John Dewey Robertson – An Autobiography
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John Dewey Robertson – An Autobiography
Life, as I have observed it on God’s Footstool.
I was born May 18, 1898, soon after Admiral or Commodore George Dewey destroyed the Spanish Fleet in Manila Bay, May 1, 1898 (thus the name; note on location).
As a child, I was plagued by comments about my name and many times I was embarrassed and filled with regret that my parents would name me after so popular a national hero. But as the years have gone, I have learned to live with it. Also, I have found many with not so popular names have resented their choice of their names.
The first incident I remember happened when I was between two and three years of age. My brother, Victor, two year younger than I, was a babe in arms. My sister, Verna, was two years older. She had gone into the field across the ditch, back of the house to cut Lucerne with my oldest brother, Clifford, six years older than me. This was a daily, hand scythe chore, necessary to feed the pigs. Verna picked up the scythe and Clifford said, “Let me show you how to do that,” and with a mighty swing, he either missed the alfalfa or cut too little and the scythe came around and caught Verna just above the ankle, cutting clear to the bone – for which she carried a deep scar all her life. Since it was on a Sunday morning, we were all dressed and ready to go to Sunday School and I can remember Father carrying Verna in onto the couch and Mother putting flour on the wound to stop the bleeding.
The next incident I remember was in the Fall of 1900 – the family’s moving to Saint George, Utah. I remember Father took us in the wagon drawn by two horses. We travelled a high ridge that parallels the railroad and highway 91 to the East. About half way to Blackfoot, Gerrald saw a coyote and climbed off the wagon to chase after it. I also wanted to go with him, and Father took me by the hand and let me down from the wagon. As he could not reach the ground, he let me drop the rest of the way; I struck the back of my head on the hub of the wheel. That ended my coyote chase! I do not remember any more of the trip.
I must tell here the reason for the trip. Mother and Father were both from pioneer converts to the LDS Church. Father’s parents came from Scotland and Mother’s grand parents came from England and Switzerland. Mother was a very spiritually minded persona and was always preaching or bearing her testimony of the Gospel. On one occasion, she was visiting a neighbor with whom she went to pick berries on shares. She took this occasion to talk of the Gospel, and this neighbor carried the message of the Gospel to a friend. In discussing life after death, the neighbor’s friend said: “If I die first and find there is anything to it, I’ll come back and let you know.”
Not long after this, the friend did die. One night, Mother had a dream in which she saw a woman coming down our path and across our ditch on a foot plank. I do not remember any more of the details, but the next time Mother visited her neighbor, the neighbor told Mother of their conversation before the death of her friend. Mother related, in turn, of her own dream and described how the woman was dressed in her dream. (Now Mother had never seen her neighbor’s friend.) Her neighbor said: “if you had seen my friend in real life, you could not have described her better~” Mother took this as a manifestation to her that she should do the woman’s temple work – and a good reason to go back home to Saint George. My sister, Vera, was born there on June 20, 1902.
Perhaps, because I was four years old, and because it was a new situation, I remember that soon after we arrived in Saint George, a neighbor boy, probably in his teens, took me to school with him. I do not know the reason, but I remember his name; it was Victor Sullivan.
Sometime during the Summer of 1902, there was an earthquake. I remember running home a hold of my brother, Victor’s hand with the earth shaking under our feet. Mother came running out of the house with Vera the baby, in her arms. There were several tremors during the night while we tried to sleep in the red-brick house we rented, called the “Lang House”.
About this time I had a sick spell. I do not know what was my trouble, but I had a very peculiar experience. Mother had brought me out into the kitchen and put me in the baby’s high chair. All of a sudden I felt light as a feather. The pressure inside and outside the body left me completely, and I seemed to be up in the air near the ceiling. I seemed to see Mother running excitedly about; then, all was back to normal. As I grew older, this sensation remained with me very vividly; and I wondered if I had fainted. After 60 years, I had a few fainting spells, and they were completely unlike this childhood experience. I soon forgot the feeling of the fainting sensation, but the other which I had experienced at 4 years old in Saint George remains with me to this day.
In the spring of 1903, Father came back to Idaho to put in the crop of grain, and Mother stayed until school was out. I remember Mother’s brother, Miner, taking us 60 miles in a wagon to the railroad station in Modena. While Mother was busy getting the older children on the train, her brother, Minor, was holding the baby, Vera, at the station. All of a sudden the train started to pull away and I heard Mother scream:” My baby!” I do not know how, but somehow, to get the baby, I suppose, the conductor reached out and grabbed the baby out of Minor’s arms, since the train did not stop.
Soon after we returned from Saint George, Utah to Idaho, Father moved the old, log house from the east end of the field to the west end. As there was no well for water at the west end, Father made a wooden sled, put a 50 gallon wooden barrel on it, hitched one of the horses to it and dragged it to the well. Here he filled it with water; then returned. This was a daily chore till we dug a new well. When Father was filling the old well up, his gold watch slipped out of his pocket and down the well it went. There was still water in the bottom, and Father was let down to feel all around the bottom. But, he wasn’t able to find his watch.
It was now time for another Spirit to come to the family: my youngest brother, Cecil, was born August 6, 1904 . . . a happy, good-natured youngster.
While Mother was still confined at home with the new babe, Father took the oldest four, Clifford, Gerrald, Verna and myself to Idaho Falls to see the Ringling Brothers Circus. We went very early in the morning with the team of horses on the whit-top buggy. I remember Clifford and Gerrald talking in a bragging way about the great elephant, Jumbo: how it could stop a freight train, it was so powerful.
We returned late in the evening. Father had bought Victor a balloon for staying home and just before we turned into the gate, the boys were playing with it and broke it.
About this time, 1904, I was in a favored position. I was old enough to leave Mother’s apron strings, but not old enough to do much around the farm. So, Father took me with him when he went to the Lavas for wood. As money was scarce in those days, we did not use coal. It was always a two or three day trip. We hauled hay and oats for the horses, and a fifty gallon barrel of water. I can see Father in my mind’s eye, knees bent to absorb the jolting of the wagon along the rough road, singing the songs of Zion as we jolted along the way.
Sitting on the bedding on the hay, I really got a big kick, as they say today, playing on those trips. At one time we were gone for a week or more hauling lava rocks to dam the Snake River at one of the canal head gates. Father teamed up with another man by the name of Frandsen. One day, while exploring, I ran onto an old freighters’ camp. There were many empty .44 caliber cartridges; they had been doing a lot of shooting. This was on the west side of the Snake River. The freighters travelled between Butte, Montana mines and Salt Lake City. They first crossed the Snake River at Ferry Butte, north west of Fort Hall, and travelled on the west side of the river until a bridge was built at Eagle Rock, now Idaho Falls. They then travelled on the east side of the river.
I grew up in a world of work or starve. The father, the mother, the children all had to work! I remember my Father saying to me, one day: “From birth to seven years old, you are a liability; from eight to fourteen years old, you just hold your own; and from fifteen to twenty-one you have to pay for the first seven years.”
In our home, in those days, as I was growing up, we lived all for one and one for all! Early in life we went out to work for neighbors, thinning sugar beets, loading hay or whatever work was to be had. With the little money we made we used it for clothes to wear – those things that could not be made at home. I remember Mother knitting my stockings when I was small. My! How her fingers would fly with those knitting needles. I think she made much of our clothes up to this time. I had gone to the Wapello schools to the third grade. I had missed a lot of school because of sickness. Mother desired that we get a little better schooling; so she kept at Father to buy a place in Blackfoot City.
In the fall of 1909, Father bought a four-bedroom home at 494 West Bridge Street, one block north of the Irving School! I started school that fall in the 4th grade, but because I was a poor reader, they put me back in the 3rd grade, and I was now eleven years old and in the 3rd grade. I went through the 4th grade at the Irving School; then, they sent me across town to the Central School on East Bridge Street.
In the fall of 1912, Cliff went to Provo to take a missionary course. The family contracted scarlet fever and was quarantined. In those days the doctor would put a yellow sign on the door and no one could leave the place and no one could go in. We were quarantined six weeks with the scarlet fever. Then, the next Fall when Cliff went on his mission to the Southern States, we had the small pox and were quarantined 8 weeks. Now, I had lost a lot of schooling. So, the school let me skip the seventh grade to the eight; so, when I got out of grade school, I was seventeen years old.
I think I must tell a little of my formative years between 1909 and 1913. In the winter months, when I was not at work otherwise, I had a friend, a neighbor boy. He was the youngest boy in a large family whose mother had passed away, and the father was trying to keep his family together while running a rural mail route. This boy had a lot of time on his own. He would come over to our home early in the morning and say: “Let’s go rustling.” With a little wagon or sled, if there were snow on the ground, we would go sometimes to the railroad yards and gather coal that was spilt when they unloaded the freight cars. There was a Chinese gardener not far from where we lived who would buy a gunny sack of coal for 20 cents. So, we would make a dime-a-piece for our morning’s work. There were two Jewish junk buyers on each side of our place. The Father would take his team and junk-wagon and for a week or more, go buying hides or anything he could rustle. At home, the family would run the business, buying anything that people would bring in that they could re-sell: old rubber, beer bottles. There were a lot of things we could find that was junk people would throw away. We were able to keep ourselves in spending money this way. But this lead this boy to doing things he should not have done. And sometimes I became a party to the wrong doing.
One morning he came to our place and said he had some tickets to the picture show, a Star Theatre, run by O. Buchanan. I asked him where he got them. He said: “Out back of the theatre.” I said: “They change tickets every night. You can’t use them.” He said: “Oh, no they don’t. I watched them.” So, he talked me into going to the show that night. We were now getting pretty bold. We walked into the theatre, passing the ticket office, handed our tickets to Brother Buchanan. He took them and we marched down the aisle to the front row, as kids usually do. Pretty soon, Brother Buchanan came down, leaned over quietly and said: “You boys didn’t buy those tickets!” He didn’t throw us out. But, we left immediately. And, I felt like crawling on my belly out so no one would see me. I never tried anything like that again. Also, from that time on I never ran as a companion to this boy.
I have had several thoughts on this situation. Firstly, I thought it was charity for our waywardness that Brother Buchanan did not take us by the nap of the neck and throw us out. Secondly, what effect would it have been on our morale if he had embarrassed us before the public by such action. Thirdly, or was he sure we had not bought the tickets. You see, his wife was selling the tickets and told him we hadn’t bought them when we came in. But, anyway, it had the right effect on me. From then on, I did not associate with anyone who did not do the right thing. My brothers and sisters all set a good example for me and were my best companions.
The year 1916, we still ran the farm, raised beets, potatoes, hay and grain. We helped Father on the farm and also found time to work other places after thinning the beets at home. I went to Rockford, about 14 miles southwest of Blackfoot, to thin beets for a man by the name of Moody. While there I took the name of Jack. When we finished the job, Moody brought us back to Blackfoot. He had to go to the bank to get the money to pay for our work. When he returned, he asked for Jack. Mother said: “Jack isn’t here.” I was in the back and heard what was said. And, I realized he was asking for me. I rushed up front just in time to get my pay check. I never tried that again.
That fall, Father had a steady job with the U & I Sugar Factory. Also Clifford and Gerrald were away working steady. So it was left to me, 18 years old, Victor, 16, Cecil, 12 and Very, keeping house, preparing the meals, etc.; she was 14 years old. Mother and Father and the three younger girls stayed in town. We had about 18 acres of beets that was our big job. We got all the crop up without a bit of trouble, each one doing his best all of the time.
I remember how frightened I got taking a load of beets to the beet dump. We had a fine team of sorrel horses, but they would run away every chance they got. Nevertheless, they were good pullers. After weighing the beets, we had to go up a steep ramp. At the top there were two men to handle the equipment there. One would bolt the wagon to the trestle; the other one would hook a chain to the beet box which was made so it would raise the box on one side. And, the sugar beets would slide into the railroad car below. One man would take a large basket of beets as they fell from the wagon and weigh it; then, brush all the dirt and waste off the beets. Then, he would weigh it again and the difference was the “tare,” which percentage was deducted from the load. While this was being done, the other man unchained the wagon from the trestle and I had to hold the team so they would not go down too fast as the downgrade was very steep. This, I think was the most frightening for me. I then weighed the empty wagon, gave the weigh master the tare and he would figure the tare percentage for the load of beets. Then, I would be back on my way for another load of beets. I think I have somewhere a record of how many tons of beets we hauled in a day. I found my record – 29 loads, about 2 ½ tons to the load, 23 days; also found I was off 2 years as it was 1916 instead of 1914. Oh, if we had kept a journal all our lives or started it when we could have called Mother or Father to verify it. But now, it is too late. In reading Gerrald’s and Clifford’s histories, they tell events differently, and I do not remember them as they do. But the events are correct, if the dates do not match.
In December of 1916, I started to work for O. Buchanan. He had the agency for the Studebaker Wagon and Machinery Company in Blackfoot. He also had a farm about three miles north of Blackfoot on Hansen Lane, next to the Snake River. Buchanan had a very fine team of gray horses he kept at this home in Blackfoot, and each Saturday, I had to haul the manure from his barn out to his farm. I was paid $1.25 a trip to his farm. During that winter the snow got so deep that the sleigh runners were as high as the fence posts.
During the fall and winter, Cliff and I took the winter semester at the high school. They had an agricultural course. We tested the milk cows at the Asylum. The inmates did the milking and used to scare me. By the end of the course, I really wanted to go to school for the first time, and get some learning. But by now, I was so far behind and handicapped for learning that I didn’t make the effort to go to school. Victor went on to high school and graduated, and he was always talking about the things he was learning and I gained a lot from him.
In the spring, I continued to work for O. Buchanan on his farm. We planted some crops . . . some sugar beets. We hired an older man and a boy, his brother-in-law to be. He soon wanted to take over, and as I had been there longer, I wasn’t’ in the mood to take orders from him, and he threatened violence - - such as using a club or a knife to get his way. I wasn’t afraid of him and told him so. And, if he wanted to start something, to go ahead, but he didn’t! So, I’m sure he was all bluff. But, I got to thinking, during Saturday, that it wasn’t worthwhile working under such conditions; so, that night I told Buchanan I wouldn’t work with the man. And, right away, I got a job with the Blackfoot Mercantile Company.
I got time off to go to the October Conference in Salt Lake City with a secret idea of joining the Navy. The Nation had entered into the World War I on April 6, 1917. And, there was a lot of propaganda to get Americans into a fighting mood, and young men to enlist in the armed services. Those who did not enlist were called slackers. I had heard about the soldiers in France, fighting in the rain and mud up to their knees, and being shot to pieces. So, I thought the Navy a better service. If a ship was sunk, that would be the end of your troubles. My brother, Victor, two years younger than I, had joined the Navy in early summer of 1918 and my brother, Gerrald, had joined the Army. In Salt Lake City, I went to the Navy recruiting Office. The officer who gave the physical exam, placed his warm hand over one eye and had me read a chart. Then, he changed to the other eye. A film covered the eye so I could not read; so, I was turned down. I went up to Fort Douglas, near the University of Utah. As I watched the soldiers training, I thought them a crummy bunch; so, being all alone, I did not try to join the Army at that time. I returned home, went to an eye doctor to see what was wrong with my eyes. And, he sold me a pair of glasses. When I tried to wear them, I couldn’t’ see the sidewalk.
I continued to work at the Blackfoot Mercantile Store, but I couldn’t leave the candy alone. I would swear off it for a month and never touch it; then, a new shipment would come in with a new kind. And, I would wonder how it would taste. So, I’d try just one, and, as soon as that sweet stuff would go down, I was hooked until I got sick. So, I decided to quit and go back on the farm. I learned in later years that my eye trouble was the candy, and not anything wrong with my eyes.
I worked with my brother, Clifford, on the P.G. Johnston farm that summer, And, in October 28, 1918, I was inducted into a student army training corp at the Utah Agricultural College. There were six companies there, of boys from Utah and Idaho. There was a similar corps at Moscow, Idaho where my friend Orson Davis went. The Armistice was signed on the 11th of November, 1918. As we lined up for our last meal, I saw, in the line next to me, a boy from our Blackfoot 2nd LDS Ward, Arnold Wright, from down between the rivers – Blackfoot and Snake, below Blackfoot City. I asked him where he had been all the time as I had not seen him there before, and he had enlisted a day or two before me. As the flue was raging at the time, he volunteered to serve in the hospital, and served his whole time there. I was home for Christmas. Gerrald was home soon after and then also Victor.
I worked the summer of 1919 on the P.G. Johnston farm, and that Fall I returned to the Utah Agriculture College to continue the study I was taking in the Army, auto mechanics. But, I added machine shop and blacksmithing. When I signed up to take the first class, the instructor asked how many were past 20 years old. Then, he said: “I’ve watched you for 40 years. And you think you’re going to leave the farm. If you stay on the farm until you’re 20, you’ll go back to it.” After spending 20 years in the jewelry-watch repair services, I went back to the farm. I always knew I had started something too late.
When I was preparing to go to the Utah Agriculture College, (to Mother, Cecil was kind of “out of hand”), she wanted me to help him. I can see some of the troubles in the family life that I see in the Church program now, of communicating in the family. It’s not always possible with everyone. They don’t all have the knack for it. I think that Father was impatient with Cecil. And when he would use the strong tactics of a Father, the tender feelings of the Mother clashed in dealing with this likeable boy of 12 or 13. To show how he was lead to his life in manhood – A friend of his, Wayne Kinney, said, one day: “I took a trip with Cecil.” Wayne paid his way; Cecil had none. He was so likeable that all his friends paid his way. Sometimes that company wasn’t the best kind. So, Mother pleaded with me to take him to the Utah Agriculture College. I was 21; he was 15. To show the same attitude people had toward him . . . in whatever class, I’d look to see if he were tending to his work, here would be a lot of old veterans, taking courses after WW I, grown men, and they’d be around this kid listening to him tell stories. He was a happy and easy-going person. Could he have been more disciplined and conservative, he could have been wealthy today. He had great abilities; wit and charm.
If anyone had high, high work to do, others had to do it. I got into a high tree one day and froze. They had to get a ladder to get me down. Cecil couldn’t settle down; so he lied about his age and went to Hawaii with the Army. After getting there, he got homesick. So, he went down to the wharf with another homesick buddy. With civilian clothes, they were going to come home AWOL. To show the influence of a Mother, when he got there, he thought of his Mother; he said: “I couldn’t go home to Mother a deserter.” So, they went back to pick up their army clothes and went back to the barracks.
Mother went to the catholic junior school principle and borrowed #100 to buy Cecil out of the Army. She wasn’t able to pay it all back -- $10 at a time. I’d like to have found that person and pay it back with interest. Cecil came back. He would work . . . with Cliff, he worked in the hay. Cecil could keep up with the horses racking, him bunching. He could and knew how to work.
I came back to the farm and worked the Summer of 1920 after a Winter at the Agriculture College. I didn’t have any way to get in with a good mechanic. And since there was work needed on the farm, I came back to it. That Summer Cliff got married, in June. I went to board with the Johnston’s, and they went to live in Eugene, Oregon where Peter G. was called to be a Stake President. They paid Cliff to board me the rest of the year. And in the fall of the year, I was topping beets down between the rivers. On the 7th of November things froze up; so, I got a job at the sugar factory. Cliff came to me one day and said: “That jeweler has lost his boy apprentice; I think you can get his job.”
So, I was working the 4 to midnight shift and stopped to talk to the man about the job. He said: “Gimme a week, and come back. Then, I’ll let you know.” During the week, I felt like I wouldn’t fit in that kind of work. During the week I told him I didn’t want the job. I was afraid I’d be like a bull in a china closet. And the man wouldn’t let me back out. He insisted I come to work for him. Later on, he explained why he had let the boy go. The boy wasn’t honest. He had sold a clock without recording it, and he pocketed the money. The man had investigated me and my family between the time we had talked. He knew I was honest and that my family could be trusted. So, he wanted me. There is a great need for honesty and honest people.
I went to work the 1st of December 1920 for Mr. Pellmulder. He paid me $12 a week. And in the beginning of 1922, there was the first recession after WW I. he had expanded his business, taking on a debt, and wasn’t able to pay me. He said, however, “I’ll get you a job.” I was, however, discouraged and felt I hadn’t gained enough to go on with it. In a week’s time he called me on the phone and said he had a job for me and to come down. A traveling salesman for the Howard Watch Company said a man in Rock Springs, Wyoming wanted a young man. He told me to write a letter to him. I said, “I don’t want to. I’m through! I don’t’ want to go on with it.” He gave me a sheet of paper, saying: “You write a letter to him!” He then told me what to say. Then, he too, wrote a letter to the man. The man no more got the letters than he telegrammed me to come. I landed in Rock Springs on Washington’s Birthday of 1922. In Rock Springs, I was working with a young watch maker who had lost his left leg in the hip joint. He had graduated from the Peoria School of Watchmaking – a catholic boy. On Washington’s Birthday, we closed at noon. In his Model T Ford, he took me all over the city and showed me how it was undercut with a honeycomb of mines. Then he said: “you go now and write home to your Mother!” Did you ever watch the mailbox for a letter?” Well, I wrote home and tried to make up to Mother concerning my ill-natured behavior. I had a god-like sorrow, thinking of it and wept all night long, soaking my pillow. I know about god-like sorrow!
I stayed with Mr. Frank Crocker, in Rock Springs until July 5, 1922, and the watchmaker, Jimmy Conway, helped me so much in those three months that I had confidence in myself as a watchmaker, and I wasn’t afraid to work. Jimmy Conway got married the 1st of June and took a 30 day vacation. While he was gone, Mr. Crocker said to me: “I’m going to let Mr. Conway go.” I said: “No! Mr. Conway has just got married, he needs the work. I don’t like it here in Rock Springs; so, I’m going to leave.” I came to Ogden, it seems to me the 5th, a Saturday, because I went out to the North Ogden substation of the Electric Railroad where Gerrald was working. He said; “Go look in the glass.” I was so anxious to see some green trees coming from such a barren place, I struck my heads out the window, with goggles on. When I pulled my head back in, I was all black from the engine soot, except where the goggles were.
Gerrald and Victor had been in Ogden some while, and had their own apartment on East 2nd Street. During the week, I went looking for work, applying at all the jewelry stores. I met a watchmaker on 25th street whose family and in-laws lived in Blackfoot, George Vaughn. He told me that a man up the street, named John Smalley, had lost his two boys who had worked for him as watchmakers . . . having opened up their own business. When I called on him, he was in a bad mood because his boys had left. He turned me down. Now, I had tried all the jewelry stores and began looking elsewhere for work. Victor worked for “The Golden Rule” and Gerrald was tending the substation for the Electric RR, and work was pretty scarce. I was growing very discouraged. My brothers wanted me to stay. So, Gerrald told me to try Smalley again. He said he had to swallow his pride and try a 2nd time to get a job. Finally, I swallowed mine and talked to him again. His mind had not changed. As I went out the door, a young woman and her mother came in, and she asked Mr. Smalley: “Who was that young man going out as we came in?” So, Smalley said: “A fellow by the name of Robertson, looking for a job as a watchmaker.” She said: “Oh, I thought so. I know his brother. He works for the “Golden Rule” store. He is a fine fellow.” Immediately, Smalley went out to get me, but I had disappeared. He went up to see Victor to get me back.
I was so discouraged, and had decided to go home, out of money. I went up to Harrisville to catch the freight north. And the only one that came along that afternoon was a short one, going like the wind. I didn’t dare try catching it. I came in the apartment, and soon after, Victor came in. he had been looking all over town for me. So, I got the job with Mr. Smalley. I worked for him two years. I didn’t get along too well with his 4x4 wife, with a lantern jaw that got under my skin. And, there was a young lady came to work for him that I needed to get away from too. I gave him two weeks notice to which he replied: “you can go right now.” Those two things were poisoning my personality and I had to get away from them. I was out of work for two months, looking all over for jobs, and finally got one working for the Southern Pacific Railroad.
In 1924, there was a big wind over the Salt Lake. The waves were undermining the railroad bed of the Southern Pacific Railroad, and a passenger train was isolated for 24 hours. The crews were sent out to try to prevent further erosion of the roadbed, by wheeling cement to those areas being eroded. That was the work that I was doing.
One evening, about 9 p.m., a “track walker” came by and told us there was a dead man in the water up the track a ways. He had been drawn to the spot along the embankment by a bunch of magpies, and found there a corpse. The boss got a crew to bring the body out of the water and took it to town on a flatcar. I sat on the car to hold the lid down all the way to Ogden, some 42 miles away. He had been dead about a week. It was supposed that the man had been sitting on the railing of the trestle when a fast train came by. Since the telephone line along there was broken, it was thought he was blown off, grabbed the line and broke it falling into the lake. Once one gets salt water in the lungs, one’s done for.
I had only been working for SPRR for a couple of weeks when I heard from a representative of the O. P. Skaggs grocery chain company where I had applied, that there was a job open for me if I wanted it. My brothers-in-law were working there. I was soon working there too.
Previous to working for Skaggs, I had been called to work in the 5th Ward Sunday School to teach. There were two special young women came to work in that Sunday School – sisters, one was an organist and the other the chorister. I became engaged to the organist of the two sisters.
Since I had a job with Skaggs, and felt secure, we set the date for our marriage, the 15th of January 1935. I stayed with Skaggs until August of 1925, about a year. The fellow who notified me of the job with Smalley, came and told me there was a job with a Pawn broker on 25th Street, “The King of the Bootletters” he said. Well, all I knew about them was that they bought a lot of sugar to make their whiskey. So, I stopped by and applied for the job. He said: “Give me a week.” In about a week’s time, he came and asked me to work for him. I told him I’d been working for $25.50 a week and would need a raise to make the change. I asked for $30 a week. He agreed to give me the $30 a week; so, I went to work for Mr. Seth Thomas.
There seems to have been, throughout my life, a guiding hand pushing me into certain things – for example in choosing a life’s companion. Expressing the proposal was the effect of some force from outside of me, directing my words and actions.
After I started work, I discovered that Seth Thomas had been the quarterback on the First Football team of the University of Utah, along with a teammate, David O. McKay, and that Seth Thomas had graduated from the University. These old football friends from college often stopped by the Seth Thomas Loan Office to talk. On his way to the Bamberger Depot, David O. McKay would stop to visit with Seth Thomas. I first lived in the same Ward as that of David O. McKay and I was ordained an Elder there by Del Gay. It was a wonderful experience, working with this man, Seth Thomas, during the next 15 years before he passed away. Longfellow’s statement; “There is a tide in the affairs of men if taken at the ebb leads on to success. . .” has its opposite effect at low ebb. Seth Thomas was called on a mission but he chose education over a mission.
One day, in 1920, he was held up by two men, one of them holding a gun on him. The other one took his diamonds, he had just taken from the window. They were on cards and they rolled them in a sweater. As the two men turned to go out the door, Seth Thomas reached in a drawer and drew out a revolver. Before the door closed on the second man, Seth had pumped two bullets into his back. He dropped back in an alley. The police came and before this man died, he gave the name of his accomplice, Dale Atkinson, a repeat burglar and con man. Seth’s killing of the young man, a first hold-up, tormented him terribly, and he started drinking. Seth died from alcoholism at the age of 64. He had no children from the marriage he contracted with a divorcee who had one daughter. At his death, her daughter wanted everything. Seth had started the business with his Mother’s money. He felt that his sisters should have the major portion of it. The wife could legally have one third of the estate. His stepdaughter had him shadowed by the police. Seth found it out and determined to follow his plan of giving most of the estate to his sisters, and he had decided to sell me the business before his death. Since it was the depression, it was to be a contract with monthly or yearly payments, nothing down.
The inventory was valued at $10,000 at the time, and I worried a lot about the debt I was assuming. I couldn’t sleep. One night, after midnight, I finally went to sleep and dreamed that I was on a mountain side above a cliff with a drop of about 500 feet. I was moving along this cliff, hanging on to vines growing along the mountain side. The ledge became narrower and the cliff steeper. I became too tired to climb up over the cliff and saw my certain death below. I felt that the dram was a warning to me of the situation I was in at work. And, I thought: “If I go into this, there will come circumstances and I won’t be able to finish it!” I knew, and the dream reminded me, that I could not work in the shadow off that woman, his wife’s daughter. I knew she would pester me until I would give it up and walk out. So, I said to Seth: “This is a tremendous amount of debt. Take one half of it and put it in a safe deposit box. I’ll buy the inventory as I need it.”
About this time, the United States went off the Gold standard. Inflation began to erode the value of the money, and national leaders said: “No nation under the sun has ever beaten it.” Inflation has usually brought them to their knees.” And Seth said, “With this devaluating situation, I wouldn’t want you to be able to pay me off with devalued money in 30 days.” So he broke up most of the very fancy gold jewelry, took it to the San Francisco Mint and had them melted down.
His daughter had a will made up and brought it up and brought it to him for his signature. He signed it, and brought it down to show me and laughed about it. He said then. “This is the most skullduggery piece of work that I’ve ever seen.” Then he marked across it with a heavy lead pencil. “VOID” and dated it. Then he went and made out a new will, giving his Sisters most of the cash he had. He gave his wife the balance. In it he gave me a bill of sale without any strings on the store. Well, it wasn’t very long, after the first of the year, and he died the summer some time, 1936. The daughter came to the store with the ex-chief of police to get the will she had had him sign. I didn’t have the will there in the safe where she claimed it was. They went through the safe having a warrant to do, and didn’t find anything. The will was held by Seth’s attorney, with whom he had made up his papers. He knew what was coming up and had prepared for it.
She had two attorneys to represent her, and I took Seth’s attorney to represent me. Seth had named his nephew, Earl Pingree as the executor, and he wouldn’t have Seth’s attorney, he went and got two more attorneys. Seth’s attorney, mien too, said he had to have a spokesman, so now there were six attorneys in this estate settlement. My attorney demanded one half of the business for his fees. I told him I’d have nothing to do with such a deal. I said I’d turn the business over to the estate, cause I wouldn’t go through with such a thing, and let the rest of them have it. Then, I walked out of his office, I was so angry. I said, “I’m supposed to pay this woman so much.” “Oh,” he said, “she’s got enough; you don’t need to pay her anything.” So, I went down to the business, not knowing what to do. Then in a few days, the Landlord, Frank Smyth, a friend of Seth’s, came into me as I was cleaning a watch. He stood back of me for a few minutes. Then, he said; “It’s customary for these men to have a pretty good fee out of these kinds of things.”
Well, the business had been cut down to about $6,000 out of $10,000. . . a pretty good share of the business. So, I agreed to the $2,000 and we got together again. But, this agitation; two opposing lawyers, kept me upset so that I couldn’t sleep at night for being so nervous and upset. Now the court action, not being educated in the schools, not schooled to be forward and leader of any kind; so it was a great worry to me. Finally, the case was decided in our favor. The daughter came back against me with another suit. Her husband had, at one time, bought the place on time – being in partnership with Seth for a time. Seth couldn’t get along with this daughter’s husband and got out of the affair with this Ward Piper. Piper had taken an old uncle back to the train. And, back in bed, he got a blood clot in his arm and died almost immediately. She claimed that her husband had bought the store. But Seth had come back and taken over the business. The attorney won the case, any way and after two year, I got free of the affairs and had paid another $500. Then, I wasn’t in any shape to pay this woman, Mrs. Seth Thomas.
The litigation must have lasted about two years. I got a friend of Seth Thomas and her friend too, to go up and talk to her and have her stop the law suit against me. She would have, but the daughter was so mad that we couldn’t even speak to one another. So, I didn’t pay her anything. It didn’t matter however; for she got most of the cash in the bank. I don’t know what the sisters got out of it. It didn’t come out just the way Seth planned it because of the fighting of the lawyers. The part about my paying the widow was between me and Seth; there was nothing in writing. Therefore, in the division of the estate, she got more than planned. So I figured I was released from Seth’s agreement with me.
And another thing, I stayed with it rather than letting it all go back to the estate, I was afraid that if I pulled out of the fight, the sisters wouldn’t get anything. And, I knew that because the Mother’s money had started the business, that the sisters were entitled to their portion. Now at one time, my doctor who was at one time Seth’s doctor, Dr. Stranquist, came to me at the business and said: “Where do you stand in this affair? They’ve offered me a sizeable amount of money to testify that he wasn’t capable when he signed that will.”
Well, I explained to him all the goings on between him and his wife and her daughter. And he said: “Now, I can see what’s going on. So he wouldn’t’ testify only that Seth Thomas was alright when he made out the will. And the judge came to me one time and said: “You know, I met the doctor as he came out of Thomas’ house. And I said to him, ‘How is he this morning?’ and he replied, “Oh, he’s not very good.” and I said, ‘No, I mean mentally . . . is he able to do business?’ The doctor replied: ‘Oh! Yes, he’s alright that way.’” So he had the doctor right where the whiskers were short. He wouldn’t have dared to testify of his mental incapacity – this was the very day Seth had signed the papers. So, you see, I had to stay with the lawyer. If that judge had gone over to these women and been paid . . . and he could have easily done it . . . the sisters would have been left out. So, I stayed with it and fought it out, although it almost wrecked me financially and physically.
Then WW II came on; I had Vernon Bozeland as an apprentice. I knew I didn’t have the training nor the equipment to properly train him. So, I talked him into going back to the Elgen Watch School, and he did. He went back there for long enough to improve himself a lot, although he didn’t finish the school. Vernon was a good workman with promise e of much help to me. But he got married; then began worrying about getting drafted into the army. So, he quit me and went out to Hill Field, an Army Air Field, thinking they wouldn’t draft him there. But he was mistaken, as they drafted him anyway.
Left alone to do all the business, things going pretty tough because of the war. I got discouraged and I was talking about selling out. Tom Wilson, an old friend of Seth’s said: “How much would you take for it?” Well, I just gave a rough estimate of $1,500 for the fixtures and the inventory plus . . . And he said “I’ll take it right now.” Well, I should have gotten quite a bit more. But I was so run down and worn out, that I didn’t back down on the deal. I let it go through. And so, when I got out of the store I took hike with you boys up the foothills. We went up so far . . . , and I gave out. Contrary to the way I’d been . . . always husky . . . Going up to Timpanogos cave, the sign said: “Take an hour to go up.” (I went up in 12 minutes in 1932.) Here, I had given out completely. John, you were only about 10 and James, 15, you went up over the cliff and disappeared. I got worried and I started up to see where you were. I looked back and got scared, I thought: “I wouldn’t be able to come back down, no matter what. I didn’t know any other way I might get back; so I came down. And I looked down to the car, and there you boys had gone over the ridge and down another way, and you were back to the car. I never realized how really bad, physically, I was. I’d have never lived to see 60 years of age if I’d stayed in that business.
So, February 19, 1942, I had signed to buy this Peter G. Johnston Farm. And then, later on, I came up. The widow of P.G. had the contract made up, the mortgage on the farm for 5 years. I said to the attorney: “I came up to buy this; I didn’t want a mortgage.” So the woman said: “Oh! If he wants to pay cash, that’s alright.” I could have had a ranch out in Rich lane of 400 acres. But I got to thinking about having to provide transportation for you kids going back and forth to school. So, I decided to build here, and this is what I got.
Cliff didn’t put much in his jornal about his illnesses; he put a lot about his Church work. Well, I had never had the public experience; I hadn’t gone on a mission. I don’t know why they asked me to be in the Sunday School. I went to Church all the time. In those days there were a lot of people who didn’t go to Church. I had an elder’s quorum with a hundred members. Many of them were college graduates there. A boy from here by the name of Verl Bensley was secretary to George Eccles, the president of the bank. He had filled a mission. He never came out to Church. He had perhaps married a girl who wasn’t a member of the Church.
Old man Smalley promised me the same kind of a thing as Seth Thomas – i.e. he’d give me that business. But I wouldn’t’ have stayed there for the business. I don’t’ remember quite when I quit Smalley, but probably in June of 1924. I was out of work for most of that summer. His business was just a hole in the wall. Lots of people ought not to go into business; they ought to work for the other person. There are some that are good foremen, but not good workers. There are all kinds of individuals to make this world work.
Seth lost his health and had a bad stroke because of the alcohol. The doctor took his alcohol away from him and he got better. Along about Christmas time, he could walk, and he felt real well. He said: “Dewey, I’m feeling fine; so I can cheat a little. So, he went out partying Christmas Eve as drinking people always do. He got by with it; it didn’t knock him down. Well, along came new Year’s Eve; another time for drinking people to celebrate. Then, on the 5th of January he had another stroke. Then, he took care of himself for another period of time. He had heart trouble along with his strokes and alcoholism. In the summer he’d come down and help me so I could go get some dinner. This particular time he came down a little early, and I was at the bench cleaning a watch. There hadn’t been anyone in to talk to him or to me and he hadn’t been talking to me. Out of the clear blue, he said to me: “Dewey, there isn’t an argument in the world for whiskey!” he had come to the conclusion through the strokes he’d had, that it wasn’t good for any man, and from what he had seen. For example, a man came to the store once, wealthy, from a top family. He slid across the counter and slobbered all over. Seth stood back and looked at him. He said: “You know, Dewey, whiskey’s no respecter of persons. It makes a fool out of every one who drinks it.”
Thinking about selling out, I began to think about getting a piece of land. As prospered in that business and began to accumulate a little money. I thought of this piece of land I had worked on as a boy where my brother had continually worked. The man who owned it had passed away. So, I asked my brother Clifford that if it ever came up for sale, to let me k now about it. And so, he wrote down and said the widow was wanting to sell it. He described what went with it and what she wanted -- $250 per acre – 84 acres. So I sent up $2,000 to tie the bargain. Later in the year I came up and completed the purchase of the farm. Then I found out she wanted to sell the home also. She wanted to go to Ogden where one of her step-sons was practicing medicine. So, I bought the home also for $5,500. Then I decided to go back to Ogden. I moved up to Blackfoot in1943. Then in 1944 or 45, I decided to move back to Ogden and sold the home for $6,500, and I should have got $8,500. Inflation was moving the dollar up, and I didn’t realize it. And complication developed with the family so we decided to stay. There we built a home based on the dimensions of the barn that was on the place on Shillings Avenue.
I still had the home on 17th Street that I would have moved back to. It was a question with Enid. With James it was coming to Idaho. So, we built the home in 1945. The Idaho Falls Temple hadn’t been completed. It was due for dedication, and on the 23rd of September, we had an appointment to go to the dedication. We hadn’t been able to get windows. However we had to move out so we moved our furniture to the new home without windows. While we were at the dedication, there came a terrible wind and rain storm and ruined some of the furniture exposed to the open windows.
Events on the farm were common to farm problems. The government developed the Atomic Energy site on the Arco Desert. That meant an influx of a lot of people into this are. They began to want land to build homes on. I sold them, finally a strip on Walker Street. Then, like the proverbial camel with his nose in the tent, they kept wanting a little more, a little more and a little more until I finally wound up with about 30 acres. The Church wanted land for a Stake Center. So, I gave them 5 12 acres of land for a Stake Center. I knew they’d want to build homes around the Stake Center, and I didn’t want to be bothered with the building situation. So I sold some land to a man by the name of Mike Kirkham.
Regarding my Church Activities, I remember as a youth as being somewhat of an agnostic, since we lived in a gentile area where there were apostate Mormons and much criticism. I didn’t hardly know where I stood concerning my future as to religion. I was sort of astraddle of the fence. One day, I remember thinking, that if I’m going to grow up with this family, I’d better know something about what they believe. So, I began reading the scriptures, and I have continued reading the scriptures all my life. I might say that I was sort of like Nephi; I took great pleasure in pondering the scriptures. I was not a leader due to lack of schooling. I shunned anything of a public nature, to stand before any public group as to any leadership responsibility. Yet when I got to Ogden, they asked me to teach a Sunday School Class. Then, they called me to the second counselor in the Sunday School Superintendency. After I was married, we moved into the 18th Ward and they called me to be the president of the Elder’s Quorum.
After that, we moved into the 9th Ward for a few months. Then we moved into the 7th Ward. Here I was ordained a 70 by Rufus K. Hardie. Then I was called into the presidency of the 70 of the Ogden Stake. They were going to make me Senior President; so I told them that I was moving up to Blackfoot. I don’t’ know what made them think I had that kind of ability. Then, when we came up here, I was called as a counselor in the High Priest Group with Willard Dance and Ray McClellan, I was second Counselor and Leonard Briggs was the secretary. While a Seventy, here, I served on a stake mission to the Indians.
This was a great disappointment, and I wouldn’t want to say anything about it. They wanted to bring the Indians into mix with the Whites in the Wards – it didn’t work. It was a matter of majority/minority relations. They had had a long relationship with non-Mormon businessmen. We were only able to work with them in our spare time, we just couldn’t’ give to it what was really needed. I tried to get them to get an organization going on the reservation along with the whites who were already on the reservation – who owned land there, calling those people who lived among them to missions and they didn’t consider my advice appropriate. They did here what was done at other reservations, and it didn’t work too well here.
Fr the last couple of decades, I’ve been secretary to the high Priest Group in the wares we’ve lived in.
My Father, Charles Alexander Robertson was born to John and Mary Boyack Robertson in Spanish Fork, the 23rd of March 1866. Sara Elida Prisbrey, my Mother, was born to Miner Grand and Mary Ann Hershey Prisbrey, the 27th of May 1868 in Saint George, Utah. The two met when Charles was drilling wells in Southern Utah and Elida was working for a family names Sterling in Leads. Charles was greatly impressed by Elida’s wonderful way with children and determined to win her for his wife. They were married the 1st of May 1891 in the Saint George Temple.
They called Spanish Fork their home for the next three years during which time Clifford and Gerrald were born. As Father was a brick mason, he built a home on South Main in Spanish Fork for the; however, he learned of excellent opportunities for homesteading and the fine soil ad abundance of water in Idaho, so they moved to Blackfoot in 1895 in a covered wagon. Father rented a farm that first year, but as Mother was expecting another baby, and their facilities were poor and winters sever, they moved back to Ogden for the winter, where Verna was born. Back to Idaho they went the same year. In about 1897 Father purchased a 160 acre farm at a place now called Wapello. Here Dewey and Victor were born.
They lived a rugged pioneer life with closest neighbors miles away. As Father was gone many times for days at a time to sell hay in Pocatello or obtain wood from across the Snake River, mother was alone with their small children. She had many frightening experiences. Once when a bunch of Indian men came, she hid the children in a ditch, and then fed the braves until they were full and left. Another time, a man escaped from the Insane Asylum in Blackfoot and came to her door. Mother piled food on the table to keep him busy eating while she stepped out with the children. They got as far as the road when two guards in a wagon came looking for the man who they said was very dangerous. Mother had many other experiences too numerous to mention in this short history, but we all learned early in life that Mother had great faith and trust in the Lord and the Lord answered her prayers. She was very gregarious and family-oriented, and she became homesick for her family. So, Father rented the farm for two years and they went to Saint George in the Fall of 1900. Mother went part of the way by train but it took Father with the two older boys, about three weeks to get there by wagon. The family enjoyed their relatives and the warm climate. The children especially enjoyed the fresh fruit and nuts.
A special event took place there on June 24, 1902 when Vera was born. In the spring of 1903 the family moved back to Idaho where they were blessed with three more children, Cecil, Grace and Mabel. Concerned with the high mortality rate of people at that time, Mother promised the Lord that if he would spare her children, she would welcome all the spirit children He would send her. All of her children outlived her.
About 1909 Father bought a small home on Bridge Street in Blackfoot, so the children would have better opportunities for schooling. It was here that their last child Jennie was born. The older children now started to move out on their own. Some moved to Ogden to work so in 1922 Father sold the farm and the home in town and the family moved to Ogden where they purchased a little bungalow. Father continued to work hard for the railroad. He would leave Sunday evenings and not return until Saturday.
Our folks had great economic struggles and were never free of money worries. But their joy was in their children and grandchildren. They were always active and faithful in the Church and made many friends wherever they lived. They were truly wonderful examples to all of us.
I walked to worship
and found along the way
my reasons in sound.
On sidewalk, measured step,
heel/toe, drum the play
of heart . . . the pound
of worth in life
Snow, on which one may slip,
encrusted the walk,
part of the churchward way
In the air a crispy nip
gave music to the whited rock
snaredrum brush . . . and play
the sometime fife.
Our Senses orchestrate
to our Creator,
because of whom we rate,
not just as a creature
but as embrio-creator
of our own seeds.
To Them whose we are,
Honor and Glory,
Virtue, Truth and Light,
magnification of the star,
eternity of the story,
redemption from evils night,
e through pure love’s deeds.
written by Sortrebon
13 January 1985