Remembering Ralph Thayer

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This week G. George Ostrom has selected a classic column from May, 1970.

It happens all the time. People say, “George, your wife must be an angel to put up with a guy like you,” or they ask, “Where does Iris get the patience and courage to carry on?”

Patience, benevolence and courage have nothing to do with it. The answer to these and similar queries is simply this, I’ve told Iris that if she doesn’t walk the straight and narrow all the time, I will write a retraction of that story about her being in the third grade when I joined the Army.

That reminds me of another deal. Last Tuesday, I had to go to Libby to help straighten out a problem with a broken down truck, loaded with campers bound for Seattle.

While in that quaint but booming village, I visited the offices of St. Regis. St. Regis is not a Catholic deity, but rather a modern lumbering facility. In the main office I met a kindly gray haired man named Hammer who recalled going into the North Fork with his parents when he was a small child. Part of his recollection was of a strong young man who put him in packsack and carried him a long, long ways. The man who carried the load was Ralph Thayer.

While waiting for my call into the Army at 17, I worked for the Forest Service at Big Creek Ranger Station, and I remember working with Ralph on some trails.

We would saw through a two or three foot log with an old swede fiddle and I’d get so tired my arms were about to fall off, but I couldn’t let that “old guy” get the best of me, so all I could do was hang on and try not to drag my feet too much.

When we’d get the log sawed out of the trail I’d say, “Gee whiz Ralph, you must be kinda pooped after all that work. Why don’t we rest here a minute?”

Ralph would throw the saw over his shoulder and say, “We’ll rest while we’re climbing up to the next one.”

After about two months of that kind of exercise, I went straight into basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. There were the usual obstacle courses, forced marches through the swamps and war games, but it all seemed pretty easy. In fact, it was kinda fun and my mean first sergeant finally noticed that pink-faced kid from “someplace in Montana” seemed to act like his training was some sort of school picnic. We were out on final maneuvers when he finally called me into the CP one night and chewed me out for not taking all that grueling training more seriously.

I told him, “Sergeant, you may not believe this, but I spent some time in the woods just before I signed up for this outfit and my boss there was a World War I vet who can still work any man here into the ground.”

The sergeant pondered a minute and scratched a few ticks out of his whiskers, then he growled, “Well that old son of a gun must be part grizzly bear.”

I never thought much about it then … but 20- something years later, I think the sergeant may have been right.

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