Country boy marries city gal, becomes barber, horse breeder
Ron Watson, 66, was born in a logging camp, but grew up as a country boy, milking cows on farms in Springfield and Madras.
His dad was a logger and his parents Earl and Violet Watson were living at the Shevlin-Hixon Logging Camp southeast of LaPine when Ron was born.
He was too young to remember anything about life at the camp, and at age 4 his family moved to Springfield, where his dad logged and also farmed, raising peppermint, lilies, hogs, and rabbits.
Watson started school in a one-room schoolhouse in the community of Walterville, up the McKenzie River from their farm. The building was later made into two rooms, which housed around 12 to 15 classmates.
He had a younger sister Marna, and younger brother Duane, and they all had to help with farm chores. He and Duane were assigned to hand-milk the cows, which he remembers was a lot of work.
In 1948, his parents moved to Madras and bought an 80-acre farm on Dogwood Lane, where Watson still lives today.
"Dad built a little house, but there was no electricity, no phones, nothing -- and we carried our water in," Watson recalled.
Irrigation had recently come to Madras however, so the farm was doing well. His parents raised wheat, Ladino clover, hogs, beef, and bought dairy cattle and started a small dairy.
"The cows were all hand-milked and my brother and I milked 16 cows apiece, twice a day. It kept us out of trouble," he observed.
At age 10, he entered Madras Elementary and attended there through the eighth grade. In the Central Oregon ranch country, he and his brother started riding horses for fun.
"All our friends had horses, so we all rode. There were no fences on the marginal land back then and you could ride forever. We'd hunt jack rabbits, ride on Hay Creek, and were always on a horse doing something," Watson said.
As a freshman, he attended Madras Union High School (where Westside is now) and said some of his classmates were Lynn Howland, Duane Benson, Ken Edgmon and Micky Brunoe.
"I wasn't in sports. I'd always go out for track and then quit, because there was no time with all my chores," he said.
He did find time to become heavily involved in the local FFA and 4-H programs, however. From FFA teacher Leno Christianson, he learned a lot about animals and shop that he used later in life.
At fair time, since Madras didn't have a fair auction back then, he said, "We would go to The Dalles Fat Stock Show and sell our show animals." He always raised Angus steers for fair.
Watson said he has plenty of stories about high school pranks, but none that he would want to see printed in the newspaper.
He described Madras as it was during his youth. Downtown, Fourth Street was a dirt road, Fifth Street had two-way traffic, and the town had a lot more service stations.
"There was a big hill where the Black Bear Diner is now, and when we took our driver's test to get a license, the guy always made us stop and start on that hill," he said.
Teen hangouts included the Little Chief Theater, the drive-in movie theater, A&W Restaurant and Dairy Queen. In the big brick Fisher Hotel, that stood where Sunshine Corner is now, there was a little restaurant with hamburgers and a soda fountain where kids liked to gather.
"We didn't get TV reception until I was in high school, and boy it wasn't very good. We had an antenna way, way up in the air and a little tiny screen," he said.
Watson graduated in 1956, then worked at the Jefferson Plywood mill in Madras for five years. During that time, two Willamette Valley girls, Pat Hill and Elaine Hinton, had come over to work as beauty operators in Madras.
"Pat and I got married in 1960, and Elaine married one of my friends, Bill Mishey," Watson said. The Watson's daughter, Pam, was born in Prineville, because Madras didn't have a hospital back then.
Maybe it was his wife's influence, because Watson quit his mill job to enroll in Eugene Barber College, and they moved to the Valley and he cut hair in Springfield and Eugene for the next 15 years. Two more daughters, Robin and Rhonda, were born in Eugene. The Watsons lived in town, but Ron kept a hand in farming by raising horses on a friend's place in the country.
The Valley climate never did agree with him, however. "Pat's mother lived there, that's the reason we stayed that long. I hated the rain -- it poured all the time," he said.
In 1976, the Watsons returned to Madras to farm his parents' place, and raised mint, wheat and hay.
"I got into horse raising heavily when we came back, and at one time had 22 Appaloosa mares and sold the colts," Watson said, noting his wife didn't share his enthusiasm for horses. "We've been together for 45 years and I've never gotten her on a horse," he said.
In addition to farming, Watson also worked in town at the Jefferson County Co-op, Interior Elevator, managed Ochoco Feed in Prineville for a year, then did odd jobs, including helping Lottie Holcomb at The Feed Company in Madras for eight years.
"I tried to retire, then my daughter and son-in-law bought the Feed Company -- and here I am again," he laughed, as he helped ring up purchases and load bags of feed for customers during the interview.
During his off hours, Watson has flipped pancakes for 20 years at the Fourth of July and Collage of Culture breakfasts put on by Alpha Omicron, of which Pat is a member. He still raises some horses, and enjoys hunting trips. His friend Bill Mishey passed away last December, and the mounted head of an elk Bill shot on one trip now hangs inside the Feed Company in his memory. "I was with Bill when he shot that elk," Watson said.
One hobby is doing leatherwork, and he turns out all kinds of things including gun scabbards, holsters, gun slings, and does leather repair work.
He and Pat also enjoy their grandchildren, Alexis, Ron, Cody, Nikki, Derek, Erika and Cameron, and helped them with 4-H sheep and horse projects when they were in clubs.
The family farm on Dogwood Lane has been turned over to another generation, but that doesn't mean Watson gets a rest.
"I'm helping my grandson Ron run the family farm now and he works me when he can," he laughed, noting he gets calls to come help bale or rake hay.