The following was written at the request of my "cousin" Kay, who is the daughter of the uncle mentioned in the following. She has a blog herself whereiscliftonidaho.blogspot.com/ and when I was home in Salt Lake over Christmas, I found out that my great-uncle Ted had passed away the month before. I was inspired reading the tributes to Ted that she posted on her blog back then and promised her I'd write something too -- and never got around to it until now -- two days before a memorial service for Ted in Clifton, ID on June 4. Unfortunately I'll be unable to attend, and so this is my tribute to one of my fondest relatives. By the way, the profile picture to the left on this post was taken on the road to Clifton on my last visit in 2006, as is the final one by the Welcome to Clifton sign.
I was very sad to learn over Christmas of the passing of my Uncle Ted a month before. Well, he wasn’t really my “uncle”, he was my Mother’s uncle, but we all called him Uncle Ted. Ted was the classic “Gentleman Farmer” in my book, and he could almost double for the father in Grant Wood’s famous painting “American Gothic”. He was tall and gaunt and had a very quiet way about him, and I could see him in my mind walking right off that painting although he didn't frown or scowl that I can remember.
Some of my earliest memories are of the family going up to Clifton, Idaho to visit Great Grandma Rice, Uncle Ted, Aunt Helen and Aunt Jane. Clifton is but a stop sign on a map dot of Southeast Idaho in the north end of the Cache Valley. It’s not even on a main highway, it’s on a county road that runs up the West side of the valley. It’s lined with dairy farms and hay fields, and at a country crossroads with a stop sign is the center of Clifton. It’s where my Mother grew up. The old country store/post office was run by Mom’s Aunt Jane and just down the road was my Great Grandma Rice’s house and her son Ted’s farm.
As most young boys are I was fascinated by the farm and all the farm stuff. I remember Ted used to park his farm implements underneath a tree in the gravel lot between Great Grandma’s house and his. I’d explore them and Ted would let me sit on the seats. There were old John Deere and International hay bailers and ploughs and mowers. Sometimes he’d give me tractor rides – he had a few old putters and one big shiny red “new” International that was his pride.
However, Ted was very particular about his cows and his barn though and my younger brother and I were not allowed anywhere near that place. We’d watch him heard the cows into the milking barn from the other end of the corral, and watch the big “Quality Check Dairy” truck come and pump the milk out of his holding tanks to be taken away for processing.
Out in the yard there was an old shed where Ted kept some tools and jars of nuts and bolts and stuff. In it he had a mounted board with some old barbed-wire snips he’d collected over the years which I found fascinating. Ted and I also both loved trains, and I’d remember sleeping out in a sleeping bag in the back of his old flatbed truck or on the lawn in front of the house and waking up to hear the passing freights on the Union Pacific line from Salt Lake to Pocatello and Butte, MT that ran on the other side of Ted’s hay fields. When I’d get older I’d take trips up the Cache Valley taking pictures of old buildings and trains and stuff and I’d always stop in and see Ted and Helen. We’d talk about trains over a sandwich Helen would make and some milk or lemonade.
At one visit Ted expressed an interest in the old Utah and Idaho Interurban line that ran up from Ogden in the early 1900s. At the turn of the century up until the 1940s you could take a trolly (today called "light rail") all the way from Salt Lake to Preston, Idaho. I did some research in the BYU library where I was going to school at the time and ended up photocopying an entire book on the old Interurban line and gave a copy to Ted. He repaid me by making a small locomotive out of nuts and bolts he’d welded together – I can see him standing in his shed with the barbed wire collection on the wall putting it together. That little sculpture is on my desk to this day. In later trips he’d tell me about riding his bike and finding parts of the old Interurban rail line using that book I gave him.
When I was about 9 my folks got me a guitar. I’d wanted to learn to play and so they finally got me one and I was taking lessons. Outside of Ted and Helen’s house were some old homemade stools that Ted had made out of milk cans and old tractor seats he'd welded together. I remember sitting on those and playing – I’m sure VERY badly as 9 year olds can on the guitar – and Ted listening and pretending to enjoy it.
Ted loved his farm and he loved the farm lifestyle, and would rarely leave Clifton – I only recall once or twice his coming to the big city of Salt Lake. Once was when my Grandfather, his brother in law, died, and the other was at my Grandmother’s 90th Birthday party. He’d retired by then so he didn’t have to go home to milk, but I do remember he didn’t stay long either. I knew the city just grated on him.
The last time I saw Ted was in 2006 when my partner Tony and I were riding across the West on our motorcycles. We’d roared into Clifton on two big Harley-Davidson’s, dressed in leather and looking like we were part of the Hells Angels. We stopped by Jane’s to say hi, and I think half the town were eyeing us and coming over to check on the bikers and to see if Jane was OK. We had some lunch and then rode down to Ted and Helen’s for a moment to say hi. Ted loved the motorcycles and envied our riding around and wished us well as we rode off.
I was reading some of the heartfelt tributes to Ted that were posted following his passing, and they brought back a lot of memories of this wonderful man. He was truly one of a kind – a small town gentleman farmer who was loved by all – including a great-nephew from Salt Lake who was fascinated by farm machinery and trains and exploring the countryside, and who could always count on a warm greeting when he unexpectedly showed up on his doorstep, even on a big motorcycle dressed in leather.