JOHN WEGNER - 1943 PIONEERS
From 'Echoing Footsteps', published 1967, Powder River County Extension Homemakers Council
By Mrs. John (Elsie) Wegner
The spring of 1943 we bought the Francis Choate place which had not been occupied for a number of years. We began to prepare for the 175 mile trip, as we lived west of Billings, Montana.
John had come down in February to look at the place. He arrived at the Rufus Choate ranch on a beautiful thawing day. Rufe had just finished icing and things were getting watered in. Rufe showed him around that afternoon. When he got back home and told us what a beautiful country this was, we decided this was what we wanted.
We had our cattle trucked in and unloaded at the Standish Johnson place at old Stacey.
We borrowed a truck and came down with a few belongings in April. We left Billings about four o'clock one afternoon and came through Miles City. The old truck was pretty slow, so we did not get down this way until about two o'clock in the morning. John did not remember the way in the dark, so we stopped between Volborg and the fork of the road somewhere and decided to wait for daylight. We were tired so dropped off to sleep, but soon froze out as it was freezing lightly. We dug out some rugs and wrapped up in them and finished out our wait. It sure was good to see the sun that morning.
We got to the Choate ranch for breakfast. As we were grinding into the ranch in low gear, we saw Rufe on the porch looking skyward. He thought an airplane was having trouble or flying low!
After breakfast, we started for our place to unload before starting back to Billings. I was shocked when I saw my new home, which had been a good one once upon a time. It was a log house, badly in need of repairs. It had a dirt roof, covered with grass and weeds and was caving in here and there. It leaked during a rain and a day thereafter. All the buildings were logs. The corrals were made from sagging poles, After the deal had been made, Francis said, "I'm selling you the land. The buildings are in bad condition."
We were milking seven cows so we had to patch the corrals the first thing. We milked open air style for ten years; and some winters the milk stools were out of sight as you sat on them.
We just sort of camped all summer. There was a small bunkhouse affair that leaked only during a hard rain and we used this to cook in and keep the cream separator and our better things.
John and his brother, Solly who lived with us, started in to work on the house. They tore off the roof and got it ready for roofing and got ready for the floors. Repairs took all summer as they stopped for haying, branding and such. John and Solly had helped Rufe hay, so he came over with his crew to put up ours. As we were eating our dinner outside, Merle Wood rode in. He was our first visitor.
July first, John and Solly went back to Billings to get our horses, wagons and haying machinery plus other odds and ends. They loaded everything on two wagons. John drove four head on the hay wagon, trailing the other wagon. Solly brought up the rear with the loose horses. They had two young colts in the bunch. They had some tough luck on the way. Coming down the Pryor Creek hill, they upset the wagons and got a horse down with the wagon on top of him. He died soon after, and an unbroken horse was put in his place.
When they came through Ashland, they stopped in town with the whole outfit and the colts lay down in the street to rest. Their hooves were sore and bleeding. The teams and saddle horses were shod. The road between Hardin and Ashland was gravel and dirt then. This trip took eight days.
Our daughter, Dorothy, started first grade that fall. She rode four miles on an ornery half Shetland pony which had to be chased about a fourth of a mile almost every morning to get them on their way. By spring, she was horse-wise and rode a better horse. The last two years of her schooling was six miles away.
About the middle of September, we moved into the house. This seemed like a palace after roughing it all summer.
We operated on horse power and had a 1931 Model A Ford car which we called "The Puddle Jumper." In 1948, we bought our first tractor (a Ford) which we still have in running condition.
In 1950, we bought the Briant place, which joined us down the creek. So in 1951, we made another move. This one was only a two mile journey.
We still marvel at the beauty of this country and know we have settled in the best part of Montana. Would we do it again? Yes -- We look back on those years as some of the best education we got, the kind you don't learn from books.