In 1969, our family moved from Mink Creek, Idaho to Burley. We had recently sold our sixty five acre ranch on Mink Creek to Paul Deats who was the present Mayor of Long Beach, California. The Deats purchase fell through and we then sold to Stanley Hawks shortly after. Burley is about one hundred and fifty miles west of Mink Creek. Much to my surprise, not many people in Burley had ever heard of Mink Creek, or even knew where it was. I found this hard to believe. Most of my life of thirty five years had been spent in this rural town in Southeastern Idaho. My teachers and mentors had assured me that Mink Creek was known all over the World. Of course, most of them had not been world travelers, or even been away from home.
In April, 1969 while Ramona and the children were still in school, and the cows were being cared for by their new owner, I made plans for my new found freedom. Those of you who have milked and cared for dairy cows will appreciate the exhilaration bestowed upon one lucky enough to get out of the dairy business. I could get away from it all including five feet of snow, mud and manure in one transaction.
I drove to Burley where we had purchased a house on Burton Avenue. The Jack Masons had just vacated the house, and my boots and cowboy hat found their place in the closet next to the front door. What a beautiful place, not a milk cow in sight. On the way into Burley, through Heyburn, I had noticed the J. R. Simplot Co. food processing division and thought about the opportunity to just see what they might say to a professional cow milker with all the related skills pertaining to some employment, “temporary that is.”So I stopped and enquired.
The personnel director was a man by the name of Dayley. He was very serious and professional, I could see he was LDS by the images through his shirt. I filled out the application form enumerating all my skills, but seemed to have quite a lot of blank empty space at the bottom of the page. I had graduated from Preston High School; this seemed to be a big plus at this place of employment. One year at Idaho State filled another blank. I had served the military in the Asiatic Pacific Theater for two years, and I had been on a two and one half year mission for the L. D. S. Church in Europe. They did not ask anything about that, so the paper looked pretty empty.
Then a gentleman supervisor named Mel Gemar came in and talked to me about going to work. I had planned on returning home to Mink Creek the next day so I was really surprised when he asked me when I could go to work?
“When do you want me? “ was my answer.
“ Midnight tonight.” he replied.
The only time I work at night is when I have to irrigate or have to buck a deer down the mountains during the deer hunt.”
He continued, “Four o’clock this afternoon.”
“I think I will look around,” I said.
Mel paused then and said, “You farmers are independent guys but you make thebest employees, besides being dependable; so why don’t you come in at eight in the morning and we’ll go from there?”
I did just that.
“After thirty days, we cover your medical, optical and dental insurance for the entire family. The beginning pay is $2.50 an hour with time and one half for over time and double time for Sundays.”
To say I was overwhelmed is an under-statement.
I slept well in our new house that night. I had breakfast in the company subsidized cafeteria the next morning and started a twenty year career with the Food Processing Division of the J. R. Simplot Co. It was April 24,1969.
My first assignment was to stack nine twenty five pound boxes on a hand truck and push it about twenty feet and put the boxes on a conveyor belt. This is heavy duty labor?—Twenty dollars a day, one hundred dollars a week, a three mile drive to work, and my only investment was a $2.95 dinner bucket, for those days I wanted to pack a lunch rather than eat at the cafeteria. It looked like a good deal to me. I went to work and did the same task for about three months or until June 1969.
The family then joined me in May after school was out and Ramona was already under contract to teach 3rd grade in the fall at Dworshak Elementery School three blocks from our house.
She was hired before she was through teaching in Preston, by the Cassia County School District.
One morning I noticed a listing on the company bulletin board for an apprentice electrician. I had never desired or considered doing anything in that field, but why not put in an application and see what happens. Over twenty men had put in for this opportunity. Some of them had worked for the Company five, ten years or more. I learned at coffee break that I never had a chance at getting considered for that job.
I was called into the main office a few days later to be interviewed by the head of the Electrical Dept. His name was Ike Eliason, two hundred sixty pounds, six ft. two and a big Swede all the way. I doubt that he had progressed beyond the sixth grade in school, but he had been around the block and had a lot of experience. He had lived a rough and hard life and enjoyed telling us kids about it, even though I was probably as old as he. I liked him right from the start. He liked to put down the Mormons and sometimes called me Bishop. I didn’t mind. He was probably one himself, at least his mother was and some of his family.
Ike said, “My dad had two wives and a fast horse, one in Burley and one in American Falls”. In reality, his mother had been married twice, once to a Garrett and once to an Eliason, because I met his half brother later, Jay Garrett. Ike had spent a lot of time in the Navy during the war years. He carried himself like John Wayne, and had fingers missing on both hands. A six pack of Bud was his favorite companion.
After navy days, Ike worked with line crews doing the hard pole climbing work on high lines with several companies. He had been all over the western states with different outfits. He worked hard and played hard and I am sure he was one of the best in that field. At this point he and his wife Dorothy Plumlee Eliason and two daughters were living in their home in Heyburn, near the Company Operation. Jack Simplot knew Ike personally and had hired him to head the Electrical Dept. in Heyburn.
He had a little office surrounded by fifteen hundred electric motors ready to be put into service at a moments notice. These motors were required to run twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year. Four hundred eighty volts, three phase power is not understood by most run of the mill electricians to say the least. Ike was paid well and no one could critique his job or his work because they did not understand it. Ike and Earl Clayville did. He had to wear a white shirt with the Simplot Insignia on the back. This did not fit the rest of his attire, cowboy boots, levis (pants) and an orange hard hat. At this time there were sixteen construction electricians, two shift electricians on each shift, making 22 men working for Ike in this dept. Ike could handle all kinds of men, large, small, tough, timid, lazy, ambitious, thieves, drunks or fly by night’s. Most of them did not like him, at least behind his back. To many of them he was just a big, dumb, bull-shitten lineman, full of stories that they had heard before. They all shared one thing in common, they paid attention to him when he pointed those burned off stubby fingers at them. You had better not get caught goofing off to many times. He warned us daily to stay away from the Hot Stuff. It is like a rattle snake it will jump out and get you, and I don’t want to have to wipe your butt’s when your hands are all bandaged up like they had to for me, was his favorite last minute warning to us.
I walked into Ike’s office that day not knowing any of this, I put out my hand and told him who I was.
He said, “Hell I already know you, Crane. You are from down there in Mink Creek, just over the hill from Deer Cliff Inn.”(A tavern in Cub River Canyon) I was surprised to say the least, and I was sure he was mistaken.
He said, “ I know Old Bishop Crane, and I know your Mother better, she makes a wicked bottle of that Danish wheat beer.”
“You and I were on the same crew with the C. L. Electric out of Pocatello in 1950. We put up a power line from Oneida Station on Bear River up through those fields, and on through Strawberry Canyon to Kemmer, Wyoming. I think you were on the pole setting crew and I was on the framing crew behind you.”
Well you know he was right, and I remember him because of his crazy antics on those structures we were building. He said, “He had lived in a small trailer house up in Monte Larsen’s orchard in Mink Creek, and after the big job was over he helped replace a spur line up Birch Creek as far as Bishop Crane’s place. Bishop Crane had a utility pole about half way out on his driveway that we had to replace. When I was up on the new pole your Mother came out with a quart jar of Danish beer, bless her heart. It was so goooood.
He could remember all the details, and then I remembered those crazy pole climbing linemen. They were hung over from a night at Deer Cliff Inn, a camel in their mouth, hooking their legs over the guy wires seventy feet up and sliding down to the ground the fast way. They knew how to lay two planks on there edges between those poles, one on each side and then stand up and walk across. These cedar poles were 60 to 70 feet tall buried 9 ft. in the ground, on those rocky steep side hills through Strawberry Canyon.
When I recounted what I could remember, Ike lit up like a 500 watt light bulb. At last here was a real live witness to what he had been telling those non believers about his Glory Days as a Real Lineman. He always referred to his crew as ladder linemen!!. Needless to say I got the job, hands down and plenty of individual attention from then on.
“Hey Crane, come in here,” he would greet me, as twenty electricians prepared for last minute instructions. “Can you remember when we were up there in Strawberry Canyon on those 70 footers ?”
It was my Que–, “ I tell you, crazy is the only word for it.” Then I would recount the performances of those real linemen as he grinned, laughed and hooped. I could hear the boys in the background saying, “Is that dam Keith telling the truth”? I don’t know, someone would say maybe so.
As time went on I was an apprentice under the best journeymen he had. Ike always recommended me to go to all the seminars, classes and schools that the Company provided. The company furnished a car and several of us drove to Pocatello or Twin Falls to school. I learned to work with all types of electricity but mostly 3 phase 480 volt equipment.
We ran everything in metal conduit, because of vibration and the facility being a food processing plant, extreme measures were required. We also used 220 single phase and 110 volt equipment. The plant is fed by two high lines one 4160 volts and one 12,500 volt lines. This high voltage is transformed to useable power from them.
After two years of being an apprentice, Ike wanted me to take the Idaho Code test and get a Journeyman license. I was a bit reluctant to do so, but he said I could then get top money. I took the test and failed by one point. “ Don’t feel bad,” Ike said, “It took me ten tries”.
Thirty days later I took it again and passed it easily. I think he was as proud of me as I was, and he somehow knew I passed before I did—He seemed to have an in, with the State Inspector.
Ike never sent me on a job that he didn’t make me feel I could do it better or at least as good as anyone else. Earl Clayville was my next boss and he had this same quality. Confidence in your own ability is the key. This job became the most challenging thing I have ever done. I enjoy doing electrical work, and there is nothing I would rather do than to use this knowledge and skill I acquired while working as an electrician for the J.R. Simplot Co.
Who would have ever thought, that because my Dear Mother gave a quart of Danish Beer to a real lineman in 1950, I would benefit in this way?
Is “Danish Beer” the key to getting a job without really trying?
We have now lived in Burley for thirty years. Year 2000 is here and we are glad we came and made a change in our lives. It scares me when I think of such a big decision as we had to make. We had five children and it really affected their lives for the good I am sure. We were young at that time and not really afraid of anything I suppose. I retired in 1986 from the company and Ramona retired one year later from the school district. Burley is a good area to live in and the children have done well. Ro Zann lives in down town Los Angeles and is an accountant with Ernst and Young firm. She has a masters in corporate taxation and works happily in Burbank Calif. at Warner Bros. Studios. Lisa is married to (Dan Meikle) and lives and teaches in Napa Valley Calif. She has a masters degree in English and Literature. She has five children.
Tracy and wife Joni and two daughters and one son live in Windsor, Colo. he has a Masters Degree in geology and is a salesman for a company.
Dr. Gilbert and wife Lucy came back to Burley to live. He has a doctorate in orthopedic surgery. They have four children and have changed our lives for the better by being here.
Dr. Kelly is the surprise of my life. He married Sara Lile and has a good job in Laramie, Wyoming with the University as a Range Specialist. He has a masters degree in range land ecology and watershed management. At the present time he has a Ph.D. in the same field.
I have been doing Italian extraction work for the church for more than ten years and have transferred from the old films over 200,000 names at this point. I enjoy this work, it is a very spiritual way to spend an hour or two each morning and it gives me something worthwhile to do each day. We are happy in our retirement in spite of arthritis, diuretic pills, aching bodies and getting older.
Ramona and I are still on our first marriage and happy with our five children and fifteen grandchildren.
Stories of My Life as I Remember Them
By Keith K. Crane
May 20 1997– May 12, 2000