Author Archives: Dean Worbois
About Dean WorboisDean Worbois spent ten years pursuing an acting career and hitchhiking around the country during the 1960s before earning a degree from Boise State University. He taught stained glass at Boise State, wrote several books and pamphlets on historical subjects, and has contributed to IDAHO magazine over the years. For two years he produced a weekly half-hour television show on Boise’s public access channel, TVCTV, available on the web at greatwahoo.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
My mother had a way with plants, and her flowers were a summer-long frenzy of color.
She always planted daylilies, their long stems holding up orange clumps of color to the height of car windows passing by the southwestern corner of our Boise property. This was one-half of a block of land my folks bought in 1947, when I was two. The block was a garden and cow pasture owned by a Mr. Quarbridge, who had never developed it. Continue reading →
The second time I spotted him lolling about on the top of the feeder, I grabbed a broom and rushed out the door, waving my threatening wand and yelling like a mad dog. The squirrel rather curiously observed all this until I actually started to swing, at which point he quickly and rather casually jumped down to run off. Sure, I pulled my swing, because I didn’t want to bash apart the feeder or actually hurt this talented squirrel, but I figured the near-miss and my angry scolding would teach him a lesson.
Silly me. Teach a squirrel a lesson where food is involved? Instead it only seemed to make an alarm of the back door latch. Now the squirrel had time to saunter off. Continue reading →
At a freeway exit west of Caldwell, the landscape dips as it stretches west to Sand Hollow, a valley of rolling fields feeding a trickle of a stream lined with cattails, poplar, and purple loosestrife.
Farm homes dot the landscape, many of them surrounded by planted forests. A friend who goes by “Speedy” lives in one of these little forests. He loves the owls and quail and rabbits and hummingbirds and the occasional cougar that all make his abode part of their regular rounds.
Hoping to attract a croaking toad to his garden a few years ago, Speedy decided to dig a little pond between his small yard and the dense trees. The water did attract a more abundant population of critters away from the irrigation ditches, but he soon found himself with a problem—algae loved the pond. To control the algae, he purchased a dozen “feeder fish,” what I’d always known as “inexpensive goldfish,” but what keepers of larger fish call “feeders” for a reason. Continue reading →
As a male, my first inclination was to bust right through that quarter mile of brittle little twigs and emerge triumphant on the other end, beating my chest at the might of my hundred-and-seventy horses.
But I thought of all those broken bits of tumbleweed sticking in every bearing of the drive train and every joint of the suspension, and decided to go around.
Going around was not as easy as you’d think. Continue reading →
Whenever I drive south from Kuna on Swan Falls Road toward the Snake River, I pass a little sign indicating a turnoff to a place called Initial Point. It’s a butte just one mile to the east on a good dirt road, but for me there always seemed to be some excuse not to run over and check it out. At last, I decided to do what I had often told myself I should do, and took that turn.
A road leads up the butte, but the steep grade is studded with sharp lava rocks, and rather than chewing up my vehicle’s tires, I opted for an easy climb to the summit. I followed the road on foot about halfway across the east side of the butte, impressed with the expanse of open country between myself and the distant mountains of the Boise Front. A rugged shortcut uphill beckoned. After a brief climb, the butte rounded onto a large flat area used for parking and, I’m sure, partying. At the southwest corner of this area, a lava outcropping rose to a point topped by a concrete platform with guardrails of pipe.
This butte may be only a hundred and twenty-five feet above the desert floor, but the flatness of the surrounding countryside makes for stunning vistas. Whether the Boise Front to the north, the Owyhee Mountains to the south, Oregon’s Mahogany Mountains to the west or the endless desert to the east, the land defines the concept of big sky. My whole life, I have explored its canyons and other features, and the grandeur of its open space. Continue reading →
The last thing I expected after finishing the Seventh Annual Weiser River Trail Bike Ride last June was to be perfectly brined from the experience—a flawless crust, of which I was not even aware.
I had often thought of riding a bike on the trail, which at eighty-four miles is the longest rail trail in Idaho, climbing from desert hills near Weiser through desert canyons, rich farmland valleys, forested canyons and alpine meadows, all on a gentle riverside grade. What I wanted to do was ride the upper twenty-eight miles past Council and heading toward New Meadows, because not only did this section lead mostly under shade trees, but it was the steepest downhill stretch on the route. Continue reading →
King Hill was a thriving community when my grandfather bought the last unclaimed property of the King Hill Irrigation District in 1920. Today the place is devoid of businesses. With the coming of diesel engines, the railroad no longer needed the water tower and began keeping its helper engines for the King Hill Grade in nearby Glenns Ferry, where the main yard and roundhouse were located. Nowadays, the trains don’t stop even in Glenns Ferry. But in my grandfather’s day, the pride of King Hill was a substantial two-story brick schoolhouse dominating the town from a knoll just north of the bank, hotel, bar, grocery story, café, and other businesses lining Meridian Street.
Signs of the First Inhabitants
People lived on this big bend of the Snake River for two thousand years before a wheel ever crossed the land. Mark Plew, a professor in Boise State University’s Department of Anthropology, has excavated five sites along the river at King Hill. Bands were small, just ten to twelve people. The deer and rabbits that comprised most of their diet were plentiful, but scarce fuel for cooking and warmth forced the bands to move on. An interesting oddity of the archeological record around King Hill, including from Three Island Crossing in Glenns Ferry to Hagerman, is that this is the only place on the Snake River where metal points are found in the digs. We know from Captain John C. Fremont’s journals that he brought metal rings for trade. Apparently, native people quickly realized how handy metal is for working into projectile points.
In the valley around King Hill everyone picked up rocks—and they’re still picking them up. Rocks are piled into fences and have been used to build homes, including the one my mother was raised in west of town. About five years ago, when I first introduced myself to Jean Allen, who now owns the property with her husband Roy, Jean’s first words were, “Well, we’re still picking up rocks” (for that story, see “House of Stone,” IDAHO magazine, November 2008). Roy now assures me he has a big tractor with teeth, and he’s going to get those rocks out for good. Jean rolls her eyes. Continue reading →
What, an antique shop in Spirit Lake that sells Lionel model trains? Learning this, I soon covered the forty miles north of Coeur d’Alene to Spirit Lake’s Main Street.
Turning left from Idaho Highway 41, I was immediately taken by two blocks of early Idaho stone-and-wood commercial architecture. The buildings, up to three stories tall, were well-maintained and mostly open for business, but they were not gussied up. The kid in me couldn’t wait to get out of the car but had to wait for a parking space in the second block, across the street from the antique shop.
While it was the kid in me who jumped out of the car into this Idaho townscape, it was all of me who had to stop in the middle of Main Street, say out loud, “I love it,” and reach for my camera. “It” was the coolest water tower I’d ever seen—a huge and handsome blue coffee pot.
In the train and antiques shop, owner Helen Campilli told me she bought her husband a toy train set many years ago, “Something we didn’t even know existed. He was raised too poor and I was raised on a farm away from everything.” After that gift of love, they collected Lionel trains for years and finally decided to open a shop to get rid of some of them. That led to buying more, applying to be a franchise, and going at it ever since. These days, Helen admits the shop is a way to keep her out of the rocking chair.
We enjoyed a pleasant chat and as I made a small purchase, I mentioned how much I liked the amazing coffee pot water tower. I was immediately corrected. “That is not a coffee pot, it is a teapot. A lady who lived here loved teapots and when she died, her daughter fixed up the water tower to be a teapot in her memory.”
Wow. Continue reading →