A Conversation with Ward Sinclair
They say three times is the charm and so it was when I finally met up with Ward. The first time I had to cancel because of a death in the family … if you couldn’t tell, it wasn’t me. The second time, I became ill the day before our meeting and didn’t want to bring an unwanted guest with me. Finally on a cold, foggy, day in November we got to sit down to chat. Ward’s wife, Doris, had left for the afternoon and so it was just two old men reliving the good old days. I must say that Ward and Doris had prepared well for my interview. He handed me a two-page summary of his life when I sat down at the dining room table.
“Think this is about all we could come up with. Like I said on the phone, don’t think anyone would find my life interesting.”
After two hours I found that the furthest from the truth you could get. How often can you chat with someone who lived through the Great Depression, Dust Bowl of Kansas, the attack of the grasshoppers, World War II, and …? wait a minute, I think I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.
“I was born in Kansas and lived there until about eighteen years old. There were five of us kids, three boys and two girls. Only one brother has passed away. Dad was a farmer on a small farm he rented. Back then during the Great Depression it was a blessing. You see, it was the farmers that had the best chance to put food on the table. He tried to raise wheat, corn and oats … just about anything to keep the farm going but was not too successful. He also raised chickens and cows to keep meat and milk on the table.”
Guess you didn’t have TV back then. Ward laughed and said:
“Didn’t have any electricity so kind of hard to run those things. Didn’t have any running water either.”
Did you get your water from a well?
“Got it from the roof.”
I asked for a little more information.
“We’d catch the rain in barrels. Dad had set them up under the gutters.”
I decided not to ask him about the bathroom situation and moved on. So were you one of those kids that claim they walked two miles to school even in the snow?
“Oh yeah, that was me. I could be the poster boy for those stories. We didn’t have school buses back then and the only way I could get there was to walk. Only got through the eighth grade. Dad needed my help on the farm and without transportation our high school was just too far away. In the 1970s I went to Lane Community College and got my GED. I did it because I had time and thought it be fun to finally get my diploma.”
Ward, you’re the first person I’ve met who lived through the Dust Bowl. What was it like?
“Dusty,” he said with a quick smile. “Wasn’t anything I’d write home about. It was hot and dirty in the summer and darn cold in the winter. You see, the farmers were proud folk and worked hard making a go in the Midwest. The Dust Bowl was caused by a six-year drought that put most of the farmers out of business.”
Where’d they go?
“Most went to California. After the Dust Bowl time my folks moved into town for his retirement. When I was eighteen I had a buddy that worked in a steel foundry close to Kansas City and he got me a job there.”
So you worked making steel?
“No, a foundry is where you make various widgets from steel. I worked there six months and then got drafted in 1950 into the Army. This was during the Korean War.”
What was it like being in the war?
“Couldn’t tell ya because as luck would have it I spent my time in Japan and didn’t get sent up to Korea.”
What did you do after the Army?
“I went to live with my brother in Colorado and got a job with Standard Oil.”
Did you help drill for oil?
“There’s more to these oil companies than just drilling. I worked ten years at a gasoline production plant. We created propane and butane from natural gas. Used to be the oil companies would just burn off the natural gas that came from the oil wells but in the 1940’s the government made the oil companies put in natural gas plants to utilize this byproduct.”
How did you decide to move to Oregon?
“I always wanted to live where there were evergreen trees, lots of greenery and mild climate. While married to my former wife we figured this part of Oregon would give us that.”
You mean you hadn’t been to Oregon before moving here?
“No, never had, but sure glad we came. We came to Junction City and rented a house and then later bought a house in Coburg, right on Main St. I worked as a carpenter’s helper and at Weyerhauser’s mill for a short time and then went to Barber School and became a barber. I built a barber shop in front of our house. Later I built a bigger shop which was down the block and on the corner. I turned our house into a four-plex doing most of the work myself.”
How did you and Doris meet?
“Let’s see, that took a few years in the making. After a divorce from my first wife I remarried for a short time and then divorced her. I had a lot of time on my hands and so barbered during the day and remodeled houses in the evening and on the weekends. Took fourteen years to find the true love of my life, Doris. We were married in June of 1985. Clyde did the ceremony in our backyard.”
What do you two like to do for fun?
“We like to go camping. We bought our first RV, a camper actually, in 1986 and took many great trips in it. A few years later we moved up to a trailer and then moved up to our first motor home. We kept that for about seven years and then bought a new Brave Motor Home.”
Typing this I’m wondering if they use the name “Brave” because it takes a lot of bravery to drive these large vehicles. If I were behind the wheel, I would have to hire one of those lead cars you see driving in front of trucks carrying large loads and have them carry a sign that says: “Get out of the way if you cherish your life.” But again, enough of me. Do you still barber?
“I hung up my scissors in 1997. The year before I had open heart surgery, a quadruple bi-pass. I kept my hands busy remodeling and maintaining my rentals I had collected over the years but I’m down to just one and this one Doris’s daughter occupies. We also traveled a lot in the motor home. We joined the Santiam Sams, Good Sam RV Travel Club and traveled monthly with them. A lot of good friends and fun were had with the club. One of the big trips we took in our RV is the one we spent two weeks in Branson, Missouri. We saw fifteen shows, all the big names but we knew it was time to go when the jokes they would tell began to repeat themselves.”
I asked about his family.
“I have and a son and daughter. Doris also has a son and daughter. Together we have six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.”
How did you come to find the Friends Church?
“Doris attended and after we married, I came here. It’s a good church. I like it because it’s not real big. I’ve always been a person to keep busy but with my health now I tire too easily. I wish I could do more, but God has blessed me with a good life.”
Ward, it was great chatting. Until we meet again.