr. Walker? Long time since I heard the name LASH or any of the old nicknames. Like your memories and stories Bob.

  3. I went to school in Cornucopia from 1937 through 1942, and Jimtown 1942-1943. Moved away. Pine Valley High School 1949-1951.

  4. Don’t for get Mrs. Garlinghouse. I sat behind Tiz Smelcer in the small desks. You were over in the big kids desks. You are right, the teachers ruled 100 %. We didn’t need, as is the case today, a professional law enforcement person on the job in school. I almost forgot the 8th grade principle who ruled frequently with a real board – it stung !

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