Sunday, September 25, 2022

Doyle's Farm Equipment


When Robert Doyle Russell joined the Navy in April of 1962 he left his parents’ home in Larimer County, Colorado, a farm/ranch where he and his family had lived since 1953.  RD’s father, Doyle J Russell, was a dryland farmer who grew Hard Winter Wheat, “Turkey Red”, a grain that grew well on dry land with no irrigation water as long as a few rains came at the right time of year. Doyle also raised cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens, and kept a milk cow. He was a successful farmer because he was a hardworking man, never borrowed money, bought used farm equipment, and carried crop insurance. Also, his wife raised the chickens and milked the cow, sold eggs and cream, and canned fruit and vegetables for winter use.




And then the State of Colorado created I-25 Interstate Highway that cut right through Doyle’s land. No longer was he able to pasture his cattle on the east portion of his property then bring them home at night. Nor could he drive his tractor directly to those eastern fields for crossing the interstate that way was illegal. And I am sure that losing his right hand man, RD, to the Navy, affected his ability to keep up the farm. Consequently, when RD came home from the Navy he was shocked at the change in his dad’s place. 



Doyle, being the resourceful man that he was, had sold the cattle and created a junk yard on his land. He soon became quite successful at acquiring automobiles, trucks, and other vehicles that people didn’t want or could no longer park in front of their homes, and then he sold off parts. Sometimes he sold entire vehicles but said he made more money parting them out. As the junkyard grew he accumulated all sorts of “stuff” that he could resell and he enjoyed it so much, loved talking to people who stopped in, made lifelong friends that way. And he made more money selling junk than selling cows.


But the junkyard was unsightly! It was an embarrassment to his family. He filled the yard by the house with things easily stolen, like bicycles, kiddie cars, and tools. And covered acres and acres with vehicles, furniture, tires, piles of wood scraps, all sorts of odds and ends. Doyle was not embarrassed, as far as I know. He knew right where everything was and could walk directly to it if someone came searching for a car part or TV or posthole digger. He kept track of his inventory in his mind, never made lists or maps.



Once, in the 1970s, he granted permission to a group of artists who wanted to paint what they saw out there on the farm land littered with treasures. I understand that, for I have often seen the beauty there myself. I loved the way the native grasses grew up around the old farm machinery. When I saw that equipment parked out back of the house my imagination caught fire. I could visualize Doyle preparing some fields for planting, lightly plowing others for summer fallow.



RD once told me how, at a young age, he learned to balance while standing on the back of the wheat planter, aka grain drill, as his dad pulled it with a tractor across the plowed fields. RD’s job was to make sure flow of grain into the soil was not plugged. Had he tripped and fallen into the machinery he would have been seriously injured so learning to balance and ride that rickety, bouncing planter was essential. Later in life, when he went through Underwater Demolition Training in Coronado, California, he realized that his years on the farm had prepared him well for the challenges he faced in the Navy.


I thought about the photographs I wanted to use to illustrate this story and I remembered that an artist I admire when asked the secret to his success as a landscape artist answered (and I paraphrase) “I paint what I see then remove everything that isn’t necessary.” So, I am not showing all the junk in Doyle’s yard. Instead I am seeing the beauty in the old farm equipment. And I see the images of Doyle making a living with a few pieces of used farm equipment and a whole lot of hard work.


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Moffat County Revisited

My mother-in-law, Frances Smith Russell, was born in Craig, Colorado, during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. In her postpartum weakened condition, Frances’s mother, Nora Olive Jones Smith, succumbed to the flu October 23, 1918, in Craig, leaving five-week-old Frances and her three older siblings without a mother and Tom Smith without a wife. The family had been living temporarily in Craig so that Nora could be close to a doctor when her baby was born. After her death they returned to their distant cabin home ninety miles northwest of Craig, a place called Blue Mountain, a small community of homesteaders barely eking out a living while trying to prove up on their land.

The story of her Smith family there in rural Moffat County was told by Frances in her autobiography “From There to Here”, a self-published book written in 1985. I am in the process of integrating two version of that book that Frances wrote, adding illustrations, and plan to make it available online this year. But this story is not about those years from 1918 until 1923 when Frances and her family moved “lock, stock, and barrel” across the Continental Divide to Weld County, Colorado. This is about a trip Frances made back to Moffat County in 1980s in search of that cabin on Blue Mountain.

Harriet Clemens was a friend of Frances who lived nearby in northern Larimer County, Colorado. Married to Quay Clemens, possibly a distant relative of our beloved author Mark Twain, aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Harriet and Quay had both lived in Moffat County in the 1930s. Prior to that while still a bachelor Quay lived by himself in a small cabin near Blue Mountain and one night gave shelter to the man who murdered Frances’ grandfather and uncle on Blue Mountain the 5th of October, 1921. That story is told in Frances’ book.  The murderer, A. S. Wilson, ran from his home, afraid for the repercussions of his actions, and late that night or the next appeared at Quay’s remote homestead. He told Quay, “If you know what I’ve done you won’t want to help me,” to which Quay replied, “I don’t care if you nailed Jesus to the cross for it’s been 90 days since I’ve seen a living soul. Come on in.” So, Harriet had an interest in that part of Colorado.

Fast forward to the the early 1980s, recently widowed Harriet Clemens was interested in visiting Moffat County again, approximately forty-five years after she moved away. And more importantly, Frances Russell wanted to locate the cabin where her parents lived in 1918, where she lived too, until age five. She had visited the area in 1980 with her son Kenneth and his boys, David and Doyle. They were not successful in finding the actual cabin of Tom and Nora Smith, Frances’ parents, but they did find other abandoned log cabins a few miles away.

Frances saw an opportunity to look once more for the old Tom and Nora Smith homestead, so driving a almost new, two-wheel-drive yellow Dodge Omni, Bob and I embarked on a trip from Fort Collins, Colorado, to a remote area ninety miles northwest of Craig, Colorado, with Frances and Harriet in the back seat, a weekend adventure we’ll never forget.

Frances relied heavily on the memories of her older sister, Ola, to prepare for the trip, as she had done when writing her autobiography. Ola lived in Blythe, California, and would not be traveling back to Moffat County but by way of telephone and letters the sisters made a map. They also had photos taken back in the 1950s when their father, Tom Smith, and several of his family members went back to the old log cabin and relived the challenges and tragedies of their years there, and visited the graves of their loved ones who never left Blue Mountain.

Harriet’s preparations were simple. She packed butter sandwiches for all, home grown pickles, and brought her nightgown and walking stick.

When we arrived in Craig we visited the Craig cemetery and took photos of the new headstone Frances and her siblings had recently commissioned and had installed over their mother’s grave. We spent that night in a modest motel in Craig, sharing a room with two beds, a frugal choice. Bob, a stranger to pajamas, waited until the ladies were finished in the bathroom and tucked into bed before slipping out of his clothes and into our bed.

After a hearty breakfast the next morning we headed west out of Craig and listened to the reminiscing in the backseat. Harriet remembered friends who lived along Colorado Highway 40 and thought she might like to stop and see if they still lived there but we decided to consider that on the return trip. That day our excitement built as we turned off the Highway 40 at Elk Springs and headed north and west in search of the place names Blue Mountain, Bare Mountain, (also spelled Bear Mountain), Cross Mountain and more, places Ola had recalled from her youth.


Toward noon, following the hand drawn map Frances held in her lap, we found ourselves on a rough, dirt road out in the middle of nowhere, feeling frustrated, when in the distance Bob spotted a pickup truck and beside it a man mending a wire fence. We drove up beside him and got out to talk, describing our mission and asking for his advice. He pointed off to our left and said that there was no road, we’d have to drive across the open prairie, but if we headed in the direction he pointed we’d come to place where the land dropped off, and if we’d park on the top of that ledge and walk down the steep slope, then turn around and look back we would see several dugouts in that hillside. Oh, how fortunate we were to come across that young man who knew about those dugouts!

So off we went driving that little Dodge Omni across the prairie. I remember how the scent of hot sage filled the car. It was great fun bouncing and laughing and all of us full of hope and behaving like teenagers. Only now, in retrospect, do I know how lucky we were that our catalytic converter didn’t start a prairie fire.



Sure enough, we came to a ledge where further travel in the car would not be possible. We parked and got out, ready to explore, only to realize that Harriet could not safely climb down the slope. We decided to spread out a picnic lunch and make it comfortable for her while we scrambled down the hillside in search of the dugouts.

There were several! We thought we’d hit the jackpot. But after examining each one realized none of the log cabin remnants backed into that hill matched the layout of the windows and door in the front of Tom Smith’s cabin! We had the photo right there with us to compare. We knew we were in the right area but never did find the exact cabin we were looking for. Our best guess is that the logs were hauled away and used for fence posts.

After we took as many photos as we wanted and cleaned up our picnic area we headed back in search of the log school house that the Smith kids attended when they lived in Bare Valley. Named the Yougal School, we did find it but it had been moved from its original location. At least our trip was successful in that regard. More photos, and then we headed back toward Craig.

Frances and Harriet talked all the way back and we knew Harriet held out hope of locating an old friend or two but Bob and I were tired and wanted to get home that same night so we more or less convinced Harriet it would be too difficult looking up friends from fifty years ago. I am sure she was disappointed. We continued eastward. I don’t remember our route back to Fort Collins but I believe we turned south and stayed in Colorado coming back along the Poudre River route.

That’s the end of my tale of our great adventure with Frances and Harriet but that’s not the end of the story about Blue Mountain and Bare Valley. Bob’s older sister, Mary Simms, organized a return trip there with many Smith relatives in 2011. After much research, they located and marked with metal signs several homestead sites, hopeful that later generations of the Smith clan will visit and find evidence of this time, now about a century ago, when the Smith family homesteaded on Blue Mountain, Moffat County, Colorado.



Monday, June 20, 2022

Doyle Russell and the Hooey Stick

Doyle Russell liked magic tricks. He had little boxes with springs, strings, wires, and sliding drawers that he could pull out of his pocket and engage a stranger’s attention with his magic tricks as they stood at an auction or waited in line for a drivers license. I remember one trick in which he had three curved, flat pieces of wood, similar to boomerangs, that when aligned a certain way were the same length, but when Doyle said his magic incantation and pulled one of those pieces under his armpit to “stretch” it, lo and behold, it was longer than the other two. And, unbelievably, he could push it back under that arm and shrink it back up! Another was an elaborate set up using sheets hung over a doorway and shadows on the ceiling, a parlor trick. Over the years Doyle’s family would give him store-bought magic tricks for his birthday or Christmas and he would try them out, laugh a couple of times, then set them aside. He preferred those he made himself.


Sometime in the 1950s Doyle’s wife’s cousin, Tilford Barton, came to visit Frances and Doyle from his home in Oklahoma. Apparently, Til and Doyle were kindred spirits for Til brought with him his own favorite tricks and one of them was a “Hooey Stick”. (Other names for this Appalachian folk toy are Whimmydiddle, Gee Haa (horse commands for left and right), and Truth Stick.) This is a little wooden folk toy that is a simple round stick about five inches long, 1/8” diameter, with notches carved along the length of it with a small piece of wood nailed onto one end to create a sort-of helicopter blade or propeller. Holding the hooey stick in one hand and in the other a popsicle stick Til could make the propeller spin by rubbing that popsicle stick along the notches. The magic came in when Til could make the propeller spin clockwise then stop and spin counterclockwise at will.


Doyle was smitten. He loved that Hooey Stick and soon he was carving them by the dozens and collecting popsicle sticks to go with them. He kept several in his overall pockets, year 'round. And he added his “gift of gab” to his presentation in this way. If he met a family with a shy child he might show them the hooey stick and ask a few questions, such as “Hooey, if this little girl has blonde hair, spin to the left” and that’s what Hooey did. And the girl and her parents were impressed. The next question might be “Hooey, if Susie is wearing white shoes, spin to the right” and immediately without any seeming change in what Doyle was doing, the little blade spun to the right. And then he would say, “Hooey, if this little girl likes boys, spin to the left again”, and, of course, Hooey spun to the left. And that brought on the laughter, giggles and denials. Usually, Doyle would end up selling a Hooey stick to the parents for one dollar, but he didn’t explain just how to get Hooey to change directions. They had to try to figure that out themselves. With no internet, no Google, and no YouTube, those Hooey Sticks were probably tossed away after some frustrating attempts. Rather than explain the magic, I am inserting a YouTube link.

Doyle suffered a stroke when he was in his seventies. We received a phone call that he had been taken to the hospital. Bob and I didn’t know what to expect when we got there, didn’t know if his dad would be paralyzed or not, didn’t have any idea of the severity. When we walked into his room Doyle was perched on the corner of his hospital bed in that little gown that tied in the back, a nurse standing in front of him while he said, “Now Hooey…..”

Doyle created his own Hooey Stick style using multi-branched weeds, like tumbleweeds, which he carved with notches and nailed on the spinning pieces so that he could tell Hooey to spin two or three propellers one way while the other two or three spun the other direction. Over the forty-some years Doyle made and sold his Hooey sticks he took in hundreds of dollars selling them for one dollar each and somewhere along the way increased his price to two dollars.


A couple of weeks ago Doyle’s first cousin once removed, Liz Buness, visited us for the very first time. In telling her about her cousin Doyle we got out a few Hooey Sticks and demonstrated their magic, sending her home with her own. Doyle was an interesting man and we could have spent hours telling Liz about his life, but it seemed fitting to introduce her to Hooey Sticks and let her associate her cousin Doyle with his
Hooey magic.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Doyle John Russell (1965 - 2022) Forever Fifty-Seven

Doyle John Russell has died unexpectedly at age fifty-seven in Massachusetts. He was recently diagnosed with cancer and it overwhelmed him, took his life, leaving us, his family, reeling in shock and disbelief. I didn't know him well, but I loved him, that quiet boy with soulful eyes. He was my husband Robert Doyle Russell's nephew, son of Kenneth C. Russell, grandson of Doyle James Russell and his wife Frances Smith Russell. And he was a cousin to our son, Patrick John Russell, with whom he shared a love of music. They both played in bands and undoubtedly shared an interest in some of the same genres. And now he's gone.

Doyle and his older brother David often visited their grandparents in Colorado, and by often I mean about every other year. Kenneth lived in Massachusetts with his sons and we never did visit them there so my memories of Doyle are about those visits he made to Colorado when he was a child. Our photographs include a few his dad mailed to Colorado relatives as Doyle became a teenager, pursued his interest in music (he played base guitar), married and became a dad. An intellectual soul with a keen wit and shy smile, Doyle metaphorically "played rhythm guitar" behind his more boisterous, needy brother, but now he is the "lead singer in his band". If I can paraphrase The Righteous Brothers here, "If there's a rock 'n' roll Heaven, Doyle John Russell has just joined the Band".

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Coatney Family

Terri Mullens Coatney is my cousin, daughter of my mother's younger sister Barbara Nadean Smith Mullens. Terri recently sent me a link to a story about coal mines and miners and that led to a discussion about her in-laws, the Coatney family. 

Chris Coatney, Terri's husband, had an older brother, Douglas, who enjoyed genealogy, as do I. I found his family tree on, a well done compilation of vital records and family photographs. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2019 and Terri's and Chris's immediate families do not have access to that family tree so we decided a blog post with some family history might give ready access to the family. I like the way Terri told me their story, so here are her words.

"They came from Missouri. I had said Kentucky, I checked with Chris and remembered as soon as he told me, Missouri. Ok, Jimmy was Chris's dad, Chick was Jim's dad. Chris said his gr-granddad's name was James R. Coatney (Chick's dad). Chris actually knew him. Beyond that...he's not sure. 
James Leroy "Jim" Coatney is who moved the family to Washington, Daviess County, Indiana, in the 1920's. He had worked for the railroad in Monett, Barry County, Missouri, and when he first came to Indiana he opened a little mom and pop hamburger stand in an old piano box, lol! He would lift up the hinged "window" and customers would just walk up and order. This, of course, was before fast food places even existed. He was known as "Hamburger Jim" and that's what he called his business. Just selling hamburgers that were a secret recipe. He had lots of Catholic folks as customers. Back then, they always ate fish on Friday, so he started selling fish sandwiches, but only on Friday. They also were a secret family recipe. His business boomed like crazy. Originally across from a "parachute factory" over in Washington, pretty soon he moved the business to a little brick building on the highway there. 

His son Chick was in business with him. He bought a house next door so he could keep an eye on the business. As he got older Chick took over the operation.

Then Jim, Chris's dad, worked with his dad from the time he was old enough to help. It was Jim who eventually went out on his own and moved his family to Vincennes and opened up a place calling it Jim's Hot Fish. Chick continued the place in Washington for years.

As Chris grew up, he also worked in the fish stand. People loved the fish so much at Washington they started making them everyday. People would stand all the way around the block waiting to get their sandwiches! Jim did just as well in Vincennes. Eventually Chris and I took over the business. After many years we finally closed it. We still have people bugging us to open back up, lol!"
Thanks to the efforts of Doug Coatney, there are some really good family photo on his account and I'm including them here. You all, Coatney family, will know who they are better than I. 

Oh, yes, I've only talked of the Coatney men and the businesses they ran but we all know that there were Coatney women, too, who, no doubt, played a large roll in parenting and in the success of the businesses. James Arthur "Jimmy" Coatney was born 10 Sep 1932 in Washington, Indiana, and passed away 23 Jan of 2000. His wife Nancy Caroline Shake, born 4 Nov 1936, passed away in December of 1985 in Vincennes. I believe they had three children.
Jimmy's dad, Charles Richard "Chick" Coatney, was born 15 July 1912 at Monett, Barry, Missouri. He passed away 5 Mar 1977 in Washington, Indiana. His wife Hilda Marie McCord was born 17 Jan 1913 at Washington, Indiana and passed away there on 14 Oct 1982. I believe they had four children.
Chick's father, James Leroy "Jim" Coatney was born 16 Jan 1893 at Monett, Barry, Missouri and passed away 16 Mar 1964 at Washington, Indiana. His wife Della Talitha McKown was born 21 Jun 1894 at Mountain Grove, Wright, Missouri and passed away 3 Jul 1971 at Washington, Indiana. I believe they had five children.
James Leroy "Jim" Coatney's father was James Calvin Coatney born 24 Jun 1863 (during the Civil War) in Barry County, Missouri, and passed away 18 Jun 1940 in that same County. His wife Mary Meheen was born 6 Apr 1866 in Canada. She passed away 28 Jan 1913 at Monett, Barry, Missouri. I believe they had two childen.

The Coatney family came up to Missouri from Virginia and Tennessee in the early 1800s. One was in the Civil War for the North. Another worked for the railroad for many years. Several had their own businesses. The 1920 census shows that James Leroy Coatney was a car repairer and ten years later he owned a restaurant. Terri and I were wondering if any of the men ever worked in a coal mine. So far I have not found evidence of that but when times get tough men do what they have to do so I wouldn't rule that out.

We owe a debt of graditude to Douglas Gordon Coatney (1955-2019) for the good work he did gathering his family's history together and sharing it with the world on his Ancestry account. 

I will continue to research this family and when I get enough new information to make a second blog post interesting, I will post it here.