Under the Big-Shouldered Mountains
By Kathy Corgatelli-NeVille
When I was growing up in the Big Lost River Valley in the 1950s-‘60s, sometimes just breathing deep outdoors in winter could take my breath away. Overnight lows often dipped to minus 20 degrees and occasionally lower.
Regardless of the weather, my sisters, our relatives, friends, and I almost never missed the school bus to Mackay that picked us up along a county road where our family raised Herefords, alfalfa, and potatoes.
We kids lived on farms and ranches around Darlington and Leslie south of Mackay or in the Chilly and Barton Flat areas to the north of town. Inadequate heaters made for a very cold winter drive of anywhere from eighteen to twenty-five miles one way, depending on where you lived.
This was especially tough on the girls, who were required by the school to wear dresses. On extremely cold days, our bus driver Bruce McKinley, who taught high school math and coached football and basketball, wore thick leather gloves and a heavy winter coat over his suit and tie.
“Our bus had only one heater, and that one was up near the bus driver,” my former classmate Sheri Whitworth Cutler reminisced to me recently. She and her sister and brothers rode the bus twice a day between school and their ranch north of Mackay near where Trail Creek Road intersects with US Highway 93. The elevation gain is steady from Mackay’s 5,900-foot altitude to their ranch, where they raised cattle and grass hay, until it reaches 7,161 feet at Willow Creek Summit.
Sheri said when she was raised on the ranch by her parents, Herb and Sharon Whitworth, she learned valuable life lessons not only from them but from her grandparents, George D. “Judd” Whitworth and his wife Clara. Her grandparents purchased the Elk Horn Ranch during the Great Depression and moved there from Inkom when money was tight.