Ranger Kids  
By Dian Thomas

Jared and I were blessed with the good fortune to be born and raised in the breath taking Manti La Salle National Forest in southern, Utah where our father was the forest ranger. I was born just after my parents arrived in Monteicello and Jared was born two years later.

In 2004, the year that the National Forest Service celebrated 100 years, I received a call from a woman in the Regional Office, which was located in Ogden. She asked me if I was a "Ranger Kid." I did not know what that was, so I asked her. She said, "Oh, that is a kid that was raised in a ranger station on the National Forest." That meant that Jared and I were "Ranger Kids."

Our family consisted of our parents, older brothers Neal and Jay, and a younger brother Clyde that was born six years after Jared. Because we had a family of five children (four boys and me), my mother was pretty busy taking care of the family essentials. My brother Jared — who was just two years younger than I — was my playmate, and life on the edge of the wilderness was one adventure after another.

The Baker Ranger Station. The drawings that accompany this article may look like a child's renditions, but they were drawn by Dian as an adult. A right-handed person, she drew them left-handed.

This was my father's office which was right across the small road from our home. Just about a one minute walk.

As I was growing up I had no idea what an incredible childhood we had. (I didn't realize how lucky we had been until I went to New York and saw the open fire hydrants and the kids playing in the street.) Being raised in such an open, creative environment had a huge impression on my life. If we could dream it up and we got permission from our parents, we did it. This included everything from building two tree houses, making a canvas swimming pool, and catching wild chipmunks and much more. Adventure was our middle name.

This was the gas house. Jared and Dian took great pleasure to gas the trucks when they would come into to be refueled.

This was the house where Jared and Dian grew up.

Tree Houses

One of the most memorable activities we had was to build a tree house. Dad helped us put a ladder in the tree and a couple of two-by-fours above the ladder to support the upper deck. That's right—we had a two-level tree house. There was plenty of old lumber for building supplies, and every tool you could imagine. We would go to the warehouse and design and cut the pieces of lumber we would need to put a floor on the ladder and then put a cover over it. Our tree house was the place to go when we wanted to hide out and have a game or two without being bothered by anyone else.

Sand Pile

We had a big sand pile where we would design and build castles. We also got trucks for Christmas and we could build roads, bridges and small towns. Right above the sand pile was our kids' graveyard, where we would bury our small pets when they died. I especially remember our pet turtle. When it died we wrapped it in toilet paper and put it in a Band-aid can and then had a funeral. After we put the Band-aid can in the ground, we would cover it up and put a cross in the ground to mark the grave.

The sand pile was where Dian and Jared played with their trucks. Note the pet cemetery above the sand pile.

Pet Chipmunks

Common animals in the area were chipmunks that ran wild on the property. We designed and created several traps to catch them. We even built a special chipmunk pen by digging a three-foot hole in the ground and then filling a wooden box with wheat and wool for the chipmunks to make a place to hibernate during the winter. We ran a pipe up to the top of the ground and then built a big wire pen around a bicycle wheel. We wrapped a wide screen around it so the chipmunks would have a path to run.

The chipmunks loved to run on the wheel. Then, when it got going too fast, they would jump off. One day when I was in the pen feeding the chipmunks, one ran up my pant leg. I put my hand around my leg so it could not keep going up, and then I let out a scream. It took off and went back down my pant leg.

This is a closeup of the portion of the compound picture that shows the chipmunk wheel.


About 100 yards up the hill was the chicken coop. There we had a dozen chickens that kept our family in eggs. It was often Jared’s and my job to go to the chicken coop and gather eggs. We would love to throw out the wheat and watch the chickens flock to us and eat. While they were occupied, I would check their nests to gather the eggs. My favorite was to get a big egg and then rush back to the kitchen to see if it was a double-yolk egg. We learned that brown hens laid brown eggs and white hens laid white eggs, but there is not any difference between a white egg and a brown egg except the color of the shell.

Our chickens were range chickens and our eggs were real organic eggs because we would often feed them table scraps. That just means they were really healthy. We didn't know about “range chickens” and “organic” eggs back in those days.

The coop where the family raised chickens that laid organic eggs.

Milking the Cow

We had a Jersey cow named Puggy. It took Jared and I a while to get the hang of how to milk a cow, but with a lot a practice we finally succeed in getting some milk in the bucket. Often the one that was milking would turn the cow nipple to the side to see if we could squirt milk in the other one’s mouth. This was great fun, and as we practiced we got better and better.

After milking the cow, we would put the milk through a strainer and put it in a large glass bowl in the fridge. The next morning we could go in and skim off the best part, the cream. What Jared and I loved most was when my mother would make cream puffs and then whip the cream and add a little sugar and put it in the puffs. They were the best.

The barn where Dian learned to milk Puggy the Cow. Puggy is shown at the barn door.

Shoeing Horses and Fixing Trucks

One of our favorite buildings was the warehouse. When ever the horses needed to have new shoes, Jared and I would run to help the men. In one end of the warehouse was a blacksmith’s fire and bellows. After starting a fire, we would turn the crank, which would add air and make the fire really glow so that the horseshoes would be heated up and then they could be bent to fit the horse’s hoofs.

It seems like what ever we did, we learned so much from each experience. This whole experience was what you might see in a living history museum now, but we saw and learned all about caring for animals first hand at a very early age.

On the other side of the warehouse was a pit where the trucks that needed repair would drive over the pit and then a repairman would jump into the hole and repair the trucks. We were always entertained by the activities that went on in our everyday life living at the Ranger Station.

Wood Pile

Just behind the warehouse was a big woodpile. Wood from the forest would be cut into 12-inch logs and them piled for us to used to fill our cooking stove and to heat the water for our house. Jared and I would take turn seeing which one could split a log with one stroke. Our job was to then take the wood into the basement where we would keep a small stove burning that would heat the water. We also used coal out of a big coal bin as it would burn longer. We also had a wood stove that my mother cooked on until I was about eight when we got an electric stove.

Beavers in the Tank

One day when we went up to the barn we found two huge water tanks. There was a ladder so that we could walk to the top and peak in. When we looked in there was about a foot and a half of water and 3 live beaver in each tank. We keep ourselves very entertained for the next week while the beaver were in our back yard. They were using the tank to hold the beaver while they were moving them to other pond so that they could make beaver dams to hold the water in new ponds.

Machine Sewn Swimming Pool

On one far end of the 240 acres we lived on was an old abandoned CCC camp—a Civilian Conservation Corps building that had been built in the 1930's during the Depression to house men who worked with on CCC projects. At the CCC camp were several abandoned buildings with enough stuff to keep kids busy going through it for years.

I was nine and Jared, my brother, was seven. We played together and a lot of our time was spent exploring different buildings at the ranger station. One day while we were up playing in the CCC camp, we found a pile of canvas. Pretty much anything at the abandoned CCC camp was game for us to play with or to build with.

Monticello was a very small community and we did not have a swimming pool. To have a swimming pool had always been our dream. Now this was before plastic, so it was not possible to go to the Sears and Roebuck catalog and order a pool.

I looked at the big pile of canvas and said to Jared, “I wonder if we could talk mother into sewing a swimming pool with all of this canvas?” We got so excited we jumped on our bikes and rode back to the house. Our first job was to get dad to say it was okay for us to use the canvas, and then to see if we could talk my mother into it.

We were both very good at parent persuasion with all of our enthusiasm and excitement for the project. Dad said we could use the canvas. The more challenging job was to talk my mother into helping us transform the canvas into a swimming pool. We assured her that we would do anything she would ask us to do to help move the project along.

After much persuasion, she agreed to try. First was creating a pattern, then cutting the canvas, and the most difficult was sewing it using her old Singer sewing machine. I think she must have broken a hundred needles sewing the thousands and thousands of stitches it took to make the pool.

Many days (and endless stitches in the canvas) later, the pool began to take shape. Jared and I had to go back to the CCC Camp to find old pipes to put through the casing to hold the pool up. We would tie the pipes to the back of our bikes with a rope, and then drag the pipes about the distance of three blocks to our backyard.

The last event before we could put water into the pool was to paint the canvas with hot wax to waterproof it. We decided blue was the color we wanted the pool to be, so we got our blue crayons and melted them into the wax we needed so the pool would be blue.

I knew it turned into a much bigger project than my mother had planned. We filled the pool with water and let it warm in the sun for a few days. Then the fun began! Kids from all over town came to see our new creation. Jared and I could not have been more proud.

We played in the pool for a couple of weeks before we had the idea of hooking a rope onto a tree above the pool so we could swing and drop in the pool like Tarzan.

Then one day a kid dropped into the pool, and slid right through the seam on the end of the pool. As the water ran out, so did our dreams. Yes, we were very sad, but the memories of this amazing experience and the pool we so loved will last for ever.

Selling Educated Worms

When I was nine, my allowance wouldn't cover the items that I wanted to buy out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Monticello only had two small grocery stores. The only place we could shop was in a catalog, and we could only shop with our eyes.

I thought a lot about how I could come up with the money to buy a croquet set and a pogo stick I wanted for summer. The only option that I could see was to look for a kid's job. We lived a mile out of town on the way to the mountains. A lemonade stand just would not work for my entrepreneurial spirit.

I kept my eye out for a kid's job I thought that I could get or create. It seemed like every time I went to the grocery store, there was a young boy stocking the shelves. I know that when my mother brought her groceries home that it was my job to stack them on the shelves. I decided that stacking items on shelves was a job that I could do.

I picked the day that I would ride my bike to town and go in and ask Mr. Adams, the store owner, for a job. After all, he knew my parents and I hoped that would give me an in. When I got to the store, I went in and asked his assistant if I could see Mr. Adams. As he came to the door, I bent my neck back to look up to him as he was 6' 4”. When I looked up I began to wonder what I was getting myself into.

I did my best to blurt out the words, “Can I have a job stacking cans? He looked slowly at me and smiled. Then he said, “you are far too young.” I felt dejected and did not know what to do but to go home. I got on my bike, and as I rode the one mile back home, I passed a small stream that went right by our house. It was our prime spot to dig worms for all our summer fishing trips.

All of a sudden and idea flashed into my head. I could start a business selling worms in Campbell’s tomato soup cans. My whole energy shifted, and I could not wait to get home. I ran in the house with all the enthusiasm of a young entrepreneur. My mother thought I had a very good idea. I talked to my younger brother, Jared. He was also excited.

So Jared and I decided to start our small business. We made a little list of the things which we would need. At the top of the list was an advertisement about the worms to be placed on our Federal Baker Ranger Station sign. My older brother Jay was a good artist. We all sat down and began to think how we could make a sign that would draw in sales. We finally had the perfect idea. We made the sign on a piece of poster board; Jay drew a picture of a worm winding its way down the sign. He then drew a graduation hat on top of the worm’s head. Then he put the words, “Educated Worms—12 cents a dozen.” It just seemed perfect to launch our little business. When the fishing people came to buy the worms we always gave them a baker dozen. The people that bought our worms seem to be charmed for our enthusiam for you new business.

Needless to say, our business took off, and both Jared and I had earned all the money we needed to buy our summer fun.

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