I have some limited memories of World War ll. Living 30 miles from the nearest town, our only contact with the world was KOA/850 on the Montgomery Ward battery powered radio. We only turned the radio on at noon for the livestock report and for Joe Lewis world championship boxing matches, and the World Series; the New York Yankees always seemed to win.
My father’s routine was to rise at 4:30 every morning, stoke the coal-fired stove, drink coffee, and smoke a Bull Durham rolled cigarette, or a Lucky Strike cigarette. He would then do the ranch chores that included milking the cow for fresh milk and always have a big breakfast before his day’s work. The cigarettes, dust, and harsh winter cold, ended his life at age 75 with lung cancer. Little did he and others know, in those days, the perils of smoking. I would guess that he picked up the habit while serving in the army in World War l.
He might have undergone surgery; the cancer spot was detected at a physical when he was in his early 70s. Instead he chose to live out his life for as long as God allowed. He never wanted to end up an invalid, or physically impaired. I think part of his philosophy was the life and death he witnessed of animals in the livestock business. He had lived in an era where there were no early veterinarians. Cowboy and ranchers learned to deal with animals, and that they were expendable. The worst situation was if both the cow and her calf died, a major financial hit.
In the fall when the livestock was rounded up, the fat steers and heifers were shipped on railroad cars from Craig on the historic Moffat railroad to the Denver stockyards. In the early days it was a two-day cattle drive to the Craig railroad stockyard. Later, trucks would roll into the ranch at 6 a.m. while the ground was still frozen to haul the cattle to Craig. In Denver the John Clay signs adorned the buildings surrounding the vast maze of the Denver livestock pens filled with cattle being marketed. We would drive to Denver and stay at the Shirley-Savoy Hotel while the cattle were being sold. My brother and I spent several days seeing Loral and Hardy and Abbott and Costello movies from one fancy theatre to another. Denver had the neatest cable cars on the streets and Daniels and Fisher Tower was the center of attraction.
Thinking back, I can vaguely remember several Craig businessmen coming out to the ranch to see if they could purchase beef, but the cattle were always sent to markets. Meat was rationed and my parents had ration booklets with stamps that allowed them to purchase certain food items. Sugar was one of the major rationed items when the war in the Pacific Islands halted sugar production.
My father always refused to sell beef to individuals, and I believe that it was illegal to sell a rationed product needed for the war effort.
The food items that we needed were flour, salt and pepper, lard, and bacon by the slab. My father liked Ginger Snap cookies that would last forever. I’m sure that coffee and cigarettes were on the top of the list. We were completely self-sufficient, with a root cellar with bins of potatoes, beets, carrots, and Mason jars full of canned vegetables, fruit and jams, especially chokecherry jam and syrup made from wild bush berries abundant in nearby hills. It was my job to plant the garden at an early age with seeds purchased at Roger’s Hardware in Craig. The garden provided huge amounts of fresh vegetables, corn, beans, and string beans, that could be eaten fresh and canned. We had to put covers over the tomato plants to protect against cold weather.
It must have been in the summer of 1945 when the war was winding down that my parents had driven the old Plymouth car to Craig to pick up the delivery of a new Ford tractor. They left my brother, and myself at the ranch. Since they were gone, I turned on the precious radio and heard the announcement from President Roosevelt that peace had been declared and the war had ended.
My father came driving his new Ford tractor into the yard with my mother close behind in the car. It was the beginning of the mechanical age for the Sweeney ranch. To be continued.