Tom Wilson Biography
by Jodi Wilson
After the Crash of 1929 and during the starvation and struggle to survive throughout the country, known as the Great Depression, Thomas Wilson, Junior was born on April 2, 1937, without a doctor. This was very common because Eureka didn’t have many doctors. When they didn’t have any the community was attended by Flathead Valley doctors either part time or in an emergency. Despite the conditions he was born under, Tom grew up to become a healthy, hard working man who loves to play jokes on his friends and family. (History of the United States pages 538-551)
Tom started working at a young age. During grade school his chores were milking the cows, taking care of the cows and horses, and during the summer he helped his dad cut wood with a cross cut. This was before there were chainsaws. His dad would swamp them with an ax and then buck them into 8 foot logs and then Tom skidded them with a horse. It took skill and cooperation to use a cross cut and good sawyer tams were the ones who got the highest wages.Using horses for skidding was very different than modern logging with high-powered machines. Prize draft horses were usually used because of their size and strength. Teamsters took very good care of their horses. They often worried more about their horses than about their fellow loggers. (The Story of the Tobacco Plains pages 223-233)
Tom got his second car by working for a guy for 3 days and he got $21 and a 1928 Chevy that took three days to get running. Part of the time during the summer he worked for John Frank Moore. He would help round up the cattle, vaccinate and brand them, and then drive them for two days from where the state game ranch is now up Sutton. He also herded cows for Burt Row.
When he was 15 years old Tom quit school and went to work for one of his neighbors, TB Finch. He sawed logs and ran cats and he did that until about 1991 when he had his first back surgery. He had a hard time for a while because you had to be 18 to work in the woods so he would work somewhere for three or four months and then his boss would find out he wasn’t old enough and then he’d have to go find a job somewhere else. He also went to work for Fred King as a choker setter but when his boss found out he was barely 17, he loaded Tom in the truck and took him to town. The boss would have gotten in a lot of trouble if something had happened to Tom and he wasn’t even old enough to be there. He also built old woods roads and skid trails in the Libby Dam area and on Gut Creek. He put in fire lines on the Burn and on Stone Hill when it burnt a long time ago. After his first back surgery he went to work driving a logging truck and then he had to quit that because he had another back surgery in 1996 and his doctor told him had had to quit or he would end up in a wheelchair. Now he volunteers a lot at Head Start and he helps out his youngest daughter Alice Letcher with getting fire wood and this past fall he helped her tear down and build a new deck around her house. In the winter he brings out his pickup with the plow on the front and he plows out peoples driveways and stuff like that. Last summer him and Alice coached a t-ball team that had his four youngest grand kids on it. (Second Interview 12-17-00)
When their parents were gone one day Tom and his brother Robert and his sisters Mary, Mattie, and Julia put ropes around the necks of a couple of 2 or 3 year old steers and then they hooked them up to an old dump hay rake and took them out through the field until they got going too fast and the tongue of the hay rake bounced up and the steers ran away. When Tom and one of his friends Johnny Beckstrom were in the 6th or 7th grad they were at the school and they saw their principles Ford convertible parked outside the school. The keys weren’t in it so they kicked it out of gear and then rolled it behind some pine trees so that he would think it was stolen. Another time they were helping the janitor at the school and they knew that the 1st grade teacher would always flop down into her chair after she got her class all seated. So they adjusted the spring in the chair so that the back of it would tip back like a recliner and when she flopped down in it she tipped back and her feet went up in the air and she went shooting across the room. So at the end of the day she told them there was something wrong with her chair and she was wondering if they would try to fix it. So they readjusted the spring and the teacher said, “Boy you two sure do know a lot about this chair.” But they wouldn’t confess so they didn’t get in trouble. One day Tom and another of his friends Keith Williams were in the office running out tests on an old menangraph machine and one of their teachers from Chicago came in and was giving them a bad time and telling them that they weren’t doing it right so they took him down in the middle of the office and depants ed him and were going to throw his pants out the window onto the front lawn but another teacher came in and they had to let him up.
Tom also told all of his grand kids that the reason he only had part of one finger was that Grandma had eaten it because he didn’t bring any groceries home, when really he’d lost it in a machinery accident.
Another time he was working for Bob Clarke down by the Reservoir and Tom and Alan Garrison pulled up and picked up Dutch Truman and they saw that the cat was parked and that Clarke was working on it. He somehow managed to knock the screwdriver loose that was through the link of the chain that was holding the fuel tank when he was rummaging around in the hole. So the fuel tank was kind of laying on him and his head was down in the hole so he couldn’t see they were standing right in front of him. So Tom said, “Alan, it looks like Dutch broke down, we might just as well go home.” And then Clarke started screaming and yelling because he thought they didn’t see him and that they were all going to go home and leave him there for the night. When really they were all standing there trying not to laugh too loud. (First Interview 10-4-00)
But even though he loves to play jokes and is known as a bit of a prankster, he has also been a hardworking man for his entire life. This fact has been proven by him saying that one of the worst days of his life was the day he found out he couldn’t drive truck any more. He continues to keep himself busy by running Jessica and Alan (his 5 year old grandchildren who have lived with him and his wife Betty since their dad died in a boating accident along with their uncle, Jim Letcher and their cousin, Bob Blonshine, in April of 1996) to school, practice, plays, and friends houses as well as volunteering his time to drive the Head Start bus and work in the class room or dress up as Santa Clause. He also goes to Canada and spends time with his two youngest grandchildren Jose, 5 and James, 4. He’s always on the run going somewhere even if it’s just to go visit friends. Although he is always plotting ways to make a joke or scare some poor unsuspecting person he works hard at whatever he does.
First Interview, 10-4-00, Eureka, MT
Second Interview, 12-17-00, Eureka, MT
Thomas V. DiBacco, Lorna C. Mason, Christian G. Appy, The History of the United States, , Copyright 1991, Boston, MA
Dan McDonald, The Story of the Tobacco Valley Country, published in 1950 by The Pioneers of the Tobacco Plains Country.