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.
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.
Adventures With Animals
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.