By Doc Watson
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | “Most of the people I knew are dead,” Byron Linden, 95, said with a chuckle. “The golden years have gotten a little rusty.” As the oldest resident in Meeker who was actually born in Meeker (Jan. 24, 1922), Linden has had a long and fulfilling life.
In 1928, Linden’s father was helping on a drilling rig up on Thornburg, but after a major problem with the crown block, it was never finished. The boss, however, told him he had a job for him at the famous Signal Hill oil field, which was so named because it was 365 feet above the surrounding town of Long Beach, Calif.
“There were so many oil rigs there that it looked like a forest,” Linden said.
The family came back to Meeker a few times over the years to visit, and it was then that this young man fell in love with his grandfather’s ranch. Each summer during his high school years he earned enough money mowing lawns—“My mom helped, too,” Linden said—to buy a train ticket back to Colorado to work on the ranch until fall.
After graduating only two days before his 17th birthday, Linden returned once again to that beloved ranch. Sadly, his grandfather passed away the next spring. Even though Linden knew how to do everything on the ranch, he was too young to be responsible for the whole operation. He went to work on Arthur Amick’s cattle ranch for three years until World War II interrupted daily life.
Linden was helping a friend feed cows during the winter of 1941. They had just pulled into the barnyard with a load of hay when the lady of the house came running out and said, “They’ve just bombed Pearl Harbor!”
Enlisting in the Navy in September 1942, and after a few mix-ups of where he was supposed to go, Linden finally was on shore duty in Monterey, Calif., for two years patrolling the coast for Japanese submarines and performing other duties.
It was also while in Monterey that he met and married Josephine (“Jo”) Rodriguez on July 9, 1943, a union that would last 72 years and produce two daughters, Jody and Mary, as well as four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Then came the Navy directive that all those on shore duty “had to go to sea immediately,” Linden said. “So the very next day, up to Treasure Island we go, just like that!” After a few more mix-ups, he found himself on a troop transport that was headed for Leyte Gulf in the Philippines where the ship he was assigned to was docked, or so he had been told.
“Where’s our ship?” he asked those who were supposed to know but didn’t. After about six weeks an answer finally came, “Oh, we found it. It’s at Pearl Harbor. So back to Pearl we went.” Sure enough, nobody there knew where it was either. Finally, they said, “Oh, it’s in the Philippines.” Sure enough, after another long trip they finally found it in Simora.
After the dropping of the atomic bomb, ending the Pacific War, it took Linden about a month to finally get a ride home. In a variation of the old expression, “a slow boat to China,” his ride was in a flat-bottomed, rough-riding LST (Landing Ship, Tank), a ship designed to carry tanks, vehicles, cargo, and landing troops directly onto shore with no docks or piers. The bow had a huge door and a ramp for unloading the vehicles. This particularly pokey trip took 30 days to get to Pearl and another week to get to San Francisco.
Discharged in December 1945, Byron and Josephine headed home to Meeker. Having already bought the ranch from his grandmother during the only 10-day leave he had during his Navy service, they now began the difficult chore of making a life on it.
His praise for his darling wife was unending: “I don’t know how that poor girl put up with all that. Out in Monterey, she had running water, a bathroom in the house, gas to cook with and electric lights. But at the ranch (in those early days) there was no electricity, a pump in the front yard for water, a coal stove to cook on, an outhouse and a washtub for baths.” A tribute to love, indeed.
For the next 40 years that ranch up on the mesa—the “old Fairfield place,” currently owned by Terry and Diane Mobley—was a dairy. It started, Byron said, with buying “two milk cows from a guy up Strawberry who would loan people money for that purpose and take a little money out of each cream check till it was repaid.”
In those early days, milking was done the old fashioned way, then came the first milking machine, followed by a remodeling of the barn to turn it into milking parlor. Then came replacing the 10-gallon milk cans with a 500-gallon bulk tank—a $5,000 investment—that was picked up every other day, followed eventually by the second.
In addition to running a dairy, Byron served on the school board for 10 years, which made for some short nights. “Gosh, I was milking a lot of cows,” he said with a chuckle. “Some of those meetings lasted till 2 in the morning, and I had to get up at 4!”
Similarly, when asked to serve on the hospital board—even though it would cost him more sleep—Byron felt he should because of his ties to the Fairfield family and what it has done for Meeker; his mother and Freeman Fairfield were first cousins.
The Lindens always loved to travel, so when they finally sold the ranch, they bought a 40-foot fifth-wheel trailer and did just that. For more than 20 years, they spent their winters in Palm Springs and were in every state except one.
“The reason we didn’t make it up to Maine was because we got up one morning in Vermont and had ice on the windshield,” Byron said. “‘That ends that,’ I said, and we went to Florida.” They even got to see one of the space shuttle launches.
While times change—for example, out of 76 dairies that once existed on the Western slope, only one remains—one thing never changes about Meeker: it is a town with a wonderful legacy and the people who made it.
By Doc Watson