“Oh yes!” he says wistfully, “They have a distinctive sound, and they talk to you. That steam would go into the cylinders and dissipate out through the stack, and that was a sound that you never forget.”
That is how Harlan “Toad” Turner describes running a steam engine when he was a young man working on the legendary Camas Prairie Railroad. Now eighty-four, he still has the frame of a big, strong man. As he reminisces, he waves his brawny hands in the air as though he were still moving the Johnson bar and adjusting the dampers.
Harlan earned his nickname as a youngster. After hopping through a barbed-wire fence with a bunch of his friends, one of them said, “Why, you jumped through that just like an old toad.” The name stuck, he says, and his wife Neva says she has to use the nickname in the phone book or his friends can’t find him.
Now retired, Toad loves to talk about his “railroadin’ days.” He started out in 1944 as a young man shoveling cinders out of the pits at the roundhouse in Lewiston. From there he moved up to clerk in the station at Spokane. A fellow had to wait for an opening in those days, as the ones with seniority got their pick first. Finally there was an opening for a switcher, then for a fireman, and Toad moved up. But he wanted to run those engines. Continue reading →
I never speak to my father. Stern, gruff, and ancient at the age of sixty-three, he terrifies me. He growls that we are no good, gives us orders, and swaggers around half-lit on homemade wine, telling of the rough work he does at the sawmill each day. I want him to like me, but I am just a skinny little girl. I can’t chop wood or milk the goats, like my big sisters. Our pigs and the dark scare me to death. I only do one thing really well, and that is spell.
In my second grade class at Weippe Elementary School no one spells better than me. That’s why I‘m going to Orofino for the district-wide spelling bee. Because I placed first in all the contests held at our local school, my teacher told me I had earned the privilege and responsibility of representing Weippe in the district competition. I’m nervous, but I tell myself I can outspell everyone in the big town of Orofino. Neither of my parents has ever attended any of my spelling bees, but Daddy agrees to drive me to this event. He decides that Mama will come with us. Such special attention makes me feel giddy.
Mama braids my hair up tight in long French braids, telling me she’s so proud of me. I put on my best dress, a red calico with short puffy sleeves and two layers of gathered ruffles for the skirt. Mama dresses up too, in her Sunday clothes and shoes. Instead of his usual work shirt and jeans, Daddy puts on his navy blue pinstripe suit that only gets worn when there’s a potluck at church and he goes with us to get something to eat. He warms up the old green truck and I climb in to sit between my parents for the winding descent on the Greer hill from Weippe to Orofino. Continue reading →
The author, now retired as a decorated regional investigator for Idaho Fish and Game, describes exactly what game wardens do, and how he became interested in a career of undercover work. “Crossing Paths,” the first chapter of his 2012 book, Trafficking, is reprinted here with permission.
I remember the first time I was at Dworshak Dam [near Orofino]. My brother Nick and I were on our way to school at the University of Idaho in Moscow. He was studying architecture and I was struggling with a degree in wildlife management. He wanted to build stuff and I wanted to be a game warden.
Dworshak Dam was being built and Nick wanted to look at it during its construction phase. It was no minor project since it would be the country’s third highest dam when it was completed. It was quite the sight to see.
Twenty years later I returned to that spot near the dam where my brother and I had looked over its creation; but this trip wasn’t as a curious spectator. I was recalling the earlier visit with my brother but thinking about how bizarre this revisit was. I was investigating the illegal trafficking in wildlife. I wasn’t wearing a uniform, badge, or gun-belt since I was working undercover. I was about to initiate my first “illegal buy” of wildlife all while the deja vu of the past trip with my brother was playing though my head.
I think most kids ponder what they are going to be when they grow up. I’m sure I didn’t dwell on the subject, but I do remember my grandmother talking about her brother Hawley and the respect she had for him as an Idaho game warden. I don’t remember meeting him until well after he had retired. Regretfully he passed on before my appointment as an Idaho conservation officer and I never got to talk to him about his career. Hawley Hill attained the rank of Enforcement Bureau Chief, and after I was hired, I found that his troops had called him “Holy Hell” behind his back. It’s my belief the nickname came from a combination of fear and respect. Continue reading →